Our Burning Planet


‘Artivism’: Extinction Rebellion calls for ‘forever ban’ on mining in Antarctica

‘Artivism’: Extinction Rebellion calls for ‘forever ban’ on mining in Antarctica
Extinction Rebellion Environment Day staged a performance protest at Kalk Bay harbour in Cape Town to highlight its call to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties meeting in Finland to support the proposal for a ‘forever ban’ on fossil fuel exploration and exploitation in Antarctica. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Marking World Environment Day on Monday, Extinction Rebellion staged a ‘performance protest’ to highlight its call to the South African government and other Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties for a permanent ban on fossil fuel exploration and mining in Antarctica.

‘We are calling on the delegates who are currently meeting in Finland to support this proposal to make any type of mining impossible – to close the door on that entirely. We want a ‘forever ban’ on mining in Antarctica.”

So said Jacqui Tooke, a member and spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, which describes itself as a “decentralised, international and politically non-partisan movement using non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to persuade governments to act justly on the climate and ecological emergency”.

Tooke was speaking to Daily Maverick moments after a person wearing a suit and carrying a jerry can on their head had finished pouring an environmentally-friendly approximation of crude oil over a white, cardboard iceberg on the Kalk Bay beachfront in Cape Town on Monday.

“We have used graphic pictures to depict an abstract concept… The men in suits represent governments who support big oil and they were wearing frightening jerry cans on their heads to depict the menace that they are to the planet and they poured ‘oil’ over this ‘iceberg’,” said Tooke.

extinction rebellion

Members of environmental group Extinction Rebellion stage a performance protest on Kalk Bay beach in Cape Town. (Photo: Ethan van Diemen)

The “protest performance” – or act of “artivism” – comes as delegates from the Antarctic Treaty System signatory countries meet at the 45th Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting in Finland to discuss the protection and preservation of Antarctica. 

“South Africa is attending this meeting and has decision-making status,” Extinction Rebellion wrote in its accompanying press statement.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by 12 founding member states, including South Africa, Russia and the US, setting aside the continent for “peace” and “science”. The meeting ends on Thursday, 8 June.

Daily Maverick’s investigations have shown that, despite this ostensible safeguard, some countries – not least the Russian Federation – are laying the groundwork to turn the frozen continent into the next hydrocarbon mining and exploration hotspot. And they’re using Cape Town as their launchpad.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Using Cape Town as a launchpad, Russia boasts of supergiant oil fields in Antarctic wilderness    

Cognisant of the largely unspoiled wilderness and biodiversity of Antarctica, as well as its crucial role in modulating the global climate, Extinction Rebellion is calling on the South African government and other Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties to use the meeting to institute a permanent, unmodifiable ban on fossil fuel exploration and mining on the cold continent. 

“Currently, Antarctica is protected against all mining initiatives by the ‘1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty’ (known as the Madrid Protocol). However, this agreement is not permanent and when it comes up for review in 2048, countries could undo this mining ban,” says Extinction Rebellion.

The Madrid Protocol can be amended at any point by unanimous agreement among state signatories. Moreover, what is commonly referred to as the “mining ban” does not expire. 

However, at any point from 2048 onwards, it can potentially be amended should just one state call for a review of how the mining ban – or Article 7 of the Madrid Protocol – works. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: IPCC co-chair lifts the ‘Ice Curtain’ at Antarctic climate meeting in Finland

“Not only will the mining process be an environmental and biodiversity disaster for the region, but the global implications will also be dire as the extraction and use of the fossil fuels with their associated C02 emissions will deepen the climate crisis,” reads Extinction Rebellion’s press statement. 

Extinction Rebellion member Judy Scott-Goldman and one of the group’s spokespersons further explained the importance of Antarctica and why the organisation is calling on the South African government to act.

“Our message to the SA government is they have decision-making power… We would like for them to call for a ‘now and forever’ ban on mining and exploration and exploitation of oil and gas in the Antarctic. It would be really bad for the environment and biodiversity of the Antarctic. Second, we are going through a sixth extinction of species. And the third reason is we are running out of our carbon budget.

“If we keep on pumping greenhouse gases into the environment at the rate we’re doing at the moment… we’re about to fall off a cliff.”

The most important message, she said, is that “South Africa has powers, it has decision-making powers, it is there at the table. Use this strength to push other countries to make this ban on mining a forever ban. Make this treaty stronger – make this protection stronger.” DM

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