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Lots to learn from Nova Scotia's fracking ban

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After years of work by people on the frontlines of fracking and fracking waste, of research by citizens and government employees, of mobilizing people to reject fracking, and weeks of jumping through legislative hoops, this Friday Nova Scotia's ban on fracking passed through the legislature and officially became law.

To the dismay of many, this law falls short in several ways. It does not include a definition of the "high volume hydraulic fracturing" it seeks to ban, it specifies fracking in shale formations while excluding other extreme fossil fuel extraction processes, it gives the minister of environment undue power to end the ban when he or she sees fit, and it doesn't mention the need for community consent before fracking can take place.

Of course it should be celebrated that we have this ban in the first place. We banned fracking! What a feat! That win can be attributed to nothing but community mobilization, fearlessly speaking out, dedicated research and reporting, and coordination across the province.

Let's also recognize that, like our movement, this ban is not everything we need it to be. Like Naomi Klein said about the People's Climate March in New York, this fracking ban is a reflection of our movement -- on the right track, but not quite grasping the need for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels that facilitates equality and the re-invigoration of our communities.

The anti-fracking movement in Nova Scotia has a few distinct parts -- Indigenous communities in Cape Breton and largely settler communities in the Cobequid Bay area led the first charges against fracking in the late 2000s. Both groups were supported by settler and Indigenous residents of the area and around the province. The concerns about fracking soon reached the provincial government, and thanks to tireless demands from communities, the Department of Energy commissioned an external panel -- the Wheeler review process was born.

Throughout 2014, thousands of people participated in research, outreach, education, and mobilization around fracking. We all put time into the Wheeler review. We submitted comments on the review papers. We called out conflicts of interest on the panel. We prepared people for the public information meetings, and upwards of 1,500 showed up to those sessions. And as much as we could within the box we placed ourselves inside by participating in this pre-fab system of engagement, we nailed it. 

Throughout all this, we grew a lot. We learned that we need to work together much more than we were before, and settlers need to genuinely take the lead from Indigenous communities on the frontlines of the environmental racism and climate injustice that fracking is. We learned that we could research fracking in other jurisdictions all we like, but without clear communication and mass mobilization that research wouldn't get us very far. We learned that playing by government timelines and following their rules of engagement would only get us a half-measure ban on fracking that didn't even recognize our right to say no to the destruction of our lands and communities. And we learned that we need to keep organizing on the ground, even when governments around the world fail to address these issues.

This ban is an incredible step in the right direction, both for climate policy and for the growth of our climate justice movement. Without a foundation in justice and an understanding that our governments at home operate within an inherently flawed system that cannot deliver the swift and decisive action we need, we could not have expected a better outcome from this chapter in the fight against fracking.

Recognizing that the road to climate justice is long and full of roadblocks, let's celebrate this success, but not forget to learn our lessons. We need to acknowledge that neither this movement nor the solutions it is creating are to the scale that we need to avoid truly catastrophic climate change and build our communities up to be able to manage and adapt to climate impacts equitably. And now, more than ever, we need a strong global binding treaty to hold provincial and local governments accountable.

Next time we'll know to match our research prowess with mobilization and empowerment. We'll know to take direction from people and communities that are impacted by climate injustice first and worst. We'll know that we'll only get what we need when we fearless demand it and refuse to take no for an answer.

And next time, we'll get what we need.

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