Engaging communities in the transition

The Sustainable Hour no. 494 | Transcript | Podcast notes

Our guests in The Sustainable Hour no 494 are – in order of appearance: Ty Christopher from Energy Futures Network, Laura Grufas from Parents for Climate, Jacqui Dunn from One Planet Festival, and Josh Kirkman from Surfers for Climate

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Ty Christopher is passionate about transforming Australia’s energy landscape, reducing energy costs and decarbonising our lives. He speaks up against the disinformation and lies that are being distributed in local communities when it comes to the construction of new offshore wind farms. Community engagement and education are important for the acceptance of new energy infrastructure, he says.

Ty works with Ecojoule as a Strategic Advisor – an Australian company that designs and manufactures high tech equipment to help the grid integrate renewables, specifically voltage controllers and community batteries. He also runs his own consulting company, Ty Christopher & Associates Pty Ltd. Here he focuses on advisory services to the electricity industry and other related industries.

Ty works full time with the University of Wollongong as the Director of their Energy Futures Network. He is a former Asset Management General Manager with Endeavour Energy with over 40 years experience in the electricity supply industry. He led the introduction of new technology into the electricity supply industry such as large scale battery storage, embedded generation, and digital asset management techniques.

→ Find facts about offshore wind turbines on Blue Energy Futures Lab

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Laura Grufas is the National Brand & Partnership Director at Parents for Climate. She gives us an update on what Parents for Climate are up to at the national level. At the last election, Laura organised a Climate Change Forum for voters in the Corangamite electorate, which was well-attended by 167 people and four politicians. She emphasises the potential for job creation in renewable energy manufacturing and the need for federal support to realise these opportunities.

→ You can sign up for Parents for Climate’s free newsletter on www.parentsforclimate.org

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Jacqui Dunn is a local resident of Ocean Grove, a nurse, and mum to a 17-year-old daughter. She is also a keen advocate for the environment, having started sustainability programs in each of her workplaces over the last 20-30 years, and now a member of Parents for Climate Surf Coast.

Jacqui believes you can’t have a healthy patient or child, without a healthy environment, and is constantly awed by the beauty of the region she lives in, as well as the connectivity with like minded people in Parents for Climate spurs her on to protect this beauty for her daughter’s generation.

She speaks about their One Planet Festival, which is going to be held on this Saturday 16 March 2024 in Torquay.

Their aim here is to create a festival of climate action that empowers and inspires the community about what they can do to combat climate change. They aim to link the community with local community groups and businesses already active in this space, through stalls, exhibits and workshops. There will be something for everyone with live entertainment featuring local artists and some thought-provoking but family friendly movies or documentaries. The festival also involves local businesses to support workshops and has invited local food vans to help cater for the attendees.

→ The One Planet Festival website can be found here: www.oneplanetfest.com.au.

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Josh Kirkman is CEO of Surfers for Climate. Josh has a history in climate communications as well as a sporting history in competitive bodyboarding, winning multiple Australian Championship titles. He is passionate about affecting change in the diverse and growing surf community and is focussed on leading this community towards greater political agency for people and planet.

Surfers for Climate is an Australian charity dedicated to turning the tide on climate change. Inspired by the collective power of surfers in the successful Fight for the Bight campaign, Surfers for Climate has continued to grow, with thousands of people from the surfing community across Australia coming together to take off on the party wave of climate action and become part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Their ‘Line in the Sand‘ campaign specifically advocates for:

  • ending the search for new oil and gas in our oceans by 2028,
  • engaging and educating coastal communities on the shift to renewables and low carbon energy and
  • protecting our waves and advocating for greater protection of Australia’s marine environment.

They are stoked that after years of campaigning the NSW Government announced in February 2024 that they will be putting forward legislation to ban offshore oil and gas exploration and mining in NSW waters.

→ You can find out more about Surfers for Climate here: www.surfersforclimate.org.au.

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In the opening of the Hour, we hear excerpts of speeches and statements by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, Extinction Rebellion Victoria activist Brad Homewood, British scientist Dr Emily Grossman, climate scientist and PhD-student Paul Bell, and Channel 4-presenter Chris Packham – on the topic of the rights and wrongs of protesting and blocking traffic.

Many of you will have heard that two Extinction Rebellion activists and good friends of The Sustainable Hour are currently in jail for disrupting traffic last week on the West Gate bridge in Melbourne. They are both a week into a three-week sentence imposed on them, as Victorian Police have asked for that sentence to be lengthened. We wholeheartedly support their courageous action and encourage you to write to them at this address:
Deanna Marea Coco
C/o Corrections Vic
GPO Box 123
Melbourne 3001
Bradley Homewood at the same address

Prison can be a lonely place – let’s support their courageous actions. They are not criminals, they are climate heroes acting for all of us.

We also hear a clip with opposition leader Peter Dutton MP talking about the protection of whales in Andrew Bolt‘s program on Sky News, and we end with an excerpt from the song We love the Earth.

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That’s it for this week’s The Sustainable Hour podcast. We are so privileged to speak each week with people who are prepared to get out of their comfort zones, simply motivated by their strong concerns about the importance of educating people about the true nature of the climate crisis we face. In the process they become part of the solution as they grow as people. Today this was highlighted by Jacqui who turned that concern into specific action and in the process found an antidote to the despair she felt previously.
~ Tony Gleeson

“This is a challenge for people and their lives, their lifestyle: they’re emotionally vested in their local environments and their local communities. And so, being able to have real conversations around co-design and, dare I say, more equitable benefits sharing for new infrastructure is the framing language and the direction that I suggest is worth considering actively here. Things like saying: Well, let’s recognise the practical reality upfront that there’s a small number of people or a community that are going to have this infrastructure in place. What does a net community positive and a net local environmentally positive outcome look like for establishing offshore wind in the Illawarra, in the Hunter, in Gippsland, and making sure that that’s a significant part of the conversation, rather than just the ultimately unproductive and unhelpful for people – yes or no, I’m in favour, “for and against”-type discussions, because they will always leave one party really disappointed.”
~ Ty Christopher, Strategic Advisor at Ecojoule and Director of Blue Energy Futures Lab at the University of Wollongong

Subscribe to The Sustainable Hour podcast via Apple Podcasts

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We at The Sustainable Hour would like to pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we
are broadcasting, the Wathaurong People, and pay our respect to their elders, past, present and future.

The traditional owners lived in harmony with the land. They nurtured it and thrived in often harsh conditions for millennia before they were invaded. Their land was then stolen from them – it wasn’t ceded. It is becoming more and more obvious that, if we are to survive the climate emergency we are facing, we have much to learn from their land management practices.

Our battle for climate justice won’t be won until our First Nations brothers and sisters have their true justice. When we talk about the future, it means extending our respect to those children not yet born, the generations of the future – remembering the old saying that, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
The decisions currently being made around Australia to ignore the climate emergency are being made by those who won’t be around by the time the worst effects hit home. How disrespectful and unfair is that?

“Solutions to complex problems take many dissimilar minds and points of view to design, so we have to do that together, linking up with as many other us-twos as we can to form networks of dynamic interaction.” 
~ Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk

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→ Friends of the Earth Melbourne – 6 March 2024:
Offshore wind decision shows federal government can balance climate action and nature protection
“Environment organisation Friends of the Earth have welcomed the federal government’s declaration of the Southern Ocean offshore wind zone, saying it’s a sign that an ecologically sustainable offshore wind industry is achievable.”

Former ACCC Chairman Rod Sims shares his vision for Australia to become a renewables powerhouse

“I’m very keen to focus on the real opportunities Australia has to take advantage of its really inexpensive renewable energy. At the moment we export the iron ore, we export the metallurgical coal … and we export the gas or thermal coal to make the energy, and all that goes to China and they make the iron metal there using fossil fuels.”
~ Rod Sims, former ACCC Chairman, on Sky News

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ABC Australian Story: School striker Anjali Sharma sued the government at 16. Now she’s taking her fight for an end to fossil fuels to federal parliament, and the powerbrokers are listening.

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Transcript of the hour

Antonio Guterres:
We are at the moment of truth, but we have a breakdown of trust.

The Sustainable Hour. For a Green, Clean, Sustainable Geelong. The Sustainable Hour.

Tony Gleeson:
Good morning listeners. Welcome to the Sustainable Hour. As always, we’d like to acknowledge that we’re broadcasting from the land of the Wathaurong people. We pay tribute to the traditional custodians on the land on which we are broadcasting. We acknowledge that there is so much in their ancient wisdom that was honed from nurturing both their land and their community for 2,000 generations before their land was stolen. There’s so many lessons for us as we navigate the climate crisis that we’re experiencing constantly.

Brad Homewood:
We are calling on the Albanese government and the ASEAN leaders who are in the country at the moment to acknowledge the scientific reality and to formally declare a climate and ecological emergency. We’ve reached the end game. We’re in the era of global boiling now and on our current trajectory, the world’s leading climate scientists tell us we’re heading for hell on earth and the collapse of human civilisation and we won’t stand idly by unless that happens.

Emergency. Endgame. Collapse. Brad Homewood here from Extinction Rebellion, Victoria. As he was on the radio, he was in the news. Because, well, now he’s in prison for three weeks for blocking Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge with a rental truck last week. So where does he get this from? All this talk about collapse. Here’s a scientist who’s got a take on this, Dr. Emily Grossman.

Dr. Emily Grossman:
Scientists have been trained through fear, but also through our training in itself, to not speak out because there’s a sort of unspoken contract if you like between scientists and the government, scientists and the media, scientists and the public which is that we as scientists report impartially, unemotionally and very gently and fact-based on our findings. And the contract is that if we impart the fact in a way that is just simple clarity, this is what’s happening, this is the percentage certainty, this is how likely it is that by 2050 half the world’s population won’t have enough food and water to drink, which by the way is where we’re heading. But if we simply say that in very unemotive and very sensible terms, that we will be listened to, that the government will act according to that threat level, that the media will report on that according to that threat level. Scientists who have, by nature, as Julia said, and as Aaron said, very cautious people. You know, we’re trained to absolutely look at everything that could go against our hypothesis of what’s bad. And we’ve really got to a point where it really is terrifying and catastrophic. We really are looking towards civil unrest, societal collapse. If we don’t change course now, and we’re not changing course, the governments have not been taking the action they say they’ve been taking. But if we actually put that in what this means, that’s the equivalent to five atomic bombs worth of heat energy going off in our atmosphere every second. And it’s that heat energy that’s causing changes to our climate, not just heat, but extra rain, floods, storms, droughts, monsoons. And then we’ve got to look at what we’re doing to our land. And when we put all this together, we get more diseases because of the extra heat, we get deforestation leading to damage to our soils, we get extreme weather leading to damage to our soils. When we put those together with lots of insects and not the earthworms, we find soils that are going to be unable to grow crops. When we put that together with droughts and floods, we find that in the next 10, 20 years, we’re going to be severely compromised. We live in a globally interconnected society. If we see damage to crops in other parts of the globe, it’s going to have a knock on effect. If we have not enough to feed ourselves, we’re going to have food rights that’s going to lead to civil unrest, wars, and that is going to have a knock on effect on the very fabric of society.

Paul Bell:
My name’s Paul, I’m 23. I’m a scientist, a PhD student studying high impact climate events at the University of Exeter. Tomorrow I’m starting my trial, it’s a Crown Court trial at Basildon. And it’s for climbing a motorway gantry over the M25 with just stop oil. I took that action in a desperate attempt to try and mitigate in some way, to protect in some way my loved ones, my family, and everyone’s family, and in some other way to try and make right the terrible wrong that is being caused right now by the climate crisis throughout the world. 10,000 people drowned in floods in Libya last year. We’ve seen record-breaking temperatures across the world. Things are terrifying.
I’m surrounded by some of the world’s best climate scientists and every climate scientist I know, everyone I talk to, the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they’re all saying the same thing. We can’t have new fossil fuels. The reality about the system that we’re living in is that the only way for a scientist to be heard when they’re demanding an end to fossil fuels is to climb a gantry over the M25.
And this crisis, I think everything, everything we know and love cannot be ignored.

Emily Grossman was followed by another scientist, Paul Bell. He’s a British PhD student who studies climate impact. And he was one of six Just Stop Oil protesters who were in trial in the UK the other day. And for them as well, it was because they had been blocking traffic on a highway. And here’s what the very famous British TV presenter Chris Packham had to say about this, about all the young people who are protesting and for instance in the UK, as we heard in The Sustainable Hour around Christmas, they went to the prime minister’s house to play some songs for the prime minister. He talked about this in the morning show of Times Radio.

Chris Packham:
These people are frightened for my future, for your future, the future of any children that they might have. And they need to draw attention to this issue. We had someone from Just Up Oil on last week and they were saying, they think the situation is so dire that going to an MP’s house, for example, and protesting outside is justified, given the extent of the crisis.

It strikes me that you’re a very good person for this because you’ve had your own threats against you. You also believe passionately in the subject. What do you think of the rights and wrongs of going outside an MP’s home to protest about the environment?

Chris Packham:
Well, I think that we need a portfolio of protests, basically, because we need a radical flank and Just Stop Oil are seen by many as that radical flank. They are the people who in some people’s minds go a step too far and that might be standing outside an MP’s house. But the fact is that they are motivated, as I am, by a manifest fear for the health of our future. And that is on a foundation of understanding of very good science. We listen to the science, the science tells us we have to act. These people are frightened for my future, for your future, the future of any children that they might have. And they need to draw attention to this issue.

And is it going too far? I mean, some people think it’s going too far. Do you think it’s going too far to go to an MP’s house?

Well, if it’s a peaceful demonstration, a non-violent peaceful demonstration, then we in the UK, for all of the laws that have been radically changed in the very recent times, have to preserve that right to protest. What about all those farmers blocking the roads with their tractors? Now, when just a boil block the road, it’s a big hoo-ha, people missing hospital appointments and so on. When the farmers do it, it’s not covered in the same way in the press, is it? Look, we’ve got a law out there, it needs to be applied equally to everyone. And I would ferociously protect the farmer’s right to protest as much as I would Just Stop Oil. We’ve got to have these conversations like the one that we’re having now. And what Just Stop Oil want is on their t-shirt: They want a rapid, just transition away from fossil fuels to a healthy, renewable energy system. And they need to get that message across, and they’re desperate to do so.

So I would support a breadth of protest. That doesn’t mean that you and I need to go and stand outside MPs houses. I’m taking a legal approach here, a perfectly democratic one, which is available to me as a citizen of the UK. But yes, we’re on the same sheet. What’s just got me out of bed to speak to you this morning is that I care about the health and wellbeing of this planet and I want to play some small role myself in trying to secure its future, just as they do.

Listen to our sustainable hour for the future.

Our first guest today is Ty Christopher. Ty is the strategic advisor for Ecojoule. He’s also an academic at the University of Wollongong specialising in energy or the transition away from toxic fossil fuels towards clean, renewable, job-rich energy sources. Ty, thanks for coming on the show. Tell us about what’s up front for you at the moment in your work.

Thanks, Tony. Appreciate the opportunity to be on the podcast. There’s a lot going on, fair to say, in the clean energy space at the moment. Certainly here in the Illawarra, given that the Illawarra is both a declared renewable energy zone under the New South Wales state government frameworks, but is also one of the areas that has been designated as a location for an offshore wind clean electricity industry, following on from the Gippsland area in Victoria, the Hunter and the northern coast of New South Wales, and then the Illawarra following on behind that.

It’s fair to say that in the community especially, there’s been a lot of discussion going on about offshore wind industry and what’s going on in the area. There’s also frankly been a lot of disinformation and quite deliberate disinformation campaigns going on at the moment, right from the headline level of the fossil fuel industry backed interests, Murdoch Press and the like, right the way through to local people who I think are genuinely concerned about the local environment and about the impacts of new infrastructure on that local environment. So one of the things that we’ve been finding is this is an important discussion to be having at the community level.

And moreover, the really important thing to understand here is if we want a decarbonised and clean energy future, then we’re going to have to build our way towards that. New infrastructure, small scale on our homes and large scale in the energy grid is going to be needed to replace the coal and gas that’s out there at the moment. Now in a past life, I spent 35 odd years in the electricity industry building power lines and building substations. Nowhere over that 35 years did I ever hear any community group or any individual say, yes, I love power lines, please build them on my land. And by the way, while you’re there, make sure I can see them and put a substation next door to where I live. Over 35 years, that never happened. People naturally react negatively to new large-scale infrastructure. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a road or it’s a new rail line or it’s new power system infrastructure. The fundamental underlying community dynamic here is that new infrastructure has a small number of people who bear the brunt of affectation and a much, much larger number of people who reap the benefits from that infrastructure being put in place.

And so I think one of the things that is helpful, in communities is first and foremost to help get the facts out there. And I can talk a bit more about that as we go on. But secondly, I think it’s very important to actually recognise upfront that this is new, this is change, this is different. This is a challenge for people and their lives, their lifestyle, they’re emotionally vested in their local environments and their local communities.

And so being able to have real conversations around co-design and, dare I say, more equitable benefits sharing for new infrastructure is the framing language and the direction that I suggest is worth considering actively here. Things like saying, well, let’s recognise the practical reality upfront that there’s a small number of people or a community that are going to have this infrastructure in place. What does a net community positive and a net local environmentally positive outcome look like for establishing offshore wind in the Illawarra, in the Hunter, in Gippsland, and making sure that that’s a significant part of the conversation rather than just the ultimately unproductive and unhelpful for people, yes or no, I’m in favour for and against type discussions, because that will always leave one party really disappointed.

The big question to me, Ty, is what do we do about it then? Because we do need wind if we want to get to 100 per cent renewables in our electricity system, we can’t do it without the wind turbines, can we?

Well, let’s just back that up a little bit, Mik, and say there’s three reasons why offshore wind in particular is of utmost importance in a clean energy future for Australia as a nation. Firstly, whilst Australia is leading the world on home electrification and in particular home self-energy-sufficiency through the installation of solar panels on our homes, which is fantastic and needs to continue at an ever accelerating rate that will decarbonise, I’ll call it the residential and light commercial sectors of our business and of our lives and of our nation. But you will never be able to supply a CBD of a large city or large-scale industry from rooftop solar.

For a start, it’s only there for five hours a day, and we’re talking 24-7 operations. So what we need is alternate multi-gigawatt scale generation to be coming into the grid. And that’s where offshore wind has a significant role to play because it is by its very nature multi-gigawatt in size. The second factor is that generation needs to be there when we need it.

And one of the great benefits of offshore wind, and this makes it superior to onshore wind, is its capacity factor. The capacity factor of offshore wind is around 45 to 55 per cent up and down the East Coast of Australia. It’s usually a minimum of around 50 per cent. What that means is if you put in one gigawatt of generation, then you can rely on there being a half a gigawatt of generation all the time with offshore wind. Now to give a comparison point, onshore wind at best has a capacity factor of around 30 per cent, which is much, much lower. And even the beloved coal-fired power stations that certain right-wing influencers think are Christmas, and those of us who believe the science actually think need to shut down as quickly as possible, even those coal-fired power stations at the moment only have a capacity factor of 65 per cent and their capacity factor is dropping by 5 per cent every two years at the moment. So we are about six years away from offshore wind and coal having the same capacity factor out there in the grid. And then thirdly, this is the third big reason why offshore wind is so critical in our clean energy future is whilst Australians like to think of ourselves as rough tough bushes and all think we’re Hugh Jackman in the Australian outback,

We’re actually a bunch of thin-blooded coasties and we all live in the thin strip all the way along the coast. And guess what? That’s where we need all the energy to be located because that is where it is used. So offshore wind ticks all three of those boxes. It’s multi gigawatt in scale. It’s high capacity factor, so it’s there when we need it for the big end of town in particular. And guess what? Because it’s along the coast, it’s physically close by where the energy is going to be used, which minimises the cost of transmission. It’s just got to get on shore and minimises the cost overall of supplying and decarbonising the hard to abate big end of town, CBD activities, industry and the like. And I think a lot of the time in the debate around offshore wind and for and against or whatever, the first thing that seems to disappear in the discussion is as a deep and a thorough understanding of why.

Because until you understand those three whys of multi gigawatt scale, high capacity factor near where you’re going to need and use the electricity, you can’t really have a meaningful discussion with people about, well, what are the alternatives? Because there aren’t many. And the even bigger why, which is climate change, which is coming at us at a speed. Scientists are really, as we’ve heard earlier, scientists are scared at the moment the way the graphs are going out of control.

Absolutely. And this is where when we get into the environmental impacts, and please, I’m not speaking here as an environmental scientist, I’m an electrical engineer, but I have the privilege of working with many people with PhDs in the environmental sciences space. And very consistently, whether it’s within the university environments here in Australia or globally, the fact of the matter is that it’s the global impacts of climate change, the effects of sea level of food sources and those sorts of things for to three degrees Celsius rise in temperature of our oceans that are empirically shown as having a far more detrimental effect on the environment and whales, on sea life, on bird life, you name it, than any amount of localised impact from a particular piece of infrastructure going in at any one particular location. And that’s not just my opinion. You can go on the web. I’d encourage listeners to do so have a look at Greenpeace, WWF, Nature Conservancy and the Sea Shepherd Foundation. They all have on their websites a stated policy on offshore wind energy.

Now, I’m doing them a slight injustice by paraphrasing this simply, but every one of them, their position on offshore wind is they support it in principle, subject to it being held to the highest standards of environmental assessment and environmental mitigation and compliance. And they all say this because they understand that the macro impacts of climate change on whatever areas of the environment that they’re interested in or all of them are far worse than the localised impacts of any one particular piece of infrastructure. And it’s more important that we decarbonise our lives and our globe than anything else. And the only way we’re going to do that, is to build new infrastructure out of it.

I come from Denmark where 50 per cent – more than 50 per cent – of the electricity in the grid today is generated by wind turbines, both offshore and onshore. And the thing in Denmark is… because we, in a way, were the innovators back in the 70s, and so on, and saw the first wind turbines being raised by young people at the time, we have this feeling of wind being an innovative thing. And we actually like the look of these, the more modern they look in their design and so on. We think they’re beautiful. And tourists come to Copenhagen – and that’s the capital, which is surrounded by wind turbines, offshore and onshore – and the tourists come and say, “Oh, that’s interesting. You live next to a wind turbine?” People have this joy. They’re sharing this feeling – they feel good – because this is clean energy. And at some point, like we’re seeing in Spain now, it’s free energy. The prices go down and down to the point where the energy actually is free. It does exist. And that’s something people here in Australia seems to be hiding or not wanting to talk about: that free energy from renewables is a possibility.

Correct. The self interest though, never underestimate it. I fully support everything you’re saying there. One of the challenges here and again, not to dismiss all opponents as having this view, but one of the things to remember is we are dealing with a beautiful coastline and down the east coast of Australia and in particular here in Wollongong in the northern suburbs, we’re talking about eye-wateringly expensive real estate and excruciatingly expensive homes that have been built on that real estate, you know, think, you know, Malibu standard of real estate here. And I think the opposition that comes from those particular parties, is more about preserving status quo in terms of visual amenity as opposed to embracing a future of a different visual amenity, I just say. So, underestimate self-interest for us as a species, that’s unfortunately to say.

So, Ty, we have strong voices also on Sky News, and places in the media, against wind turbines.

Peter Dutton:
When you look at, you know, the whales and the mother and the calf that we saw out there, the dolphins, all of that is at risk because there’s no environmental consideration of what these huge wind turbines, 260, 280 metres out of the water, will mean for that wildlife and for the environment.

ABC Media Watch:
And on Sky News, a pod of hosts and guests have echoed these fears. Sky’s Andrew Bolt explained.

Andrew Bolt:
Last weekend, another dead whale was found on America’s eastern coast. That’s the 60th since December 1. And a new documentary this week called Throne to the Wind points blame at the many, many new offshore wind farms off that coast.

ABC Media Watch:
There’s also no evidence, according to the experts, that surveying and building offshore wind farms is causing whales to die.

Do you get the idea these climate change zealots are just making things up as they go along? Your electricity system in their hands. God save us all and the whales too.

My question to you is, what do you think we should do about it?

Well, one of the things that I try to do is not convince people how they should think or tell people how to think. What I try to do is provide facts and information and let people decide based on the facts and information. We’re a pluralist society mercifully. And so I don’t think people should be shamed for holding alternate views. However, those alternate views need to withstand an appropriate level of fact-based scrutiny. Sky News, and Andrew Bolt, he doesn’t. And one of the things we’re seeing at the moment, you know, the nuclear debate is a classic one. I don’t want to distract by bringing that too much into this discussion, but the fact is it’s being used as a stalking horse to extend as long as possible the fossil fuel industry and to slow down as much as possible the advancement of the renewable industry. I mean, Ted O’Brien and Peter Dutton have yet to answer the fundamental question that I don’t hear them asked enough, especially by Sky News. And that fundamental question is, well, if you’re all in on nuclear and think it’s the most wonderful thing in the universe, why did you say nothing and do nothing about it for the decade that you’re in government? I’m yet to hear Ted O’Brien or Peter Dutton provide any answer to that question and I’ll keep asking it until somebody does actually provide me with an answer. Because the answer is because they’re not all in on it, they’re just using it as a stalking horse. But that’s a separate discussion.

So on offshore wind, we do need to make sure that the real voices of genuine and all parts of the community are heard in all of this. I don’t think it’s helpful to be trying to pull apart. Information that goes out there that is not fact-based in and of itself. I’d encourage people if they’re looking on the web, they can look at the University of Wollongong’s Blue Energy Futures Lab, put that into your favourite search engine, please, everyone! And it will come up with a site and on that site is a heap of frequently asked questions about offshore wind matters of the environment, avian life, whale impacts, et cetera, et cetera. There are answers such as we know them, and we don’t know all of the answers at this point in time.

And I think it’s important to recognise that we need location by location, rigorous research-based environmental studies to be done on offshore wind. But what we do have there is the information that is out there globally on offshore wind industry in these areas, and every one of them referenced with academic rigor back to source and you can click through right the way back to the original source documents, which can I tell you is not something I see featured on Sky News or Facebook.

That’s one of the reasons we exist, I guess, Ty, is to try and bust these myths. And I think you made a really important point before when you said that these guys are experts at prolonging their demise and been doing it for over five decades. And a part of the role is calling them to account on that. We won’t go into too much detail about it now, but there’s a network that’s going to be, that has had a lot of extra loom and shone on them recently called the Atlas Network. Yeah, that’s all their aim is to spread those misinformation. And you’ve given, and we’ll put that in the notes, you’ve given us, given people access to the real facts.

We’ve done that. It’s publicly available as a resource. My favorite one that I use is the ‘Centre for Independent Studies’. Within their name, they’re wrong on three counts. They’re not ‘centre’, they’re right wing. They’re not ‘independent’. They’re right and fossil fuel aligned in their interests. And I’m yet to see them produce a single study. They make stuff up. And one of the things that is a challenge in this whole energy debate, I think, is the politicising of it. It frames the discussions to be a “for” and “against”.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m for nuclear. If there is no other option to decarbonise the last 20 per cent of our electricity grid, as we sit here today, the last 20 per cent I talk about, nuclear does offer us a viable alternative. It is certainly not the alternative though for the next 20 per cent of decarbonisation from where we sit today. And so, what I say to people in all of this is I’m not pro or against anything other than I’m vehemently against bullshit. And that’s what’s going on in the right wing press and everything that’s out there. And that’s what I’m happy to call out at every opportunity with facts and point people to the facts and say to people, I’m not telling you how to think, but I’m asking you to… not believe the rubbish that is a disinformation campaign and agenda-driven campaigns that are going on out there in the clean energy space.

Scott Morrison: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”
Senator Whitehouse: “At the heart of this conflict is a battle between truth and science and power and lies.”

Our next guest is Laura Grufus. Laura is part of the Parents for Climate Action group locally around Geelong. Welcome to the show, Laura.

Thanks for having me, guys. Yeah, so we’ve got a pretty massive Day of Action next week with our One Planet Festival coming up. But I guess I wanted to give everyone a bit of a view of what’s actually happening at more of a national level.

So we’ve got two campaigns that are running at the moment. One that’s currently in court as we speak. So I can’t say too much around that. We are taking Energy Australia to court for greenwashing. So they’re obviously a pretty big player in the energy market. And they’ve been marketing one of their products as carbon neutral and claiming that offsets mean that it’s carbon neutral. So, we know that that’s the type of marketing spin that’s really delaying efforts around decarbonisation. It enables companies to basically keep polluting without actually making any genuine cuts to their pollution. We’re currently in court over that one and it’s taking them to court around misleading or deceptive conduct.

If our case is successful, then we will set a new legal precedent in Australia and we’re really hoping that that’s going to obviously prevent any further marketing spin around that because greenwashing, as we just heard from Ty, is pretty rife out there. The next major campaign that we’re focusing on is Solar Our Learning. So it’s a pretty exciting project.

People think, oh, putting solar and batteries in schools and early childhood, kindergartens, you know that’s great right? That’s great, cheaper energy bills, it’s going to drive jobs, it’s a really great educational experience for kids as well. There’s so many benefits to that but I think when you actually understand the significance of the size of this project, if we did put solar and batteries on all of those institutions, it would be the biggest renewable project in Australia, four times any Snowy Hydro. And the really exciting thing about this is by government actually investing and getting this underway, we’re creating a model that we can then implement over other industries. You know, we’re going to have skilled up trade to be able to do that and really set an infrastructure to help the scalability of solar in Australia.

AAMO have released a report saying that we need five times the amount of solar that we’ve currently got. There’s no really clear roadmap of how we’re going to get there. Distributed energy resources are really critical to the overall picture. As Victorians, we all have experienced that crazy storm a few weeks back where over half a million Australians actually had no power. Well, distributed energy resources would really play a key role in that because that’s going to allow to keep a lot more lights on in instances like that. So it’s really critical to the overall transition. So we’re really wanting our state and local government to get behind that and really support that in terms of policy and funding and really, you know, really get stuff moving.

What’s the buy-in, so to speak, on that so far, Laura? What’s been happening?

We’ve just sort of expanded our focus to look at childcare and so early childhood education. We’ve obviously been campaigning around schools for the last few years and we managed to unlock around 70 million dollars worth of funding over TAS New South Wales and Queensland for pilot programs.

So obviously we’re wanting to see that extended to cover all schools. And I guess the engagement that we’ve had to date has been positive. Like it is a no brainer. Everyone says it is an absolute no brainer. But yeah, I guess now we really need to see government change policy and back up with funding to get it across.

I guess early childhood education has had really little to no focus at all, even from like a government perspective in that sense. And you know, we’re having new centers coming up all the time without solar. So we know that industry is really under huge cost pressures on a number of fronts. We know that they demand for energy to keep, you know, centers cool and that’s only going to increase. So, yeah we’re really calling on some further support, yeah particularly for early childhood where there is none.

Now, let’s pivot to Jacqui, who’s also from Parents for Climate – someone who’s organising the volunteers, I understand, for the One Planet Festival in Torquay on the weekend. Thanks, Jacqui, for your time and for the work you’re doing in setting up, in organising, the volleys for the weekend. Tell us about what people can expect when they show up on the 16th?

The aim of the festival as per the aim of the organisation, Parents for Climate, to try and connect people with climate action and try and connect people with community. So I mean, that’s the reason I joined the group: I wanted to get active on climate, but I wasn’t really sure how. Parents for Climate is really great at allowing people to become active, making it easy, making it practical, and giving you the solutions that you need and giving you the information you need. So the aim of the festival is to do that, to provide education about climate change and inspire all of our attendees to try and take some action.

We find that a lot of people are at the point where they’re worried about climate change, they maybe want to act, but they don’t quite know how to do that. So our festival aims to connect those people with our community groups and local businesses that are already active in the space.

Okay, and what can we expect on the weekend?

Well, there’s so much. It’s a really positive and fun event. A highlight. We’re going to have lots of great music. The South Pacific Climate guys have organised a wonderful line up of bands. We’ve organised a number of food vendors to come down. So there’s some vegan and gluten free and kid friendly options for those. We’ve also got massive kids zone.

As Laura described it, it will be epic with loads of activities including making climate flags and climate posters, you know, the usual giant bubbles, parachutes and story time. We have a big recycling station for people to bring down all their hard to recycle items that they can’t get into their bins at home. We’ve got a display of e-bikes. So there’s a local business coming down with a lot of e-bikes for you to trial.

There’s also the Good Car Company coming down with their EVs. I did hear a rumour that there might be a Harley Davidson EV, so that’s pretty exciting. And we’ve also got a DoCo tent, so Surfers for Climate have organised that as well, and a Torx tent with workshops. So one of the highlights of that will be that the people from Common Ground are coming down to do a workshop and a presentation. And the other one that I’m really looking forward to is the kids from Bell Bay Primary School are coming down to sing a song.

Jacqui, you mentioned there’s a receptacles there for harder to recycle items. What are they?

We’ve partnered with the guys from PharmaCycle and TerraCycle, and they’re coming down with bins for things like pharmaceuticals, so your blister packs, your medications, all the way through from wetsuits through the RipCurl recycling program to hair care and beauty products that you can’t recycle at home. Even things like, you know, I don’t dye my hair, I’m not one of those people, I’ve got red hair, so I don’t need to. But things like, you know, when you wear gloves to dye your hair, I believe, and then you have these little packets that you pour the dye on from. So all the little things that would normally go into our landfill, we’re hoping to pull those out and bring them to recycling and show people how they could do that on a day-to-day level.

The group is a really fabulous way to connect to local community. The reason that I joined originally is because I moved down from Melbourne and I didn’t really know anybody in the region. I knew that one of my big aims was to protect this incredible landscape that we live in down here on the Bellarine and our surf coast regions. But I didn’t know really how to do that. I did a few tree planting days and I went to clean up Australia, but I wanted to do something more solid and practical and ongoing. So that’s why I joined Parents for Climate. It’s like a… It’s a really good local group of people, people like Laura who lives in my hometown. I’m so lucky to have her. But they’re people that I connect with really well and I really have a sense of achievement and community with that group. So come along and join us. It’s fun. We try and make climate action fun rather than it’s a lot of that we were here about in the media is all about doom and gloom with climate change. But we try and make it, okay, we’re here, we’re in a situation. And we can be the real positive change in this. We can make something happen and make a better future for our children.

Through your involvement, Jacqui, has there been anything that you’ve done that surprised yourself? Like looking back, you think, well, how the hell did it?

Oh, absolutely. For example, coming on podcasts. Yeah, I’m a terrified public speaker. So I’m actually a teacher now. I teach nursing students. But I’m terrified of public speaking, so this is a huge, huge challenge for me. But I think it’s so important to spread the message. And this festival is going to be fabulous. I’ve never organised a festival before. As I said, I’m a nurse, so I don’t, I don’t organise festivals. It’s not part of my skill set at all. And I’ve learnt so much and had so much fun creating this festival from scratch. It’s been awesome.

Our next guest is Josh Kirkman. Josh is coming to us via, I think he’s in Queensland at the moment. Josh is CEO of the Surfers for Climate group and he’s got a background in, he’s a surfer himself, won national titles on bodyboarding titles. So Josh, again, thanks for coming on, and yes, what’s up front for you guys at the moment?

Yeah, look, thanks for having me on the podcast with you today. It’s a real treat. Surface for Climate actually has an impending result. We did a lot of work in the last two years to raise ambition in New South Wales to stop offshore oil and gas projects off the coastline there. In particular, there was a, or there still is an offshore proposal called PEP 11, which has been quite the political football on the federal level. We took a different approach and thought, you know, how can we engage different levels of government on this issue and get a result that can actually make a difference for the bigger picture? And so there was a group of politicians. I mean, there was definitely some movement on this from some of the independent candidates to try and see how we could do something meaningful of this.

But before even then, the liberal government that was in power before the last state election had a policy position of not approving any offshore sea mining in the state waters, which is really quite ambitious given that typically a lot of people don’t associate that level of ambition with the liberal or conservative side of politics. So with that, we developed a really great relationship with the environment minister at the time, James Griffin. The election came and went, the Labour government took the power in a minority state and there was a discussion about how could we get this issue up on the agenda again to get some action on it. The Liberal Party and the coalition came together and backed a bill that would ban offshore sea mining in the coastal waters and also prohibit any infrastructure being laid pipelines essentially through the state waters from Commonwealth waters to process gas on shore.

So this really rendered the Pepperlevin project pretty much uneconomical, like completely. That was introduced last year by the Liberals and the coalition.

We took that on a journey through an environment committee. We took part, engaged our community on the issue, did a big survey to make sure that politicians could understand that there was strong sentiment in support of this policy position. And over the summer, the labor government obviously did a bit of work on this, saw that there was a strong reaction, a strong positive reaction to this move from the other side of politics. And they came into the new year with their own policy position to ban offshore oil and gas and prohibit any pipeline infrastructure using a different pathway, a different legislative pathway, but still the same result.

So we’re really happy that we could kind of inspire what we call a race to the top on climate. And that definitely resulted in this legislation, which is looking to pass this week. It looks like there’ll be law by the end of the week that will ban any offshore oil and gas in New South Wales waters. And it’ll prohibit pipeline infrastructure to the Commonwealth waters, which we think is a huge result.

Yeah, a great achievement, Josh. We’ll look forward to hearing the outcome of that. So you’re fairly confident that it’s going to get up?

Yeah, no, we’ve got bipartisanship on the issue. Yeah. So we know that the Liberals and Nationals support the spirit of the legislation that’s been brought forward by the Labor government. And we believe that this will pass through without any opposition, only celebration, to be honest, which is a really rare opportunity in politics. You don’t really hear very often when the major parties agree on something. So we’re really excited to let people know about this because we feel that for too long there’s been this idea that if you’re a conservative, you can’t do anything good for the environment. And what we see in New South Wales is a very different case.

The former coalition government was essentially leading the whole country on energy policy as well as on climate. They haven’t been in the way of progress on this issue for a long time. So it’s one of those things, you know, like the brand isn’t the same in every state or on the federal, but the New South Wales coalition definitely on board with the shift to renewable energy and how we can get there in a way that makes economic sense and creates jobs for people in, you know, regional communities. So it’s really exciting to see this progress. So now we’re a hundred percent confident that this law will pass with bipartisan support. And that’s the goal. I don’t think it’s really helpful to rely on any one side of politics when it comes to climate action. If you do that, you always run the risk of it being undone by the other side, because inevitably power changes. It doesn’t really matter which way you vote or who you think should be there. It’ll change for one reason or another.

So to get all sides of politics, the major parties on board in a way that we have in New South Wales is really, really positive. And we want to replicate this result in other states around the country because what we know about the federal government on this issue is that they’re kind of in this, in this bit of a pickle, you know, like they don’t seem to know what to do about the federal response to offshore oil and gas. So we think the States can play a huge role in advancing this issue. Yeah.

Could you take us through, just briefly take us through the process and how did you achieve that?

I think, I think the shortest answer, the most simple response to that is just be nice to politicians when you meet them. When you have a meeting with a politician, listen to them, try to understand where they’re coming from, treat them like human beings because they are. Don’t let the past dictate what you think they’re going to respond to positively or not. Give them a chance, give them a shot. The world, like sentiment to climate has shifted dramatically. Off the back of the federal election, se know that there’s no longer that problem of denialism so much. I think that the shift has happened whereby most Australians, an overwhelming majority of Australians, don’t deny there’s an issue with our climate and with global warming. But where the confusion rests is how do we solve the problem? How do we address it in a meaningful way that’s good for our economy and it’s good for regional jobs and it’s good for growth? Because these are the things that everybody worries about.

They want to make sure they’ve got a roof over their head. They want to make sure their kids can afford to buy a home. These are the everyday concerns of Australian people, the vast majority of Australian people. So I think what we did well was we actually just had meaningful conversations that understood the people we were talking to. We just had developed a relationship, developed a friendship, developed good lines of communication so that we could consult easily with these politicians.

And what we also did at the same time was that we were willing to go out and show that support publicly. Because at the end of the day, if the people who are voting and who actually feel good about voting liberal, that’s where their values sit. They’re in the center of the political spectrum. They might kind of deviate either way, but to see the coalition back such a legislation and to see an organisation like us go, you know what?

Well done. We are going to give you a pat on the back publicly about this and we’re going to step up next to you and show that we support you in this, in this move. I think that’s the type of signal that your community needs to see that you, when you say you want bipartisanship on, on these issues, you’ve got to show that you mean it. And I don’t think a lot of environmental organisations in Australia are really comfortable with speaking to the conservative side of politics. I think they like to say they, they talk to them, but I feel like they yell at them half the time and no wonder they don’t seem to build relationships that can actually move the needle.

So it’s not my theory, it’s a theory of change that goes beyond me to some amazing people. Anna Rose being that specific person who has had this idea for a long time that there’s a gap in the environmental movement and engaging conservative politicians can make a difference. And I think in New South Wales, we see that difference being proven. And so this result is just building good relationships, taking your community on a journey, holding politicians to account. If they say they’re going to do something, definitely like keep that pressure up and keep it up in a way that doesn’t make it weird and confrontational. It doesn’t have to be like that. You can just check in and go, how are we going? You know, what’s the next step?

And, you know, what we see is that, is that politicians, there’s an appetite for this change at the moment too. So, certain things happen when the window is on that time and space. We couldn’t have achieved this two years ago, but the moment has arrived when it’s been a good time to do this. And we think that there are other states that are right for this same legislation.

Queensland being one where I’m sitting right now, like they can play a huge role in this and not accept any gas into their terminals here and kind of continue the journey of decarbonisation in their energy system. Victoria can also explore this as well. The really important thing about our position at Surfers for Climate is that we’re not saying that we want all fossil fuels to end tomorrow because that’s a completely absurd position to take. There’s a lot of locked in fossil fuels into our system that we cannot reasonably switch off. It would be an economic disaster for this country and it would be a jobs disaster as well. So that’s not a position that we take.

Our goal is to see a line in the sand on new projects by 2028. We think that’s a reasonable timeline. And we think that if state governments, we’ve already got New South Wales on board, they have drawn the line in the sand. So, done! We think other states can quickly follow suit. And we think the federal government can certainly get to 2028 and go, you know what? Here’s the deadline on new projects. If they say that it’s a deadline in 2032, we’ll celebrate that. And we’ll say, all right, great. We’ll take that one and we’ll try and make it 2030.

But like we’ve got to be reasonable about the financial status of these projects, the investments that have already been made, the sovereign risk involved if you start to mess with those. These are all very real concerns. We know that 80 per cent of our gas is exported to Japan and South Korea, essentially. We need to respect that there is some locked in exports going on there. But we also need to talk about if we’re going to actually deal with this issue, we do need to draw that down. We do need to say to our trading partners, hey, we’re not going to keep supplying this to you forever.

You need to have a plan about how you’re decarbonising in your economies. And we think that’s a reasonable approach that most sides of politics can get their heads around. So yeah, we want a deadline. That’s the simple fact. And we think if we can get that deadline, we can start to bring that deadline closer, much in the same way that we’ve gotten emissions reduction targets always creeping closer to today instead of further out in the tomorrow. So yeah, that’s our work.

I mean, the other side of the work just to pick up on the great stuff said by Todd Christopher is that we do see that there’s also this issue in what’s the bridge to the future for coastal communities? What’s the alternative if we’re saying stop doing new oil and gas? Well, we do need to start engaging in let’s go on other stuff. So the offshore wind discussion is something that we take really seriously.

We know that there’s been some initial, you know, cynical politics around this. The overwhelming concern for whales from the Liberal Party on the federal level is quite the revolution in politics. I would love it if that was sincerely adopted and if they want a whale policy to increase whale numbers around this country. So be it, I’ll jump on board with Peter Dutton and I’ll support that right down the line, if we could restore whale populations to what they were before industrial whaling, we’d have the biggest carbon sequestration effort achieved in the history of mankind.

I’m really keen on that policy position if it’s sincere, but I think what we know is that it’s not. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to try and wedge people. It’s a way to get communities to start fighting against each other. And it’s a cynical pathway to electoral success, which I believe won’t come to pass because people are smarter than that. And they do care about the future of their coastal communities. And they do recognise that a large industrial opportunity like offshore wind is overwhelmingly good for what they need.

So we’re going to be wading into that space, engaging surfing communities. We do have a campaign being formulated by our new campaigns manager who jumped on about a month ago. So she’s doing the work on that now. Really fantastic individual who helped fire up the Good for the Gong campaign in the Illawarra region. So we have the right people on board to be able to address this particular issue and opportunity, which is with us for the next, you know, seven years. So there’s an exciting journey ahead as we get off that coal-fired electricity and shift it over to this renewable resource, which is over the horizon and just waiting for us to grab.

This is very, very important that we have this discussion. And the big question is, how do we get it out in our communities? How do we get it out in society? And I think we also have some of the answers to that in our show today. For instance, with this beautiful festival that’s coming up and all the good work that we’re hearing being done at various levels. But we really need to come together around this, isn’t it?

Absolutely. The thing that I think we need to remember in all of this is: The clean energy transformation, decarbonising our lives, and I say this as a career electrical engineer, the technology is basically there. In terms of a change, what it really is for all of us is a social change. It’s the journey of individuals and it’s a journey of communities. And that’s where I think lies the greatest potential for great positive outcomes here. And I might add a lot less divisiveness in our society and in the discourse here. The end of the day, energy is a lived experience. I used to work in the electricity industry and people used to say, oh, what’s it about? It’s about reliability. It’s about this, that, the other. The answer was it was always about hot water and cold beer. It’s about the lifestyle that’s delivered for all of us. And so the key message that I think is for us to have polite conversations.

I live in a coal mining area here in Wollongong. My dad, when he first came to Australia, was a coal miner. We need to make sure that we’re really engaging with this at a human level and saying these are communities, these are people, these are individuals, these are lives with genuine care for the environment that we’re talking about as we go through this clean energy transition. New infrastructure has to be built. Let’s have those conversations about what do we do in our own lives with that infrastructure and then with the big infrastructure end of things, how do we do this in a way that is respectful of the environment, that maximises the community outcomes and maximises the environmental outcomes?

Yeah, I think, look, there’s many mistakes made when we come to talking about climate change, but I guess three of the key ones I see happening quite often is that people think we’ve got time, which we don’t, we know we need to act really fast on this, that there are other amazing people working on it, which there are plenty. But we need all hands on deck for this one. Like everyone has to find their role and their agency, you know, whether that’s changing your power supplier or your superannuation. There are some really basic steps that people can do that are really powerful. And that sort of leads me into the third one, which is: people feel completely disempowered, right? We are up against a broken system. This is a system issue and you can feel very insignificant when you start looking at that in terms of what can one person, what can one community, what can one group do to change that?

But if you look back on the history with every single change in society, it’s been started by a small group of people and I think everyone has the power to create change and I think believing that’s really important. And I guess the last thing I would say is that we’ve been guilted into believing that we’re bad people, that climate change is our fault, and that’s another great misinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industries. And I think that really makes people sort-of bury their head in the sand a lot, because it’s a pretty overwhelming and awful thing to think about. But, you know, we are part of a broken system. We’re not responsible for climate change but we are responsible for what we do to try and change that. So yeah, I really encourage everyone to find your role and it’s not deem and gloom, there’s so many up benefits and Jacqui spoke to that. Like how inspiring to hear her story. Just that reconnection with community, let alone reconnection with this incredible planet, this one life-giving planet that we live on, yeah, is something to really embrace and enjoy.

You can get active wherever you are, at home, at work, at the One Planet Festival, definitely this weekend. It’s going to be an amazing space to come and connect with us. I have found the best community from these people. Laura is a close friend now. She’s a wonderful resource for us being part of the National Organisation for Parents for Climate, but she’s also a wonderful role model for her children. So, we all have these people that we aspire to be like, and she’s one of those. So get down and get connected, have some fun, have some great ice cream. There’s some beautiful food being served – and listen to some great music and entertain your kids for free. It’s going to be awesome!

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Events we have talked about in The Sustainable Hour

Events in Victoria

The following is a collation of Victorian climate change events, activities, seminars, exhibitions, meetings and protests. Most are free, many ask for RSVP (which lets the organising group know how many to expect), some ask for donations to cover expenses, and a few require registration and fees. This calendar is provided as a free service by volunteers of the Victorian Climate Action Network. Information is as accurate as possible, but changes may occur.



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