On April 22, over 170 countries signed the COP21 climate agreement at the United Nations in New York, pledging to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. And while some say the deal is a historic step in the fight against climate change, others feel it doesn’t go nearly far enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet.
Break Free from Fossil Fuels is a global grassroots action campaign calling on world leaders to transition to 100 percent renewable energy and events are currently happening in a dozen countries on six continents.
Climate activists around the world are organizing in protest at coal mines, oil wells, fossil fuel investment banks and various other locations, some using acts of civil disobedience and risking arrest based on a public trust doctrine that argues it is the people’s duty to protect the earth’s climate.
“The right that corporations have to [extract fossil fuels] does not usurp our most basic rights to an atmosphere that can sustain life as we know it,” says Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado, a state-affiliate of the global grassroots movement 350.org. “The idea behind Break Free is that it’s time for the people to step up and escalate and really create more of a global wave of resistance to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Parkin and other local environmental partners are planning two Denver-area events as part of the global Break Free movement. On May 12, protesters plan to demonstrate outside the Holiday Inn in Lakewood as a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas leases in Northwestern Colorado takes place inside. And on May 14, 350 Colorado is planning a day of speeches, live music and activities protesting oil and gas developments close to neighborhoods and schools in Thornton. The goal is to draw 1,000 people to the upcoming events and Parkin says they have already had 800 people sign up to take part in one or both actions.
In addition to the two Colorado events, there are planned actions in Washington state, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. as well as in Germany, Turkey, New Zealand, Brazil and Nigeria. Several Break Free actions have also already taken place around the world. On May 3, 300 protestors in Wales shut down the region’s largest opencast coal mine for an entire day. A reported 10,000 people gathered in Batangas City in the Philippines on May 4, demanding the cancellation of a proposed coal plant in the city as well as 27 other planned facilities throughout the country.
In Australia on May 8, over 1,000 protesters in kayaks and on railroad tracks shut down the world’s leading coal export port in Newcastle Harbor for six hours and 65 people were arrested. Over 3,000 protestors in Indonesia marched through the streets of Jakarta on May 11, stopping in front of the presidential palace demanding the government rethink the country’s energy program, currently heavily dependent on coal.
“It’s wonderful to be part of something in your own community and then to know that it’s part of something bigger, is pretty inspiring,” Parkin says.
On May 12, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and 350 Colorado plan to demonstrate at the BLM auction in Lakewood. The protest is part of a large national campaign, “Keep it in the Ground,” which is asking the Obama Administration to put a moratorium on oil and gas development on public lands around the country.
“Public lands should be used for the public good and not for things that are harmful to the public and we know that climate change is extremely harmful to us,” Parkin says. “It seems completely out of touch with the times and what we know about climate change and how urgently we need to be transitioning off of fossil fuels and focusing on renewable energy.”
Protesters will meet at 11:30 a.m. at the W. Hampden Park-n-Ride before marching over to the auction.
With the recent Colorado Supreme Court decision overturning Longmont’s fracking ban and Fort Collins’ moratorium on the same practice, Parkin agrees with other activists and even a few newspaper editors that peaceful civil disobedience is now one of the two options left to climate activists who oppose further oil and gas development in the state.
“We feel like we’ve done all of the things that you do in a society to protect yourself,” she says. “[But] if you look at any movements in history, eventually to get changes in society that we knew had to happen, most movements have had to resort to civil disobedience to bring public attention to injustices in society.”
Apart from civil disobedience, the other option is passing two state-wide ballot initiatives that would give communities local control of where oil and gas development occurs within city limits and require a 2,500 foot setback from homes, schools and other occupied structures. These two initiatives are currently gathering signatures in order to place them on the November ballot.
A large part of the May 14 event is focused on drawing support for these initiatives. The organizers of the Saturday action in Thornton are asking people to meet at the Wagon Wheel Park-n-Ride where transportation to the actual protest site will be provided throughout the day. Organizers will also post the exact location on their website on Saturday morning. Parkin says there are four sites in the area set to start drilling operations in June.
“We really want to bring the public’s attention to this frack site and how completely inappropriate it would be in this neighborhood,” she says. “In an ideal world we’re hoping that the attention we are bringing to this facility would shut it down and other ones like it until the November elections where we can actually see [what people think].”
The event begins at 6 a.m. but lasts all day and is a family-friendly affair, with art activities, solutions booths highlighting possible pathways to transition off of fossil fuels, live music and speakers including Bill Mckibbon, 350.org founder, prominent environmentalist and author.
“Colorado has lots of oil and gas development, but also a strong environmental consciousness — it’s a real microcosm of the struggle playing out around the world,” McKibbon writes in an email to Boulder Weekly.
He’s coming, he says, to support communities throughout Colorado, like the residents of Thornton, who are resisting encroaching fracking developments in their neighborhoods. “They deserve the right to protect themselves from the devastating local impacts of fracking — but they also deserve to hear from the rest of us our gratitude for the role they’re playing in the climate fight,” he writes. “Fracking, and the methane it releases straight to the atmosphere, have become a huge part of the global warming mess.”
Mckibben is scheduled to speak between 7:30 and 8 a.m. on Saturday before catching a flight to join protesters in California as they march through downtown Los Angeles demanding local leaders put a stop to oil and gas development within the vast urban area.
“I think his presence is helping to validate how serious the issue is here [in Colorado] and how people need to pay attention to it,” Parkin says. “It’s really important right now that people stand up and be seen and be heard. Standing in solidarity with this community is also standing up for ourselves and our communities because what they’re experiencing we’re all going to be experiencing before too long.”