To me, being a mum means fighting for oil justice

| 13th June 2018
Community action to remember those killed in the oil-rich region of Casanare, Colombia. Unique cards bear the names and dates of those killed. ​

Community action to remember those killed in the oil-rich region of Casanare, Colombia. Unique cards bear the names and dates of those killed. ​

Frack Free Greater Manchester campaigners joined human rights defenders from as far as Argentina and Colombia in May to protest outside British Petroleum (BP)’s first ever shareholder meeting in Manchester, UK. HELENA COATES - a local resident - environmental campaigner and mum of two, explains why she took part

At the protest, we were joined by a Colombian human rights defender from Casanare, where during the past 30 years of BP operations, 3,000 trade union and community leaders – many of them vocal opponents of Big Oil – have been murdered.

What is my purpose in life? I’m a mother of two amazing kids, but when my youngest turned two and was becoming more independent, I started looking outwards again, looking for connection.  

Since I’m not originally from Salford, there had been times I felt like an alien here, even if I only came from over the hill in Derbyshire. I started thinking more about the world our children will grow up in, the world they’ll inherit from us.
 
This was when I first learned what was happening up the road at the Barton Moss fracking site, where Igas were drilling an “exploratory” well. At the time I knew very little about fracking but it didn’t take much homework for me to grow concerned.

Energy war

I didn’t think of myself as an environmentalist back then. I had passionately opposed the war in Iraq and like millions of others joined in the demonstrations against it. The war broke my heart and for years after I fell out of activism.
 
Now it struck me that the anti-fracking movement was all part of the same story. The Iraq War was blood for oil, but what I now think of as ‘the Energy War’ encircles the globe.

It is a cycle of violence perpetrated against communities, territories and ecosystems for the sake of access to fossil fuels that can only open the door to yet more violence: by people against nature, by nature against people, by people against each other. 

This Energy War was now coming to my home soil. When I could make it, I started joining the slow walks that were happening daily on the lane to the fracking site.

The people I met there really opened my eyes to the threats: from toxic chemicals threatening our local health and ecosystems, to the terrifying global consequences of anything that holds back our possible and desperately needed transition to 100 percent renewable energy. 
 
Corporations like BP and Cuadrilla, now drilling nearby, say fracked gas is a ‘bridge fuel’ on the way to renewable energy. They say this while investment in renewables is slashed.

They say it as though they haven’t known for almost fifty years that their business model threatened us with extinction; as though they didn’t fight the Paris Climate Agreement – and every one of its predecessors – every step of the way. Putting energy companies in charge of the transition is like putting the fox in charge of the chickens.
 
BP is responsible for 2.5 percent of all global carbon emissions to date. No wonder CEO Bob Dudley admitted that BP won’t frack in the UK to avoid attracting “the wrong kind of attention.”

But in their eyes, some parts of the world are more expendable than others. Colombia is a prime example, where BP has presided over unprecedented environmental destruction and human rights abuses.
 
This attitude isn’t new. Getting to grips with fossil fuels and global warming - an economic system addicted to a resource made of ancient dead creatures - means you have to grapple with the past.
 
Global warming is a child of global inequality. The richest 10 percent of the global population has produced half of all emissions. Along with the slave trade, these emissions powered the Industrial Revolution, centred right here in Salford near Manchester, where our rural ancestors were forced to move to spin cotton imported from slaves forced to labour in the colonies.

Today, this area is Britain’s frontline against fracking, with people standing in the way of Ineos and Cuadrilla up at Preston New Road. But the fight is global.

Killings in Casanare

It is a profound and historic injustice that people in countries like Colombia, countries least responsible for this crisis, are already paying the heaviest price.

At the AGM, we were joined by a Fabian Laverde, a Colombian human rights defender from Casanare.

There, during the past 30 years of BP operations, 3,000 trade union and community leaders – many of them vocal opponents of Big Oil – have been murdered. And 6,000 more have disappeared. That’s 9,000 grieving mothers.

It was a great privilege to stand with Fabian and his colleague, Fernando Cabrera from Argentina, who spoke powerfully outside the AGM.

It reminded me that when we stand against the fossil fuel companies and call for alternatives, we are doing it for the future of the whole planet. We speak different languages but in that, we understand each other.
 
When BP withdrew from Colombia in 2010 it left behind a spectacular mess. In a country torn apart by poverty and civil war, 115 social and environmental conflicts have arisen from extractive oil and mining projects.

They’ve paid no reparations to affected communities or even disclosed their deal with the corrupt Colombian military for providing ‘security’ for their operations.
 
When images came to us of what was happening over at Standing Rock, where people were being sprayed with water cannons trying to protect their ancestral lands, people were outraged. But I know we must be more than witnesses. We must also take action at home.
 
There are many parallels that can be drawn between the Big Oil at home and abroad; how the corporations operate and how communities have organised and stood up to them, but in Latin America where whole villages have been displaced, defending your territory and human rights comes with terrifying risk
 
That is why we must use our voices to raise awareness of what is happening to those on the front line facing armed police, whose homes have been destroyed, whose water and food sources have been polluted, whose children are already dying.

For me, now, being a mother is about doing my part to leave my children a better world. I imagine the same is true for many mothers in Colombia. And whatever it claims, BP’s actions put it squarely in the way of that safe and sustainable future our children deserve and that far too many have already died for.

This Article

This article was published through a partnership between The Ecologist and War on Want. War on Want’s work supporting frontline defenders and shining a spotlight on BP’s abuses in Colombia is part of the Oil Justice Project. You can find out more about the project and what happened at the AGM on the War on Want website.  

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here