by Nicky Ison - WWF-Australia Energy Transition Manager
Every year as International Women’s Day approaches my mind turns to the women who have helped shape my life and my work as a climate and clean energy advocate. I think about the women who I work alongside, women I admire from afar and women who I will never know, who for hundreds of years fought for the rights of women, and made it possible for me to do the work that I find so fulfilling.
Ten years ago, I co-founded a social enterprise called Community Power Agency with a wonderful woman called Jarra Hicks. Our mission was to grow a vibrant community energy sector in Australia, demonstrating that communities could develop, deliver and benefit from renewable energy projects. Our journey together has been like a marriage, we have supported each other, argued along the way, and together we’ve grown our organisation and our impact in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if we’d done so alone. From only five community energy groups in Australia when we first started, there are now 110 inspiring developing local renewable energy projects. These projects include groups like Pingala that have installed community-owned solar on the Young Henry’s brewery in Sydney and Totally Renewable Yackandandah that is pioneering community microgrids in northeast Victoria.
Over this decade I’ve worked alongside many amazing women to help drive a faster and fairer transition to clean energy, including Lindsay Soutar and Claire O’Rourke who founded and ran Solar Citizens, as well as Miriam Lyons with whom I co-authored a policy blueprint for Australia to get to 100% renewables. I’ve also been privileged to work with researchers like Jay Rutovitz at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, with whom I worked to try and make solar access a reality for everyone in Australia, no matter where they live or how much they earn.
These women continue to make strides in an industry that unfortunately is still male dominated. Recently Media Matters for America released analysis of climate reporting in the US that found 73% of the people interviewed on TV in relation to climate change are men; the experience is similar, if not worse in Australia. However, in the last few years we have started to see dedicated initiatives that are starting to shake-up the male dominance of the renewables industry. The Clean Energy Council’s Women in Renewables Guide is one great example, so too is the active calling out by male colleagues of male dominated conference programs. With a growing number of women entering the renewables industry and rising to leadership roles, it is good to see them get a platform for the work they do.
One of my proudest moments in the last decade was organising the second Community Energy Congress (a highly gender balanced conference). At the Congress, we had a particular focus on Aboriginal community renewable energy. This brought me into contact with the amazing Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Canadian Indigenous climate leader.
At a powerful event Melina talked about how her work opposing tar sands mining and pipelines, she explained that this was not just a climate issue, nor even just a land justice issue for First Nations people, but there’s also a huge underlying issue of violence against women.
In Alberta, the main province in Canada where oil and tar sands mining occurs, there is a high incidence of Indigenous women disappearing and being murdered. These disappearances and murders have been linked to the male dominated oil industry. An industry that just this week has been accused of published and circulating a cartoon depicting sexual violence against inspiring youth climate leader Greta Thunberg.
Recently, I have been having conversations with the woman who has most shaped my life - my mother - Cathy Humphreys. Cathy is a Professor of Social Work at Melbourne University specialising in domestic violence and child abuse. Members of her team have developed a research area looking at the impacts of climate change on domestic violence. Their analysis has found that while disaster response can bring out the best in people with communities drawing together, unfortunately in the aftermath of disasters like the Black Saturday Fires in Victoria or Hurricane Katrina in the USA, incidents of domestic and family violence increase.
It seems on the surface climate change is a matter of physics – increased greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are causing the planet to warm, however, if you dig deeper climate change is a also social issue that intensifies existing vulnerabilities and injustices. The causes of climate change are violent, and the impacts from flooding to drought, rising sea levels to bushfires are violent, the social impacts are violent.
In the face of the violence of the climate crisis it’s easy to despair, the problems seem so big and so complex.
For the last 18 years I have worked to address climate change and I do so because I have hope. Hope that comes from working alongside inspiring people, from celebrating successes and most importantly hope from the work I get to do making climate solutions a reality.
Working to implement solutions that not only reduce climate pollution, but also create more cohesive and collaborative communities is a powerful way of creating hope. That’s one reason that I continue to find Melina Laboucan-Massimo so inspiring. Her work has not just been to oppose the causes of climate change, but to create the solutions. She has helped to build a solar farm to power and employ her community of Little Buffalo and from there grow an Indigenous renewables movement across Canada.
As I write this article I am on my way to Alice Springs to attend a Climate Justice Workshop. At this workshop we’ll hear from inspiring Aboriginal leaders, particularly women leaders like Karina Nolan from Original Power about the challenges of climate change and fossil fuel extraction in the Northern Territory. We will also talk about the opportunity that renewable energy could present for Aboriginal self-determination across Australia.
Recently, I joined WWF-Australia excited to develop a new campaign – a campaign to make Australia a renewable export powerhouse and take us to 700% renewables. This is an opportunity, not only to transform our power system and climate politics, but also to implement practical solutions that make Australia a safer, fairer and happier society, while regenerating our rich biodiversity. A bold task, but one that inspires me every day.