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By party-fouling Shell, we hoped to highlight absurdity of oil giant's Arctic-drilling aspirations

Logan Price

I usually try not to tweet things that aren’t real. In fact, under normal circumstances, I try to be a good internet citizen and do everything I can to avoid passing on fake stories. Wednesday’s event, where I took the staged, now viral, #ShellFAIL video at the Seattle Space Needle, was obviously an exemption to that rule -- but one I considered carefully, and was glad to take.

In the case of Arctic drilling, all bets are off. The only reason Shell can now drill up there is that global warming has melted the summer ice to a fraction of what it was last time they tried. Shell's new plans for exploratory drilling, with the permission of the Obama administration, is just the first raindrop of a flood.

And while we're using liquids as metaphor, let’s talk about oil.

This isn’t the first time I’ve played with Greenpeace. I spent a few weeks in the summer of 2010 with them in the Louisiana Barrier Islands, volunteering to pilot journalists around the BP mess in Zodiaks. We could only get within sixty miles of the spill site, on the up-current side, but it was the most depressing sight I've ever been exposed to. There is nothing more harrowing than watching -- however briefly -- an ecosystem dying before your eyes.

Crude, I learned, is the stickiest thing imaginable. Once it becomes emulsified with water, it is impossible to wash from your hands without a solvent or industrial degreaser. Oil clings to wildlife, plants, and sand -- and doesn’t let go. It’s a slow death for marine mammals, even those that manage to avoid the worst of it. Ever heard a dolphin coughing uncontrollably? That's what happens when they get the stuff in their blowhole.

In Louisiana, I listened to commercial fisherman sobbing over the radio, and watched an international spill response expert drink himself into a stupor at the bar and then scream at people for dropping cigarettes butts off the dock -- “you are killing the little fish!” It would have been hard for anyone not to lose their marbles, and I still think about that experience every day.

To believe that Shell (or the other oil companies that will follow them) is not going to spill in the Arctic some day -- and that if they do they will somehow be able to contain and clean it, means buying into a PR and lobbying campaign that they have spent billions on just to make you not think about it too much. They are after all, in the words of that lovely Gizmodo blogger (sorry for lying to you), a “Sea-raping mega-oil firm” with a new (old) rig to launch -- hell bent and desperate for more drilling, and the addictive money-high gained from being the first oil men to conquer the inhospitable north.

James Turner from Greenpeace used a pretty fitting analogy: “They’ve got so much money and power, it’s like they put all of the cheat codes into their Playstation, so no one can beat them.” That was after Shell’s army of lawyers tried to preemptively sue every environmental organization they could think of, just so they wouldn’t have to deal with the annoyance of bad PR associated with anyone sympathetic to polar bears getting within a single nautical mile of their rigs, or even holding a sign at one of their gas stations.

The problem is, in the last few years, we’ve gone from one epic ecological or human disaster to the next so rapidly that it's hard to get people to pay attention. Remember how much the Exxon Valdez dominated the news, when we were kids and that drunk captain drove a mega tanker into a rock in Prince William Sound? Is that old era, of being shocked at shocking things, ending?  We’ve nearly forgotten about Deepwater Horizon already -- maybe there's just too much to be bummed about. But in my experience the antidote to depression is to do something, and if we don’t stop the ultra-rich from messing everything up for the sake of becoming uber-ultra-rich, our lives are only going to get continually less inspiring.

I used to spend my summers working on Salmon boats up and down Alaska. It’s the most incredible place I have ever been, wild enough to break your heart. If Deepwater Horizon had happened anywhere near there, I might have just thrown myself overboard to avoid the grief.

Logan Price is a grassroots environmental activist and nonviolence trainer who has worked with a variety of organizations, including Occupy Wall Street. You can follow him on Twitter at @kstrel.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.