A detailed account of a headline-making Arctic oil protest.
In September 2013, 30 Greenpeace activists attempted to scale a Russian oil platform to peacefully protest drilling 180 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The plan was to unfurl a banner calling global attention to the ecological dangers of pumping oil from the pristine region. The protesters were quickly arrested by masked commandos and imprisoned on charges of piracy, facing a possible 15 years in prison. The incident sparked protests in cities worldwide. Stewart, who led the Greenpeace media team seeking release of the Arctic 30, conveys the passion and idealism of the activists—men and women from more than a dozen countries, including sailors and climbers, who spent months in prisons in Murmansk and St. Petersburg—and the determination of Vladimir Putin to make an example of them for attempting to disrupt the operation of his state-run oil company’s prized platform. For the Russians, the protesters were simply foreign agents “determined to undermine Russian economic development.” The book has revealing moments, as when one judge, in a hearing, accidentally started reading his predetermined judgment instead of the indictment. In time, the imprisoned activists were mired in uncertainty and squabbling; some questioned whether they were naïve to take on Putin in the Arctic. Perhaps in an effort to enliven his often lackluster, blow-by-blow narrative of imprisonment and court hearings, Stewart invents long stretches of dialogue among the key players, saying “it doesn’t much matter” that he has done so, since the quoted words convey the essence of situations he learned about in interviews. But it does matter. His many liberties undermine the credibility of his reporting and become a constant irritant to readers. The activists were eventually set free after paying fines.
An uneven account of an intriguing environmental story.