Charging-up community action

As politicians bicker, we need to take our own initiative to foster small grassroots actions to reduce carbon emissions that will form the foundation for larger change at a national and international level.

As the crowds sweltered through another heatwave at last weekend’s Sustainable Living Festival at Birrarung Marr in the heart of Melbourne, a debate was heating up on how we best increase community action to effectively respond to the challenge climate change presents.

The debate - taken up by key thinkers, Bob Brown, Fiona Sharkie, John Dee, Tanya Ha, David Spratt, and Guy Pearse - is an important one.

Should we use fear about climate change catastrophe to motivate faster community action? Is it best to work with the green technologies at our disposal today or is looking to the future and investing in emerging technologies more worthwhile?

These are questions we reflect on a lot at the Moreland Energy Foundation, an organisation established to work with the community, with households and businesses each day to assist them to become more energy efficient and adopt renewable energy sources.

Our experience is that there is not one simple answer. Our new initiative Positive Charge seeks to be one part of a broad and diverse response. Launched amidst the heat and debate at Birrarung Marr, the service seeks to make it easier for households and businesses across Victoria take practical and effective actions.

The problem of climate change is so big and so complex, and the timeline so pressing we need a response that is equally big and complex, but also fast. We will need bigger and braver political interventions along with major technology shifts, though we know in the present political and economic environment these are a high stakes bet. In the meantime, and in fact as a foundation for this bigger change, we need to maintain and increase the momentum building around small grassroots actions.

The scale of climate change can be daunting. But one important sign of hope is that we genuinely have started responding. For the fourth consecutive year, overall energy demand in Australia has fallen. While we might argue about the detail on the key factors, we know that energy efficiency and the dramatic uptake of residential solar are genuine contributors. It’s not just GWh that are important to note. It’s the almost one in 10 households across Australia now going solar, a dramatic jump from one in 50 just over two years ago, that are driving this change. In addition to individual responses, communities and local governments are increasingly getting active and getting organised. These are the small actions that, added together demand to be taken seriously.

While people are increasingly switching off to the political noise and hyperbole around climate change, our experience is that people are still participating in practical action at a growing rate. In the past three years our organisation as part of the Moreland Solar City project, has directly engaged with over 4,000 households and businesses, and, amidst busy lives and competing demands, they want to stay in touch.

So we’ve started. But we know we have to shift a larger section of the community into action, and make sure that each of those actions counts. We hear from people daily about their uncertainty as to where to start and who to trust. This is fair enough. Media coverage of climate change science is at best confusing; the technologies are new, evolving (and occasionally fallible) and at times being spruiked by fly-by-night companies.

Positive Charge, our new social enterprise, is designed to meet this need. It’s an ambitious plan to reach out beyond our traditional Moreland community, and engage with 40,000 households across Victoria over the next few years.

At the heart of Positive Charge is action. It will be a mainstream service that goes beyond the already engaged ‘green core’, providing services and advice for households of all shapes and sizes. The service will provide straight talking advice, link households directly with products and services and ongoing support and up-to date information.

Positive Charge starts with the support of seven foundation partner councils; Melbourne, Port Phillip, Banyule, Manningham, Moreland, Whittlesea and Baw Baw. Residents in these areas access an extended service, while households across Melbourne can still take advantage of Positive Charge energy tips and recommended products. Later this year we will expand to communities across Victoria and extend our service to small business.

Positive Charge is a key step forward to achieve our vision of an active, inspired community tackling climate change with sustainable energy solutions. Positive Charge is established as a social enterprise, based on our recognition that we need to scale up our response without a reliance on grant funding.

Ultimately the aim is to assist households to take small practical actions, and empower people to act over the years ahead. We hope that through doing this, we can better support an emerging green economy and contribute to building a stronger political foundation that helps lower the stakes to achieve the major policy and technology actions needed.

Bruce Thompson is the Director of Major Projects at the Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd.

Positive Charge is a new social enterprise established by the Moreland Energy Foundation to help the community plug into smart energy answers. It initially offers services to help people go solar, be more efficient and ride electric. To learn more or sign-up visit www.positivecharge.com.au

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