Dinosaurs, Polar Bears and Sir John Browne

By Tooker Gomberg, Calgary, Alberta.

Strategy and energy and a mock street-hockey game, in June, in Calgary. Colour and commentary from the World Petroleum Congress.

“You’re under arrest. Come with us” the police officer tells me. “Two options: you can ride your bike down to arrest-processing – or the second option is to get a car to drive you down there.”

It seemed the message of our group was getting through! Why use oil when there are sustainable alternatives?

We were in Calgary at the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) June 11-15, where 3,000 delegates from the world’s largest oil and gas companies had gathered to compare notes and plot the extraction of the planet’s hydrocarbons.

Images of Seattle danced in activists’ heads, and the End of Oil Action Coalition was born. The goal? To put forward the proposition that more oil meant more trouble, and to urge a quick transition towards renewable, clean energy from the sun and the wind.

The petroleum pirates have much to answer for: an environment degraded by oil spills and poisonous fumes; a climate cooking from burning ever-more gasoline; and human rights atrocities from slavery in the Sudan to the hanging, in Nigeria, of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others – all for oil.

With so much criminal activity unleashed on our fragile planet by this industry, the authorities chose instead to arrest me.

After parking our bikes inside the police station, (at last – indoor bike parking!), I emptied my pockets, placed my belt and shoes in a small locker, and called a lawyer. My “crime”? Breaking the conditions of a previous release. It was true – I had spoken into a megaphone in front of Suncor Energy’s offices a few days prior. In doing so, I broke a condition from a previous arrest prohibiting me from being within 500 metres of any Suncor property. They claimed to have – gasp! – caught me on videotape speaking at the scene of the crime.

They should have nabbed Rick George, C.E.O. of Suncor. His company is strip-mining huge tracts of northern Alberta to extract oily tar sands and then cooking that to extract the oil. Left behind are vast tailings ponds and denuded ecosystems. And Suncor’s future plans include more strip-mining, this time to extract oil shale in Australia, right next to the Great Barrier Reef heritage park.

Instead, as might be expected, the police and local media welcomed oil execs with open arms, and tried to squelch the “radicals” from talking about more-sustainable alternatives. At its best, a democratic society would welcome views divergent from the status quo. But the protestors were dubbed “rioters” and treated to incessant, ignorant coverage by much of the corporate media.

The Calgary Sun’s Associate Editor Paul Jackson maintained that The End of Oil Action Coalition was funded, along with the Seattle and D.C. protestors, by donations from Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Moammar Gadhafi.

Another newspaper piece told how protestors liked to use laser pointers to blind police. Then there was the article that fumed about protesters “prowling” around the malls like pimps, preying on impressionable teenagers and inviting them to join the counter-petroleum teach-in and the rallies. Words like “riot”, “disruption”, “tear-gassing” “fires” and “burnings” figured prominently in newspaper reports.

But nary a word was mentioned of the billions of dollars spent annually to advertise and sell the car – the main user of oil, and one of the most-advertised products on the face of the planet. There was hardly a hint of the hubris of the petrol-crackheads gathering to plot our continued addiction to oil.

The top three players in this fossil fuels game of Russian Roulette are Exxon/Mobil, BP/Amoco, and Shell. Together, the annual revenue of these three companies is greater than the combined Gross National Product of 160 of the world’s nations. These are the monsters that roam and devour the earth, the air, and the water. And on a whim, they sentence populations to servitude or annihilation.

Given the massive police presence, there was but one thing to do – take back the streets!

The Radical Cheerleaders burst onto the scene sporting fashionable black skirts and red tops, coincidentally the same colour scheme as the bicycle cops. Who would have guessed that the cops would drape themselves in a socialist/anarchist colour combo!

“Solar, wind are safe and clean.
Let’s shut down the oil machine!
We are here to let you know:
The time has come for oil to go!”

Not that BP/Amoco was listening. They are proceeding to build the Northstar project, the world’s first Arctic offshore oil drilling operation. This while the Arctic is critically impacted by the burning of deadly quantities of oil and gasoline. Arctic ice has shrunk in thickness by 40% in just four decades, and the Arctic is warming up at a rate of 3-5 times faster than the planetary average.

As the ice melts, the polar bears suffer. They rely on the ice to get out and hunt for seals. With less ice, polar bears are losing weight. They are suffering from our oil habit.

Smiling and confident, Sir John Browne, C.E.O. of BP/Amoco waltzed into Calgary and was embraced like a hero. Compare that to the greeting accorded two articulate critics of the industry who tried to enter Canada from the US. They were put in shackles, strip-searched, detained overnight for questioning, and finally refused entry.

If they were kept out, I figured I would try to get in to the congress. It took some chutzpah, but I snuck right in to a media scrum and challenged Sir John on his integrity. He speaks of his company’s commitment to solar power, yet BP continues with massive oil expansion plans. (Real Video format). Greenpeace suggests that the company name shouldn’t be BP, but rather BS.

Yet even with the clampdown, two thousand protesters were seen and heard on the streets of Calgary, along with a quartet of dinosaurs. The bicycle-riding Dinosaurs Against Fossil Fuels travelled to Calgary from Vancouver, and put on a captivating performance in their colourful long-tailed dinosaur costumes festooned with cowboy hats.

They sang modified old favourites like “You Can’t Get to Heaven” (- in a limousine, ’cause the Lord don’t sell no gasoline) and chanted: “Cars suck, bikes rule, and extinction stinks!” “Using oil is for fossil fools”, they shouted.

Others played a modified sort of hockey game in the shadow of the Shell tower. It was Earth against (S)hell, and by treachery and greed the (S)hell team was leading. Players for the (S)hell team included Mark Moody-Stewart, C.E.O., Torture and Bribery. At one point the referees (who represented the government) threatened to penalise the (S)hell team for an oil spill, but (S)hell argued their way out by maintaining that the spill was actually caused by Greenpeace having rammed their oil tanker.

The game proceeded apace with accelerated species extinctions. There was plenty of foul play, especially as the (S)hell team tried to asphyxiate the Earth team with car exhaust and gas well flaring. The Earth team almost succumbed until a sudden infusion of people power turned the tide and brought (S)hell to its knees.

We made the front pages. We confronted Sir John Browne. We sang our concern, and illustrated alternatives with puppets and dinosaurs. And we had a blast.

Are there lessons? Sure: we’re learning and evolving. The cops work top down. We’re thriving with lateral thinking and co-operative organizing that keeps ’em guessing. We’re tapping into tremendous, powerful, subsurface energy, especially youthful energy. And it’s ready to roil.

When the petrol-heads gather, we’ll be there. They can no longer plot and gloat without a challenge.

We’ll roll out the dinosaurs and the puppets, the songs and the signs. We’ll create our own media (check out IndyMedia Center). We’ll organize with email. We’ll build the links between labour, social justice, and ecology.

Maybe we don’t have the power and wealth of 160 nations, but we do have a passion to speak out and articulate a better way. The corporations are in the game for the money; we’re playing for our lives, for the air we breath, and for the world bequeathed to the future.

It’s time for the alternatives to oil and gas to grow legs and start walking. Just like we did, for six days in the streets of Calgary.