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Sweden: Activists and locals take action against limestone mining

By Take Concrete Action - Freedom, August 31, 2022

Right now in Sweden, activists are fighting to stop the state from throwing open the doors to corporate impunity. When the company Cementa was barred from continuing to mine limestone on the island of Gotland on the basis of environmental protections in the Swedish constitution, the government decided the constitution was the problem. They granted an exception to the company, despite the fact that thousands of people were facing water shortages due to the mine draining Gotland’s groundwater. Not only that, but Cementa is also Sweden’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Now, locals and climate activists teamed up under the name Take Concrete Action to shut Cementa down by sending hundreds of people to occupy the mine.

At the end of August, they travelled to the remote island in the middle of the Baltic sea, donned their best hazmat suits and walked into a limestone mine to stay there as long as possible. Below, they explain why.

Because Sweden is at a political crossroads that could have grave implications for its people and environment – and we see this as our best chance of stopping it.

Let’s start with the mine. Heidelberg Cement is the second largest carbon emitter in the whole of Sweden. It is also the owner of Cementa in Slite on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island. Besides its huge carbon emissions, the company’s limestone mining poses a major threat to the groundwater. In May, we met with many locals on Gotland who had been affected by the water crisis – whether when finding their wells dry, having periods of water rationing that grow longer every summer, or farmers being unable to provide enough water for their crops and animals. Gotland is also home to endemic species and many unique ecosystems, which of course require healthy groundwater.

Given the situation, the Land and Environment Court refused to grant permission for continued limestone mining in Slite last year. As you might expect. Except that, over the course of one weekend, the Riksdag – the Swedish parliament – stepped in and extended the permission. In other words, the government broke their own constitution to save a corporation who hadn’t bothered to try to disprove the allegations by submitting a proper environmental report.

This sends a clear and terrifying signal: when companies break environmental laws, it is the laws that need to be changed, not the companies. That the Riksdag protects Sweden’s second largest emitter before the environmental groundlaw in a burning climate crisis is a crime against the citizens. And it flies in the face of Sweden’s international reputation as a climate and human rights leader.

Of course, the “the job vs. the climate” narrative is being used as an excuse to continue business as usual. It is telling that in the case of Cementa, the Riksdag claims that they intervened to be on the side of the workers, when they recently restricted both the right to strike and the Employment Protection Act. Ludwig Merckle, co-owner of Heidelberg Cement, has a total fortune of 5.8 billion dollars. Here, obviously, there is the money to compensate the workers who may temporarily lose their jobs in a green transition. But the companies that profit from environmental destruction do not want to stop it.

This is one of the main reasons why the climate crisis cannot be solved within capitalism. We are forced to work for wages to survive, while our survival is jeopardized by the emissions from the industries many of us are forced to work in. No one should have to choose between unemployment or climate disaster. These are false contradictions, a rhetorical trick that is now being used to sow discord between people whose interests are basically the same.

It should not be impossible for people in one of the richest countries in the world to be able to have water to drink, clean air to breathe, a roof over their heads and a stable income at the same time. That
politicians force people to choose one over the other is not only a lie but downright inhumane. It is not the people who have created the climate crisis, it is fossil capital. The state should make demands on companies such as Heidelberg Cement, as they are the ones who, in the inevitable transition, are responsible for ensuring that they do not cause more damage to society than the emissions and their limestone mining have already done.

We have tried the conventional methods – petitions, demonstrations and debates. And yet, if the government doesn’t listen to its own constitutional laws, doesn’t listen to local parties on Gotland, it would be beyond naive to expect them to listen to us asking nicely.

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