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May 22, 2013

Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: The Australia Beyond Coal & Gas Conference

Australia coal conference
Sierra Club Organizing Director Bob Bingaman speaks at the "Australian Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: Beyond Coal and Gas" conference.

If you love this country, fight for it. This will be the biggest social movement this country has ever seen, and it will change this country forever.

That was the message from Drew Hutton, president of the Lock the Gate Alliance, to the nearly 300 attendees at the "Australian Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: Beyond Coal and Gas" conference -- and he would know. Through Lock the Gate, communities across the country are voting to "Lock the Gate" by barricading the way against gas companies attempting to enter their land for exploration. Without exploration, the companies cannot gather the necessary information or obtain the permits to begin drilling.

Through Lock the Gate, law-abiding farmers, who have never aligned with environmentalists, are finding allies against powerful industrialists, and are participating in the first civil disobedience actions of their lives. Activists from across the country are setting out with tents and sleeping bags, or sometimes Winnebagos, to rural areas to spread the word on the dangers of gas and ask the communities how they can help. The blockades can go on for years; the rallies involve thousands and thousands of people, and the victories are real. And of course, the Knitting Nannas are there to protest with their bright yellow yarn and commitment to provide a safe environment for their grandchildren.

But gas activists weren't the only folks present for the three days of conference meetings. Three generations of Australians were represented, and the mix of rural and urban activists was nearly even. There were people fighting massive coal export terminals, standing up against huge new coal mines in the country's interior, and working to protect the Great Barrier Reef from dredging and shipping channels for coal. They didn't come to be talked at, but rather to spend three days meeting and building solutions. To this end, the Change Agency facilitated and conducted the meetings as a series of open space sessions where the attendees set the agenda, allowing space for regional meetings, specific strategy and tactic discussions, sharing of knowledge, and much more.

And in the midst of this was the Sierra Club. Fresh off our amazing organizer training with over 30 Australian activists, we were there to discuss the amazing success of our domestic Beyond Coal campaign, share our organizing model and strategy, and be part of a larger discussion on the international coal market. Hint: it's not as promising as coal companies would lead you to believe.

As Ailun Young from World Resources Institute told the crowd on the last day, "we are all in this together." I can't wait for to see the next actions that come out of this historic gathering of Australian coal and gas campaigners, and I feel so privileged to be a partner in their work, and the worldwide fight by grassroots communities to transition beyond coal to clean energy.

-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International

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