This morning, I joined Bob Brown and our ACT Senate candidate, Kerrie Tucker, down at the ANU's Big Dish to launch a new policy that we are quite excited about - Farming Renewable Energy.
We've noticed that whenever we raise this as a concept it garners a particularly positive response, so we developed it into a detailed policy proposal to help those farmers whose livelihood is most threatened by climate change impacts to start profiting by becoming part of the solution. Instead of staring at a dustbowl, this policy can give people reason for hope.
The policy is about drawing together the need to reduce emissions urgently and the need to adapt to the climate change that is already locked in. We have to face up to the fact that, thanks to our actions over the last centuries, there will be parts of Australia that have been farmed for generations that will become far less viable for agriculture. But we can't just abandon those communities to their hotter and drier future. We certainly can't just go out there with an akubra and a relief cheque and pray for rain. We need to support them in staying on the land, keeping their communities vibrant, and moving into a future where climate change is an opportunity, not just a threat.
At the same time, if we are to shift to zero emissions energy in the near future, as we must do, we are going to need to rebuild our energy grid. It evolved over the last century, understandably focussed on coal. Now we will need to refocus it, bringing power to our population centres from the big renewable energy resources - sunny areas, windy areas, geothermal hotspots, regions where we can use multi-purpose cropping to supply feedstock for bioenergy.
The obvious thing is to draw these together and achieve both simultaneously.
So, Farming Renewable Energy proposes a three-stage process to help struggling farmers become renewable energy generators, supplementing their income, revitalising their communities with jobs and investment, and keeping regional Australia alive.
The first stage is overlaying maps of climate vulnerability with maps of renewable energy resources and identifying the areas where there is a strong overlap. For solar, in particular, this will be considerable. Once there is an indication of areas, a process of consultation would begin, drawing together the communities with the industry and the three levels of government. This is about identifying specific regions which want to take up the offer, and developing the vital relationships to make it happen.
Finally, Renewable Energy Development Zones would be declared, where large-scale investment would be attracted by the highly streamlined approvals process (because much of the work would already have been done), existing relationships and, importantly, government investment (using funds gathered via emissions trading permit sales) to support skills development and paying for high voltage interconnectors to the main electricity grid where necessary.
Of course, this isn't about farmers being forced to stop farming and take on industry instead. There are plenty of renewable energy technologies which coexist with agriculture - wind is the obvious one, but solar collectors can, too, even providing shade for cattle on multi-use land. Contrast that with coal mines spreading across farming land in NSW, digging it up and leaving a path of devastation behind them. They also use very little water comparative to coal mines and power stations.
Do please read the policy (the media release is here) and pass it around to others you think might be interested. As always, we welcome feedback.
Here's a rather grainy video of part of the launch this morning.