Students of Sustainability

July 12, 2008

Australia is a leading exporter of coal, shipping millions of tonnes every year around the globe. It was appropriate, therefore, that the annual environmental conference, Students of Sustainability (SoS), was this year held in the world's coal export capital: Newcastle.

Since 1991, SoS has been held in different cities across Australia to facilitate discussion between, and activism of, radical students and young people dedicated to saving our environment.

This year there were over 500 participants. We camped at Newcastle University, holding workshops in classrooms, lecture theatres, pavilions, and out in the open, over a period of five days. People came from as far away as North Queensland and Tasmania's forests. There were also a number of people from overseas.

Some of the topics covered were as simple as composting; what makes good bush tucker and how to dumpster dive. But the big issues of changing society and saving the planet were also tackled, with climate change, peak oil and Aboriginal rights being big talking points.

The conference organising collective included members from several groups, such as the Australian Student Environment Network and Resistance, as well as plenty of individual environmental activists. The conference was run democratically, with everyone invited to share their ideas during discussions.

A large communal meeting, discussing major themes such as Aboriginal sovereignty and global resistance, was followed by smaller workshops. There were more than 100 workshops and forums over the five days, taking up workers and the environment, animal liberation, Aboriginal deaths in custody and many more topics. Throughout the conference, discussion kept coming back to whether or not capitalism can be tamed to be environmentally sustainable, or whether system change is needed.

The evenings were taken up with social and political events. One particularly exciting night was a fundraising cabaret for the Tasmanian forests.

This time next year, if you feel inclined to immerse yourself in a river of environmental politics and an exchange of ideas, I would strongly recommend that you attend the SoS conference.

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