Silencing the Earth’s Defenders: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Assault on Protest

In a world where the phrase “climate crisis” is becoming an understatement, the guardians of our planet—those who stand up against the Goliaths of the fossil fuel industry—are facing an orchestrated crackdown. It’s a scenario where money doesn’t just talk; it legislates.

Let’s cut to the chase: The fossil fuel industry, those titans of tar sands and barons of big oil, are spending their millions not just on drilling and spilling, but on silencing dissent. According to the watchdogs over at Greenpeace USA, around 60 percent of U.S. gas and oil operations are now insulated from the pesky inconvenience of protest and civil disobedience, all thanks to a slew of anti-protest bills that are popping up across the country like wildfire.

These aren’t your garden-variety laws. These are hyper-charged statutes that turn standing up for the land, water, and air into a high-stakes game of legal Russian roulette. With 18 states already on board and another four with their fingers on the trigger, the message is clear: oppose us and face the consequences.

It’s a playbook straight out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that shadowy industry-funded group that writes template laws for eager legislators. And it’s not just any old industry backing these bills—no, sir. We’re talking about the likes of ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Marathon Petroleum, with a dash of Canadian flavor from Enbridge and TC Energy.

But wait, there’s more: these fossil fuel and energy companies didn’t just support these bills with good vibes and positive energy. They dropped more than $5 million into the coffers of state lawmakers who championed these anti-protest laws. That’s a lot of green for keeping things not so green.

The report from Greenpeace USA, “Dollars v Democracy 2023,” isn’t just a catchy title; it’s a deep dive into the tactics employed since the Standing Rock protests in 2016. We’re talking mass arrests, spurious litigation, and sharing of intelligence, complemented by harsh policing tactics to paint activists as the bad guys.

And it’s not just in the USA; this is part of a worldwide strategy to keep environmental activists quiet, discredit their work, and criminalize their existence. Because, as Greenpeace USA’s executive director Ebony Twilley Martin puts it, front-liners should not be risking their lives just to ensure the planet remains hospitable for human life.

In the sinister shadows of this struggle, more than 250 anti-protest bills have crept into legislation in 45 states. These include laws that eliminate driver liability for hitting protesters and create felony offenses for protests that could be interpreted as riots.

The justifications for these bills are paper-thin. Lawmakers claim it’s all about preventing violence, but we all know that’s a smokescreen. The vast majority of protests in the land of the free are exactly that—free of violence.

Take Minnesota, for example, where over a thousand arrests were made of nonviolent protesters by law enforcement financially backed by none other than Enbridge. They’re being slapped with charges that could change their lives forever, all for standing up to a pipeline infringing on Indigenous lands.

And let’s not forget the SLAPPs—those lawsuits that hit activists with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron are using these to intimidate and exhaust those who dare to oppose them.

This year has already seen an environmental activist shot by police in Atlanta, marking a new grim chapter in this ongoing saga of suppression. And with racketeering charges being slapped on community organizers in Georgia and multi-million dollar civil lawsuits in Virginia, the stakes have never been higher.

The message from the Greenpeace report is crystal clear: it’s time for policymakers to take a stand. Repeal these draconian anti-protest laws, respect treaties with Indigenous communities, and enact anti-SLAPP laws to protect the voice of dissent.

The American Petroleum Institute claims to support peaceful protest, but their actions speak louder than their words. In their world, confronting climate change without delaying America’s energy options means maintaining a status quo that’s as toxic to democracy as it is to our environment.

To the fossil fuel industry, our planet’s defenders are more than just a thorn in their side—they’re a threat to their bottom line. But for those who believe in a world where air and water are rights, not privileges, the fight continues. And as the climate crisis accelerates, so too must our resolve to keep the earth—and our voices—free.