April first was fossil fools day around the world — thousands of people participated in de-centralized direct actions and protests for a sustainable world and against foolish emissions of green house gas from burning fossil fuels. Such emissions are causing global climate change with potentially disastrous consequences to natural ecosystems and human cultures alike. There were creative and humorous protests against coal mines, coal fired power plants, banks that invest in the fossil fuel industry, government offices, gas stations and a wide variety of other targets across the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. A few of us threw together a protest in Berkeley.
Fossil fools day pointed out the absurdity of trying to address the massive dependence on non-sustainable fossil fuels by asking people to merely screw in a few new lightbulbs and otherwise continue shopping as usual. The massive threat of global climate change has to be met with a massive response. Governments and corporations won’t address the problem in time because to do so would threaten short-term profits. Mobilization, direct action, and grassroots revolt against all the fossil fools is crucial.
Anatomy of an action: the Berkeley incident
Last issue in Slingshot we published a call to action for fossil fools day. Would we, ourselves, heed the call? Less than a week before April 1, someone sent out an email wondering if we shouldn’t get together with some friends and protest at a gas station. A little discussion followed and a call went out to the Berkeley critical mass email list calling people to meet at 5 on fossil fools day to bicycle around and visit local fossil fool industries.
It was all chaotic, improvised, unplanned and yet focused — sometimes funny and light-hearted and sometimes intense. We rode on major streets tangling rush hour traffic holding signs like “cars kill polar bears” and “burning fossil fuels is not a joke.” A few of us were dressed like soldiers, some others held Viking swords — black flags were duct taped to bicycles.
We went to a number of gas stations and lightly fucked shit up, applying stickers to gas pumps, duct taping gas nozzles to the pumps and re-arranging the price signs so that gas that cost $3.49 before we arrived cost $9.43 when we left. At three car dealerships, bikes rode through the showrooms scattering shoppers and glitter. We rode through downtown slowing traffic and calling out on a bullhorn “don’t worry, you can keep driving and shopping — there’s no problem – April fools!”
In pulling together micro-actions like the Berkeley ride, the key is maximizing impact and disruption while minimizing bureaucratic, organizational deadweight — keeping the time and energy spent on meetings and preparation very low. The Berkeley action tied up traffic and disrupted business as usual at numerous targets for two hours. It required almost no time, money or structure to pull off.
What did we hope to accomplish? Actions like ours help raise the cost of fossil fuel addiction. Under the logic of capitalist economics — which structure corporate, government and individual decisions — fossil fuels are extremely cheap and easy solutions to many problems because the cost of using fossil fuels doesn’t include the cost of so-called “externalities” — the term economists give to costs not captured by the market. (This is true even as gas pushes $4 a gallon.) So when you buy a gallon of gasoline or throw your clothes in the dryer on a sunny day — or when the whole civilization is built on fossil fueled transport, agriculture and electricity — the cost doesn’t include the cost of global warming. Thus, using fossil fuels seems “rational”, efficient, easy, labor-saving and cheap — as long as you only look at the short-term, which is all the current economy can comprehend.
But the Earth is finite and long-term — we can’t simply find a new planet if we ruin the climate on this one. Frequently, fossil fools accuse bicyclists or environmental activists of being unrealistic or even utopian when we suggest a quick transition to a fossil free, zero emissions world. In fact, it is utopian to suggest that humans can continue to burn fossil fuels without threatening our very survival.
On April 1, it wasn’t faster or easier to jump in a car to get around. Our goal can’t be to impose guilt against drivers — a lot of us drive from time to time and guilt doesn’t work — it only raises defensiveness to change. And yet disruption — subtracting the ease, raising the costs, increasing uncertainty — can be part of internalizing the real costs of fossil fuels.
Social change doesn’t come from above — well-funded campaigns, Hollywood movies, cautious government programs. Social change comes from below — riots, strikes, mass movements — when the status quo can no longer continue. The world is in the early stage of a historic transition away from fossil fuels and regular people and our actions are part of this change. Our actions can provide models for a different, more joyful, engaged, sustainable world. May we can ride with a smile on our face, a smile in our heart and each year more folks on bikes surrounding us.
Fossil fools day around the world
By world standards, the Berkeley action was tiny. If you’re taking action to move away from fossil foolery, you are not alone! Here’s a tiny sample of actions:
• In Edinburgh, Scotland, a group of clowns invaded two supermarkets to try to locate the elusive Scottish banana. They urged other shoppers to see if they could find any produce in the store from Scotland to point out the absurdity of using fossil fuels to fly food to Scotland in the middle of winter.
• At the Cliffside coal plant in North Carolina, 8 people locked themselves to bulldozers at a Duke Energy Corp coal-fired power plant to stop construction of a new 800-megawatt plant, resulting in their arrest.
• In Madison, Wisconsin, the above-ground fossil fools celebration was a critical mass bike ride and demonstration in front of the local Hummer dealership. In a more controversial middle-of-the-night action, persons unknown indiscriminately let the air out of the tires of all the cars on three university-area streets — hitting several dozen cars including many economy-sized cars in the bike-friendly neighborhood. They left notes that read, “Happy fossil fools day.”
• In Durban, South Africa, residents protested the Engen refinery with flower wreaths.
• In Leamington Spa, England, about 50 people demonstration against a proposed Shopping center. “There were fairy outfits, a polar bear, 3 jesters, 2 people dressed as death with oil drips, and more face painting. We had 4 banners, several placards and we handed out 4 different kinds of leaflets. There were two musicians playing a fossil fool’s song written specially for the event. There were 4 people on bikes, and one bike and trailer with kids in. There were decorated umbrellas, and helium balloons with fossil Fool’s day written on. Nothing like this ever happens in Leamington. We passed a flower stall and the owner was so supportive he gave us 5 or 6 free bunches of flowers.”
• In Portland, Oregon, the Greenwash Guerrillas went after Portland’s Climate Trust, one of the new breed of climate off-set companies that allows people to “offset” their actual greenhouse gas emissions by paying the Climate Trust money to supposedly avoid emissions by someone else. This sneaky idea is increasingly popular with privileged people who want to continue their polluting life-styles unchanged, but not feel so bad about it. In Portland, the Greenwash Guerrillas took to the street to sell infidelity off-set credits. These Cheat Neutral credits allow people in monogamous relationships to cheat on their partners, but then offset the cheating by paying single people not to have sex. Just like carbon credits — no more guilt! April fools!
Portland activists also dropped a four-story banner off the downtown Burnside Bridge protesting a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas project. (See Slingshot Issue #95 about LNG.)
• In Boston, four activists were arrested after locking down to a Bank of America to protest coal financing. In New York City, the Billionaires for Dirty Energy blockaded Citibank on similar grounds, leading to two arrests.
• A number of actions involved curious apologies from corporations or public figures. In Norwich, UK, a Norwich Union (insurance) company official announced that “The company has realized that investing £6.1 billion worth of insurance premiums in BP, Shell and other major oil, coal and car companies is unsustainable in the current climate. I’m sure our shareholders will agree with me that protecting our common future is certainly more important than protecting our bottom line.” The company distributed 50 Norwich Union ‘Apology Sandbags’ in view of recent climate change-related floods in England.
• Protesters blockaded access roads to the Aberthaw power station (UK) which emitted 7.4 million tons of carbon dioxide last year.
• In Hastings, UK, The Jesters of Hastings challenged Ronald McDonald to a Showdown! The Jesters won after McDonalds forfeited!
• In Bacton in Norfolk, UK 19 people were arrested after blocking for 4 hours the main access road to the UK’s largest off-shore gas terminal, which handles 40% of the UK’s gas supply.
For more info or for the 2009 action, check fossilfoolsday.org.