Film screening of Heritage Fight

Written by Agnes McKingley

 

heritage fight

Tonight Cinema Politica organised a film screening of Heritage Fight for Radical Education Week at University of Sydney. Radical Education Week has seen a display of different workshops, skill-sharing events and discussions surrounding a range of subjects which are deeply relevant to the emerging citizens among Syndey Uni’s youth. The workshops are free and open to anyone, not just uni students.

Heritage Fight followed the efforts of a community which would not allow unethical and damaging industrialisation to enter its borders.

I decided to go see Heritage Fight because I am planning on moving to Western Australia next year, and the film takes place in the Kimberley, in Western Australia. I thought it would be a good, if somewhat humble, attempt at beginning to familiarise myself with some of the landscape, stories, geography and things that need doing there.

I started to spend time with members of the Australian Student Environment Network at the end of last year, in the build-up towards the Sydney Climate March, which took place in relevance to the Climate Talks in Paris. I will be sad to leave the Sydney community here, but excited to meet members of Western Australia, see what they are up to, and check out whether they are looking to work in solidarity with elders of the different Western Australia communities.

Citizen Science at Vickery Forest

Citizen Science at Vickery Forest


Words & Pictures by Andy & Amy.

Andy is studying Geography, Political Economy & Indigenous Studies at Sydney University and has been involved with ASEN for a couple of years.  

Amy is in her first year of a Bachelor of Science and Fine Arts, studying psychology and biology and has only recently, but enthusiastically,  become involved in ASEN.

We recently participated in a citizen science trip up to Vickery State Forest. 

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Coal & coal seam gas mining in north-western NSW has been the target of enormous protests in recent years. ASEN members have been involved in campaigns in the Pilliga, near Breeza and at the Leard Blockade near Maules Creek. There are enormous plans by the fossil fuel industry to turn the Liverpool Plains into a new Hunter Valley – a once-rich agricultural area now pockmarked by coal mines. A diverse coalition of farmers, environmentalists and the local Aboriginal traditional owners, the Gomeroi, have come together to oppose the industry’s destruction of farmland, biodiversity and cultural heritage – not to mention the contribution which these projects will have to global climate change.

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On Friday the 5th of August, we drove up to Maules Creek, spotting an echidna wandering off the road as we arrived late at night. We were welcomed with hot tea and hot water bottles, a blessing in the near-freezing north-west night. Our weekend getaway wasn’t only to check out the beautiful scenery and animals, we were there to help out the Leard Forest Research node, a citizen science group focused on effects of coal mines in & around Maules Creek on local community & environment.

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Waking up to a chilly Saturday morning in a cottage on a local farmer’s property, we met some of the group – a diverse bunch of people including locals, farmers, environmentalists, Gomeroi people and other students. We drove out to the Vickery State Forest, a beautiful area to the south-east of the Leard State Forest which has been largely destroyed by open-cut coal mines. Vickery Forest is also threatened by a planned “expansion” of the Vickery coal mine, which would see the destruction of the vegetation and the animals that depend on it. It turns out this expansion is basically a whole new mine project, vastly larger than the one which was originally approved and which will be even larger than the existing open-cut mines in the area.1

The Leard Forest Research Node is using citizen science to challenge the further expansion of coal mining in the area. Our main aim for Saturday was to do some preliminary vegetation surveys & look for Koala habitats. We broke off into groups and sure enough found some good stands of critically endangered White Box-Yellow Box-Blakeley’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and although we didn’t spot any koalas we found some koala scats, meaning that they’re certainly around. We headed back to the cottage and a beautiful view of the sunset over the plains. On Sunday, we continued looking for koalas in another area in a travelling stock route next to the Namoi river, next to the proposed mine site. As it’s only a couple of hundred metres from the river, there is a lot of community concern about the high likelihood of impacts on the river as well as on groundwater.

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A Bearded Dragon in the Vickery Forest
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A “scar tree”, from which Gomeroi ancestors have cut a section of bark for use in carrying food, water or young babies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To stay tuned with the campaign, follow Front Line Action on Coal on Facbeook or Twitter, or check out their website

There is a feature documentary about the Leard Blockade, now available on DVD.

For more info about the impacts of coal mining on local farmers, ABC recently released this program.

SBS made this short piece about the destruction of Gomeroi/Gamilaraay cultural heritage by coal and CSG mining.

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Reflections on the international student environment movement

Words by BREANA MACPHERSON-RICE

This was written after attending the five day summit of the World Student Environmental Network in the UK. Before this year, the WSEN has not been related to ASEN.

To preface: this piece is critical, but by no means does that come without praise. I had a great week at the World Student Environmental Network conference and am immensely appreciative of the work put in by the organisers – I took so much from the week and there is really no substitute for spending a decent amount of time with students from across the world sharing ideas. Still, I feel the need to share some critical feedback in the hope that this time can be more effectively used in future. I write this as an invitation for critical feedback and input in return, as I certainly don’t have all of the answers – actually, I have hardly any, but I do have a hope that together engage in a constructive dialogue that will begin this process.

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It is a little past 3am here, and I sit sleepy in an airport café under a relentless stream of pop songs while my body and mind begin the recovery from an intensive 5-day conference. Truthfully, the WSEN summit left me with more questions than it answered – and perhaps I would have been suspicious if the opposite were true. The issues we face worldwide with the degradation of ecosystems that sustain human and nonhuman life are complex, often cumulative and interrelated in ways that evade anything other than fragmented understanding, let alone clear solutions. It’s probably also fair to say I am tainted with some cynicism, but only one that is fuelled by the love and rage that has been a product of my couple of years involved in the ‘environment movement’, witnessing many battles fought hard and lost while the successes predominantly occupy a scale overshadowed by simultaneous systemic destruction.

A motif of ‘inspired and inspiring’ reappeared through the conference, and while at times I certainly felt this – surrounded by critical youth with diverse perspectives and skills to create change – there were times when I also felt dismayed. Perhaps naively, I had hoped that a trip across the world and 5 full days could set up some sort of infrastructure for students to organise, share skills and resources, and critically evaluate in a long term sense to begin to force the conversations and actions demanded by current ecological crises. Instead, I feel we went home once again as individuals – with a broader perspective on issues and some amazing new friends, no less, but without a real network to facilitate large-scale change – at best, a network to create another summit in another year’s time. Maybe this was too much to ask, but I think that’s an excuse – we could have been more prepared.

Creating political space

Nearly every day of the summit, I found a lack of socio-political analysis and intersectionality applied to the issues of ‘environment’. While some speakers certainly centred this, others left me bored – take, for example, the comforting chat from Zero Carbon Britain, which was wonderful at demonstrating potential alternatives but glossed over the radical shifts necessary to make sure such changes should occur in a just manner. The huge power of the fossil fuel industry to block meaningful change was hardly figured as a problem; rather, it was suggested that we do not consider them as ‘enemies’ or try to undermine their power, in favour of a dubious and briefly explained plan to print money and buy all the fossil fuel reserves for renewable energy vouchers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone has been saying we don’t have the alternatives necessary for a renewable future (or not anyone I’ve worked with!). What we don’t have is the political will or space to make these alternatives viable, and nor do I think we will achieve this without strategic action – much of which, I believe, will need to be confrontational if we are to pay any attention to the urgent timeframes that our C02 emissions leave us.

Environmentalism and colonisation

Coming from Australia, I realise, has thankfully made me more sensitive to the intersection of processes of colonisation with environmental degradation – though I still have much to learn. Still, I expected more from the conference than an optional (and poorly attended) keynote and workshop on [de]colonisation on the last day of the conference. Without making these links early on, we will consistently fail to create just solutions. Anna Lau gave the pertinent example of a wind farm that had, in its physical demand for land combined with a lack of proper democratic deliberation, effectively furthered the dispossession of marginalised communities from their homelands. We need to listen to these stories and histories to ensure that we are not lulled into false solutions that create larger rifts. I think this is also true of development work – we must always be asking if ‘solutions’ to socio-environmental issues, particularly technological ones, are empowering the communities they are targeting. And I think it’s important to think critically about what ‘empowering’ might mean – in terms of autonomy, dependency, and diverse ways of considering ‘quality of life’. Asking the people who stand to directly lose or gain is probably a good place to start!

Meeting the crisis

The people I met at the conference were brilliant, and I look forward to keeping in touch and working together in the future. In them, I saw bright brains and hope and a commitment to creating change. However, I also saw glimpses of a reluctance to consider ideas that challenged the system, and even, occasionally, a disdain for those that did. ‘Change from within’ was a running piece of advice from some of the keynote speakers – and sure, many of us are probably well positioned to work within the systems that already exist, and push for gradual change over time – after all, it’s naïve to conflate tactics with politics. But unless we are well equipped with a critique of those systems, and a vision for what a socially and ecologically just system might look like, how could we be expected to be successful in these endeavours? How are we to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes as generations before us? If WSEN isn’t the space for those conversations – active conversations, where students are part of the dialogue, not recipients of a lecture – then we need to question its purpose.

‘Sustainability’

And then, the question of sustainability initiatives. I am torn. As an environmental science student I do deeply see the value in trying to reduce coffee cup waste, promote recycling and reuse – these actions have tangible impacts on ecosystems in our lifetimes. But unless we address the underlying ideological commitments in structures that pursue accumulation of profit and erosion of collective welfare, I see these projects as limited. The time for tinkering around the edges of environmental damage is gone, if it was ever appropriate in the first place. I am desperate to see young people who are angered by the carnage of capitalism, intersecting with oppression along various lines of othering, that directs our research and shapes our ideas of possible careers, of quality of life, of our capacity to collectivise and imagine a world made meaningful by a language other than money.

 

Futures

Still, there are many things we can do, and the conference reaffirmed by belief that local action can be extremely effective. Organising collectively for both resistance and resilience can challenge existing oppressive structures while at the same time creating just and sustainable spaces & ways of relating to the world and each other. Communicating and actively promoting solidarity between local groups is powerful. We can do this around food, work, and living spaces – so much is possible.

However, I also leave this week feeling quietened. I am more conscious that I live in one of the echo chambers I am so quick to critique; more aware of the immense questions of strategy and commitment to action that are required to meet the crisis we face. I have not lost hope. I just feel a little weary, as I am sure many do. There is so much work to be done that it is difficult to know where to begin. Indeed, maybe it is not ‘beginning’ that needs to happen at all, but continuing and communicating and supporting.

But hey! I’m just one ‘dirty hippy’ student from Sydney who will probably think and feel differently about this tomorrow. Tell me what you think – any number of brains is better than one! What are the things students concerned about environmental issues are good at? Could improve on? Have at it –

University research should be for public good, not private interest

When receiving an award for her proficiency at exploration geophysics, Jodie dropped a banner to draw to attention how University research is often driven by private interest – to the detriment of the urgent issue of climate change.

By JODIE PALL

When receiving an award for exploration geophysics, Jodie dropped a banner asking for research in the public interest of climate change

I dropped a banner at the School of Geosciences awards night earlier this year that read, ‘Geologist wants research for climate justice, not corporate interest.’  As an environmental activist, it seemed ironic to be receiving a prize for being a whiz at the methods used in locating coal, oil and gas reservoirs for resource extraction. I doubt I am the only geology student or researcher at the University of Sydney grappling with the dilemma of loving the science of geology, but not at all wanting to be involved in mining.

Blocking research on climate change

The imminence of the threat of climate change in abundantly clear, as is the contribution of fossil fuel extraction to this ecological emergency. Geoscientists work and research at the intersection where human livelihoods meet the geo-hydro-biophysical and ecological systems that our lifestyles are embedded in, and this research consistently shows that we’re rapidly approaching planetary limits. This is why I find it so bewildering that geoscientists here at USyd seem to be doing so little to pressure the university to show leadership on climate change.

As an undergraduate majoring in Geology, my academic learning has heavily incorporated mineral and resource extraction, which has been undeniably underpinned by corporate interests. Time and time again, I read in Unit of Studies outlines of how each geology course will equip me with the graduate skills sought after by mining industries. I am upset that hydrogeology, urban geology, geomorphology, environmental geology and oceanography aren’t offered as subjects. It is dispiriting that at industry information evenings, the majority of speakers are directly employed by mining companies, which may lead one to believe that there are no legitimate career options for geologists outside of extraction industries.

In second year I was appalled that my ‘Fossils & Tectonics’ lecturer told us to invest in mining projects in the Bowen and Surat Basin in Queensland. Moreover, he would turn off his lecturing microphone and ask us to legitimately consider ‘creation science’, specifically the idea that rocks dating back millions of years were created by God six thousand years ago and were designed to record ages that, when radiometrically dated, would pre-date the creation of Earth. It was infuriating, and because complaint procedures were not sufficiently anonymised and there were no recordings, there was no avenue for students to protest.

Universities’ responsibilities as thought leaders

I’m not naïve about the relationship of geologists and resource extraction in Australia. I also know that in the current political climate the corporatisation of tertiary education is welcomed and free education is a relic of the past. However, I also believe that corporate interest should not dictate what undergraduate geology students study and learn. I think that the pursuit of knowledge in geology should not start from the idea that the geosphere can be reduced to an energy source. And further to that, I don’t believe that geology is incompatible with climate change research or research on alternative energy solutions, especially when those solutions can be found in the geosphere (i.e. geothermal energy).

Universities have a responsibility to pursue knowledge for the benefit of society as a whole, rather than pursue only a profit motive. It is disappointing that despite the university’s advertising slogan, ‘Leadership for good starts here,’ USyd has shown an incredible lack of leadership in actually doing something about climate change. Notably, no steps have been taken by the Vice Chancellor Michael Spence to honour the university’s 2015 commitment to divest 20% of their investment portfolio from fossil fuel and extraction projects by 2018.

By the time I graduate, it would be truly novel to see this university honour its divestment commitment and show true leadership, like La Trobe University has done recently. It would be fantastic to see the geosciences school respecting the intelligence of the students by actively engaging with climate change discourse and by challenging the university to be the leader in the sustainable future that it fancies itself to be.

Roadtrip to Newcastle

Yesterday the ASEN road trip crew travelled up to Newcastle and was taken for a tour of the Newcastle Port by our travel guide Jonothan Moylan. From Nobby’s Headland, we saw the dredging boat taking out sediment to dump it offshore widen the channel to accomodate more coal exports. We stood over the large arterial railway that takes coal trains to and from the port day in and day out, not even breaking for holidays. There coal trains are not covered and the coal dust poses a health risk to the 23,000 children who go to a school within 500m of the train line.

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