The best description of Paulo's activist life is from his own CV, at age 27, for rope access work, work done using climbing equipment at high altitudes in manmade structures, like bridges, light systems in large concert halls, tall buildings, etc. In order to justify that although he only had Level 1 certification with the official body IRATA, he was actually quite experienced, he writes on his CV:
"Although I am a level one, I am an experienced access climber with 1000+ hours of SRT (Single Rope Technique). This is mainly from 6 years of direct action as a Greenpeace activist, which has included aid climbing cranes, power stations and other industrial structures, boarding ships, painting slogans, hanging large banners and rigging cargo nets, hammocks, porta-ledges, safety lines, belay points, and turfer winches, cables and cargo nets. We use the same equipment and techniques as IRATA, just without using the shunt and safety line most of the time."
This is a short interview at the 2009 "Change the Politics, Save the Climate" action with Greenpeace, while Paulo was still at the top of Parliament. The aim of this action was to galvanise government and public opinion about the much needed political action towards the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen. Six years on, in the 2015 Paris COP21, we finally got an agreement, more that activists thought we would get, but still so much less than what is needed. Activism has played a huge role in galvanising pressure for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and we need to keep the pressure up.
In 2008, Paulo and 28 other activists stopped a train carrying coal to Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire. He pleaded guilty and got a 60-hour community service and a fine. Paulo and Ruth moved in together just as he started the trial process. He then did his community service at a homeless shelter not far from our house in London and needless to say the staff all enjoyed having him around very much. Then in January 2014, just before Paulo fell ill, all 29 convinctions were quashed after the discovery that the prosecution had failed to disclose to the defense that a lot of the evidence gathered was from their undercover police who had actually driven the van taking the activits to the site of the action.
2002 February - SELCHP Incinerator
In February 2002, Paulo together with other Greenpeace volunteers occupied a working incinerator in South London. Here is an exerpt from the time:
"We are sad that our occupation has come to an end, but are immensely proud of the many volunteers who helped to shut the incinerator for three and a half days.
Dioxins cause cancer and the Government admits that at least half our children are taking in more of this chemical than is considered 'safe'.
Every hour that we kept the incinerator shut was an hour less pollution by dioxins, acid gases, toxic metals and particulates."
2002 June - Basingstoke Incinerator - Anti-toxins
From the Greenpeace press release at the time:
Thirteen activists who yesterday halted the construction of the new Basingstoke incinerator have vowed to maintain their occupation, despite the arrest of seven of their colleagues. Today bailiffs climbed onto the roof of the building and used bolt-cutters to remove protesters from the structure and ropes to lower them the hundred feet to the ground. Greenpeace climbers meanwhile are securing themselves inside the plant and others are now chained to the cranes. One hundred volunteers from anti-incineration groups across the country invaded the plant yesterday at dawn.
Mark Strutt of Greenpeace said: "The authorities can try as hard as they like to remove people from this protest, but it won't change the fact that local people support the occupation and don't want to see this incinerator open. If it starts burning household rubbish, it's going emit large quantities of dioxin chemicals that get into the food chain and cause cancer."
2003 January - Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station - Terrorism and Risks
On 13th January 2003, Greenpeace volunteers gained access to the Sizewell nuclear power plant complex - for the second time in six months. Their aim was to expose the failings of nuclear security around the site (and spent nuclear fuel stores) and to highlight the risk of terrorist attack. Paulo was one of these volunteers.
2003 June - Home Office in London - Rainforest Demolition Site
We cannot stop illegal logging in the world's remaining forests without reducing the demand for illegal timber. In 2003, Greenpeace was investigating the purchasing and use of illegally logged wood from Indonesia in various outlets in the UK, including the UK Government. Uncertified Indonesian rainforest playwood was being used in the construction of the new home office buildings in London
During that month of June, 2003, there were many actions against illegal logging in different parts of the world and Paulo was, of course, part of the action in the UK. Eleven activists climbed four cranes and Paulo can be seen ziplining from one crane to the other. They stayed up there for a few days until the government agreed to launch and investigation into the use of illegal Indonesian timber on the site. From Greenpeace:
"Volunteers occupied the construction site of the new UK Home Office HQ in London and declared it an ancient forest crime scene. Eleven climbers scaled and occupied four huge cranes on the site and hung banners saying 'Rainforest Demolition Site'.Our investigation revealed that Government contractors are using illegal and destructively logged plywood from Indonesia's last remaining rainforests. The plywood - used for the site hoardings and to hold wet concrete in place while it sets - has been supplied by timber barons notorious for illegal logging, environmental destruction, corruption and human rights abuses."
After a lot of pressure in 2010, the EU finally voted to ban illegal timber from entering Europe.
2007 Falslane - Nuclear Weapons
This was posted on the Greenpeace website from one of their volunteers aboard the mother ship. Paulo was, of course, inside one of the inflatables being chased by the police.
"I'm sitting on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. We have a flotilla of smaller Greenpeace inflatable boats at our bow – six inflatables and some canoes - and are steaming towards Faslane nuclear weapons base to blockade it. Right now, we’re trying to manoeuvre ourselves into position, diving between military police boats and inflatables. We want to blockade Faslane until tomorrow, when Labour MPs are coming up here for a jolly on one of the submarines.
The MPs will be voting on whether to replace Trident in March, and we’re here to tell them that Trident is illegal, immoral and unwanted - £76 billion worth of posturing by a government that wants to flaunt its muscle on the international stage. "
2008 Drax Power Station - Climate Change
This was a very bold direct action by a group that became known as Drax 29. One of the 29 people was Paulo. Drax is the largest coal-fired power station in the UK and the single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. The Guardian reported:
"During the protest the freight train was stopped by two men posing as Network Rail staff, wearing orange jackets and hard hats, who held up a red flag. Moments later, the train and a nearby bridge were scaled by the protesters wearing white paper boiler suits and carrying banners. The protest lasted 16 hours, causing delays to numerous freight and passenger services. The clean-up operation cost Network Rail nearly £37,000. Defendants told jurors they did not believe they were doing anything criminal because they were trying to prevent climate change."
This story had a twist in the plot. Paulo and a few others pleaded guilty, but more than 20 of the activists went to trial and were found guilty. Two years later, it was found that the driver of the van, Mark Kennedy was an undercover cop and that this information had been witheld at the time of the trial. The convictions were later overturned. The extense of undercover policing is the UK is really alarming, but this incident brought more light into this issue.
2009 Westminster - Climate Change
This was probably the most iconic action that Paulo took with Greenpeace. It was all over the news and in all newspapers in the UK. The Guardian reported:
"The demonstrators climbed on to the roof, ramparts and a turret on top of Westminster Hall yesterday, unfurling yellow banners that read: "Change the politics, save the climate". They said there was little resistance from police when they moved quickly to prop ladders against the wall and climb up. The activists hope to greet politicians as they arrive for the start of parliament this morning with a 12-point manifesto calling for zero carbon emissions by 2030, a stop to airport expansion, more wind power and new pollution taxes."
This was Paulo's last direct action and the last time he went to prison. After that, he used to say he would use his time to build new alternatives and devoted more and more of his to Permaculture and Regenerative Enterprise. He did this action just a few months after completing his community service for the previous action! At the time he was living in London with Ruth, she says:
"I remember all the secrets surrounding this, Paulo left the house and I had no idea what he was up to until I got a text message when they were already up. I actually got to the Houses of Parliament as soon as I could and Paulo was on the apex of the roof. I only saw him again two days later. They spent a night on the roof and then a night in jail."
His dad says: "The picture here is of Paulo hoisting an enormous flag above the battlements of the Houses of Parliament. Behind him is Big Ben. It dwarfs him. Your eyes may touch on the words on the flag or the famous clock face, but they rest on Paulo. Is it the intensity of his concentration. Is it the beauty of the gesture? Remember that famous photo of soldiers planting the flag at Iwo Jima? This image is every bit as forceful, but it is unambiguously a force for peace."