Communities must address energy challenges

August 3, 2008

Communities must work together to address challenges facing rural communities, especially with respect to energy use, Gwydir Shire Council General Manager, Max Eastcott told the Regenerative Energy forum recently. 

“At times it is difficult to see the opportunities in such challenging problems,” Mr. Eastcott said.  “But one thing seems abundantly clear – communities must work together because individual action will probably be too little, too late in many cases.”

Mr. Eastcott noted that Professor Stuart White highlighted the importance of community engagement in his presentation to the conference.  “The response from Governments is to use the market to achieve the change that is necessary through the sale of pollution certificates known as a Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme. I believe that this is bordering upon the foolishness that has brought us collectively to this point.

“Indeed, if the market forces were made to work more effectively in the past we would not be in the position we are in today. It was the lack of inclusion of the ‘opportunity costs’ in the pricing mechanism that allowed the wasteful use of resources in the past – to the point where we are drowning under our own waste.  By not factoring in the indirect economic and social costs attached to some products the consumer did not and continues to not pay the full cost for the products consumed."

“This covers a range of items such as Large Screen Plasma TVs, Petroleum products or the packaging used to move goods to the market. If consumers were required to pay the full environmental freight attached to many of our current ‘necessities’, or they were promoted as such, would they have been prepared to pay? I don’t think so. And the market would have responded in an environmentally responsible way, simply to maintain their profits."

“However I fear that the same vested interests will continue to control the process to the detriment of the noble cause. Professor Garnaut (page 348) in his recently released Draft report makes the very sensible observation that: As with all reform agendas, the commitment by government and the community must be ongoing and firm.  As a community the true cost of living the lifestyle that we live was not recognised and now we must, unfortunately, meet the cost.  

“Our lifestyle was being paid for on credit and the bill has arrived.  We have reached this point because we did not respect the planet and its resources.  Rural communities such as Bingara and Warialda must explore the options available to become more self reliant, as much as is possible, in a whole range of areas and this includes energy production.  Collective action is necessary and, indeed, could herald a new and exciting phase of community development as we attack these problems collectively, as a community."

“Another quote from the Garnaut Report is relevant (page 455). Here Professor Garnaut is talking about policy options and in particular support for early adopters: Supporting a set number of early adopters in conjunction with diffusing information may be more effective than supporting a larger number of adopters without diffusing information. However, as people are more likely to trust known sources (Yates & Aronson 1983), demonstration programs may need to involve regional and community components."

“One of the great things about a 548 page report is that you can always find something to support your case!   However, from my point of view the Garnaut Report is a bit disappointing because it doesn’t really address direct positive action by innovative communities. His focus is on a new tax and a reliance on market forces. Additionally, who knows what segments of the economy will be slugged after all the special interest groups, especially the States, are accommodated with concessions.  I just hope that rural and remote communities are seen as communities with special needs that require positive attention."

“What have we learned at this forum?
Professor Stuart White ably set the scene for us with his address. He spoke about the importance of understanding, how we use energy and addressing the problem with a range of policy responses. Whilst the solutions are complex they can be achieved through enhanced community engagement and broadening our energy base along with a modification of our demand.  Also I was left with the belief that the alternate technologies’ will continue to be developed at an accelerated rate to meet the challenge."

“I would like to pay a special tribute to Vision 20/20 and especially Garry McDouall, Rick Hutton and Bob Charleston for organising this forum; to all the very able speakers who have attended and shared their knowledge with us and, of course, to the people who attended the forum. I would like to also thank Carmen Southwell and Sandy McNaughton from the Council for their efforts in making this forum such a success.  Thank you and I hope that those of you from other areas have had a great time at Bingara and visit us again in the future,” Mr. Eastcott concluded.