Mark Twain wrote that ‘the first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year’. The international climate activist network, Rising Tide, was maybe channelling Mr Twain by calling for a worldwide Fossil Fools Day on 1 April 2008, exhorting us to turn this insanely fossil-fuelled world upside down and give it a good shaking for one day out of 365.
While the corporate media barely sniffed at it, it really was a (renewably powered) trailblazer of a day, with 35 separate actions against toxic targets across Britain, around 100 in North America, and several in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa.
In Britain, actions against gas, coal, oil and greenwash ranged from big, disruptive blockades of fossil fuel infrastructure – including one of Europe’s largest opencast coal mines at Merthyr Tydfil – to smaller, more satirical escapades. E.ON is the company planning to build Kingsnorth, the first new coal power station in Britain for 30 years, (and site of this August’s Camp for Climate Action). No surprise, then, that the company has rocketed to the top spot in climate activists’ ‘affections’ and was the target of the launch of ‘EV-EON – carbon capture in a bottle’ (www.ev-eon.com).
In the US, Fossil Fools Day really flew. Pranksters visited the Democratic Party in Denver, closed Bank of America cash machines in San Francisco, toasted Citibank in New York (‘Billionaires for Dirty Energy’, naturally), and halted construction at a North Carolina coal plant.
A Shell station in Ontario, Canada was blockaded to highlight the behemoth’s tar sand-tarnished hands. In Newcastle, Australia, cheeky Rising Tiders banner-dropped the question: ‘How does buying stuff fuel climate change?’ at a large shopping mall. Newly rebranded ‘Hot’ Air New Zealand received a coveted Fossil Fool Award for its offset programme.
Lastly, a more sombre South African contribution to the day: in Durban, protesters visited oil giant Engen, laying floral wreaths to signify deaths in the community caused by the plant.
So what was achieved? There is a growing movement of people taking radical direct action against climate change around the world, but often it’s hard to see and feel the impact of our actions because they’re disconnected. On Fossil Fools Day, we came together, our local actions were magnified, and we were inspired to continue the struggle.
Apart perhaps from South Africa, Fossil Fools Day took place only in Western countries. Our movement needs to spend some time considering ways to work more closely with resistance movements in the Majority World, where every day is a day of action living at the sharp end of capitalism’s extractive psychosis.
Even so, Fossil Fools Day was a step towards survival, towards stopping new fossil fuel projects from happening, and towards closing down those we’ve already got. Most of all, it showed that we’re growing and that we’re not going away. As Plymouth Rising Tide’s report of its Esso garage occupation ended: ‘We’ve got to cut ourselves free. We’ve got to organize ourselves to lead localized low-carbon lifestyles. And it’s going to be fun!’