If you met Alan Finkel at a backyard barbecue, you may be lost for words once he explained his day job, writes CARLY MARRIOTT.
As Australia’s chief scientist from 2016 to 2020, Dr Finkel has worked as a neuroscientist, inventor, researcher, policy adviser and educator.
He has written a book, titled Powering Up: Unleashing the clean energy supply chain, and he recently gave the 2023 Fairley La Trobe lecture at the Shepparton Art Museum.
He sees regional Victoria, and in particular the agricultural sector, as a major player in the new ‘electric age’.
“The age of renewable energy offers us a chance, to preserve our planet, transform our regional economy and build a better future. This moment in time demands ambition,” Dr Finkel said.
He said having “bulldog tenacity” and “the nerve to dare” were the traits required to embark on the global transition to clean energy.
“Agriculture’s impact on climate change has been referred to as the biggest problem you’ve never heard of.”
Before those in attendance had a chance to sit up a little straighter, he reinforced that farmers were not the villains.
“The pressure is on with Australia committed to net zero by 2050.”
Dr Finkel emphasised the need to build climate resilience amongst the community and the need to adapt to new markets and new technologies.
He explained how plant-based and synthetic meat substitutes require input ingredients. So, what is considered a threat to traditional farmers, could in fact be seen as an opportunity.
Farmers can position themselves to produce the agricultural product required by synthetic food producers.
He turned to the biggest agricultural emitters, the cows, to discuss new technologies around reducing methane emissions such as Bovaer and Asparagopsis taxiformis (red algae). These feed additives can reduce methane emissions dramatically in beef and dairy herds.
Flying robotic fruit harvesters, synthetic cow DNA and plant-based milk products were all mentioned as part of the solution-focused optimism Dr Finkel holds for agriculture and a changing climate.
“You are not going to solve the problem, but you can adapt to the pressure directed towards farmers and regional Victoria.”