Wen Stephenson: Lobster Boat Blockade and Mainstream Activism

Wen Stephenson: Lobster Boat Blockade and Mainstream Activism

Paul Andreas Fischer

Wen Stephenson: Lobster Boat Blockade and Mainstream Activism

Prior to the completion of the Paris Climate Change Conference, Wen Stephenson, a Harvard graduate in journalism joined a panel at UVM to speak on activism and education in environmentalism. As an environmental journalist, he expressed serious frustration with his colleagues, quoting Obama that “failure to treat the greatest crisis we have ever faced with the treatment it deserves… for, I believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late.” His speech and the panel focused on a group of activists who took a lobster-fishing boat and placed it in front of a 689’ coal freighter, the Energy Enterprise, in international waters, resulting in incarceration on charges similar to piracy in a Russian prison facility, though terror charges were avoided.
While some see environmentalists as united on various issues, Wen believes there has been a failure of mainstream environmentalism to to come to terms with the reality of climate change. More importantly, he sees himself as an “environmental abolitionist”, who holds no tolerance for attempts to prolong, ignore, or exacerbate these issues which threaten all life on Earth. This hard surface position is tempered in his work by the two activists who actually engaged in the act, one of whom, Jay O’Hara, is a lifelong Quaker. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, when an anti-piracy vessel was called to resolve the situation, the activists could hear the ominous click of rifle being chambered and prepared for use. This was intended to be a peaceful demonstration, but by the introduction of the machinery of warfare, became one which placed a Quaker, who hold abstinence from violence as a tenet of the religious practices, in the unfortunate position of surrender to charges of violence or to engage in violence themselves.

By holding 40,000 tonnes of coal in place for a single day, economic as well as environmental impacts could be felt. These brothers in resistance to energy policies which had been proven to spell disaster had risked their lives, and spent two years in prison, to show that an individual could make a difference. It was also critical to note that the behaviours of these men were not radical. This was a rational, calculated attempt to, in the words of Thoreau, “let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine” which then spoke to the necessity of civil disobedience in fighting war, but can be here applied to make clear that at the least there was a nod to the ability of iconoclasticism to change policies, even if the economic and political structures seemed blind to some very pertinent and distinctive facts. That is to say, there is power in the people of the worldwide community to make change even as other systems of communication and regulation fail.
In order to make the point clear, Gwen ran over some of the facts which he believed made this action necessary, and even heroic. For years, 80% of the Arctic has been gone in the summer, and recently for the first time since humans have inhabited earth in their modern form, the Arctic became a swimming pool. Rather than discussing the grave implications of this astounding change, fossil fuel industrial concerns doubled down in their attempts to extract and use these resources, Gwen cites the recommendations of scientist to keep carbon emissions to one fifth the level already burned. While some speculations see the global temperature raised by as much as 3.5 degrees, a mere increase of 2 degrees will result in disastrous problems, according to reliable research. We are already there, and there have been changes in storm mitigation plans as a result of the rising sea level and changing atmosphere on Earth.
To finish, the audience’s attention was drawn to a sign which read “cambimos el sistema y no el clima” or to change everything, we need everything. This was followed by a description of work in 2006 by other environmentalist activists. Ken Ward focused on a brief description of his work to repeal the Patriot Act and saw traditional organizations fail in their attempt to meet the challenge to change, which precluded the necessity to protest. While the protest of the Iraq War was too early in his experience of an activist to break rules, the destruction of the environment encouraged him to join Jay O’Hara on this lobster boat blockade. His motives for action were distinct to other panelists who presented their work.
May McBride has worked in the environmental field for a long time. She had some similarities with Ken Ward in that her work was not fulfilling at first, and that the goals and results of early activism were frustrated and the results were not tangible. Eventually she was rewarded with a decrease in pay and a unique job: to clean rivers one at a time. This was the most fulfilling work, and more importantly the impact can be seen. Her activism has no legal recourse, is not damaging in any way, and most importantly it builds the basis upon which these larger environmental standoffs activate.
Finally, Gideon Commey works in Ghana and focuses on education. He brought down the hammer by declaring that the nature of the status quo requires the nature of dissent in conclusion from a quote from Winston Churchill that an “era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” After the talk I had the opportunity to question him about his work in some detail.
While the United States and developed nations are among the world’s greatest polluters, the developing world also plays a role as many of these nations technologically and socially stand at a point many decades lost here. Oil is still seen as a blessing among these groups, new methods of extraction are eagerly anticipated. After being prompted, he elaborated on the necessity of using even magic to explain basic principles to people in villagers who will in all probability in the coming years either see their emissions rise dramatically or be subject to a radical change in the methodology of distribution of technology, one which has not occurred in other nations. In some cases, there are not the resources to purchase laboratory equipment or supplies, and it becomes necessary to combine the message of advanced science within social customs or even the importance of faith.
A parallel can be drawn in the industrialization of the United States which followed similar bans on such industrialization after widespread lung cancer and soot in English urban areas, which became so serious with heavy coal usage that soot even rained from the sky, leading to the invention of the umbrella. Once standards for air pollution were established which were deemed to be safe for humans seeking to avoid chemical exposure and cancer risks, similar such industrialization took hold across the world in various areas. Little did these new age industrialists ever suspect that their actions could put the health of the entire globe, and not just the residents of the big cities, at serious risk.
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