The recently opened Casino Environment Centre (CEC) is helping support local community resistance to the development of unconventional gas mining in the area.
The centre is also facilitating a local hemp and solar industry.
The CEC is an offshoot of the Nimbin Environment Centre (NEC) and is run 100 per cent by volunteers.
CEC coordinator Philippe Dupuy told Echonetdaily that although the community was a bit hesitant at first, there had been great community support.
‘Some people were unsure at the beginning but now we have volunteers who are very good and reliable,’ Mr Dupuy said. ‘We have quite a few so we are spreading them out so there is not much load on any one person.’
The CEC opened in April 2013 as a rapid response to coal seam gas (CSG) spin that was circulating in the Casino CBD. There had never been an environment centre in Casino.
‘We were concerned about the government regularly sending gas representatives to Casino to say how great gas was,’ said Mr Dupuy. ‘This was government money promoting the industry.
‘So we opened the CEC the day they started coming to town.’
Mr Dupuy said the ‘CEC actually advertised the times the gas spinners were talking in town so the community could ask questions. They only lasted three weeks and they were gone!’
Weeds, hemp and solar
The centre is focusing broadly on the local environment and not just on mining threats.
‘There are a lot of neglected waterways and wetlands around here,’ said Mr Dupuy.
Local landholders have been dropping into the centre to find out about weeds, hemp and solar.
‘We have a close relationship with Far North Coast Weeds. We have people dropping in and talking about weeds as it is of concern to them,’ he said.
The local hemp industry remains untapped according to Mr Dupuy, who said that more farmers are showing interest in hemp fibre production.
‘We are ready to support the industry this year and already have five farmers on board,’ said Mr Dupuy.
Mr Dupuy said, ‘one hectare of land will produce around ten tonnes of fibre. One tonne of fibre is worth about $1,000; that is the lowest strain, which is the only strain currently legal.’
The market for hemp fibre is very strong according to Mr Dupuy.
‘It can be made into bricks that are lighter and more resistant to fire, better for sound and temperature insulation; the list of uses for hemp fibre goes on and on,’ he said.
‘The hemp plant grows faster than weeds, which is attractive for farmers, and you don’t have fertiliser problems like you do with other crops.’
A local hemp industry would provide local jobs and would be far more sustainable than what the mining industry can offer said Mr Dupuy.
‘Now the local government is allowing farms to have second dwellings that could be used to attract workers, as housing is a big cost in itself,’ Mr Dupuy said.
There had been no outlet in the Casino CBD for solar information and purchasing so the CEC are now servicing the introduction component of solar and referring business to the Rainbow Power Company.
‘The studies in Queensland found that at top temperatures the consumption of power peaks and the power stations were not coping with it,’ he said, ‘but with the introduction of a small percentage of solar kits on houses, the peak problem has been taken out as the solar performs best at top temperatures.’
Mr Dupuy said that each town should have an environment centre.
‘They are places where people can go and get educated about the environment and the political situation,’ said Mr Dupuy. ‘It has nothing to do with party politics; we do not advocate for parties but rather look at how we as the community can have a say about how we live.
‘It is crazy to think that [if] politicians do not worry about our nest, the nest will be gone,’ he said.
But according to Mr Dupuy it takes more than just having available solutions to shift to a renewable-energy future.
‘We need political clout; you cannot make anything happen with just solutions, the real power is with the people,’ he said.