Historic dimension of civil society protests against oil exploration in the Balearic Islands
These days, the world witnesses global civil society protests to urge decision makers to act to slow down climate change.
By naming the objective “Slowing down climate change”, we already accept that it is far too late to assume that any reduction of CO2 emissions – no matter how significant and by what year they are achieved – would prevent or reverse the trends human activities have set. Maybe it is a combination of this inevitability, ignorance and profit-caused selfishness that some, in particular decision makers within governments and the private sector, continue to turn a blind eye to a necessity science does not question anymore. But it may also be a fact that those – in number – few people enjoy a high standard of living, security and not being exposed to the brutal consequences a changing climate will force on this planet which would force them to think and act differently. But it is not black & white, for sure.
The power of the individual
It is no less a person than United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who gives an impressive statement by joining the protesters in one of the hundreds of marches that took place over the weekend before the Summit on Climate Change at the UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, 23rd September 2014. And while such a statement is important and can’t be praised enough, the really impressive signal is sent by the public, the millions of people who do care. And while millions of people around the world join the marches, send e-mails of protest and act in their homes by trying to change their way of living, there is another specific civil society protest of historic range which needs to be mentioned:
More than 125,000 people officially submitted their personal objections to the licensing procedure for the plans by Cairn Energy and other petroleum companies to explore oil and gas resources off the Balearic Islands. Of these, 117,000 came directly from residents of the Balearic Islands, a region including the key tourism destinations Ibiza and Mallorca, with a resident population of 1.1 million people. This is just – amazing. A game changer. If … if it wasn’t about that much money and the pressure from probably one of the strongest, but also I name it most “ignorant” industries in the world: the oil & gas industry.
The objections represent a variety of concerns and opinions, including
- fear over the continued investment into an incredibly risky technology, posing the risk of a spill;
- the conflict with national and European environmental standards, as parts of the areas are strictly protected;
- such activities being an unacceptable move continuing the wrong energy policy in times of climate change;
- concerns over the impacts of intensive noise pollution posing an enormous risk to marine biodiversity;
- a danger to regional tourism and thus the long-term economic foundation of the islands; etc.
And while the oil & gas lobby puts pressure on the EU Commission even not to exclude marine protected areas from oil and gas resource exploration, it was exposed that in 2013 a research vessel undertook seismic activities to explore hydrocarbons in the Balearic waters without a permit! Until now, I am not aware of any official reaction or statement from the respective company, and politicians are reluctant to take clear action in condemning such activities. Such non-reaction is a true scandal, as reports have already been published about impacts by such surveys on marine wildlife, such as sperm whales which showed atypical behaviour and distribution during the time of the mentioned surveys.
The reaction to such extremely loud activities is pure silence.
Such an unacceptable situation is not exclusive to the proposed oil exploration in Balearic waters, but can be found throughout the wider Mediterranean Region and, I have no doubts, potentially even wider. So, why be optimistic that things might change to the better? Well, because of the referred activities by civil society and because of democratic principles which are – at least for pre-election periods – reason for decision makers to listen to those they represent. Well, at least “pretend to listen”. So, in the Balearic Islands elections will come up in spring 2015 to be followed by national elections later in the year. And the public is not just watching, the public has made its point, voiced its critique and is continuing to do so.
The movement in the Balearic Islands goes hand in hand with those efforts around the world for a change. For a change in our energy policy as one major activity towards a new trend for promoting a reduction in energy consumption, renewable energies and the reduction of CO2 emissions.
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