How many Arctic cowboys does it take to lasso an iceberg?

Posted by jamess — 25 August 2010 at 12:24pm - Comments

Will Rose, independent photographer who regularly works with Greenpeace. He writes from the Esperanza...

We’re in and out of internet range now so I’m not sure when this will go up on the website. As if to mark the occasion thick swirls of fog have cut us off from the recent blue crisp Arctic horizon. 

The crew are subdued but in good spirits albeit a little tired after the rough Atlantic crossing, long working days and the sudden lack of awe inspiring scenery of Greenland’s coastline. Sailing in towards the mountains around Nuuk after being starved of land felt like sailing into a new world, a different planet which for those who hadn’t seen it could only silently gaze in amazement bereft of the ability to speak.

The colours here are incredible, the evening sun washes jagged green mountains, distant glaciers, small islands and the serene blue sea with golden light. Birds swoop and effortlessly glide by the ship mirrored in mercury-like silver water turning your head until they’re silhouetted against the evening sun and a shimmer of a million diamond sparkles.

I photographed a native Inuit fisherman, in Nuuk, who has come out to support the Greenpeace campaign here in the Arctic. He reminded me of so many people I met with my girlfriend while working in Russia and China last year. He was speaking Danish but with strong local dialect, I understood a little of what he was saying with my limited Swedish, well the odd word. He was a calm and intelligent man stating his concerns for his livelihood that would be destroyed by the carelessness, greed and profit hungry oil companies.  His eyes shining wisdom - very similar the to the nomadic people we met in the Yamal Peninsula, in North Russia. And just like Yasha, the tribe leader we stayed with in Siberia – he was in tune with his environment and increasingly worried by the changes happening to his landscape. In Yahsa’s case it was the permafrost melting, the lake ecosystem collapsing and their food source disappearing. The fisherman was aware of the fine balance of nature and how easily it can be disrupted and tipped out of sync.

We arrived 120 miles west of Disko Island on Sunday night and within a few hours of arriving here a helicopter appeared out of the fog and viewed us, turned then disappeared back into the greyness. Our presence here seems to be causing great paranoia and fear. I don’t understand why an oil company has the protection of the navy, marine police, special forces, helicopters and countless speedboats to protect an oil rig from a peaceful Greenpeace ship while the surrounding pristine wilderness and the global climate gets none.

I’ve just returned from a morning taking pictures of Cairn Energy’s massive logistical operation to stop icebergs drifting towards the two drilling vessels. Huge tugs linger by football pitch-sized blue hunks of ice ready to lasso them and drag them away.  They even have ships firing huge jets of water for hours onto icebergs to make them melt and break up - a reflection of the oil industry’s attitude to the Arctic.

I can’t help thinking of all the people my girlfriend Kasja and I encountered when working in the Ganges Delta in India. Seeing homes that had been destroyed by cyclones, washed into the sea, women carrying concrete blocks and bolders on their head building sea walls to protect themselves – as they pointed out to sea saying “that’s where my home was.”

If climate change continues and the ice here continues to melt, the four million people who live in the Indian part of the Sunderbans where we were welcomed and greeted with hope will face the threat of rising sea levels.

Climate change is not a secondary issue on this campaign. It’s always in the forefront of our minds. We’re here to bear witness to the oil industry’s desperate search for the last drops of an addictive substance society needs to kick. We’re a long way from home but we hope we’re doing something important by challenging the oil industry and saying loud and clear that we need to finally go beyond oil.

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