Green activists are not terrorists


The Danish government is Australian activist Natasha Verco and US citizen Noah Weiss, who are standing trial and facing a potential 12-and-a-half-year jail sentence for organising a protest during the December United Nations climate summit. This follows a global trend.

Governments are using increasingly heavy-handed tactics to crackdown on environmental activists.

This is a two-part strategy. First, polluting corporations use their well-funded PR machines to push the image of environmental activism as "eco-terrorism" into the public perception.

This strategy was first advocated in 1991 by PR firm Ketchum Communications, which instructed Clorox (a producer of environmentally harmful cleaning products) to launch a "Stop environmental terrorism" public relations campaign against groups calling for a boycott of Clorox — urging them to "be less irrational".

Second, the campaign is used to justify surveillance, harassment and disproportionate punishments handed out to advocates of political and social change. In the lead up to the 2007 APEC protests in Sydney, several environmental activists were blacklisted and denied access to certain parts of the Sydney's CBD — including the rally route.

The attempt to taint green activists as terrorists has a history in Australia. Two days before the 1993 federal election, a bomb was discovered on the Tasmanian Black River logging train tracks along with a banner reading "Earth First".

The incident was reported around Australia. The Hobart Mercury ran the headline "Explosives Under Line in Green Protest".

Four months later, the Victorian police issued a briefing note made available under the Freedom of Information Act that said, "the device [was] considered to be an elaborate hoax". The briefing speculated that it was "placed there by loggers to discredit the green movement".

The Mercury eventually conceded it had no evidence the bomb was associated with green protests. But the anti-green slander had spread. On voting day, the Australian Greens narrowly missed out on winning the last Senate seat up for grabs.

But for the climate movement, it is not 1993 anymore.

Enjoying broad public support, we do not face the danger of losing credibility by taking part in actions of civil disobedience. This is why Big Coal is playing so dirty.

Through civil disobedience, we have the ability to hit them where it hurts — economically. We have the potential to win a national transition to renewable energy that cuts out the coal industry.

In the coming period, coal interests will, alongside their political cronies, get more and more desperate and dirty in their use of tactics towards a growing public outcry for a just transition to a renewable economy.

We must continue to stand up to them, justifying why we take part in civil disobedience for climate justice. We should unashamedly declare that civil disobedience for climate action is not terrorism.

We should also stand in solidarity with those, like Verco and Weiss, who are persecuted for taking action for climate change.