December 1, 2023

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People are standing up in many countries and demanding a future that is free from fossil fuels. There have been demonstrations in six continents, 20 bold actions involving over 300,000 plus people blocking coal mines and massive civil disobedience around the world, organized under the banner “Break Free from Fossil Fuels.” 

On May 8 this year, over 2,000 people shut down the world’s largest coal port; Newcastle port in Australia to send a clear message that there is no future in coal for Australia. Australians demanded a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy, and they were willing to put their bodies on the line to get there.

In the United States, a similar thing happened when people gathered in Anacortes, which is the site of two oil refineries. Further action was witnessed in Chicago at whiting lakefront near the BP whiting refinery and near the site of the 2014 oil spills into the waters of Lake Michigan. There were also other demonstrations in Denver Colorado, Los Angeles California, and Albany New York as well as in Washington DC where they demanded that President Obama stops all new offshore drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

In Philippines, on 4 May this year, anti-coal activists from all over the Philippines converged in a climate march to mobilize 10,000 people in Batangas City, where JG Summit Holdings aims to put up a 600 megawatt coal fired power plant that is set to occupy a 20-hectare site in Barangay Pinamucan Ibaba, Batangas City. The people demanded the cancellation of the coal plant in Batangas as well as all 26 other proposed plants in the country.

In Indonesia there was  mass action involving thousands of people at the presidential palace in Jakarta on 11 May from several communities that were leading the resistance to coal projects. The mobilisation targeted President Joko Widodo to demand that he revises his ambitious 35,000 megawatt energy plan by moving away from coal and embracing renewable energy.

In South Africa on 12 May this year people gathered in Emalahleni , one of the most polluted towns in the world, to speak out on the effects of climate change on communities. It also featured a photo exhibition that showed the poison behind coal mining to people and the environment.

In Canada on 14 May this year, hundreds of people took action on land and in the water pollution in Vancouver, opposing the proposed Kinder Morgan Transmountain tar sands pipeline, surrounding the Westridge Marine terminal.

In Spain a symbolic ‘funeral parade’ marched through Barcelona ending at Plaça St Jaume on 7 May carrying the coffins of the oil, coal and gas industry. Then on 14 May, cyclists from all over town took over the city and project large scale messaging for a renewable shift on public buildings powered by bicycles at Plaça St Jaume. Greenpeace joined the global wave of this nonviolent direct action targeting the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects. Under the banner of Break Free – to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground

“In our fight against fossil fuels, Southeast Asia is a major battleground and we cannot afford to cede to those who think of nothing but profit instead of people, and plunder instead of protecting the environment,” said Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Break Free” is a breath of hope for all communities who are standing up to the fossil fuel industry’s relentless expansion despite climate change. As our communities rise against the ludicrous anachronism of the ongoing use of coal in Southeast Asia, we are buoyed by this global solidarity.”

Generally across the US, activists targeted six key areas of fossil fuel developments between 12-15 May, and Greenpeace participated in DC and Colorado. On May 12th, the Bureau of Land Management intended to auction off public lands in Colorado for fracking — and the movement intended to be there to tell them to keep it in the ground!

All the accounts detailed above are testament to increasing pressure all over the world and across continents, from developed to developing nations that citizens see no future in fossil fuel. Amazingly, young men and women are the ones at the forefront calling for change and pursuing a course they believe in.  More and more people are waking up to defend the integrity of nature and pursue ecosystem rights from the harm of pollution emanating from the exploration and use of these dirty fuels that the earth has had to contend with for decades. Can my country Kenya borrow a leaf from any of these?

For a long time the civil Society Organizations in Kenya have been known to fiercely champions causes relating to democracy  and human rights within the political sphere, this being a testament of the reforms being experienced. Environmental activism is however a largely unexplored facet. Recent decisions by the government of the day, for instance that which calls for coal mining in several parts of the country could benefit from this kind of action. Civil society in Kenya can therefore learn a lot from actions of organizations in other countries to fight for environmental rights in the energy sector, for instance through Break Free from Fossil Fuels, putting in mind that 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded and the impacts of climate change are already hitting communities around the world with developing nations like Kenya being the most vulnerable. The same zeal and vibrancy that surrounds environmental causes under Break Free Actions needs to permeate the Kenyan civil Society.

From rising sea levels to extreme storms, the need to act has never been more urgent. As the fossil fuel industry faces a downturn – from collapsing prices, massive divestments, and a new global climate deal – the time has never been better for a just transition to a clean and renewable energy system.

As Kenya plans to construct its first coal-fired power plant, it is encouraging to note that a group of more than 20 community-based organisations is fighting to halt the multibillion dollar project. These groups need all the support they can get to successfully push their message across to those concerned.

Jacob Ndunda, 23, an Environmental Science graduate from Maseno University, Kenya, said that the many break free actions around the world can bring about change and awareness on coal brutality at the local scene in Kenya if imitated. “I personally do not believe that any form of technology can eliminate effects of coal. Break free actions and campaigns from fossil fuels are not an option, it is the only way that change to green energy can be effected.” Many other people share the same opinion and espouse the same ideas when it comes to transition to a green future.  A lot needs to be done to stop use of dangerous fossil fuels in Kenya but with awareness, concerted effort and deliberate actions, agencies involved can be compelled to rethink and reconsider these potentially destructive projects in the energy sector and see the need to pursue cleaner energy.

Sources: Burnby, BC, Canada – Break Free 2016, Image credit: Marlin Olynyk | Survival Media


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