THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF STANDING ROCK:

HOW PORTUGUESE ACTIVISTS THWARTED BIG OIL

MARTIN WINIECKI

Martin Winiecki is the coordinator of the Institute for Global Peace Work, Tamera in Portugal. Tamera works to develop all-encompassing, complex models for cultures of peace.

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

world, develop strategies towards its realization and above all, build a global community united in shared ethics, prayer and profound trust.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of the first resistance camp against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, said at the gathering, “Tamera has inspired me on many levels and coming to Europe, particularly to Portugal, to defend the sacred, means a lot to me. Here’s where the colonization begun that invaded and occupied by land. Yet right now, an impulse for reconciliation and alternatives is emerging here. I truly believe that Portugal can change the whole world if you all stand up. You can be the first green country. There’s a great healing that has to happen. We have only just begun.”

All the resistance and prayer proved effective. Just 9 days after the aerial art action, the Court of Loulé (Algarve) accepted an injunction filed by the activist group PALP and suspended license for the energy corporations ENI and GALP to carry out oil prospection off the coast of Aljezur, which was due to start on September 15. And on October 29, in a surprising u-turn, both companies declared their voluntary withdrawal from seeking oil extraction and said that they would not seek another contract with the Portuguese government after the expiration of the existing one in the future. Whether this is the actual end of the companies’ efforts to search for oil off the coast of Portugal is yet to be seen. One thing, however, is certain: People who rise together to defend life do make a difference!

By the start of 2019, the government could only maintain 2 of the 15 original oil and gas drilling contracts, due to the massive popular resistance in all affected areas. The last concession left is for Australis Oil & Gas to drill for gas in Portugal’s center region, between Pombal and Batalha, which is scheduled for later this year. While the company insists the drilling would follow conventional methods, it might quickly turn into the country’s first instance of fracking, dangerously next to one of the most important agricultural regions in the country, as well as near the Catholic sanctuary of Fátima and the surf mecca of Nazaré. Activists and locals are determined to stop this project, just as they have done with the previous 13 contracts.

Yet keeping fossil fuels in the ground is only the first step of the inevitable transition to a regenerative society. In an open letterto the Portuguese government, the Portuguese activists and their diverse allies (e.g. the Algarve Tourist Board, the Portuguese Surfing Federation, as well as global voices like playwright Eve Ensler and actors Daryl Hannah and Shailene Woodley) lay out their vision for what’s next. “Using decentralized solar, wind and wave energy technologies,” they write, “Portugal could become one of the first countries in the world powered exclusively by renewables and, by restoring ecosystems, could overcome desertification, drought, fire and flood

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