Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

A Rising Tide: Linking Local and Global Climate Justice

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

A Rising Tide: Linking Local and Global Climate Justice

Article excerpt

On the 26th of September 2010, fifty activists from the grassroots climate action group, Rising Tide Australia, simultaneously occupied three export coal loading facilities in the Hunter Valley port of Newcastle, and thereby shut down the world's biggest coal exporting port for a day. Their action, shown in Figure 1 (below), left twenty coal ships stranded offshore and caused millions of dollars of demurrage and other costs to coal exporters. The Rising Tide Australia action gained extensive international media coverage, gave heart to climate justice campaigners in Australia and around the world, and sent a powerful statement to coal corporations and governments that business-as-usual is not an option in an era of emerging climate chaos.

Rising Tide Australia spokesperson, Annika Dean, explained the group's motivations:

We are staging an emergency intervention into Australia's number one cause of global warming. Around the world, the early impacts of unabated global warming are beginning to emerge. 2010 has been a year of tragic weather disasters... Global warming is happening now, and it is killing people. Australia is a major contributor to this crisis, due to the massive volumes of coal we export. We are exporting global warming to the world (Rising Tide Australia, 2010)

Rising Tide Australia's civil disobedience indicates community outrage and the emergence of a militant form of participatory democracy with respect to climate change, in which citizens directly intervene to stop economic activity that jeopardise sustainability locally and globally. A scan of the Hunter Valley's major regional newspaper, the Newcastle Herald, after each Rising Tide action, indicates many Hunter Valley residents, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists and others support civil disobedience to stop the threat that coal dependency poses to local and global ecological, social and economic sustainability, and to stop runaway climate change.


Coal has played a fundamental role as the primary energy source in industrial economies and societies. Coal-fired power generation continues to be the main way of providing electricity to the world. Currently about 39% of world electricity is supplied from coal-fired power stations (World Coal Institute, 2009), and 80% of Australia's electricity is generated from coal, with 40 percent of that generated in the Hunter Valley (ABARE, 2010: 21). However, it is becoming increasingly apparent to communities living in the Hunter Valley, and other coal regions, that coal mining and coal-fired power generation are not foundations for sustainable economies. Globally the coal economy contributes roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gases making it the single largest contributor to climate change (Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2008). With runaway climate chaos looming, coal dependency has become a pathological condition, that is, a harmful condition that threatens ecological and social wellbeing.

Various linked social movements have emerged over the last 30 years to challenge the hegemony that the coal industry, mining corporations and state-owned fossil fuel power generators have over the Hunter Valley's ecological, economic and political trajectory. Many activists in these movements focus on restoring local ecosystem and human health and on protecting community rights to control local development. These are essentially environmental justice movement campaigns striving to achieve distributive, procedural and relational justice with respect to environmental equality within and between human communities (Bullard, 1994; Bryant, 1995, Faber, 1997; Low & Gleeson, 1998; Schrader-Frechette, 2002; Agyeman et al., 2003).

The environmental justice movement is prominent in many Indigenous, coloured, poor rural and working class communities where disproportionate shares of environmental hazardous and toxic industries are located. …

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