A superb long read in the Guardian today by Rebecca Solnit describing a week-long expedition she took at the end of June through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a timely piece, as Charlotte Church and other Greenpeace protesters have been gathered for days outside Shell’s headquarters in London along with musicians performing a Requiem for Arctic Ice (inspired by the string quartet who continued to play as the Titanic went down) in an effort to persuade the company to abandon plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

On day 18 of the protest Charlotte Church sang ‘This Bitter Earth’, made famous in the 1960s by the singer Dinah Washington:

This bitter earth
Well, what fruit it bears
What good is love
That no one shares
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose
What good am I ?
Heaven only knows

Lord, this bitter earth
Can be so cold:
Today you’re young
Too soon you’re old

But while a voice
Within me cries
I’m sure someone
may answer my call
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all

Last week, the Obama administration gave Shell the final green light to proceed with its plans to drill, despite the US government’s own analysis showing there is a 75% risk of a spill if the project continues.

Speaking outside Shell’s HQ, Mel Evans of Greenpeace said: ‘Shell are putting at risk a fragile, beautiful ecosystem. They know that an oil spill is almost inevitable and they can’t clean it up, yet they’re doing it anyway.’

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

In her Guardian essay, Rebecca Solnit writes:

We know that a viable future for the biosphere depends on leaving most of the known reserves of fossil fuel in the ground, so finding treacherous new locations from which to extract what activists call extreme oil, does not just tempt fate – it punches fate in the face. There is an ugly irony about extracting oil from one of the places already threatened by the effects of burning fossil fuel – where the summer ice is much reduced and temperatures are shooting up: you make the place complicit in its own destruction.

The refuge is as real as the bright wildflowers at our feet that glorious night and the clouds of mosquitoes buzzing around our heads, as tangible as the caribou that migrate through it annually to give birth on the coastal plain before they return to their winter homelands in Canada. But it is also a symbol. It stands for the idea that we do not need to devour everything, that some places can remain free and wild, that they do not need to be dominated by human beings or ravaged by our ravenous hunger for fossil fuel.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

She pinpoints how what is happening in the Arctic epitomizes the systemic, interconnectedness of the challenge of climate change:

The effects of climate change in Alaska demonstrate that we must think systemically, that everything is connected. The Arctic is hard hit by changes caused elsewhere: Alaska is a capital of climate-change deniers but it is also a place that is burning, melting, and metamorphosing at terrifying speed. And when climate change unfolds in the Arctic, the feedback loops make it all worse. As white sea ice, which reflects sunlight and heat back to the heavens, loses area in the Arctic seas, the dark water beneath it absorbs sunshine and accelerates the heating of our oceans. As new heat records are set in Alaska, the permafrost melts. There are local impacts from melting tundra – buildings and infrastructure tip and tilt when once-solid foundations turn to mush, and the methane beneath the permafrost begins to emerge, preventing ice from forming on lakes. The emergence of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the thawing north also has global significance. Climate change feeds climate change, and the far north disintegrates.

Solnit crystallizes in one sentence what is at stake:

We will leave the Age of Petroleum behind. Whether we do so willingly and in time to limit the devastation of climate change, or only after all the carbon in the depths of the earth has been extracted, burned, and returned to the upper atmosphere, is what the fight is about.

It’s a long read (as the Guardian calls it), but an essential read.

An anti-fracking protest outside County Hall in Preston this summer
An anti-fracking protest outside County Hall in Preston this summer

And you don’t have to travel to the Arctic to find a land under threat from the oil rapists. Just thirty miles or so from Liverpool, Lancashire residents and anti-fracking protesters learnt last week that their celebrations after  Lancashire county council rejected a planning application by shale gas explorer Cuadrilla to frack in the county were premature.

Now the government plans to ride roughshod over local democracy: ministers are to be given the power to intervene on planning applications for controversial fracking operations if local councils fail to fast-track fracking.

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