As resistance to the fossil fuel regime grows, laws are springing up everywhere to crack down on climate activists | Jeff Sparrow


The climate crisis is accelerating. Anti-protest laws proliferate.

These developments are not unrelated.

You may have seen the new report by the World Meteorological Society, the only warning about humanity’s entry into what UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls “uncharted territory of destruction”. As emissions rise above pre-pandemic levels, the planet is now likely to face temperatures over 1.5°C above pre-industrial measurements (the limit that the UN’s COP26 summit committed to). avoid) over the next five years.

A separate study in science speculates that major ecological tipping points (including ice sheet collapses and the disruption of a major North Atlantic ocean current) may have already been passed.

Why, despite all the warnings, does the world continue to rush towards destruction?

Well, environmental economist Aviel Verbruggen estimates that the fossil fuel industry has generated profits of $2.8 billion a day over the past 50 years.

The stakes could not be higher for the planet and its inhabitants. But they are also immense for the polluting companies, the biggest companies collectively projected develop new oil and gas fields to the tune of $932 billion by the end of 2030 – and an impressive $1.5 billion by 2040.

That’s a lot of incentive to keep broadcasting, even before the war in Ukraine brings another windfall. ExxonMobil recently announced a profit of $17.85 billion for the second quarter of 2022 (a figure nearly four times higher than that achieved a year ago); Chevron and Shell have just broken their own previous records.

As Verbruggen says, “You can buy every politician, every system with all that money.”

The incredible public subsidies for fossil fuels are a stark illustration of this: in 2021, states around the world used some $700 billion of taxpayers’ money to support gas and oil.

In addition to subsidizing polluters, governments are increasingly protecting them from activists.

For example, this year, the UN conference of parties (COP27) is meeting in Egypt, a country where President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi presents himself as a climate justice champion.

That’s all well and good, but Human Rights Watch says the country’s environmentalists fight to lead research, let alone campaign, without fear of arrest.

In the United States, a few state legislatures in the mid-2010s began to draw up statutes to impose prison terms on activists who interfere with refineries and pipelines. The laws drew inspiration from the post-9/11 national security code to classify fossil fuel infrastructure as vital to “security, national economic security, national public health or safety.”

In Europe, the anti-environmental “law” has also intensified, with climate activists in Germany facing huge damage bills after blocking a coal-fired power plant.

Police officers arrest a climate activist during a protest action against a roadblock at the Mont-Blanc bridge in Geneva, Switzerland, in April. Photography: Martial Trezzini/EPA

In Australia, where fossil fuel lobbyists wield enormous influence over major political parties, the trend has probably gone further than anywhere else.

In 2019, Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk posted on Twitter about “new laws to combat extremist protesters” after a series of high-profile stunts on Extinction Rebellion. The resulting Summary Misdemeanor Act and other legislative changes mean that activists with a “lockout” device (anything that could secure them to a building or roadway) face up to two years in prison.

In Victoria, the PLA and the Liberals united to pass anti-protest laws legitimizing huge fines and jail time for environmental protesters.

Tasmania enacted similar restrictions around the same time; in New South Wales, the Liberals, with the support of Labour, introduced two-year prison sentences for “unlawful demonstrations” on public roads, railways, tunnels, bridges and other facilities.

weekend app

Collectively, the new measures mean that most major historic environmental campaigns, from the Franklin Dam protests to the Jabiluka blockade, would, if repeated today, face heavy prison sentences for activists.

In the past, activists could sometimes rely on the social power of unions to protect themselves. Famously, the term “green” entered the political lexicon as an emblem of environmentalism after the NSW Builders Laborers Federation used “green bans” to protect remaining bushland and preserve the built environment. Today, unions also face unprecedented legislative restrictions, the International Labor Organization repeatedly warning that Australian laws violate international labor standards by de facto prohibiting the right to strike.

All this to say that, as we face the greatest environmental crisis in human history, the strategies used by activists in the past are increasingly criminalized.

None of this is an accident.

Our leaders could immediately close Parliament for a fortnight to mourn the Queen, but they don’t care about emergency measures to avoid an environmental disaster.

The situation is under control, they say: why, the climate wars are over!

They don’t believe it themselves.

The repressive laws springing up everywhere show that governments are anticipating growing resistance to the fossil fuel regime – and they are putting in place a framework to suppress it.

Around the world, corporations and the politicians who serve them are bracing for intensified clashes between the few beneficiaries of climate change and the vast majority who suffer from it.

Environmentalists should do the same.


Comments are closed.