Meaghan Carmody shares her experience of taking part in the largest ever globally coordinated wave of civil disobedience; BreakFree 2016.
FACT: 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Catastrophic means the end of civilization as we know it – millions of climate refugees, coastal cities submerged in water, a climactic tipping point which will set in motion terrifying feedback loops which once turned on, cannot be turned off.
So with this in mind; let me ask you a question. Which is more extreme – locking yourself to a coal digger in order to immobilise it, or digging up acres of perfect earth in order to find yet more coal to burn?
Reclaim the Power
Earlier this month, myself and 7 friends travelled via ferry and 3 trains to a little town called Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. We passed through a series of winding hills, with cows and lambs grazing on farmland on our right, and a series of coal heaps on our left, on our way to the Reclaim the Power campsite. Here we joined up with 300 other people who had all made the decision to travel to this secluded, unsheltered, freezing spot in the UK for the same reason.
We were there to take part in the largest ever globally coordinated wave of civil disobedience; BreakFree 2016. This was set in motion by 350.org in the wake of the COP21 Paris Agreement in December, a non-legally binding agreement which would at best bring us up to a 3.5 degree rise in temperature, not the 1.5 degrees that the inhabitants of sinking countries need to stay with their heads above water, literally.
The action in Wales was the first of this 2-week period and involved occupying and shutting down Ffos-y-fran coal mine, the largest open-case coal mine in the UK. On the day of the action after donning our red jumpsuits, painting battle stripes on our faces and organising ourselves into ‘action blocks’, we headed up and across the hills towards the mine.
There were 4 actions blocks – 3 ‘arrestable’ blocks would enter the mine, and one would stay at the mining depot. As my block, block C, entered the mine, we passed a ‘lock-on’ – another smaller block of our comrades laying on the ground, their hands locked to their neighbours through a pipe so that the police could not remove it without harming them. The final block in the mine headed to the deepest part, aiming to scale the machinery and use their bodies to stop any vehicles from operating.
We passed miners along the way, workers who were rendered redundant for the day yet who waved at us nonetheless, videoing us as we chanted about the need for a ‘just transition’ from fossil fuels, a transition which leaves nobody behind, including those currently employed by the fossil fuel industry.
The people in our block who were tasked with keeping spirits high had brought a music player, and as it rained heavily, a group of people danced on the underside of a coal digger as another group played football on the rocky terrain.
The actions of 300 people ensured that the UK’s largest coal mine was shut for that entire day, and it illustrated to the local community who have been tirelessly campaigning against this injustice that there are people all over the world who are there to support them in their struggle.
From Canada to the Philippines, Turkey to Australia, South Africa to Brazil, people are risking arrest and conflict as a result of taking action. In New Zealand, two ANZ Bank Australia branches were closed by protesters in a statement against their $13.5 billion invested in fossil fuels. Hundreds of people in Albany, New York, camped on the railroad tracks which transport crude oil and endanger the local community.
Closer to home, 4,000 people taking part in Ende Gelände in Germany shut down one of Europe’s largest coal mines for 48 hours, and as if that wasn’t a powerful enough statement, they then forced entry into a power plant after blockading the coal railway transport routes.
Brave people have put their bodies on the line in order to send this message:
To the governments of this globalised world that has been forced upon us – enough is enough. You have sold the rights of citizens to power-hungry and financially-obsessed corporations who have ploughed our common home for the short-term benefit of the 1%, stripping us of our future. Your commitments are feeble and we will not accept them. Those at the bottom of this manufactured human hierarchy are the first to feel the effects of a planet ridden by a fossil-fuel dependent culture – but we are all on this same sinking boat. You will not act, so we have been forced to, and we will fight against this gross injustice.
Author: Meaghan Carmody
Meaghan graduated from NUIG with a BA in Psychology and has completed an Ethics of Eating course from Cornell University. She is Activism Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Ireland and Young FoE Ireland. You can follow her on twitter at @meaghancarmo.
Photo credit: Fields of Light Photography
Video credit: Reclaim the Power