by Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Program
The Sierra Club and Bank Information Centerreleased a new report today entitled "Move Beyond Coal, Now! Voices from the Front Lines of the Global Struggle."
It describes the daily realities of coal impacted communities from Cirebon, Indonesia, the Konkan coast and Kutch India, Inner Mongolia China, Appalachia USA, New South Wales Australia, and Limpopo South Africa. These stories paint an illuminating picture of an industry that brings toxic pollution, corruption, intimidation, poverty, and destruction to local societies. Most importantly, it amplifies their call to Move Beyond Coal, Now!
One of the Indian activists described in the report, Vaishali Patil, hails from the Konkan coast of India – one of the regions facing the highest levels of coal development. She is fighting plans for 35-50 gigawatts of new coal based power – roughly equivalent to the output of 70 - 100 average U.S. coal plants. The other Indian activist described in the report, Bharat Patel, is organizing communities in Kutch facing two of the world’s largest coal plants, Tata Mundra and Adani Mundra, which combined are roughly the size of 26 average-sized U.S. coal plants.
Rather than be bowed by the industry's onslaught, Vaishali and Bharat are banding together, fighting back, and most importantly winning. Vaishali's efforts to reclaim Konkan have included organizing a vibrant "people's movement" dominated by grassroots volunteers who have secured a moratorium on 49 mining projects and over a dozen coal-fired power plant projects, including one of the Indian Government's 4,000-megawatt Ultra Mega Power Projects (roughly the size of nine average-sized U.S. coal-fired power plants).
Bharat's work is also inspiring villagers to stand up. One village organized a rally in front of the Mundra offices, warning that they would bring their 8,000-odd cattle and buffalo to block all the roads if land acquisition were not halted. As one villager from Jharpara village said, "We have been protesting against the handover of 1,000 acres of our gowcher land..we will not let the company set foot on our grazing lands."
These struggles are occurring against a backdrop that has seen a frenzied rush to build coal plants all across the country. Prayas, an independent think tank based in Pune, recently released a damning report describing the cumulative impacts of this rush entitled, "Thermal Power Plants on the Anvil: Implications and Need for Rationalization." With a jaw-dropping 600 percent increase in coal-fired power planned for just a handful of districts, Prayas has called for a moratorium on clearances for new power plants.
Many people outside of coal-affected communities accept the myth that coal-fired power is bringing development to India's poor. Ground realities paint a very different picture: Local communities and ecosystems pay the steep price of coal's impacts but rarely receive the power, let alone the profits, that are generated. All across India, people living near the highest concentrations of coal-fired power plants have the least access to electricity. Instead, power lines carry electricity literally over their heads and into industrial and urban areas, doing little to alleviate energy poverty in rural communities.
Thanks to people like Vaishali and Bharat, the voices of affected communities are being heard throughout India. They will not be silenced, they will not be sacrificed, and they know there are other means to fuel their country's development that are more reliable, sustainable, and equitable. As Vaishali explains, "what we need instead (of more coal production) is local development based on clean energy that supports people and livelihoods."