By Graham Parton
In October the 2019 NSW Local Councils Conference debated the question of whether or not they should declare a climate emergency.
The “No” case was championed by former Liberal MP Phillip Ruddock, now the Mayor of Hornsby Council, who said he didn’t like “vague statements”. He was joined by Greater Hume Shire Council Deputy Mayor Doug Meyer, who voted against the motion.
How different might things have been if Greater Hume had declared a climate emergency.
In November the Council considered an application for a solar farm just north of the town of Jindera. If they had declared a climate emergency, a solar farm sounds like just the right response.
Instead the council listed five reasons for opposing the development:
- It would create “adverse environmental, social and economic impacts for the local community”. These include “minimal economic benefits” to the local community. Somehow minimal economic benefit became “adverse economic impacts”.
- It will “restrict the ability for Jindera to grow in the direction of the subject land.” It’s hard to argue for preserving agricultural land while at the same time saying you want to keep it available for future urban expansion.
- The development posed a bushfire risk, although how steel and glass create a risk compared to grassland is hard to see.
- The loss of high-quality agricultural land. Councillor Doug Myer had told the Sydney conference, “My Shire is prime agricultural land, it produces the food you eat. If you’re going to replace it with solar panels, what are you going to eat?” The council may not be aware that solar farms can co-exist with grazing.
- Impacts on native vegetation and Aboriginal heritage. Although the proposal includes some areas set aside for “biodiversity retention” this may be the strongest case against the proposal.
The council considered the loss of 17.41 hectares of native vegetation and 24 items of Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Most of the land around Jindera has been cleared of native vegetation and countless Aboriginal heritage items lost, which of course makes the remaining ones even more valuable.
However in a climate crisis some hard decisions need to be made and solar energy could be argued to be important enough to be worth proceeding with.
But of course there’s no climate crisis in Hume.