I represent a group of approximately 80 paid up members, and 400 other community members with whom we are in regular contact. All of us, and many more within this community, share a very real concern about the current and future health of our planet. We recognise that there is irrefutable scientific evidence that human induced climate change is occurring, that the data trends on temperature, rainfall, sea levels, ice-cap melts, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, are all heading in the wrong direction, and more significantly, the rates of change are not actually slowing down.
We understand that having recognised the problem, we have an urgent responsibility to do all we can to fix it, because we have a responsibility, not just to our present generation, but to all who follow. We are acutely aware that as the Earth continues to warm, many regions will become uninhabitable, our food production systems will completely break down, our health systems will struggle to cope with the increased number of diseases, and the rate of creature extinctions will accelerate. This is not a future I, and all of us here want to leave for our descendants.
The problem with climate change is, that it appears to be happening so slowly, that we don't all quite see the urgency, unlike the coronavirus pandemic. The reality is however, that in Earth years it is happening rapidly, because over the last 200 years, this is the first time there have been so many humans on the planet, and all of our processes have become so industrialised, and dependent on energy consumption - energy largely produced by burning fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. What we also need to understand, is that there are critical areas on our planet that control the weather, and a number of these places have possibly already reached their climate tipping points, from which it will be extremely difficult to pull back. Eg. the Arctic region is already 3.5 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times, compared to the average increase across the whole of Earth of 1.2 degrees. Already in the Arctic, permafrost ice has melted, resulting in methane gas escaping into the atmosphere, and this gas is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The solutions are not simple, but not impossible either. We just need the collective political and community will to achieve what is required. Unfortunately, over the past couple of decades, action has been suppressed by various means, so that now we have reached the point where the solutions need to be implemented so much more urgently, than if we had started 20 years ago.
There are 2 major parts to the solution. Firstly, we must stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (we were able to achieve repair of the ozone layer by virtually eliminating the use of hydrofluorocarbons), and we need to do this much sooner than 2050. Climate Scientists are telling us that on all the current evidence available, we need to do this by 2030, if warming is to be kept below 1.5 to 2 degrees. The second part is that we also need to draw down carbon from the atmosphere, because if we don't, the carbon that we have already put up there will continue to magnify the effects for decades to come.
We believe that the solutions are not just the responsibility of government, but all sectors of our communities must take action. Federal and State governments obviously have a role to play in enacting legislation and policies that facilitate solutions, so that businesses and individuals can then more readily make the changes required. But, we as a community and Local Government have just as important a role to play, in agitating and advocating for change, and in leading by example.
So what are we requesting Council to do? Over the past month, I appreciated the opportunity to chat with most of you about climate change, and to ask you to share your thoughts on Council's role in tackling this problem. All who I talked with acknowledged that climate change is real, but not all agreed that the problem was urgent, or that council could do any more than they perceived it was already doing. Some even suggested that to take all the required actions might send Council broke. Our concern is that not to take the required actions now, will certainly put future generations in this community in a very precarious position, as they struggle with livability, health, and economic issues - all of which will be on a much greater scale of difficulty than we presently face.
We acknowledge that Council has already undertaken a number of measures which reduce the municipality's greenhouse gas emissions. Amongst these are the installation of solar systems on Council properties, residential street lighting upgrades (which are currently saving around $50,000 and 250 tonnes of GHG annually), and Council building lighting upgrades, planning being undertaken to introduce EVs to the Council fleet, planning for cabling to be installed in a new carpark for EV charging points, solar battery off-grid at the landfill facility, and we also acknowledge Council's role in approving planning applications for a number of solar farms in the district, which although assisting with reducing greenhouse gases, cannot be directly counted in our own municipality's reductions. All these actions are excellent, but there are many others that we believe will send an even stronger message to the community, and that will actually convey to the community that there is hope for a better future.
BSFG is not going to present you with a complete list here tonight, as we believe that is a function of a community consultation exercise which we hope can be urgently implemented, not just as part of the Council Plan discussions currently underway, but as a dedicated discussion around the topic of climate change action. We think there are a number of advocacy roles that council can undertake, such as facilitating large battery storage installation adjacent to the solar farms, and encouraging new technology industries to Benalla - industries associated with renewable power production and EV sales and maintenance are 2 that come to mind. Other areas we have identified as possible are the further upgrading to LED lighting in all residential street areas of Benalla and surrounding townships (which again will lead to an additional saving of $50,000 and 250 tonnes of GHG per year), signing up to greenpower electricity plans, identifying suitable EV charging station locations in Benalla, and encouraging suppliers to install them now, advocate for electric buses on our town bus routes, develop a much more extensive bike lane route around Benalla to encourage more students to ride to school, and residents to ride to the shops, further upgrades of our landfill to possibly introduce a recycle material Tip-shop, and through council's planning department, encourage developers and builders to establish sustainable communities with cooler green open spaces, and higher star rating buildings which will considerably reduce energy consumption. Some of these suggestions will require an initial financial outlay, but in a short period of time will be paid back in savings, as well as far into the future.
We have come here tonight to respectfully request that Council receives our petition, signed by approximately 600 residents, from all walks of life, across all age groups. These people are not lunatic, scare-mongering Greenies, as some in the media like to portray us - there are farmers, business people, health professionals, shop assistants, students, pensioners, factory workers, educators, and environmentalists all included in this petition. Our request is that Council:
- Acknowledges that human actions have contributed substantially to the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in the warming of the planet, and leading to an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events
- Declares a Climate Emergency, and that within six months, it implements policies and actions to reduce our community's greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2030.
March 24th 2021"