Sustainability conference brings celebration, revitalisation and hope

Sustainability conference brings celebration, revitalisation and hope

UOW-hosted event was a resounding success for the environmental education sector

It was a week of insight, learning and sing-a-longs at the University of Wollongong (UOW) as the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) Biennial Conference came to an end.

The three-day conference saw some of Australia’s leading environmental warriors joining forces to empower Australia’s environmental education sector and tackle important sustainability questions.

The conference brought together Chief Councillor of the Climate Council Professor Tim Flannery, Rewilding Facilitator and winner of ‘Alone Australia’ Gina Chick; author Dr Inga Simpson; TV presenter and landscape architect Costa Georgiadis; Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change President Cynthia Houniuhi; and UK Government Focal Point to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Professor Daniella Tilbury.

On Tuesday (26 September 2023) Professor Tim Flannery addressed the packed Hope Theatre, where hundreds had come to hear his keynote speech. The main two themes of his address were climate change and biodiversity conservation.

“Climate change is driving events around the world,” he told the audience. “In the northern hemisphere, we have had bushfires, floods, a heatwave, and ongoing climatic disruptions. We have already had a heatwave in Australia in spring, and it’s bringing anxiety about what summer will bring.

“Climate change is now embedded in our climate system, and it will be driving events for decades to come.”

Drawing on his experiences as a young palaeontologist, Professor Flannery offered his predictions for the future and his hopes that more will be done to prevent the impact of climate change from becoming more devastating.

“If we had started to curb our emissions in 2009, we would have been able to limit the damage of climate change, as 25 per cent of all emissions have occurred since that time. We have been really slow to act on this and that slowness has cost us dearly.”

Professor Flannery also sounded the warning about complacency on biodiversity conservation, and while he was heartened that the community had recognised the urgency of addressing the loss of species, he said there was always more that could be done.

“I wish I had been born earlier,” he told the audience, “because I would have been able to do something about species extinction. Thankfully, there has been a massive shift in the past 20 years that has really changed the dynamic of biodiversity conversation.”

And the Hope Theatre was again entertained on Wednesday morning (27 September 2023) with a beautiful sing-a-long, led by Rewilding facilitator Gina Chick.

Ms Chick, who had just spent three nights sleeping under the stars, spoke passionately about the importance of connection to nature and remembering the wisdom of our hunter gatherer ancestors.

"That magic is actually the information that happens when we connect with nature," she said. "We are gathering information about our environment the whole time and when we make room for 360,000 years of wisdom, that's when we start to get the true, beautiful nature connection.”

Ms Chick said connecting with nature can be as simple as going to a local park.

"Go off to a park, take off your shoes, even if it's just five minutes, put your feet in the dirt, lean against a tree, let the sun shine on your face, turn off your phone and have five minutes of just listening to birds.

"That's going to plug you into the battery of wild nature."

Conference Chair Dr Peter Andersen said the conference was an opportunity for people working in the environmental education space to gain new tools to inform professional practices.

“It’s been an excellent three days and we were delighted to hold the conference in Wollongong for the first time,” Dr Andersen said. “It brought celebration, revitalisation, hope and empowerment to our environmental education sector.”

About the Australian Association of Environmental Education

AAEE is Australia's peak professional body for Environmental Educators. Their members work in government agencies, schools, businesses and community organisations.

As an organisation AAEE advocates for Environmental Education and promotes best practice; supports and contributes to skills development among educators across Australia and internationally; helps Association members to stay at the forefront of sustainability education and behaviour change; and provides a network for cross-sector environmental educators.