The Tree Vandals of Gippsland

Massive trunk of Yellow Box between Ensay and Swifts Creek. (Ros Crisp)

Twice every day for the last 8 years of my life as a shopkeeper I drove past a magnificent old yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora) near the crest of Connors Hill. Many years earlier when returning from a party we stopped there and three of us joined hands around this great specimen measuring its circumference at roughly 24 feet. The age of the tree was not known but as a slow growing species it almost certainly was there when Angus McMillan journeyed down the Tambo Valley in 1840 and was quite possibly there well before the first Europeans landed at Botany Bay. Now it is gone.

A number of estimates of the amount of carbon stored in its body were made. A local Ros Crisp, who worked hard to save the tree from the Vic Roads chainsaws, measured the tree accurately in July before it was cut down. It was exactly 6 metres in circumference measured 1.4m above ground level. Calculations varied according to what calculator was used but it stored between 15-30 tons of carbon with a 50-100 ton CO2 equivalent. Using the top estimate and an arbitrary value of $30 per ton of CO2 gave the tree a monetary value of $3000.

Unfortunately the tree vandals are in charge in a number of government departments – DELWP in particular as well as Vic Roads – and tree removals continue unabated in Gippsland justified under various headings including public safety and fire prevention. Massive clearing along roadsides in the bush has been ongoing for a number of years as was detailed by Deb Foskey at Dellicknora nearly 3 years ago.

Deb noted: “People who live in the border region of Far East Gippsland – Bonang, Dellicknora, Tubbut – were shocked to see what has turned out to be hundreds of trees felled …on the Dellicknora road. On inquiry to DELWP we were told that these were ‘hazardous trees’… The trees may have been felled for no purpose, equating their demise with extreme environmental vandalism. In any case, the entire concept of ‘hazardous trees’ deserves close scrutiny.”

More recently a block of Native Forest at Mt Alfred near Bairnsdale was logged for firewood. See the Gippsland Environment Group’s website for more detail. As well a recent private survey of regional Australia found the logging industry had very little public support.

The whole operations of DELWP need a thorough reorganisation. Trees should be protected and removed only as a last resort. Each tree so removed should be replaced with more than enough seedlings to recover the carbon lost to the atmosphere in one year.

DELWP’s major role should now be on forest protection with the science of climate change being the major input. The whole area of burning and community protection should be revisited and re-examined. New procedures should be adopted in accord with the latest science.  And it goes without saying that the logging in Native Forests for whatever reason should be quickly phased out.

Six years of Gippsland Climate Blogging

After a few initial mishaps I have been regularly posting twice a week on this blog since December 2012. It was conceived as a commentary on climate change related as closely as possible to Gippsland. The first posts, without images, were made by my sister in Canada who presented me with the website (and a twitter account) as a Xmas present in 2012. The first couple of posts were made by her from brief articles from a climate change newsletter I was producing at that time and done before I was aware the website or blog existed. It was a most pleasant surprise and the newsletter was quickly superseded.

Although concentrating on local content occasionally some of the more general posts have attracted international interest. One of these was a post I wrote almost two years ago on the threatening effects of high wet bulb temperatures – basically a measurement of both humidity and temperature. Many people are still surprised to know that wet bulb temperatures over 30 degrees are life threatening and at human body temperature will cause death in a short time. This post still has occasional visitors – six in the last month. Generally in a popular post the interest is overwhelming Australian with unique website visits over 80% of visits. Usually the Australian visitors figure hovers around the 60% mark with the remaining visitors from around the globe and all continents. It is an audience I have never had before.

Statistically the web site visits have grown and currently sits between 500 and just under 1000 unique visits per month with 971 visits a recent high.* So far there have been about 600 posts of 400 to 450 words on average – more than 250,000 words in total. Somewhere between 10 and 20% of the posts are from guest bloggers and others are republished online articles of local interest. This year Paul Treasure’s post on a pumped hydro proposal on the Thompson River was a high for guest posts which was also republished elsewhere and quite controversial.

As works of journalism the posts are sometimes hastily written for a deadline, so occasionally an inaccuracy or small error creeps in, though they are generally as accurate as possible. Where they are basically an opinion piece or some future projection no doubt there will be discrepancies – sometimes large – which will eventually become obvious with hindsight. The blog remains a political, but non-partisan, tool. It is politicised only to the extent that vested interests have, and continue, to overrule best science. Hopefully the blog is having some effect for this cause. To paraphrase Gandhi in one of my favourite quotes: “you may never know the results of your actions but if you do nothing there will be no result.”

*almost all these visitors are to the climate blog with occasional visitors to history articles on the publications page

Gippsland’s First Big Battery for Mallacoota

Republished From Environment Connect Summer 2018-19 (East Gippsland Shire Council)*

Mallacoota will be among the first towns in Australia to have a grid-connected energy storage system in its local network, after eastern Victorian electricity distributor AusNet Services announced plans to install a large-scale battery near the town in 2019.

The Mallacoota Area Grid Storage (MAGS) is an innovative $2.5 million project that will greatly improve power reliability in Mallacoota.  A power storage facility is planned to be installed at the East Gippsland Water treatment plant on Genoa-Mallacoota Rd, just outside the Mallacoota township.

MAGS is expected to reduce the number of local outage events by around 90 per cent. This includes both planned and unplanned outages (faults).

The heart of MAGS is a lithium ion battery array with a total storage capacity of 1MWh and will be combined with a diesel generator of similar capacity connected to the AusNet Services** electricity grid. This could power 1,000 average homes for approximately two hours. The battery will be charged from the grid, and will then feed power back into the town during local outages.

A community meeting on Wednesday 21 November was well attended and many technical questions were asked and answered.  An important outcome will be that household solar panels will now remain connected and feed into the local network when the town is ‘islanded’ and will help keep the battery running for longer.

*contact the East Gippsland Shire Sustainability Officer here.  From the information provided this means Mallacoota will be able to operate as a micro-grid. It is further anticipated that as residential batteries from new state government’s battery plans are put in place that it will be able to function independently from the grid for a considerable period of time, mostly from renewable sources. The state government’s plan is for batteries to be installed at residences with already operating rooftop solar, of which Mallacoota has a substantial number.

**further information here.

A Vote Climate Strategy

As part of a ‘vote climate’ strategy I have often called for ‘climate Independents’ to oppose those Liberal and National MP climate change deniers that occupy safe seats in our Federal parliament. Those climate Independents should necessarily be from the centre or conservative side of politics and preferably be high profile and media friendly – the more well-known the better. A ‘hit list’ of these deniers in the current Federal parliament should be easy to compile – starting with ex PM Mr Abbott and including a few Victorians such as Kevin Andrews.

Now prominent Liberal Party member Oliver Yates has called for the Liberal party to split and for independent Liberals – those that accept the overwhelming evidence of climate science and the need for the Adani coal mine to be stopped – to oppose sitting members. Writing an opinion piece in the Guardian Yates noted: “We must provide alternatives for Liberals to vote for at the next federal election, and I hope to see independent Liberals provide electors in safe Liberal seats with that choice. We need to return to the day where politicians know that their job is not to retain their job but rather to represent their electorate, who, if they are lucky, reward them with their job.”

There are a growing number of environmental and progressive political organisations that have joined the ‘vote climate’ movement. These include Environment Victoria and the Friends of the Earths’ Act on Climate collective in the Victorian election and Get Up and Stop Adani in the recent Wentworth by-election. By-elections allow groups to concentrate their efforts in seats that they would otherwise discount or ignore in a general election.  And yet both these elections illustrate that there is a strong demand for rational climate policies in these conservative seats.

Since actual climate deniers number only about 5% of the population and around 70% accept human caused climate change then it follows that there is a substantial body of voters on the conservative side of politics waiting for a suitable candidate. Now the ‘Vote Climate’ campaign has been joined by the Australian Conservation Foundation these groups should co-ordinate their campaigns so that ‘climate independents’ in safe seats are not only not forgotten but encouraged and assisted wherever possible. Included in this should be the issue of some sort of ‘Conservatives for Climate’ How to Vote Senate tickets in all states – especially those where climate deniers, like Senator Abetz in Tassie, head the Lib ticket.

By all means the various organisations should continue to run their own specific campaigns. But there is much to be gained by co-operation between these groups and to shift Federal parliament back to an active bipartisanship on climate by the removal or marginalising of the deniers. In some electorates prominent individuals should be requested to stand if no suitable candidate appears to be forthcoming. They should then be supported in many as ways as possible especially in online promotions. A co-ordinated ‘vote climate’ campaign would also ensure that preferences from both the sympathetic parties – the Greens and Labor – flow in the right direction.

Some Advice for the New State Government

Recent letter in Age. Also applies to some Labor MPs and bureaucrats

The State Minister for Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio has done a terrific job overseeing the rapid expansion of renewable energy and is one of the stand-out ministers from the previous Andrews administration. One of the problems she, and the Labor government face, is that a number of MPs in their party do not understand the problem of climate change – the relationship between producing CO2 emissions by various human activities and global warming. This applies equally to high levels in the bureaucracy – in particular the forestry (DELWP) and the old mines departments (Earth Resources) – both of which appear to be anchored in the past.

Just transitions are not only needed in the Latrobe Valley but also in the bush where logging and timber milling are substantial emissions producers and need to be phased out as quickly as possible. Likewise the Earth Resources department remains tied to brown coal with its recent financial and ministerial support of the coal to hydrogen project. It is apparent that some government ministers need basic science / climate change lessons as do some senior bureaucrats. Any of the latter reluctant to change should be retired.

On the matter of basic climate education I wrote previously: “When a government sympathetic to the science is elected they should immediately embark on a massive education program on the basic physics of climate change for the whole public. This is something that was missing from the Gillard government…” when they brought in the carbon tax.

And it “has been noted that the BBC is now giving courses to its journalists on how to handle and ask questions on climate change which presumably includes the basic physics. Energy commentator and sustainability expert Alan Pears argued… that our leaders need to be re-educated on climate matters: ‘But many of our leaders just don’t seem to grasp these principles. Maybe we need to set up remedial education for our leaders in basic physics… and senior public servants.’”

One would hope that governments, aside from the troglodytes in Canberra, are planning for a rapid phase-out of coal fired electricity generation as outlined in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. When this report is applied to Gippsland the remaining 3 brown coal generators should be closed by 2030! Large projects like the Star of the South offshore wind project or a pumped hydro project adjacent to the Latrobe Valley are needed to be fast tracked to both provide employment and replace the current coal generated power with renewables. We also need to replace forest mining with forest protection and perhaps Earth Resources should be looking for some local supplies of lithium and attracting a battery manufacturer to the Valley as well.

Sunburnt Country – a brief review

The Sunburnt Country: the history and future of climate change in Australia by Joëlle Gergis (MUP, 2018)* is a pioneering work on climate history. It is also an up to date work of the latest research on climate change (both natural and influenced by humans) in Australia over the last 1000 years. The book is divided into 5 parts commencing with an analysis of climate, mainly in south-east Australia since the first fleet.

This part has an explanatory chapter (Australia’s Climatic Tug of War) about all the strong influences of extreme weather on our climate. In particular the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) giving us El Nino (hot dry) and La Nina (cold wet) weather patterns, the Indian Ocean Dipole (similar to ENSO in the Pacific) and much less so the Southern Annular Mode (describing north south movement of the Westerlies).

Drawing on a wide variety of sources – anecdotal accounts, early temperature measurements, tree rings, coral growth, lake sediments and ice cores – the climate history of our country is established. Of interest is that the first years of European occupation were most likely an El Nino followed closely by a La Nina event from 1791-4. These were almost certainly natural climatic variations. However the influence of human greenhouse emissions on our climate may be much earlier than realised. We tend to think of climate change as something that may be experienced in the future whereas the reality is that we have been experiencing a gradual and barely noticeable warming throughout our entire lives.

On this Gergis noted: “Recently I was involved in a study… that showed the Industrial Revolution kick started global warming earlier than we realised. To our surprise our results showed that human-caused global warming began as early as the 1830s in the Northern Hemisphere”. (p.167)

Droughts are mentioned in detail and Gergis notes that the “latest research suggests the Millenium Drought was linked to global warming” and we can assume with some degree of probability that our current one is too**. She then asks “Could it be that the nature of Australian droughts is changing as we continue to warm the planet? Are our droughts getting hotter? It’s a question we need to ask before the next heavy rains arrive and wash away our concerns.” (p.102)

The book is quite readable for the lay person, yet authoritative. The bibliography is 16 pages long and there is a foreword by David Karoly of Melbourne University***. It is highly recommended. Buy two copies – one reference copy for your shelves and the other as some Xmas reading for your rellies or your local politician.

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

** I hope to deal with the specific Gippsland climate history using this book in a future post and in particular compare Gergis’ results to my own experiences over nearly 50 years.

*** Karoly is clearly acknowledged as the author’s mentor. It is nice to know the work of this eminent scientist has continued over a long career. I have on my desk a copy of the symposium Greenhouse Effect: planning for the future (CSIRO, 1988) held at Monash University in 1987 in which he presented a paper.

The State Election in Gippsland: predictions and results


In an election* when the Labor party is in power it is usual for the vote of conservative sitting members in country electorates to increase. Thus my predictions a week before the election were tentative when I suggested that, with the possible exceptions of Bass and Morwell, the end results would show some swing against the sitting members, but that they would all retain their seats. I was hardly alone in failing to predict the Dan-slide and in Gippsland East there was no swing against the sitting member.

Morwell, as predicted, is still too close to call, and currently the ABC Election guide is predicting a win to incumbent Russell Northe with preference flows from National, Liberal and conservative Independents. This is all based on the assumption that voters will follow candidate preferences and ALP’s Mark Richards, who responded positively to our early climate question and clearly led on primary votes, is still very close.

Unfortunately the general campaign tended to polarise voters over the ‘renewable energy’ question and the climate friendly Greens and Independent vote suffered. This polarity probably centred around the LNPs opposition, even antagonism, to renewable energy, their decision to abolish the Victorian Renewable Energy Target and the complete absence of anything on climate change in their platform or policies. Perhaps many voters saw this as an either/or choice.

In Bass and Narracan there were clear swings to Labor of 6.7% and 3.6%. Climate Independent Clare Le Serve polled a creditable 5% and will get VEC funding. I was one of the few pundits to suggest that Bass could change hands. The Gippsland South polling analysis is also confusing as Labor previously chose not to stand a candidate in the by-election that elected the current sitting member. The ABC suggests a swing of 0.6% to the sitting member, yet paradoxically the swing to the ALP was 5% with a slight fall in Greens candidate Ian Onley’s vote to a still substantial 9%.

In Gippsland East alone the vote has not moved though Labor’s Mark Reeves increased his vote 1.4% unfortunately taking votes from the Greens Deb Foskey – the only other candidate to speak clearly about climate change in her campaigning. The sad truth is that the only candidates who can make substantial inroads in these National Party strongholds are very high profile, and hard-working, independents.

This will be probably be a peak vote for Labor in Victoria but it will be enough – the solar revolution will by then be unstoppable, if it is not already. And more people will be voting with ‘climate’ in the coming elections as the global warming influenced extreme weather events continue inexorably.

*based on ABC Election guide on the morning of 26.11

Recent Gippsland Solar Stories


Republished from the Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub October Newsletter

The Macalister Demonstration Farm near Maffra is a commercial dairy farm focused on using science and demonstration to stimulate the take-up of innovative practices to boost productivity and profitability. The co-operative has just installed a 61kW ground-mounted solar system and is considering plans to add Tesla battery storage. They hope to cut grid power consumption and change the way energy is produced.

The Department of Land Water and Planning, and volunteer Committees of Management are leading the way with an exciting new energy efficient program for public places! Eleven Gippsland public halls and recreation reserves have shared almost $220,000 worth of funding from the Victorian Government’s Sustainability Fund to install solar systems to help them reduce their energy bills and sustain local community groups.

Projects have been completed, with systems installed at: Alberton West Recreation Reserve, Binginwarri Recreation Reserve, Cowwarr Recreation Reserve, Darnum Recreation Reserve, Flynn Hall, tennis club, Giffard Hall Recreation Reserve, Old Gippstown, Gormandale Recreation Reserve, Rosedale Recreation Reserve, Stradbroke Hall and Recreation Reserve (and) Toongabbie Recreation Reserve.

Another 23 Gippsland halls and reserves are almost ready for their solar power installations. Others may be added to the list as well. Public buildings and sport and recreation facilities run by volunteer Committees of Management in Baw Baw, Latrobe City and Wellington Shires are (all) eligible for this funding, which is being rolled out in stages across these shires.

The Community College Gippsland has received a $50,000 grant under the Latrobe Valley Authority’s Community Facility Fund towards installing a solar power system at their Warragul campus. The system will not only have a positive impact on the College’s environmental footprint but will also reduce their energy costs by over $10,000 per year!

The Nicholson River Winery, which was one of the first wineries in Eastern Victoria and has been running for 40 years, has installed 44kW of solar. Owner Ken Eckersley said the reasons were to reduce power bills but also to cut emissions and help prevent further global warming.

The State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi is installing solar to power their mine in an ‘Old Energy New Energy” project.

Gippsland’s Drought and the Latest Weather Predictions

Much of Gippsland has been suffering severe rainfall deficiency over the last 2 years. Anecdotal evidence from the upper Tambo Valley suggests that some farmers have been feeding out for most of that time with bills for their hay purchases up to $1000 per week. The long term rainfall pattern in Gippsland shows a 25% reduction in winter and autumn.

The good news is that the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) now predicts that eastern Victoria has a very good chance of exceeding summer rainfall averages. An article in the Age noted “While much of that rain is tipped to fall in NSW, eastern Victoria can also expect more rain than normal.”  The BOM noted that this will be due to a “high pressure over the southern Tasman Sea” that will drive inland “more humid air than usual.”

As I have noted on many occasions when and where rain will fall is the hardest thing to predict – especially rainfall in thunderstorms where one location may receive a downpour of a few inches and a dozen miles up the road they receive nothing. Most Gippslanders are aware that our heaviest rainfall events are from the east and south-east commonly delivered by ‘east coast lows’. Invariably Gippsland floods are associated with these easterly rains and the possibility that the current drought will be broken by a heavy rainfall event must be high. It has happened before – in 1998 when a short sharp drought was ended with June floods. This time the predictions are for summer rains.

The apparent paradox that climate change is making both dry and wet periods more extreme and more frequent is sometimes confusing. As our climate becomes hotter it increases evaporation making it dryer and, with the subsequent loss of soil moisture, the drought worse. Extended dry spells are probably being enhanced as the tropical areas expand and are gradually forcing our predominant westerly winds further south.

On the other hand each degree of ocean warming puts 7% more moisture into the atmosphere. Onshore winds from the south and south east can dump this extra moisture over Gippsland. I have made a number of previous posts illustrating the oceans warming off our coast including the recent arrival of black marlin and other warm water species off our shores. Thus global warming increases the extremes of floods and drought.

The best outcome possible for Gippsland is that the drought is broken by a series of long, but gentle, rainfall events. The worst case scenarios include missing out on the rain altogether, the drought broken by severe floods in the holiday season and, perhaps worst of all, the drought broken by floods followed by bushfires after a post flood heatwave. As time passes and little is done the odds are increasingly on the worst cases.

The State Election and Climate Change – some predictions


Except for the electorate of Morwell it appears that the remaining four Gippsland seats are safe for the LNP/National coalition. However a number of factors – some local some general – could whittle down the margins in each of these seats. These margins are substantial ranging from 4% in Bass to nearly 18% in Gippsland East.

Both Bass and Narracan may be affected by the increased numbers on the suburban fringe in their electorates making the former marginal and a possible loss. How the Liberal or National party votes will be affected by the shenanigans in Canberra is impossible to estimate but is probably slight. Nor is the climate question quantifiable as a voter motivation but may have more affect in Bass where there is a ‘climate’ Independent Clare Le Serve who polled well in the 2014 election. Also there is substantial support for renewable energy especially in the south of the electorate. Narracan remains a mystery but there could be a swing of some sort against the sitting member.

Morwell I have dealt with in previous posts but with 11 candidates – all local and with some high flyers – it is impossible to predict. Three of the candidates are climate friendly – Lund, Caffrey and Richards – and the ALP decision with the SEA Electric car factory in Morwell is a possible seat winner. But unfortunately I notice they have obviously done some preference deals with not so sympathetic candidates.

The Nationals MPs in Gippsland East and South are firmly entrenched though swings against both sitting members should be anticipated. In Gippsland South with only 3 candidates both the ALP and Greens candidates are ‘climate friendly’. Issues that may have some traction include wind generation where the MP appears to be sitting on the fence and copping it from both sides with a vocal anti-wind group in Yarram and a pro-wind group pushing the fast tracking of the offshore Star of the South project still awaiting Federal government approval. The latter is further complicated by the Federal governments’ hostility to wind power. The ALP did not put up a candidate in this seat at the previous by-election.

The further east you travel the dryer it gets and the drought must be having some effect on the Nationals heartland. Both federally and at a state level the Nationals in general and the local member in particular are yet to connect the dots with regards climate change, fossil fuels and extreme weather. Most of east Gippsland (and some of south) has been suffering a severe rainfall deficiency approaching 2 years. Compared to 2014 where an outsider ran for the ALP, this time there is a strong local candidate Councillor Mark Reeves. He, along with the Greens Deb Foskey and Independents Stephenson and Neophytou are considered ‘climate friendly’. There are a number of other issues including the Fingerboards open cut mine and netting in the Gippsland Lakes which may attract a protest vote.

It is hoped that Tim Bull’s majority of 18% will be substantially eroded. It is also anticipated that climate change will increasingly become the dominant issue in elections at all levels across Australia