Wind, warming, and what to do next: take-aways from the AEGN conference

By Louise Arkles, Director Knowledge & Communications, Philanthropy Australia

A colleague once said to me:  “No one ever goes to conferences to learn things, it’s all about the networking.” I attended the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) conference this week, and was delighted that it proved this attitude wrong.

I want three things from a conference to make it worth my while:

  • to take away new understanding that sticks - sticky facts
  • to be inspired enough for the time to fly by, and
  • to hear views that challenge me out of my comfort zone, no matter if the speaker is holding a microphone or a cup of coffee.

This Conference was worked on every level. I was riveted.

Here are my top ten sticky facts:

  1. We need to shift the frame of the debate – from ‘the need to act’ to ‘strategically managing the problem now’ -  in order to accelerate change.
  2. The energy industry is turning on its head. Demand is collapsing from too much supply. Australians are learning to do more with less energy. There will soon be wholesale disruption in the energy industry and a strong fight from threatened fossil fuel industries.
  3. Technology costs are coming down fast – the big cost is not the generation of electricity but the distribution - but regulation and vested interests are inhibiting change.  Solar costs came down 75% in 2010/11, and will come down a further 30% this year. We are already down 15% on forward expectations. We therefore need the renewable energy target to be firm and robust.
  4. Funding the environment is funding social justice, and disadvantage, and health, and research - our imposed silos are a furphy.
  5. Once the finance sector cottons on that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels then the markets will shift, as we are already seeing, and finally government policy will follow.
  6. It’s hard for people to picture the real impact of climate change, and lack of understanding fuels disempowerment, leading to an absence of personal responsibility. More understanding will lead to more support.
  7. No one ever identifies as ‘a member of the public’, so pitching a message to ‘the public’  won’t work.
  8. Focusing on facts is not going to work. People have their own beliefs and get stuck in being right. Value sets are important, and control people’s actions.
  9. Wind farms pose no threat to human, plant or animal health, but the debate has been hijacked by a climate of fear in Australia.
  10. More heat now going into the earth than is going out, so the earth is warming at a staggering rate.
Simon Holmes a Court took a group of delegates to visit the Hepburn Community Wind Farm, of which he is Chair, prior to the conference, presenting a powerful case study (forgive the pun).  Hepburn Springs is a small town in central Victoria. Seven years ago 200 people turned up to a community meeting to defeat a developer planning a wind farm. Now a community-owned wind farm in Hepburn has 2000 members, and generates about substantial percentage of the community’s power needs, with the two turbines powering approximately one thousand local homes each.  Also a grant maker, the Hepburn Community Wind Farm is on track to donate $50,000 to the local area in the coming year. Eleven NFPs working in the environmental space were invited to give a 2 minute pitch to the delegates. Lunch was beckoning, but these voices were louder than my stomach, their message imperative, for they deliver the change we want to see in the world. This first-hand account from grant recipients and NFP partners was a valuable connection, linking theory to practice for delegates. Implementation is always a hard ask at the end of a conference - how can I put this new-found knowledge to work? Here are my top 7 opportunities for the philanthropic to-do list:
  1. Support the experts to develop and drive a collective strategic view, understood and owned by the community, so we can recognise the gaps and act to address them.
  2. Harness the appetite for behaviour change around climate that is already out there, by disseminating a clear message about renewable energy, coming simultaneously from a range of credible sources. Fund communication campaigns:  work with the almost 1 million Australians who have solar panels on their roofs.
  3. Act on the strategic goal to sequence the green energy concept, shifting from being a radical idea to becoming the social norm.  Philanthropy can take the risks needed to drive this shift.
  4. Stop focusing on countering denial, rather focus on getting the killer arguments and key questions ready for when the backlash comes.
  5. Reframe the debate from fear to strategy, from reacting to irrelevant questions to answering strategic ones. Identify the pertinent questions - How can we minimise the employment dislocation in the energy industry? How can we protect the disadvantaged through this transition? Prepare sound answers and get them into a variety of media.
  6. We must be proactive and assertive in getting our message out to the public, but not anti-corporate. Find leaders from inside successful corporates locally and internationally who have embraced renewables to talk to lagging corporates, instead of relying on NFPs to try to push a green message.
  7. Fund research: eg. benchmark policy in Australia, produce report cards on government action.
Congratulations to Amanda and her team at the AEGN for hosting a very worthwhile event.

Oct. 29, 2012

 Tags: research & information, general, events, environment, education, advocacy

Philanthropy Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to our weekly e-newsletter for sector news, expert opinion and resources.

Sign up here