Western Sydney responds to climate emergency

The conference floor. Photo: Peter Boyle

For the 2.5 million people living and working in Sydney’s western suburbs, the future looks very grim unless serious action on climate change begins immediately.

A Climate Commission report released last month,  The Critical Decade, reveals that rising temperatures in western Sydney will impact adversely on many aspects of residents’ lives, from the water supply to mental health and crime levels.

Those findings, along with concerns about the impacts of the carbon tax on the environment, households and workers’ rights in western Sydney, set the framework for the Climate Change-Social Change Conference held at Parramatta Town Hall on June 30.
 
The conference, hosted by Green Left Weekly, brought together 65 activists from a wide range of organisations and campaigns.

Local residents, activists, researchers and educators from the University of Western Sydney, Beyond Zero Emissions, the Dharug people, Parramatta Climate Action Network, Permaculture Sydney West, the National Tertiary Education Union and the Rail Tram and Bus Union, Pachamama Alliance, Latin America Social Forum, Stop CSG Illawarra, local Greens branches and the Socialist Alliance discussed and debated ideas and activities to tackle the environmental crisis and achieve social justice.
 
Greens NSW MLC John Kaye and Socialist Alliance national co-convener Peter Boyle opened the day by examining the systemic character of the climate and social crises now confronting humanity, and the need for a people-power driven response.
 
Transport and its impact on environmental and human health is a big issue in Sydney’s western suburbs, where it is not unusual to spend four hours a day travelling to and from work.

The urgent need for safe, accessible and more efficient public transport was the focus of workshops on creating sustainable cities, urban design and pathways to sustainability.
 
Coal seam gas companies are pushing to begin gas exploration in the Prospect Reservoir region, and western Sydney has become the new battleground in the escalating war between the CSG industry and local communities determined to stop the wreckage of farmlands, water supplies and environment.

Stop CSG Illawarra activists spoke about their recent victory, which inspired and educated conference participants about how mobilising the community in strong campaigns can win against powerful, government-backed corporations.

A presentation by Beyond Zero Emissions explained exactly how different forms of renewable energy can replace the use of all fossil fuels.

Other discussions at the conference covered learning from Indigenous peoples’ approaches to ecological sustainability and social justice, the need for the advanced capitalist world to repay the climate debt to the world’s poor, and responses to the global refugee crisis that is being fuelled by climate change. On the eve of the implementation of the ALP-Greens carbon price, the effectiveness or otherwise of carbon pricing was also debated by participants.

The day concluded with a discussion led by Tony Webb, co-founder of the Goulburn Valley Food Cooperative, about the effort of workers and the community of Girgarre in Victoria, to own and run the former Heinz tomato processing plant as a cooperative that contributes to sustainable employment and food security. 

This was followed by a screening of Growing Change – A journey into Venezuela’s food revolution, which documents how the Venezuelan people are creating a fair and sustainable food system as part of their struggle for socialism of the 21st century.

The Climate Change-Social Change conference provided a much-needed forum for creating new links and strengthening existing networks among individuals and organisations in Sydney’s west determined to force real, socially just action on climate change, locally and globally, and discussions are now underway to plan further joint campaigning activities in the region.

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