Creative twist in shire's zero net emissions story

Published: 13 November 2020

The central Victorian Mount Alexander Shire community has started its journey towards zero net emissions – and the arts and creative industries will play a unique role in envisioning a sustainable, climate-resilient future for the region.

The Shire council and Mount Alexander Sustainability Group are leading the community effort to become Australia’s second Zero Net Emissions (Z-NET) shire, with the help of Sustainability Victoria’s Zero Carbon Community Transition Grants.

This forward-thinking community will transition to a future economy that is low carbon and adapted to climate change, with the help of a pioneering zero-carbon community transition blueprint developed in nearby Hepburn Shire.

Hepburn – site of the Z-NET pilot for Sustainability Victoria’s Community Transitions Pilot Program – is set to be the first Z-NET emissions shire in Australia by 2029 and satisfy 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources.

Now, with the Victorian Government’s $10,000 grant matched by local funding from council and community, and insights from Hepburn in hand, work on Mount Alexander Shire’s own transition has commenced.

A whole-of-community vision

Jodi Newcombe, Climate Change Coordinator at Mount Alexander Shire Council, says a whole-of-community approach driven by council, community organisations and locals will be key to the delivery of the transition master plan by 2021.

The master plan will provide the framework for how the shire can proceed over the coming years. 'What the future looks like in that plan is in the community’s hands,' she says.

‘We’re canvassing within the community, and we hope to bring everyone along with that vision,' she says. 'It’s very much a partnership.'

'Data collection to get granular insights on our energy use, water and waste management in the shire is underway, as is an online community consultation platform and the development of a project steering committee.'

Tweaks to the blueprint from the Hepburn Z-NET transition pilot are also on the cards.

'We’re adding elements to the original model and, at this stage of the project, it’s about how we can expand that model and incorporate them,' Newcombe says.

Mount Alexander Shire will consider climate change adaptation and circular economy principles as part of a holistic transition to a low carbon economy.

'It’s not just about reaching zero net emissions, it’s also about how we thrive in a future climate changed world,' she says. 'Reducing your emissions is not just a technical contribution to a global problem, it is oftentimes an adaptation response, and there are multiple benefits.'

'We want to make sure everyone in the shire is aware of the opportunities and we want to look at how we can create the kind of economy that is going to be relevant in the future, looking at things like regenerative farming and the eco-building sector.

'And, we also want to make this a place that’s affordable to live, so people aren’t spending a fortune on energy bills. We want people to be comfortable, for this to be a place where health and wellbeing are first and foremost, and we take care of the most vulnerable,' Newcombe adds.

Mount Alexander Climate Emergency Team celebrates Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in December 2019. Pictured with Mayor Christine Henderson, Cr Bronwen Machin and Deputy Mayor Max Lesser.

Conceptualising creatively

'The creative sector will provide an important and unique “cultural steer” in this community’s journey to zero net emissions,' Newcombe says.

'The creative industries play a significant role in the local economy, and the Shire has one of the highest per capita rates of “creators and makers” in the state,' she adds.

'There’s a need for innovative thinking, thinking outside the box, in a multidisciplinary way,' Newcomb says. 'Communicating to people on responding to climate change is not always a technical fix, it’s often a cultural response that’s required, or that needs investigation.'

'We’re bringing a member of the creative industries into our steering group – a creative producer, Sam Thomas, to connect us back out to that cultural sphere, and help drive some of our future investment, as well as to ensure the creative sector is part of the response.'

The creative sector is an important part of local identity and will play a key role in the community’s transition to zero net emissions. Pictured above is a multi-media dance performance of a climate strike, 'The Future of Things Past', performed on the opening night of the Castlemaine State Festival in 2017.
ZNET creative producer and project steering group member Sam Thomas performs with his family. Photography by Carl Dziunka.

Newcombe also envisages the arts to be a tool for storytelling, to imagine what a sustainable, climate change-adapted future might be like – and to incorporate First Nations’ voices.

She describes the local landscape as 'healing' after being 'ravaged' by Victoria’s gold rush.

'The Dja Dja Wurrung call it "upside-down country" – because huge volumes of earth were dug up from deep below and deposited, together with contaminants like arsenic, on the surface,' she says. 'The people who live here get clean air, sunshine and wildlife, but the bushland is often sick.'

By imagining a more sustainable future for both people and place in the Shire, there is an opportunity for locals to be united around a common story, Newcombe believes.

'Now we can ask', she says, 'what are the stories about this place and its landscape that are going to help us move forward and heal?'

While this creative approach may be unique, Mount Alexander Shire is not walking the path to zero net emissions on its own.

As the story unfolds, Newcombe says the foundations laid in Hepburn and the support of like-minded organisations in Victoria’s Zero Carbon Community of Practice have been invaluable.

'It’s great – being part of a community of practice, knowing we are not alone and there are other councils out there, working towards being a zero carbon community,' she says.

Find out more

Sustainability Victoria’s five $10,000 Zero Carbon Community Transition grants have been awarded to support targeted local government and community organisations to increase the speed, scale or scope of the zero-carbon transition in their community or the broader Victorian community.

The program builds on the success of the Hepburn Z-NET pilot as part of Sustainability Victoria’s TAKE2 Community Transitions Pilot Program.