CCL staffer goes ‘down under’ to examine energy policy
By Stephanie Doyle
For those who don’t know, in addition to working full time as CCL’s Senior Outreach Liaison in DC, I am pursuing a Masters of Science degree in Energy Policy and Climate from Johns Hopkins University. As part of my program, I had the opportunity to head “down under” to Australia, to look at their energy projects and policies. After more than 24 hours of travel both ways and three weeks in an incredibly diverse country, I wanted to share a glimpse into what I learned.
Adelaide: Renewables abound
The first stop on our energy tour of Australia was Adelaide, South Australia. South Australia has one of the highest levels of renewables in Australia, with large amounts of wind and rooftop solar providing electricity to its 1,300,000 residents. Adelaide offered a glimpse into how Australia’s energy policy is divided up by states, and how each state can have vastly different opinions on how to address climate change and sustainability. Because Adelaide is the driest state in Australia, they have a diverse range of water issues, along with droughts and problems with intermittent electricity supply. South Australia is addressing these problems by increasing use of wind energy, and a visit to Starfish Hill Wind Farm was a great chance to see these massive energy suppliers up close. South Australia is also where Elon Musk has just announced he will build the first large-scale lithium ion battery system, which should help stabilize the renewable energy supply and continue to support Adelaide’s progressive efforts on energy policy.
While in Adelaide, I also had the great pleasure of getting to meet one of our CCL Adelaide volunteers, Jim Allen. Jim and I met for coffee the morning following Jim’s first appearance on a radio program to talk about CCL. We discussed how keeping up a group of CCLers has its challenges and successes—not so different from Group Leaders in the U.S.! Tim also gave me a great rundown of the politics around carbon pricing policy in Australia.
Sydney: Partnerships and policy
After Adelaide, I headed to the city most think of when they hear Australia: Sydney. I had a welcome dinner from our CCL Sydney chapter, organized by Susie Fraser and attended by some of our wonderful CCL volunteers: Howard Witt, Darshini Heaney, Dennys Angove and Kim Loo. It was such a pleasure and treat to spend time with our volunteers who are working tirelessly to spread the message of citizen engagement and Carbon Fee and Dividend in a country so far away from the U.S. And they are doing a fantastic job! CCL Australia is growing exceptionally well and spreading to more and more cities every month.
Sydney also showed me how academic institutions are partnering with the Australian and New South Wales government to coordinate on climate projects that address reaching their Paris goals, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We met with staff from the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, who gave us the rundown on their efforts to model how Australia and NSW can move to 100% renewable energy. They also discussed the political challenges of energy policy and renewables, and how those have impacted the politics around carbon pricing in Australia. It was fascinating and refreshing to focus on another country’s political issues for a few weeks and dive into the differences and similarities between how we each fight for climate action. One major difference is that Australian elections have had climate as a top priority, worked on by all political parties. (Another fun fact: Australians are required by law to vote and fined if they do not, resulting in a 93% voter turnout for federal elections.)
Sydney also provided a look into how cities can tackle climate issues by reaching for low-hanging fruit and reducing emissions in large amounts through things like energy efficiency, especially from buildings. Sydney was full of incredibly modern and efficient buildings, with solar panels not only lining roofs, but solar panels as windows too, with storage facilities built into them. Architecture and functionality were on full display, especially at their universities but also apartment buildings and skyscrapers, whose incredible design made it impossible to look anywhere but up as I walked around.
Newcastle: Australia’s coal country
After such fascinating dives into the progressive and renewable side of Australia, it was a big change of pace to go to Newcastle, home of the largest coal export harbor in the world. While Australia is forward thinking in a lot of ways when it comes to climate and energy policy, they are far behind in a very big way. The country’s electricity mix in 2016 was 63% coal (renewables made up 6%) and they exported 90% of their black coal to India and China. Australia also exports large amounts of natural gas, leaving energy prices sky high and the energy itself carbon intensive in most of the country. Even New South Wales, the state where Sydney resides, with its impressive universities working on renewable projects, still has 94% of its electricity mix coming from non-renewable sources.
While in Newcastle, we saw massive coal mines dotting the Hunter Valley, and we drove around near the coal terminal, where uncovered coal trains make their way every day down to transport coal out of Australia and to other countries. It’s hard to understate how much of an impact you can see coal having on this country, especially in Newcastle. It made me pause to think about the challenge of balancing the economic success of coal towns with the environmental and health effects they wreak on their residents. The political landscape there was similar to U.S. coal towns of the past in many ways. Balancing the economic success coal has provided to Newcastle, with the desire to move to healthier, cleaner modes of energy is hard when the government and people’s prosperity has grown so rapidly with cheap and dirty energy. It was an interesting day of differing viewpoints, with discussions with activists, landowners, and coal representatives each giving their own insight and opinions into how coal is impacting Newcastle.
Savoring Australia’s beauty
E.B. White said, “Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”
After two weeks of diving deep into Australian energy policy and projects, it was time for me to savor why I do this work. I spent my last week in Australia in Byron Bay and Cairns. Half of that was spent on a three-day dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef, surrounded by all of the incredible biodiversity we all work so hard to save. While it was evident in some parts that the reef was dying, with bleached or stressed coral evident and haunting, the majority that I dove among was alive and well. Diving on the Great Barrier Reef was exactly the re-energizing boost I needed to come back to the U.S. and get back to work to make Carbon Fee and Dividend a reality before it’s too late.
Traveling to Australia was an important reminder that U.S. policy matters, but that world climate policy matters just as much. We cannot solve this climate crisis alone, and there are so many people all over the planet working for the same things as we are here—clean air, clean water, and a climate that is livable and sustainable for our generation and the next.