Can Social Media Save the Arctic Ocean?

Celebrities take to Twitter, join Greenpeace’s campaign to stop oil drilling in the North Pole.

Should this stunning vista really be spoiled—ruined—with a drilling rig? (Photo: deepseawaters.org)
The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

One hundred celebrities have joined Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign, launched yesterday, which aims to create an Arctic sanctuary that would protect the North Pole from offshore drilling and industrial fishing.

Big name supporters include Paul McCartney, Robert Redford, Jude Law, and Penelope Cruz.

The Arctic is a vast, ice-covered region consisting of the Arctic Ocean and parts of eight countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Russia. It supports diverse plant and animal life, from beloved polar bears and walruses, to the lesser known Muskox and Arctic hare.

The region is particularly vulnerable to climate change—it is heating twice as fast as anywhere else. The polar ice cap is shrinking by 9 percent each decade. If this continues we could see an ice-free Arctic by the end of the century.   

Shell Oil is poised to begin drilling in two Arctic seas this summer, kicking off what many believe will be a new “Arctic oil rush” that would further compromise these delicate ecosystems.

Greenpeace argues that the Arctic should have the same protections awarded to Antarctica decades ago: commercial drilling is not allowed, and the continent is used for scientific research.

The Arctic is one of the last truly wild places on the planet: it is home to just four million people, and a mere one million tourists trek to its icy shores each year. Still, the loss of magnificent icecaps and roaming polar bears seems to have captured the public’s imagination.

Sixty-seven thousand people have signed the Save the Arctic pledge in the last 24 hours, after the official launch by Lucy Lawless of Xena: Warrior Princess fame, and Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur responsible for the Virgin Group, along with Greenpeace and leaders in the global business community.

The occasion was Rio+20, the U.N. Sustainable Development conference that has been a resounding disappointment for environmentalists and activists who had hoped world leaders would adopt new standards for sustainability and environmental protection.

Save the Arctic might be the silver lining of the event. Author and 350.org founder Bill McKibben tweeted:

When Greenpeace’s petition, called the “Arctic Scroll,” reaches one million signatures, the organization plans to take it to the bottom of the Arctic ocean floor, along with a “Flag for the Future,” designed by children from around the world.

Until then, the social media storm will continue to raise awareness and generate hope for the northernmost part of the world.

When Beatle Paul McCartney threw his weight behind the campaign, Greenpeace responded: “Tweet out your best #arcticbeatles song titles.”

The best #arcticbeatles tweet?

What will all this media attention accomplish?

Just last week, a twitter storm dedicated to raising awareness about fossil fuels (#endfossilfuelsubsidies) became the second highest international trend on Twitter, at a rate of 3+ tweets per second.   

Days later, at Rio+20, world leaders blocked a clause in the conference’s negotiating text that called for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, effectively ignoring the pleas of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.

Will #savethearctic beat the odds and have a more lasting impact?  

Maybe, if we keep up the tweets! “All together Now” #arcticbeatles

Should the Arctic Ocean be fair game for off-shore oil drilling?

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