Fighting to win a safe climate


The University of Wollongong Environment Collective (EC) has gone from strength to strength this year. Its meetings are now averaging more than 20 people each week and the list of its campaign achievements is growing.

Collective members are helping to organise the Walk Against Warming in Wollongong, set for December 12.

Vanessa Organo, 2009 Environment Officer and Resistance member, who convenes the collective, told Green Left Weekly: "As climate change becomes worse, genuine and growing concern in the grassroots environment movement has meant more students were keen to become involved in environmental action this year."

The EC has taken an inclusive approach, firmly committed to reaching out to new students and involving more people.

It has campaigned around the objectives decided upon at January's Climate Action Summit, including helping to organise actions calling for 100% renewable energy by 2020 and for a rejection of the government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).

It has also targeted the university, Wollongong's biggest employer.

"We launched the renewable energy campaign for students to give feedback to the university's new environmental management plan", Organo said. "The EC decided that, based on the Climate Summit demands and scientific consensus, more renewable energy is desperately needed on campus."

The collective launched a petition campaign for the university to use renewable sources for 100% of its energy needs.

"After we received more than 2000 signatures during second semester, we delivered the petition to the vice-chancellor directly, demanding that student concerns be addressed immediately by the University Council", said Organo.

The EC has a focus on activism and seeks to involve students in political organisation and mobilisation.

Resistance member Patrick Harrison was recently elected Environment Officer for 2010. He told Green Left Weekly: "We need to constantly involve more people. The only way to secure our future is to fight for it and to build a radical, mass movement. We can't trust the politicians. Young people have the most at stake; we're the ones who will have to live with devastating climate change.

"We [the EC] have combined strategic national campaigns — such as opposing the CPRS — with local and even campus-specific campaigns, [such as] the campaign for the University of Wollongong to source 100% of its energy needs from renewables.

"This has allowed us to unify a stronger movement on campus and involve more people in citywide action."

A big strength of the collective is its democratic functioning, transparency and the accountability of elected office-bearers.

Organo said: "It's important that the EC had equal and non-hierarchical debate, discussion and decision-making to ensure that collective meetings were democratic and no students felt left out or intimidated".

"Chairing of meetings was shared between collective members, and tasks were delegated. To stay politically aware, meetings always began with 10-15 minutes of students sharing weekly news about environmental politics and news. We organise as a team and respect each others' opinions."

Harrison said the position of Environment Officer is not something to put on a job resume for a future career. "These positions … are about winning the struggle for a safe climate. Our job … is to work hard to carry out EC decisions and help facilitate a democratic collective."

Collective members plan to continue the struggle in 2010. Organo said: "We need to build upon the excellent work of 2009. May the EC only get bigger and better through 2010, and may we continue to fight for a safe climate and environment for future generations."

Harrison said: "After Copenhagen we will need to continue to pressure rich nations to take the lead on climate and support the demands of poor countries."

"We will need mass civil disobedience and mass action to force countries such as Australia to start making major changes. We are fighting entrenched power. The way to win is to fight, not to wait and hope."