Climate change from an Alice perspective: Time to act.


This is the second story in our Rest and Reflection series published during the festive season and written by people who are making a difference to Alice Springs.
It is official: 2016 was the hottest year on record and in September we passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
You could be forgiven for missing this news or not realising it is profoundly significant, as it barely rates a mention – especially not here in the NT.
Even writing on this subject this I know: I’m likely to see fact-muddying responses and outright dismissal in the comments thread.
I’ve spent the last three years working on This Changes Everything, a global climate change project lead by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and filmmaker Avi Lewis.
My role took me to twelve countries and put me in contact with communities opposing extraction and building alternatives around the world including spending three weeks in Paris during the COP21 UN climate talks this time last year.
Working between Alice Springs and New York and London was surreal in many obvious ways – but more surprising than the scale, traffic or weather it is the lack of concern for the impending impacts that climate change that struck me most when I returned home.
As I was drafting this piece the small village where my sister and her family live in Bijagua de Upala in the north of Costa Rica suffered terrible damage and loss of life as Hurricane Otto made landfall.
At least four people were killed in their village and many houses and properties were washed away by walls of water and mudslides.
This was the first hurricane to ever hit Costa Rica, the southern most ever in the area and the latest ever in the season. The cause of this largest ever forming hurricane in the region has been put down to the exceptionally high sea surface temperatures in the region – 29C.
p2389-alex-kelly-otto-1Costa Rica is a world leader in renewables generated by a mix of solar, wind and thermal power. Between July and August this year they ran on 100% renewables for 76 days straight.  However, being 100% renewable doesn’t protect against climate impacts and the devastating news sharply reminds me that we are all on this planet together – all responsible for the atmosphere we share.
Here in the NT we are “highly vulnerable” to climate change according to the Federal government’s Department of the Environment. We are likely to see sea level rise, more frequent extreme weather events and temperature rises –  in Alice Springs the number of hot days over 35C is expected to increase from 90 per year to up to 182 by 2070. And we can expect to these changes to have massive impacts on water, weather, tourism, agriculture, disease and health.
So why the lack of action when this could undermine so much about what we love about this place, and perhaps even lead to this region becoming impossible to live in?
I am astounded by not only the silence, not just the wilful indifference, but also by the mad enthusiasm for fossil fuel extraction in the Territory.
I am struck that so many of our leaders, at a local level and Territory-wide, profess a deep love and loyalty to this place, yet by failing to act on climate change they are severely undermining our ability to sustain our lives here.
I hear the same old economic arguments – they are well worn and recycled for every new proposal. Jobs and growth would be great for the NT – but the truth is that real long terms jobs and growth don’t lie in fossil fuel projects.
I am heartened by the news this week of the Gunner government’s establishment of a Renewable Energy Panel – especially to see Alice’s local expert engineer Lyndon Frearson has been appointed to the panel.
However for a shift to 50% renewables by 2030 to even make a dent in our emissions we have to stop pursuing any new fossil fuel projects in the Territory.
We know that to face the climate crisis we need to do three things at once. Firstly we need to stop building any new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Secondly we must put plans in place to rapidly transition to renewable energy. Good thing we know that the technology is ready for us to make this shift and that Alice Springs is uniquely well placed to lead this transition, especially with solar.
And thirdly we have to put in place disaster preparedness to be able to deal with the climate impacts that we have already locked in, those that will occur even if we were to make this transition and end extraction today, like those that just hit my sister’s village.
In this context it is sheer madness that the power station in Alice Springs be “upgraded” to operate on gas.
The gas industry may well be positioning itself as the clean answer to coal and oil, but the evidence shows that this is far from the truth. Gas is not clean, it is not a bridging fuel and it gets us into just as much trouble with emissions and pollution as other fossil fuels.
The proposed Northern Gas Pipeline – for which the pipeline materials are already starting to arrive in the NT even before the proposal meets approval under the NT’s environmental regulations – is another astounding example of the madness of the pursuit of fossil fuels.
Not only is there a strong argument to be made that there will not be a market for the gas extracted in the NT, a infrastructure project on this scale will open vast tracks on the NT to gas extraction and essentially be a carbon bomb – releasing even more harmful fossil fuels in to the atmosphere at the very moment we know we have to stop and shift.
We need leadership from governments, business and civil society to be driving an energy transition that will create jobs, that will create locally owned power and that will be a significant contribution to a much needed reduction of emissions.
The frightening thing is that even though Alice is uniquely vulnerable the truth is there are really no safe zones where we can escape climate impacts. We are all – all of us on the planet – in this together and we have to take responsibility of our energy generation and use both for ourselves and for everyone else who we share this world with.
I hope that 2017 is a year for real leadership on climate action in the NT. It hardly bears thinking about what will happen if it is not.
PHOTOS: Protesters burying their heads in the sand to show their disagreement with Australia’s climate policies in 2014 • Some of the impact of Hurricane Otto, photographed by Pip Varela Kelly, the writer’s sister • NASA graphic showing we passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
To donate to the Hurricane Otto relief in Bijagua please head to


  1. You will know your arguments are cutting through when Centralian Petroleum invests in solar. The time is right for them to jump into the solar market.

  2. Well writtem Alex.
    Let’s create more business, government and community action.
    Catholics in their churches, schools and many organisations in Central Austraia are now exploring how to make the switch to renewables.
    We are also exploring equity justice concerns around how to introduce solar in a way that benefits everyone and not just the wealthy or those with access to resources.
    We are keen to explore partnerships with others to achieve better outcomes for us all, our future children our planet.

  3. Yes, thank you very much for this great article, Alex Kelly!
    Spreading the climate change message is unfortunately still a big task in Australia and doing this more in schools and everywhere is so important!
    We see the devastating effects every day and too many innocent people suffer from our greed!
    Especially in Alice Springs we get more than enough solar power for free straight down from heaven each and every day – let’s use it!

  4. Thanks Alex, always inspiring to hear from you and the great work of Naomi Klein.
    Let’s look forward to a cleaner, safer, more productive future, powered efficiently with renewable energy and promoting the wellbeing of humanity.
    The sooner we move away from the fuels of the 18th and 19th centuries the safer our planet will be for future generations.

  5. Climate change … a wonderful phrase, is it not!
    Instantly a clarion call to the Save The World Warriors to go forth and convert those Polluting Unbelievers.
    And here am I, for all these three score years and ten falling for the pre-truth myth that the climate changes constantly every day due to the forces of nature far beyond mortal control, where a volcano eruption can spew forth more pollution in an eye blink than most of humankind can produce in a decade.
    Ah well, it is fun to watch the Climate Change Warriors rushing around the world to Paris et alia in their cloud-trailing Boeing 747s exhorting the wicked to save our Renewables Souls, browbeating Us Wayward Mortals to pay our Emission Tax tithes, laying them on the altar of the New Earth Religion, preparing for Armageddon.
    Nothing like a bit of Far Right Earth Gospel fanatacism to brighten our misguided lives.
    All that is missing are the Earthly Trumpets on High, the Massed Voices of Angels in Green and the Hallelujah Chorus “Climate Change! Climate Change! Emissions Tax! Renewables and We Are Saved!”
    Magical stuff!

  6. Let’s not get distracted by solar as a solution to climate change. It’s a useful climate emergency strategy but it’s no panacea.
    As Alex says we are vulnerable to the oncoming emergencies. One vulnerability is the lack of an income outside our handouts from Canberra and Washington.
    When climate emergencies start biting elsewhere in the globe creating refugees the handouts to obscure Central Australia will stop. We have time to prepare for warming but the global catastrophe will kick in quickly.

  7. The Climate Change Warriors are a bit belated with their Climate Change Earth Church warning that global catastrophe is coming.
    The catastrophic End of the World was first predicted – indeed, guaranteed – in the Books of the Old Testament.
    How much or how little we humans will hasten The End is highly debatable. Racing around in our cars and planes and trains and buses to protest may hasten The End. Perhaps.
    Running out of fossil fuels without replacement innovation is a worry. I have faith, so to speak, in humankind’s amazing resilience under pressure to come up with a winner in Our Darkest Hour.
    For example, just look at Steve Smith’s amazing throw to win the First Test against the Pakis in Brizzie the other night. The cricket world as we know it was on the very Eve of Destruction!
    However, I will put my money on the Creator’s Natural Forces Beyond Our Ken to be the ultimate deciding factor, a runaway winner by the length of the straight, first past the post in the Climate Change Catastrophe Cup.
    Until then, maintaining and continually improving our natural disaster response capacities is the common sense practical way to go.
    By all means look at renewables, but spare us the religious fervour.
    And definitely without the plate being passed around by the government bureaucrats for dodgy emission tax tithes.

  8. The outage in SA was shameful incompetence by the SA government.
    The problem was simple. Baseload power generation from convential power plant sources is regulated at constant voltage and frequency. Wind and solar power is not. The severity of the storm found out the weaknesses.
    The SA government put too much reliance on the wrong source of power for the conditions, failing to address the lack of constant voltage constant frequency. Not rocket science.
    Simply incompetence with a bit of political correctness thrown in.
    Rushing headlong down the renewable energy path was real stupidity.
    But it will not be admitted.
    Mr Alex is a South Australian who votes Labor. No? Yes?

  9. How bizarre that uninformed people are still blaming renewable energy for SA’s recent statewide power blackout that was actually caused by an extreme storm that blew down the electricity towers in SA. How a wind tower or solar panel uprooted steel and concrete towers is beyond me.
    More gas is not the solution. There may not be much gas left for Aussies soon with other countries paying higher prices so we export it all to them.
    The gas fired Pelican Point backup power station in Port Adelaide is not operational because its owner can’t make enough profit and has sold off all its gas. Hence we are relying on backup power from Victoria when we really should be self sufficient. This is even before considering the gas contribution to climate change.
    The answer is more renewable technology with energy storage, like Concentrated Solar Thermal with molten salt storage, and pumped hydro storage.
    These established technologies will make sure that excess energy from wind and solar is stored ready to dispatch when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
    It’s not rocket science, we just need governments to get with the program of modern science and engineering.

  10. John I’m the author of this article, an Alice local and not a Mr. 🙂
    I’ve just spent three years deeply engaged in climate change – especially narratives around the science and observing denial of science. It’s a very worrying time. I hope governments take real leadership and are not daunted by the task of taking on the fossil fuel industry and the disinformation they are peddling.

  11. Most of us may not have noticed the move by Mac Bank on Central Petroleum this week (our supplier of gas).
    They (Mac Bank) don’t create millionaires out of philosophy, but are well aware of the fact that Victoria is about to import gas from overseas some of which may find its way to SA as electricity. Watch this space.
    In the meantime astute travelers may have noticed the significant solar farms developing south of Coober Pedy, an even larger one in Western Queensland and the Sundrop exercise at Pt. Augusta, as well as the Tumut 3 facility in NSW using PHES (pumped hydro electric storage) to carry peak loads.
    The astute reader may also have noticed the multitude of local area electricity networks springing up around the country with local high tech piles of batteries which store, buy and sell solar power to their own local consumers, within their own network.
    It should have happened at Kilgariff. Some may also have noticed that India, with its infamous Adami project in Queensland, is exporting their own coal and preferring ours.
    They are also well into planning and constructing a 500GW generating facility based on Thorium and conventional nuclear waste, reducing several environmental problems at the same time.
    And the supreme irony is that much of their thorium may come from 120 km up the road at Aileron. And all this while we spend a few mill on obsolete technology at Brewer. One has to wonder which Coolabah we have been asleep under.

  12. Alex. No worries mate. All reasonable people agree with you that we need to look after Mother Earth for future generations.
    The debate on how to tackle the problems we all face is railroaded by the emotive silliness of the expression “climate change” and the even sillier expression “climate change denialist”.
    It automatically divides us all into two opposing camps, Believers and Infidels when 98% of us all agree on one thing: We need to look after Mother Earth.
    There is bugger all popular rational focus and a serious lack of balanced focus within the scientific community in the debate on the percentage balance between anthropogenic causes and natural causes.
    The SA government has embraced the extreme end of the “climate change” camp philosophy and has been very foolish to charge into this renewables policy madness the way it has.
    Only in an affluent first world country can a government assume the Armageddon position so fanatically, so arrogantly and so stupidly to this extent.
    Perhaps the looming outages at the new Adelaide oval this night cricket summer will “fuel” the emotive debate further.
    Alex. I wish you and all people in both camps a very Happy Christmas.
    Hope the weather is good on Christmas day – and Boxing day for the Test. And the Sydney to Hobart.


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