A sure sign of social movement success is when industries feel the need to spend big on propaganda wars. The launch earlier this year of a $5m campaign of advertising and social media repetition by the gas industry representative body APPEA is exactly that, an attempt to buffer the industry against a fast growing and virtually ubiquitous social movement of historic proportions opposed to the industrialisation of rural communities by invasive unconventional gasfields and the destructiveness of the coal expansion.

From the front page of the website for the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), the peak national body representing Australia’s upstream oil and gas industry. http://www.naturalcsg.com.au/

From the front page of the website for the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), the peak national body representing Australia’s upstream oil and gas industry. http://www.naturalcsg.com.au/

Centrepiece to the gas industry campaign was to sell the lie that NSW faces a gas crisis and that prices will rise unless CSG miners are given untrammelled access to everyone’s farms and communities and bushland. Unfortunately for the Gas industry independent research and commentary by many economists and journalists comprehensively debunks the gas crisis myth. The truth is actually that the CSG industry itself is responsible for the coming price rises because they plan to sell the gas to overseas markets and expose the east coast gas market to world parity prices for the first time. No gas shortage (not even of much safer conventional gas), no good case to expand CSG production and no truth in their campaign.

This burgeoning social movement opposing the coal and gas invasion has shown its capacity to seriously disrupt the political and economic trajectory of the gas industry, particularly in NSW. It has been slowed across NSW and has actually ground to a halt in the Northern Rivers, at least for now. But suddenly, the newly installed federal environment minister (Ian Macfarlane) is running round NSW declaring his fealty to the mining industry and trying his best to ignore poll numbers that consistently show over 75% of NSW opposed to gasfield development.

The gas companies are making sounds about getting started again, and local activists have promised them a world of pain awaits. Minister Macfarlane says he won’t tolerate what he calls ‘anarchy’ and the rest of civil society knows simply as democracy. For most people the lesson from all of this is the dawning realisation that our parliamentary system in Australia has become hostage to the mining industry and our politicians are either too embedded or too afraid to stand up to their industry masters.

It’s a broad and mainstream movement

The broad social movement of Australians fighting the gas rush and the coal explosion consist of people from all walks of life and political persuasions brought about by collective shock at the how our parliaments have been captured by the mining companies. Its not just about gas and coal anymore, it is the heart and soul of democracy that is at stake. On the bright side this is the largest most broadly based and fastest growing social movements in Australia’s history and through a smart combination of community mobilisation; political strategies; robust direct action and corporate campaigns it has shaken the confidence of government and the industry (despite outward appearances) and looks set to continue to do so.

One thing the industry knows is that if one region can resist and exclude the industry then it risks a serious domino effect as other communities are inspired, and learn from the processes and tactics that produce results. Already we are witnessing the rapid transmission and deployment of key elements of the Northern Rivers mobilisation and campaign framing processes in the battle against fracking in the UK at Balcombe, and we have already seen the Gasfield-free Community Strategy successfully deployed in the NSW Southern Highlands, and East Gippsland in Victoria.

The gasfield free community process is an innovative strategy designed to engage and activate local communities house by house and road by road and community by community against threats to their livelihoods and wellbeing. It is a grass roots process in which communities take charge of their destiny. For more information about how to mobilise gasfield communities go to www.csgfreenorthernrivers.org

How the industry manipulates the science

Industry will seek to obfuscate the science debate endlessly with claims and counterclaims about the scientific data. In fact the modus operandi of the gas industry like the tobacco and asbestos industries before them is to generate uncertainty around the science as a means of causing all debates to end in a draw (while they proceed regardless). Any evidence of bubbling methane, flammable water or human health effects will be met with the old tactic of saying the problem must have already been there, there’s no baseline data. There’s no baseline date because industry makes sure it gets in before there is. So while the science debate is important and the real evidence of the serious impacts of fracking grows and grows (as it did around tobacco and asbestos for decades) that is a slow process.

When it comes to invasive gasfields though one thing all communities know is that they don’t want to end up as an industrialised wasteland, its visual it’s immediate and it doesn’t take any expensive tests to prove it, just look at some aerial photos of Tara and we can all see it.

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Industry and government have already started playing word games, seeing the massive opposition to coal seam gas they have been trying desperately to rename and reframe it. Whether its unconventional gas, tight sands gas or their latest favourite Orwellian term ‘natural’ gas from coal seams, the common element is the invasive industrial gasfields that destroy the environment and people’s way of life.

The best response for the community is to keep calling invasive industrial gasfields for what they are: invasive industrial gasfields. The gasfield free community frame is inclusive, its positive and it invokes the right of communities to protect themselves.

Non violent direct action

You can and should explore all of the usual methods of being heard, media, contacting politicians, writing submissions but communities all over Australia and the world are discovering that your community will need to put itself on the line at some stage. Be assured government and industry will want to test your mettle and it is predictable that they will aim to come down hard on the first signs of physical resistance by communities.

The first communities in a region to face the gas invasion become the front line and it is essential that neighbouring communities come to their assistance, we can never expect the first blockade to be successful, but there is good reason to believe that a community can stop this industry through persistent resistance. The power of blockades lies not in winning on the ground on that one drill site, but in forcing the government and the companies into a self-defeating cycle of displays of overwhelming force.

The important dynamic for communities involved in these campaigns is to remain optimistic and persistent. Regrouping and continuing to resist once the show of force subsides is vital; the only catch is you never really know how many times you will need to repeat this process before the wheels start falling off the industry cart — but they will fall off.

Corporate campaigns

Whilst government fail to respond to popular will, it remains necessary to try to discourage investors from supporting these damaging and invasive industries. One way this can be done by getting on board with fossil fuel divestment campaigns and urging universities and super funds and other public institutions to divest from fossil fuel. Information on how to do this is available at https://flipboard.com/section/global-fossil-fuel-divestment-movement-bjQ3wU

Unfortunately many investors will not be persuaded by ethical considerations, but they will be persuaded if they feel their investment is at risk. Gas and coal companies don’t like their investors to know how great the community opposition is to their operations and investors get very nervous when they realise that the company they are invested in is a target of an organised social movement group. So making sure investors find this out should be a high priority. This can be done by attending company meetings and protesting, buying small parcels of shares and attending meetings from the inside and asking questions, researching the company’s profile, becoming active on investor internet sites and social media and writing to its top shareholders warning them of the risks posed by the community resistance.

Send investors a polite letter that starts with “HI, I am writing to you to warn you of some non-market risks to your investment that may not have previously been made aware of”… lets face it you are doing investors a favour by telling the truth that the company conceals from them. The beauty of this approach is that it creates a positive feedback loop. Your group keeps doing everything it was already doing in the campaign but it then adds in another information loop. It is a powerful amplification tool . For more information go to http://aidanricketts.com/the-death-of-a-thousand-cuts-using-multiple-tactics-to-overwhelm-your-opponents/

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If we could win this fight simply by making politicians aware of the science of fracking and how it threatens our water tables, health and atmosphere, we would have won already, if getting majority support was going to be enough then NSW would have stopped all unconventional gas mining already. Instead, our politicians have shown that they are prepared to send riot police into communities where over 85% of the population opposes the gasfield invasion to impose it by force. This is the way mining companies have operated in dictatorships in central Africa and central America and in small island states for decades, but now this mining-by-force approach has come to Australia. This is not just about gas or coal this is a crisis for democracy in this country.

In the Northern Rivers 87% voted against the gas invasion in September last year in a council poll in Lismore, and recently university polling has revealed that 65% of the residents of the neighbouring Richmond Valley where the industry has been attempting to establish itself are also against the gas invasion

Polls conducted for the Sydney morning herald have shown that 75% of people across NSW oppose the gas invasion of farmlands.

We know that a referendum on the question of whether people support gasfield development across NSW would result in a resounding NO vote, so we need to force our politicians to explain why they won’t give the people a voice. Unless and until the people are listened to nonviolent civil disobedience will be all that keeps the industry at bay.

 

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