Tens of Thousands Take Part in Global Actions Targeting World’s Most Dangerous Fossil Fuel Projects
Twelve days of unprecedented worldwide action against fossil fuels concluded Sunday showing that the climate movement will not rest until all coal, oil and gas is kept in the ground. The combined global efforts of activists on six continents now pose a serious threat to the future of the fossil fuel industry, already weakened by financial and political uncertainty.
Tens of thousands of activists took to the streets, occupied mines, blocked rail lines, linked arms, paddled in kayaks and held community meetings in 13 countries, pushing the boundaries of conventional protest to find new ways to demand coal, oil and gas stay in the ground. Participants risked arrest—many for the first time—to say that it’s time to Break Free from the current energy paradigm that is locking the planet into a future of catastrophic climate change.
Driving this unprecedented wave of demonstrations is the sudden and dramatic acceleration in the warming of the planet, with every single month of 2016 shattering heat records, combined with the growing gap between world governments' stated climate ambitions, and their demonstrated actions in approving new fossil fuel projects. On the last day of mobilization, a key monitoring site on Tasmania recorded atmospheric carbon-dioxide exceeding 400 parts per million for the first time ever.
“This is the hottest year we've ever measured, and so it is remarkably comforting to see people rising up at every point of the compass to insist on change,” Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, said.
These actions took place under the banner of Break Free, which refers to the need to shift away from our current dependency on fossil fuels to a global energy system powered by 100 percent renewable energy. In 2015, 90 percent of new energy capacity came from renewables, signaling that a rapid transition to 100 percent renewable energy is more feasible than ever.
“People power in our cities, in our villages and on the front lines of climate change have brought us to a point where we have a global climate deal, but we do not stop now, we need more action and faster," Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network, said. "Civil society is set to rise up again, to fight for our societies to break free from fossil fuels, to propel them even faster towards a just future powered by 100 percent renewable energy.”
As the impacts of a warming planet become more visible in the form of rising sea levels, drought and stronger storms, the citizens who joined Break Free will continue to be a part of the next phase of the movement as it becomes more vocal, disruptive and powerful.
Thousands worldwide risked arrest during the actions, many for the first time.
$20 million worth of coal shipments were halted by activists shutting down the largest coal port in the world in Newcastle, Australia.
The UK’s largest opencast coal mine was shut down for a day.
Hundreds stood up to South Africa’s most powerful family with a march that delivered coal to their front door, despite their attempts to silence civil society by pressuring police to revoke permits for a march.
Dozens of people occupied train tracks overnight on both coasts of the United States to stop oil-filled ‘bomb trains’ from rolling through communities — including less than 100 feet from low-income public housing in Albany, New York.
3,500 people shut down one of Europe’s biggest carbon polluters in Germany, occupying a lignite mine and nearby power station for more than 48 hours, reducing the plant’s capacity by 80 percent.
10,000 marched against a proposed coal plant in Batangas, the Philippines.
3,000 sent an ear-splitting message to Indonesia’s president with a whistle demonstration against coal in Jakarta, and a few days later 12 activists climbed the cranes supplying coal for the Cirebon Coal Power Plant, and dropping banners to "Quit Coal" and for "Clean Energy, Clean Air."
Community members blocked traffic outside the gates of Brazil’s largest thermal coal plant, in Ceará.
On land and water, indigenous communities and local activists blockaded the Kinder Morgan tar sands facility in Metro-Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories.
150+ local activists marched and occupied the entrance of two fossil fuel refineries, which are the largest unaddressed source of carbon pollution in the Northwest of the U.S.
In Aliaga, Turkey 2,000 people marched to the gates of the Izmir region’s largest coal dump, and surrounded it with a giant red line, as a call to end plans for the massive expansion of coal in the country.
“The global climate justice movement is rising fast. But so are the oceans. So are global temperatures. This is a race against time. Our movement is stronger than ever, but to beat the odds, we have to grow stronger," Naomi Klein, award winning journalist/author, said.
Detailed overview of the actions:
May 3: Wales / UK
Three hundred people halted operations at the UK’s largest opencast coal mine at Ffos-y-fran in South Wales, making it the biggest ever mass action in a UK coal mine with the majority of participants joining a climate action for the first time. The occupation and blockade ended after 12 hours with no arrests.
May 4 and May 14 : Philippines
Some 10,000 people marched in the streets of Batangas City opposing a proposed 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant and to demand the cancellation of another 27 proposed plants in the country. The march, led by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lipa, also included activists from many organizations as well as thousands of people from coal-impacted communities. Days later, hundreds of community members in Calaca demonstrated against a proposed coal plant expansion project there.
"In our fight against fossil fuels, Southeast Asia is a major battleground and we cannot afford to cede to those who think of nothing but profit instead of people, and plunder instead of protecting the environment," Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said.
"As our communities rise against this addiction to coal, we hope to inspire massive civil participation all over the planet. Break Free is a breath of hope for all communities who are standing up to the fossil fuel industry's relentless expansion despite climate change."
May 5 - May 15: U.S.
In Sacramento, Central Valley community members sat-in outside of Governor Brown’s office.
In Philadelphia, hundreds of people marched to the largest refinery on the east coast.
In Colorado, hundreds of people disrupted an auction selling public lands for fossil fuel extraction, as seven people held a sit-in blockading the room where the auction was being held.
More than 2,000 people protested refinery pollution in the Pacific Northwest and blockaded oil trains for three full days culminating in at least 52 arrests.
In Albany, 2,000 people marched and blockaded bomb trains, resulting in five arrests.
Hundreds occupied a proposed fracking site outside Denver, and in California dozens blocked the road to the Porter Ranch gas facility, which was the site of the largest methane leak in the history of the U.S.
Led by frontline community members, 1,300 people marched in Washington, DC to call on President Obama to end to offshore drilling.
05/15 We call on @POTUS in DC to #keepitintheground & end new offshore drilling: https://t.co/Ay9gYBqkLU #BreakFree https://t.co/YnxcqGdrog— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1462921228.0
And, outside of Chicago, 1,500 people protested proposed the expansion of BP's Whiting refinery.
May 6 - May 13: New Zealand
Day after day dozens of people shut down ANZ bank branches in ChristChurch, Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin calling for ANZ to divest from fossil fuels.
May 8: Australia
An armada of kayakers blocked the Newcastle harbor entrance while 70 people blocked a critical rail crossing preventing any coal from getting to the port for more than six hours. In total 2,000 people took part in the action shutting down the world's largest coal port for a day, preventing the shipment of almost 2 megatonnes of coal during the protest. In Western Australia, over 150 occupied the headquarters of BP and Chevron, blockading a busy intersection in front, with two arrests.
May 9 - May 14: Brazil
A series of anti-fracking events led up to over 300 people marching through the streets of Uruamama, in the state of Paraná, towards the City Hall where a bill to ban fracking in this city was being voted. In the presence of the marchers, the city councilors unanimously agreed to declare Umarama fracking free. Then on the 14th, over 500 people marched on the highway used to deliver coal to a power plant in Ceará. The march included people from 20 municipalities, four Indigenous ethnic groups (Anacé, Pitaguary, Tapeba and Tremembé), fishermen and residents of the coastal zone, farmers and residents of the inner cities severely affected by drought.
May 10 - May 14: Nigeria
A coalition of climate justice organizations gathered with representatives of oil communities at Oloibiri, the site of the first oil well in Nigeria, as well as at Ogoni and Ibeno to emphasize fossil fuel’s role in climate change, call an end to the Nigerian economic dependence on oil and to reduce adverse effects of climate change. The activists also demanded an end to the extreme pollution caused by endless oil spills and toxic dumps in the Niger Delta. At the concluding action at Ibeno, fisherfolks called for an halt to oil extraction, insisting that fish is far more valuable than crude oil.
May 11 - May 15: Indonesia
More than 3,500 participants marched in Jakarta carrying banners with slogans such as "Stop Dirty Energy Investments' and 'Stop Pollution, Stop Using Coal," as they called for President Joko Widodo to move Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest coal producers, away from coal and embrace renewable energy. On 15 May, 12 Greenpeace activists stopped operations at the Cirebon Coal Power Plant for 12 hours, the activists unfurled banners saying "Quit Coal" and ‘"Clean Energy, Clean Air" from both cranes supplying the coal terminal.
12 activists protest Indonesia coal power plant extension #breakfree https://t.co/mYQxzwiYge https://t.co/yZgm7meZux— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1463377301.0
May 12 - May 14: South Africa
Affected communities represented by 200 people including farmers and private citizens gathered to speak about the daily realities of living in a town with the most polluted air in the world at Emalahleni, which directly translated means “place of coal.” A picket of 45 people was organized outside Medupi and Exxaro coal mine in Lephalale, which will be one of the world’s biggest coal-power stations. Also 400 participants joined the National Bread March to protest the increasing cost of food as a consequence of the severe drought the country is suffering. Finally, despite efforts by the Guptas to shut down a mass action at their residence—hundreds of people rallied at the nearby Zoo Lake to speak out about corrupt mining deals, and 15 people delivered a coffin of coal to the doorsteps of the Gupta residence.
May 13 - May 15: Germany
More than 3,500 activists from all over Europe shut down the opencast coal mine Welzow-Süd in the Lusatia coal fields. While hundreds entered the mine, others blocked coal trains and conveyor belts transporting coal to the power plants. Around 300 people continued the blockade overnight. On May 14 another 2,000 activists cut off coal power plant Schwarze Pumpe from all coal supplies. Around 120 were arrested and released the next day. Five occupations continued over another night. After the power plant had been blocked for more than 48 hours, the activists stopped the blockade on May 15.
May 14: Canada
More than 800 people took action to surround the Kinder Morgan facility on the Salish Coast. On the land, activists locked messages onto the gates of the facility, staged a sit-in and painted a giant mural. On the water a massive kayak flotilla swarmed the pipeline’s tanker terminal.
Anti-pipeline activists paddle to protest Kinder Morgan expansion project #BreakFree #cdnpoli @TankerFreeBC https://t.co/Utk2yhZC9B— Ben West (@Ben West)1463357743.0
May 14: Ecuador
The group Yasunidos took over close to 500 hectares destined to built an oil refinery called Refinería del Pacífico, where Ecuador plans to process the oil extracted at the Yasuní National Park. Yasunidos planted 1 tree in the area, and managed to stay in the premise for about three hours after peacefully passing through the security control. Since the action, members of the Yasunidos have been facing harassment and public discredit on behalf of Correa’s government and those backing the fossil project.
May 15: Turkey
Community leaders, led 2,000 people in Aliağa in a march through to a coal waste site and called for the stopping of four fossil fuel projects in the surrounding area. The activists made a human chain and spelled out the word “Stop” (“Dur” in Turkish).
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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