Helensburgh is not renowned for climate activism. A coalmining town, Helensburgh was established around the Metropolitan colliery, Australia's oldest continually operating coal mine, in the 1880s.
The coal transnational Peabody Energy, which owns the Metropolitan, sponsors local activities such as school sporting teams and community fairs.
However, 35 people attended a climate-focused public meeting in the NSW south coast town on November 2.
Organised by the Wollongong Climate Action Network, the meeting heard from Paul Gilding, former head of Greenpeace International; WCAN convener Rowan Huxtable; and Jonathan Doig, convener of Sutherland Climate Action Network.
Gilding presented a devastating assessment of the current model of economic growth. “Climate change is the symptom; the nature of economic growth is the problem. To keep the current economy going we'd need 1.4 planets to sustain it”, he said.
Gilding noted this figure didn't take into account the huge growth inherent to the current, polluting model. “Things have to change”, he said, in an optimistic assessment of humanity's ability to respond to the crisis.
Huxtable and Doig explained the myriad activities their respective climate action groups organise: public meetings, rallies, doorknocking and media stunts.
The NSW Climate Camp was held in Helensburgh in October 2009 to protest the expansion of the Metropolitan colliery and the approval of damaging longwall mining operations directly under the Woronora reservoir, a key water source for south Sydney and the Illawarra.
Peabody tried to undermine the protest by sending a letter to every Helensburgh resident.
WCAN has stepped up activities in Helensburgh, including an information stall and carrying out surveys at the Helensburgh Lions Country Fair (whose major sponsor is Peabody).
Given the success of the public meeting, the group plans to continue organising in the area to strengthen the fight for a safe climate future.