Wednesday, May 18, 2022

What climate change activists can learn from First Nations campaigns against the fossil fuel industry

As the Glasgow Climate Conference begins, and the time for us to avert a climate crisis diminishes, it is time to rethink successful First Nations campaigns against the fossil fuel industry.

Like the current fight to avert a climate disaster, these battles are good, old-fashioned, retrograde, David-versus-Goliath examples from which we can all learn. The Jabeeluka campaign is a good example.

In the late 1990s, a mining company, Energy Resources of Australia, was planning to expand its Kakadu uranium mine to Jabiluka, the land of Mirar traditional owners in the Northern Territory. The nearby Ranger uranium mine had been operating for 20 years without the consent of the traditional owners and against their will, causing long-term cultural and environmental destruction.

But the Khan’s expansion ultimately failed, thanks to an extraordinary campaign by traditional owners, led by Yvonne Margula and a relative, the lead author of this article, Jackie Katona (a Jok woman).

In recognition of our work, we shared the 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the most prestigious international grassroots environmental awards.

Yvonne Margula and Jackie Katona after accepting the Goldman Environmental Prize, Island Nation 1998, for grassroots activism.
Provided by the author.

The campaign included a massive on-site protest camp, shareholder action and significant foreign support (including an expert committee from the European Parliament, the US Congress, and UNESCO). This also included the blockade of the mine site – one of Australia’s biggest blockades to date.

These are valuable lessons for those who want to take decisive action against the fossil fuel industry. Here are six ways to learn from our experience:

1. Put pressure on the financial sector

Continued pressure on financial sector companies (such as banks), which are involved in the success of fossil fuel companies, can have an effect. This can be done by highlighting their involvement with fossil fuels and by pressuring them to hold them accountable for these partnerships.

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One of the most successful actions of the Jabeeluka campaign was the coordination of protests in Westpac, which financed the energy resources of the mine’s owner, Australia. Not only did the protesters raise awareness about Westpac’s investments in local branches, but they also created bureaucratic chaos by opening and closing bank accounts.

This resulted in a corporate shift in Westpac toward better accountability on issues affecting First Nations people. Such coordinated protests are an effective way of empowering people to participate in affirmative action for change.

Similar protests, strategic litigation and investor campaigns have also effectively disrupted the Adani mining project in Queensland, making financing and insurance for the project very difficult.

2. Join a Strong Organization or Alliance

First Nations campaigns against mining and other fossil fuel companies show the leadership of politically powerful organizations or coalitions as the most important factor in successful protests.

In the Jabeeluka campaign, Katona and Margarula were successful in large part because of their emphasis on the Mirror-led campaign forming strong alliances with powerful unions, environmental groups, and other national and international organizations.

3. Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts: Hip Pockets

Mirar’s successful campaign was one of the first to use shareholder activism, and it worked. Campaigners engaged in two years of activism against Australia’s energy resources, including forming a group of shareholders lobbying within the project for the protesters’ demands.

Protesters holding signs 'the whole world is watching'
In 2006, protesters gathered in Zabiluka to draw attention to uranium mining.
Dean Levins/You

In that time, the share price of Australia’s energy resources fell from more than A$6 to less than A$2. This forced the company to hold an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting where representatives of the lobbying group were present.

Shareholders were then able to exert some influence on corporate responsibility and accountability, including the appointment of a Sustainable Development Manager. Although the government eventually amended the Corporations Act to make such actions more difficult, it still shows that constructive direct action can be successful in holding corporations accountable.

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4. Conquer the Right People

When Rio Tinto erupted last year at a 46,000-year-old rock shelter in Jucan Gorge on the traditional land of the Putu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, it was not only public outcry that led to the resignation of three senior executives, including the chief executive.

There was also pressure from investor groups, including major Australian super funds, and the media over the alleged lack of accountability.

5. There is no right time to act

Katona led the Jabeeluka campaign while the mother of two young children, doing local work with international activism. He was sent to jail for encroaching on tribal land. She was hospitalized with complications of lupus, which required a lengthy recovery.

Be strategic about your participation in high-energy campaigns and find ways to support the efforts of key workers. But know also that the fight against the fossil fuel industry takes more effort than just changing your social media profile picture.

There is no right time or single solution to campaign for a better future. People’s power is a resource that often inspires to interrupt and needs to be nurtured.

Two men behind a police paddy cart.
In 1999, Christine Kristofferson and Jackie Katona were arrested. He was convicted of trespass on the Zabiluka lease for opposing the Jabiluka mining project – was jailed.

6. Believe You Can Win

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have faced hundreds of years of colonization, industrial humiliation of their sacred lands, and the destruction of their country. However, in many cases, they have won the battle against the odds.

The Mirror faced a discriminatory system that sidelined their interests in Kakadu for more than 20 years. But he continued his fight to defend the country, and was eventually successful in stopping the expansion of Jabeeluka.

So take heart and don’t give up. This is a battle that can be won.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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