Colorado demonstration part of global protest movement
As part of a global series of protests against the continued burning of fossil fuels, hundreds of Colorado activists gathered this week in Denver to protest a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction at the Holiday Inn in Lakewood.
Organizers counted about 300 people at the May 12 rally, who demonstrated with signs and banners and tried to interrupt the auction of new oil and gas leases as part of the larger #keepitintheground movement. The goal is to prevent the catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming, including deadly heatwaves, droughts, forest fires, water shortages and invasive diseases.
“Enough is enough,” said Valerie Love of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the many conservation groups involved in the growing international campaign. “President Obama has the power to stop new fossil fuel leases on our public lands, and he must do so to avoid climate catastrophe. We have protested at every fossil fuel lease sale over the past six months, and we will not stop until this destructive giveaway of public lands and waters is ended,” Love said.
The auction went ahead anyway and all six parcel up for grabs were sold with net revenue of $5.2 million, tweeted Kathleen Sgamma, VP of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance.
Sgamma took to Twitter to present a somewhat snarky alternate viewpoint to the social media buzz surrounding the protests, pointing out what she called the hypocrisy of out-of-state demonstrators driving thousands of miles to protest, the fact that at least some of the protestors were wearing gear made of petroleum-based products and that renewable energy technology like solar panels require mined petroleum products, not to mention fossil fuel energy, for their production.
Sgamma has a point, but what she didn’t mention were the potentially devastating human, environmental and economic costs of global warming, or whether the oil and gas industry has any meaningful ideas to add to the discussion about climate policy and how to shift to a less carbon-intensive economy. In past statements, the energy industry has pointed to natural gas as a transitional fuel that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but what’s still missing is a long-term vision for a climate-safe energy future.
Globally, the #breakfree movement has organized protests in dozens of countries. One of the biggest actions was Friday in eastern Germany, where about 2,000 protesters tried to peacefully occupy a huge coal mine. Get live updates from the Vattenfall action here.
The German protestors demanded and end to the use of fossil fuels, and tried to block mine and transport operations to make their point.
“Every additional ton of coal removed from the ground is a ton too much,” said
Hannah Eichberger, speaking on behalf of the Ende Gelände coalition. “We’re not going to leave climate protection in the hands of governments and corporations,” Eichberger said, explaining that it’s crucial to keep at least 80 percent of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground to prevent global warming from surging above 2 degrees Celsius.
In Colorado, Boulder-based artist Remy, a Native American, said the protest in keeping with the tradition of his culture and people.
“Colorado and the public lands of the West are being treated as a sacrifice zone, with corporations profiting from the destruction of our communities, the landscape and the people’s health,” said Remy. “It’s about respecting the land and the Earth, and it’s about justice for people who are being denied it.”
Colorado’s public and private lands have been pockmarked by oil and gas wells in recent years. The state has also seen firsthand many of the devastating impacts of climate change, including massive flooding and extended, more intense fire seasons. The action comes just days after the Colorado Supreme Court denied community authority to regulate fracking.
“When our political systems fail us, direct action is one of the few tools we have left,” said Colorado activist and Greenpeace campaigner Diana Best. “People here are finished with industry and government making us sick, polluting our communities and destroying the land we love. Today you can see that the resistance in Colorado is powerful and a key part of the escalating national fight.”
The coalition behind the Denver protest includes local groups like CREED, FrackFree Colorado, Colorado 350, Colorado Rising Tide, First Seven Design Labs and many others, and is supported by national groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Radical Arts Healing Collective, WildEarth Guardians and 350.org.
Another protests is planned for May 14 in Thornton, where activist Bill McKibben will join the action to deliver his by now well-known sermon on the dangers of fracking.
Currently about 67 million acres of public lands are leased for the exploitation of fossil fuels, an area 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park and containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.
About 25 percent of all U.S. climate pollution already comes from burning fossil fuels from public lands. Remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion additional tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.
The movement gained political support in advance of last December’s Paris climate talks when Senators Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) in November introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases.
Last month the Obama administration placed a moratorium on federal coal leasing while the Department of the Interior studies its impacts on taxpayers and the planet. Since November 2015, in response to protests, the BLM has postponed oil and gas leasing auctions in Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.