09 January 2016 11:13:08 IST

Tera kya hoga kaaliya?

Coal and oil are in for tough times. Activists will make life difficult for the fossil fuel industries

There is an organisation that goes by the name 350.org. It alludes to the point that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere beyond 350 parts per million (ppm), is dangerous for the planet (currently, it is at 400 ppm, and counting).

The organisation is US-headquartered and very aggressive — it has fought and won environmental battles against the big and the well-heeled. For instance, it got President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project — a 735 km pipeline project that would transport oil from Canada to the US. You can watch a video about it here .

And now, TransCanada Pipelines, the company that was putting up the project, is suing the US government for rejecting the project after the company spent millions of dollars developing it.

About 350.org

The company was founded by Bill McKibben, an environment gadfly and a winner of many awards. Incidentally, the managing director is our own, one Payal Parekh, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained-scientist-turned-activist.

These guys are so committed to the cause of climate change that when something gets into their head, they go after it, whipping up campaign frenzy so terrible, that the opponents are often left helplessly compliant.

One of their current campaigns is against the American oil company, Exxon, which, they say, had sufficient data to know that oil industry was polluting the atmosphere; yet they chose profits over the planet.

Peaceful march encore

And now, 350.org is “going after fossil fuels”.

I do not know if Bill has heard of Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement against the British, though Payal must have. What 350.org has in its plans is an encore of the Gandhian crusade.

Between May 7 and 15 this year, several activist groups, spearheaded by 350.org, will conduct a series of “non-violent, civil disobedience” campaigns in several countries, calling for a stop on production of coal, oil and natural gas.

Payal Parekh explains the campaign thus: “Several parts of the world will see human chains peacefully blocking oil exports; human chains walking into coal fields, defiant marches heading towards headquarters of fossil fuel companies.”

It will be a multi-organisation, multi-country co-ordinated crusade and everybody is invited to join in. Several have. One of them is the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, based in Nigeria. “I come from Nigeria and I have seen the horrors and terrors of oil extraction,” says Nnimmo Bassey, an activist.

“Since governments aren’t getting it done, civil societies have to do it,” Parekh adds.

The May campaign will then be an enlarged version of the one that took place in Germany in mid-2015, called ‘Ende Gelande’, meaning ‘end of the road’ (for coal). Activists marched into coal fields, screaming at miners to stop digging.

Since Paris talks failed, the global civil society is sharpening its fight to fill in the gap left by the governments.

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International said “New forms of resistance and struggles would be adopted by civil society in their fight against climate change”. He says that in Philippines, people had got Human Rights Commission to investigate the role of 50 fossil fuel companies for the “carbon accumulation”, which resulted in loss of lives. The investigation “will hopefully lead to litigation”.

End of fossil fuels?

I have said this in these columns before, in BusinessLine as well, and I’ll say it again, because it bears repetition — coal and oil are in for tough times.

You may think a bunch of activists can’t make a dent in the fortunes of the mega-buck fossil fuel industry; however, don’t forget that a sustained struggle cannot but bear fruit in the long run. In any case, these guys will make life difficult for coal and oil, even if they are unsuccessful in killing the industries.

Obviously, the impact is not going to be felt in the near future. Give 20-30 years, and coal and oil will be literally down in the dumps — that’s for sure.

Therefore, when I come across a lump of coal, I’m only reminded of bandit Gabbar Singh’s immortal words: Ab tera kya hoga kaaliya ?

(To read the writer's previous articles in this column, click here .)