Reflections on Two Midwinter Environmental Conferences
The first two weeks of July marked an incredibly busy time for Australian youth concerned with environmental issues, with the Students of Sustainability conference in Launceston and the Power Shift summit in Melbourne. Organised by the Australian Students Environment Network (ASEN) and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) respectively, these two weeks events attracted young people keen to make a positive impact on the world around them.
Students of Sustainability
The Students of Sustainability conference was organised by ASEN and held over five days in Launceston at the University of Tasmania Newnham campus. Around 200 people of all different ages, from all across the country, set up tents in the cold wet Tassie conditions to enjoy the conference. There was a diverse range of backgrounds and interests, with some participants not currently involved in any campaigns, but were interested in finding out more about issues, and other participants who believed that illegal activity is necessary to protect the planet from concerning environmental issues. The conference focused on educating and teaching skills in sustainability initiatives, ranging from the formation of a new political party to tackle climate change to permaculture workshops. Each day of the conference had a different focus: successes, challenges, asset mapping and pitching, journey, and doing.
Each day began with a morning plenary to introduce the theme of the day and was followed by breakout workshops centred around the theme. One highlight for me was an introduction to the Students Against Racism Living in Between workshop, which is educating school students across the state about what it means to be a refugee. I also learnt how to write performance poetry with Luka Lesson and participated in a practical university divestment workshop run by ASEN and 350.The Students of Sustainability conference had a great focus on working as a community, giving each delegate the responsibility to sign up for two volunteer shifts. My shifts were childcare, where I set up my face paints to create a pig, butterfly and the world’s most colourful tiger, and the safety patrol, where I acted as the first point of contact for anyone in distress during the night. As my safety patrol shift was on Saturday night and there was a fundraiser party planned, I was concerned that we may experience a few incidences. However, my concerns were unjustified and the only excitement that occurred during the night was a group of people decided to get naked and howl at the moon. This was quite impressive, given Newnham was experiencing sub-zero temperatures.
Power Shift, whilst being another event organised by young passionate people for young passionate people, had a very different feel to the Students of Sustainability conference. A three day summit organised by the AYCC, Power Shift mobilised 1200 young Australians to campaign for stronger action on climate change during this election year. The summit followed a similar format to the Students of Sustainability conference, with a plenary featuring key note speakers in the morning, followed by master classes involving people from a diverse range of professional and activist back grounds. The main difference was that all key note addresses and master classes had one primary focus: mobilising young people to take action on climate change. There was a lot of excitement in the air throughout the three days of power shift. The MC, key note speakers and conveners chose their words wisely to fire up and inspire the 1200 young people in from of them.
I learnt about how to effectively engage the media and heard from people from the Maldives and Bangladesh about how their countries are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change. The highlights for me were the Political Q&A, where delegates questioned politicians on their climate change policies, and the organised Power Shift action that followed. We held a mock youth cabinet meeting, with all delegates participating in a discussion on the legislation we would like to see that would be effective at minimising the worst effects of climate change. I then participated in the most exhilarating rally I have ever experienced, as we walked the streets of Melbourne to present our proposals to parliament. The mood amongst the delegates was electric; we felt we were really making an impact on this issue.
The main difference I felt between Students of Sustainability and Power Shift was the connection between participants. At the Students of Sustainability conference, we were a collective of individuals and groups, sharing ideas and working on different issues. At Power Shift however, I felt that all individuals from all backgrounds created a single unit, a movement with a single goal in mind; to aim higher on climate and speed up the mitigation process before it is too late. The two events appeal to different kinds of people. Students of Sustainability appeals to those who look for an all-round alternative and sustainable way of living, whereas Power Shift appeals more to people who could perhaps be described as ‘mainstream activists’.
Personally I found both to be incredibly well organised, informative, inspiring and practical. However, considering climate change Is the biggest challenge we face this century, it is incredibly important that we have such an organised body such as the AYCC to mobilise and empower the younger generation to take action on this issue, as we are the ones who both experience the full effects of the anthropocene and have the power to change the future of our planet.
Alice McGushin is a medical student at the University of Tasmania, taking a year off the normal five year degree to undertake Honours in Medical Research. She grew up in Queenstown, on the West Coast of Tasmania. Throughout her medical degree, she has been involved with rural, global and environmental health issues, including fundraising for and coordinating public health projects in Uganda, organising students studying degrees in health to talk to rural Tasmanian high schools and participating in the Vibe Alive Indigenous Health Festival in Bendigo. She is currently the National Student Representative for Doctors for the Environment Australia and the Hobart 350 Campaigns Coordinator.
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