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Living Lightly column

The positives in change

By Dr Juliette Milbank

I too attended the National Climate Emergency Summit recently and I found that there was hope, strategy and the shared experience of attending a seminal event and coming away with fuel for the journey.

Many sessions were fascinating but the ones I liked were about transitioning to a low-emissions economy. But it’s not about massively reducing our quality of life. There are incredible opportunities available in moving to a low carbon economy, along with solutions to the problems that go with carbon-based economies, such as pollution, health issues, finite resources and a heat-propelled atmosphere.

As Simon Holmes à Court said in one of the sessions, “the future is not about sacrifice”. Other speakers reiterated that we already have the tools and the economic capacity; the dilemma of responding to climate change is a social and political problem, but with the right leadership the benefits to all sectors of our society would be realised.

Heidi Lee from Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) emphasised that there are no technical barriers to electrifying our industries: you can run a steel factory on electricity using electric arc furnaces; and bricks can be made without gas kilns. There are many examples overseas of industries that have successfully converted to using renewably generated electricity.

BZE has conducted research into transitioning industries to low-emission forms. Their report on a 10 GW renewable energy vision for the Northern Territory found that if it was deployed to capitalise on the NT renewable energy resources, it would create 8000 new jobs over 10 years, with 5000 being ongoing jobs.

While the competing shale gas industry’s most optimistic projection was for 500 jobs to be created. Other studies have also found that the creation of local, permanent jobs in renewable energy industries outweighs that of current carbon intensive industries either now or in the future.

Jobs in the renewable energy industry also suit the skills base of people who have worked in fossil fuel dependent sectors, and these are highly skilled, high-quality jobs that have a long term future.

By not acting we are losing significant opportunities to lead the world in low carbon technologies (as we have before with many other technologies). With plentiful natural resources, in a carbon constrained global economy, Australia wins hands down. And so does the planet.