\'Young people must decide our future\'

April 19, 2008

For Mel Barnes of the Tasmania-based group Students Against the Pulp Mill (SAPM) and Resistance, "young people have the authority to decide our future", and they can inspire others to take action. Barnes was speaking at the Climate Change — Social Change Conference in Sydney, April 11-13, on a panel with other young environment activists.

Barnes recounted how the student strikes, organised by SAPM, have inspired others, from different generations, to take action against the Gunns' pulp mill planned for the Tamar Valley in northern Tasmania. She argued that as bad forest practices and land clearing are Tasmania's biggest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the anti-pulp mill campaign is linked to the campaign against climate change.

Simon Cunich, Newcastle Resistance organiser, took up the debate over strategies for winning. "While concern about climate change is high, this is not matched by a very high level of movement organisation. Because of this, some activists believe we can take shortcuts to stop the climate crisis: some say we should spend our time convincing politicians of the seriousness of climate change. Others believe that small groups can act on behalf of broader communities.

"But really, the best chance to force real action on climate change is to work on transforming the high level of concern into widespread community action", Cunich said. As the Your Rights at Work campaign showed, that's what scares the corporate polluters and their friends in government.

Howard's rotten legacy and the limits of the Rudd government were discussed by Vanessa Bowden, an organiser of the anti-coal convergence in Newcastle in July. She saw the emergence of local climate change groups around the Australia as a response to Howard's anti-environment stand. But, she added, Rudd's inaction on climate change means these groups are as relevant as ever.

Bowden explained how Newcastle climate change group Rising Tide had grown over the past four years. Hundreds of people participated in a blockade of Newcastle's coal port last November. She pointed to the need to involve the community and coal industry workers in the campaign.

Ben Courtice, a Socialist Alliance member and activist in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, criticised the government and big business for refusing to map out a real plan for the transition to renewable energy technologies. He also said an inclusive and democratic approach was the only way to build a strong environment movement, and that this was the approach of those organising the Climate Emergency Rally in Melbourne which will coincide with the release of the Garnaut review.

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