CARBONDALE — The new climate economy offers many opportunities for Southern Illinois citizens to start businesses and bring a diverse array of jobs to the region, said Carbondale resident and business owner Any McMorrow Hunter.
That includes ventures in regenerative agriculture, biochar and soil restoration, carbon credits, recycling, efficiency retrofitting, wind and solar energy production and many more, she said.
That’s why she’s among the sponsors of a two-day conference next month during which people can hear from experts about new ways to participate in the nation’s emerging new energy sector.
“The Climate Economy in Southern Illinois — Creating Resilient Businesses, Jobs and Communities” runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on June 12 and 13 at the Carbondale Civic Center.
McMorrow Hunter is the owner of a startup business called ShopCarbondale.com LLC, a web platform that showcases Southern Illinois products and services. McMorrow Hunter said the mission of her business, as well as her personal mission, is to increase community resilience in the face of climate change. That requires economic diversity, and the nimbleness to rebound from disaster, she said.
Speakers representing a broad range of expertise will discuss opportunities specific to Southern Illinois, considering both its advantages and challenges.
Scheduled keynote speakers for the first day of the workshop are Seth Feaster, a data analyst and researcher with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis; John Ikerd, professor emeritus of Agricultural & Applied Economics at the University of Missouri and an author; and Albert Bates, founder and president of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology and co-author of the book “BURN: Using Fire to Cool the Earth.”
Numerous other regional and national experts will serve on various panels throughout the day focused on energy, economic development and innovation.
The second day of the event offers participants a Biochar Masterclass led by Bates. Biochar is a form of charcoal made from organic waste exposed to heat in low-oxygen environments, a process known as pyrolysis. Bates will teach participants how to make biochar and discuss its potential benefits, which include soil regeneration and carbon sequestration.
McMorrow Hunter said she’s excited about the possibilities on the horizon.
“We want to build up a new economy that’s based on these things that are going to be more regenerative and nurturing and good for the environment,” she said.
Feaster, with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, provided The Southern a glimpse of the topics he plans to address in his morning keynote address on Wednesday, June 12.
“One of the things that I will probably be trying to emphasize here is this transition is bigger than just the coal industry trying to restructure itself,” he said in a phone interview last week. “There are important outside economic factors that are driving these changes … and it’s unlikely that it’s going to turn around and miraculously you’re going to have a resurgence in coal, despite what some people think is going to happen.”
Feaster said that he understands that people whose communities have benefited many years from the country’s dependence on coal-fired power are reluctant to accept this. But he said it’s important that city and state planners understand the forces at work in the energy sector so that they can prepare for the future.
The Cleveland, Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment. Before joining the organization, Feaster, whose educational background is in geography, spent 25 years as a graphics editor with the New York Times. He also spent a year working for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and has contributed to books about the financial crisis of the 2000s.
Feaster said there are seven primary technology disruptions that are reshaping the power industry. On the generation side, those include advances in energy efficiencies, the increasing affordability of renewable energy production, and the fracking boom, which has driven down natural gas prices.
On the grid side, Feaster said the major changes include that operators are better positioned to integrate wind and solar sources, and there have been major advances in battery storage technology. Also, he said there is more grid independence with businesses and governments generating their own power through renewable sources such as the installation of solar panels.
Long-term planning is critical at the state and local level to prepare for the shift that will accompany the nation’s changing energy sector, he said. Feaster said he’s not diminishing the economic hurt that some communities are experiencing because of these changes, but hopes to provide information that will help people take advantage of the new opportunities that are emerging from it.
The June event is sponsored by the Just Transition Fund, ShopCarbondale.com LLC and The Climate Economy. The Just Transition Fund was established in 2015 by the Rockefeller Family Fund and partners in response to President Obama’s POWER Initiative, which provided the first-ever federal funding to help communities impacted by the changing coal economy and power sector. The Climate Economy is a nonprofit organization in the works to help guide students and entrepreneurs towards the new business models of the climate economy. McMorrow Hunter, owner of ShopCarbondale.com, is also the prospective director of the nonprofit.
Attendance at the first day of the conference is free. The second-day workshop costs $25. Lunch will be provided free of charge both days to attendees who register in advance. People who are interested can view the agenda and register at si.theclimateeconomy.com.