The Kritic

‘Inspirational’ Category

16
Sep

Activist Abby

Activist AbbyIt is always uplifting when young people step up and do something for the environment in their community. One such person is Abby from Grayslake, Illinois in the United States of America.

I first came across 14 year old Abby, who goes by the title “Activist Abby”, on Facebook about two years ago. Abby had set up the page after seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life. Abby has set about to get a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in her home town. Abby’s efforts to fight for legislation to ban bags and educate people on the dangers of plastic caught the attention of the organisers of the 5 Gyres expedition and as a result she was offered a position on the yacht Sea Dragon for the scientific trip to the North Atlantic gyre in June to see first-hand the plastic pollution in our oceans and get a better understanding how big the issue is.

The Kritic has invited Abby to write a guest blog about her cause and the story behind how she got involved, as well as her trip to the North Atlantic gyre. I am hoping her story will inspire other young, and older, people to take up the push to have single use plastics removed and replaced with suitable alternatives.

This is Abby’s story:

My name is Abby Goldberg and since August of 2011, I’ve been working on a reusable bag campaign. I have also been helping with plastic bag legislation. This all started as a school project. To graduate 8th grade, I had to complete a two year project, designed by myself, that would benefit my community and the environment. I wanted to convince my village to ban plastic shopping bags. The idea literally flew in my face! I live near a landfill and on windy days, temporary fencing is put up to catch thousands of bags. My research taught me that plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources and that litter from plastic bags harms our environment. I also learned how my government works and what activism is all about.

What really drew me to this project was my love of animals. I found out that turtles were dying because of plastic bags! These wonderful creatures eat bags thinking they are jellyfish. Some people think that the benefits and their right to use plastic bags outweigh the litter and the use of natural resources. But I can’t see the benefit when an animal dies. Plastic bags were once an easy choice with no thought to the consequences, nice for a while, but now I know better. Soon I started to notice OUR plastic bag litter everywhere! One person my use 300-500 bags a year! All it took was a trip to the grocery store for me to confirm these numbers. I counted 173 bags leaving one lane in two hours.

Just as I was gathering research, a bill was introduced and passed in the Illinois State legislature that would BAR any village from banning plastic bags. It was introduced with the intention to increase the recycling of bags. It was a compromise reached by the retailers and the bag makers. Retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances, bag makers could still make bags and representatives would feel good thinking they were helping the environment. Recycling rates for plastic bags is very low and the goal for this bill was not that much higher. Plastic bags do not get made into new plastic bags. There is no value to a recycled bag; it is cheaper to make a new one. More and more bags would still be introduced into the environment with this bill. If bag makers think that recycling is the solution, where is the public campaign? It has been reported that some recyclers are no longer accepting plastic bags because they cannot find buyers! The cost to sort is not worth it. Besides, recycling is just a Band-Aid and it makes us feel less guilty for using disposables. What was really scary was that this bill was going to set a precedent for other states and bag makers were influencing politicians! I now know what a lobbyist is!

What was I to do? A petition on Change.org was suggested. I petitioned my governor to veto this bill. With the help of social media and other activists around the country willing to help a 12 yr. old, I was able to get over 174,000 signatures. It wasn’t just my voice. Last summer I personally met and presented the petition to Governor Quinn and sent letters to all the state representatives. I am happy to report that he did veto the bill and it was not overruled.

Abby With Governor Quinn

Abby Goldberg with Illinois Governor QuinnPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

Since then I have been very busy with my Facebook page. I have also spoken to a few school groups, environmental groups and written a few blogs. My page is a great way for me to promote bag legislation around the world and it has become a great place to debate recycling, biodegradable bags and how to kick the bag habit. This summer, I was asked to join a week long sailing expedition with 5 Gyres to help collect samples in the North Atlantic Gyre. Yes, there are more gyres in our ocean besides the Great Pacific Gyre/Garbage Patch! Pretty scary that I can go on a trip with the intent to study plastic pollution!

Abby Piloting Sea Dragon

Abby Piloting Sea DragonPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

I was going to see it with my own eyes, learn how to collect samples, see how the plastic is moving and become an ambassador for our oceans. I knew I wouldn’t see tons of bags floating around. Most people don’t know that plastic breaks down into tiny bits because of wave action and from sunlight. The gyres do not contain floating islands of soda bottles and plastic candy wrappers that you can walk across and clean up; it is more like a soup. Although we did see plastic crates, foam and bottles. But mostly we saw plastic bits. “How much plastic is in the ocean? 3.2 billion lbs. from 3.3 trillion particles” (Marcus Eriksen 5 Gyres). These bits are tiny! And, they were in every sample we collected! What was really sad was that we sailed through the Sargasso Sea made up of Sargassum. This is a golden rainforest of the ocean. It was home to tiny creatures and fish. These animals are living in our trash and most likely eating these bits. Did you know that for some reason, plastic in our oceans attracts all sorts of toxic chemicals? These bits don’t just stay contained in gyres either. This is something to think about when you eat your next seafood dinner.

After this trip I was asked by Bring Your Bag Chicago and Alderman Moreno to testify at a Chicago Health and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall. The city is debating a plastic shopping bag ordinance. I was asked because of my success in getting the state bill vetoed and because of my perspective as a young person as a future custodian of our environment. I know that legislation is important because incentives are not working. I was also able to testify with crewmate, Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, who a few weeks later gathered samples of micro-plastics in the Great Lakes. Plastic pollution is not just a problem in our oceans! Hopefully we were able to convince some alderman of this fact! I am still waiting to hear when and if this ordinance will be passed.

A crewmate, Jennie Romer from PlasticBagLaws.org, made me realize that bags are like a “gateway drug” because they make you suddenly see OUR addictive use of all disposable plastics. There is no away, it is forever! Our addiction to this throw away culture is becoming a huge problem. I am only 14 and I already know plastic pollution’s true cost. To my generation, plastic bags in trees and in our waterways are just part of the landscape. What is most frustrating to me is that there is any easy alternative to plastic bags.

Together we need to rethink our habits and choose to be the change!

Re-Posted from The OverThinker

If you were to ask me how I feel right now, the answer would be: hungry.

And I expect that to last a while.

I am now a little over twelve hours and six cups of tea into a hunger strike for the cause of averting climate catastrophe. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but am not sure how restful it will be, being that I’m in a shop-front in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley – an area of the city famed for its nightlife – and it is Friday night.

Today’s events included a media stunt outside Aurizon HQ in Brisbane’s CBD under the watchful eye of clearly uneasy and over-staffed security, with activists “stealing” a carbon bomb from the company that is set to bail out plans to mine the Galilee Basin and double Australia’s CO2 emissions. Plenty of media interest was piqued by the message that we will allow the ignition of this “carbon bomb” only over our dead bodies. The Guardian, The Brisbane Times, Central Queensland News, and New Matilda, among others, all ran positive stories on the campaign.

carbon-bomb

A trip to the footy capped off the day nicely with two scheduled banner drops resulting in activists being kicked out of the grounds for having “unauthorised banners” (not sure the process required in getting one’s banner “authorised”…). The terrorist squad were deployed in order to quiz activists as to their intentions in attending the game between Brisbane’s Broncos, and Newcastle’s Knights, who just happen to be sponsored by Aurizon, the target of the protests.

The heavy-handed response raises questions as to how environmentalists are going to be dealt with in future. Bringing out the terrorist squad is an escalation of police tactics in dealing with peaceful protesters, and signals a warning of things to come. I fear we are going to see a more extensive application of the term “terrorism” to environmental activism in general, and not just the extreme actions of a small minority who arguably go too far (at least as far as public opinion is concerned). This demonization of environmentalists is likely to go further than many expect, with a level of persecution that will scare most people away from any related activism, thus ensuring the continuation of the status quo. One way of avoiding this might be to get a good view of the whole chessboard, and plan a few steps further in advance, as the opposition is clearly doing. This will mean, of course, that a substantial PR campaign is needed in order to retain neutrality in public perception.

Perhaps that will be something to ponder through my pangs tomorrow, as I anticipate some less-than satisfactory tea-drinking and looming food-obsession…

For a clearer run-down on why I’m hunger striking check out this article.

Generation Alpha - Over Our Dead Bodies

Generation Alpha – Over Our Dead BodiesImage: Generation Alpha
Re-Posted from Over Our Dead Bodies

Once upon a time I lived in Bowen, the site of the Abbot Point coal terminal and a one-way ticket to climate catastrophe. I spent my rite-of-passage fruit-picking phase there as a backpacker in the baking hot capsicum fields. It wasn’t so bad; in many ways Bowen is paradise.

Gateway to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef, the small farming community is in an idyllic setting with unspoilt beaches hidden from the reach of snap-happy tourists and hotel developers. I used to make the most of the early finishes that harvest work allows and go snorkelling on the reefs closest to the shore, resting my sore muscles in the warm, clear water, and taking in the exotic range of colourful corals, parrot fish, turtles, and countless other fascinating species whose names I never knew. I often wondered why the area hadn’t been spoilt by developers in the tourist industry. I guess now I know the answer: it’s going to be spoilt by the mining industry instead.

For many years Abbot Point has been a small-time coal exporter, but now its original terminal is well on the way to a 50 million ton capacity, and five new terminals are to be built. The terminals will be owned by BHP Billiton, AP-X, Indian companies Adani and GVK, and Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal. This expansion brings export capacity to more than 400 million tonnes, converting the world-heritage listed Great Barrier Reef into the world’s biggest coal terminal, and doubling Australia’s carbon emissions over the coming decade. The reef will not survive its conversion to a coal-export superhighway.

Queensland is set to become divided over economic gain versus ecological imperative, and the road to Galilee is paved with coal. The Galilee Basin in the state’s centre begins the journey of Queensland’s coal exports, with mega-mines such as Adani’s Carmichael mine – twice the size of Australia’s current biggest mine – set to churn out 60 million tonnes of the carbon-emitting fuel annually. Climatologists claim that if the Galilee Basin’s reserves are mined and burned they will account for a whopping 705 million tonnes of CO2, or 6 per cent of the entire world’s available “carbon budget”, whose limit is set in accordance with efforts to restrict global temperature increases to below two degrees. Beyond this limit we are headed for an environmental catastrophe that will likely see the end of humankind.

Adani and GVK provide the road to Galilee, or, more accurately, the railway. Hundreds of kilometres of railway are to be laid between the Galilee Basin and Abbot Point, trampling agricultural land and wetland ecosystems, and providing the infrastructure required for the ignition of this volatile carbon bomb. Few hands are in many pies, and there is money to be made from this treacherous gamble on our future. The final piece in the puzzle is freight rail company Aurizon’s acquisition of 51 per cent of Hancock Coal Infrastructure, which is currently owned by the heavily indebted GVK. Aurizon, formerly QR national, is the pivotal point in the entire scheme. If Aurizon do not acquire the controlling stake in Hancock Coal Infrastructure the railway becomes unviable.

So far environmental groups have achieved no traction in their efforts to convince these fossil fuel giants to make their money from less damaging practices and help us get on track toward a sustainable future that unarguably benefits us all. The state and federal governments have been unresponsive to pleas for stronger regulations and reviews of environmental impact that are in line with emissions reductions targets. Aurizon are keen to plough ahead with their pivotal acquisition, ignoring the obvious investment risks posed by the shaky project and the even greater environmental risks outlined in letters received from numerous environmental organisations. We may have reached the final stop along this particular track.

It is time for a resistance more potent that letters, petitions and placard-waving rallies: a hunger strike. Hunger-striking for a cause, though radical, is nothing new. The practice has its roots in Irish history as a socially normalised form of non-violent resistance, governed by a consistent set of rules, in which participants fasted as an act of political protest with the objective of achieving specific goals such as policy change or debt recovery. In Ireland fasting was often carried out literally on the doorstep of the offender’s home, as allowing a death on one’s doorstep for the sake of a wrong of which one has been accused was considered a great dishonour. Fasts did not tend to last until death, however, with many being restricted to a specific time period, such as 24 hours. St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have used hunger striking as a political tactic.

The most famous hunger strikers people tend to think of are Gandhi and the Suffragettes. In India hunger strikes were also detailed in the Ramayana and other ancient texts – and were used in a very similar way to Ireland. Gandhi’s hunger strikes were immensely effective due to his fame and standing, as the British were reluctant to tarnish their reputation by allowing him to die in their custody. This enabled the Mahatma to communicate his message of protest against British rule of India in a non-violent manner that often achieved the desired outcomes.

The Suffragettes provide some of the most remarkable historical examples of non-violent hunger-strike action the world has ever seen in their efforts to secure voting rights for women. Only a century ago British women such as Emmeline Pankhurst frequently took their strikes as far as arrest and imprisonment, resulting in force-feeding, as the authorities did not wish to create martyrs of them for political purposes. American Suffragettes followed the British example a few years later, and were similarly successful in gaining universal voting rights for women.

Imagine living in a world in which Gandhi had not taken drastic action. A world in which the Suffragettes had not taken action. Now imagine a world in which climate activists did not take action.

The coalition of hunger-strikers congregating in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley from Friday 30 August follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest social justice advocates who ever lived, and have goals of no lesser importance. Indeed the stakes are far higher. Climate change is undoubtedly the most pressing issue of our time, with sweeping impacts that will leave no one unaffected. A line must be drawn. We all need to choose a point at which we are prepared to take personal action – to stand up and be counted – and that means something more radical. Petitions and polite letters to the powers that be clearly aren’t working, and I fear that I’ll still be waving a placard while the waves of a rising sea are lapping at the steps of parliament house if we all continue with business as usual.

Our hunger strike will command attention, it will cast the spotlight on Aurizon as the pivotal point of the project, it will call for dialogue, and it will aim for resolution: the coal must stay in the ground. I’m fasting for nothing less than our future.

Kari McGregor, 5 hours into the strike.