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Greenpeace staged a demonstration at the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend that could explain the booing during the podium presentation on Sunday afternoon.

While David Couthard attempted to interview Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, crowds periodically booed which prompted Vettel to say:

“We are a bit confused here because the crowd are booing and cheering and I’m not sure why,”

It appears that Greenpeace had protestors scale the main grandstand and then rappel off the front of the awning to unfurl a banner that said, “Arctic oil? Shell no!” Two hang gliders flew over the race with banners trailing and a sign was unfurled on the railing in front of the podium—apparently via some sort of remote control.

Greenpeace International Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, released a statement on their website saying:

My interest in F1 started way back when I had a roommate who absolutely loved it — she would sometimes get up at 2 o’clock in the morning just to watch it. And before long, she got me hooked, too. So I can certainly respect the technology, sportsmanship and innovation that are at the heart of the Formula One Grand Prix.

But what I can’t respect is what the sponsor of the event, Shell, is doing to the Arctic.

Greenpeace were so amped about their mission that they created a video hijacking Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (the popular intro music for British Grand Prix coverage broadcasts) and offered a glimpse of the perpetrators (all edgy and hard core pucker-face shots in race suits). Greenpeace said they had 35 members at various locations at the race.

It is also suspected that one of them attempted to rappel off of a platform above the drivers but was stopped by security.

What I can’t respect is Greenpeace’s willingness to risk the safety of its members and fans by repelling off of grandstands and placing the drivers and personnel on the podium at risk of injury to make a point that they aren’t happy about Arctic drilling. You have an issue with that endeavor, meet with Shell and discuss it but this classless act is just simply base behavior. Fans underneath the rappelling duo didn’t deserve the possibility of being injured should one of them fall.

A cursory look at their website and list of staff have accolades and they really big up the degrees and achievements of their members as engineers, nuclear specialists and more. Really? Then go spend your money on developing a new fuel that doesn’t rely on oil or filling landfills with old batteries, acid and debris.

I hate a hypocrite! There is every chance they all arrived at Spa Francochamps in vehicles powered by oil harvested by Shell or other fuel suppliers in F1. Trying to engage in corporate character assassination instead of finding solutions is not my idea of activism. Positive energy spent will always benefit more than negative energy expended to tear others down.

I have been to Shell’s technology center and to Ferrari and I have seen the work, resources, efforts and emotional and social capital invested in being better stewards of our resources. Ferrari’s factories are ripe with carbon-neutral initiatives both inside and out (they literally have trees in their factory next to where they build your V8 for the Italia you ordered). Shell’s investment in alternative fuels, better safety, mobility, health and quality of life in one year outweigh anything Greenpeace has done in years. You can see some of their environmental performance metrics here and many of the initiatives they are working on.

Are all programs error free? Of course not. Is it dangerous finding oil? Shell yes! Could every company in the oil business find areas of improvement? Certainly. Is Shell working hard at doing just that? Absolutely! Are Greenpeace interested in working on new solutions and actually inventing technology and methods for better fuels, mobility, health and safety? Are they working for a better fuel alternative for humanity? Well…they do have mission statement:

“We defend the natural world and promote peace by investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse, and championing environmentally responsible solutions”

So they seem to be light on actually innovating or creating solutions so much as confronting abuse and championing things other people have tried. Their big creation is a mobile phone app it seems and they are keen to suggest that wind power is the answer to all our needs as seen here. In fact, they say With current technology, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal can provide 96% of our electricity and 98% of our total heating demand — accounting for almost all of our primary energy demand. Good, then go build it and stop hanging from grandstands and endangering fans and drivers in Formula 1. You’ve completely convinced us Greenpeace, when is your first wind farm going up and what neighborhood is it going to supply energy too? Go on!  Go build it!

I’m sorry but Shell are doing far more than just parroting reports about wind farms…the ones that don’t kill rare birds of course. No, Shell is actually installing wind farms and putting their money where their mouth is. You can see their work here.

I grow weary of activism that seeks to discredit, destroy or tear down companies and people trying to be better stewards of our planet. While they are working diligently toward innovation and new fuel alternatives, they also have to keep the world supplied with current technology. Even Formula 1 itself has moved to a new fuel flow-rate for 2014 reducing usage by 50kgs during each race (that’s 22,000kgs less fuel used in 2014 which is thousands of liters of fuel). They are using innovative Energy Recovery System technology to harvest waste energy and re-deploy it into their machines. If Mr. Naidoo doesn’t like that then there is always the new Formula E series which is an all-electric racing series set to launch in 2014.  Maybe he can get up at 2am and watch those races with his female roommate?

Being a dissenting curmudgeon does nothing for humanity. Repelling off of grandstands and risking injury to the perpetrators themselves and fans below is even more sophomoric. Taking all of those degrees you brag about and putting your heads together to invent a new battery technology or way of delivering safer burning stoves or fuel alternatives to emerging cultures or finding ways to help energy companies with their alternative fuel initiatives seems more cooperative, less militant and more beneficial for all humanity.

It’s time to grow up Greenpeace. It’s time to start becoming part of the solution and not part of the invective. It’s time to start acting like adults and actually using that education you are so proud of and applying it to positive innovation for people in need and stop castigating those who are trying, innovating and supplying the world with energy. They would be the first to admit that they could always do a better job in certain areas and would be more than willing to listen to great innovative ideas. Formula 1 included.

Then again, finding a way of traveling the world on someone else’s dime, calling yourself and “investigator”, “campaigner” or “specialist” sounds good and getting paid to be a grand critic of companies, people and governments seems like the ultimate bravery of being out of range…and getting paid for it is even better.

The world feed for the race didn’t show any of the signs, banners or rappelling antics so perhaps my idea of changing course and becoming innovators of alternate fuels and building your own sites and helping others do the same seems like a better use of resources? Just thinking outside of the box there…it’s not as eye-grabbing as being ecological activists but then actually helping people would be soul-satisfyingly good.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Crushr99

    I’ve spent my entire career with a Big Evil Mining Corporation. These people would not make it through the week without us. Good luck even finding food to cook and eat without using the materials and fuels we extract from the earth.

    If it can’t be grown it has to be mined.

    • No matter how just or unjust the cause may or may not be, there is a time and place and this was neither.

      • Michael in Seattle

        I could easily say the same thing about your rant, Todd.
        btw: every major cause and protest activity has had detractors that stated exactly the same words you did – “. . .there is a time and place and this was neither.”
        Mark me as disappointed.

        • Sorry for disappointing you Michael. We may not agree on this and that’s perfectly fine, mate. I understand that some people support the cause, feel strongly about the issue and that’s understandable. I simply feel that when we work together, we achieve things. When we are singularly divisive, we achieve far less. Awareness is not its own reward. Real awareness is through collaboration toward a common goal and having the patience, decorum and civility to listen to a dissenting view with discernment and respect. Achieving 100% commonality of thought is not realistic but an organization should place a higher goal for itself than hanging above a crowd at a F1 race to bring “awareness” to a cause. It is base behavior and lessens their goal of protecting the Arctic in my opinion but that, as I said, is simply my opinion. I would like to think we’ve progressed a little further than this.

          My view is not written on a rock nor is it popular with those who disagree. That’s perfectly fine but please know that I applaud you for sharing it, calling me on it and I genuinely appreciate your opinion. Grace, Steve and I are on different political spectrums and yet I can’t think of two people I cherish more even with those differences between us (Peter knows what I am talking about…right Peter?) If we’re ever going to progress, we have to listen and I appreciate the opportunity to listen to your view. Let’s face it, I can’t understand why you’re all not Ferrari fans but that’s ok…I love you guys anyway. ;)

          • Michael in Seattle

            Actually, I am a Ferrari fan. :-)
            I’m not against your opinion, Todd, nor your right to espouse it, btw. I simply believe that all non-violent forms of protest are fair and, frankly, help push the discourse of an issue(s) being protested. That same belief by others helped give us MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, which we celebrate on its 50th anniversary today.
            Greenpeace may be irritating but I believe they help provide a counter-bookend that allows reason to, hopefully, take root in between the extremes. Same goes for all non-violent extremes – they help make the rational in between just that.
            Thanks for the kind response, Todd.
            Good night.

  • oilator

    Sometimes I leave the car running on idle overnight so that I don’t have to wait for the heater to get warm in the morning. I also blame Shell for this inconvenience.

  • DoubleApex

    I’ve been listening to the podcast without posting much since I got back into F1 in ’09, but I feel like I’ve got to break radio silence for this.

    I sympathize a bit with Naidoo and his compatriots. I consider myself a bit of an environmentalist, but I also love fast cars (and driving slow cars fast). I watch F1, ALMS, and Grand Am. I race a ChumpCar and participate in monthly TSD rallies. I daily drive a turbocharged wagon. I try to rationalize some of this – motorsport accounts for but a drop in the bucket of worldwide fuel usage, and it helps develop better fuel technology – but some of it is impossible. I have to live with that hypocrisy until I can afford a Model S and land a seat in a ZEOD RC or Formula E car.

    I think to criticize Greenpeace for not doing research is to misunderstand the point of Greenpeace. Greenpeace isn’t a research laboratory or a thinktank, it’s more like a marketing or lobbying firm. From my reading of their webpage, their employees aren’t research scientists (very few of them are scientists at all). They are chosen for their ability to identify big-picture issues in an area and get that message out to the public, and I’d say that they were fairly effective at Spa – they certainly had the attention of the fans there in person, and they’ve gotten more coverage after the race.

    I won’t argue that all of their methods were safe and sane. The grandstand banner seems a bit dicey (several news sites which said the grandstand banner was down by race time missed this photo: http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/08/25/2013-belgian-grand-prix-in-pictures/gp-belgio-f12013-36/), though I can’t tell if they were actually above the seats or in front of them due to the perspective. I did think the remotely operated podium signs were cheeky and pretty brilliant. Whoever thought of that should get an extra quinoa granola bar at the next planning meeting.

    As far as the point of the protest, let’s first not lose sight of the fact that Spa is the only European race with an oil company as the title sponsor. I suspect we might have seen a similar protest if Total or Mobil had sponsored the race (I doubt they would’ve tried a similar stunt at the Petronas Malaysia GP…).

    As to Shell’s environmental practices, well, I guess my standpoint is this: Shell is a corporation, and as a corporation its officers and board members have a fiduciary duty to the shareholders to make the maximum profit possible without violating the law. This means drilling wherever it’s profitable, and keeping spills to a size that won’t interfere with profits. Note that this is distinct from *eliminating* spills. It’s like Ford and the Pinto: they want to figure out the break-even point between investment in preventing spills and investment in cleaning up spills and the associated PR nightmare. I don’t doubt that Shell is trying to find ways to minimize the environmental impact of drilling for oil, but I doubt they’re ever going to find a way to eliminate the risk of a major spill, and as such I see why Greenpeace is pushing for an Arctic sanctuary.

    Finally, I’m not sure what your point was about Mr. Naidoo “getting up at 2am and watching races with his female roommate,” but it felt uncomfortably close to the sort of argumentum ad hominem this site is so good at avoiding, and to be honest I think it’s beneath you.

    Anyway, sorry for the long response. I am glad you chose to cover the protest rather than ignore it as some “news” sites have done. Whether or not you agree with it, it was definitely news.

    Kimi 2013! No points today? No problem! That LWB E21 coming at Monza will definitely help him make up 63 points in…er…8 races…

    • Meine

      Well said. This sort of political propoganda does not belong on f1blog Todd.
      And if have to do it, do it with decorum and civility.

      • It’s just an Op Ed mate. I’m not trying to make a political statement. I was trying to watch a grand prix and they made it a political statement. If you agree with the cause, I’m fine with that and don’t think any more or less of you. I just think there is a time and place and this was neither. I also like to think that positive, collaborative human endeavor is more productive than negative, disruptive human behavior. We should work together for solutions instead of spending our time castigating others. I find the approach they took heavy handed and unfortunate. Regardless of cause, just or unjust, the world’s negativity needs a time out. The world’s causes need to get over themselves and we need to start realizing that the lowest common denominator is not Twitter or crowd sourcing, it’s that we are all human and we all need to respect that regardless of our crusade. It’s why “decorum & civility” exists at F1B. :) Thanks for scolding me. ;)

        • Meine

          Amen to that :)

  • dude

    I hope you won’t be too offended, or probably you will, but personally I think you’re a Shell shill so I can’t agree fully with your stance. But I also don’t totally agree with GreenPeace approach either. I rather have something like a nation using its own oil resource to enrich its economy, not an multinational corp unadulterated drilling while reaping in good subsidies.

    Teams may save some fuel per race while increasing cost and resources for the electrical energy which is no greener imo, but I think a more effective way of saving fuel and much easier is for teams to simply stop lugging around redundant crap to races, the fuel saved during the F1 season is no where close compared to those Boeing trips.

    • No offense. I have been to Shell’s labs and Ferrari so I can see where that may seem like I am being an apologist for them but honestly, I’m not. I wouldn’t have posted this rant if I was an apologist, I would have just ignored the entire thing and let it go at that. What I have learned from Shell is several things I don’t think those on the outside know. While I understand the desire to be a good steward of the planet and that exploitation happens, I also know the work they’ve done to avoid that. Not just Shell, many other energy companies too. It’s not a simple answer for sure. Before we all put on Guy Fawkes masks and paint every corporation as evil, I think we should look beyond the emotional bravery of being out of range and get into the details. There is a time and place for discourse and no matter how just or unjust you may feel the Greenpeace cause is, Spa was neither the time nor place. BTW, the Russians just boarded their ship as it motored around the arctic…wonder what damage is done by simply hovering around the arctic ice shelf running a boat? ;)

      Anyway, I would argue this case on Mobile’s behalf as well so I’m not quite the shill I mean seem to be. :)

  • Andreas

    I have to (respectfully) disagree about the “time and place” – from where I sit, there could hardly be a better time and place for bringing awareness to some of Shell’s practices than at a Shell-sponsored event. I didn’t see it as a protest against F1 (if anything, the sport’s fuel restrictions creates an fuel efficiency race that should make any environmentalist happy, as that technology filters down into regular cars), not did they do anything to disrupt the racing. The action was clearly directed at Shell, and even though FOM did their best to not show anything on the world feed, Greenpeace succeeded in bringing attention to their message. From what I hear, loads of people are suddenly looking up facts about oil drilling in the Arctic. Heck, it’s even being discussed on Formula 1 blogs… :-)