Climate change is the most urgent threat to our planet’s capacity to support life on earth and coal is the biggest contributor to climate change.
On September 26, 2010, Rising Tide Newcastle staged a complete shut down of the world’s biggest coal port in Newcastle, New South Wales. Five climbers hung off the loading arm cables on all three coal terminals and four people attached themselves to the loader arm. At the same time, thirty-five people occupied coal piles at the new third loader on Kooragang Island. Our message was clear – climate change is a global emergency and we must stop the rapid expansion of the coal industry and make way for a just transition to renewable and sustainable energy.
The Stern report’s estimate of the cost of burning coal puts the global savings from the prevention of coal loading on that day at $36.4 million dollars. This does not include the ecological debt that Port Waratah Coal Services and other polluting corporations owe to the Global South, who are already feeling the impacts of climate change today.
Thirty-five people were released without charge and nine were charged with entering and remaining on inclosed lands.
As a result of the action, the remaining seven defendants are being pursued for $525,000 in “victim’s compensation” for the profits that mining giants Rio Tinto and Xstrata missed out on that day. These laws, designed to compensate victims of violent crime without having to go through civil litigation, is now being used by some of the world’s biggest corporations to stifle dissent. It is a new twist on SLAPP suits – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation like the Gunns 20 case and the ongoing Triabunna 13 case in Tasmania.
Oxfam estimates that 300,000 people are already dying each year from the impacts of climate change, and that this will only get worse if we continue to delay action. This year we have seen floods in Pakistan, fires in Siberia, droughts in Africa and coastal surges in the Torres Strait. In our own valley, mosquito populations are rising, increasing the risk of deadly diseases such as malaria, and communities all up and down the Hunter Valley are feeling the health impacts of coal mines chewing up agricultural, horse-breeding and vinicultural land to make way for open pits. Even low-level sea-level rise would put parts of Newcastle underwater.
Non-violent direct action is an important and increasingly important tool for those of us who want to leave our children and grandchildren a world that is fit to live in. Rather than pursuing peaceful protestors for courageously standing up for what is right, the mining companies should be phasing out coal mining in favour of renewable energy and compensating the rest of the world for the damage that they have caused without challenge for decades.