Climate justice campaigners rappelling from a towering bridge and paddling in kayaks have so far successfully blocked Shell Oil’s fleet from leaving Portland, Oregon’s port to embark on a widely opposed drilling expedition in the Alaskan Arctic.
Launched Tuesday and continuing overnight into Wednesday morning, the series of colorful direct actions comes just days after President Barack Obama gave the green-light for the oil giant to drill in the Chukchi Sea, despite his pledge to make tackling climate change a top priority.
But when the oil giant’s massive Fennica icebreaker sought to leave the port, campaigners put their bodies in the way.
Twenty-six climbers are currently hanging from the St. Johns bridge over the Willamette River in Portland to prevent Shell’s vessel from passing beneath. Bearing signs that say “Shell No” and “Save the Arctic,” the protesters have “enough supplies to last for several days,” Greenpeace USA said in a statement.
So far, they have prevented the vessel from commencing its voyage. Because a federal permit requires the Fennica to be present at the site before drilling can begin, the direct action is effectively halting the extraction for the moment.
“Every second we stop Shell counts,” declared Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA. “The brave climbers here in Portland are now what stand between Shell and Arctic oil. This is President Obama’s last chance to wake up and realize the disaster that could happen on his watch.”
Meanwhile, dozens of “kayaktivists” took to the water to help block the icebreaker, which Portland Rising Tide organizer Meredith Cocks said was scheduled to depart early Wednesday morning. Now that Shell’s plan has been disrupted, protesters are preparing to launch further kayak blockades to disrupt other scheduled departures.
Those paddling for climate justice follow other nationwide direct actions by kayak.
“The longer we can keep Fennica docked, the longer we can delay exploratory drilling in the Arctic,” Cocks told Common Dreams from a boat floating alongside the kayaktivists. “There is a narrow window of time Shell can be drilling up there. Every second they are not drilling, carbon is being kept in the ground. It is unconscionable for us to be seeking to extract new fossil fuels, let alone under a pristine ecosystem that native communities rely on for their sustenance and heritage.”
The direct action comes as scientists warn that to avert a climate catastrophe, the majority of fossil fuel deposits around the world must remain unused, including all Arctic oil and gas.
The blockades followed a gathering of over 100 people on Tuesday to “hold space with vigil on land and water” to prepare for the massive direct actions, explained Cocks. Numerous community members, as well as groups including Center for Sustainable Economy, 350 PDX, and Portland Rising Tide, are participating in the actions.
“I think people are feeling jubilant,” Cocks continued. “Folks set out to delay the ship’s departure, and that’s what happened. We are declaring victory in the campaign for the moment, and we know it is not over. I believe we will continue to impede their progress.”
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