‘The Ultimatum’ by Tyrell Gittens
The pores, on my skin, began to rise as the voices of climate activists chanting “The people got the power, tell me can you feel it,” blasted through my headphones. Images of defiant demonstrators, modern-day renegades in disguise, flashed across the screen as I watched a video of the Ende Gelände organized climate demonstration, dubbed as one of the largest acts of climate disobedience. This demonstration consisting of an estimated 4000 demonstrators, shut down operations for over 48 hours in Vattenfall, considered one of Europe’s largest lignite coal mine located in Germany between May 14th and 15th 2016. Not too long after in Vancouver, Canada, on May 16th thousands of activists descended on Kinder Morgan’s, one of North America’s largest energy infrastructure company, shouting “Keep it in the ground!” While a wider portion of the global community demands to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the Caribbean must not keep our heads in the sand.
Out of the hundreds of non-violent “break free” civil demonstrations around the world, 0 has taken place to date or has been planned in the Caribbean. It is important for the Caribbean, as well as other Small Island Developing States (SIDs) to monitor these events. The current Paris Agreement of 2015 which was drafted by over 190 nations in Paris aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, scientific studies have shown that a rise in global temperature of over 1.5°C can have catastrophic effects on SIDs. The break free actions are crucial in ensuring that global efforts against climate change is increased which will in turn reduce the effects of climate change on SIDs such as those in the Caribbean and the Pacific for example.
Civil disobediences and demonstrations such as the break free actions, signify that our voice is a vehicle capable of gaining momentum to put pressure on the world’s government to move away from the harmful oil and gas industry. It is no coincidence that the Ende Gelände demonstrations in Germany coincide with the Bonn Negotiations in Germany. At a time when these negotiations will serve as a period of transnational discussions in relation to the Paris Agreement it is important that society speaks up and demand that these discussions be taken seriously. It’s a stand that reflects society’s ultimatum to break free from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy that will be more beneficial economically, environmentally and health wise to society.
Talya Anna Mohammed, an Energy and Environment Sustainable Development Strategist, was given a general overview of the break free actions and was then asked, “What importance do you think civil society plays in the fight against climate change and why do you think these break free actions are critical in the fight against fossil fuels?” In regards to the importance of civil society in the fight against fossil fuels, Mohammed responded:
“The challenge of climate change facing the world is unlike past challenges. It doesn’t only affect one country, one race, one section of the world or one particular interest but it affects our ONE PLANET. So whilst in the past civil society groups and leaders have found it crucial to be making fundamental changes on issues of race, class, sex, religion and the list can go on; it is important that through these break free actions ALL of civil society have been able to come together no matter the agenda of their organization.”
Speaking on why these actions are critical in the fight against fossil fuels, Mohammed asserted that the break free campaign makes a statement to large, global oil companies that society is willing to get out of its comfort zone and make a stand against dirty energy and outdated policies.
LaTisha Parkinson, a student of the University of the West Indies, when asked the same question responded that in her opinion, civil society’s involvement in the fight against climate change plays two crucial roles. The first role is to educate fellow members of society and the other role is to relay to the government exactly how climate change affects the everyday lives of citizens and what are the possible solutions. Parkinson, expressed that the break free actions were critical in the fight against fossil fuels because the actions fulfilled civil society’s two roles. To support her view, Parkinson said these actions not only educated the general public about climate change by raising awareness but the actions took it a step further by showing leaders that society will not tolerate inaction against climate change. Parkinson, felt that by shutting down various fossil operations these demonstrations made a statement to the fossil industry that it is not “business as usual.”
The vibrancy of the Caribbean’s spirit must be translated into everything we do especially how we approach the issue of climate change. As peaceful break-free civil disobediences shut down coal and energy stations in South Wales, Australia, Canada and Germany to name a few places, we must remember that the people got the power, so tell me can you feel it? In the end, there’s only one ultimatum and that is for a transition away from fossil fuels so the world can not only cleanse its conscience but also its environment by breaking from fossil fuels. It can be assured that these break free demonstrations will not cease to exist because come tomorrow the issue of climate change will not cease to exist either. Join the movement and keep up-to-date with the global break free actions against fossil fuels by searching “Climate Tracker” on Facebook or visit https://breakfree2016.org/.