Ruth Harper moved to the small town of Boolarra in the Latrobe Valley with her family about eight-and-a-half years ago from Ocean Grove.
“We decided we wanted to give the kids a bit more of a country upbringing. And we also wanted to have a bit more land so that we could grow more vegetables and have chickens and all that sort of thing,” she says.
As a scientist Ruth wanted to live in a location that offered good soil and rainfall predictions and was more resilient to climate change impacts.
“So, we started looking, and we found a block in Boolarra.”
Ruth now works in the renewable energy sector on a proposed wind farm focusing on community engagement and environmental approvals.
“I’ve always been very motivated by preventing climate change and protecting the environment,” she says.
"One of the most important things in navigating the energy transition is listening to other’s perspectives rather than sitting in judgment."
“So obviously for me, for the Latrobe Valley to get out of coal is pretty massive. We need to transition to where we utilise the skills and knowledge that we have in the Valley, directed towards building a healthy, happy, vibrant community that protects the environment.”
Despite being very concerned about the impacts of climate change we are witnessing now, Ruth says she draws hope and inspiration from many active people she sees in the community.
“I’ve met some absolutely amazing people and heard about and been involved in some really inspiring projects in the region. There are a lot of people for whom making this energy transition is front of mind. Who are working so hard and passionately to implement this across our communities. So to me, that’s really helpful.”
Ruth says one of the most important things in navigating the energy transition is listening to other’s perspectives rather than sitting in judgment.
“You’ve got to be very respectful of the fact that this is a massive change. It takes people time to come to terms with it,” she says.
“It’s a process, you’ve just got to work through that process with people. The more people who can help others work through that process and have these conversations, the better we’re going to be as a community rather than judging people.”
Special Edition - Communities Leading Change
It is our stories that define us and the conversations we have that shape what we value and believe in. We all have fears and dreams, but it is our shared stories that bring us together.
The Communities Leading Change Project began as a partnership between Climate for Change and the Gippsland Climate Change Network in 2018, and was one of 24 projects across Victoria primarily funded through the Virtual Centre for Climate Change Innovation (VCCCI).
It was a community co-designed program that aimed to empower people in and around the Latrobe Valley, and with support engage other communities as a way of exploring the big questions around climate change and energy transitions with a local focus.
We provided two cohorts of workshops during 2019 for 33 local people from different backgrounds including the coal, renewable energy, and agricultural industries, health professionals and community workers, environmentalists, multicultural leaders, artists, students and more.
These local people facilitated small group conversations called “Conversations for Change”. It included about 185 community members over a seven-month period, and was undertaken over a shared meal. More than 60 hours of recorded conversations were collected. Quotes reflecting the main themes that came out of these discussions are scattered throughout this publication.
We found that most people were concerned about climate change as a serious and urgent threat (78%), while about 70% also believed that an energy transition in the Latrobe Valley was not happening fast enough. People had mixed feelings about the changes already happening and how the community could reach a just energy transition. However, people agreed the significant need for the community to be supported, come together, find solutions and put in concrete plans was essential to guarantee these future visions.
This special edition collects some of the stories and sentiments of people involved in, and engaged by, Communities Leading Change more widely. We hope it will inspire you to join us in bringing people of all backgrounds in the Latrobe Valley and surrounding areas together so we can build a strong community that has a voice and is active in building a prosperous, fair and sustainable future for all.