Our Climate Heroes and a Post Covid-19 Recovery


Good friend and long-time acquaintance Barrie Pittock emailed recently (23.4.20): “At age 81 it is beyond me to do much re [the climate emergency], but as a long retired CSIRO climate scientist with many rewards for my work including a Public Service Medal, a share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for my work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), etc., I want you and others to act on the message that after the Covid-19 emergency, global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions will be a far more pressing global emergency, with dire consequences for the human race, with large sea-level rises, more extreme weather events, more bushfires, etc., etc. Can you spread the message and act on it?”

Barrie’s list of his achievements is modest in the extreme. He was a participant in the 1975 “Australasian Conference on Climate and Climate Change” conference at Monash University, wrote the overview of the conference and was one of the editors of the subsequent publication Climate Change and Variability: a southern perspective (Cambridge UP 1978). Twelve years later there was another climate conference at Monash in which Barrie, along with many others from CSIRO atmospheric physics division, presented a paper. These papers were published in a large volume Greenhouse: planning for climate change (CSIRO, 1988) edited by GI Pearman.

In 2005 Barrie’s Climate Change: turning up the heat (CSIRO Publ. 2005) was published with an exhaustive, detailed analysis of the climate science to that date. In his introduction he wrote: “Hope lies not in science but going beyond the science to examine the policy questions and moral imperatives that the scientific projections throw into stark relief…making direct links between the science and the consequences… If this encourages you to address the issues, to make your own assessment of the risk, and to act accordingly, this book will have achieved its purpose.”

The politicians have been caught out with the coronavirus – having to act on the science for the pandemic and yet still ignoring the science on climate. The real heroes of Australia are the climate scientists once found in the CSIRO’s division of Atmospheric Research. As well as Barrie and Pearman they include Roger Francey, Tom Beer and Ian Enting amongst many others.

Each day that our representatives continue to deny or ignore the science of climate change must make us more determined to remove them from the portals of power or make them change their minds. Above all let us heed Barrie’s warning that the global warming emergency is far more serious than the coronavirus pandemic and “spread the message and act on it”.

Just Climate by Madelaine Moore

Russell Broadbent MP with citizen scientist Aileen Venning at Cape Paterson

Republished from Just Community

It may be hard to think beyond Corona at this moment. However, climate change has not gone away and, recently, we heard some critical news on the climate front that will impact our area. In March, the Victorian state government, under pressure from the federal government, removed the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling in Victoria. Unconventional gas extraction, that is, fracking in shale or coal seams, is still banned.

Nevertheless, this is bad news, as conventional extraction is still very damaging to the environment. It releases high levels of methane during extraction, production and transportation, and is also a risk to our water. That’s why so many people across the state, particularly in Southern Gippsland, fought hard to protect our region from gas extraction.

The argument put forward by the gas industry is that this will lower gas prices. But this is misleading, for in order for gas prices to drop, the federal government would need to implement a gas reserve policy, which it is unwilling to do. Furthermore, new gas projects offer short-term jobs, but threaten our established industries such as agriculture and tourism. Compare this with renewable projects, such as the Star of the South, which would be a long-term employer of well-paid jobs.

Although not directly impacting our area, other governments also seem to be using the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to open up new gas and coal drilling sites, and to avoid action on climate. For those who missed it, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced another destructive bleaching event. The NSW government is about to allow coal mining in water catchments and has ramped up the clear-felling of hardwood forests, including the Bimblebox Nature Reserve, a critical habitat for endangered wildlife.

This is the time to demand that our representatives take action. Please write to Dan Andrews to let him know what you think about the risks of gas extraction to our area. And don’t forget our federal rep, Russell Broadbent… Mr Broadbent has continued to refuse to sign Zali Stegall’s climate action bill, even though it goes no further than what business is already asking for.

What the pandemic has shown us is that governments can act and they can act with great speed when they want to. Like the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis also threatens our loved ones, our livelihoods, our health, and way of life. In the aftermath of the pandemic, let’s re-build and protect our environment, creating a healthier and more sustainable South Gippsland for all humans and creatures that call it home.

The Author is from Fish Creek

Wind farms reduce greenhouse gases

East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG   CAN)* is delighted to hear that the Star of the South Wind Farm planned for the Gippsland coast has entered its next stage. Negotiations are underway with land-owners for contracts to put underground power transmission lines through their properties. This is an exciting project and hopefully one of many local renewable energy developments in the next decade.

EG CAN spokesperson Tony Peck said ‘While we are currently focused on the tragic outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency response to this, we need to keep in mind that there will most likely be a vaccine next year. Climate change on the other hand is an ongoing emergency, with no ‘one shot’ vaccine solution. A timely response implemented with the urgency of the COVID-19 actions will be both more effective and much cheaper in the end’.

Peck commented: ‘It is disappointing to read a recent Bairnsdale Advertiser editorial perpetuating fallacies about wind farms and their sustainability. Wind turbines have a planned life span of 25 years. The steel and aluminium used in their structure is easily recycled using current technology. Fibreglass blades are more challenging, but effective recycling processes are being developed as blades near the end of their life.’

‘All forms of power production require energy inputs for construction. Research has shown that wind turbines have a very short payback time: 6 months to 2 years depending on location.

‘By contrast,’ Mr Peck said, ‘coal fired power stations emit gases causing global warming and every day that power is produced, more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere. This happens for the entire life of coal fired power stations.’ Coal has fuelled the industrial age but the gains have come at great cost. The natural environment has been driven to a crisis point; air pollution from coal fired power stations affects both industry workers and the wider community with associated costs estimated at $2.8 billion a year,’ he said.

‘Coal is not the future. The best future for Gippsland will require planning for a transition to renewable energy in the shortest time possible,’ Mr Peck said. As coal has been a significant contributor to the regional economy, we need to ensure that new employment opportunities are a top priority in planning and local businesses can have a constructive role in this transition. We all need to accept the science of climate change and the types of action required to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. Renewable energy, including wind farms, will play a big role in this transition.’

* Media Release EG CAN. An edited version published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 16.4

Three Gippsland Emergencies

The recommendation of the ‘Shire Council Officer’ (the CEO?) to the East Gippsland Shire councillors to not declare a climate emergency in many ways was to be expected.* For bureaucracy at all levels of government is still staffed with individuals primarily concerned with business as usual, with accommodating future threats with some action but lacking imagination to see the threats that global warming really involves.

Any reasonable definition of ‘emergency’ implies urgent, immediate and continuous action to combat, minimize or cope with the threat. By this definition east Gippsland has been confronted with three emergencies this year – the bushfires, the coronavirus pandemic and global warming – the first two have been clearly recognised but the last yet to be perceived or understood by the general populace or our politicians.

The bushfires in East Gippsland consumed a massive part of the shire area and prompted the State government to declare an emergency and order an evacuation for virtually the whole of the shire (see map above). Somewhat ironically this did not include Mallacoota where naval evacuations were yet to come. Nor was the influence of climate change on the drought, dry thunderstorms or subsequent fires recognised in the media, in politics or locally. An influence that is yet to be established but at least making these events three or four times more likely and severe.

The calls by local media and politicians to spend big in east Gippsland were succeeded almost immediately by the global coronavirus pandemic. Rightly, accepting the best scientific advice, our governments have mostly acted on this medical emergency (aside from the occasional cock-up) no doubt horrified by the possible fatalities likely to be experienced by delay, or no action. Governments that have ignored the science, or delayed their actions, are those that are experiencing horrific mortality rates with a world-wide total of about 150,000 deaths at the time of writing.

So far there has only been one confirmed case of coronavirus in East Gippsland but the economy of much of the region is devastated. Though financial conservatism and balanced budgets have been jettisoned the recovery from this will be painfully slow and may well extend into our next fire season. The advice of science to “go early and go hard” has been followed here with the coronavirus but ignored with climate. And as with the coronavirus many of the climate change effects are exponential.

Our treatment of climate change has been the opposite of the pandemic. We have ignored warnings for 30 years, including those by the CSIRO on the likelihood and severity of bushfires. Anti-intellectualism – that is the denial or distortion of basic facts – has meant that powerful vested interests and media personalities have used their power to politicise with propaganda sowing doubt and denial, dominating the political agenda. From this delay they have no doubt reaped enormous financial benefits.

Whilst the shire has taken the State government’s Take 2 initative and “is committed to tackling climate change” it has yet to realise that many of its actions** are business as usual. The three emergencies make the council plan to make east Gippsland “a liveable region” is probably now unobtainable. Their “strategy [to] identify three 10-year [climate] objectives” is far too late. The urgency and priority of the climate emergency is clearly not understood.

*In response to EG CAN petition for the shire to declare a climate emergency

**I have written positively on many of these actions (see here and here) and also on a number of occasions offered advice on possible emergency actions (see here).

Putting the Coronavirus ‘Bonus’ to Good Use

I’m not sure what to call the pump-priming payout of $750 to old age pensioners such as I have just received. The reason for this ‘bonus’ is correct (but a bit tardy) as it is a small part of the government’s response to the coronavirus emergency shutdown of our economy. The problem is what we are going to spend it on, with most commercial enterprises, and all our op shops, shut down.

Due to the fact that for most of my life I have lived off ‘the smell of an oily rag’ the old age pension is more than sufficient for my needs. Also in the space of a few short weeks we have gone from being urged to spend big locally to help revive our bushfire damaged economy to the place being mostly in lockdown – not quite complete as a number of non-essential stores and businesses (like the loggers and DELWP) continue to function.

Consequently I have decided to divide my ‘bonus’ between three organisations active on the ‘climate change’ front. The Friends of the Earth Act on Climate team are super-active, local, and clearly advocating a just transition – something that is vital for a smooth changeover from the old carbon based economy to the new renewables one. In particular they have continuously promoted the wind farm options of Star of the South and Delburn. These projects are essential for Gippsland which is still heavily dependent on the old carbon economy.

Environment Victoria is also vocal in the need for climate action including the unsuccessful ‘climate election’ push of last year and their clear recognition that the logging industry is also part of the climate problem and should be closed down as soon as possible. The Climate Council continues in its role of projecting and publicising the current science whilst remaining politically neutral. There are many other deserving organisations working hard on the ‘Climate Emergency’ including Greenpeace and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Outspoken barrister Julian Burnside is frequently quoted on his claim that “If we don’t fix climate change nothing else matters.” Whilst the immediacy of the coronavirus pandemic dominates the media and our lives it is worth remembering that extreme weather events associated with global warming like our recent bushfires and drought are already bad and will progressively get worse. If you are in receipt of a bonus and it is not essential to your finances please consider donating it to an organisation active in the climate emergency.

The Importance of Electric Vehicles by Steve Walsh

Edited version from Baw Baw Sustainability Network Newsletter

In his book Super-Power, Ross Garnaut has electrification of the transport industry as a major plank in achieving reduced carbon emissions. Yet according to the motoring press, the general public regard electric cars as too expensive and their limited range and charging times means they are not practical. Without more Government incentives this makes them a harder sell. Our cancelled Electric car event was to get people thinking about EV’s for their next vehicle purchase which may be over the next 2 to 3 years.

Environmentally an ‘average’ household car uses about 2.5-3.0* tons of CO2 per year, with the average household running about 1.5 cars.  The average household emissions from gas and electricity use in Victoria is about 8.0 tons CO2.  So, an EV can significantly reduce emissions. If we are to achieve a 50% reduction in emissions in Victoria by 2030 I guess we could have a personal target of reducing our household emissions by 50%, and EV’s can help significantly. Of course there may be more cost efficient ways of reducing an individual household energy use and emission (draught proofing, insulation etc).

E V’s are more expensive but prices are coming down all the time. Various sources claim EV purchase price will be the same as petrol/diesel vehicles within the next 2 to 3 years. Also some organisations are planning to import second hand EV’s from Japan. ‘Normal’ electric/petrol hybrids certainly help through better petrol consumption, but if our aim is to reduce household consumption by 50% then arguably they don’t reduce emissions enough. Plug-in hybrids on the other hand reduce petrol consumption significantly and could have a place, particularly in rural areas where charging points in the short term may be less available.

We look forward to debating these points when we are able to get our events up and running again. In the meantime we have BBSN members who have purchased EV’s and plug in hybrids, and they will contribute their e experience at our next event. In the meantime our guest speaker Paul Paton suggests you google’ The Driven’ podcasts.  These include topics such as ‘Why your EV will be a virtual power plant’ and other EV topics.

*Petrol car emission = (litres per 100 km x 0.0238) x km per year /1000 = tons CO2 Example: 8 litres per 100 km x 0.0238 x 14000 km per year divided by 1000 = 2.66 tons CO2

 ** Average Household emissions assumption: 50,000 MJ gas and 14800 kWh electricity per year.

EG CAN Climate Emergency Petition

EG CAN Media Release*

Members of East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG CAN) recently met with East Gippsland Shire Councillors at their regular Tuesday morning briefing session. Sally Kendall, Nick Blandford and Carina Turner presented a compelling case for the declaration of a Climate Emergency in East Gippsland. This was supported by more than 1,600 signatures on a petition calling for the council to declare a Climate Emergency.

Carina outlined the case for declaring a Climate Emergency ‘The declaration of the climate emergency, will encourage the councillors and the council employees to take the lead within our community to allow sustainability to be at the forefront of the council decisions.’

Sally discussed the excellent programs the shire has initiated and the positive affect these are having for the region and beyond. With a Climate Emergency declaration in place, we could ensure that all decisions are made in a framework where the best outcome for the region is achieved while reducing carbon emissions. The community then maximises the long term viability of agriculture, commerce and tourism with preservation of an intact natural environment.

Nick used his experience as a farmer to explain the impact of climate change on agriculture. Mentioning recent government research, Nick discussed the real world impact of the estimated 22% cut in farm income directly related to climate change over the past 20 years. With drought, fire and finally floods across our region Nick highlighted some of the positive work being done by farmers to imbed carbon in their soils as part of creating resilient climate change ready farms.

Nick said ‘by declaring a climate emergency a signal is sent to the community and further to investment capital and supply chains that the leaders of our community are looking beyond adaptation and exploring the opportunities that can benefit the economy, environment and society’.

The group highlighted to councillors that hundreds of governments at all levels across the world have already declared a climate emergency. After the unprecedented drought, capped by horrendous fires, few regions in Australia have a more compelling reason to adopt a Climate Emergency than East Gippsland. The petition has been presented to council, with a motion to follow at a future meeting.”

* This was reported in detail in the Bairnsdale Advertiser (3.4) admittedly on page 14 of a coronavirus slimmed down issue under the heading “Pushing a Case for Climate Emergency”.

A Climate Emergency Post Pandemic Blueprint

The Friends of the Earth (FOE) have come up with a post Covid-19 Blueprint for Australia much of which is valid for Gippsland. The Blueprint for Climate Justice is in “response to the economic impacts of the outbreak of the Coronavirus” pandemic and noted “state and federal governments are now announcing rolling, large-scale stimulus packages to keep the economy afloat. These already total billions of dollars and are likely to be ongoing.  This is both a threat and an opportunity for the future of the economy, the climate and ecosystems at a time of overlapping crises.”

The threat is that “the Morrison government [will] attempt to force through subsidies for new coal mines and fossil fuel generators, bailouts of large corporations and guarantees for executive pay” whilst the opportunity is “to use the massive investment of public funds [required] to start to position our economy to be fit for purpose for the reality of climate change”. The latter is commonly referred to as a ‘just transition’ and is essential in creating lasting solutions for climate action. It requires that this “massive investment of public funds” (which the pandemic had already necessitated) be invested wisely.

The blueprint lists over 50 possible investments in rebuilding public infrastructure, energy, cities and transport, forests, rivers and the natural world, agriculture and food systems and waste. At the same time clearly asserts that a basic guarantee of jobs, housing and essential services is required for all. As I have pointed out previously there will be jobs for all when the climate emergency is tackled properly.

Of negative relevance to Gippsland in the blueprint is that the ‘waste to energy’ plant planned for in the Latrobe Valley is unsustainable and should therefore be shelved. Likewise are the plans and investments already made for the production of hydrogen using brown coal. On the positive side the blueprint promotes offshore wind – the only project of this kind on the drawing board being the Star of the South in south Gippsland.

The blueprint also noted that the selection of pumped hydro projects should be fast tracked of which there are a number of possibilities in Gippsland including Paul Treasure’s Baw Baw Thompson Dam pumped hydro proposal. In the energy area the blueprint also suggested “Directly fund[ing] the construction of mid-scale community owned renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms, micro-hydro and energy storage in every local council area in regional Victoria.”

There are obvious and clear choices for governments to make on this. We are, more or less, following the directions of science on the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Now is the time, and the opportunity, to follow the science on climate change. Thanks are due to the FOE for their pioneering efforts and their perseverance.

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.