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Dozens of climate justice activists are pictured travelling by foot across 400km of Portugal to talk to the people on the frontlines of the climate crisis. (Photo: Laura Boscia)

Of Fire and Water: The Portuguese Climate Justice Caravan

From the contact with the populations and the walks through wooded areas, something becomes clear and notorious: the conditions for the repetition of catastrophic forest fires not only exist again, but have worsened.

João Camargo

A caravan with dozens of climate justice activists is travelling on foot and by train over 400km across Portugal to talk to the people on the frontlines of the climate crisis and discuss on the doorstep of some of the country's largest greenhouse gas emitters what should happen there. On April 9th caravans for climate justice also started in Ireland and Turkey.

What happened to the Portuguese territory was not an accident, it was deliberate. Abandonment, eucalyptisation and desertification were and continue to be public policy.

The portuguese caravan, which left Praia da Leirosa on 2nd April, passed the first stage, more than 200km, arriving on 12th April at the Celtejo factory in Vila Velha de Ródão. The first eleven days of the walk went through one of the most evident faces of the climate crisis in Portugal, desertification accelerated by forest fires, prompted by the massive eucalyptus plantations which today make rural Portugal a danger to its populations. At the beginning and end of these trails are the factories—Navigator's and Altri's—which supply the raw materials that make the rural landscape a dangerous one. These factories also release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, drain monstrous amounts of water and discharge their effluents into the Atlantic Ocean and the river Tejo. Contacting communities and exposing those responsible is the only way to build climate justice on the ground.

On the 12th of April the caravan stopped in front of Celtejo, another papel pulp plant. In the previous eleven days, the caravan has already contacted thousands of people along its route, promoting debates in schools, campsites, theatres, gardens and, of course, in front of some of the main infrastructures responsible for the climate crisis in Portugal:

—The Celbi pulp mill in Leirosa;

—The Navigator Company's industrial complex, in Figueira da Foz;

—EDP's Lares gas-fired power station;

—CIMPOR's Souselas cement factory.

These structures are among the 10 largest emitters of greenhouse gas in Portugal, and are objectively responsible for the climate crisis at the national level. The pulp sector stands out at the forefront of emissions, with The Navigator Company leading the way, the company with the most emissions in the country. In the coming days, the theme will move on to water, with the Tejo river as a backdrop, with the many projects that aim to intensify the destruction of the river (as well as others) coming to the fore. The route and the initiatives are open can be seen at caravanaclima.pt.

From the contact with the populations and the walks through wooded areas, something becomes clear and notorious: the conditions for the repetition of catastrophic forest fires not only exist again, but have worsened. The submission of the government to the cellulose companies is absolute, without even having fulfilled basic promises for the most affected territories, such as Nodeirinho, Figueira and Pedrógão Grande—there are no pilot projects, there are no contention strips maintained, the eucalyptus continues to expand, in both invasive and planted form. The pulp companies continue to supply millions of eucalyptus trees every year, and they continue to eucalyptize the country.

The government of the Portuguese countryside is in Lisbon, but not at the Ministry of Agriculture. It is in Rua Marquês de Sá da Bandeira, at CELPA's (the association of paper companies) headquarters, and in Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, at The Navigator Company's headquarters. The ministers that are put in agriculture are only the transmission belts of paper pulp and agribusiness companies. The decision of these companies for the rural world is that it may not have people, it may be a desert, it may be dangerous, that these people do not count for real power. Without much subterfuge, Francisco Gomes da Silva, the secretary of state who in 2013 pushed through the law liberalising the planting of eucalyptus is now the CEO of pulp, of CELPA, while the man who was left to make the rural world safer from fires, Tiago Oliveira, is another Navigator employee. And the rural world is more insecure than it was five years ago: crossing with difficulty on foot the paths that were burnt by the flames in 2017, the caravan realised that little that was done, and only in short emotional aftermath of the more than 100 deaths. For years this territory is being deliberately built up to be a desert that can burn at the slightest rise in temperature.

What happened to the Portuguese territory was not an accident, it was deliberate. Abandonment, eucalyptisation and desertification were and continue to be public policy. The fact that today we are in worse conditions for forest fires than five years ago is a political choice, shared between the large pulp companies and the parties in power that are their representatives. The power of the eucalyptus has not even been pinched and as long as this is the case, the territory will continue to be a place objectively against the people. Not even the powerful communication machine of Navigator and Altri can justify how it is possible to sacrifice almost a third of the country—around a million hectares of eucalyptus, the largest relative area in the world!—for their meagre and private economic results. It is a lazy capitalism that drags itself out of habit, totally oblivious to the climate crisis.

During the caravan, the latest IPCC report came out, reiterating that this system has mounted collapse as public policy, with public denunciation of governments and companies wanting to expand emissions on a global scale by seeking more fossil fuel reserves. Global emissions increased by 19% between 2010 and 2019, rather than falling, and under current policies, peak emissions will not even occur this decade, even though we need to cut more than 50% of emissions by 2030. Global capitalism has only one policy: collapse. They promise to raise temperatures by at least 3.2°C by 2100.

This system and its institutions have nothing to offer us. Governments surrender people, territories, and the future to the will of boards of directors made up of dangerous radical sociopaths who want and always reiterate the choice of a world on fire. The Caravan for Climate Justice marches because we need to build a strong, broad, diverse and deep-rooted enough movement so that the will and profits of this minority, based on the destruction of our future, will one day soon be just a distant memory.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
joao

João Camargo

João Camargo is a climate activist in grassroots movement Climáximo in Portugal and in the Climate Jobs campaign. He’s an environmental engineer and climate change researcher at the University of Lisbon, where he just finished his PhD about Climate Change as a new metanarrative for humanity. He authored two books in 2018: Climate Change Combat Manual (in Portugal and Spain) and Portugal in Flames - How to rescue the forests.

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