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May 23, 2013

Fighting Coal Down Under


One of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the Glenrock Scout Camp in Newcastle was a plaque commemorating 1791 the discovery of coal in Australia. A hundred-and-twenty-two years later, we journeyed to this same spot to conduct the Sierra Club's first ever international organizing training with activists who are taking on the coal and gas industry across Australia


Like nearly everything in Australia, the scope of the fossil fuels fight is massive. But even before we landed, grassroots activism was challenging new coal and gas proposals -- and winning.

The Rio Tinto backed fourth terminal in Newcastle has been delayed, with officials acknowledging it could be shelved entirely, and on the day we started, Xtrata announced it was abandoning the Balaclava terminal in Queensland. Meanwhile, activists are going door to door, community to community, in rural Australia to discuss the danger of gas. Through this movement, communities are voting to Lock the Gate, refusing to allow gas companies on their land for exploration in acts of direct action to protect their land and water.

With all this impressive action going on, what were a bunch of Americans doing leading an organizing training? It all started with Australian activist Victoria McKenzie, who traveled to the U.S. to observe coal fights against mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and exports in the Pacific Northwest. After witnessing our model and its effectiveness in stopping 177 proposed coal-fired power plants and securing the retirement of 55 GW of existing coal-fired production, she discussed the experience with her colleagues back home. We were then invited to come to Australia and share our training with a larger group of coal fighters.

To say we were humbled by the energy and creativity of the activists we met in Australia is an understatement. This was by no means a one-way exercise, and we have learned much about innovative approaches to taking on powerful industries. And the participants let us know how much they appreciated our strategic approach and long term planning.


But perhaps most exciting was finding the overwhelming similarities. As we discovered in India, organizing is organizing, and the principles are universal. This training was only a first step in building a deeper exchange with coal and gas fighters in Australia, and a global movement to move beyond coal to clean energy.

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