Climate Activists Bring Sydney Traffic to a Standstill

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Climate change

On Friday morning, the prime minister apologised to the nation for going on holiday whilst half the country was burning and promised he’d return. However, “fair go” Scomo forgot to mention that he was already here.

At 7.15 am on 20 December, the PM appeared in the Sydney CBD dressed as Santa, bearing gifts of coal. Miraculously, Morrison landed in a sleigh drawn by six reindeer at the intersection, where Pitt Street cuts across the Martin Place pedestrian mall, right near the Christmas tree.

Not only did the PM’s surprise Christmas inspired arrival result in an entire strip of one of Sydney’s busiest roads being covered in his favourite poison – coal – but Morrison, his reindeer and elves that appeared to have already expired, brought peak hour traffic to a halt for near on two hours.

However, somewhat tellingly, the back of the prime minister’s sleigh was emblazoned with the Extinction Rebellion (XR) symbol, while printed in white across the side panels of the red vehicle was the message “Coal Slays Life”.

So, it only took onlookers a few moments to catch on that this wasn’t the real PM, but it was actually an anti-fossil fuel protest designed to shutdown “business as usual” in the CBD, in order to raise awareness about the human-caused climate and ecological emergency the planet is now facing.

Climate change Santa

Will you guide my climate policy, tonight?

“I’m doing this because I want to secure a safe future for my nieces and my potential children,” one of the front row reindeers guiding the sleigh told Sydney Criminal Lawyers, as he sat upon the Pitt Street bitumen holding up traffic behind him.

Bearing a striking resemblance to an XR climate activist in a suit, this reindeer went on to add that he wants to “ensure that future generations can live on this earth without having to worry about where their food comes from, where their water comes from, and whether or not they’re going to be safe.”

Alex is the name the reindeer usually goes by, and he’s in his mid-30s. When asked about putting his liberty on the line with the impending arrival of police, he said he’s done it before, and he’ll do it again, which is a fairly general attitude of a growing number of climate protesters globally.

Why? “Because, when it comes to this ecological crisis, the inaction we face is bordering on criminal negligence,” Alex made clear. “And if some of us aren’t prepared to sacrifice our safety, our liberty and our economic stability, then no change will occur.”

Alex was one of the first reindeer to be cut from his chains and escorted to a paddy wagon by police. Right now, as this is being recounted, he’s probably being processed in an inner city police station, perhaps with the threat of draconian bail conditions being applied.

Climate change reindeer

Heating up on Pitt Street

By around 7.30 am there were two lanes of backed up peak hour traffic that was being blocked by activists holding a “climate emergency” banner. And one lone police officer had turned up on the scene, who was standing to the side, watching the spectacle.

The XR Xmas choir was signing, “Stop coal mining now,” to the tune of Silent Night. And about ten minutes later five more officers turned up, with the one who appeared to be in charge warning each of the activists that they had one minute to clear off, or they’d be arrested.

Extinction Rebellion is a climate activist movement that declared open rebellion on the British government in October last year. But, it wasn’t until April that it really hit worldwide headlines, as thousands gathered in London bringing key areas of the city to a halt for over a week.

The now global movement uses nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to effect change. And it has three main demands: that governments tell the truth about the emergency,  that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to net zero by 2025, and for climate decisions to be led by the citizenry.

This morning the police moved in to arrest the coal-wielding Scott Morrison first. Officers spent some time cutting him out of his sleigh and then dragging him over to the police van, where they subsequently had trouble removing his mask as it was locked on.

Climate change police

Profit-bearing inaction

Prior to being dragged away by police, a 19-year-old reindeer in the second row, who went by the name of Toby, said he was putting his liberty on the line, as the government is doing nothing and there’s only about ten years left before “catastrophic climate tipping points” kick in.

“We’re already seeing this. Australia has about 150 fires across the country at the moment. The Amazon is on fire. Madagascar is on fire. Indonesia is on fire,” the young man stressed. “And we continue to export fossil fuels for money and profit? It’s just gone way too far.”

In regard to how Australian governments have reacted to rising calls for drastic system change, Toby said that instead of heeding the warnings of the public, both state and territory authorities have been cracking down harder upon nonviolent protesters.

The Queensland response was to pass new anti-protest laws that can see protesters who use lock-on devices sent to prison, the Berejiklian government just passed the dissent silencing Right to Farm Bill, while Morrison has been sneering about his own anti-protest measures.

Police arrest

A sign of things to come

The very effective, unannounced Friday morning climate action saw about 13 activists carted away: Scott Morrison, four of his deceased elves, six reindeer and two further XR activists, who’d attached themselves to the back of the sleigh during the action.

“The fight is going to continue until we see proper action from our leaders, and proper change within this really unjust system,” said Toby, showing more vision than the entire Liberal Nationals cabinet put together.

“The activists will continue. The arrests will continue,” the young man said not long before he was taken into custody. “Yeah, the rebellion is going to continue.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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