Environmental action needed, experts tell MP

Southern Cross Universitys expert team from the School of Environmental Science and Management at a recent climate change briefing with new Page MP Janelle Saffin (centre). Pictured are (l-r) David Lloyd, Ross Goldingay, Murray Cullen, Jerry Vanclay, Leigh Sullivan and Peter Harrison.

Southern Cross University (SCU) scientists and researchers warn the Northern Rivers faces grave environmental and economic challenges in the future.

However, university experts say they have plenty of solutions up their sleeves, and the federal government could help them be realised.

Last Friday, academics from SCUs School of Environmental Science and Management briefed new Page MP Janelle Saffin on the main environmental challenges the region faces as climate change, peak oil and a burgeoning population take hold.

A variety of local issues requiring a federal response were discussed such as species loss from roadkill, forest die-back, river pollution and reduced agricultural productivity from acid-sulfate soil.

Investing in biofuel production, providing more incentives for solar power and for landholders to protect the environment, and action to stop Japans so-called scientific whaling also required federal attention, they said.

A key message from the scientists was that the environment and economy are mutually dependent.

They say while new environmentally sustainable technology will create jobs, environmental degradation has the capacity to destroy industries. One example was back in 2001, when Ballinas economy was slashed by 25 per cent after acid-sulfate soil induced pollution closed NSWs largest commercial fishing resource, the Clarence River, for six months.

In his presentation, Head of the School of Environmental Science and Management, Professor Jerry Vanclay, discussed the potential for new sustainable industry on the Northern Rivers.

Professor Vanclay said the region could lead the country in producing alternative fuels by building biofuel plants in every town, similar to one already operating in Germany.

The plants, which would convert waste such as woodchips or wheat chaff into fuel, would enable local communities to meet their own energy needs.

The technology already exists, it just needs fine-tuning, said Professor Vanclay.

Ms Saffin called the idea a project in the making.

We had a long discussion about it (the biofuel plants) today. I think its important that waste is viewed as a resource that can be utilised within our local communities, she said.

Ms Saffin, herself a graduate of SCUs predecessor, the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, said the briefing had inspired her because the university offered many solutions to the regions environmental problems.

She praised the university for its world class research.

Ms Saffin said the briefing had given her 10 agenda items she had marked action and she would be writing them up over the Christmas period and contacting the relevant ministers in regards to each issue.

She said she would invite Environment Minister Peter Garrett to visit the university with her for further talks.

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