Climate change protesters won’t be deterred by fines, jail time or politically conflicting messages on the environment | Adam Morton

While pro-Palestinian protesters caused outrage last week by climbing onto the roof of Parliament, dozens of activists in Newcastle made an equally emphatic statement – ​​largely to avoid causing a wider stir.

For more than two weeks, activists under the banner of Blockade Australia have been blocking trains near the world’s largest coal port. My colleague Jordyn Beazley reports that by Monday, at least 500 train journeys had been cancelled and more than 30 people arrested.

Laura Davy, a 21-year-old Tasmanian woman who was one of several people who went to the protest, was sentenced to three months in jail for trespassing and causing serious disorder at a large venue. Without the opportunity to appear in court, it seems a disproportionate sentence for an act of political protest. Others were fined between $750 and $1,500. Davy was released on bail on Tuesday after an appeal against her conviction.

These activists are at the forefront of a direct action movement that has been steadily growing across the country. Last November, it drew hundreds of people to Newcastle to row kayaks and other vessels to stop ships coming in and out of port. More than 100 people were subsequently arrested. A similar event is planned for later this year.

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The worldview of these protesters was summed up in a banner that Ian Fox, a 67-year-old Adelaide man, unfurled 10 metres above a train line in Newcastle. The banner read: “Survival depends on breaking the rules.”

It was a similar story on Sydney Harbour on Sunday, when protesters from the Rising Tide group sailed into Kirribilli with a gift for the prime minister: a scroll signed by hundreds of people pledging civil disobedience in response to what they see as a complete failure to address the challenge of climate change.

Socceroo member and now human rights activist Craig Foster previously told the Rising Tide event that Australians should take direct action to oppose the power of the coal and gas industry.

These are not new ideas. They have been echoed across the country in protests in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Organisers say the number of people wanting to sign up is growing.

There has been much debate about whether this is a good way to mobilize support for faster action on the climate crisis. There is a pretty convincing argument that it isn’t. But from the perspective of the people climbing on the coal trains, that’s not the point.

They argue that the failure to address the climate crisis is evidence that the political and economic system is fundamentally broken, and that the only logical response is a campaign of resistance. They argue that incrementalism by large environmental organizations is not enough at a time when new fossil fuel projects are being approved and significant parts of the world have just experienced what was the 13th consecutive hottest month on record.

As one activist told the Guardian, the attitude is: “I don’t care, I have to do something about it.”

It doesn’t take long to realize that the way states have responded — increasing fines and prison sentences — won’t deter lockdowns.

Governments have nothing to offer protesters. Nationally, the Albanian government points to steps it has taken since it was elected two years ago: an expanded clean energy guarantee program that aims to reach 82% renewables by 2030; vehicle emissions standards that should gradually switch the country’s fleet to cleaner models; an agreement with the Greens that should initially limit emissions from industrial polluters; the creation of offshore wind farm zones; a Net Zero Economy Authority to help communities that rely on fossil fuels transition to new businesses.

Some of them could lead to significant change. But Labour undermines her message when it uses flawed environmental laws to approve new fossil fuel projects and publishes a 2050 gas strategy that sounds like it was written by the gas industry. It sabotages its message when a cabinet minister poses for photos with the head of a fossil fuel company seeking approval for a huge expansion of export production.

It’s possible that this complicated mix of messages could become a more coherent path to a clean economy. A net-zero emissions plan is promised before the election.

Yet it is almost impossible to imagine that this will be enough to convince climate change protesters who are uninterested in the promise of achieving net zero emissions in 26 years, who are armed with scientific evidence showing that the current response is not even close to happening, and who are willing to dedicate their lives to proving that fact.

Which tells us that whether we like it or not, climate-focused civil disobedience is here to stay. Maybe it’s time to listen a little harder and think about our collective response to it.