Inspired by Thunberg, a veteran climate activist returns to the Arctic

Paul Ruzycki gave up on activism after being arrested in Arctic Russia in 2013. The youth climate movement drew him back.

By Natalie Thomas, Reuters - September 25, 2020
Ice navigator Paul Ruzycki of Canada looks out from Greenpeace’s ship “Arctic Sunrise” in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle, September 22, 2020. (Natalie Thomas / Reuters)

ABOARD ‘ARCTIC SUNRISE’ — Jailed in Russia in 2013 for trying to halt oil drilling in the Arctic, a disillusioned Paul Ruzycki switched to working on cargo ships for a while before the words of Greta Thunberg inspired him to return to his life as a climate activist.

The grizzled 55-year-old is now ice navigator on board a Greenpeace ship in the Arctic, and painfully aware of how much more fragile the environment he has devoted much of his life to protecting has become in the three decades he has sailed the globe with the group.

“I used to say to my friends back home, go up and see the Arctic before it’s gone, but I think that joke is turning out to be a reality,” he told Reuters TV from the Arctic Sunrise, where he is helping gather data on biodiversity and the impact of global warming.

“Over the years, you hear that the Arctic will be ice-free first in a hundred years, then 75 years, and most recently I heard 15 years ice-free in the summer.”

A Canadian, Ruzycki became a sailor at 19 and spent a couple of years plying the Great Lakes and coast of North America, where the pollution he observed led to an association with Greenpeace that has lasted for most of his career.

Now on his 20th trip to the Arctic, he has also confronted Norwegian and Japanese whalers and protested against nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean.

He fell out of love with activism after his arrest and detention in Russia.

“I just got tired; governments and people weren’t listening.”

Then the words of a young Swedish girl who popped up on the TV news “kind of woke me up again.

“I thought maybe there’s some hope for the young people,” he said. “I thought maybe it is worth a second shot.”

Reporting by Reuters Television.