Asking Gippsland Candidates the right Climate question

Melbourne University energy hub senior adviser Simon Holmes à Court has been asking politicians and would be politicians a simple question on climate change. Some time ago he asked Liberal candidate in the Mayo by-election Georgina Downer “can you please let us know whether you accept the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming?” More recently he has asked the same question of the Liberal candidate in the Wentworth by-election David Sharma, with, so far, no response. Simon has then publicised the response or non-response to his followers on twitter.

Following Simon’s example I decided to ask the same question to candidates in the five Gippsland electorates starting with Gippsland East. Although still 50 days from the election it soon became obvious that this was an exceedingly difficult task and that I should concentrate on Gippsland East. So far I have asked the question of the five known candidates in the electorate and all have responded.

The question obviously has two parts – accepting the scientific consensus and that the warming is human caused. A spokesman for local member Tim Bull replied to my email but his answer was vague and ambiguous. Our local member accepts climate change but ignores the scientific consensus and claims incorrectly that the jury is still out on whether the warming is caused by humans.

The three candidates who have so far responded positively to the question are the Greens Deb Foskey and Independents George Neophytou  and Matt Stephenson. Their replies have been publicised on facebook and twitter through Gippsland2020. Amazingly the tweet on the latter’s reply was retweeted by Simon and received about 200 impressions (see above) – not quite viral but a big response in local terms. Stephenson is a twitter novice and unfortunately has not been able to take advantage of this.

It has been drawn to my notice that the Baw Baw Sustainability Group will be having a candidate’s forum in the seat of Narracan and there well may be forums in other electorates – quite possibly Morwell. Such events are ideal for the question to be posed by a single questioner and asked of all candidates present requesting that they respond with a single word – yes or no. And if no forums are held the same question can be directed at candidates through their contact details listed by the Victorian Electoral Commission.

I am sure that Gippsland2020 will happy to promote any of the positive responses in Bass, Gippsland South, Morwell and Narracan as they have been doing in Gippsland East. I will relay any positive response readers from any of these electorates send me.

Kalbar and Climate Change – the Greenwash

Protest against the mine.

The proposed Fingerboards mineral sands mine is becoming an election issue in East Gippsland with 3 candidates so far expressing opposition to it. Kalbar Resources have recently opened a shopfront in Bairnsdale with an apparent ‘greenwash’ claim of ‘sustainability’ in its window. Since no mine is sustainable their ‘environmental’ claims rest upon the need for rare earths (RE) in the transition to renewable energy.

Their website claims correctly that “the Rare Earths is a group of elements that are not actually that rare in the earth’s crust, but are rare to find in economic concentrations. The Fingerboards deposit is rich in the highly valuable rare earths…” and then incorrectly asserts “These rare earths…are essential to…temperature magnets used in windfarms, and the powerful batteries in electric vehicles.” Elsewhere it is noted that the Enercon wind turbine from Germany – currently the world’s largest – has no components with RE minerals. Some unconfirmed estimates suggest that as little as 10% of wind generators have RE minerals in them.

Further the website claims “Once in production, the Fingerboards is expected to supply up to 10% of global demand for rare earths required for the development of clean energy. This will be pivotal, to Bloomberg’s estimate of wind and solar energy reaching a combined 48% of global energy capacity by 2040. The proposed Gippsland off-shore wind farm would consume roughly 50% of the Fingerboards annual Neodynium and Prasodynium (NdPr) production, enabling the construction of 14,000 gigawatts of wind power annually; enough to power 14 million homes. Rare earths production from the Fingerboards is enough to construct 2.8 million electric vehicles annually.”

Aside from an outdated Bloomberg estimate the tone of the website implies that none of this will happen without the mine. As well as noting the absence of RE in at least some wind turbines (above) Kalbar are not considering alternative supplies, product substitution and possible recycling of these materials. That without the Fingerboards mine the clean energy revolution will not occur is arrant nonsense. And it will almost certainly happen a lot faster than the Bloomberg prediction.

Though promoting the clean energy revolution and RE in their publicity it should be noted that a ‘typical Fingerboards concentrate’ has about 2% RE which in turn represents slightly over 20% of the estimated value. This can be compared with 30% titanium mainly used in paint and 16% zircon used mainly in ceramics. I have requested a full analysis of their typical concentrate from Kalbar – that is the missing 52% – but as yet have had no reply. I suspect that it probably contains the usual nasties including radioactive Thorium and possibly Uranium.

The long and short of it is that the Kalbar website is mainly greenwash and the clean energy revolution is going to happen anyway. I hope to comment in a later blog on the greenhouse gases that such a project as Kalbar envisages would produce.

Carbon Capture and Storage and Golden Beach by Karen Vogel*

Golden Beach and its neighbour, Paradise Beach. Both towns sit beside one another and form part of the Ninety Mile Beach in Gippsland, Victoria. Both towns are quiet, at last Census in 2016 the average age of residents was 60, there are around 750 homes approximately ¾ of which are holiday homes. We are currently fighting a battle with organisations called CarbonNet and AGR Australia P/L. The CarbonNet project is investigating commercial scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) just off the coast of Golden Beach.

We are taking a stand against plans for CCS for a number of reasons:

  1. The government refusal to move away from coal and into renewables
  2. Millions of taxpayer dollars already wasted on Carbon Capture over the past 10+ years with seemingly nothing to show for this
  3. Risks to the environment and community with leakage
  4. Decades of ongoing monitoring into future generations, of which will further tax payer dollars will be wasted
  5. We dispute that this idea will meet global warming targets as it will create more emissions for this to work, not less

Whilst the local media has been following this story, we need something bigger now, and more help letting the world know of our plight. We find it interesting that such a small sleepy town is the target for these plans, highly convenient that there is considered to be a rock base just off Golden beach, CarbonNet finding has capacity to store the Carbon.

Investigations are currently in process, we have had Seismic Survey Testing earlier this year, with further Seismic Testing planned over a 15,000km stretch over a 5 month period, beginning in October 2018.  Communication with the community to date has been minimal and effects of this testing has been significantly downplayed by CarbonNet executives who have previously advised community members we would not notice Seismic Testing, members instead formally reported complaints of illness, affects to dogs and property damage. All complainants are still awaiting formal response from CarbonNet along with inspections on property.

CCS planning at Golden Beach has been known by the local council (Wellington Shire) for many years, though never communicated or advised to ratepayers. Only since the town has formed a small committee demanding adequate communication to the community on the project, has there been some improvement with this.  We will continue to protest against these plans.

You can find more information about our Community group on Facebook here and our Website here.

*Edited. Other blogs on this subject here and here .

The Election in Gippsland East

I have briefly examined the electoral prospects across Gippsland for climate candidates here. I concluded that given the right conditions all of the seats are vulnerable to strong candidates – Independents in the south and east, Labor in the west with Morwell ‘up for grabs’. Whilst the south and the east are probably safe for the Nationals conditions and the climate may go against them.

In the latter electorates outstanding Independent candidates are required. To qualify as outstanding these candidates should be well known and local, media savvy, from the centre or even the centre right of politics, have some groundswell (or networks) of support and be prepared to work very hard during the campaign. Both labor and the greens have already put up strong candidates. Then a tight flow of preferences is needed from both greens and labor directed to the independent before the incumbent.

The Independent candidate in turn must get a substantial primary vote either outpolling the greens and labour and collecting their preferences or at least outpolling the greens enough to put them ahead of labor after green preferences. It goes without saying that they, or all the opposition candidates combined, must reduce the incumbent’s lead to well below a majority. Strategic voting by those who would normally vote Labor or the Greens could give an Independent the boost he/she needs. Such a situation occurred with Craig Ingram in Gippsland East in 1999 and recently with the election of an Independent in the ‘safe’ conservative seat of Wagga in NSW.

So far in Gippsland East we have a strong candidates for Labor, (East Gippsland Shire Councillor Mark Reeves) and the Greens (Deb Foskey). Also there are two likely independent candidates so far – Matt Stephenson and George Neophytou  – who both appear to at least partially qualify for the conditions listed above. The former is an advocate of renewable energy and adopts the ‘cautionary principle’ on climate change – that it’s best to act even in the (most unlikely) event that the science is wrong. The latter’s understanding of climate change is not known and neither climate nor renewable energy are mentioned in his policies, though he is opposed to the CSG moratorium being lifted.

As continually pointed out (see here and here ) the link between climate change and extreme weather is clear – especially for heat waves, but also for droughts and severe storms. Parts of East Gippsland are, and have been, in what is locally known as a ‘green drought’ for some time. I am reliably informed that some farmers in the upper Tambo have been ‘feeding out’ at a cost of about $1000 per week for 18 months. Fortunately stock prices have held though hay prices have increased alarmingly.

The terrible performance of the Nationals federally in promoting coal, the complete absence in Victoria of any policy on climate change and being aggressively anti renewable energy of any kind must eventually tell against them. Likewise their policy appears to support overturning Labor’s CSG ban. The drought in East Gippsland continues, fire restrictions are on, we have already had a winter bushfire and the possibility of an El Nino remains. The Nationals have less than 2 months for the weather to break substantially or they may get a surprise at the ballot box.


The Absurdity of Politicising Science

There are numerous examples in history of science challenging the status quo and then, at least for a short time, been resisted and sometimes politicised by these forces, usually conservative or reactionary. But inevitably this has been all to no avail as science as ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ always prevails in the long run.

Probably the most famous example was Galileo championing the Copernicus theory of heliocentrism – that the earth revolves around the sun. He was tried by the Inquisition, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under ‘house arrest’. Heliocentrism directly challenged the accepted theory that the earth was the centre of the universe – and was probably perceived as a direct threat to religious order. It was an idea that had to be supressed.

Another example I have used before is the discovery in 1849 by Dr John Snow that diseases like cholera and typhoid were waterborne and controlling sewage was a quick and efficient way to eliminate them. I had relatives dying of these diseases on the Victorian goldfields almost 30 years later and it wasn’t until the 1870s that London began to be sewered. The slow process of adoption in this case was an initially conservative medical profession divided on the issue and a general and widespread public ignorance.

In World War I when General John Monash applied new tactics, principally using new technology, the war changed dramatically from slaughterhouse and stalemate to victory. Monash, an engineer, brilliantly combined the technologies and tactics – tanks, artillery, and aircraft – with exhaustive planning. Similar tactics were adopted in 1939 by the Germans in their ‘blitzkrieg’ with great initial success that made the ‘impregnable’ fortified Maginot line look the antiquated means of defence it was.

Which brings us to the Anthropocene and climate change which threatens the collapse of civilisation and even of human existence. There is no question about the science or the unanimity of scientists on this matter. The science has been established and accepted for more than 30 years. The lack of political action can be sheeted home to one thing – vested interests pouring huge amounts of cash into muddying the waters, creating doubt and influencing conservative and reactionary politicians. In this they have been successful and generally the scientific illiteracy of the general public, and our politicians in particular, has no doubt assisted this enormously.

But the end of this confusion and delay is approaching rapidly when the various harmful effects of a human caused warming world – possibly some combination of drought, heatwaves and bushfires – become obvious to almost everyone. Then even ‘blind Freddy’ and the ‘drover’s dog’ will ‘connect the dots’. And then, hopefully, the science denying members of our political elites will be dispatched with the ignominy they deserve.

The Renewable Energy Revolution and Gippsland

(Weekly Times)

Under the heading ‘Wind Farms Fan Unrest” the Weekly Times (19.9) had an article documenting the ‘community unrest’ against wind farms. A few things are noticeable about the article including the paucity of developments in Gippsland, the bias of a purportedly even debate against wind, and the lack of any mention of climate change. The article begins with the statement “A renewable energy revolution is under way in regional Victoria, with the fault lines between industry and landholders becoming more pronounced.”

The article then lists the various projects and quotes from State Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio with a reply from Opposition spokesman David Southwick. Despite the sub heading ‘Community Opposition’ there is nothing about this in the article at all or even of the ‘fault lines’ between industry and landholders. It is in an adjacent article “Plans for Turbines draws more ire” which covers the opposition to the project at Mortlake where a petition – presumably against the project – has 400 signatures.

Nowhere in either article is there to be found the voice of any of the landowners who has agreed to have the turbines on their properties, about how they are drought proofing their farms and how their communities will directly benefit from extra income and employment. Nowhere are the two words “climate change” mentioned or how this revolution is necessary to help Australia meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

One suspects here a few disgruntled landowners, the influence of pressure groups, and perhaps even editorial direction from above. Rupert Murdoch is rumoured to dislike wind generators and News Corp publications have been recently criticised for either the lack of information on, or opposition to anything related to, climate change. Also many in the bush are still failing to link extreme weather such as droughts and heatwaves with climate change.

Finally there is for Gippsland only the one project – the Star of the South offshore wind arm in South Gippsland still awaiting planning permits. The map (above) does not bother to include East Gippsland as there is no project to list, though there is at least one small solar farm on the drawing board. Both the state representatives for Gippsland East and South Gippsland are Nationals. They belong to a party that is promoting coal and is anti-renewable energy. Tim Bull member for Gippsland East has yet to accede that the climate change we are experiencing is man-made. As far as I am aware neither he nor the member for South Gippsland has made any gesture to support local projects of this sort.

Despite any opposition there can be little doubt that these projects will benefit the bush both in the short and the long term. They are also the start of many moves that must be made to mitigate climate change and therefore also a bonus. It is sad that our local members and their supporters cannot see this.

Lakes Oil loses $3b CSG court battle

Lock the Gate Activists Howitt Park Bairnsdale 2016

FOE Media Release

This afternoon, Lakes Oil, which is part owned by Gina Rinehart lost a $3b court battle to sue the Victorian Government for ‘lost future earnings’ for its ban on unconventional gas.

Lakes Oil initiated legal action in 2016 after the Andrews Government announced a permanent ban on unconventional gas in Victoria following a parliamentary inquiry and long-running community campaign.

Friends of the Earth organiser, Zianna Fuad states: “We refuse to be intimidated by multi-million dollar companies who have repeatedly broken the trust of the community, and now want taxpayers to pay the price for their failed business decisions. Gina Rinehart is out of touch with community and her intimidation tactics are not welcome here in Victoria.”

“Victorian communities fought tirelessly for more than 5 years to secure Australia’s first permanent ban on fracking. It is completely absurd that Lake’s Oil, who invested in this risky industry, has disregarded the democratic decision taken by the Vic government to protect land, water and climate from invasive drilling. Lakes Oil has been fully aware of community opposition for at least half a decade, yet continued to invest in the development of onshore gas despite losing its social license to operate in Gippsland.”

Community members, who have been watching this court case closely for the last two years, came out with relief, holding their banners and Lock the Gate signs.

“We’re glad to see that the Resources Minister and Treasurer Tim Pallas has remained strong on the onshore gas ban in the face of sustained pressure from Lakes Oil and the Federal Government. Any gas development, onshore or offshore, jeopardises our chances of tackling climate change, so we’d love to see other states follow Victoria’s lead,” states Zianna Fuad.

“Overall it sends a strong signal to other states who are currently fighting the fracking industry.  It proves that the bullying tactics used by mining companies are weakened when communities are united.”

A Sorry History (so far) of Oz Climate Parties

It appears a new political party – the Climate Democrats (CDs) – has entered the considerable vacuum in Australian politics left by the Liberal Party abandoning climate science and common sense. But it is not an easy task to fill and will take time, and an enormous amount of energy and support, as the litany of previous attempts clearly illustrates.

By my reckoning this is the fifth attempt to create a single issue climate party in a little bit more than 10 years. The first was the Climate Change Coalition which disappeared in the Ruddslide followed by my own ineffectual attempts with the Global Warming Action Party Australia (my daughter joked that the acronym GWAPA sounded like a frog croaking). About 2010 the still unregistered Save the Planet Party (STP) started up in Victoria. Like other previous attempts the STP failed to garner much publicity and must be considered a left splinter of the Greens.

The Renewable Energy Party (REP) was formed in 2016 but unfortunately carried a fair amount of political baggage with its founder Peter Breen. I joined the REP on its successful registration – previously I had been a member of the STP – and was one of a number of candidates in the 2016 election who lost their deposits. Like the Climate Coalition before them they had been banking on instant success – a most unrealistic proposition. After a long period of silence and inaction from the committee with one exception they all resigned, leaving a few individuals (including yours truly) trying to save something from the debacle. In this we were unsuccessful and the REP was deregistered earlier this year.

There is a need to avoid the political baggage of the past if possible. There is a need for appealing across the political spectrum and in particular occupying the centre and the centre-right. The single issue climate change party should be challenging in the seats where the Greens (the only party with credible climate policies) have little or no sway. It is in these seats in the main held by Nationals and Liberals that the cancer of climate denialism is to be found. It is in these safe seats that the sitting members need to be threatened and made marginal. The party should be built up from a sound base with as little as possible individual ambition and no unrealistic expectations.

So I wish the Climate Democrats well and hope that they succeed where those before them have failed. As it seems unlikely that they will be registered anytime soon in Gippsland I will be supporting Independents – any with credible climate policies or understanding – then the Greens and the ALP. I will also consider joining the CDs once I have given them a close inspection.

Bringing on the Climate Emergency

A perceptive and important article on the climate emergency in the Age by Paul Gilding appeared recently. Gilding compared the current situation with the unprecedented emergency caused by World War II. The similarities between then and now are clear.

On the historical analogy he stated: “The evidence of the threat posed by Hitler was overwhelming and the case for action crystal clear. However, many were still deeply resistant to acting. Only when the threat became overwhelming – until it was accepted as an imminent crisis – was Britain triggered into action. When it was, Winston Churchill led the critical shift in thinking, arguing that no matter how uncomfortable, expensive or challenging to the status quo, sometimes you just have to do what is necessary. Not your best, or what you can afford, or what’s “realistic” – but what is necessary. In his case, that was going to war and assuming victory was possible. And so began one of the fastest and most dramatic economic mobilisations and industrial transformations in history. As a result, something that was rationally bordering on the impossible was achieved.”

Has the crisis occurred that will bring on the climate emergency? Probably not though the heatwaves and bushfires in the northern hemisphere this summer, possibly including the currently occurring hurricanes/typhoons in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, are definitely ringing the alarm bells. At home we have the drought and winter bushfires in NSW and East Gippsland. Currently there is no end in sight for the ‘dry’ and an El Nino threatens, which could complicate and intensify an already dire situation. We have no idea how big or how severe the ‘crisis’ will be.

In the meantime Gilding points out that the Darebin shire council has already declared the ‘climate emergency’ in Victoria as a result of determined ‘grass roots’ action and this has been followed by a number of local governments in the USA. As well there is the “climate emergency” petition that has been circulating online for some years which many of us have signed.

Gilding noted that with “identified threats, resistance and avoidance, stronger and stronger evidence, acceptance of crisis and then dramatic response – is pretty much how these things always unfold. And so it will most likely be on climate change.” The type of action that will follow the emergency declaration is clearly enunciated by Gilding and by Churchill before him. By definition the emergency will not be debated, there will be no question of cost, rather it is a question of what has to be done – of what is ‘necessary’. This will be decided by scientists and engineers, and implemented by the politicians. A process that should already have been in process 30 years.

And whilst we await the climate emergency defining crisis perhaps you can work on your shire to declare the ‘climate emergency’ and in the meantime sign the petition.

High hopes for first Phillip Island solar project by Susan Davies*

Ben Stephens at the Phillip Island Early Learning Centre Cowes, proposed for the Island’s first community solar project.

Totally Renewable Phillip Island is seeking support for its first community energy project.

Totally Renewable Phillip Island’s first potential solar project needs your vote! Putting solar panels on the Phillip Island Early Learning Centre in Cowes is listed under the Victorian government’s “Pick My Project” scheme as “Renewing Our Kids’ Future”. It needs locals to vote for it to gain the funds. You don’t have to live on Phillip Island … residents living within 50 kilometres of Cowes with an interest in renewable energy can vote at Pick My Project. Register your name and address, then select “Renewing Our Kids Future” as one of your three preferred projects.

The project aims to install a 30kW solar system at the Centre. It was put forward by a parent, with Energy Innovation Co-operative as project partner. A June public meeting in Cowes heard of other communities in Australia and overseas setting community emissions reduction targets. The meeting voted overwhelmingly to support a “Totally Renewable Phillip Island” target that “Phillip Island will be a carbon-neutral community by 2030 through our collective efforts to use clean, efficient energy, reduce pollution and offset emissions”.

Phillip Island’s large number of groups, individuals and businesses already actively improving the environment, plus its high profile, make it an ideal local leader in working to achieve a community target. In late July, the solar “Renewing Our Kids Future” project was one of around 50 ideas for community action put forward at an open planning forum held at the Phillip Island Community Learning Centre (PICAL).

Representatives from the seven collaborating groups initiating the forum, plus Phillip Island Nature Park, Westernport Water, the National Vietnam Veterans Museum, Bass Coast Shire Councillors and other businesses and individuals, brainstormed ideas which were then “wrangled” into a (draft) basic structure, action plan and priority list.

At present there are five working groups beginning initial activities. This solar project is the first of the “clean energy” projects. Other work groups include transport, education, carbon sequestration, food & waste. Measuring current emissions and monitoring reductions plus communications are central, relevant to all themes.

If you need help to register and vote online visit your library or PICAL for assistance. Visit Totally Renewable Phillip Island’s Facebook page for updates or the Energy Innovation Co-op website. But first we’d like you to register and vote for “Renewing our Kids’ future”!

*first published Bass Coast Post