Today’s youth will be the last generation to experience our carbon-based economy, and the first to live in the world that will follow.
While transitions can produce mixed feelings, they also represent significant opportunities for growth. Opportunities for us to celebrate our shared values and to bring the best of who we are into a new future.
Seeing Hazelwood for the first time, I thought it looked something straight off the cover of a science fiction novel. The power station’s blackened stacks were surrounded by persistent clouds that glowed orange and gold, and the scene was framed by the reddest sunset I have ever seen.
We have all heard about climate change. In many ways the story is quite simple: we extract carbon-based materials and burn them to release energy, and the gases produced as a waste product warm our planet.
But this article isn’t about science facts, repeating doomsday messages until they become dull, or seeking an enemy to blame for our current situation.
This is a story about the people of the Latrobe Valley and surrounding areas. It’s about our future and our youth, and those who will be tomorrow’s leaders.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about a ‘just transition’ for the Valley, but to achieve such change, we need to be sharing our voices, listening to each other and connecting our whole community.
We need to be creating the spaces needed for cooperation and understanding among coal miners, renewable energy representatives, environmentalists, health and social workers, educators, government officials, ourselves and our youth.
One way to achieve this is through the power of conversation. Conversations help us make sense of the world; they shape our thoughts and develop our ideas around what we value and believe in. We all have fears and dreams, but it is our shared stories that bring us together.
Currently, there is an opportunity within our community to champion our local voices and find pathways to local solutions that will help us build a sustainable and fair future. ‘Communities Leading Change’ is a community co-designed program and partnership between the Gippsland Climate Change Network, Climate for Change, and Psychology for a Safe Climate, which aims to upskill participants on how to have effective conversations on the challenging issue of transition.
Last year, Climate for Change alone facilitated 400 conversations in Victoria engaging over 3,000 individuals. Of these people, 87% said that they had a better understanding of the actions they could take because they had had the chance to communicate their stories, listen to others and share their emotions. As a result, they also felt more empowered to act on the issues that mattered to them.
We can also learn these skills to empower and support each other. We can reach out to the people within our communities who matter to us, to really listen and to share our own unique stories that will help us, as well as others, to explore the often emotionally charged questions around transitions, brown coal and our future.
One of the most overlooked problems with climate change is that it is not just an environmental problem, but a social, cultural and economic issue as well. And many of the changes required to avoid the worst predicted effects of climate change are changes that would build stronger, healthier and more sustainable communities anyway.
Less extreme weather events, increased jobs, stable energy prices and improved public health are all things that, even without climate change looming, we should actively seek.
Unfortunately, some voices have been louder than others in this space. Our youth have traditionally been unheard due to their outspoken elders, yet the fact remains that it is they who will bear the sum of consequences from our years of climate inaction.
Increasingly, more teachers are also grappling with the challenges of educating their students about climate science, and sharing what they feel is a burden given, without the necessary tools needed to effectively address climate change and safeguard their students’ future.
While change can bring loss, too much of the imagery associated with climate change has been negative. Pictures of starving polar bears and ice dripping away are very powerful, but they also make us pull away from the issue, and we can overlook the positive opportunities that also come with change.
Many people say they’re powerless to influence climate change. In reality, there are few other issues that we can so easily qualify our contribution to and have the ability to adapt to.
However, instead of focussing our energies on holding on to things as they are, trying to preserve something that was, now more than ever we need to be seeking conversations that look forward.
The Valley has historically been a significant site of energy generation and we should be proud of this. Nevertheless, energy generation methods are adapting to the technological developments of our time. The widespread use of fossil fuels was a 19th-century innovation, while new renewable energy technology represents 21st-century progress.
The first time I saw Hazelwood I didn’t know that the startling red sunset was likely caused by coal dust in the air. That its faded sign and poorly maintained infrastructure hinted at its fast approaching closure. However, when it happened people got left behind because we hadn’t prepared ourselves. We need to be talking about transitioning now, knowing that we can appreciate our past without trying to make it our future.
We have what we need to make this happen, but it’s time we became a connected community and decided what we want our future to look like, for ourselves and those who come next.
If you would like to know more about Communities Leading Change, visit communitiesleadingchange.org.
To apply for the program please email [email protected].
All images are by Matt Pool of Designs By M.