Bipartisanship and our Emergencies

Bipartisanship is where the adversarial nature of our political system is put aside and where representatives of the various parties work together for the common good. Bipartisanship is necessary when we are faced with emergencies and is generally found during wartime situations when nations face an external threat. Now we are currently faced with two emergencies – the immediate one of the coronavirus pandemic and the enormous one of global warming. Because the warming is gradual on a human timescale it can be perceived as distant threat and repeatedly challenged in the adversarial system.  This has been the unfortunate outcome so far with the climate emergency.

Scott Hamilton writing on the coronavirus emergency noted “We are again in an era in which we must put the national interest first and draw fulsomely from the bipartisan peace-pipe. Every day and every hour, Australia’s leaders are making life and death decisions. In making those calls, they are shaping our future politics and our future society. In support of those decisions, it’s time for a genuine national cabinet — one based on capability not ideology.”

In the Conversation Michelle Grattan noted that it was not all plain sailing in the current ‘national cabinet’. “Victorian premier Daniel Andrews (Labor) and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) are hardliners…The two premiers have given notice their states are set to move to lockdown (where people would be confined to their homes). Jacinda Ardern has already taken New Zealand there. With the divide crossing partisan lines, Andrews and Berejiklian are working closely together. Scott Morrison is the prime advocate of the gradual approach. Resisting a full lockdown, he argued strongly this week he didn’t want to throw people out of jobs where it was possible to avoid doing so, and that he feared the consequences of the stresses the economic crisis would put on families.”

It is a tragedy of our times that the Rudd-Turnbull attempt at bipartisanship on emissions trading in 2008 did not succeed but was stymied by a ‘fifth column’ led by Abbott and backed by the coal lobby. This was made much worse with the rejection of the Gillard ‘carbon tax’ – imperfect as it was. On climate the division has been – and is now – between the science and knowledge on one hand and power, money and ignorance on the other. Australia went from leading on climate to a pariah amongst nations.

Now is the time to plan a rapid recovery from the coronavirus pandemic that is aimed squarely at the climate emergency. Many of the actions are obvious. Most of them have been repeated ‘ad nauseum’ in this column and a number are labour intensive. If the Chinese can build a thousand bed hospital in days perhaps we can get the Sea Electric factory in Morwell operating in months, not years.

Coronavirus and Climate Emergencies Again

Centrelink queue chaos

I apologise for the flippant and mediocre jokes I attempted in my recent blog on the coronavirus and climate emergencies. They were in bad taste for so serious a matter. The message though was clear – that the wartime action of rationing is the solution to panic buying by the public. My observations of the coronavirus crisis so far have been the fairly obvious ones – that government responses have been varied, sometimes reactionary and in many cases too late. 

The recorded virus fatalities now (26.3) number over 20,000 and this figure leaps every few days on an exponential path. The fatality numbers vary greatly from nation to nation and appear much higher when government actions are minimal and/or late. Relatively the ‘command economy’ of China has fared much better and wartime experience suggests that this eventually will be the way of the climate emergency.

Though hard to imagine the fatalities and disruption of the climate emergency will be much greater than we are experiencing now. The ‘warming’ fatalities are already quite high but are seemingly unrelated to climate change. Two recent examples include the 372 extra fatalities during the heatwave that preceded Black Saturday or the more than 400 extra smoke related deaths that occurred during our recent bushfires. As the planet warms these uncounted ‘climate fatalities’ will continue increasing as a wide range of extreme weather events – heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, storms – get worse.

 The media is yet to grasp the climate emergency like they have the coronavirus but the current treatment is surely indicative of what it will eventually look like. Whilst a vaccine for the coronavirus will be available within 18 months the climate emergency will dominate the lives of every living human being in one way or another for the foreseeable future. For one thing spreading harmful and misleading information on climate change, as some sections of our media have persisted with, will become a criminal offence.

But there is also some good news on the climate emergency front. When we start to tackle the climate emergency there will be no unemployment like the current crisis has engendered. The opposite will be the case with full employment and possibly even conscription to direct labor and resources to where they are most urgently required. In many cases there will be over full employment especially in the regions as our power systems become more decentralised. The dole office will be replaced by a labour co-ordinating office. And governments (mainly western) will move away from the ‘laisse faire’ of free enterprise towards that of a command economy.

My Electric Vehicle

When we moved from the bush to the town seven years ago there were two criteria for the best location for our new home. The first was a north facing roof for solar panels and the other was to be within easy walking distance of essential services. In my own case these ‘essentials’ were the library and the railway station both of which were eventually less than 10 minutes’ walk away. Until recently transport around town was walking, bike riding and lastly using our small 4 cylinder car. Our larger 4 wheel drive, now over 20 years old, was retained for longer trips. This is now much reduced as the train is used occasionally by my wife and I. Also my preference is to walk everywhere I can, and I have not used my bike for a year or two.

About 6 months ago I became the owner of a battery electric vehicle – a Nissan Leaf. The vehicle was imported from Japan and purchased by my wife, and is mainly used by her. Ideally I would prefer not to own a car but the semi-remote nature of our town has meant that at least one is required.  Our ‘new’ car is a 2015 model and has a range of about 150Ks which puts Melbourne out of reach especially as we are trying to run the battery between 20-80% of charge.

But it easily covers trips around town which is approximately 95% of our vehicle usage.* Purchasing a second hand vehicle means that there is no extra CO2 produced during manufacture, but on downside the seller will probably be buying a new car – hopefully electric. Buying second-hand also brings the price of the vehicle into a range we can afford. As an added bonus the car is charged from our rooftop solar system and when that is not available by renewable energy purchased through our electricity retailer.

The future will eventually see us as a one car (electric) family. In theory when the battery is no longer sufficient for the car it is still quite suitable for household use. 4R Energy and Relectrify in Melbourne are making these conversions although they are not available commercially yet. There is a New Zealand company doing likewise. Equally, and in theory at least, the Leaf is able to provide power to the home known as V2H or ‘vehicle to home’. The just released ‘Leaf’ model is advertised as V2H compatible but again I not aware of this being applied locally. It is currently being tested in Japan. But it is something to look forward to as part of the ‘all electric’ transport and home powered by renewable energy.

*average distance a car travels in Australia is 34.5k per day

Emergencies, Rationing and Government Action

We recently got ‘caught short’ with the panic buying of toilet paper in the current coronavirus emergency. Consequently our household is applying pre-abundance ‘outhouse’ solutions and using the Murdoch press. Seriously though I have not had a Murdoch rag in my house for more than 30 years, but I can clearly remember that the Sun (now the Herald Sun) was still being used in our family toilet in the early 1950s.

Wandering around the supermarket today I noticed that the panic buying had spread to the staples – flour, rice, pasta and sugar – which at least made a bit more sense than stockpiling dunny rolls. I joked at the check-out that they should be selling the paper in single rolls. Clearly some form of rationing is required. Climate activist Philip Sutton has been studying war time governments to find what actions will be necessary during the climate emergency. He commented on the current panic buying and the rationing solution in some detail:

“During WW1 many governments stuffed around with no effective rationing and there was massive panic buying and terrible price gouging and dangerous shortages.  Finally they figured out how to run an effective rationing system.  When WW2 started governments knew what to do on rationing* so the system was put in place quickly and early on as the need arose.

To make rationing work people had to be given a right to a fair quantity of supplies.  In the old days before electronic transaction systems/EFTPOS and websites etc. they gave people printed coupons that allowed people to buy a certain quantity of necessities.  When people went to buy stuff that was the subject of rationing they had to hand over the relevant paper coupons or the shop keepers would not sell to them.  When the coupons ran out you had to wait till you were issued with a new ration book (as was done at regular intervals) so there was no need to build up crazy stock levels at home.  These days we could manage the system electronically for most people.

As the retail industry has been saying over and over there is no curtailment currently on production capacity in Australia so there is no objective need to stockpile.  The only reason it is happening is that a small handful of people have been either selfish and/or spooked and then when normal people see the shortages and no effective rationing in place then they very understandably try to create their own stockpile.  Panic buying can only be stopped if effective rationing is put in place – and when it is the craziness will stop.”**

The need for rationing gives us a brief hint of what life will be like in the climate emergency. Our consumer economy will be replaced by a ‘command’ economy where the role of governments will assume a much greater importance.

* I remember finding some WW2 petrol ration coupons in my father’s papers

**group email from Victorian Climate Action Network

The Coronavirus and Climate Change Emergencies

 

The coronavirus emergency currently being played out across the globe is a forerunner to the climate emergency. Both emergencies are everywhere and they affect us all now in some way, although the effects of global warming are not so apparent to many. On the other hand the coronavirus threat is immediate whereas the threat of warming – and the necessary action to combat it – has been postponed to some future, indeterminate date by our governments. The latter, of course, is a fallacy and a failure by most of the populous – especially the media and our politicians – to understand climate inertia, self-reinforcing feedback systems and tipping points.

But many things will be the same. Science and evidence will direct the response to the climate emergency too. Although, as with the coronavirus, there will be multiple actions and implementation will vary over time from country to country. And over time the more successful actions will become obvious. Though it is hard to imagine now the political response to the climate emergency will be bipartisan and evidence based decisions will replace misinformation, propaganda and special interests at the heart of adversarial politics.

Likewise in the media the climate emergency will eventually dominate and anti-science statements will come close to approximating treason in a war time situation. Currently with the coronavirus there is some confusion with only a few ‘idiotic’ deniers floating around – predictably Alan Jones and his ilk. Others have changed. The President of the USA has done a 180 degree turn from the coronavirus being a ‘hoax’ to an ‘emergency’ in a matter of weeks. Regrettably this delay will probably be a death sentence for some of his citizens.

But as a result of the delay on action in the climate emergency the death and disruption will be much worse. Unlike the immediacy of action that the coronavirus forces upon us our governments have seen fit to deny, delay or ignore what the science has been saying for more than thirty years. Climate inertia means we have probably already condemned the earth to more than two degrees of warming. The deaths from global warming boosted extreme weather events continue to mount unnoticed and uncounted, and are certainly substantial*. The advice from various experts on tackling the coronavirus has been “go early and go hard”.  With the climate emergency the first option has been lost so we must double down on the second. The global response to the coronavirus shows, and continues to show, that this can be done.

*As an example the extra deaths during the heatwave that preceded the Black Saturday bushfires in SE Australia was 372.

Bushfires, Coronavirus and the Climate Emergency in Gippsland

There are no figures on cancellations caused by our recent unprecedented bushfires but there can be little doubt that local businesses have suffered severely. Anecdotally there are numerous accounts of holidays cancelled or deferred including that of my daughter, currently overseas, who postponed her visit in February because of smoke problems. In the 2003 fires my tourist dependant business in Swifts Creek took a big hit, as it also did in the 2006/7 fires. Tourists are easily discouraged by severe fire danger days or even in some cases fires in some remote part of the region, let alone monster fires, emergencies, major road closures and evacuation notices.

Now the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm us completely. Whilst it is yet to come to Gippsland a chemist acquaintance assures me it will eventually affect 60-70% of the population.  It is already dampening down economic activity across the country. Its arrival here depends on how effectively the various actions of the authorities slow down the process. But it may well turn the local suffering into a complete disaster.

Locally we have various media organisations calling for a return of tourists to boost our bushfire damaged economy whilst a local medico – Dr Rob Phair – is calling for Gippsland to remain isolated as a means of slowing the spread of the virus (see graph above of how delay is important). As in countries like Italy the population age of Gippsland is skewed towards the elderly – those most vulnerable to the virus.

To further complicate matters there are other factors that may make our economic situation dire. The current collapse of oil prices is ominous but well beyond our control. But the ‘elephant in the room’ may well be economic collapse brought about by climate change factors as outlined recently by Paul Gilding. With pump-priming already commenced by the Morrison government the place to build infrastructure is in the new economy with renewables – in power production, transport, industry and agriculture. 

Which brings us back to the bushfires. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the earth’s climate has been warming all our lives and the current decade is the warmest on record. It follows that extreme weather events including droughts and bushfires are being increasingly influenced by the warming (see the latest Climate Council Bushfire Report here). Perhaps the coronavirus emergency will eventually be replaced by an enduring climate emergency. It is ironic that in this instance the governments (correctly if sometimes belatedly) are following the directions of science, whilst the science of climate change, after 30 years, is still ignored.

Enough with the Climate Gloom by Michael Whelan

Bob Davies at Bimbadeen and his ground-breaking trials of carbon farming

Excerpts from an article in the Bass Coast Post

Workshop sessions at the Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne last weekend filled up quickly so I didn’t get to all of the sessions I would have liked. Inevitably such large gatherings become more of a spectator event than a working strategic session.

In this climate change journey we find ourselves frustrated at the lack of government action, incredibly concerned for our children and grandchildren and jaded with the overload of tragedies that are occurring globally. Many of the speakers at the Summit reflected this frustration, speaking at length of the dark future if we don’t take strong action. But not enough was said about what a strong approach looks like and the benefits it would bring humanity and the creatures we share the planet with…

I tend to think of it along the lines of the Third Industrial Revolution espoused by Jeremy Rivkin. Rivkin describes the change as the equivalent of the change from steam to the internal combustion engine. A radical transition that will leave many current industries – such as coal and fossil fuel extraction – as stranded assets. The economic role for discovered coal and fossil fuel in the new economy will be as carbon credits for foregone exploitation rights…The World Economic Forum has identified the failure to respond to climate change as the biggest threat to the global economy.

We must respond, but how will the business future in Bass Coast look? We are a prime area for carbon farming with some local farmers leading the way. Carbon farmers of the year Bob and Anne Davie on Phillip Island and Bass Coast Landcare are exploring new ways to farm and join the carbon market. Economist Ross Garnaut predicts that in the near future farmers will make more money from marketing carbon than selling livestock.

Cleaner waste and landfill is already being delivered through the Bass Coast Council’s food and garden organics (FOGO) initiative, achieving a 76 per cent diversion from waste with just 1 per cent contamination. In the future we should regard FOGO as a resource and process it here in Bass Coast for Bass Coast farms and to assist in carbon sequestration. Jobs will come from processing as they will from the marketing of carbon. Some farmers in South Gippsland already differentiate their product on quality as carbon free and grown by regenerative farming techniques…

A couple of cafés on Phillip Island already have zero waste… Totally Renewable Phillip Island (TRPI) is working on a community energy project that will give them clean energy and control over energy prices as well as projects to deliver food security and clean transport.

Council’s new Climate Emergency Community Reference Group commenced on Friday and will help prepare a living Action Plan. If we are positive and change the debate from the doom and get going on the new clean sharing economy we will not only be healthier but a thriving business area as well.

*Cr Geoff Ellis and Cr Michael Whelan attended the 2020 National Climate Emergency Summit as representatives of Bass Coast Shire Council. Cr. Ellis article was posted last week under the title “Bass Coast Councillors at the Climate Emergency Summit “.

Garnaut’s Superpower and Gippsland

 

Ross Garnaut is probably the most well-known economist in Australia. The publicity of his most recent book Superpower: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity (Latrobe Uni Press, 2019)* has been widespread across the media. As a solution or partial solution to the problems of climate change most of these ideas have been around for quite some time and is obvious to all excepting those prisoner to the fossil fuel industry (our politicians) and those persuaded by its propaganda.

Last year I delivered to the local U3A a long power point lecture on Gippsland as a renewable energy superpower. Some of the points in it had already been taken up by the State Labour government such as establishing electric vehicle manufacturing in the Latrobe Valley. This proposal is ideally suited to the ‘just transition’ providing employment where it is most needed. However the pollies still have no grasp of the urgency of the warming problem and nearly halfway through the government’s term, nothing much has happened.

Battery manufacture, floating solar and pumped hydro are valley opportunities that have as far as I am aware been ignored. And the Delburn wind farm development has been delayed by a few recalcitrants yet to grasp the climate emergency. Likewise our state politicians are yet to spruik the amazing opportunities of the Star of the South offshore wind farm.

Garnaut lists all these things and has a number of other opportunities suitable to our region including the opportunities for carbon farming in a chapter he calls ‘Earthing Carbon’. It is often forgotten that after reaching carbon neutrality we then have to begin carbon drawdown. Garnaut also has hopes for hydrogen produced from renewable energy rather than brown coal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) – both touted as solutions in Gippsland. As many have noted these new, untested, technologies such as CCS are not needed as the transition can be made economically with what we have now.

The main aim of the book is to free up ‘climate policy’ in our parliaments so this just transition can happen as seamlessly as possible. Rather than attacking the naysayers Garnaut is saying this is where the jobs are, and where the future lies, definitely not in the old technologies. In his concluding chapter he highlighted “special advantages at first of the old transmission nodes of coal generation” including the Latrobe Valley. “Old industrial towns have legacies of infrastructure and industrial culture that have value for the new industrial activity.”

Now is the time for our legislators at all levels to take note of the momentous problem of global warming and put the positive, and readily available, solutions in place. Rapidly.

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

2020 National Climate Summit by Ro Gooch

The Nation Climate Summit: Two days of climate change immersion. Two days of listening to the many speakers who have spent years researching, speaking and writing on this critical issue facing humanity.  People like Paul Gilding, David Sprat, Margret Klien Salamon, Rebecca Huntley, Michael Mann, Ian Dunlop, Greg Mullins. The list goes on. It was a good opportunity to listen to these people in person, as opposed to YouTube, articles and audios. It was also good to be surrounded by people experiencing much the same feelings of grief, anger and frustration.

Overall there was much to take home to, contemplate, to digest and to integrate into a climate change action toolbox. While the information, on the whole, was grim there was a consistent message of hope in the possibilities of a liveable future if immediate and strategic actions were taken at a Federal Government level.

The summit focused on four areas – Climate Impact, failure of leadership, strengthening democracy and addressing the threat. Each session had an array of speakers who gave a short talk before conducting a sort of Q & A session. While this was interesting and at times entertaining, the most useful session for me were the breakout sessions. These sessions had the same format, but because they looked at specific areas were able to dig a little deeper.

‘Getting the Message Right’ and ‘The Activism Gap’ were two particularly helpful sessions on tackling climate change messaging.  A number of speakers spoke to this challenging issue, making the points that we don’t have to convince everybody, we don’t have to know all the facts and figures and that telling our story and listening to other person’s story is critically important. They emphasized the importance of starting a climate message with a ‘victory plan’, or a picture of how it could be. In other words, tell the truth with a vision of the future, a realistic vision because we have the solutions and we can make the changes necessary for a positive future.

Big messages from this summit can be summed up in the: Need for a better democracy built from the bottom up; Climate should be the primary target; Next ten years critical we need to bring our emissions down; STOP BURNING FOSSIL FUEL; The risks of doing nothing is too great; Zero emissions by 2050 is too little too late.

The summit finished with Ian Dunlop announcing The Safe Climate Declaration campaign and join the call emergency level action. Please Sign on and endorse.

*The author is a facilitator of the East Gippsland Climate Action Network and Bairnsdale Extinction Rebellion.

**Watch the live recording from the Summit

Climate Science, Denialism and Scepticism

Recently the blog by Tom Moore on Climate Denialists* attracted some criticism. It became obvious fairly quickly that the main critic fitted into Tom’s ‘climate denier’ category himself. Amongst other things he committed the standard error of a denier in ‘cherry picking’ his sources. The underlying ‘anger’ in his response was another. But two points he made are worth answering. The first was that as he had scientific training he implied that he knew better than others. The second was that the author of the blog ‘did not understand the scientific process’.

The first can be easily dismissed as he appeared to be denying or ignoring some parts of the ‘scientific process’ himself such as the basic physics of the greenhouse effect which has withstood the rigours of the science for more than 100 years. Or the fact that knowledge itself is a series of building blocks which we are continually adding to or modifying based on observation, measurement and experimentation. His second criticism is more important and appears to be confusing the term ‘denialism’ with ‘scepticism’.

‘Denialism’ is prevalent among many of our politicians and a select band of journalists operating under the banner of the Murdoch media.** This coterie either denies or ignores the logic of the greenhouse effect and the well-established consequences of increasing greenhouse gases. They ignore the overwhelming evidence that has been collected over the last 30 years that confirms the dire predictions of our own CSIRO scientists in the 1980s on bushfires, drought and other extreme weather events.

However critical ‘scepticism’ is an important part of the scientific method. In science the aim is to disprove a hypothesis and the hypothesis then is disproved, modified or becomes accepted over time. For those interested in an understanding of climate change and science in more detail I recommend this article by Andrew Gunner ‘Convergence: the basis of scientific confidence’.

But an ordinary person does not have to have scientific training to acknowledge or trust the science. We do it every day. We go to a qualified doctor when we are sick and trust the pilot when we are flying. If we are concerned about the power of the denialists in politics and the media then we need to be critical of where we get our information from – accredited and reliable sources like the CSIRO, the BOM or the various universities across the country.

We also need to way up the vast amount of evidence that has been accumulated by science and weather bureaus around the planet. Accurate measurement and observation being another essential part of the ‘scientific process’. And then inform our politicians that we want them to take note of what science has been saying for a long time and act upon it.

* I try not to waste too much energy on ‘denialism’. But occasionally a blog sneaks in. See here.

**To answer many of the myths, ‘red herrings’ and other denialist claims go to the sceptical science website.