Climate Change and the Community Forum

Climate change was certainly on the agenda in Albury on Tuesday, August 19.

First there was the Climate Change and the Community forum held in the morning at the Albury Entertainment Centre which organised by the Murray Darling Association with the support of the Institute, Albury City Council, the Regional Centre of Expertise Murray-Darling and the Australian National University.

The event was attended by more than 120 people made up of the local Member for Albury, Hon Greg Aplin; Mayors, Cr Kevin Mack from Albury, and Cr Paul Maytom from Leeton; councillors and staff from Indigo Shire, Rural City of Wangaratta, City of Wodonga, Albury City Council and the Alpine Shire; government department staff; representatives from the Murray Darling Association; CSU students and staff; community members; and staff and senior secondary school students from Albury High and Victory Lutheran College.

The morning began with a welcome from Darryl Jacobs, OAM, Chairman of the Murray Darling Association Region 1 followed by an inspiring Welcome to Country by Yalmambirra, a Wiradjuri Elder and CSU lecturer with the School of Environmental Sciences.

“There were those out there, in the broader community, who have “unstable minds in an environmental context, and cold environmental hearts,” said Yalmambirra. “ The environments and the resources that we utilise are continually raped and pillaged by these people. The big environmental question is how do we bring these people into the fold so to speak…..how do we instigate change…is it possible to change people’s minds? I do not believe one person can change another’s mind. What we can do, however, is plant little seeds but at the end of the day how people nurture those seeds is entirely up to them, is it not?”

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Q & A session

First speaker was Institute adjunct research fellow Barney Foran who very much set the scene (in terms of climate change) from the global to the local drawing on evidence from a wide range of sources including NASA, reports from the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Bureau of Meteorology records.

“The key science message here is that this is global science working at its peak, at its most effort,” said Mr Foran. “There is a huge amount of challenge and analysis going on. The things we say are not based on one person’s opinion. They key message coming out of all that is, that at a global level, we are 95 % certain that it is human activities that are causing the problems we are facing with the main culprit gas – carbon dioxide. We haven’t seen this level in the earth’s atmosphere for the last 800,000 years or so; and we’ve got problems with rising sea levels and also the Arctic and Antarctic ice shift.”

Second speaker was  Ms Tracey Oakman, Director Public Health Unit, Murrumbidgee and Southern NSW Local Health Districts who spoke on the effect of climate change on health and health services, and in particular of heat.

“One impact often leads to something else, a cascading effect,” said Ms Oakman. “When there is an effect of a particular incident there is always a flow-on effect around that i.e. after storms you might have an increase in water run-off and soil erosion, there might be an increase in dust storms due to the erosion. Dust storms and bushfires can lead to poor air quality which can lead to an increase in hospital presentations for respiratory and other related illnesses.

“It’s complex, it’s not simple which makes it a tricky one to plan for. Obviously we anticipate a lot of these issues occurring and the health sector needs to plan for these into the future.”

Ms Oakman said the industry needs to plan for the health impacts of extreme events such as fires, floods, and drought which can lead to more injuries, heat stress, potentially mental health issues and even deaths; as well as the health impacts of gradual climate change.

“The whole thing with climate change is that there is a gambit of things that may occur,” she said. “We may see more water or vector borne diseases, an increase in food poisoning from an increase in temperatures, impacts on our infrastructure ….”

Third speaker was Dr Shelby Gull Laird, an environmental educationalist and interdisciplinary scientist from CSU, who spoke on the impact of climate change on people, communities and well being. She told the audience that she works on two assumptions, one that community members are experts of their own situations- what they want, what they need, even their own local environments; and two, that climate change is real and is happening now and that climate change adaptation is on-going.

“Climate change adaptation it is a continual process that you and I will have to deal with into the future,” said Dr Laird. “It is important for us to think, back through time, how people have adapted to changing climate for the last 100,000 years. We are adaptable. As humans we are good at that…so it is important for us to remember, despite all this doom and gloom talk, that people and humanity are likely to survive if we can get our acts together….it’s how we end up in the end that is the question for a lot of us.”

Dr Laird said an import aspect of climate change adaption was building communities and community resilience.

“After a natural disaster there is a tendency people to help each other out,” she said. “One of my contingents is that we need to develop those communities ahead of time so that people can actually work together more effectively before there is a disaster.”

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Mr Lewis Tinley

The fourth and final speaker was CSU Environmental Science and Management student Lewis Tinley who spoke on how climate change related to young people and what they can do.

“I don’t want to inherit a dump, I don’t want to inherit a world which is stricken by fire, floods and unsustainable agriculture, etc,” said Lewis. “I want a world which is sustainable, which is equal for all. Although that may seem idealistic I feel that there are things we can do within our community….scientists have been telling us about the problems in the world for a long time. There may be a feeling of disempowerment when we are dealing with these issues as they seem so large. It is however important for us to think globally about these issues but act locally because community action, when combined with other communities influences the system on a larger scale.”

Lewis is a member of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and during his presentation encouraged young people to join an organisation concerned with caring for the planet.

“Don’t do it on your own, make it fun, make it part of your life but not all your life,” he advised.

The speakers were followed by a lively Question and Answer session, moderated by Dr David Watson. The panel answering the audience’s questions included the previous speakers as well as Mark Verbaken, Manager, Environment and Community Protection, City of Wodonga, and Matthew Dudley, Team leader, Sustainability and Environment, Albury City.

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Prof Janette Lindesay, Dr Phil Gibbons, (from ANU) Albury City Mayor Cr Kevin Mack and Prof Max Finlayson

The second event held on the Tuesday was a “Living with Australia’s climate: A community conversation on climate, weather, fire & water” also held at the Albury Entertainment Centre. This was an Australian National University event with climatologist Professor Janette Lindesday from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, and Dr Philip Gibbons, a bushfire expert also from the Fenner School. Institute Director Professor Max Finlayson was the moderator for the event which drew a crowd of more than 70 people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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