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Youth score victory in fight to save Great Barrier Reef

AYCC-Ella-Weisbrot-200In the face of a climate crisis and as the government sits in denial of climate change, the Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition (AYCC) recently inspired the nation to rally together to protect the world’s largest coral reef. Liz Bowie speaks with the group’s NSW co-ordinator Ella Weisbrot

18 March, 2014

Six new coal ports are being proposed in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.  The largest single structure made by living organisms, the spectacular reef is a popular tourist attraction as well as being a significant place for Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

According to AYCC these ports would unlock coal from the Galilee Basin for export, which represents 7% of the world’s total carbon budget.

This would result in huge damage to the Great Barrier Reef through dredging, greatly increase ship traffic through the reef, causing further destruction and put the health of local communities at risk from coal dust

One major player, construction firm Lend Lease had expressed interest in funding the development of the AP-X coal terminal at Abbot Point. This is where the AYCC stepped in.

“We knew that this investment had huge and dangerous implications for our reef – a national icon – and for our climate,” says AYCC’s NSW co-ordinator Ella Weisbrot.

“As young people, we knew that we had to act. We knew we had to use our youth voice to speak up and ask Lend Lease to withdraw their investment in this harmful proposal.”

And this is exactly what they did.

Their campaign included a beach party outside Lend Lease’s AGM to draw attention to the proposed AP-X terminal as well as having members inside the AGM asking Lend Lease questions about the project.

They held a Valentine’s Day action outside Lend Lease’s Global head office in Sydney where they handed out roses and cards to staff asking them to ‘Be the one’ for the reef, as well as collecting170,000 signatures from people concerned about the reef.

AYCC-Lendlease-protest-260The result was that Lend Lease pulled out of coal port expansion at Abbot Point on the Great Barrier Reef.

This show of strength from motivated young people demonstrated that they are a force to be reckoned with – hardly surprising with Weisbrot at the helm.

At the age of only 22 she has already accomplished more than many people twice her age. When she finds the time, she loves to be outdoors hiking, travelling, doing volunteer work, or like many people her age, hanging out with friends and dancing.

But her passion lies in social justice.

“Until a few years ago, I thought that climate change wasn’t my issue as I was more interested in other social justice issues, particularly education and women’s rights,” she tells The Scavenger.

“But I gradually came to understand that climate change will affect everything – that it’s the social justice issue that underscores all other social justice issues, and that it is, or should be, the social movement of our time.”

Weisbrot came to AYCC with an impressive lists of credentials already behind her, some of which include working for Organising for America as part of President Obama’s re-election, moving quickly through the ranks to field organiser in Western Wisconsin.

She has also done an internship with the Permanent Mission of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations in New York, where she worked mostly on sustainable development and the status of women.

And last year she took part in a one-month training for young activists called Youth Participation in Governance at Global Platform Tanzania in Dar es Salaam.

“I believe that we hold the power to create a better, fairer, more equal world, and to make the changes that we want to see,” says Weisbrot. “Change requires persistence, belief, and support, but it’s not impossible.

“The vast inequality that we see in all areas of life, within Australia and around the world, and the knowledge that we can do better, motivates me to act on my ideals and convictions.  The knowledge that we have solutions for so many of the problems we face, such as climate change, motivates me; we’re already halfway there.”

Weisbrot has seen much enthusiasm from other young people too. At recent university O Weeks, AYCC collected 8,000 signatures for their current campaign, the Safe Climate Roadmap.

“Young people are increasingly stepping up to join the movement to solve the climate crisis before it’s too late because we know that it’s our future at stake, and that serves as pretty good motivation,” she says.

AYCC-ValentinesBut even with all this success and enthusiasm there is still concern for the future of the planet and the slow pace of action.

“In Australia, we’ve just experienced the hottest summer on record, with destructive extreme weather events at home and around the world,” says Weisbrot.

“Despite this situation, and the clear threat presented by climate change, our government is trying to take us backwards on climate change – a decision that would have devastating consequences.”

The AYCC is working to motivate the current government to make the choices that will ensure we protect our planet.

“We’re currently running a campaign called the Safe Climate Roadmap, which is aiming to build the community and political will necessary to drive strong action on climate change,” says Weisbrot.

“We’re asking the government to act on three points: to move Australia beyond fossil fuels, to invest in 100% renewable energy within 10 years, and to cut our carbon pollution by 40% by 2020. 

“These goals are in line with the most recent scientific recommendations on necessary action on climate change.  The solutions are clear, and that fills me with hope that we will act on them in time.”

Weisbrot plans to serve as the AYCC NSW co-ordinator until the end of the year and then she is unsure what she will be doing. What she does know is that she will continue to work within the movement.

“There’s a time limit on climate change action in a way that doesn’t exist for most other social issues. I’m committed to doing everything I can to solve the climate crisis before it’s too late.”

For more information, visit the Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition.

Liz Bowie is Associate Editor at The Scavenger.

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