Kristin Gillies and Jenny Campbell from Coal Action Network Aotearoa have just spent 3 days at Australia’s largest-ever gathering of coal and gas activists www.beyondcoalandgas.org.
Kristin sends this report:
Three days amongst 250 of Australia’s most inspiring coal and gas campaigners has been a surprisingly emotional experience. As I reflect on the journey of the past few days I am left with a deep sense of respect for these people and those around the world so heavily impacted by the fossil fuel industry.
In my daily life and work it has been easy to overlook the widespread harm the industry is causing to right now to ordinary people every day. This conference has brought this home for me and I would like to share that with you.
Opening night: grim stories from the coal face
A bloke of about 50 stands up, takes the mic, and introduces himself as an ex-coal miner who now spends his time fighting the expansion of the coal port, and therefore coal industry in McKay, Queensland.
He has felt the damage first hand. The numbers he uses are staggering, the millions of tonnes of coal, the amount of seabed that needs to be dredged, the number of coal trains, the amount of coal dust spread across the city.
And he tells the story of hurt, of struggle, and of grim determination that is similar to many other stories that night and those of the hundreds of people here, and the tens of thousands of people across the country so heavily impacted by the mining industry.
The first evening feels incredibly cathartic. People just need to tell their stories, talk about the hurt that is being felt in their communities, the price that is being paid by the land, the water and the people for the promised riches of this mining boom. And they are feeling it very hard.
The announcement next morning of the suicide of a farmer whom many here have been supporting brings it into sobering relief. The pressure of being the only farmer in his area not to sell out to a giant coal seam gas company proving too great. There are plenty of tears.
Similarities with NZ
I hope we never feel it this hard in New Zealand but am immediately struck by the similarities.
I think of the stories from around our country and how much they resonate with the stories I am hearing here.
I think of the people around Puhi Puhi, unsure and afraid of what the new gold mining permits issued there mean.
I think of the people of Waihi, who will now have to live with mining under their homes.
I think of the folks in Taranaki, who find their rural landscape suddenly industrialised by the burgeoning oil and gas companies; and the people of the Tararua, valiantly trying to stop Tag Oil doing the same to theirs.
And I think of Greymouth, the loss of jobs, the loss of life, and how much hurt they must be feeling.
Day two: Optimism and momentum
But by day two there are less signs of pain and more smiling faces and it obvious why such a large and diverse crowd have gathered here. Workshops on the latest climate science, community organising, media skills, health monitoring, direct action, social media, lobbying, and groundwater impacts fill the place with an amazing sense of optimism.
When you look at the diversity in the crowd it is obvious that this is a movement that has momentum and knows it is going to win. Doctors, farmers, students, church leaders, grandmothers, taxi drivers and others talk about the positive change that is happening around the country.
1 million homes on solar power, coal power stations shutting down, communities blockading gas companies, nanas knitting to stop coal seam gas, everyday folks changing their super funds because they invest in fossil fuels.
And they say this is just the beginning.
Lessons for NZ: finance is crucial
Coming home, I am inspired to put some of the lessons from here into action. The key points discussed here are stopping investment and encouraging divestment from fossil fuel projects. Knowing our government Superfund, our major banks, and other institutions responsible for investing our money are putting it in such a destructive industry demands attention.
Understanding finance seems crucial in exposing and ultimately stopping investment in climate change. There is also a lot of work being put into building community resilience, simple and effective when the industry comes knocking.
I also feel inspired to help make an event like this happen in New Zealand. The sharing, the support and the strategising are invaluable and can only strengthen our movement. I’m taking expressions of interest.
It has been an experience and a privilege to have spent these past days in the midst of such a determined movement. The words shared at the closing are less about hurt and more about the inevitability of success.
I have a moment of jealousy, wishing for the resources and breadth of experience in our movement in New Zealand, but quickly acknowledge it is borne out of necessity, something I hope we never feel like here to the same extent. These fractured communities see not only contaminated water and land, but understand that the floods and the droughts are also impacts of the fossil fuel industry and climate change.
In New Zealand we have had some great victories against the fossil fuel industry. The fight which stopped Marsden B going ahead has ensured we will never build another coal fired power station again. Petrobras abandoning plans for deep sea oil exploration off the East Cape and Solid Energy dropping plans for lignite conversion in Southland are some of our recent wins.
In New Zealand we have achieved a great deal but still find ourselves on the cusp of a massive expansion of the fossil fuel industry. This expansion is already being passionately opposed across the country – from the fight to stop coal mining at Denniston, the growing Lock The Gate movement against oil and gas, and the national opposition to the threat of Anadarko drilling in our coastal waters this summer.
We have defeated these threats before and must continue to learn, to share, and to work together to ensure we defeat them again and minimise the harm like I have witnessed here.
We still have a choice:
We can let the government continue to roll out the red carpet to these companies and face the same fate as these people who have gathered here this weekend.
Or we can take a cue from the growing number of communities I have met here this weekend and take action to keep them out.
I know which I am inspired to do.