The US fracking experience, according to Food and Water Watch Director Wenonah Hauter, should be a cautionary tale for movements on the other side of the Atlantic. In a recent short interview before the presentation of her book in Ireland, we spoke with the internationally renowned expert on the importance of connecting struggles in different places and learning from examples of successful resistance in order to strengthen the anti-fracking movement in Europe and internationally.
For most people involved in climate activism, mentioning the name of my city of birth leaves a somewhat sour taste in the mouth. Since Copenhagen was the stage for the infamous COP15 failure, it has become an emblem not only of disillusionment with international climate politics but also of illegal police repression of popular action against the political deadlock.
With all eyes now set on Paris and the promise of COP21 to deliver a non-binding agreement of insufficient emission reduction targets infested with corporate-friendly offset mechanisms, a piece of positive climate news recently ticked in from Denmark: after years of facing escalating popular protest, in August this year the French energy giant Total finally gave up on their only standing shale gas exploration site in Vendsyssel in the north of the country. The corporation retains the license to explore for shale gas in the area until June 2016, but with no further operations announced as yet, their initial defeat is a milestone in the fight against fracking in Denmark.
More than just abandoning one specific drilling rig, Total is also effectively calling off what they have described as an intent to set a precedent for future fracking operations by pushing the extreme energy agenda in a country known for its solid environmental regulation. In the words of Total’s Project Manager for the exploration in Denmark, Henrik Nicolaisen: “if it is possible to establish an economically feasible project here, it will be possible anywhere.” Now that the corporation is putting fracking project and prophecies alike on hold, it’s worth asking: what made it impossible?
It was definitely not due enforcement of Denmark’s strict environmental regulations that stopped Total in its path. As I have written about earlier, despite the country’s fame for its democratic institutions, from start to finish the Danish authorities in fact put the facilitation of the corporate fracking venture above democratic and environmental concerns. To give just two examples: in 2010 the Minister of Environment at the time abstained from disclosing the unconventional nature of the extraction project to the Energy Committee when asking for its approval. Then, shortly after test drilling had begun in the spring of 2015, a State agency chose to rubber-stamp Total’s illegal use of drilling chemicals instead of shutting down the operation on the grounds of failure to comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment.
In official statements Total cites a technicality – “the shale layer encountered by the well was too thin for economically feasible gas production” – as their reason for pulling out of Vendsyssel. Earlier this year, the corporation gave similar reasons for abandoning another entire concession area covering the Northern part of the country’s main isle of Sealand, after having only carried out so-called AGG (Airborne Gravity Gradiometry) surveys. Given the proximity of this concession area to the political nexus of Copenhagen and the houses of the country’s elites north of the city however, it seems likely that other, more pragmatic, considerations weighed in on Total’s decision to withdraw to more remote hunting grounds. There, in the country’s northernmost region of Vendsyssel, the face-off was direct.
Ever since it became known publicly that the exploration project in Vendsyssel would allow the first ever hydraulic fracture to happen onshore in Denmark, people have organized to halt the project. Under the umbrella organization Skifergas Nej Tak! (“Shale Gas, No Thanks!”, reminiscent of the 1970’s and 80’s anti-nuclear emblem which originated in Denmark), grassroots opposition has been breeding nationwide. For over a year neighbors-turned-activists have run the protest camp, Total Protest, down the road from the drilling site. They frequently mobilized for picket lines at the drilling site, blockades of Total’s trucks, protests at city council meetings, and more. In April 2015 Greenpeace activists climbed the drilling rig itself, helping not only to shut down the operation for a day but also to reach mainstream media and spread awareness about the precarious project. Over time opposition found its way into city councils, several of whom ended up denouncing the exploration to the central government.
Simply put: it was popular resistance that forced Total to scrap its fracking plans in Denmark. Whilst Total in official statements never so much as mention the fact that activists have followed the corporation in its every move, a few lines slipped from the CEO of State owned oil and gas company, Nordsøfonden, which holds a 20% share in the fracking project: “If you knew the costs of all those protests and extra allowances. I promise you that this year-long delay has cost a lot of money… There is no doubt that Total has also taken this into consideration.”
As always with corporations, the maximization of profits is at the core of decision-making. Falling commodity prices are obviously part of the background to Total’s decision to retreat from Denmark, as has recently been the case with Poland’s shale gas industry. In the Polish scenario however, corporations were willing to bid their money on over 60 exploratory wells before starting to call off the action. In Denmark, Total found that the drilling of only one well provoked enough popular resistance to hit the corporation hard on the pocket and force it to give up almost before having started. Still, globally there remains plenty to resist…
The day after Total announced their abandonment of the drilling site in Vendsyssel they appeared on the UK government’s list of takers of 27 fresh fracking licenses (as a partner to IGas in several Yorkshire blocks). From the corporation’s point of view, compared to Denmark the UK might seem like the soft option in terms of government regulation, with recent legislative moves to fast track fracking applications and exempt fracking operations from the trespass law to allow drilling under people’s homes contributing to a very pro-fracking political climate institutionally. But there is nothing to suggest fracking companies will encounter any less of an anti-fracking movement at the grassroots in the UK, which has seen widespread support and several wins over the last few years. And the lesson from Denmark is that even when regulations are in place on paper, we cannot rely on our governments to hold corporations to account — instead, what ultimately keeps extreme energy projects at bay is people organizing and resisting.
Despite its so far happy ending, the Danish anti-fracking story is no fairy tale. But it is worth noting that activists in Denmark are not subject to nearly the same levels of repression or criminalization as many of their counterparts in countries with less protected civil societies and even more fossil fuel-friendly governments. My colleagues have recently been writing about these very dynamics in Argentina – and they can be traced across all continents, including Europe.
When activists successfully reject corporations in the North we need to remember that our peers in the fight against extractivist and extreme energy projects in the global South are left all the more exposed, and in much more threatening circumstances, as corporations turn their attention to more marginalized places. When negotiators at COP21 argue over including this or that bracketed sentence as if either could save the planet, grassroots activists could meaningfully take advantage of parallel spaces to find more effective ways of working in genuine solidarity to shut the fossil fuel industry down wherever it sneaks to next.
Resistance is not only about saying “no!” to this or that project or policy, or even to deeper issues of systemic violence and oppression. The act of resisting also forces us to imagine and enact the alternatives we dream of. As such, this process is dialectic; in order to go against a corporate aggression like Total’s in Denmark it takes organizing, which in itself calls for different structures of decision-making and communality. This sense of creating alternative structures as we fight the old ones has been put in poetic terms by anthropologist David Graeber, when he talks about direct action as “the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.”
The success of the Total Protest camp relied on people voluntarily putting their time and effort into building a communal space from which organizing could take place. This also meant putting traditional political differences aside, so long as everyone found common ground in resisting the fracking project. To many, the camp thus came to mean an opportunity for seeking both company and cause. As an antidote to alienation (to borrow again from Graeber) and a contrast to consumerist society, the anti-fracking insurrection in Denmark helped open not just a local space for genuine participation but also new horizons of possibility for the people involved. Tellingly, some participants were voicing their concern over what to spend their time doing once the fight was over.
Sometimes, these moments of insurrection can spark a very concrete, constructive process: in Balcombe, which in 2013 came to be the frontline of British anti-fracking struggles, the community have recently gone on to equip local buildings like farms and schools with solar panels. As people from REPOWERBalcombe, a co-op founded to bring about the change in local energy production, remark:
Balcombe’s recent close encounters with hydrocarbon energy production have certainly been an important factor in making us all think about the energy we use and where it comes from – and helped to give us the idea to start our community power company as a positive way to engage with these issues … We are not anti- anything: we are pro-community and pro-renewables. We recognise that Cuadrilla’s drilling back in 2013 divided opinion in our community, and our aspiration for REPOWERBalcombe is to move on from that debate to unite around something positive instead.
Or look to the banks of Colombia’s principal river system, Río Magdalena, where communities are resisting hydroelectric megadams that threaten to flood their ancestral territories and destroy their livelihoods. According to Juan Pablo Soler from the grassroots movement Ríos Vivos, the notion of relationship to the rivers is not only their principal motivation to fight back against the corporate-governmental alliance pushing for hydroelectric development, but is also being reinvigorated by the very act of resistance. “We are living cultures. […] The primary emotion that […] gives us the impulse to keep going is the possibility to transform and awaken our consciousness.”
The fight for climate justice is not the diplomatic, politically correct negotiation being staged at annual COPs — it is a dirty, high-risk struggle that takes place year round across the globe at the frontlines of extractivism and extreme energy. And while the activists who are making Total drop their fracking project in Denmark will not be anywhere near the negotiating tables at COP21, with Total’s headquarters symbolically looming over the Parisian business district and the usual corporate lobbying and financial influence looming over the negotiating tables themselves, the conference is set to follow the trend of allowing substantial interference from the fossil fuel industry. These political constraints of international climate negotiations makes an all the stronger case for connecting with our peers everywhere, both to effectively resist that industry where the confrontation is direct — but also to collectively reimagine our ideas and revitalise our practices for better societies, as implicit in any act of resistance.
As corporations and governments around the world scramble to access harder-to-reach fossil fuels in fracking wells and tar sands, the struggles of communities on the front lines of this expansion of extractivism are becoming more extreme — and more visible.
And so is the backlash against any who resist.
Indigenous peoples who find themselves “in the way” of extractivist projects are increasingly finding their territorial rights, among others, violated.
A particularly salient example is playing out in Argentina. There, facing a shortage of traditional energy sources, the government has intensified the exploitation of shale oil and gas deposits. Along with these changes in energy policy has come a crackdown on those resisting fuel exploitation in their communities.
Among the hardest hit are Patagonia’s indigenous Mapuche, whose ancestral territories are at the center of petroleum companies’ plans. Facing environmental contamination, violence, and eviction, they’ve stepped up their resistance.
Now the Argentinean government is cracking down. The case of Mapuche community leader Relmu Ñamku is particularly emblematic. The grassroots activist faces trial in October on charges under Argentina’s revamped anti-terrorism law, which could land her with a 15-year prison sentence — all for defending her community from forced eviction due to the expansion of a gas project. Her trial was recently postponed for the third time.
The criminalization of protest is part and parcel of the way extreme energy — including intensive extraction measures like fracking — is leading to extreme politics, in which laws have been changed to benefit resource exploitation by transnational corporations. Meanwhile, citizens are ignored, displaced, and charged with crimes when they resist. This can have a chilling effect, dissuading people from protesting at all.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to Relmu’s case. It’s happening elsewhere too, from Latin America to Europe.
Argentina’s fuel crisis goes back at least to the energy shortages of the early 2000s. Since then, the country has imported billions of dollars worth of fuel in order to meet the industrial and domestic needs of its population.
But in the last few years, Argentineans learned that that the country contains enormous reserves of shale oil and gas, which in part prompted the government to develop an energy strategy which includes extensive development of unconventional hydrocarbons, as well as exploiting hard-to-reach conventional fuels (known as secondary and tertiary exploitation).
The majority of these hydrocarbon resources are in Patagonia. And more than anyplace else, they are found in the Vaca Muerta formation in Neuquén, a province with more than 100 years of history of hydrocarbon exploitation.
To smooth the legal path toward accessing unconventional fuels, the 2012 Hydrocarbon Sovereignty Law laid out a new national energy policy framework. In particular, it expropriated 51 percent of the shares of the YPF oil company from the Spanish corporation Repsol, effectively putting it under control of the Argentinean state.
The following year, a presidential decree on investment promotion offered benefits to companies that invested more than a billion dollars in shale deposits. Soon after, the government — via YPF — signed an agreement with the U.S.-based corporation Chevron, with an initial investment of $1.24 billion, to develop shale oil and gas in the Vaca Muerta formation.
Finally, in 2014, the government approved a new hydrocarbon law. Focused on shale exploitation, it allowed companies to maintain concessions for up to 45 years, with the possibility of further renewal.
Argentina’s new policy framework increased the presence of foreign fuel companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Wintershall in the country. And it set the country on its way to producing enough fuel to close the shortage gap and start exporting. In the course of just a few years, it’s converted Argentina into a potential energy giant.
While it’s not the only area of the country facing fracking and similar destructive techniques, Neuquén’s long history of extractivism and the speedier advance of fracking there make it a test case for what could happen to other areas of the country.
In Neuquén, oil and mineral exploitation takes place mainly in Mapuche territory. And it’s carried out almost entirely without the free, prior, and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned, in direct violation of international as well as national laws and agreements.
The direct impacts of extractivism for the Mapuche people include the appropriation of their grazing lands, the eviction of their communities, and the drying-up and contamination of their water sources. Heavy machinery produces constant nuisances in the form of noise and dust, while toxic chemicals in the air and water have led to health problems for people as well as livestock. And like all fossil fuel development, it contributes to climate change.
Since the mid-1990s, the Mapuche have denounced and resisted this corporate invasion and its resulting impacts. Yet with the discovery of shale deposits in 2011, tensions have increased dramatically.
That year, local residents formed the Neuquén Platform Against Hydraulic Fracturing, a coalition of diverse social organizations that includes the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén. In August 2013, they organized a demonstration of over 5,000 people against the agreement between YPF and Chevron. Police brutally repressed the gathering, arresting demonstrators and causing many injuries with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The next day, 10,000 people took to the streets to protest the police repression. Yet the demands of the march were not heeded, and the government’s plans with Chevron continued.
For Relmu Ñamku, the government’s attitude was nothing new. “The state doesn’t enter into dialogue with vulnerable sectors of the population — such as indigenous peoples, landworkers, shanty dwellers, women, and everyone excluded from the system,” she said.
Hernan Scandizzo of the Observatorio Petrolero Sur elaborates: “Here there was no consultation. There was no previous, free, and informed consent as required by the Convention 169 of the ILO and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” He also points out that the Argentinean government violated its own constitutional obligation to respect the “right of indigenous peoples to manage their own resources and territories.”
Then came the very thing that people most feared. After concluding a pilot project that saw 161 wells drilled across an area of 20 square kilometers, in 2014 YPF announced that the project with Chevron in Vaca Muerta would extend to cover an exploitation area of 395 square kilometers, with more than 1,500 drilling wells.
Along with its disregard for indigenous protests, this announcement completely ignored the warnings against fracking given by social organizations. That led Relmu to determine that “the only route left open to us to make them hear our problems and our alarming situation is direct action.”
The Winkul Newen territory in which Relmu lives is the site of the Portezuelo Norte deposit, containing various conventional oil and gas wells. According to Relmu, in 2012 residents had to resist more than ten attempts at eviction. In one instance, women sprayed their bodies with gasoline to avoid being forcefully evicted.
Then, on December 28, 2012, a justice official named Verónica Pelayes came to the area accompanied by police and members of the U.S.-based Apache corporation, along with a bulldozer. They presented the community with an order to stop obstructing the advance of the corporation’s machinery. The community defended itself against the order and the police with whatever it could. Amid the resistance, Pelayes suffered injuries after being hit in the face with a stone.
The person accused of throwing the stone was Relmu Ñamku. At first, she was charged with causing serious bodily harm, but the prosecution eventually escalated the charge to attempted murder. That charge could result in 15 years of imprisonment. In Relmu’s words, “this case was initiated on the grounds of injury, and without any new evidence on record it was reconfigured as a maximum charge — as attempted murder.”
Relmu’s case is being processed under Argentina’s anti-terrorism law. Originally approved in 2007 to prevent the financing of international terrorism, the law was modified in 2011, when the Argentinean legislature incorporated into the penal code two new articles. They increased the penalties for all crimes committed “with the aim of terrorizing the population” or which “oblige the public authorities to perform, or abstain from performing, an act.”
The legislation unleashed criticism in Argentina from social organizations, including a widely attended march in the center of Buenos Aires in which activists read a pronouncement that explained that the changes to the law allow harsh penalties to be applied to individuals or organizations that question or oppose state policies.
Relmu’s case highlights how the judicial system is used in favor of powerful interests and against the poorest and most marginalized communities.
For Relmu all of this is self-evident: “The interests of the multinationals and the state in petrol exploitation come before the complaints of a community member,” she explained. “Maybe if we were sons and daughters of rich people it would be different. But we’re poor, we’re indigenous, and I’m a woman, and so the full force of the law comes down upon us.”
In Relmu’s case, the judicial system is seeking maximum penalties. In contrast, when the community files formal complaints against the petroleum company for aggression towards community members by the company’s contracted security, the prosecutors simply don’t investigate, and eventually the cases lapse.
The criminalization of protest is part of a strategy designed to create a paralyzing effect on those opting for direct action, a tactic used as a last recourse to defend their rights. Relmu emphasizes that the threat goes beyond the legal case against her. Changing the criminal charges from one day to the next, and accusing her of attempted murder with a possible 15-year prison sentence, is a move calculated to dissuade resistance at all levels.
Relmu’s case could well establish a precedent. “At the back of this case lies the aim of bringing a trial that will be utilized as an example to prevent other social struggles,” she says — “not only by indigenous peoples, but also other citizens and groups who don’t feel represented by this state, which guarantees political and economic power to multinationals.”
Just as fossil fuel companies are going to more ecological extremes in search of gas and oil, political systems, including supposedly progressive ones, are going to even deeper extremes to repress communities who voice objection.
Usually, when the state and corporations act against the interests of local populations seeking to protect their water, environment, and health, communities attempt to use dialogue and legal processes to defend themselves. But when authorities continually ignore repeated demands and messages from these communities, a moment arrives when the only recourse left open to them is direct action.
In this moment, the state uses direct repression against the population, and criminalizes social protest as a strategy to defeat community resistance and dissuade further protest.
This is a phenomenon taking place right now in Argentina, but it isn’t exclusive to Argentina. In Chile the Mapuche people are also being repressed under anti-terrorism laws, even more violently. In Peru the law not only exempts state functionaries from responsibility if they kill activists, but also allows companies to contract with state law enforcement to protect corporate property and repress demonstrations. Colombia also has laws that facilitate the displacement of communities and other rights violations in extractive zones.
The move toward public policies that benefit fossil fuel corporations, combined with the use of penal laws to squash social protest against the actions of those corporations, is not only a violation of the rights of those affected. It’s a crime against the planet: If social protest can’t stop resource extraction and the climate change it causes, how can we expect the economic model that profits from it to do so on its own?
We are used to hearing about multinational corporations manipulating political systems in the global South to eke out ever more profits from often damaging activities. Current examples include that of Enel-Endesa forcing the El Quimbo megadam onto Colombia by pushing for an increasingly toothless environmental license regime; or Glencore-Xstrata contracting with the Peruvian police to violently repress protesters calling out the pollution linked to the corporation’s Tintaya and Antapaccay mines.
We are less used to stories of corporations deploying similar tactics of cooption and power grabbing in societies considered the richest and most developed on the planet – such as my country of origin, Denmark. Recurrently praised as home to some of the ‘happiest people in the world’, largely owing to its strong public sector and relative economic equality, this is a country that seems to add substance to the idea of representative democracy as the prime form of modern governance. These past weeks, the country has been captivated in the principal dramatisation of this mythical assertion: the rite of general elections.
“In the age of extreme energy exploration, even Denmark is not immune to corporate interest overriding democratic concerns.”
For many inhabitants of the country’s northernmost region of Vendsyssel, however, the case of French energy giant Total fracking their way through regulations and public oversight in their search for shale gas is causing the plaster saint of Danish democracy to crack. Like Hamlet’s friend Marcellus, listening with disgrace to the aristocracy’s festivities next door, many a Vendelbo — at a safe distance from the political nexus in Copenhagen — is witnessing that “something is rotten in the State of Denmark.”
What would compel Total to pilot a controversial extreme energy operation in a country that takes huge pride in its renewable energy sector and strict environmental laws? Precedents like the ban on nuclear energy, achieved by landmark popular mobilisations in the 1970s and 80s, don’t exactly seem encouraging for the fracking industry. Henrik Nicolaisen, Total’s Project Coordinator for the Danish fracking operation, provides a telling — and chilling — answer: “Denmark [has] strict environmental laws, so if it is possible to establish a profitable project here, it will be possible anywhere.”
The centre stage for Total’s precarious project is a corn field outside the small town of Dybvad. Here the corporation has erected the country’s first ever drilling rig aimed at exploring onshore shale gas deposits. Their exploration permit was granted by a 2010 resolution, passed with broad support in the Parliamentary Energy Commitee. However, most committee members were led to believe that the permit was for conventional fossil fuel extraction — not for gas trapped in shale formations, requiring a highly controversial extraction method never before used onshore in Denmark. Climate Minister at the time, Lykke Friis, notably chose to omit both the terms “fracking” and “shale gas” from her briefing about the license, leaving MPs under the impression that granting the go-ahead should be largely a formality.
This initial governmental breach, however, did not come to light in time to halt the license process. By May 4th 2015 — after a year-long delay caused by daily protests at the fracking site, a Greenpeace occupation of the drilling rig, and the requirement that Total draw up a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) — the corporation was able to flick on the engines. But after a mere day and a half of drilling, the Danish Energy Agency turned them off again. It emerged that Total had illegally poured a chemical called Null Foam into the drilling hole which had not been screened, much less cleared, by the EIA as required.
Nonetheless, a few weeks later the drill was spinning again as another state institution, the Nature Agency, sent some very different signals to Total: the corporation was granted permission to use first two, and later nine, additional chemicals in the drilling process – including Null Foam. In a further act of congeniality, the Nature Agency also deemed the chemicals so ‘environmentally harmless’ that no revision to the EIA license was necessary, silencing demands from the mayor of Frederikshavn, Greenpeace and other groups. What caused this sudden slackening of the usually stringent rules? Rather coincidentally, the municipality of Frederikshavn — which houses the fracking site — had just handed their environmental oversight capacity to the Nature Agency, citing excessive workload and “considerable state interests regarding shale gas exploration.” By now a picture of corporate pressure and institutional negligence was clearly forming.
It was the fracking site’s next-door neighbours, Anne-Marie and Karsten Kristensen, that helped me complete this picture. Just down the road they have helped run the make-shift activist camp, Total Protest, for almost a year. “We file complaints [over noise and air pollution] with the municipality almost every day,” says Anne-Marie, ”but they just do nothing at all.” In effect, the group has turned to direct action, including blockades of Total’s trucks and daily protest singing at the fracking site, picket-line style. “We have to turn to civil disobedience to be heard”, says Anne-Marie. But even so, Karsten adds: “everybody knows that the next step will not be to stand in front of a gate singing. That doesn’t reach the media.”
So after songs, complaints, blockades and occupations, what is the next step?
A Freedom of Information request by the Kristensens has turned up e-mail exchanges between Total and the municipality in which the corporation admits that they are unable to keep noise levels from the fracking site below the agreed limits; to which the municipality has simply turned a blind eye. Confronting the State Administration with this and other inflammable information has once again failed to produce any meaningful response.
The strategy now is a legal one. Backed by a highly successful crowdfunding pledge, the Total Protest group is planning to hire lawyers to file a case against the Danish state. The evidence of noncompliance by both Total and the relevant authorities will be used to confront Danish MPs who insist that fracking would only go ahead if carried out in “environmentally responsible” ways. The hope is that such claims will ring so hollow in the face of the evidence that the public mood will shift to sideline Total and see fracking plans shelved.
Pressure on the central administration is mounting not only from citizens: until recently, most municipalities that fall within the concession area had not been duly informed, much less consulted, about potential fracking under their feet. In a recent vote, the city council of Hjørring joined several of its peers in calling on the Minister of Environment not to let fracking go ahead; but they also denounced the lack of consultation by state authorities in a written complaint to the European Commission. That was only weeks after the Danish Energy Agency confirmed in writing to the EU Commission that the public had had “early and effective opportunities to participate in the strategic environmental assessment and the environmental impact assessment processes“ — in other words, an outright lie.
Most everywhere, the push for fracking comes with several myths that are pulled apart as often as they are put forward: 1) the promise of jobs. Except in Vendsyssel, the prospect of a landscape crowded with drilling rigs is seen as a threat to the tourist and agricultural sectors and not a vehicle for new job creation; 2) the bridging-fuel argument. Except in a Danish scenario (as well as in Europe at large), fracked gas will most likely simply add to the already terrifying math of global warming; and 3) the insistent focus on the relatively low CO2 emissions from shale gas, which falls to pieces when counting in the fugitive emissions of methane — estimated at some 4-9% — that make the overall carbon footprint far worse even than coal.
In a country like Denmark, however, Total is able to tap into a much more hard-lived myth: namely that of public institutions being solid enough to secure democratic control over any potentially harmful corporate operations. What is happening in Vendsyssel suggests that such confidence is misplaced. It seems that in the age of extreme energy exploration, even Denmark is not immune to corporate interest overriding democratic concerns.
By revealing how even in countries of largely well-established public control multinational corporations are successfully mobilising strategies to push through their environmentally destructive agenda, this case underscores the omnipotence of corporate power. But as much as fracking is a primary corporate frontier, it is also so obviously skewed towards enriching the few while wreaking havoc on human and environmental health that it is sending many people to the barricades. Karsten Kristensen talks about a potential awakening in Denmark, making reference to the landmark victory against nuclear power in 1985: “a bit of the spirit is starting to come back. I believe this will be just as big.” With the two most openly pro-fracking parties rising to right-wing victory in the recent elections, people may well need to be ready – because remember: if it is possible to establish a profitable project here, it will be possible anywhere.
All across the world people are engaged in urgent battles: on worker rights, protection of the environment, trade, health, and a range of other issues that shape our lives and our futures. In many of these struggles we face a powerful adversary – the corporation. National laws and international trade agreements are drafted under the influence of corporate power. Corporate interests form the donor base of major political parties, and often have bigger balance sheets than the countries they operate in. Waves of deregulation and privatization have eroded limits to corporate accumulation of profit and power. In this hostile environment, groups have had to become more and more sophisticated in how they confront companies in their workplaces and communities.
Struggles to win concessions from corporate power are not new. As the influence and reach of the corporation has grown, so has resistance to it. From early worker struggles for better wages and conditions, to the late 1990s campaign that targeted Shell’s bright yellow logo to stop it sinking an old drilling platform in the North Sea, confronting corporate interests has long been part of the struggle for social and environmental justice.
Groups confronting corporations have a range of politics and use a range of tactics. They include Christian shareholder groups that talk about increasing ‘corporate responsibility’, direct action campaigners that see capitalism itself as the root cause of climate change, well-funded NGOs and confederations of neighbourhood organizations. The Democracy Center designed this resource to be useful for both newcomers to this kind of campaigning and old hands, no matter where they lie on the political or tactical spectrum.
This resource opens with some background on corporate campaigning, and why we think it’s important to take on corporate power through individual campaigns. We then look at a series of wins from corporate targets, with a focus on what we can learn from them as we put together new campaigns.
This is followed by introductions to tools and more detailed resources for campaigners fighting corporations – including organizing, research, strategy, communications, coalition building, direct action, shareholder and financier strategies, legal strategies, and consumer strategies.
Finally, we’ve included six profiles of climate justice campaigns against corporations that are happening right now, with brief outlines of what they’re campaigning for and how they’re going about it.