Last Sunday, after I posted my most recent blog, Climate Educators Wanted, I visited the Green page in HuffPost. My eyes lit up. Before my eyes, the GREENscape slowly turned into a story. Stories are nothing but fragments from life put together. Here’s how this story came together.
About midway down the left column, my earlier post, Letter to Young Americans was still visible. Right above it was a Shell oil ad. The ad and the story each occupied an equal amount of space, so that was a good beginning. Here is a quick read: the ad says, “Let’s Go,” asking all of us to join in. The story asks all young people to join in. The ad says, “Go Further,” telling us to progress into the future. The story says, “Start the climate revolution now,” for the purpose of a brighter future. The ad and the story outwardly appear to be saying the same thing and peacefully cohabiting in the HuffPo GREENscape.
Allow me to use my wild storyteller imagination to go a little deeper. The ad says, “Let’s Make What We’ve Got.” Let’s split this in two parts. I’d say, because Shell likes to “take” more than they “make,” we can replace one with the other. And “What We’ve Got”? Oil is what we’ve got. So to get at the essence of the story, the line should read, “Let’s Take the Oil We’ve Got.” My story, on the other hand, talks about getting off of fossil fuels––oil and coal––and starting a clean energy revolution. So you see, in spite of the superficial similarities, the ad and the story are actually heading down two different roads. As poet Robert Frost wrote,
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It’s time that we also take the road less traveled––the one with a clean energy future.
About the oil that we’ve got. Resource expert Michael Klare keeps pointing out that there is no easy oil anymore, only extreme energy in faraway places like the Arctic or in deep oceans. And it comes to us with great devastation.
That’s why Shell wants to “Go Further,” literally––in distance, not in time. Actually Shell wants to go quite far, all the way to the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas of Arctic Alaska to get the oil that is there. And they want you to support them in their journey, which is why they say, “Let’s Go.”
As it happens, Shell was ready to start drilling this past July in America’s Arctic Seas. But BP’s deadly oil–and–methane spill in the Gulf of Mexico put a kibosh on that plan. On May 25, I wrote a piece titled, BPing the Arctic? Will the Obama Administration Allow Shell Oil to Do to the Arctic What BP did to the Gulf? which was first posted in TomDisatch.com and then in numerous progressive outlets around the world, including HuffPost, and was also translated in other languages. I’ll not repeat what I said there; I hope you’ll take a look, but here is the last line:
“It’s time to put a stop to Shell’s drilling plan in America’s Arctic Ocean for this summer –– and all the summers to come.”
On May 27, President Obama suspended Shell’s Arctic drilling plan for 2010. So I thought that this particular story had ended for the year and we’ll reopen it again next year. But like all good stories, it became more like a large onion with many layers to peel.
Back to the HuffPo GREENscape. I saw that, two columns to the right and about an inch down, there was a news story with title, Alaska Sues Feds to Lift Arctic Drilling Suspension. Here is how that story came to life. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Arctic Alaska at the beginning of this month. His itinerary included a town hall meeting in Barrow (the northernmost Inupiat community in Alaska), a stop at the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, and a flight over the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Then on September 4, there appeared a story in the Los Angeles Times with a headline that read, Salazar: Arctic oil drilling must wait. In that piece you’ll see my polar bear photo with the Beaufort Sea in the background, one of the two Arctic seas that Shell wants to drill for oil. But of course the story couldn’t end there, either.
There is a lot of money at stake for Shell. They have already spent more than $2 billion in lease sale and probably several hundred million already in other operations and PR in the Arctic communities and outside. Did Shell arm–twist the Alaska state government? From my decade–long experience working on Arctic Alaska issues, all I can say is––most likely. So there you have it. The State of Alaska is so willing to allow Shell to go drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas that it sues the Feds to lift the Arctic offshore drilling ban.
Back to the ad: Shell wants to “Go Further.” As it happens, Shell has actually gone very far. Perhaps not as far as Star Trek’s famous where no man has gone before, but quite close––all the way to Sakhalin Island, on the Sea of Okhotsk in Far Eastern Siberia, to drill for oil.
I’ve also been to Far Eastern Siberia, to the Yakutia province, the largest sub–national entity in the world. But I’ve never been to Sakhalin in person. However, I’ve been there through stories told by none other than the master storyteller Anton Chekov. In 1890, Chekov made a seven–months–long journey to the Tsarist penal colony on Sakhalin Island. Chekov's journey was so amazing that he regularly wrote home about it. His book, Sakhalin Island, is now considered a masterpiece of world literature.
Shell’s journey to Sakhalin, on the other hand, is something no one would want to write home about. As a storyteller I believe in retelling stories again and again, because stories keep a culture alive. So here are some fragments from stories told by others about Shell’s journey to the Sakhalin.