Other Break Free actions, with Catholics but without masses on center stage and bishops leading the way…
Catholics around the world are advancing the call of Pope Francis, climate scientists, and ecologists to transition off fossil fuels without delay (Laudato Si’ no. 165). As an Australian mother said, “blocking rail tracks is dangerous, but not nearly so dangerous as continuing on our current path, disrupting our climate and life support systems.” Citizens and congregation members around the world are pressing for action to break free of fossil fuels now – creating a “red line” to not cross – to implement more life-giving renewable energy systems, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and get back to a safe climate.
In Brazil, actions are occurring nationwide from May 5-15, launching with videos marking the 6-month anniversary of the Samarco tragedy and Bento Rodrigues dam disaster, which caused at least 17 deaths and dumped 60 million cubic meters of iron waste into the Doce River. Described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, the break occurred after previous studies and warnings on cracking of the dam.
A Mother’s Day Action in Australia on May 8th drew nearly 3,000 people and many mothers, children, and people of all ages. They shut down the nation’s largest coal port for over six hours, both at the port’s entrance and at the only coal transport line leading in.
Over 65 protestors arrested and many mothers and children were released without arrest (it was Mother’s Day after all). 94 year old Bill Ryan was one of those arrested blockading the only coal train line in or out of Newcastle Port. The people’s message: “it’s time to break free from destruction and make way for a clean energy future.” There is no future in coal, they said, demanding a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy. First nations and peoples joined people from all faiths. Noting the “huge presence of pacific islanders at Australia #breakfree2016at Newcastle,” Twitter followers re-posted their chant: “We’re not drowning we are fighting.”
Terese Corkish, from St. Joachim’s Parish and St. Martin de Porres school, participated with her family. In an essay for Catholic EarthCare Australia in advance of the event, she describes how she feels the Holy Spirit has called her to this “vocation” and being a part of resisting climate change and the world’s largest coal port, which is four hours from her home. “Christians have a long history of participating in nonviolent direct action as a form of social change, participating in anti-war protests, anti-arms protests, pro-refugee protests and civil rights protests (among others),” she says. “Science tells us that in order to keep climate change to under two degrees of warming, we need to keep 80% of remaining fossil fuels in the ground,” and we aren’t on track. “Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls for justice: ‘We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.’ This is the injustice that I feel that I have been called to rectify by participating in actions such as these.” She paraphrases Edmund Burke, saying, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing,” describing this as the reason she stood with people all over the world, on May 8th, demanding a future free from fossil fuels.
A March of Mayors (and citizens) against Fracking and Coal is occurring in Brasília from May 9-13, in addition to Break free protects in more than 40 cities. An associated concert and event is occurring at Expo Ingá, the main annual rural fair in the state of Paraná. Students and the scientific community are holding conferences at the local university and the Catholic and evangelical communities and indigenous communities in the region are taking actions in partnership.
In Brazil, actions are occurring nationwide from May 5-15, launching with videos marking the 6-month anniversary of the Samarco tragedy and Bento Rodrigues dam disaster, which caused at least 17 deaths and dumped 60 million cubic meters of iron waste into the Doce River. Described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, the break occurred after previous studies and warnings on cracking of the dam. A March of Mayors (and citizens) against Fracking and Coal is occurring in Brasília from May 9-13, in addition to Break free protects in more than 40 cities. An associated concert and event is occurring at Expo Ingá, the main annual rural fair in the state of Paraná. Students and the scientific community are holding conferences at the local university and the Catholic and evangelical communities and indigenous communities in the region are taking actions in partnership.
One action will take place at the Pecem Thermal Power Plant. Located in Ceará, the largest thermal power plant in the country is a symbol of the contradictions of the federal government in relation to the agreement signed in Paris. In addition to using coal from Colombia to its boilers, the plant consumes millions of gallons of water in a region that has historical problems of water scarcity and enormous potential for clean and fair generation. Climate and environmental movement, indigenous communities, fishermen and other traditional peoples will join to show that this is not viable; water for 600 million people is equivalent to what is used in 411 tanker truck trips per hour for fossil fuel mining, 3 cisterns per minute.
On the afternoon of Saturday, 05/07, Ceara Forum on Climate it was very well received at the meeting of representatives of Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs), Caritas and other archdiocesan movements of Fortaleza in the center of the Pastoral, publicizing the campaign Break free from fossil fuels. Religious, citizens, missionáries, educators, and all sensitized to participate in the global wave of resistance to keep oil, gas and coal underground. The representatives of Ceara Forum on Climate also talked about the campaign No Fracking Brazil and Break free from Fossil Fuels.
In addition, the Brasilian churchpeople stress: the average CO2 concentration (measured Mauna Loa) in April 2016 was an incredible 407.42 parts per million (ppm), 46% above the 280 ppm pre-industrial era. A high of 409 ppm occurred on 10/04). Both comprise the largest increase from one year to another in the concentration of CO2 ever registered. Safe levels in terms of avoiding Antarctic melting were passed in the 1970s (225). The 350 ppm concentration was exceeded in 1988. April 2016 puts us 57 ppm beyond that threshold. 450 ppm is considered another critical value, since from it, chances are huge irreversible damage to the Earth ‘s climate system, including a total or near total ice in the Arctic, a rise of the oceans for several meters and a loss of massive amounts the “permafrost”, the permafrost of Siberia, northern Canada, etc. With less ice, which reflects light, and more water, which absorbs, and CO2 and methane being emitted from decaying matter in the former permafrost, global warming would accelerate on their own. Even at a slower pace than in 2015/2016 a 3 ppm / year of emissions growth would put us on the route of this disaster in a decade and a half.
350 ppm concentration exceeded in 1988, was considered the safe level. The urgency to abandon the use of fossil fuels is more than evident.
In Indonesia: There will be a mass action of thousands of people at the Presidential palace in Jakarta on 11 May. The action will include participants from many of the communities leading resistance to coal projects from around the country. The mobilisation will target President Joko Widodo demanding he revise his ambitious 35,000 Megawatt energy plan by moving away from coal and embracing renewable energy. A few days later there will be one or more actions at the site of coal infrastructure projects.
In Nigeria: In the Niger Delta actions will be held in three iconic locations to show what happens when the oil goes dry, and the community is left with the pollution and none of the wealth. An action at Ogoni land will demand an urgent clean-up of decades old oil spills and underscore how it is possible for citizens to resist the power of the oil corporations, and keep their oil in the ground where it belongs. Another action will be on the Atlantic coast, where Exxon’s offshore wells frequently leak, impact fisheries and harm coastline communities’ livelihoods.
Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian activist from the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, explained: “Breaking free from fossil fuels is a vote for life and for the planet. The Paris Agreement signed by world leaders ignored the fact that burning fossil fuels is the major culprit in global warming. In these actions the peoples of the world will insist that we must come clean of the fossil fuels addiction. In Nigeria we will in addition raise our voices to demand a clean up of the extreme pollution caused by oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.”
In South Africa: Two actions will take place each with hundreds of people highlighting the local impacts of coal and climate change. The first on 12 May will see people gathering in Emalahleni, one of the most polluted towns in the world, to speak out on the effects of climate change. The second on 14 May is focused on the Gupta residence in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.
In the US, New York Catholic Mark Dunlea addressed those assembled for a “Die In” outside the doors of the UN signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on April 22. Endorsing the 1.5 aspiration enshrined in agreement, Dunlea and others nevertheless expressed dismay at the many who will die if pledges remain as insufficient as they are today. Dunlea is also leading a citizen effort to press for a transition to 100% renewable energy across New York State by 2030. They are also planning an action in Albany, NY, “representing a coalition of communities and organizations across the north-east” and gathering “for an act of mass civil disobedience against oil trains, fracked oil and gas pipelines, and other fossil fuel projects, while standing up for frontline communities like Ezra Prentice Homes and others in the oil train blast zone who deal with these trains in their backyard everyday.”
In Washington DC last week, National Academies’ Transportation Research Board Climate Change, Energy, and Subcommittee Chair, Marie Venner, and former Presidential candidate and Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley were among the Catholics attending the COP-21 follow-up event with Jeffrey Sachs, the UN’s Ban Ki, Moon, the leader of the European Commission, and numerous government ministers on May 5-6, preceded by sectoral work days. The meeting focused on getting on the 1.5 to “well below 2 C” trajectory. O’Malley was the first US presidential candidate to make climate action a major issue, and he continues to press for climate action by Catholics and all citizens. USEPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also referenced the Pope and her Catholic heritage. When asked by Bill Nye “the Science Guy” if the US was going to be slowed by the Supreme Court or Congress she said no; the EPA’s rules are sound and carefully crafted. They are proceeding on track.
In Denver, Colorado, a number of Catholics including members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Sisters and Affiliates of Loretto, Maryknoll, the Catholic Worker, Eco-Justice Ministries, met with members of Colorado 350, Break Free, and many others on May 12th to block an auction of further leases for fossil fuel mining on federal lands. Sister Maureen McCormick, on the Board of Eco-Justice Ministries was there with Reverend Peter Sawtell and backed up by GCCM.
Inspired by a “funeral for fossil fuels” that other Catholics were talking about having in Spain, they considered they would express thanks for the fossil fuels already buried, for Nature knowing how to sequester carbon; we can show gratitude, wisdom, and sensitivity by “keeping it in the ground”. Libby Comeaux, a long-time Loretto associate as well as an attorney for local communities and state efforts to implement fossil fuel bans, is bringing the following prayer:
“When the governments failed to reach agreement,
I remained silent;
I was not a climate expert.
When they failed to govern our banks,
I remained silent;
I was not wealthy.
When they sold off our forests,
I remained silent;
I had no trees of my own.
When they failed to prevent the destruction of our planet,
I did not speak out;
I was not an environmentalist.
When they failed to help communities,
I remained silent;
I thought only of myself.
When they failed to help me,
there was no one left to speak out.”
To remain silent is to remain complicit, to sell our forests is to make profit without thought for the planet.
To speak out is to hold our governments to account.
Columban Fr. Charles Rue contributed liturgies he developed, for the effort.
Actions across the US between 12-15 May will target new tar sands pipelines in the Midwest with an action near Chicago; fracking in the Mountain West with an event outside Denver; Shell’s devastating refinery pollution north of Seattle; action around offshore drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts taking place in Washington, DC; and dangerous oil and gas drilling in Los Angeles. These diverse actions will all escalate critical local campaigns that target the unjust practices of the fossil fuel industry.
- 12 May & 14 May in Colorado (Denver):
Description: On May 12th, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) intends to hold a fossil fuel auction, and hundreds of people will be there to tell them to keep it in the ground. Activists will be mobilizing first at the BLM auction and then a few days later on May 14th in a community working to defend itself from fracking near Denver.
- 13-15 May in the Pacific Northwest (Anacortes, WA):
Description: The Shell and Tesoro refineries just north of Seattle are the largest unaddressed source of carbon pollution in the Pacific Northwest and refine nearly half of all the gas and diesel consumed in the region; this system must change—within years, not decades. Thousands of people will converge upon the March Point refineries in Anacortes, WA. Hundreds of people will risk arrest by engaging in peaceful civil disobedience on land and sea on May 13th, 14th and 15th as part of a mass action to Break Free from Big Oil and hasten the just transition to 100% renewable energy. Said Ahmed Gaya, Rising Tide Seattle, Break Free Pacific Northwest Action: “No government has a workable plan to protect a stable climate. Nature won’t wait, and mass disobedience is the only tool proven to bring about rapid social change. Breaking free from fossil fuels and ensuring a just transition is going to be hard, but not doing so would have unthinkable consequences.”
- 14 May in the Northeast (Albany, NY):
Description: Crude oil “bomb” trains roll through Albany, polluting the air in surrounding communities and contributing to the climate crisis. On May 14th, activists will gather for a massive action to stop these dangerous trains in their tracks. Joining others all around the world, they will put their bodies in the way of fossil fuels to show the collective power of this movement. Associate Pastor Marc Johnson, Greater St. John’s C.O.G.I.C., Break Free Albany, NY Action, explained: “In my community, where my church has been for 65 years, the African American and Hispanic community has been overlooked for a long time as political forces worked to improve other areas of the city. These oil trains, carrying toxic and explosive oil, have been snuck into our community with little oversight and little public disclosure. Now is the time to turn the tables, and for us to stand together to say that this can’t go on.” Sisters of Mercy are among the Catholics who plan to be well-represented at the action.
- 14 May in California (Los Angeles):
Description: 2016 is a critical year in the fight to move California away from dangerous fossil fuels and toward the renewable energy future we need. From the neighborhoods in Richmond alongside a toxic, explosive oil refinery to residents living only feet away from neighborhood drilling in South L.A., frontline communities across the state are living with the insidious threats of fossil fuels. That’s why thousands of Californians will be marching in Los Angeles on May 14 to demand a ban on urban drilling and all new fossil fuel infrastructure. As the home of the largest urban oil field, and the largest city in California, Los Angeles is the clear target for this action. Change can begin in L.A. to move the whole state off fossil fuels and toward 100% renewable energy. LA Catholic Workers will be present and Rep. Ted Lieu, with a well-known Catholic background, has been leading the campaign for investigation and prosecution of Exxon-Mobil and the fossil fuel majors for lying and misleading the public on climate change. “We are marching in Los Angeles because the city is ground zero for neighborhood oil drilling. Fossil fuel extraction is happening in our backyards. Communities live next door to active oil drilling sites, exposing children and families to various health risks like headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory problems including asthma. We are marching because this is an injustice not only to our climate, but to communities in Los Angeles and throughout the state of California, which disproportionately are low-income and communities of color,” Monic Uriarte, STAND-LA, Break Free LA Action
- 15 May in Washington, DC:
Description: On May 15, a coalition of organizations and frontline activists will rally at the White House and then march to one of the bodies of water in DC. Frontline activists from the Gulf, Arctic, and Atlantic will come together in DC backed by national organizations to say, “Stop Drilling everywhere. No sacrifice zones.” Expanding offshore drilling or cutting it out entirely is the biggest climate decision that Obama will make before the end of his presidency, and this action will show that there is a mass movement calling on him to #keepitintheground. Monique Verdin of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana and the United Houma Nation will participate in the DC action. She said, “When the oil tides rolled in, back in 2010, coastal communities across the Gulf witnessed the devastating gambles taken to harvest fossil fuels off our shores and in our waters. We are on the front lines, witnessing the side effects of extreme extraction, ranging from rising sea levels to tainted waters to more violent and unpredictable weather. That’s why we are calling on President Obama to refuse any new leases in his offshore drilling plan and protect the Alaskan Arctic and Gulf South waters, wildlife and ways of life. It is time we break free from fossil fuels and build the just transition to renewable and sustainable solutions.”
- 15 May in the Midwest (Whiting, IN, near Chicago):
Description: The Midwest has a long history with the fossil fuel industry, and this May communities in the region are taking action to Break Free from athen industry that’s driving the climate crisis. The fossil fuel industry threads the Great Lakes region with pipelines, putting local communities at risk with refining impacts and petcoke piles. Communities are breaking free from business as usual and taking on Enbridge’s tar sands proposed expansion plans. On Sunday, May 15 at noon, hundreds of Midwesterners will assemble for a rally in the Whiting Lakefront Park near the BP Whiting Refinery and near the 2014 oil spill into the waters of Lake Michigan.
In Canada: On 13 and 14 May hundreds of people will take action on the land and the water in Vancouver to oppose the proposed Kinder Morgan Transmountain tar sands pipeline, surrounding the Westridge Marine terminal.
Said author and journalist Naomi Klein, “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.” Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation concurred: “We are currently at a crossroads in humanity where we must choose either to continue down a destructive path of extracting fossil fuels or transition to sustainable ways of living. What we need is ambitious renewable energy projects, not more tar sands pipelines. These pipelines don’t have the support of local communities and the Indigenous nations they will impact. If we continue to build fossil fuel infrastructure, we are breaking our promise to do our part in Canada to stem a global climate crisis that is already being felt by communities all over the planet.”
In Germany: During the weekend of 13-15 May a few thousand activists are expected to come to Lusatia where they will engage in civil disobedience to stop the digging in one of Europe’s biggest open-pit lignite mines, which the Swedish company Vattenfall has put up for sale. The action will show any future buyer that all coal development will face resistance, and demonstrate the movement’s commitment against fossil fuel corporations.
In Turkey: Community leaders will head a mass action in Aliağa on 15 May at a coal waste site to call for a stop to 4 fossil fuel plant projects in the surrounding area. This action will unite several fights against individual coal plants into a unified stance against the current Turkish government’s plan to dramatically expand the use of coal in the country.
QUOTES from CAN and 350:
“By backing campaigns and mass actions aimed at stopping the world’s most dangerous fossil-fuel projects – from coal plants in Turkey and the Philippines, to mines in Germany and Australia, to fracking in Brazil and oil wells in Nigeria – Break Free hopes to eliminate the power and pollution of the fossil-fuel industry, and propel the world toward a sustainable future,” May Boeve, Executive Director 350.org
“There’s never been a bigger, more concerted wave of actions against the plans of the fossil fuel industry to overheat our earth–and for the just, fair, and sustainable world we can now envision. In the hottest year on record, we’re determined to turn up the political heat on the planet’s worst polluters,” Bill McKibben, co-founder 350.org
“People power in our cities, in our villages and on the frontlines 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. 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% renewable energy,” Wael Hmaidan, Director of Climate Action Network
LONGER PHILIPPINES BREAK FREE ARTICLE
Bishop Arguelles calls all Catholics to act and “protect families from the ravages of dirty energy and climate change. It is immoral to burden future generations – with pollution and the cost of mistaken energy choices made today. It is time to end the age of coal.”
In the wee hours of May 4, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lipa in the province of Batangas, Philippines, led 10,000 people in a march and then mass. Accompanied by many priests, women religious, the Lipa Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment, local fisherfolk, and other concerned citizens, Archbishop Arguelles and others called for an end to the use of coal and other dirty and harmful energy.
“We are facing a planetary emergency. Now more than ever, we need leaders who are pro-people and pro-environment, not pro-coal and pro-climate change,” said Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who led the marchers to the Batangas Provincial Sports Complex where they sought relief from the recent heat and drought under shade trees and umbrellas emblazoned with “no coal” and “break free.”
The anti-coal march highlighted a national campaign called “Piglas Batangas! Piglas Pilipinas!” symbolized by the struggle against the proposed 600-megawatt coal plant of JG Summit Holdings in Barangay (Village) Pinamucan Ibaba, Batangas City.
“Even without the coal plant, the existing plants of JG Summit are already poisoning our air, water, and land. The proposed coal plant would only make it harder for us to breathe, much less fish,” said 27-year-old Reymond Mendoza, a fisherman from the nearby barangay of Simlong, which also hosts the Gokongwei family-owned complex. The complex has a petrochemical and naphtha cracker plant.
The local anti-coal groups were joined by other coal-affected communities from Quezon and other parts of the country, as well as people’s movements and civil society groups from Metro Manila and other provinces in Southern Luzon.
The march was a part of worldwide “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” events occurring May 4-18th. In Batangas City, those gathered demanded the cancellation of 27 planned coal plants in the Philippines.
The archdiocese sent out a letter and flyer in advance of the event, with the following invitation and exhortation:
Last year, Pope Francis, in the encyclical “Laudato Si’”, called upon all Catholics to act on climate change and protect the Earth, urging solidarity for the poor and the most vulnerable, for it is they who suffer most severely the effects of global warming.
Coal plants cause extreme harm to local communities and eco-systems, as we in Batangas know only too well. Coal is also a danger to the whole country and the whole planet as it is a major contributor to climate change. And yet last year, the Philippine government approved the construction of 27 coal-fired power plants in addition to 19 in existence.
As this country prepares for a general election, let this question be raised and reflected: does not our country deserve a government that will do everything to protect Filipino families from the ravages of dirty energy and climate change? It is immoral to burden future generations – with pollution and the cost of mistaken energy choices made today. It is time to end the age of coal.
The Archbishop has also noted that the Philippines imports around three-quarters of the coal we use, costing the nation precious foreign reserves. Furthermore, the Philippines is blessed with enormous renewable energy resources and is second only to the United States in the amount of geothermal power it produces. Hundreds of renewable energy projects are in the pipeline. “Let us have a true and lasting national renewal,” he said in his Easter message. May this Easter bring this country and our people a real transfiguration for the better, a total stop to coal mining, and a speedy transition to renewable and clean energy.”
In UCA News, which bills itself at Asia’s Catholic News Source, Father Raul Enriquez of Pagbilao said at a multi-faith gathering last month that the advocacy for renewable energy and the clergy’s anti-coal stance “is deeply rooted in our yearning for the renewal and transformation of lives and communities.”
The priests, bishops, and religious have been walking with the people for years, as they face death-dealing pollution. Fr. Dakila Ramos, who heads the Ministry on the Environment of the Archdiocese of Lipa City, said Laudato Si’ has been “our bible for the environment” and has led the way in contesting profit and greed over life and health.
Ramos said the Church in Batangas has been raising awareness on the contents of the encyclical whle also lobbying the city council to reject coal-fired power. In 2015, the Church joined the “One Million Against Coal Campaign” to promote resistance to coal mines and the construction of coal-fired power plants in the country by gathering at least 1 million signatures.
Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Caritas Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) executive secretary, said it was necessary for the Church to be at the forefront of the fight against coal because the government “is adamant about pursuing the extension of these destructive operations.” Last June, Church leaders also led some 1,500 protesters in Lucena City in a procession in Atimonan, Quezon province, to protest the proposed 1,200-MW coal-fired power plant in the town. Another “prayer walk” drew 3,000 participants.
Church leaders have campaigned against coal-fired power plants in the past, warning of health and environmental risks they may bring. In November 2007, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, then president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said it was “better to act on the prevention (of sickness and environmental problems resulting from coal plants) rather than on the cure,” at the sidelines of a forum on coal plants sponsored by the Archdiocese of Jaro.
Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) and Co-Coordinator of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, said: “Communities all over the Philippines are demanding that the government cancel all plans, permits and construction efforts for new coal power plants and coal mines in the Philippines, and to take decisive steps towards the phase out of existing ones. We need to take major steps in order to break free from fossil fuels and all harmful sources energy. A complete transition to renewable energy is not only possible, but urgent.”