Drawing red lines against CO2lonialism on fossil free Friday

Across the UK, students protested on Friday against the extraction of fossil fuels.

Chris Saltmarsh
17 February 2016
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Chris, protesting in Sheffield

Friday the 12th February was Fossil Free Friday. Climate justice activists around the country took action to defend the red lines of climate change, and targeted the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry. This day of action was another important moment in the growing global movement to eliminate the industry's social license to profit from climate change, and the human and ecological havoc it is wreaking. Friday was just the beginning of a global escalation in direct-action tactics against the perpetrators of the climate crisis.

Barclays bank was the target of many activists on the day, including my own group: Sheffield People & Planet. We were one of five groups to stage sit-ins at Barclays in our respective localities. To compound a tradition of support for apartheid wherever it appears, in South Africa and now Israel, Barclays has recently branched out into the apparently profitable business of climate co2onialism. They currently have sizeable investments in several fossil fuel companies including £1billion in Shell, through whom they finance dirty tar sands extraction in Canada. With more than £200 million in BHP Bilton and Anglo American, Barclay's fund the Cerrejón coal mine in La Gaujira, Colombia. Closer to home, Barclays wholly own the energy company, Third Energy, making them the first high street bank to invest in fracking.

These investments reproduce the colonialism that has historically ravaged lives of innocent indigenous peoples and communities in the Global South. Indigenous First Nations in Alberta, Canada have been callously disregarded by Shell's desire to extract and burn tar sands oil. They have been forced from their land, and away from their homes and livelihoods, to make way for the drilling. A pattern emerges when we consider the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have been forcibly displaced to make way for profitable coal extraction.

Further to these violences, indigenous peoples who live most intimately with their environment are being affected first and worst by climate change and emissions from any part of the world, as their livelihoods and culture can't keep up with the rapid and volatile changes to their climate. So after funding fossil fuel extraction abroad, devastating innumerable lives and cultures, Barclays is looking to bring extraction back to Yorkshire through fracking: another source of quick profit for those with little concern for justice, or our planet's ability to sustain human life.

Put basically, fracking means more fossil fuel extraction, which means more fossil fuel burning, which means more carbon emissions. These are the same carbon emissions that are forcibly displacing already-vulnerable people from their homes and communities across the Global South. Emissions cause sea level rises and resultant flooding in some of the most densely populated parts of the world. They are causing drought in some of the most agriculturally productive parts of the world making acres of land unliveable for those who have populated it for generations. They are causing more frequent and severe extreme weather events, devastating lives reliant on the least developed infrastructure.

Even when the extraction happens in the UK, in our communities, carbon-emissions affect indigenous peoples and communities in the Global South on the front-lines of climate change first and most severely. These are innocent people already living under the constant threat of a violently changing climate. Why? Because Western companies like Shell and Barclays are more concerned with making profit than with protecting human life.

Historically indigenous peoples have been the victims of genocide by European settlers: crimes which they are still living the effects of. Today, indigenous peoples are the victims of contemporary climate co2onialism by European fossil fuel companies and investors, as they are displaced to make way for extraction, and existentially threatened by its effects on the climate.

If there is something from which we can draw inspiration, though, it is the admirable resistance of indigenous peoples and front-line communities around the world. They are fighting back, and we are joining their struggle, in solidarity. Indigenous peoples have drawn their climate change red lines: boundaries that must not be crossed if we want our planet to be just and liveable. Their red lines are their own lives, as they are already being threatened by climate change everyday. It is our duty to help protect them from the profit-hungry corporate co2onialists. We will draw red lines in front of every Barclays bank, every fracking site, every coal mine, every fossil fuel investor, every false solution, and every colonial-capitalist company, university and institution that profits from climate injustice.

We spent two hours in Barclays Sheffield, fully equipped with large model fracking rigs which we erected in and outside the bank. We staged a teach-in, where we educated ourselves about the co2onialism of Barclay's investments, and the struggles experienced by those the indigenous peoples and communities of the global south on the front-lines of climate change. We attracted much attention from the passing public, not least due to our loud renditions of “What do we want? Climate Justice!” and “Anti-capitalista”.

We brought a message of solidarity, resistance and urgency; climate change is not just a distant threat for Western politicians to think about dealing with after a certain degree of average global temperature rise. It has been a grave and devastating mistake of middle-class Western environmentalists to frame climate change in terms of Polar Bears, ice-caps and abstract degrees C. Climate change is already happening with great cost to human life around the world. We must act now.

We sat-in at Barclay's to say that climate change is a product of colonialism and of capitalism, and that we are embarking on a sustained, intersectional fight against those systems of oppression, for climate justice. We were there to demand that Barclay's clean up its act and divest from fracking, tar sands and coal. We were there to demand that Barclays do not bring fracking to Sheffield, Yorkshire or the UK through Third Energy. We were there to promise that if fracking comes to Sheffield, or anywhere else in the UK, we will resist it. And we will win.

Extracting and burning fossil fuels, anywhere in the world, crosses our red lines.

Red lines are not for crossing. We will defend them by resisting anybody who wants to profit from climate change, and Barclays is first on our list.

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