Two polar matters interested me over the holiday period. The first was the continuing story of the Greenpeace activists who tried to board a Russian oil-rig in the Arctic sea, were arrested, and charged with piracy. That charge was later reduced to one of hooliganism and then, after a few months, the Russian Parliament passed an amnesty bill which freed them all. The Greenpeace ship is still in Russian hands.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he hoped that such an incident would not happen again, but the demeanour of the activists seemed to be one of defiance and even of incomprehension. One described what had happened to her as ‘obscene’, while another described it as ‘illegal’, and there seemed to be a mood, at least for public display, for some kind of return protest. The Arctic Sea, they say, is pristine, and Russia has no right to be drilling for oil there. At last reading, the rig is shortly to go into production.
I wrote about the initial Greenpeace foray in October, and nothing that has happened since has changed my view that these people seem to consist of leaders acting out Biggles-like dreams of private action in pursuit of noble ideals, and deluded followers persuaded that they have an opportunity to be part of a great cause. As is so often the case with idealists, those interviewed seemed to have no conception of how their actions might have been seen by others.
While the Russians might have thought that three months in clink will be salutary enough, I have little doubt that were Greenpeace to do it again, the outcome from the Russian state will be swifter and much more severe. And while I have some sympathy for those who found that jail in Murmansk was not at all pleasant, I have none at all for those who are indignant that they were in prison at all. Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violent protest lays out that the protesters should accept a period in jail as the ultimate demonstration of their convictions — not claim that the state had no right to jail them. That is just preposterous waffle.
The activists should spare a thought for those working on the rig, who would not have known who these invading people were, whether or not ‘Greenpeace’ (if they knew about it at all) was simply a cover for some other more sinister operation, or what might happen to themselves if the invaders actually were able to board the rig and assume some kind of control. The more you think about it, the more you wonder about what goes on inside the heads of some of these activists, who see the end as vastly more important than the means.
And I spared a thought or two for those on board the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian polar vessel carrying a motley collection of people, scientists, ‘scientific assistants’ who seem to have paid a lot of money to be part of it all, and might best be described as tourists, and crew. The cruise has the pretentious title of ‘Australasian Antarctic Expedition’, which suggests that it is somehow connected with the Australian and New Zealand governments — but no, not at all. It is privately funded, and presumably the scientific assistants/tourists have helped measurably to pay for it.
The idea apparently has been to retrace Mawson’s expedition of 1913 (which did have that long name), and by redoing his measurements see what ‘climate change’ had brought about. One clue to what climate change has wrought was, of course, the ship’s becoming stuck in the sea-ice off the Antarctic coast, something had Mawson did not have to encounter a hundred years ago. If it seems bizarre, given all the global warming we have been told about, that it should be a lot colder now down there than it was for Sir Douglas, one can only reflect that ‘climate change works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform’.
The vessel, stuck in the ice for several days, was to be rescued by not one but three ice-breakers, Chinese, French and Australian. The first two found that they could not get close to the Russian ship, because the ice was too thick and too cold. The Chinese ice-breaker became stuck itself, and it and the Russian ship and its crew are to be rescued by a fourth, American, ship. No matter, the passengers were reported to be in high spirits throughout, and they have had an unexpected trip to the Casey base. No doubt they will have interesting stuff to report when they get home, which seems quite a way off, and one can only hope that one or two of them might begin to wonder about exactly why it was that they became stuck in sea ice at the height of the Antarctic summer.
A statement like this one, issued by the Expedition, ‘Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up’ might be good place for them to start. And who is to pay for the diversion of four icebreakers, and the helicopter rescue, and the delay in unloading provisions and technical supplies for the Casey base? Who indeed. This story, which would cause belly-laughs were it not potentially so serious, is by no means over.