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Why I Risked My Life to Stop Arctic Drilling

How far would you go for something you believed in?

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After all, their goal is to interrupt Gazprom’s operations and raise awareness about the consequences of drilling in the Arctic — and they have enough supplies to last them for several days.

The Hosing

Hours later, icy water showers down on Basil from a fire hose above. Workers are standing on the rig’s edge, fire hoses in hand, aiming for both portaledges. Basil, Terry and Kumi sit wet and shivering.

Why are they doing this?

Basil closes his eyes, but then opens them to assess Terry and Kumi.

“Can you feel your hands and feet?

Terry and Kumi nod.

They talk about the importance of staying hydrated, and they take a sip of water. Basil grabs a banana nut bar — the first and last thing he’ll have to eat throughout the action. And then they talk. And they talk throughout their time — what will amount to 15 hours — on the portaledge. The three talk about family, friends, past actions they’ve done, and why they are here, right now, on the portaledge.

Although Basil didn’t get a chance to share all this with Kumi and Terry, his story goes a little something like this:

Basil grew up near the beach in Connecticut. His father often took him on nature walks. His mother forced him to volunteer at an aquarium when he was 12. And he ended up loving it. One summer, his father threw a Beekeeping For Dummies book at him and said, “Do something with yourself.” So he learned how to beekeep. He thought the environment was beautiful and permanent. And so when his environmental science high school teacher showed the class photos of deforestation in the Amazon, his heart sank.

Basil went to the University of Vermont and studied environmental science. He wrote a paper on Greenpeace, which led him to interview someone at the environmental organization. He asked about volunteering at Greenpeace, and decided to drop out of school. His parents, though, convinced him to take a leave of absence. And so he took one semester off and did a Greenpeace Semester. He came back to college and founded a student group called Forest Crimes Unit, which demanded the college rid itself of the unsustainable Kimberley-Clark toilet paper and purchase recycled toilet paper. Forest Crimes Unit was Basil’s main priority. He held the group’s first meeting in his apartment and borrowed his friend’s projector. After a yearlong campaign, Forest Crimes Unit was victorious.

Basil graduated and went on to do volunteer and contract work for Greenpeace, including climbing Mount Rushmore and dropping a banner that read “America Honors Leaders Not Politicians, Stop Global Warming.” He was arrested that day.

Last May, Basil was hired onto Greenpeace’s Actions Team. When Basil was asked to participate in this action in the Arctic, he sat on it for a few weeks. As a climber for nine years and a Greenpeace advocate for six, he not only felt prepared, but also responsible. After all he has all the skills they needed. He was, though, overwhelmed with fear of the Russian legal system and ending up in a Russian prison. But once he had stopped worrying, he had to face his most difficult challenge: telling his loved ones what he was doing.

The Escape

Now, Basil sits silent, as the stream of water continues to fall on his head. And then on Kumi’s head. And then Terry’s. They lost all communication with Greenpeace, and so they sit on this tiny portaledge on this massive rig in the cold Arctic — both alone and together in many ways.