On August 4 2018, in one climax of a bourgeoning movement for a fossil-free future in Portugal, around 800 people — including activists, surfers, fishers, youths and supporters from around the world — came together at Cova do Vapor beach outside Lisbon, Portugal, where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic, to say “no” to plans for offshore oil drilling and inland gas drilling. The participants used their bodies to form a giant image of a dolphin mother and child, with messages that read from the sky: “Stop the oil drilling” and “Water is life.”
As oftentimes during this summer, nobody could avoid feeling the consequences of humanity’s violent and abusive relationship with ecosystems, water, the climate and our fellow beings. August 4 went down to history as the hottest day eversince weather records began in many places across Portugal, while massive wildfires devastated the Monchique mountains in the southern part of the country.
American artist and activist John Quigley, who facilitated the “aerial art action,” addressed participants during the action: “We’re here as part of a growing movement of water protectors around the world. We’re defending Mother Earth and the sacred waters of this planet, because there’s no life without water. The fate of Portugal hangs in the balance. We say no to Big Oil’s attempt to drill off the beautiful coast which would effectively render it a fossil fuel colony.”
Plans for fossil fuel extraction are highly controversial in Portugal, which has done a lot of prospection since the 1920s but never industrially developed oil or gas. Between 2007 and 2012, both center-right and center-left governments granted 15 concessions to various companies for fossil fuel extraction, including fracking, both offshore and inland. Time and again, energy corporations have been given special treatment by the Portuguese government, allowed to evade taxes and given relief from compulsory fees for using sea space, pointing to a cozy relationship with government officials. But local communities, municipalities, businesses and activists have risen up in strong opposition, initiating numerous protests and legal actions. Climate change researcher João Camargo says, “Portugal has broken many records of renewable energy production. It has exceeded consumption more than once. The sole reason to drill for fossil fuels is to increase corporate profits.”
Despite their outrage, creativity and hope dominated the mood of those gathered at Cova do Vapor in August. With solar cookers providing snacks and tea, with ritual and songs, people of different generations, cultures and backgrounds came together, celebrating a regenerative future.
Sabine Lichtenfels, co-founder of the Tamera Peace Research & Education Center and co-host of the event, introduced participants by saying, “We’re here to strengthen our collective decision for the necessary global system change from exploitation to cooperation. We’re here to abandon the structures of violence and build living models for a global culture of cooperation with all people, nature and the Earth herself. Let’s stand together in prayer. In our hearts, let us reach out to all beings, visible and invisible, who inhabit this land and this ocean. They are our relatives and have the right to live, just as we do.”
When a school of dolphins visibly showed itself near the beach just before the action begun, many felt as if the animal kingdom responded, affirming this intention of solidarity and protection.
The action was part of the 2ndinternational Defend the Sacred activist gathering, which Tamera hosted inspired by and in support of the movement sparked by Standing Rock in 2016. 80 people from around the world—frontline activists, Indigenous elders, thought-leaders, visionaries and people creating examples for a nonviolent future—met for 10 days to envision a post-capitalist