Repower Port Augusta

This is a rough transcript of a speech I gave at an Earth Hour event this year after we watched 2 Degrees, a film wich I can highly reccomend. It talks about the collosal fail that was the Copenhagen CoP in 2009 and the wonderful story of the Repower Port Augusta campaign, which I was lightly involved in in 2012.

I want to start by acknowldging the traditional owners of this land, the Gumbaynggirr people, and their elders past and present. I want to apologise to the elders of the past, of all countries across Australia, because they were stewards for tens of thousands of years and looked after the country, and in the 200 years of whitefellas being here we now have all kinds of environmental problems.

We’re here tonight to work on fixing one of those problems; climate change.

A warning: this is a slightly interactive talk.

In 2012 I was part of a group that walked the 328km from Port Augusta to Adelaide. It was really fun; I met some lovely people, travelled through beautiful countryside, and became an expert in taping up blisters. For two weeks we walked through heat, dust, rain and cyclonic winds and when we finally marched into Adelaide and were met by a huge, supportive crowd it was one of the most exciting and powerful things I have ever done.

We walked into Adelaide and about 2000 people joined us to march through the streets to the SA Parliament. It was wonderful; we were all singing and dancing and chanting and the police cleared the streets for us and that night we were all over the news right around Australia. #kickinggoalsallovertheplace

(We were all over TV the day we arrived in Adelaide. Ellen Sandell was AYCC Director at the time, check out her talking to the ABC here.)

Repowering Port Augusta will start a new way of thinking in Australia. This project will prove that renewable are not only viable, but that they are better than fossil fuels. It will show that we can move away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change without compromising our standard of living or the environment. This campaign, and in particular the Walk, marks a turning point in Australia’s interaction with climate change – when a community stood up and took action instead of waiting for action from a government.

community vote
The Repower Port Augusta team lead by Daniel Spencer who was the AYCC SA co-coordinator at the time (pictured) and the late Joy Baluch, who was Mayor of Port Augusta for decades, put in hundreds of hours of work to put together a community vote which showed overwhelming support for solar energy over fossil fuels.

I went because I wanted to be a part of it, to be able to say, I was there; much like I am tonight. I loved the idea of showing how much I cared in the real world, not just through a petition or something, but through tangible action. And I can tell you, with the number of blisters I got it was very, very tangible.

Volunteers of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition were invited to go on the walk and we helped to escalate the campaign and create national awareness of it, which we did wonderfully. This was only possible because of hundreds of hours of work put in by the PA team and their volunteers.

See, as a Walker, I was just one cog in the Repower Port Augusta machine. Leading up to the Walk and in the years since, the Port Augusta team worked hard with the local community to grow support for concentrated solar thermal for their town. Port Augusta hasn’t been repowered yet, but the community is so behind it that it will be.

Here’s the first interactive bit: If I said Vincent Lingairi and Paul Kelly, you would say … ?

(If you don’t know the song, have a listen here. It is a classic from one of Australia’s best contemporary musicians about a very important episode in our history.)

We know that from little things, big things grow and because of their determination and commitment, this little group of South Australians as the potential to grow into Australia’s first big renewable energy project.

A concentrated solar thermal plant in Spain. The mirrors shine light onto the top of the tower where molten salt is heated up and put in tanks. The salt is used to heat water to spin the turbines to create electricity and can provide baseload power.

The lessons from Port Augusta are important now, as the science gets grimmer, time slips away from us and governments around the world – and in Australia – refuse to take it seriously. It’s easy to lose motivation.

But in 2012 a hundred of us walked 328km for solar, this week UniSuper, Australia’s 7th largest super, announced it would start transitioning away from fossil fuels, and tonight we are all here to continue strong climate action in Coffs Harbour.

There is still a long way to go on UniSuper, but this is a good start.

Even if you’re just six people with five laptops and one idea, with enough time and effort you can change climate change. We can save the Great Barrier Reef, we can transition Australia to renewable energy, we can divest from fossil fuels, change hearts and minds, and lead our governments.

Port Augsta teaches us that we have the skills, technology and will to beat climate change, we just have to get our local community organised and put in a lot of work.

Second interactive part: I want you to all hold out your hand and imagine that there’s a little puzzle piece on it. Now all we have to do it fit them together to grow something big.

earth hour
While I was giving my speech in NSW, Canberra was looking mighty fine for Earth Hour, fitting 3600 little candles together for one big message: we have to fight climate change to save the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate Change and Policy … It’s Crazy

So I just finished up doing a third year course called Climate Change Science and Policy and I want to reflect a bit on it all, so here goes.

I’ve done a little bit of climate science before, with the same lecturer, but that was more about the hard science; more physical geography in that it was just telling us how our interactions with the climate system are going (tldr: not well). This course, however, was several levels up the evolutionary ladder in that it was more about human geography, telling us about the health impacts of climate change; about how agriculture is having to adapt; about the future of water resources under climate change; and a brilliant guest lecture by someone from the university’s Law school about adaptation.

I live in the red bit on Australia’s east coast. Can’t say I’m too keen to get malaria.

This lecture was different to others as it presented me with a real challenge to the way I usually think of climate change.

It was all about adaptation and who bears responsibility for it, who pays the cost, who reaps the benefits. In my volunteering life as a climate activist I’m all about mitigation but this course, emphasised very strongly in this lecture, made me realise how important it is to have the tricky conversations about adaptation. In that lecture we spoke specifically about building codes in coastal areas but in the rest of the course we tackled much larger questions in our mock CoP.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have this thing called the Kyoto Protocol and ever year all the Parties to the Protocol go to a Conference; the Conference of the Parties (CoP).  You probably heard about the 2009 one in Copenhagen that was meant to be the silver bullet of climate change but actually went up in flames (as we’re talking climate change this can be taken literally). In it, Tuvalu didn’t sign on because an item they’d had tabled for six moths was ignored. A similar thing had happened two years earlier at the Bali CoP; basically America couldn’t agree on anything at all,  and the Secretariat was bullied by China and left crying. Dang.

This was a year after Obama got the Peace Prize just for *not* being GW Bush. Then at Copenhagen America held the negotiations hostage while they got their Senate sorted out. Not sure how much of that is Obama’s fault but it sure is a chilling image.

CoPs are crazy. Ian Fry, a long time CoP attendee, gave us two lectures on CoPs that can basically be summed up thus: for two weeks everyone only sleeps about three hours a night; everyone is too busy protecting their own interests to think about anyone else; big countries like the US and blocs like the EU often dominate discussions; it doesn’t matter how high your ambition is at a CoP if you can’t pass anything in domestic law.


So we did a mock CoP and this whole process really did my head in. I’ve always been very, The rich countries whose fault it is should take responsibility!, but that’s not fair. It won’t even work;  if only Annex I countries (Australia, England, Germany, the US etc.) mitigated it wouldn’t really get us anywhere as they’ve already done all their hard yards in the serious emitting stage of development.

That’s another thing that struck me. In the mock CoP I was Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific Island nation that has fewer than 12 000 people on 26 square kilometres on six islands.

Clockwise from left: the country of Tuvalu extends from roughly 5 to 11 degrees South; the capital is on Funafuti, an island no more than 600m wide; the region of the South Pacific with Tuvalu highlighted.

When researching for the CoP I read this article (Connell, 2003) that said the people of Tuvalu are much less interested in climate change than one would assume; they’re far more concerned about developing their small and fragile economy. This is something one can call the climate/development nexus: even though developing countries (especially small island states like Tuvalu) are the most vulnerable they don’t have  the resources to deal with it. So do we get everyone out of poverty first? No, there’s not enough time for that. We just have to balance on that nexus and try to do what’s best. And it’s SO DIFFICULT.

Living in Australia and caring about climate change is really difficult. I did this course because I wanted to learn more about the effects of climate change and the international process but so many people in this country know so little about it, or worse: they think they know about it but are actually on a scale of being confused to being drastically misinformed. I want to be a high school science teacher and this course really highlighted for me how important it is to teach kids these things early and correctly. Then, hopefully, we’ll have a better informed public leading to better informed politicians and better international outcomes.

A picture from our dear friends at the Heartland Institute. Let’s keep the crazies away from the kids, eh?

And that’s my theory of change.

At the end of the course we had a 40% report. I did the assignment with sincerity and quite a bit of effort but I was one stupid climate change denier or irritating news article or picture of  our (climate change idiot) PM away from just handing this in, centred on a single sheet of paper:

 Absurd arbitrary arithmetic actually affecting all Aves, animals and agriculture. But bulging behemoth businesses bemoaning bumbling bystander bureaucracies: curse callous corporations, craven countries; casual collusion causing climate change! Development’s dogmas determinedly damning delicate  developing democracies – every extra economically enthralling emission eradicating ethical entreaties, eroding entire ecosystems. Fuck fossil fuels.


Connell, J 2003, ‘Losing ground? Tuvalu, the greenhouse effect and the garbage can’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol.44, no.4, pp. 89-107.

Climate Change Week

Afternoon all!

I have officially and arbitrarily decided that this week on GiA will be Climate Change Week.

“Stop melting my home!” PHOTO: National Geographic


I’m assuming that everyone has a pretty good understanding of the science, so I’ll skim over that before delving into the depths of international climate change talks, where it gets seriously complicated.

The science is easy; it’s the politics of it that’s nuts.

First off though, we’ll start with this, a counter that shows you the atmosphere’s current and past carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million (ppm).

It’s a crazy graph and as you can see, we cracked 400ppm earlier this year. The international community has agreed that we need to stay below 2’C of warming above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid a climate that most societies won’t be able to function in.  To stay below this 2’C, we’d need to get carbon dioxide levels down to or below 350ppm.

The 2’C is in itself a bit arbitrary (I’ll explain that in a bit), but it provides a good indicator of how we’re going.

I realise this is pretty sad, so to cheer you up, here’s a video of a baby panda sneezing.