If so-called world “leaders” won’t lead on climate change, global citizens will. If governments in the world’s most powerful countries insist on stoking global warming by approving massive new fossil fuel projects, then it’s up to groups of concerned people to hold polluters accountable ourselves. In the last few months I’ve been encouraged to watch as more and more climate activists have begun using creative direct action to sidestep the government delay tactics that have stalled progress on climate issues for so long, and started peacefully confronting corporate polluters directly.
That’s what happened this past weekend, as activists across the world participated in the second International Day of Action Against the Tar Sands. As you may know, the Canadian Tar Sands in Alberta are the world’s most destructive industrial project, and one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon emissions on the planet. While the Canadian government’s oil fever has unleashed tar sands extraction, the US is by far the biggest consumer of tar sands oil, and European banks have pitched in to fund tar sands activity. Further development of the tar sands will threaten the world’s ability to bring climate change under control – and since governments aren’t acting to stop it, citizens and consumers are stepping in.
On Saturday people in twenty US cities took action to expose the companies driving demand for the tar sands – including fruit producers Dole and Chiquita, which use tar sands oil to fuel their huge trucking fleets. From New York to Los Angeles and from Seattle to Boston, activists unfurled banners outside of supermarkets and staged creative actions by banana produce stalls calling attention to Dole and Chiquita’s involvement in the tar sands. This comes after months of work by groups like Forest Ethics that have been trying to get the companies to engage in talks about their tar sands-soiled produce. Dole and Chiquita haven’t responded, prompting activists to take public pressure to the next level.
In my home state of Oregon, a group of volunteer activists walked into a Safeway in Portland, unfurled a banner by a kiosk full of Chiquita bananas, and acted out a short skit alerting store customers to the problems with the tar sands. While a store security guard shouted angrily and threatened to call the police, a spokesperson for the group politely explained they were only there to make a point about Chiquita and Safeway’s corporate irresponsibility, and would soon be leaving. No confrontation with police ended up taking place, and Safeway shoppers looked on with interest as the group filed out of the store.
While US activists were pressuring the companies using oil from the tar sands, organizers in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere took action against governments, banks, and other institutions that are pushing the tar sands forward. What’s notable about these actions is that while the issue at hand is deadly serious, photos compiled by event organizers show activists who are smiling, cheerful, and ready to remain nonviolent in thought and attitude as well as in action. The same holds true for many other creative direct actions happening with increased frequency across the US and around the world.
More people than ever before seem ready to use the power of nonviolence to directly confront the institutions standing in the way of sustainability, democracy, and a livable future. I hope Chiquita, Dole, and other corporate players behind the tar sands are paying attention.