Climate Activists Shut Down World's Largest Coal Port


Photo credit: wsilver via Flickr/CC BY

Yesterday, between 40-50 climate activists shut down the world's largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia by strapping themselves to industrial loaders. The action was strikingly symbolic, as the protesters from the group called Rising Tide managed to entirely stymie coal production at the plant. The protest, while peaceful, was far from legal -- and this is what happened. The protesters broke into the facility at dawn and attached themselves to the machinery, while others remained on the ground to fly banners. Needless to say, the plant was ground to a halt, and chaos ensued. Al Jazeera has more on the story:

Police in New South Wales state confirmed that protesters had entered the facility and attached themselves to machinery. Negotiations between protesters and police have been happening, a police spokeswoman said. Annika Dean, a spokesperson for Rising Tide, said: "We are staging an emergency intervention into Australia's number one cause of global warming."

The comments were in reference to the production and export of coal, which is widely seen as a dirty fuel. "Around the world, the early impacts of unabated global warming are beginning to emerge. 2010 has been a year of tragic weather disasters," Dean said in a release.

Rising Tide pointed in particular to the tragic flooding in Pakistan as an example of the sort of weather event that will grow increasingly common as the planet warms, according to scientists' climate models.

Australia is the world's largest coal exporter, and the nation's politics have long been dominated by a fierce debate over how to cope with climate change -- legislation designed to reduce carbon emissions has been shot down in a closely divided parliament three times, and former prime minister Kevin Rudd lost his job in part due to his firm allegiance to climate action. In some ways, the narrative that has unfolded there -- steeped corporate interests and conservative politicians versus climate action proponents -- is similar to that which has taken place here in the United States.

Neither the US nor Australia, the two highest per capita carbon emitters in the world, have enacted a large scale effort to cut back on greenhouse gases. So the question is -- is such civil disobedience valid recourse for governmental inaction? Yes, the perceived extremism will turn some in the public off to the cause.

But this sort of peaceful lawbreaking hardly seems unjust considering the scope of the problem unmitigated man-made emissions pose, alongside the scope of Australian governmental inaction. Whether the action is a net gain in terms of pro-climate action publicity and will win any hearts & minds in Australia is another matter.

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