'Blocking coal mines: an interview' / Stop Adani
Disclaimer: this interview was conducted by a supporter of the ‘Stop Adani’ movement. We do not deny the biases in the interviewer’s questions (interview by Clementine Girard-Foley).
It’s been nearly ten years since the controversial Adani Carmichael coal mine crept up as a contentious part of Australia’s national debate. The Indian company Adani has been wanting to build a coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland, capable of producing up to 27.5 million tonnes of coal a year. This would add 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. Recently, planning permission and insurance permits were granted to the coal mine, while an appeal from Indigenous traditional custodians was just dismissed by the courts, meaning that paths are being cleared for construction to begin soon.
The Stop Adani movement is a group of activists that has ceaselessly campaigned on-ground near the coal mine site in Central Queensland. They are trying to prevent a non-renewable industry from developing amidst growing concerns surrounding the current climate crisis.
I was able to speak to one of the activists (who wishes to remain anonymous) currently camped out close to the coal mine site. We spoke about the movement, its people, the controversy kicked up by the Australian media, the government’s destructive agenda, and more. It’s an inspiring read and well worth your time if you want to learn more about the movement’s motivations, including where the movement is at and how things can go forwards into a (hopefully, not so terrifying?) future.
Thanks so much for agreeing to speak to us. Could you first tell me a bit about yourself and why you decided to journey up to the frontlines.
I’m from Darug in Gundungurra country, the Blue Mountains. I left my job working in regenerative agriculture and permaculture, which was actually the best job I ever had, to come and stand in solidarity and to try and stop Adani’s megamine once and for all. There’s a lot of different layers as to why I’m here but I think one of the most important ones for me is the fact that ecological collapse will affect everybody and the latest research that has been coming out is indicative of just how little time we actually have to start acting and making the changes. Some really big political, legal and social changes have to happen in order to prevent catastrophic climate collapse.
I’m also here because I have hope for climate justice and social justice and I’m hoping that this movement can be more than just a movement about stopping one coal mine, and can be the start of a really important conversation around sovereignty and around standing up and stepping into what hopefully will be a period of enormous social and political change because the current system we are operating in is failing us. I think that the only option that we have left now is to turn to mass civil disobedience and to start educating ourselves towards the severity of the climate crisis.
Can you tell us about the people camping out at the coal mines? Who are they? The mainstream media likes to get us thinking of them as ‘out of touch greenies’, who come from the inner-city suburbs of southern states but somehow I have my doubts…
There’s a whole range of people from all different walks of life including teachers, lawyers, and nurses. There’s some students too. We’ve had priests come by, we’ve had doctors, doctors for the environment, young people, older people, people from all over, local people, people from interstate, farmers, ex-coal miners. There’s been a whole range of people that have passed through Bimbi and stood in solidarity and support to stop the Adani coal mine because it’s an amazing opportunity to unite people from all different walks of life. Because we all have one thing in common, which is that this is the only planet that we have.
There has been a fair bit of negative press coverage of the Stop Adani convoy, depicting the movement as a form inner-city elitism that doesn’t consider the working class’ need for the jobs created by the coal mine. Same goes for all the post-federal election analysis that decried Labour’s loss in Queensland as partly due to the ALPs’ decision to oppose Adani. What has been the reaction of Adani protestors to criticisms that frame activists’ efforts as classist?
I think that it’s absolutely reasonable for local communities to feel threatened and angry by the situation that has happened and I don’t think that the movement has done everything that it can to support those people. But in saying that, ecological collapse is something that will affect everyone and I think that the more important message at the moment is to focus on the fact that people in Queensland deserve a whole lot better than what they’ve been given. Just the other day there was a death in coal mines.
[We need] a fair transition to renewables and they do need fair support in that and that’s a really important part of putting pressure on the government and demanding that that happens. Otherwise it isn’t fair. I think a lot of people recognise that and by no means are people who are here on the frontlines trying to attack of demean anyone who works in a coal mine. If anything, it’s about trying to demand a better world for everyone, including the people who live here and who probably feel really neglected by the government. There are extremely high rates of unemployment in this area and that is something that has to be met in a non-compromising way to the environment.
I can imagine that the police presence, the recent approval for the coal mine and the press coverage of the movement have been a mixed experience of pain, anger and fear. What keeps you going and not wanting to give up?
I think the thing that keeps me going is hope for climate justice and for sovereignty. Hope that this movement can be bigger than simply stopping a coal mine but can actually be a pivotal tipping point in Australia that can inspire more and more people to start standing up, to start questioning our colonial systems and to start doing that really important work of introspection and stepping into a space that is doing everything that it can do to address and change the sickness in our society which has stemmed from a system born by massacres and genocide; and the continual pillage and rape of this land and the original culture that has existed longer than any other culture on earth. My hope and my drive to keep going is founded in that. The other thing that helps me to keep going is the fact that I know deep in my bones that this is the right thing to do. I think for me living with integrity means doing every single thing I can to live by what I believe in.
Could you share with us a few of the victories for the movement? It’s so important to keep track of them to keep faith in activism’s efforts.
There’s been quite a few including the fact that many financial institutions and insurance institutions have pulled out completely due to activists and also the fact that this mine has been delayed for nearly a decade and the size has been significantly reduced which is a massive breakthrough. The climate crisis was also brought to the top of the political agenda during the election and has started to become a point of focus in the media. Whether or not the media has been fair is a different story. The code of ethics in Australian media needs to radically be reborn. But in general, the climate crisis is now something people are struggling to avoid, it’s being spoken about more and more so that’s probably one of the biggest and more important parts of what this movement has been able to achieve.
What other information do you think needs to be shared with the public? Is there anything you’d like to add to what’s been talked about so far?
We are facing a climate crisis. The house is on fire and we need everybody to start acting like it. We need people to start stepping up into activist spaces whether it’s to go along to a protest or starting a group around the climate crisis and informing people in your local area, to start putting pressure on local councils and local governments. We can’t do it alone, we need your support, we need the support of everybody in order to have any real hope in preventing Adani’s megamine but also in preventing mass ecological collapse which according to the IPCC is needed if we wish to survive as a species.
Support grassroots’ movements. If you can’t get out here start donating and supporting people who are on the frontlines. Many people have left their work, their form of income to be here. Another way you can get involved is to join local grassroots or start your own local grassroots organisation and start engaging and having more and more of these conversations with people. I think the final thing is to start questioning the dominant systems that we’re living in, starting to question our own colonial conditioning and starting to do work on them. There’s a great book [that can help you] called Decolonising Solidarity.
Finally, how do you understand the role of government and the law in protecting our country? Is it ultimately down to people, like yourselves, who step up and take political action?
(Chuckles) My understanding is that our government and laws don’t protect our country. They protect corporations, they protect people in power. In terms of social and climate justice they are failing us. They are actually encouraging the destruction of our natural environment, of the only home that we have.
Non-violent mass civil disobedience has been proven over and over again to demand mass change and it can happen rapidly. We just need people to have courage stepping into that space, and it’s scary and it’s vulnerable. But what’s even more scary and vulnerable is the potential devastation of the entire biosphere. That is the scope that we’re speaking about here, you know, the reality is that the human species is at risk and the people in power are continually putting us at more risk. So when our governments fail us we have a responsibility to start rising. Our school students all over Australia, all over the world have been striking and demanding that we take climate action and time and time again they have been completely ignored and undermined, disrespected in the same ways that First Nations people have been not just ignored but completely disregarded. First Nations people have already lost; culture, connection to land. These things have been stripped, have been taken, have been stolen, so my understanding of the law and government is not only is it not protecting them but it is destroying them.
Ultimately, it is absolutely up to people, everyone, any ordinary person to start stepping into activist spaces, to start saying “I care about this enough to go to a protest in the city”, “I care about this enough to educate myself”, “I care about this enough to start learn about what’s affecting my local community”, to start speaking to First Nations people and connecting to culture and country and the spirit of the space we’re on in order to heal some of those wounds.
Cover image: Milou Hofman