With Council participating in Earth Hour today (the last Saturday in March) it brings into question whether local government can solve the global warming problem. Sure, I take the point that a thriving city in regional Australia encouraging everyone to turn off their lights will probably not turn the tide on the Tasman Glacier, but if everyone on the planet took the attitude that they were too small to make a difference, no change would ever be achieved.
There are 8,766 hours in a year so just choosing one hour to turn off the lights only covers 0.01% of electricity usage for the year, but the organisers of Earth Hour believe that it demonstrates a commitment to change and a starting point for modifying behaviour.
This year Council is encouraging all residents to look at ways to reduce global warming beyond an hour. This afternoon (SATURDAY) we are helping coordinate a tree plant near the river to demonstrate visually that we can all take small actions to improve the health of the planet. Council has also introduced a range of initiatives over several years to reduce our carbon emissions and, in the process, I believe we are also showing leadership to the community. If that leadership can set an example that our community follows then we have started to make a difference. If local governments across the world show the same leadership, then quite possibly the global warming problem will not necessarily be solved by important world leaders having high-level meetings at exotic locations – maybe it will be solved from the bottom up rather than from the top down.
Several years ago, Council took an unprecedented step and offered an additional rebate on solar panel installations for Dubbo residents - well before the 60c scheme was introduced by the NSW Government. That scheme alone had a direct impact on more than 30 Dubbo homes adding solar panels. The Library introduced a solar scheme many years ago, not only to generate power, but also to show visitors how much energy could be saved. We have continued to look for opportunities to install solar panels; recently a massive 70kW system was installed at the Western Plains Cultural Centre. The car park on the corner of Darling and Talbragar Streets has several environmental benefits: the street lighting is individually solar powered (each light has its own solar panel); the plants and drainage system allow for natural filtering of rainwater to be stored in an underground tank on site (once the underground cellar at the pub) and used for irrigation, rather than using water that has been processed through our filtration plant.
Our Family Day Care office in Victoria Park is currently in the process of becoming energy neutral with a range of initiatives including solar hot water, efficient lighting upgrades, insulation and solar panels.
In any organisation, Council included, the reduction of phantom power or background power can make a huge difference to energy usage. As a simple example, in the average home, a large-screen TV that is left in ‘standby’ mode rather than switched off at the power point will consume about $76 worth of electricity a year. Not that Council has a range of large screen TVs sitting in the offices but that standby power applies to any device that is sitting idle not being used but ‘ready’ to be used at any moment. This can be monitors, computers, printers, lights, audio equipment, etc.
Again from a leadership role, our annual Energy and Water Expo was hugely successful but has not transformed into the Sustainable City Expo so that it can encompass every sustainability initiative of relevance.
To answer my question about the relevance of Earth Hour, I believe that local government in general, and specifically Dubbo City Council, not only plays a role in our community as a provider of services and as a large organisation of more than 300 staff and numerous facilities, but it is inherent upon a forward-thinking Council to provide leadership to the community which it serves. The best form of leadership I know of is to 'do as I do'.
Let me know what you do to reduce your carbon footprint at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo