Lessons to learn from local response to Helensburgh climate camp

This year’s NSW Climate Camp provided an important chance for the climate movement to come together to take action and discuss how to strengthen the campaign.  But the choice of the Helensburgh coal mine as the target led to a potentially disastrous response from locals, and sent mixed messages to both the public and activists involved.
The camp’s focus was on stopping coal, but without any concern that the targeted mine produced coking coal used to produce steel, or properly considering the response likely from local workers.
Until new technology is developed coking coal is still needed to produce steel. The local peak union body even advocates it as necessary for producing wind turbines.
The camp began with two days of workshops. These were particularly useful in discussing the way forward for the climate movement. The sessions that were particularly helpful for this ranged from sessions on green jobs to others examining Rudd’s CPRS, Copenhagen and the climate movement’s response.
By the third day tensions with the locals were on show. Targetting this mine contributed to an unreceptive response from some local residents of Helensburgh and people who worked at the mine. This open hostility resulted in a local counter rally on the action day.
In hindsight, there are important lessons the climate movement can learn. The response received at Climate Camp is the type of situation the climate movement must avoid if it is to win support from the unions who can aid in getting workers on board with a transition to a green economy.
There were some commendable efforts to engage with locals in the lead up to the protest. But demands such as “shut down the mine”, send the wrong message to workers, namely that the climate movement is anti-jobs. This ends up undermining any attempt to promote green jobs as an alternative.
The town of Helensburgh was also a difficult location because it was already divided on issues in relation to coal mining and the local environment.
A number of locals oppose the mine and its recently approved expansion, particularly those who have recently moved into the area and commute to work in Sydney.
Nevertheless Climate Camp at Helensburgh leaves the climate movement with the opportunity to utilise the positive aspects of the camp and learn from the mistakes that were made in order to move forward.
Plans for a rally against new coal power stations were well received, and there is already talk of ocusing on this for next year’s camp.

By Daniel Cavagnino

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