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"Continuing to dig up coal is a red line for the climate that we won't allow governments and corporations to cross." (Photo: Reclaim the Power)

"Nature Won't Wait": Break Free 2016 Begins with UK Coal Mine Occupation

The action in Wales marks the start of Break Free 2016, an international civil disobedience campaign spanning six continents

Deirdre Fulton

Hundreds of climate activists shut down the UK's largest open-cast coal mine on Tuesday morning—the first of a wave of peaceful direct actions spanning six continents and 12 days, targeting the world's most dangerous fossil fuel projects.

Mining work has now been halted at the Ffos-y-fran mine in south Wales, where the mass civil trespass by climate action network Reclaim the Power began at 5:30am local time. Hundreds of demonstrators wearing red boiler suits used their bodies to form a massive red line across the mine, while nine individuals are locked to each other, blocking road access to the controversial facility.

"Continuing to dig up coal is a red line for the climate that we won't allow governments and corporations to cross," said Hannah Smith, who participated in the action.

The action in Wales marks the start of Break Free 2016, an international civil disobedience campaign meant "to ensure that strong pressure is maintained to force energy providers, as well as local and national governments, to implement the policies and additional investments needed to completely break free from fossil fuels."

Organizers cite record-breaking temperatures, rising sea levels, and the Paris climate deal as evidence of the urgent need for action to stem global warming. Indeed, they say the only way to achieve the goals set out during the COP21 climate talks and avert climate crisis is by keeping the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Break Free 2016 is an attempt to amplify that message.

"By backing campaigns and mass actions aimed at stopping the world's most dangerous fossil-fuel projects—from coal plants in Turkey and the Philippines, to mines in Germany and Australia, to fracking in Brazil and oil wells in Nigeria—Break Free hopes to eliminate the power and pollution of the fossil-fuel industry, and propel the world toward a sustainable future," said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, which is spearheading the actions.

Added Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network: "People power in our cities, in our villages, and on the frontlines of climate change have brought us to a point where we have a global climate deal—but we do not stop now, we need more action and faster. Civil society is set to rise up again, to fight for our societies to break free from fossil fuels, to propel them even faster towards a just future powered by 100 percent renewable energy."

For example, a mass mobilization is planned for Wednesday in Batangas City in the Philippines. The demonstration "will highlight the demand to stop the building of new coal plants and the phase-out of the existing coal plants in Batangas," according to organizers. "It will also symbolize nationwide opposition to coal mining and coal energy in the Philippines."

Other protests, marches, blockades, and disruptions will take place from Australia to South Africa to Ecuador to Canada.

Meanwhile, actions across the United States starting next week will target six key areas of fossil fuel development: new tar sands pipelines in the Midwest; fracking in the American West; Big Oil's devastating refinery pollution in the Northwest; "bomb trains" carrying fracked oil and gas to Albany, N.Y.; offshore drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts; and dangerous oil and gas drilling in urban Los Angeles.

"No government has a workable plan to protect a stable climate," said Ahmed Gaya of Rising Tide Seattle, who will take part in the Break Free Pacific Northwest actions on May 13, 14, and 15 targeting carbon-spewing Shell and Tesoro refineries just north of Seattle.

"Nature won't wait," Gaya said, "and mass disobedience is the only tool proven to bring about rapid social change. Breaking free from fossil fuels and ensuring a just transition is going to be hard, but not doing so would have unthinkable consequences."

Lending credence to that argument is a study out this week from the Stockholm Environment Institute, which argues that phasing out federal leases for fossil fuel extraction—a major goal of the U.S. climate movement—could reduce global CO2 emissions by 100 million tons per year by 2030, and by greater amounts thereafter. The study authors note that this is "an impact comparable to that of other major climate policies under consideration by the Obama administration."

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