NSW coal seam gas, coal mining, and environmental justice

1 May 2013

The Kooragang Coal Terminal in Newcastle. [Image: Flickr/Kate Ausburn, used under the Creative Commons licence]
The Kooragang Coal Terminal in Newcastle. [Image: Flickr/Kate Ausburn, used under the Creative Commons licence]

At a Sydney Ideas panel discussion on Thursday 2 May, academics and community leaders will discuss the implications of coal and coal-seam gas mining, and the importance of environmental justice as an organising theme.

Starting in the United States, and originally focused on imbalance of environmental risks to poor communities and communities of colour, the use of the concept of environmental justice has spread across the globe, and has been applied to an ever-widening range of issues.

Panel member Professor David Schlosberg, from the University of Sydney's Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society, said: "The idea has taken a while to be used in Australia, after spawning numerous movements in the US and many other countries.

"Increasingly, battles around mining are being articulated with the language of justice - the distribution of risk, the lack of attention to cultural and community impacts, the loss of voice and political participation, and the potential threats to water, farming, and both human and environmental health," he said.

Communities have also used environmental justice to discuss not only inequity, but also the lack of recognition for their issues and cultures, their exclusion from political decision making, and the endangerment of the very functioning of their communities.

In Australia, environmental justice is increasingly being applied to battles around the mining of coal and gas.

Another panel member, Professor Linda Connor, also from the University of Sydney, has been researching the communities around the Hunter Valley in NSW. As an anthropologist, she has looked at the social and environmental costs of coal mining in this region, which is known for its food and wine production as well as an internationally renowned horsebreeding industry.

Professor Connor says: "The resources boom in Australia has created high profits for multinational companies, big royalty windfalls for governments, and high wages for the workers. But there are losers too. Open-cut mines and the coal-fired power stations near them are invasive, polluting and destructive of the landscape. Many residents see the expansion of of coal mining in the Hunter Valley as a threat to their health, livelihoods and way of life. These affected communities struggle politically to have their voices heard."

This Sydney Ideas public talk is part of a two-day symposium presented by the Sydney Social Justice Network in partnership with Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society and the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law.

"The general idea for this two-day symposium is to hear from community organisations involved in issues related to coal and coal seam gas mining, primarily in NSW. This includes Drew Hutton of the Lock the Gate Alliance and Jeff Smith of Environmental Defenders Office NSW, both talking about the relationship between mining and the growing concerns around environmental and social justice."

Event details

What: Coal Seam Gas, Coal Mining, and Environmental Justice in NSW, a Sydney Ideas panel discussion

When: 6 to 7.30pm, Thursday 2 May

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus 

Who: Chaired by Rosemary Lyster, University of Sydney. Panel consists of:

  • David Schlosberg, University of Sydney, speaking on Defining Environmental Justice in the Australian Context
  • Jeff Smith, Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) NSW, speaking on Democracy, the rule of law and EDO NSW
  • Drew Hutton, Lock the Gate Alliance, speaking on Using democratic, extra-legal strategies for achieving social and environmental justice
  • Linda Connor, University of Sydney, speaking on Living with a fossil fuel resource curse: the real environmental and social costs

Registration: As this event has reached capacity, registrations are now closed. We often have spare seats on the night due to late cancellations. If you could not register and would like to attend, you are welcome to join a stand-by queue at the venue. Find out more 

Symposium event details

Day two of the symposium on Friday 2 May (9am-5pm) will examine the potential of a shift in considerations of climate justice to the condition of adaptation, and will explore a range of coming impacts and vulnerabilities - to local cultures, food security, environmental resources, and health.

Download the full program, abstracts and speaker profiles (PDF, 428KB)

Summary of events

  • Session 1: Coal
  • Session 2: Coal Seam Gas
  • Session 3: NGOs and Community Support

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