Make no mistake. For those of us working on environmental issues, for social justice, to protect our children, our health, our water, our communities who are on the frontline of fossil fuel extraction, we are in a fight like never before.
We are fighting Trump and the madness of his administration, staffed with billionaires who make money, but do not make sense. But it is not just in America. Across the globe communities and activists are fighting back.
Every day, people are taking on big oil, mining, and logging companies who are wreaking havoc on our planet.
And there is no other way to put this, things are bad.
It is outrageous that we are still fighting for our lives too. Twenty one years ago, I wrote the book Green Backlash, which outlined the assault on the environmental community. As the preface outlined: “Environmental activists are increasingly being scapegoated by the triple engines of the political Right, corporations and the state. The backlash has one simple aim: to nullify environmentalists and environmentalism”.
You would have hoped that in the following twenty years, those fighting for clean air or water, those trying to protect their homes, their kids, their grandkids or their communities, those fighting shale extraction, or mining, would be safe and secure and protected.
You would have thought that some 22 years after the Nigerian military brutally murdered the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others for trying to protect their land, the same kind of atrocities would no longer happen.
But you would be so wrong.
As the Guardian, in collaboration with Global Witness, pointed out yesterday, “Last year was the most perilous ever for people defending their community’s land, natural resources or wildlife, with new research showing that environmental defenders are being killed at the rate of almost four a week across the world.”
Let that sink in. Four a week.
People are being killed for protecting their people. This is more than double the number of people killed five years ago. And this is just the tip of what campaigners are calling an epidemic. For everyone killed, many more are threatened.
John Knox, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, told the Guardian: “Everywhere in the world, defenders are facing threats … There is an epidemic now, a culture of impunity, a sense that anyone can kill environmental defenders without repercussions, eliminate anyone who stands in the way …. Many of the killers are reportedly hired by corporations or state forces. Very few are ever arrested or identified.”
They want to silence us, but they won’t.
In the 21st Century this should stain all our consciences. It should spur us all to action. To their credit, the Guardian and Global Witness are now collaborating on documenting everyone who is killed fighting to protect the environment.
As people die, the planet warms and weeps.
This week a huge giant trillion-ton iceberg twice the size of Luxembourg or Delaware broke off the Larsen ice shelf in Antartica and is now adrift in the Weddell Sea. It is one of the largest calving events ever witnessed.
The irony of a climate denying, pro-fossil fuel President in the White House and an accelerating warming planet was not lost on the New York Times, which reported. “As the Trump administration dismantles the federal government’s efforts to respond to global warming, the natural world has come calling with a reminder: An iceberg the size of Delaware broke off Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf in recent days, yet another indication of the rapid change now occurring on the world’s iciest continent.”
The warning signs have been there for a while. The Times continues: “This is the third floating ice shelf in recent years in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea to fully or partly break up, the first two subverted by warming ocean waters and air temperatures … Talk to scientists who have worked in the Arctic, Antarctic or the world’s glacial zones for decades, and what they keep coming back to is that they have witnessed monumental physical changes in these once-frozen regions within their professional lifetimes.”
The scientists liken these ice shelves as the corks in the bottle. As they float they will not directly increase sea level rise if they break up. But as they do so, the land-based glaciers and ice behind them will become more unstable and speed up climate change.
Professor Nancy Bertler, of the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington said: “The ice sitting behind the Larsen B Ice Shelf, which collapsed in 2002, has sped up eight-fold. Most amazingly, those glaciers are still galloping towards the ocean – some 15 years after the first collapse of Larsen B.”
So how did Trump react this week to the disintegrating ice? As only a fool would do. The belligerent climate-denying billionaire approved oil drilling in the Arctic, on the other side of the planet, but another polar region warming rapidly.
Unless we stop drilling things are going to get worse. The scientists keep telling us that. Everyone knows that. One article on climate change has caused a stir this week, warning of “The Uninhabitable Earth: Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.”
Some have argued we should be giving harsh warnings. Others that this kind of apocalyptic scenario scares people so much they switch off. Maybe the best riposte was from Nathan Thanki on Medium who wrote: “Deniers, you can keep your opinions to yourselves. Doomsayers, you can keep your apocalypse. I’ll keep my belief that another world is possible and worth fighting for.”
And we are fighting. Every day. In the twenty odd years since Green Backlash people often have asked, “How do you keep going, don’t you ever get too pissed off”.
Yes, somedays are hard. Just when you think you are making progress along comes a buffoon like Trump and his fossil fuel buddies. But Trump won’t last. The oil industry won’t last. The renewable revolution is coming. Faster than you think.
Every day there are stories of resistance and hope against the fossil fuel empire.
I will leave you with just one.
All this month, the local community in Lancashire in the North West of the UK have been undertaking a series of direct action protests against the fracking company, Cuadrilla. The company’s plans have been resisted by the community ever since they were first announced. The company has no social license to operate, but it has just ploughed on exploring for dirty shale gas, which we cannot afford to burn.
And here is a story that will fill your heart with optimism for the future.
This week, three generations of a Lancashire family took action against Cuadrilla. The intergenerational action saw four members of the same family ‘lock-on’ in protest of plans to frack on the Fylde Coast. Seventy-three year old Gillian Kelly (pictured) said at the time :
‘I’ve never done anything like this before, but I can’t sit idly and watch the place I was born and raised be poisoned and polluted by fracking. I feel now I’ve got to make a stand. This will affect my whole family and their futures; my sons, my grandchildren – and that’s why we’re taking action together as a family today.’
Gillian’s story gives us all hope. We don’t have to stand by and watch and weep. We can take a stand. No matter the odds. And we will. We will carry on fighting the fossil fuel industry.
And together we will win.