Coal imports and fast fashion in Extinction Rebellion sightlines

Published by Kayle Crosson on

October 10th, 2019

Protests against imported coal and fast fashion rounded up the mid-point of a week-long series of action by Extinction Rebellion Ireland as the group continues to hold firm at Merrion Square.

Yesterday’s demonstrations came on day three of International Week of Rebellion, with protesters around the world engaging in civil disobedience to push world leaders to act on the climate crisis. 

Protesting outside the Dublin headquarters of the Coal Marketing Company (CMC) yesterday morning, demonstrators demanded that the Government stop importing coal for both its climate and human rights impact. 

CMC has coordinated the sale and delivery of over 450 million tonnes coal from Cerrejon, the world’s second largest open-pit coal mine based in La Guajira, one of the poorest regions in Colombia.

CMC is jointly owned by the three multinationals that run Cerrejón mine and made an after-tax profit of €62.5m on €2.3bn in revenues in 2017.

Between 2011 and 2018, a little over 60 per cent of total coal imports used at ESB’s Moneypoint power station in Co Clare – around 7.8 million tons – have come from the Cerrejón mine, according to documents released to The Green News under Access to Information on the Environment Regulations

Multiple Colombian and international human rights and environmental organizations, as well as academics, have accused the mine of links to human rights abuses, including intimidation, assault and death threats against activists

Earlier this year, indigenous and afro-descendent communities in La Guajira launched a legal challenge against a recent modification of the environmental license for the Cerrejón coal mine.

The legal team representing the locals said that the expansion of the mine would exacerbate the current humanitarian crisis caused by the mine in the state, including a loss of food security and lack of access to water that has influenced the deaths of 5,000 children and malnutrition of 40,000.

‘Nothing short of reckless’

Extinction Rebellion Ireland said that the very fact that Ireland is still burning coal “is nothing short reckless”. The ESB has said that it is aware of problems reported in the media and by other organizations in previous years and that it will “remain vigilant to the issues raised.” 

Speaking to The Green News in February, the utility said it would track these issues in the context of an assessment process undertaken by Bettercoal – an international alliance of major coal-buyers – as part of its “commitment to use responsibly source coal.”

The Bettercoal assessment concluded that the mine’s operating principles, including how it conducts its business, treats its staff, and works with its neighbours, are essentially in line with its best practice code.

A public version of the report was heavily criticised, however, with 11 human rights organisations from across Europe, many of whom work with groups in Colombia, outlining concern to the ESB in a letter sent earlier this year.

Moneypoint is one of Ireland’s largest generating stations with a total generation capacity of 915MW, making up over one-fifth of electricity generation in 2016.

Production, however, has almost ground to a halt over the past year as international market pressures and high carbon prices are making it too expensive to burn coal.

So far this month coal has accounted for less than two per cent of electricity generation. Moneypoint is due to stop burning coal in 2025.

Fast fashion protest

In the afternoon, protestors directed their ire toward the fashion industry as they made their way through Penney’s on O’Connell Street to highlight the environmental impact of fast fashion. 

“We don’t have time, we cannot carry on in the way we are behaving,” Extinction Rebellion activist Manuel Salazar said through a megaphone as demonstrators had made their way through the store. 

“We cannot allow companies like Penney’s not to take climate change seriously,” he added. Salazar advocated for higher-quality and longer lasting “slow fashion” that also has a smaller environmental impact. 

The term fast fashion, increasingly used by the media and in awareness campaigns, refers to cheap clothing produced en masse. In the last 15 years, clothing production has almost doubled due to the phenomenon, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

Synthetic fibres, including polyester and nylon, are made with petroleum and take a considerable amount of time to break down once disposed of. The fashion and textile industry are also dependent on other non-renewable resources such as dyeing agents and cotton fertilizers. 

Production from textile production alone, the Ellen MacArthur report finds, results in 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, exceeding those of international aviation and maritime shipping combined. 

The upkeep of clothing also poses an environmental challenge as some garments release plastic microfibres when washed, releasing half a million tonnes of microplastics into the ocean every year. 

Water consumption in clothes production is also a problem. The production of one t-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water, the same amount of water that one person drinks over the course of 900 days. 

On Tuesday, protesters sat outside of the Dail following the announcement of the Budget, chanting into the evening and blocking the exit to Leinster House. A number of protesters were removed by the Gardaí but no one was arrested. 

Cycling solidarity

In solidarity with Extinction Rebellion, I BIKE Dublin is leading a slow cycle along the capital’s most congested and car-dominated public spaces this morning.

The aim is to maximise disruption for private motorists while leaving public transport and active travel mostly unaffected.

“People’s over-use of private cars contributes 50 per cent of Ireland’s transport-related carbon emissions. Private car use needs to be urgently restricted in favour of sustainable transport, starting in urban areas such as Dublin’s city centre,” the group said.

I Bike Dublin is calling for the doubling of pedestrian green light phases, zero-tolerance enforcement of driver abuse of cycle lanes, and the introduction of a €500 e-bike grant for all Irish residents.

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.