Emma Thompson: At The Top Of The World

Actress and environmental activist Emma Thompson has recently been in the Arctic again, to draw attention to the international decision to make the tiny and remote Nunavut community of Clyde River into a sacrifice zone, in favour of paving the way for more oil and gas drilling.

By Judith Stapleton

Photos By Nick Cobbing, Greenpeace

For biological systems—Life—to remain diverse and productive indefinitely, Earth’s interconnected ecological communities have to be protected against human assault. It’s as simple as that. The evolution of Life on our planet depends on the cessation of hostilities.

That is why actress and environmental activist Emma Thompson has recently been in the Arctic again, to draw attention to the international decision to make the tiny and remote Nunavut community of Clyde River into a sacrifice zone, in favour of paving the way for more oil and gas drilling.

The preparation for drilling comes in the form of seismic blasting by a Norwegian consortium of oil and gas companies, in which huge percussive blasts of air are bounced off the ocean floor.

In 2014, the Canadian National Energy Board denied the community’s case to stop this testing, on the grounds that there had been “sufficient consultation” and that this testing “was safe.” A federal court has upheld the Energy Board’s decision, in spite of the absence of research on the impact of seismic blasting on marine life. The people of Clyde River have taken their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, and on November 30, they will find out whether their sovereignty over their livelihoods on the sea has been sold, or whether, indeed, they ever had it. As the polar ice melts, the definition of their “remoteness” necessarily changes.

“As the ice melts, the oceans become less and less saline. If the marine life dies, we can’t live here anymore.”

Thompson traveled to the Arctic on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, with Professor Chris Williams, chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University, in the Department of Chemistry and Physical Science. Thompson commented on her fresh understanding of the physical process of seismic blasting. “I really began to see what a disastrous activity it is. And the way in which it would affect this community really marks the difference between survival and not surviving.” The cost of commercial foodstuff here is off the charts!

Professor Williams is among many scientists who point out the obvious: “I think it’s clear that not only should we not be doing it because the objective is wrong, but it damages sea life directly in ways that we’re only beginning to find out, in the same way that we’ve only just started finding out the damage of naval sonar on underwater mammals.

It’s urgent, actually, to stop all of this. They [marine mammals and fish] are subjected to massive amounts of noise—I mean, these things go off every 10 seconds over a huge area of Baffin Bay for months on end. That is the proposal. And it’s hard to believe that the mammals who inhabit the ocean could possibly be unaffected by the scale of noise constantly going off for months on end.”

In spite of the Paris CO2 Accord, many governments support the oil industry’s increasing quest towards the Arctic as oil and gas reserves become more accessible as climate change causes large areas of Arctic sea ice to melt. Global oil companies including BP, Chevron and Shell all own drilling rights in the Greenland Sea and are the likely customers for the data being gathered by the Norwegian geophysical company that is doing the seismic testing, TGS-Nopec. It is unlikely Canada would be a customer.

Seismic testing has been conducted every summer in Greenland since 2011. In April, TGS announced it had also begun doing seismic testing of the Barents Sea. A 2014 agreement with Canada grants TGS the rights to percussion testing in the “Canadian Arctic.”

Clyde River (pop. 1,100) sits on Baffin Bay, the body of water between Nunavut—Canada’s most remote geography—and Greenland, an autonomous country under the political umbrella of Denmark. DeSmog UK has reported that it is Norway leading the charge in Europe for Arctic oil development. Production at its first offshore oilfield is immanent.

For lovers of the Netflix series Occupied, it will come as no surprise that Norwegians are well aware that their dependence on oil is leading to environmental and, conceivably, geopolitical catastrophe. In reaction to the desire to see the “Western Ocean painted black and gold,” popular author Jo Nesbo has imagined a Norwegian success in replacing uranium with thorium in nuclear reactors, abruptly and proudly opting out of further fossil abuse. This is certainly physically possible, though, as far as we know, no fully functioning thorium reactors have yet been completed.

Thorium was commonly used as the light source in gas mantles before concerns about its radioactivity removed it from general circulation. I can remember the bright light it produced in the Coleman lanterns we used at our family summer cottage on an island in Georgian Bay, where we had no electricity, and used Naptha and propane as fuels.

This gripping series makes it all too clear that ending our dependence on the carbon of long-dead, pre-historic life forms will have to be a concerted effort, with the sort of international agreements that were achieved in Paris last year, and will be achieved this year in Marrakesh.

Meanwhile, shale fracking continues, and the quest for oil turns the land, and the Western Ocean, black and gold. For Norway, Clyde River is a gnat on their radar screen.

Arctic campaigner Sune Scheller, on-board Arctic Sunrise headed to Greenland, said, “Shell and other oil companies are hoping the world won’t know that seismic blasting exists, even less notice the danger it poses to endangered whales and other marine life, but we’re here to expose this madness and keep eyes and ears on a harmful operation.”

Publisher’s Note: Judith Stapleton is a writer in the fields of science and medicine.