by Ducky Slowcode / Global Justice Ecology Project
Yesterday, the Paris headquarters of public energy utility Engie (formerly GDF Suez) was closed for the day following a visit from the Australian climate activist group, the Climate Guardian Angels. Seven women dressed in ornate angelic costumes, along with several Australian, American, and other international allies, sat and stood in front of the doors of Engie’s two buildings in La Defense, Paris, denying entrance to anybody attempting to visit the buildings. The group was present to call attention to Engie’s involvement in a mining fire disaster in early 2014 in Victoria, Australia.
Several of the Angels were holding signs that read slogans such as, “Australian coal kills” and “Change your game, not your name”. Engie changed its name from Gaz de France Suez (GDF Suez) in April of 2015, in an attempt to distance itself from previous company history as a gas monopoly, as well as from the Hazelwood Mine fire, which began on February 9, 2014 and burned continuously until being “controlled” by local fire authorities on March 10, 2014. “Public Inquiries into the Hazelwood Mine fire (February 2014) that blanketed the Latrobe Valley community in toxic fumes and ash have found that Engie’s poor management contributed to deaths and other adverse health affects,” said Deborah Hart, co-founder of ClimActs, the Australian-based organization sponsoring the Climate Guardian Angels. So far, eleven people have died as a result of Engie’s actions in regard to the Hazelwood fire.
Engie is headquartered in Paris, and is a primary sponsor of the UNFCCC’s 21st Conference of Parties, which has been meeting for the past two weeks to negotiate a major treaty in regards to climate change. According to the Angels, “[Engie has] spent $250 million on lobbying the French government to reduce emissions targets, while refusing to pay the $18 million owed to the Victorian community for cleaning up the Hazelwood mine fire disaster”. The company was presented with a bill by the Country Fire Authority of Victoria for this amount to cover expenses of controlling the fire (including the coordination of over 7,000 volunteer firefighters), and officially announced in July 2015 that they would be refusing to pay the bill, insisting that the firefighting efforts of the CFA should be provided for free based on Engie’s status as a tax-paying business.
After two and a half hours of peacefully protesting and blocking the entrances of Engie’s buildings, the Climate Angels made a declaration, “Engie’s refusal to accept responsibility is corporate negligence and indifference at its most cynical, self-serving and coldhearted. We will continue to obstruct their business-as-usual model by putting our bodies in the way with peaceful direct action.” They and their allies then dispersed while chanting “We’ll be back”.