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Greenpeace: why we're asking Shell staff to face the music over Arctic drilling

On Monday 3 August, Greenpeace began a musical marathon: daily performances outside Shell’s London HQ of a Requiem for Arctic Ice, created to highlight the company’s reckless attempts to drill for oil in the Alaskan Arctic this summer.

Inspired by the brave string quartet that played as the Titanic sank, a huge range of musicians from string quartets to brass bands will join the movement calling on Shell to get out of the Arctic. We’re also calling on staff in the company to blow the whistle on Arctic drilling before it’s too late.

We suspect the temperature on Arctic drilling within the company is lukewarm at best. But while Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, touts Arctic drilling as the hot piece in the company’s investment portfolio, a debate is raging in the US about whether Arctic drilling should go ahead at all.

Only last week Hillary Clinton expressed doubt, saying she doesn’t think it a “necessary part of our overall clean energy climate change agenda”. It would not be surprising if, for many staff at different levels of the mammoth hierarchy, a distinct uneasiness around the difficult questions of Arctic drilling had already set in.

This is who we’re playing for: those on the inside who may be questioning the risks – financial, safety at sea, and for the climate – of Shell’s current attempt to drill for Arctic oil. Ultimately it is the politicians, investors and bosses who can pull the plug on Arctic drilling. But all Shell staff can challenge their bosses and hold them to account on the risks of Arctic drilling.

And staff are stopping to listen. Every day so far the windows on Level 3 and 4 have been lined with faces peering down on musicians positioned on oil slicks in various spots around the main entrance. The head of security stopped speaking mid-sentence as the music caught his attention. As staff go in and out of the building, they have been up close to classical musicians and the beautiful score of the Requiem for Arctic Ice.

Hearts and minds

What does it mean to try and move your opponent? Are we like athletes trying to get under the skin of the opposition? Or are we naively appealing to some false idea of humanity within the structure of an oil corporation?

Well, neither. We’re not engaging the company as a whole on some persuasive engagement tack like that which Christian Toennesen prescribed in February. Nor are we debating the moral compass of the whole, as Jonathon Porritt sought to – we’re abundantly clear that Arctic drilling pushed by Shell’s leaders is wrong.

What we’re doing is speaking from the heart to those lower down the ladder than the bosses pushing through these dangerous plans. We’re calling on insiders to hear the music outside and question the trajectory the company is taking.

On day one of our marathon set of performances to protest against Shell’s Arctic oil drilling Shell called this feat of musical determination a “stunt”. In reality, Shell is the one posturing.

Its Arctic drilling attempt is high-risk play, designed to assure investors the company has secure reserves for future decades. And this year’s attempt to drill in the Arctic is just the latest in a suite of failed attempts.

Shell has met disaster after disaster trying to hit Arctic oil, ranging from a rig that ran ashore to their contractors facing multiple felony convictions and millions of dollars in fines. Let’s see what staff are saying on day 25, when it comes – because we’ll still be there if the company continues to try and drill in the Arctic.

Listen to the music and feel for yourself why we must allow our sadness at the prospect of a badly damaged Arctic wilderness to inform our decision to protect the Arctic from oil companies like Shell.

The Guardian News
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