Creating unprecedented, unpredictable political consquences

Twenty years ago, my mother had a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald. I found the page yesterday: yellowed, tattered, and almost as old as me. The Editorial criticised the Hawke Labor Government’s statement on environmental policy for failing to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, it said, “Australian Governments will not be walking away from the greenhouse issue. The electorate will not let them.”

Twenty years later – almost my entire lifetime – this Labor Government has finally set targets, but targets that scarcely aim to reduce Australia’s greenhouse pollution to the day of that Editorial. Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have walked away from a safe climate future. The question is whether we will let them.

What we hear and learn about climate change is truly alarming – that soon there will be no summer ice in the Arctic; that already, people have been displaced from their lands; and that our greenhouse gas emissions, incredibly, are still rising. But these predictions of doom and gloom tell us that everything we do from now matters – and possibly, more so than any other time in recent history.

Even conservatives something else is necessary. Dr. James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA said recently, “It seems to me that people should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty coal-fired power plants.”

Even Al Gore said, “I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants.”

These are bold statements, and they are spot on.

Climate change direct action – such as stopping, blockading, disrupting, occupying, or preventing the mining, burning and exporting of coal – challenges the legitimacy of the coal industry. It challenges the license of the industry to operate in ways that are killing the planet and people for profit. Direct action puts a spotlight on coal: it says ‘enough!’ It allows us space to begin to break our dependency from this fossilised industry. Direct action hastens our efforts for a new, sustainable, decentralised economy. It drives the creation of thousands of safe, long-term, unionised green-collar jobs. Importantly, when we take direct action together, we create greater political power for ourselves.

Last December, the Federal Government’s White Paper handed huge compensation payouts and free permits to major polluting infrastructure like coal-fired power stations – polluting industries that already receive tens of billions of dollars of public money every year. They set a measly emissions reductions target of 5% on 2000 levels – or a 13% increase on 1990 levels, the benchmark of the rest of the world.

We cannot let them get away with it. We can make what is “politically possible” to be not what Professor Garnaut and Penny Wong judges it to be, but the political situation we ourselves create. For we deserve more than a public subsidisation of dangerous climate change. We need to create a movement that can force this government to commit to making 2010 the last year Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rise, and begin to decline – and do much more.

When this government goes to the United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen next year, they must go knowing the stakes are high – for the planet and for politics. They must go to Copenhagen knowing there will be political consequences when they fail to act with the urgency required.

And we must raise that pressure. We must raise the stakes. We must create unprecedented, unpredictable political consequences. We must build a movement that turns the tide of history and pushes government, industry, and the globe toward a safe and just climate future. We must build a movement that says ‘another world is possible’ – and we will be part of creating it.

Everything we do from now matters. Please, talk to the your friends, people in your classes and communities; ask yourself what you can commit to building this movement across the next few years. Let’s ask ourselves: If not us, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?

by holly

A billion for the aluminium industry, Rudd’s small change.

Aluminium giant Alcoa has spent the last year manoeuvring for the release of the Federal Government’s climate White Paper in December. Planned expansions were canned, dozens of workers laid off, and Alcoa’s constant refrains warned of moving operations offshore if they did not get their way in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

It is a role Alcoa have been playing for decades: undermining efforts to regulate and reduce pollution, flooding Canberra with lobbyists, and putting the brakes on political change.

Aluminium is Australia’s most emissions intensive industry, using 13% of all electricity and polluting 6.1% of national emissions. The industry’s processes in Australia – from bauxite mining to alumina refining to aluminium smelting – rely on oil, gas and vast amounts of coal-fired power. The industry is set to receive over a billion dollars in free permits under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), to be announced in next week’s White Paper.

Drew Fryer, of sustainability and finance advisors Innovest, says the Federal Government is proposing to give the aluminium industry 90% of their permits to pollute under the scheme for free. “We see over $825 million going to aluminium smelting and $227 million to aluminium refining. On the face of it, it looks like a fairly good deal for aluminium.”

With at least 20% of permits under the scheme to be dished out free, Innovest expect half of all free permits to be handed to the aluminium industry. Alcoa is set to receive over $151 million, and parent company Alumina Ltd $101 million.

Polluting industries have been begging for CPRS exemptions and hefty handouts all year, threatening plant closures, job losses and economic ruin. But Fryer says if a carbon price of $20 per tonne were set, and it could be as low as five dollars, Alcoa’s cost of emissions would be merely 3.8% of their earnings if they received no assistance. With the 90% of free permits promised by the Government, Alcoa will only bear a cost of 0.4% of their earnings under the CPRS.

Damien Lawson of Friends of the Earth Australia says, “Effectively, for the first few years of the emissions trading scheme, the aluminium industry won’t bear any cost; and the carbon price will have very little impact in terms of driving a change agenda within the industry.
“Free permits come with no strings attached. They don’t require industry to engage in any restructuring of their industry towards a low carbon operation.”

Lawson says the aluminium industry has long been a strident voice against regulation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. “A decade ago, the aluminium industry furiously lobbied the Federal Government to defer the introduction of a 2% renewables policy. They were successful and have been at it ever since on climate change.”

Whilst Alcoa claims they are serious about reducing greenhouse pollution, their track record shows breaches of environmental standards, lax monitoring and increasing pollution. There have been high profile spills of caustic residue slurry at their Wagerup refinery in Western Australia, emissions of double permitted amounts at their Portland smelter in Victoria, and numerous fines for breaches recorded by Environmental Protection Authorities.

West Australian Parliament Upper House Greens member Paul Llewelyn says, “Alcoa has become very entrenched in the WA economy and way of doing business. Environmental accidents are seen as a natural part of doing business and an expected risk people are prepared to have. Alcoa might get a slap on the wrist, but it’s peanuts to what they make. They just pay the fine and manage to convince us it’s all fine because there isn’t another wealth model in WA. We’ve become so dependent in that income stream that it has reduced the ability to regulate.”

John Harris lives on the doorstep of Alcoa’s Wagerup alumina refinery in south-western WA. He’s 61, he coughs, splutters and collapses some forty times a year, which he attributes to breathing emissions from the plant. He has been diagnosed with Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome. “If I’m outside, I can just drop to the ground and really be in trouble. When I get into [an emissions] plume coming from Alcoa, my lung capacity disappears. I have to use Ventolin to get my airways open again.”

He says it began in 2002, “[Alcoa] upped their production and put in taller stacks to disperse the plume. That’s when we started to get hit.” Community members in towns around the Wagerup refinery in Yarloop, Hamel, and Cookernup have felt and recorded adverse health effects for more than a decade.

With some 300 residents, John Harris is initiating proceedings for a class action against the American-owned company, and they have enlisted US anti-pollution activist Erin Brockovich to spearhead the litigation.

Vince Puccio of local residents’ group Community Alliance for Positive Solutions says, “Most people tend to suffer multiple health symptoms: bloody noses, nausea and skin rashes. We have unexplained cancers at the moment; there’s a lot of stress.”

His partner suffered industrial asthma and bloody noses, and like many in the town, was forced to leave. “Now the whole town is basically collapsed; infrastructure is almost all gone. The town is nearly a ghost town,” he says.

With a dearth of pollution and health monitoring, residents have battled for recognition from Alcoa and the WA State Government for years. Forced to fund and collect of air samples themselves, they have sent the samples to a laboratory in the United States.

Resident pressure led to a 2004 CSIRO study of air quality, followed by a 2006 study into particular pollutants of the refinery. Ian Galbally, Chief Research Scientist with CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric research says, “[Alumina refineries] have always reported the traditional air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. But it had not been previously recognised they are also important sources of volatile organic compounds and probably dusts.” Many pollutants from the refinery can cause skin and respiratory irritation with low exposure, and with higher exposures could be hazardous and carcinogenic. Alcoa continues to deny any link between their emissions and community health complaints.

An October 2008 WA Department of Environment and Conservation report tracks emissions plumes from the Wagerup refinery to towns where residents have health complaints. A November 2008 WA Department of Health phone study found residents have a “significantly higher likelihood” of reporting symptoms of headache, breathing difficulties, sore or irritated eyes, skin irritation, cough, sore throat, fatigue after sleep and nosebleeds than other West Australians, “potentially related to chemical exposure”. Vince Puccio says residents felt vindicated, “The study proved the causal link is Alcoa. Up until this point Alcoa has been denying the link between the community’s complaints and the refinery.”

Residents criticised the study as weak for failing to acknowledge migration from the area, data on local cancer deaths, and flawed data collection. “But even as a weak study, it still proves Alcoa has impacted on people’s health in the community. We have asthma double that of the state average. Cancer rates are higher and more so in men. There’s a higher cancer rate in Cookernup above the normal state level,” says Vince Puccio.

Alcoa’s take on these reports differs to residents. Executive Director of Human Resources, Environment, Health and Safety Kim Horne says, “We know the refinery has got the world’s best technology, the CSIRO study concludes that the air quality in that area is at the better end of rural [areas]. We’ve got air monitoring data that says sometimes you will get odour because of this strange weather. We’ve got the Health Department report that says people down there have no chronic illness. In fact, they’re pretty much the same as everyone else.”

The emissions sometimes produce a distinctive odour, a term Alcoa has enthusiastically adopted to describe their toxic pollutants. Horne says, “Under some quite rare weather conditions some of the odour from the plant behaves in a strange way and what is called ‘touches down’ so it lands in a particular area for a short period of time and in that time you can smell it, at other times in exactly the same location you wouldn’t smell it at all.” The first recommendation in the 2004 WA Government Inquiry into the Wagerup refinery urged the use of the term “emissions” rather than “odours” to describe Alcoa’s pollution, but Alcoa is staying on message.

While the company holds the line on ‘odours’ and ‘strange weather’, the WA Government forced Alcoa to offer to buy properties in particular zones around the refinery, which, alarmingly, Alcoa then rents to new tenants. Some residents, like John Harris, have refused the buy back offer. “I’ve got five acres and the prices they were offering were fairly low. The thought of getting enough cash to move into a quarter acre block in town really didn’t appeal. I wanted to really replace what I’ve got here, and there was no way I could do it with the money they were offering. I would like to move away really, but I want what I’ve got here replaced… the only option for me is to join the legal action and go through the American courts.”

West Australian Greens member Paul Llewelyn says, “[Alcoa are] saying ‘we don’t pollute, but if you want to leave we’ll buy your property, but we don’t believe we’re polluting anything or causing any damage.’ That’s a contradiction.” He believes the scheme was designed by Alcoa and the West Australia Government to limit Alcoa’s liability to pay compensation for the health impacts of their operations.

Llewelyn says the compensation packages have been flawed. “Alcoa will buy back a property from somebody and on sell it. They have to sign a confidentiality agreement and an agreement they will never bring a complaint against Alcoa. They know the area has been polluted and poisoned by Alcoa, and Alcoa’s tying up people in contracts to prevent any further complaints.”

Llewellyn has seen copies, but Executive Director Kim Horne denies any contract clauses or confidentiality agreements exist: “That’s not true.”

The buy back scheme has divided the community, with some leaving, some remaining, some ineligible and significant differences in the prices offered. Vince Puccio says, “It was an ad hoc policy made on the run, no one can really understand it. There are different formulas for different people. There’s a lot of unhappy people involved in this. I think they expected probably about a dozen people to put their hand; I think they got something like over 200, way beyond what they thought. It’s become a nightmare the way they’ve handled this.”

The property buy back scheme was a condition enforced by the WA Government in approving a huge expansion of the Wagerup refinery – an expansion Alcoa shelved last November.

Kim Horne says, “[It was for] a combination of reasons, most predominantly the current financial situation globally. There’s also the unknown of what the emissions trading scheme will look like and how that would effect our industry. There’s some questions about gas supply which we hadn’t cured yet, so all of those combined has had us delay the project.”

Last December, Alcoa confirmed they had also “curtailed” a long-planned expansion of their Portland aluminium smelter in Victoria, citing concerns around energy security.

Damien Lawson of Friends of the Earth Australia believes, “Alcoa is using the decision to not proceed with those investments, decisions driven by the global financial crisis, as a stick or a form of bribery to leverage the worst possible outcome for the climate in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

“Fluctuation in commodity price is far more significant in terms of a company’s bottom line than a carbon price, which is actually very small compared to their overall turnover and profits. The decision not to go ahead with those investments probably has a lot more to do with the availability of credit on an international financial market, caused by the global financial crisis rather than the emissions trading scheme.

“Alcoa are trying to get a silver lining out of their decision not to go ahead with the investments. That must be clear to the Government, but the Government wants still to go down the path of favourable conditions for big polluting industries,” says Lawson.

The silver lining for Alcoa was delivered in the Federal Government’s White Paper, lining up a billion dollars worth of free permits for aluminium companies. Alcoa already receives hundreds of millions of dollars in publicly subsidised electricity and shared infrastructure costs. Greens member Paul Llewellyn says, “It’s extremely difficult to get a hold of the price Alcoa is paying for any of the energy that comes down the line. We know they would be paying a quarter of the price of any other industrial operations, but there’s no published data at all on Alcoa’s energy consumption and the price they pay.”

It is the same story at Alcoa’s Portland aluminium smelter: 30 year contracts to provide huge amounts of brown coal-fired power from some of the dirtiest power stations in the world, heavily subsidised by the State Government. Victorian Greens MP Greg Barber says, “We know Alcoa are getting an extraordinarily cheap price for their electricity, but we don’t know how much they are paying. A carbon price will exacerbate the existing subsidy. It means that Alcoa pay less, and other consumers and the public pay more. It is not a level playing field.”

With years left in lucrative electricity contracts and billions in promised permits in the emissions trading scheme, Alcoa still warns of moving offshore if there is any hint of unwanted regulation. Managing Director Alan Cransberg says, “Obviously the purpose of an emissions trading scheme is to reduce greenhouse emissions. But it would completely defeat the purpose of emissions trading if important industries in Australia were forced offshore. If industry here was not internationally competitive anymore, because of emissions trading, they would then close and the gap in the market would be picked up by overseas operations – including those with lesser environmental standards.

“The emissions would simply move overseas in carbon leakage. Ultimately, this could mean increased greenhouse emissions and worse outcomes for the environment. The problem will just be shifted to another part of the world, and possibly with increased environmental impact,” Cransberg says.

But Senior Lecturer at the University of NSW Institute of Environmental Studies Dr Mark Diesendorf says if Alcoa follows through with their threat to move offshore it might actually reduce global emissions, as the aluminium industry elsewhere in the world uses cleaner sources of power, particularly hydroelectricity.

Damien Lawson believes, “There’s a lot of shadowboxing going on by the aluminium industry: big ambit claims and panic being deliberately driven about so-called ‘carbon leakage’. If you look back through history at other attempts at regulation, industry has done exactly the same thing. With regulation of other types of pollution or increases in corporate taxation, industry constantly played the capital flow card as a way of pressuring governments to water down their proposals. It’s exactly the same thing with climate change.”

Diesendorf says, “It is a clear winner to go with renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport. There would be no significant loss of jobs. In terms of export revenue, there would be a modest loss if the industry went offshore. If we gave the stimulus to renewable energy, we could be manufacturing wind turbines, expand solar hot water, bioenergy production, energy efficiency measures and public transport. There are huge job opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Julius Roe, National President of the Australian Manufacuturing Workers Union argues, “New green jobs won’t materialise or will only materialise as precarious jobs for our members. With restructuring, the new jobs aren’t created in the same location as the old jobs. The new jobs don’t require the same skills as the old jobs. So those who are displaced are unlikely to be the ones who get the new jobs if you have a free market situation.

“We need a just transition where the Government actually intervenes to ensure new investments are made in the right places and are able to employ the right people. Without such interventions, it will be the same old story.”

“[The AMWU] believe there should be no free permits [in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme], but rather assistance provided to those companies in return for making necessary investments in more environmentally sustainable production, and making sure they do those things in conjunction with their workforce,” says Roe.

In the wake of the climate White Paper and ten months until the important United Nations climate meeting in Copenhagen, Dr Diesendorf challenges governments to call the bluff of the aluminium industry and start serious investment in renewable energy. “Aluminium smelters seem to be a big political symbol for governments. And so, to phase them out, or make them pay for their electricity and pollution, governments would take a beating from the opposition. But if governments had in place a transition strategy to a renewable energy manufacturing industry and a means to transition jobs, they could weather that opposition.”

Jessica Minshall and Holly Creenaune
Australian Student Environment Network

Environmental Direct Actions and Rebellions

Anti-Nuclear Struggle in Comiso, Italy

In the early 1980s there was a key struggle against a U.S military base in Comiso, Sicily that was to house 112 nuclear missiles. The agreement
between the Italian and the U.S government was made in secret in 1979, but in spring 1981, the news began to leak out.

Immediately, there was anger over this obvious intrusion into the lives of the people in the area.

Large numbers of anarchists, students, workers and the unemployed organised into self-managed leagues. These leagues adopted a principle of
‘permanent conflict’ regarding the construction of the base, meaning that they would remain in opposition with it until the project was defeated, without thought of compromising.

High school students in Vittoria carried out strikes, using the time to discuss plans for action. The effects of the base became clearer as local peasants were evicted from their land to make room for missile test ranges. American and NATO officers reserved use of various hotels and other services and the Mafia (profiting from the concurrent expansion of prostitution and drugs) used intimidation and terror to frighten those opposed to the base.

The opposition culminated in a number of explosive situations and a huge demonstration to the outskirts of the base, where the cops made several violent attacks and pursued demonstrators for hours. The missile base eventually went in to operation in the mid-1980s, but was closed down in 1992.

See the Cosimo Dossier: www.omnipresence.mahost.org/comiso.htm

The occupations of Seabrook – 1976 & 1977

This began when, in 1974, some veteran peaceniks-turned-organic-farmers in New England successfully blocked construction of a proposed nuclear power plant in Montague, Massachusetts. In 1976, inspired by the success of a year-long plant occupation in Germany, they joined with other New Englanders to create the Clamshell Alliance. Clamshell’s immediate goal was to stop construction of a proposed nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire.

Following a 24-hour occupation at the site of two proposed nuclear power plants in Seabrook, New Hampshire, 1414 people were arrested. Such civil
disobedience, organised by the New England-based Clamshell Alliance, became a model for anti-nuclear direct actions across the country.

Similar coalitions began springing up across America: the Palmetto alliance in South Carolina, Oystershell in Maryland, Sunflower in Kansas, and most famous of all, the Abalone Alliance in California, reacting originally to a completely insane plan to build a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, almost directly on top of a major geographic fault line.

Those plants already approved eventually went online, including Seabrook Unit I, but Seabrook Unit II was never built.

Importantly though, the actions did succeed in delegitimising the idea of nuclear power. When the Three Mile Island plant melted down in 1979, it
hugely weakened the industry. While plans for Seabrook and Diablo Canyon weren’t cancelled, just about every other then-pending plan to build a
nuclear reactor was, and no new ones were proposed in the US for a quarter century. See www.marcuse.org/harold/pages/seabrook.htm

’90s Anti-Roads Protests in the UK – the M11 Link Road

The anti-roads movement in the 1990s in Britain, incorporating critiques of gentrification, car culture and the criminal justice bill, brought together people from varying backgrounds to defeat 400 out of 500 proposed roads projects. It included the defence of wild and urban areas, the merging of party and protest and large-scale occupations and blockades.

An important component of this struggle was the opposition to plans to build the M11 link road with east London. For a number of years, a small
number of locals had produced newsletters, held meetings, attempted to lobby MPs and engaged in a series of ultimately ineffectives methods to stop the road’s construction.

However a collective campaign began in earnest in September 1993 when the developers’ bulldozers first appeared. Most of the people who were sitting in front of bulldozers, occupying sites and trees and locking themselves on to JCBs with bicycle D-locks in September and October comprised experienced activists who had moved to the area a few weeks previously.

The main priority at this stage was less ‘trees’ and ‘green areas’ but housing. The proposed link road would go through about 350 houses. The Department of Transport bought all these houses a long time ago and had been throwing people out of them for years.

Once people were evicted, firms were brought in to make the houses uninhabitable: toilets were blocked and smashed, floorboards removed,
stair cases demolished, doors and windows breeze-blocked etc. to deter squatters. From the beginning of the campaign, then, the defense and restoration of these houses as dwelling places was important. The empty houses in the area were treated not only as a general living resource to be defended but also as tools and weapons.

The houses could be used not only as ‘permanent’ homes but also as places to crash for people coming up occasionally to join in the struggle and as
bases for information and communication, meetings and coordination.

Although most local residents didn’t want the road, they were not yet prepared to get directly involved in action against it. There seemed to be a feeling that, since the decision to build the road had gone ahead, and since the bulldozers had already arrived, there was nothing they could do about it. Things began to change when the developers fenced off George Green, Wanstead, to begin work in that area.

After a successful mass action, those involved quickly saw the need to act on their power and go further in reclaiming the land. So they pushed the fence down.

Once the first bit went down, more people joined in. People acted fast and in unison, and eventually very little of the fence was left standing. The police intervened very late and by then most of the necessary work had been done. The ‘site’ had been transformed into de facto common land! Earth removal and flower planting by locals went of all over the weekend.

On Monday, security men were told by their bosses to get everyone off the ‘site’. But this simply wasn’t practical. By dismantling the fence the boundaries of the site had been destroyed. For a time, it couldn’t operate as a site any more.

Although the specific campaign was ultimately unsuccessful and the road was built, it was a crucial factor in increasing the road’s overall cost. Together with other campaigns in the UK at that time, the movement played a major role in the large-scale cutbacks in the road building programs that followed in subsequent years.

San Salvador Atenco Airport Stoppage

“We will not give up our land, even if it means giving up our lives.”

On October 21, 2001, church bells rang throughout towns in Mexico to announce terrible news: a large part of lands in Atenco and nearby had passed into government hands. This was through an ‘eminent domain decree’ that had, as its goal, the construction of a new International Airport in Mexico.

The $2.3 billion airport, which government leaders had been planning for more than two decades, would be the largest single public works project of
Vicente Fox’s presidency. Plans included building the enormous infrastructure for the airport on 5400 hectares straddling three towns: Atenco, Texcoco and Chimalhuacán. Atenco was the most affected in terms of the percent of land expropriated (70-percent). Some of its inhabitants would lose almost all of their crops as well as many of their houses.

Locals were aware that the seizure of 5400 hectares would be only the first phase of a larger number of land-takings and the spreading of urban development and infrastructure to connect the new International Airport with the industrial corridors. This would be part of the larger “Plan Puebla Panamá,” strongly pushed by President Vicente Fox. The inhabitants saw themselves being sucked up by a ‘hurricane of development’ and later ‘expelled like garbage on the side of the highway’, surrounded by ‘cyclone fences’. In Atenco, the project would take eighty percent of its terrain and almost the entire town of Ixapan.

They saw that their communities would be shattered, the inevitable increase in alcohol and drug addiction, and that they would be forced to live in apartments, rising up in Mexico’s massive metropolises. “We don’t want it, we would drown there” they said

Huge demonstrations began, often held daily. There were important marches on November 14, 2001. These caused an international stir due to the beatings that dozens of men, women and children received from the police as they entered Mexico City. In spite of that, more than a thousand farmers arrived at the Zócalo (Mexico City’s huge public square), with machetes in hand, where thousands of members of civil organisations that supported them awaited. Those who had remained in the towns affected by the airport went out, indignantly, to block the highway in protest of the police aggressions and to ask for the liberation of those arrested, who were freed some hours later.

After months of struggle, a new wave of action began. The affected peoples demonstrated that they remained united. Thousands of neighbours angrily blockaded roads and highways. They burned vehicles, they took over soft-drink trucks (the contents were used as part of a ‘Popular Kitchen’ that fed all the invitees), they rioted with whatever they could find or make (including some improvised Molotov cocktails). In the offices of the state attorney general, they took various police officers and workers hostage with the goal of trading them for compañeros who had been arrested. The movement was clearly getting stronger and more powerful.

A few weeks later President Vicente Fox canceled the plans. Info taken from http://www.narconews.com/Issue38/article1395.html

Minnehaha Free State

Minnehaha Free State, in Minnesota, USA was a 15 month anti-road occupation and encampment of sacred indigenous lands between two waterfalls, the St. Anthony (what the Dakota called the Minirara (curling water) and Owahmenah (falling water) and Minnehaha beginning on August 10,
1998.

On December 20, 1998, 800 cops in “Operation Coldsnap” sought to dislodge the protesters by force in the largest police action in Minnesota history. They arrested many protesters and demolished their homes in the encampment. Accompanying the police were members of state and city
government, Governor Anne Carlson, and a press team described by protestor
Jim Anderson as “the police’s handpicked lap dogs.”

The site was reoccupied until November 1999. www.culturechange.org/issue15/i-55.html

Open Letter on green capitalism & climate justice movements

This letter was written in response to an e-mail arguing that we should not criticize the emergence of ‘green capitalism’ & that doing so was giving far too much weight too ‘politics and ideology’. Rather we should focus our activism on encouraging ‘swift global co-operation’ to solve the climate crisis.

It has been argued that climate change will be solved not by ‘politics’ but instead by ‘swift global co-operation’. It’s implied that this means prioritising big international climate summits like Poznan recently and Copenhagen next year and seeing them as decision-making forums of the utmost importance. Rather than struggling against them, we have to influence them.

To me this logic means ignoring huge class divisions: somehow attempting to foster ‘co-operation’ between us and the rich, privileged climate delegates who’ll be staying in Copenhagen’s exclusive hotels next December. In terms of the Australian representatives, it means trying to influence a bunch of people whose idea of ‘emergency state intervention’ is almost certainly a lot closer to the NT Intervention than to legislation that will drastically reduce emissions. It also ignores our own history of struggle: since when has the state granted us favors because we asked nicely.

Rather than relying on the state or on elite delegates it’s in co-operation between ‘us’-amongst social movements and oppressed people acting & self-organising from below- that hope lies.

When I’ve talked with some of the many wonderful environmental justice activists around the country it has previously always been very clear which side we were on. Against corporations who destroyed forests & set up poisonous mines on Aboriginal land. Creatively resisting environmental criminals at economic summits & organising strongly in solidarity against the police repression that often followed. Arguing passionately against Kevin Rudd & Labor as well, and their grand plans for non-existent ‘clean’ coal and for carbon trading mechanisms that will hurt the poor.

For a world that wasn’t only a continuation of this fucking rotten system, but one organised in a decentralised way & without hierarchies and leaders. This wasn’t just about creating new, directly democratic ways of living for a small number of activists – but was a practice essential to helping make a world that could be ecologically sustainable.

Is this all forgotten & is it just ‘politics and ideology’ now? I hope not.

When people write about green capitalism it isn’t something that’s completely abstract and removed from our lives. I saw a small example of it when I got my morning news from the Australian today: they have a shiny new ad putting forward the delights of ‘green business’: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/industrysectors/greenbusiness/

My personal favourite is the bit from the notorious polluters at the Australian Coal Association – apparently they’re ‘working to reduce CO2 emissions’. Good on them!

Green capitalism can already be seen much more sharply in the Global South. It works, for instance, through ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ projects, imposed as a requirement of the Kyoto Protocol. These have devastated local communities and have been met with resistance. A waste landfill site in the Clare Estate township in South Africa is a classic example. Extolled by the World Bank as ‘environmentally progressive’; due to the extraction of some methane (one of the most potent greenhouse gases), the site produces toxins that have caused leukemia, tumours and cancer.

Capital is part of the earth we live in, part of the air we breathe: of course a movement for climate justice should critique it.
– Tim.

On Sovereignty: an interview with Aunty Peta

What does sovereignty mean to you?

Burangidigol, it means freedom, it means ancestors, it means sovereignty in our own language. We come from a society of freedom. That’s what our society’s based on; not just free for all and do what you like, but freedom.

So in being a sovereign and standing as a sovereign and walking as a sovereign and breathing as a sovereign I am living my culture. It’s not an appendage, I am it – that’s how important it is to me. The word sovereignty, being an English word, that’s a fantastic one, Burangidigol is sovereignty as well in our language and it’s our birth right, it’s not something that we should just reclaim, it’s about who we are. It means walking who we are, walking our culture, not culture as a physical act, like making a basket, but this is our culture too, quite frankly.

What actions do you take that are informed by your sovereignty?

For a start, I don’t acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Australian government over my life, because it has none. That’s the basis and the foundation of my walk, and my fight is to not just actively reject their jurisdiction but to put it right, that’s justice to me.

So that’s the root of our movement, it’s not just protecting our natural rights, that’s an international law; we’re sovereigns. It’s about accepting our law and walking as we are meant to be walking in this day and age, and as we’ve always walked. It’s not new. It’s something that’s new to a lot of people, yes, because we’ve been enslaved for so long. There’s people in the world who’ve been enslaved for much longer, it’s only been 200 years for us but it’s about just freeing ourselves from the bondage of this society.

We’re not eligible to be bound, that’s the whole point. The whole foundation of our standing up is that the government, they’re foreign powers, they do not have any legal jurisdiction over us at all, so our walk is about educating and rejecting that.

Would you take actions of civil disobedience in the course of your sovereignty?

I wouldn’t call it civil disobedience, I call it just our birth right. I don’t call it war or terror. We’re under duress here in our own country living the way that we do. What they do are acts of terror, they are the terrorists, they are the ones enacting war upon us.

So, it’s a long walk, of course, and our fight is an endless fight, probably until I close my eyes on life, but I hope, when I’m an old girl, I’m gunna have a peaceful existence one day, so I gotta get all this straightened out now as a young person. It’s my right as an older person, to be able to sit down comfortably in my lands somewhere, not be invaded by any foreign forces, and to teach my grandchildren, great grandchildren, whoever’s about, about who they are, and to never forget that, and teach them about how to use the environment, and be one with the environment, that’s what I’m meant to be fuckin’ doing. I’m meant to be doing that now as well, that’s what I’m meant to be doing every day of my life. I got six children, they’re my responsibility, to teach about this stuff, about culture, about how to live.

We live in a culture today, it’s a funny thing to call this lifestyle, but it is a culture, this culture’s about slavery. It’s go get a job, okay, but what’s a job? A job is walking for someone else’s dream. I don’t want their jobs, I don’t want to be enslaved or bound to anyone else’s dream but my own, or people who have like-minded dreams.

I just don’t agree with what they want me to do, and there’s so many people, no matter where your ancestors have come from, in this day and age we have the same problem, and that’s all there is to it. They want us to voluntarily give up our freedom, so we can help someone else, and who is this someone else? Someone who’s been ripping our lives apart, and I won’t contribute to that, sorry, I never will.

Sovereignty’s about governance – it’s not about an action, it’s not about a protest. It’s about governance in our lives, which will build into governance of clans, which will build into governance of nations, which is I guess that catchphrase of self-determination and self-sufficiency as well. It’s about being self-sufficient in a legal sense of the word, to be able to hold our own court legally. If we don’t know our natural rights, if we don’t know our own legal jurisdiction within our realm, and our legal jurisdiction in their realm, and all the other realms that affect us, well then we’re shot ducks, were just bound to be slaves.

Every single human being on the face of the earth has sovereignty. Every single person, not just us. It’s a natural right, that’s an international legal term, natural rights, which means that we don’t have to bow down to a monarch or a government. That’s how it is for everybody.

You have the right to be a sovereign if you choose, and everybody has that right and choice. The term is called a freeman, and their rights are, like I said, the same as ours. They always fight against, or deflect any governing body or foreign power over them, it’s just about learning how to do that.

The Australian government is a corporation. A corporation is not a governing power, it’s like Ronald McDonald saying, “Here’s a licence, drive with it.” All these people [freemen] know the truth under common law, no governing power can do those things to us, so they don’t use licenses, they get pulled up, but if they know all of their shit, they’re free. You gotta know the right things to say, the right questions to ask the police when they come, but that’s how it works.

How would you like to see other people engage in and respect sovereignty?

Well, definitely learn about their own type of sovereignty that they’re entitled to. Us having jurisdiction means that freemen can come into our jurisdiction by invitation and sit inside of our realm, so they’re protected that way. The sovereignty movement is an endless fight. I just hope by the time I’m an old person that I’m not at the same point that we’re at today. If I sat in their jurisdiction I can guarantee that I would be going to the grave fighting tooth and nail, every minute, for any given thing, that’s what they do to us. They’ll make a fight there, there, there, there and there, and we go around fighting them all and we’re fucked by the end of the day. They make lots of spot fires for us, but what I see with sovereignty, going on the route that we are, all those spot fires can be fought with one spear. That’s what I’m seeing as a practical measure as well because everything is to do with sovereignty. Every single fight is to do with sovereignty.

People learn about their rights and then come and learn about our jurisdiction. I don’t see any sense in people who come from this jurisdiction knowing nothing, cause in anything they do, they’ll get fucked by the system, and we don’t want that to happen to people. Sovereignty is about taking total responsibility for your life. We can’t carry everybody on our head. Sovereignty is about self-determination and self-sufficiency. We’re not there yet, but that’s what were moving towards. It’s about living our birthright, our own law.