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Global Warnings!

Community Forum draws a crowd

Call for alliances to act on climate and social justice

The first EcoNetwork community forum of the year was held last month at the Tomaree Community Centre. It was co-hosted with Renew Hunter Region Branch. Around 80 people packed the main hall to hear Dr Mark Diesendorf call on communities to form alliances to combat the power of vested interests over government and institutions. Four local volunteer groups affiliated with EcoNetwork were up first and gave short presentations about their work, their vision and their campaigns. These were Voice of Wallalong and Woodville, Marine Parks Association, Salamander Bay Recycling and Renew Hunter Region Branch. Summaries of their presentations can be found below.

‘Alliances are needed to curb the driving forces causing climate change, pollution, resource depletion, deforestation, war, poverty, social injustice and ill health.’

Dr Mark Diesendorf

Dr Diesendorf is an environmental scientist and Honorary Associate Professor in Environment and Society, University of NSW asserted that climate change, nuclear war, poverty and social inequality are driven by vested interests that have indulged in ‘capture’ of the nation-state: of government, opposition, public service, media, and, in some cases, police and military.

Captors include multinational fossil fuel, forestry, armaments, finance, property, pharmaceutical and gambling industries. ‘State capture can lead to environmental destruction, social inequality, autocracy, illness and war,’ he said. The methods of state capture that need dismantling include political donations and election expenditure; revolving door jobs; concentrated media ownership; social media campaigns; think tanks like the Institute of Public Affairs and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute; and unpublicised meetings between politicians and lobbyists.

‘While local community action has benefits like community education and empowerment through local projects including renewable energy and cooperatives, local and individual action alone cannot change the system. Government decides on infrastructure, urban and land-use planning, pollution control, standards (e.g., for buildings), public facilities, taxes and rules for banks.’

Dr Diesendorf said alliances can adopt tactics like non-violent obstruction, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, public education, media and social media, lobbying and legal actions. In NSW, there are penalties of $22,000 or 2 years jail for illegal protests that disrupt economic activity and in South Australia $50,000 or 3-months jail, for ‘obstructing a public space’. These extreme penalties undermine democracy.

‘The dominant economic system is based on the exploitation of the planet and its people and is also undemocratic. It is driven by the ideology that endless growth in consumption of energy, materials and land, and population, on a finite planet, is possible and desirable.’

Beyond a certain level, additional consumption doesn’t improve happiness or well-being. Growth in consumption delays the substitution of clean technologies for dirty technologies. Dr Diesendorf advocated transitioning to a steady state economy with ecological sustainability and social justice as the priorities.

You can read more in his book: The Path to a Sustainable Civilisation: Technological, Socioeconomic and Political Change’ – Dr Mark Diesendorf and Rod Taylor 2023.

Local group presentations

Ewa Meyer, Convenor of Renew Hunter Region gave a brief overview of the work of Renew Australia, previously known as the Alternative Technology Association. It was heartening to hear that a large proportion of the 80 or so audience members had roof top solar, some even had hot water heat pumps and a smaller number had an electric vehicle.

Renew is a national non-profit organisation with 14 branches and thousands of members across Australia. It’s main aim is to transform Australian homes for climate and energy resilience. Its members provide practical, independent advice to homeowners, renters, government and industry. Renew provides guidance to help make homes more energy and water efficient in turn saving money on energy bills. This also helps to cut emissions, and reduce the health risks of living in homes that are too hot, cold or damp. Renew also undertakes research & advocacy such as the recent toolkit for Getting off Gas or for rebuilding homes after bushfire.

Renew publishes two magazines – Renew Magazine features the latest news on practical and cost-effective technologies. The buyers guide is a popular section – our tech expert Lance Turner, provides analysis and opinion about items such hot water heat pumps, solar panels, EVs and so on. There are also inspirational stories about businesses and their sustainability challenges and achievements. Sanctuary: modern green homes includes case studies from homeowners who are building or renovating their homes using sustainable building materials like hempcrete, or are retrofitting to save on energy bills. There are examples of the things we need to be doing to become more resilient to the weather and fire extremes we are now seeing so frequently.

Our Hunter Region Branch was launched at EcoNetwork’s Sustainable Futures Festival in 2022. Since then we have organised and attended a variety of events such as Travelling Electric and Behind the Scenes at Resourceful Living, a plastic remanufacturing business. The main focus of the branch is to connect householders, businesses, schools and other interested groups with the expert advice and support from sustainability professionals and Renew members in our region.

Paul Jakes, Manager of the Salamander Bay Recycling Centre provided insights into how the centre operates and provides community services. For example, it sells pre-loved items, provides a pickup and delivery service, repairs items, and, as part of a circular economy initiative, dismantles goods into ferrous, non-ferrous and plastic materials, and e-waste, with metal sold into the open market.

It provides a community service by catering for people under community service orders, work for the dole and work and development orders, as well as providing mutual obligation, work experience, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, and volunteer opportunities. Over 10 years it as donated more than $300,000 back to the community. But it also faces challenges such as depressed trading, rising operating costs and space constraints, a reliance on volunteers, and has to cope with fluctuating metal prices.

Plans are under way for an artisan hub, providing a purpose built shed with rentable spaces for 8-10 artists and art incorporating recycled materials, similar to the Creative Collective in Newcastle.

Margarete Ritchie, President of Voice of Wallalong and Woodville (VOWW), expressed concern about proposals for more quarries in the district. VOWW represents residents of Woodville, Wallalong and neighbouring areas. She said there were already five quarries operating in the area, at Deep Creek, Karuah East, Karuah, Brandy Hill and Seaham, and another five were either proposed, or being contested at the Land and Environment Court or through the Independent Planning Commission. This would create additional truck movements, dust and noise, and destroy the peaceful character of the area as well as destroying valuable fauna habitat and movement corridors.

Margarete also expressed concern about flooding in the Williams River catchment and the need for preparedness. PSC has recently listed conditions that developers have to adhere to when proposing housing on flood prone areas. However, we believe that under no circumstances should Council consider residential housing in floodplain and flood storage areas impacted by the Hunter, Paterson and Williams Rivers, especially with the likelihood of more frequent super-storms caused by climate change. Even the ‘flood fringe’ can change with every flood, depending on the severity and speed of the flood. The levee bank system was built to stop minor floods but ‘overtop’ during major floods.

In times of major floods, levee banks retain water on farmland for longer and this would potentially apply to any land developed for subdivision with consequences for many more residents. Traditionally farmland has been established on the low ground in the LGA with housing on the higher ground. This has changed over the years with more housing on lower ground and the risks are now more pronounced with climate change factors.

Iain Watt from the Marine Parks Association and AMCS, gave an update on Marine Parks Management: ‘I thought some of you might be wondering what has been happening with the Port Stephens and Great Lakes Marine Parks over the past couple of years, especially since the change of Government. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, nothing has happened – it is essentially moribund – for now.’

Around 2014 the responsibility for the Marine Parks was removed from the Ministry of Environment and shared with the Department of Fisheries. This essentially subsumed marine parks under fisheries. This is a complete anathema, essentially putting the fox in charge of the hen house. It is unimaginable that the National Parks and their old growth timber could be managed under DPI Forestry.

A very delayed and controversial 10 year review of the marine parks management plans were finally submitted to the Ministers for approval in 2022. Since then, despite pleas to the Ministers, nothing has been done. The rate of adult participation in recreational fishing is notably low, raising questions about the true economic value of this industry.

There appears to be a resistance to accepting a scientific approach to managing the marine environment and marine parks in some quarters. However, the results of the Sweeney Research surveys of 2014 indicated that 69 % of community believe that management strategies should be informed by science rather than political expediency or anecdotal information. Fishing is allowed in about 80% of most of the NSW marine parks but less than 7% of the NSW coastal waters are protected in sanctuary zones.

Powerpoint presentations:

EcoNetwork Community Forum Presentation 1
EcoNetwork Community Forum Presentation 2
Published: 4 May 2024