Last Wednesday the Kyoto Protocol kicked in and Greenpeace decided to mark the event in Britain by storming London's International Petroleum Exchange, the world's second-largest energy market, with the modest ambition of closing down trading for the day.
Around 35 dolphin-huggers stormed the exchange just after the 2 pm resumption of trading. The sortie was well-planned. One male protester lurked around the door to the building. When he spotted an employee about to use his swipe card to exit, he accidentally dropped some coins and bent to pick them up and, as the employee, not noticing him, strode out onto the street, stuck his foot in the door for his co-protesters to rush in for the assault. The first few sidled in, and two minutes later, two Greenpeace vans skidded to a stop and out poured another 30 or so protesters who stormed through the doors held open for them.
Hoping to shut down "open outcry" trading, where deals are shouted across the pit, the Greenpeaceniks ran onto the trading floor, according to the London Times, "blowing whistles and sounding fog horns, encountering little resistance from security guards. Rape alarms were tied to helium balloons to float to the ceiling and create noise out of reach."
But London traders, just after lunch, are more likely to be powered by two or three pints of strong ale than the milk of human kindness.
The trespassers were set upon by traders, most of whom were under the age of 25. "They were kicking and punching men and women," said a photographer, according to The Times of London. "It was really ugly. ... They followed the [Greenpeace] guys into the lobby and kept kicking and punching them there. They literally kicked them on to the pavement."
"The violence was instant," reported one aggrieved recipient of a rain of blows to the head. "I've never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view."
"Sod off, Swampy!" shouted one tardy trader, steadying himself against the railings of the balcony of the pub across the street as his colleagues threw the protesters bodily onto the sidewalk. (Swampy was an enviro-protester who gained fame by living unbathed in a tunnel for eight months.)
Meanwhile, other traders inside the building were punching and felling men and women with a politically correct lack of sexual discrimination. Those who had already been punched onto the floor were shocked to look up and see traders trying to overturn heavy filing cabinets onto them.
A laconic spokesman for the IPE said, "We are dealing with the situation."
The protesters who had violently breached private premises and attempted to halt a legitimate activity expressed themselves aggrieved with the rules of engagement. One of them told The Times, "I took on a Texan Swat team at Esso last year and they were angels compared with this lot. They were Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs."
Twenty-nine activists were arrested by the Metropolitan Police and taken to police stations throughout London. They were later bailed. Two were taken to hospital, one with a suspected broken jaw and the other with concussion.
The City of London (the financial center) has a history of meting out similarly robust responses to anti-capitalist and environmental demonstrators. A few years ago, The Guardian reported: "As the Carnival Against Capitalism streamed through the streets of the square mile last Friday, photocopied £50 notes fluttered out of the windows of some of the City's most august institutions and collected at the marchers' feet. Looking up, they saw City traders pointing at their watches and shouting: 'Rolex!'" Other City traders have sprayed champagne out of office windows onto protesters.
Meanwhile, having failed so definitively to engage the oil traders with their important message ("Climate change kills. Stop pushing oil"), Greenpeace was reduced to convincing the BBC. "Climate change poses the gravest threat our planet has ever faced," droned Stephen Tindale, "yet oil is traded in this place with impunity, as if the lives of millions and the future of the whole species mean nothing."
IPE chief Richard Ward told The Times he was considering whether to press charges.
Outcry trading was resumed at 3:10 p.m. Several publications and news agencies, including Agence France Presse and Antara, a news agency of oil-producing Indonesia, reported that the protesters had succeeded in temporarily halting trading. However, the Financial Times reported trading on the IPE's electronic system had continued unimpeded throughout.
I understand that some enterprising manufacturer in Australia is already making "Sod off, Swampy!" T-shirts. And far from having the slightest effect on international oil trading, Forbes reported that by mid-afternoon the same day, in Europe, light sweet crude for March delivery was up 38 cents at $47.64 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Meanwhile, a toast to the barrow boy spivs in London, the "boys from the neighborhood" in New York and Chicago, and members of the fraternity in Frankfurt, Sydney and financial centers worldwide who are dedicated to making money and keeping the world safe for capitalism. Cheers, fellas!