Break Free 2016 Rides an Unprecedented Wave of People Power

by Mike Hudema

May 17, 2016

Twelve days. Six continents. Tens of thousands of people. Around the world, Break Free put people power on full display and the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground at the center of conversation.

Break Free DC

Hilton Kelley of Port Arthur, Texas leads the Break Free march in Washington, DC on May 15, 2016. More than 1,000 people gathered to call for an end to offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

A version of this blog was originally published by Greenpeace Canada

If Break Free 2016 showed us anything, it’s that people around the world are ready to flex their citizen muscles and take action to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Take a look at just some of the powerful direct actions that turned up the heat on the fossil fuel industry over the past two weeks (and check out even more photos from Break Free actions around the world here).

Activists in Colorado blockaded a government fracking auction, disrupting the sale of public lands for fossil fuel profit.

Break Free Action in Colorado

Keep it in the ground activists blockaded a federal auction to lease public lands to fracking companies in Lakewood, Colorado.

In Washington, DC, more than 1,000 people turned out to protest offshore drilling — just days after Shell spilled 90,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Break Free Action in Washington D.C.

Communities from the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic — both of which are threatened by oil and gas drilling under President Obama’s proposed offshore drilling plan — gathered in Washington, DC to speak out against fossil fuel exploitation.

In Germany, thousands shut down Europe’s largest coal plant, occupying it for more than 48 hours.

Their action reduced the plant’s capacity by 80 percent.

And hundreds in South Africa stood up to the country’s most powerful mining family with a march that delivered coal to their front door.

Break Free South Africa

Activists converged at the Gupta family’s residence — a powerful mining family — to demand a just response to climate change and to deliver a coffin full of coal Photo by Shayne Robinson / Mutiny Media.

10,000 people marched against a proposed coal plant in Batangas, Philippines.

Break Free from Fossil Fuels Activity in Batangas

10,000 people marched in Batangas, Philippines the site of a proposed 600-megawatt coal plant.

Twelve activists climbed the cranes supplying coal for a major Indonesian coal plant, bringing with them a clear message to move from coal to clean, renewable energy.

Action at Cirebon Power Plant in Java

Greenpeace Indonesia activists unfurl banners saying ‘Quit Coal’ from the cranes as they block the loading of coal at the Cirebon Coal Power Plant, in Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia.

In Australia, a flotilla of kayaktivists blocked the entrance to Newcastle harbor while 70 people blockaded a nearby rail crossing. Together, they prevented any coal from getting to port for more than six hours.

Break Free Australia

Kayaktivists spelled out ‘Break Free’ on the beach near Newcastle harbor after successfully preventing coal form being delivered to port for more than six hours.

In Los Angeles, hundreds of people marched to city hall to let Mayor Eric Garcetti know that neighborhood drilling is not safe for communities.

Break Free Los Angeles

Photo by Brooke Anderson / Survival Media Agency.

And this was just the beginning.

In total, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, occupied mines, blocked rail lines, linked arms, paddled in kayaks and raised their voices, pushing the boundaries of conventional protest to find new ways to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Thousands worldwide risked arrest — many for the first time — to say that it’s time to Break Free from the current energy paradigm that is locking the planet into a future of catastrophic climate change and to speed the transition to a 100 percent renewable energy future.

Driving this unprecedented wave of demonstrations is the sudden and dramatic acceleration in the warming of the planet. April shattered all temperature records — becoming the seventh straight month to do so. Fires fueled by record dry temperatures are raging across North America and Russia. Just this week, it was reported that five Solomon Islands have been swallowed by the rising seas.

Combined with the growing number of planetary warning signs is the growing gap between world governments’ stated climate ambitions and their demonstrated actions in approving new fossil fuel projects. Break Free is about starting to close that gap.

I’m not sure if world leaders follow hashtags, but I hope that for a short time they followed #BreakFree2016. I hope they saw the amazing stories of courageous people pouring in from countries around the world. Stories of people standing up, of people taking the actions we need to take, and pushing us all to break free from fossil fuels and speed the move to a 100 percent renewable energy future.

Break Free shows that all around the world, people are ready to act. And if leaders are ready to move on climate change, then we will be there to support them.

But we aren’t waiting. The clock is ticking, and we don’t have any time to waste. Take action today to demand our leaders keep it in the ground and shift to renewable energy!

Mike Hudema

By Mike Hudema

Mike Hudema has been a longtime creative activist in Edmonton and beyond and is currently a climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada working on issues like tar sands development and renewable energy.

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