Gippsland News & Views

Submission to the Technology Investment Roadmap Part 1

EGCAN die-in at Bairnsdale Farmers Market 2019


Excerpts from EGCAN Submission

EGCAN recognises there is an urgent need to reach net zero emissions. ​In listening to the scientists and experts we know that this is the decade to make a difference. If we are to keep warming under 1.5 degrees and thus minimise the devastation of more extremes in weather, rising oceans, habitat and biodiversity loss our actions must be bolder, more ambitious and immediate if we are to achieve a safe future.

There is no place for fossil fuels – COAL, OIL OR GAS – in our economy. We must transition to renewables and a low carbon economy as a matter of extreme urgency. If we neglect to transition to renewable energy, the costs will be many fold.

Unacceptable costs:

            ● Increases in changes to our climate.

            ● An increase in droughts and extremes of weather. 

            ● Wilder and more uncontrollable bushfires, starting earlier and ending later. 

            ● Reduced agricultural output. 

            ● Increased expenditure on mitigation of the changes. 

            ● Mass extinction of flora and fauna. 

            ● Reduced liveable areas in Australia and the world.

            ● Significant rises in sea levels.

On top of these predicted outcomes are the somewhat unknown but severe effects caused by having reached crucial tipping points. Melted permafrost in Greenland and Antarctica are expected to lead to dramatic increases in methane release. Methane release of this magnitude will result in global warming faster than projected conservative modelling.

Renewable energy is our future 

            ● Australia can be a global renewables-led powerhouse, millions of jobs can be created. (BZE) 

            ● Wind and solar could provide ​up to 75% of Australia’s electricity by 2025​ (AEMO).

            ● Renewable energy combined with storage is the cleanest form of new energy generation.

            ● Renewables have come down in price every year for the last decade. Wind and solar are now the most affordable new power projects, already cheaper than coal and gas generation.

The Coal Curse by Judith Brett – a brief review

Quarterly Essay No.70 2020 RRP $22.99

This essay, mainly economic history, documents the rise of the climate change deniers on the conservative side of politics. Brett states: “Australia has been cursed with a decade of poor national leadership on climate change, with our prime ministers lacking either the courage or the intellect to develop coherent policy responses to the threat…” (p.7)  and the proceeds to analyse how “climate change denial gain[ed] such a deadly grip on our political class”.(p.8)

Brett charts this long road to political dominance with the influence and actions of the big miners, and in particular the efforts of Hugh Morgan of Western Mining Corporation – from their opposition to land rights through to the rejection of the resources rent tax in 2010 and the decade of climate denial. In effect, this is really two decades with a brief interregnum of the Gillard minority government.

After the formation of the Lavoisier Group, of whom few will have heard, and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) holus bolus adoption of anti-science climate policies, the deniers had the ear of every conservative government since John Howard in 1996 – aided in many aspects by the Murdoch press. Brett notes: “After Howard won the 1996 election it became easy for the mining lobby to prevent action on climate change” (p.47) and “climate denial and scepticism spread through the Australian right”. (p.49)

Later under “Abbott the two decades of cultivation of a network of climate sceptics and deniers by the Lavoisier Group and the IPA paid off in spades. Abbott was openly and repeatedly sceptical about the science of climate change and, with his imprimatur, a hard core of climate sceptics formed inside the Coalition determined to stymie any policies aimed at reducing Australia’s carbon emissions.” (p.58)

Brett further adds that the “denigration of science has not only affected climate science it has undermined the nation’s commitment to research and development more broadly and to foster a silly hostility to new renewable energy technologies.” (p.59) “The National Party has become the party of coal…” (p.63) she adds and “Capital is deserting fossil fuels… (p.69)

Finally Brett points out that being the international pariah on climate change has its downside and substantial future risk, like countries adopting carbon tariffs to preference against our exports or the finance industry applying “global capital boycotts.” (p.70)  Hopefully the influence of these climate criminals, and their supporters in the IPA and the Murdoch media, will decline as their industry does. In the meantime, let us find outstanding conservative and/or centrist candidates to oppose every climate reactionary in parliament and hope the path Zali Steggall pioneered in Wahringa against Abbott will be followed by many others.

Gippsland and the Victorian Gas Program by Susan Quinn

Excerpts from an article in Just Community No 6

“Energy policy has enormous implications for climate change and gas does not provide a climate solution, it is a climate problem. Gas produces fossil fuel CO2 emissions when burned, albeit about half as much as coal. However, a key concern is leakage of methane – a strong greenhouse gas – during gas extraction and across the distribution supply line. Knowing these concerns leads to another: there are large known reserves of gas in the ground, which gas companies want to exploit.

“Opening up onshore gas fields contrasts with the Victorian Government’s positive move to increase its Renewable Energy Target (VRET) to 50 per cent by 2030, and Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017, which established a longterm target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The IPCC said we must reach net zero carbon emissions globally by about 2050 to give the world a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

“A workshop presenter described gas as a transition fuel to firm up supply as Victoria moves to renewables. I put this to the Climate Council and they responded: “There is no need for gas to play a role in ‘transitioning’ to renewable energy. Australia has everything it needs to make deep, enduring and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. We already have the storage technology available (such as pumped hydro and batteries), we just need the political will to implement these solutions.”

“Australia produces a lot of gas (it is now the world leading LNG exporter) and we don’t need new gas development. We need to transition out of fossil fuels not into new fossil fuel reserves.

“Whilst federal energy policy direction is acceptable to the fossil fuel industry, it is not compatible with addressing the climate crisis.

“East Gippsland experienced a summer of unprecedented bushfire this year. A bushfire prone region containing active gas wells would seem a dangerous mix, particularly as the Australian bushfire season and catastrophic bushfire conditions increase under climate change. Yet bushfire risk does not appear to have been mapped into the VGP model of ‘landscape sensitivities’ in the Gippsland Basin. Recall that the Hazlewood fire was ignited by a bushfire burning into the brown coal reserve.

“Abundant, affordable carbon-free energy is an essential requirement for solving the climate problem. Australia’s summer of shocking bush fires are symbolic of the consequences of global warming if we do not alter our trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. Energy policy that includes new gas exploration and development needs to be rejected. 

Fish Creek

Bairnsdale’s Coming Summer from Hell

Flying Fox dead by the trailer load -summer 2018 (Image Shelly Nundra)

Having just passed the winter solstice, and lived through our black summer, I realise that I am dreading the next summer from hell. The bushfires were bad enough – spending most of the summer in the smoke, having evacuation orders and on two occasions with Bairnsdale, the largest town in our region, threatened. When one wakes through the night to check the winds and the possibility of ember attack the fire is as close as you ever want it to come.

Last summer was the third time I have closely experienced monster bushfires in the last 20 years – 2003, 2006-7 and 2019-20 – in each case the fires burning the whole summer. Now the experts at the Bushfires Royal Commission have predicted that we will have another monster bushfire before 2030, possibly two.

It is not so much the bushfires I dread as the next big heatwave. The first heatwave I clearly recall was in February 2009 in the days running up to Black Saturday. Our house at the time had inadequate the roof insulation and for cooling we had several portable fans. By the fourth night, temperatures remained so high during the night that sleep was extremely difficult and in the morning, it was still above 30 degrees inside the house.

Now in our all-electric house we have reverse cycle air conditioning and improved roof insulation. In the ‘summer from hell’ our centralised, coal-fired, greenhouse gas producing, power system is the weak link. Most of the coal-fired generators in our country are aging and, even in periods without any stress, the generating units close down for maintenance or occasionally break down.

Imagine the following. “As the heatwave progresses, the generators come under increasing stress, both through the extra demands for cooling the plant, and the increased demand for energy to power the air-cons that everyone has switched on. When one or more of the units at the old clunker at Yallourn W breaks down the load on an already stressed system of the east coast grid is increased.

“By the third day of heat the places on the periphery of our grid – Mallacoota Dargo, Omeo – experience brown-outs and black-outs, possibly of some duration leaving residents with no power, unless they have batteries or a back-up generator. Blackouts occur in large areas of the State, including East Gippsland, when the interconnectors between the States trip.

“On the fourth day, most of the temperatures overnight are desperately high approaching 30 degrees. The bats in the colony on the Mitchell River have been dying for days, and there are only a few survivors left. Large numbers of residents needing treatment for heat exhaustion overwhelm our hospital. Heat fatalities mount up in the young, the elderly, and the sick.

An event something like this will occur locally in the next 10 or 15 years. It will not be the first, for in the last decade Bairnsdale has already experienced heatwaves with temperatures over 42 degrees on three occasions. The ‘canary in the coal mine’ has been the flying fox colony whose numbers have been decimated by each of these events. The flying fox fatalities are warning us of our own vulnerability to an overheating planet. With the next ‘summer from hell’, will there be human casualties to match?

Bushfires and Climate Change by Kerry Knights

Letter in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 24.6

The past can’t be undone, but the future can be shaped. And what’s so very obvious is that Climate Change is shaping our present. And the future. A succession of esteemed and expert witnesses at the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Management have reiterated that Climate Change is what we are living with right now. It was here before Covid-19, and will be continuing on long after the Covid-19 crisis has abated. 

Unlike Covid-19 where a vaccine is still to be developed and tested, there is absolute clarity around what we can and should do now to mitigate ongoing natural disasters, due to Climate Change. At the Royal Commission hearing, Bureau of Meteorology’s head of Climate Monitoring, Karl Braganza presented to the inquiry in some detail the extent of carbon polluting in Australia and how it has changed our climate.

And how much worse it will get if there is no direct action. Right now. Already he said, the fire season is starting three months earlier in much of south-east Australia. Fire index readings that, in the past we would have seen at the beginning of Summer, we are now seeing at the beginning of Spring. Temperatures are higher, rainfall and humidity lower, soil and vegetation drier and westerly winds blowing from the arid centre of the continent are more frequent.

With memories of the horrific summer months fresh in the minds of all Gippsland residents and beyond, complacency has no place in our present as we shape the future. 

We, as a community, must insist that East Gippsland Shire Council takes this crisis seriously and acts decisively to protect us. Our lives depend on it.

Understanding the Climate Emergency

I have used a number of analogies to show why the climate emergency is upon us and that urgent action is required. In particular, I used that of the inertia involved in Titanic’s progression towards the iceberg showing that by the time the iceberg was sighted it was already too late for the ship to avoid the catastrophic collision. But the Titanic analogy is insufficient as we are still turning up the earth’s thermostat by continuing to put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, whereas the ship closed down its engines immediately. To complete the analogy it would have been “full speed ahead” with a guaranteed disaster and no hope of escape.

I was reminded of the failure of most of us to comprehend this emergency in a recent zoom lecture given by a State government employee who listed their renewable energy efforts to combat global warming. Amongst the list he gave were two projects that I have criticised on a number of occasions – the coal to hydrogen and associated carbon, capture and storage projects and the waste to energy projects – both in the Latrobe Valley and both large greenhouse gas emitters. 

These projects have two obvious disadvantages – they both produce carbon dioxide and they are years down the track, let alone the fact that the earth has yet to see a successful carbon capture and storage operation. These projects are part of the ‘business as usual’ agenda and highlight the fact that our governments are taking advice from business interests and ignoring the best science. These policies indicate that a substantial number of bureaucrats and politicians have yet to comprehend the climate emergency.

The emergency implies the following. Governments will have a major role to play in planning, financing, organising and training labour and many other activities. The first actions will be to abandon support for any project that is not carbon neutral and especially so with unproven technology, including all proposals for mining or exploitation of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects of all sizes should be assisted in some way, and in the case of the large-scale projects like the Star of the South fast-forwarded. The electrification of industry and transportation must also be a high priority. Where possible community consideration and employment should be an important priority but the emergency implies that all unreasonable opposition is ignored. There will probably be a carbon tax somewhere in there too.

When we have achieved zero emissions, we then must devote all our energy to carbon drawdown or sequestration – currently afforestation, soil carbon and a few other forms. When all the carbon emitting projects – including coal to hydrogen and waste to energy – disappear from the government’s agenda, we will know they are beginning to comprehend the climate emergency.

Just Transition Part 2 by Dr Michael Borgas

Reproduced from Just Community

Why would we focus on fossil fuels if there are alternatives? It turns out South Gippsland is the potential home to Australia’s first offshore wind farm, the Star of the South project. It aims to produce nearly 20% of Victoria’s energy needs. The project is currently undergoing environmental approvals and community consultation to determine if the trade-offs are acceptable to provide this resource. The Danish investment and leadership in the Star of the South project comes from their scientific expertise in wind energy. This emerged from the Riso Labs near Roskilde in Denmark, a former nuclear reactor site, which suddenly lost its social license in a democratic vote. The wind and dispersion scientists that worked to protect Danish citizens from nuclear hazards reinvented themselves as wind energy scientists and are now transforming the energy world.

In CSIRO we also had wind scientists who formed successful companies to map wind resources, and my group in Melbourne calibrated accurate anemometers commercially for local wind farms in our wind tunnels for many years. I spent a few weeks at Riso working with turbulent-wind-flow experts in my own research career and I have worked on air pollution hazards around Australia, including the Latrobe Valley.

The rest of the world is investing heavily in offshore wind farms, with French President Macron announcing an extra 3 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind generation (on top of a planned 5GW) as a COVID-19 recovery response. This French investment amounts to five Star-of-the-South projects, but importantly highlights that the cheapest form of new energy extraction is renewables, even for a country already heavily invested in nuclear energy and its associated regulatory infrastructure and supply chains. Now is not the time for Australia to consider nuclear energy start-up as a sensible post-COVID-19 change.

Our group’s interest in Just Transitions goes beyond the cheapest form of energy production for Melbourne’s consumption and Viking profits, but instead asks what useful work can be done and what social outcomes that energy could drive in South Gippsland. The past century has been one of mass urbanization with more than half the planet’s people now living and working in major cities. The social distancing, robotic factories and online work now required makes it unclear what role cities now play in efficient economic growth. The economic growth we have previously seen from mass immigration, tourism, and international education will be greatly diminished. It has never been more appropriate to think about how to develop non-urban regions and find value in greater decentralization and better tree-change living.

South Gippsland may end up as a major renewable energy hub, and while it has considerable potential for growth of regenerative agriculture with new jobs and economic benefits, local recovery from the pandemic will require more advanced activity, consumption and energy use in and by the people of South Gippsland itself.

This change all starts with ideas, like using energy locally to create bio-fertilizer from brown coal, or scaling up regenerative agriculture, or expanding creative industries, social housing, expanding local amenity for a larger population, social-distance safe eco-tourism, to name just a few. It seems to me that it is an important time to respond to the call for new ideas, not the least in South Gippsland. So please make your ideas known, none can be much sillier than a desperate ongoing fetish for polluting fossil fuels.

Get involved.

Just Transition Part 1 by Dr Michael Borgas

Lock the Gate Activists Howitt Park Bairnsdale 2016

Reproduced from Just Community

A group of us in and around Fish Creek have been thinking about a future based on a fair society with a sustainable environmental footprint. Around the planet the climate-change issue has driven a lot of people to do this with the tag lines of ‘Just Transition’ or ‘Green New Deal’. It seeks hope in dark times, but things have gotten even darker.

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis, highlighted by the extreme bushfire season only months ago, nothing has primed our society for change as much as the COVID-19 pandemic has. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for bold thought and new ideas to rebuild the collapsed economy, clearly indicating that it can’t recover without public intervention, a novel idea itself for the last 40 years.

Perhaps investing long term in CSIRO to use science and economics for green growth is the idea we need? Perhaps it is time for regional development and more balanced urban development? Perhaps we can get rid of open plan offices? Unfortunately, the usual noisy suspects and vested interests are promoting more of the same lame old thinking, particularly fossil fuel investment in gas extraction, perhaps with domestic reservation to create employment in plastics and fertilizers. Others suggest less green-tape environmental control on development for more pollution and degradation of the land, water, air and biosphere. At the same time, we are learning that increasing human exposure in the stressed wild world is where new pandemics will originate.

Others desperately attack workers, foreigners, trade unions, and ultimately the living standards of the broader community. The growing evidence from around the world is that the fossil fuel pathway is not wise even if it seems more palatable than unregulated environmental and job degradation. In the United States, gas from fracking has been a growth industry as capacity shifted from imports to domestic production with reservation for job creation in chemical industries.

Recent measurements show fugitive emissions make this gas as dirty as coal, and Australian clean coal is a fraudulent claim to boot! Now a massive wave of bankruptcies is washing over the fossil fuel sector as it becomes uneconomic in changed times with falling prices, so the jobs are vanishing too. The finance sector is divesting from fossil fuels globally, and governments are begged and badgered around the world to be investors of last resort in a dying industry. Not too much bold innovation or thinking there.

Jobs to produce chemical fertilizer and plastics are also not the hallmarks of progress they once were. We regularly hear about plastic pollution of the ocean and can see it for ourselves on many of the beautiful beaches in South Gippsland. Less well known is the growing and necessary trend towards regenerative agriculture drawing back from chemical fertilizer use, instead focusing on soils, land use and animals, often with better economic, environmental and job outcomes.

To be continued

East Gippsland and its renewable future

EGCAN media release (edited).

The trifecta of drought, fire and pandemic is still having an impact on our region. Without doubt we have been the worst affected area in the state. The recent Advertiser editorial (27/5/20) and article on the need for a plan for East Gippsland (20/5/20) highlights the need to seize this moment and look to our future.

Reports show that East Gippsland farmers have experienced a 20% loss of income due to climate change, over the past 20 years (ABARES Dec 2019). This is now eclipsed by post fire research (SGS Economics and Planning) showing a decline in annual GDP of 22% for East Gippsland. It’s the greatest impact for all bushfire effected areas in Australia and three times the predicted national rate of decline in GDP post COVID-19.

Without serious action, rising temperatures across East Gippsland will result in increased drought frequency and intensity with more days of extreme heat. The Bushfire Royal Commission last week heard that we can expect another two severe fire events this decade. Our plan must focus on strategies to reduce carbon emissions and ensure our region’s prosperity. Keeping global temperatures below 1.5ºC is still possible.

Community consultation is essential. Embracing latest technologies and opportunities can make East Gippsland the most energy efficient and productive part of the state. Bold choices include providing incentives for major businesses to invest in renewable energy, powering green production and processing of our agricultural produce.

Support for regenerative farming practices will store carbon in the soil while improving soil fertility and productivity. Retraining and re-deploying timber workers and others will provide a workforce to manage our drought affected and stressed forests to encourage bio-diversity and create new forests and plantations.

Rapid implementation of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations in every town in East Gippsland will enable our region to meet the needs of locals and tourists. There are predictions that EVs will be competitive with internal combustion vehicles by the middle of this decade.

We need to ensure existing homes are more energy efficient and new developments subject to planning changes to ensure subdivisions have the best aspect for sun and shade and encourages efficient all-electric homes complete with solar. Community battery storage is as an affordable way to manage energy. Improved energy star ratings will save energy and increase comfort.

A major renewables project already in the advanced planning stage is the Perry Bridge Solar Farm. This will provide 44 MW of new power with battery storage of 40-50MWh. By developing renewables locally, we become less reliant on coal from the Valley and the local gas fired power station can be scaled back allowing for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Isolated towns are ideal for solar and wind powered micro-grids backed by batteries to ensure reliable power. This ensures stable electricity services to areas identified as having vulnerable power supplies, such as Omeo/Benambra, Mallacoota and Buchan/Gelantipy. There has been an enthusiastic response to the recently launched solar/battery micro-grid at Licola.

We need to develop a coherent plan for our future. This will include projects that can start immediately and will reduce carbon emissions rapidly for a safe and sustainable future…

Failure to declare emergency disappoints by Akarna Bowers

Letter in the Gippsland Times 28.5 (Edited)

It may have passed unnoticed by some that our neighbouring municipality, the East Gippsland Shire, put to vote on April 21 whether or not their governing council would concede to declare a climate emergency. If they’d had the initiative to vote in affirmation, then the East Gippsland Shire Council would have been the 32nd local council in Victoria to do so…

I personally expected no other outcome, as I am acutely aware of popular conservative and regressive trends which can be observed all throughout eastern Victoria. Yet it still grieves me to witness that, even in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by the Black Summer bushfires, we are still seeing a wilful refusal by our current leadership to accept that life as we know it is already changing horribly, and with indiscriminate consequences.

It is recognised that 33 people died in the space of four months – a number that does not include the estimated 417 people who died from poor air quality attributed to the alarming amount of bushfire smoke. Of the recognised 33 people who we lost, four were fellow Gippslanders. I would like to remind everyone now who they were -firefighter David Moresi from Johnsonville, Fred Becker from Maramingo Creek, Mick Roberts from Buchan, and firefighter Bill Slade from Wonthaggi. I never had the opportunity to meet any of these men, and now my chance is lost forever. I mourn them regardless.

There is no argument that can scientifically dispute that the unprecedented Black Summer bushfires were so severe because of climate change. Ask a scientist and they’ll tell you exactly this. Ask a firefighter and they’ll tell you how unnatural the Black Summer was. The scale and scope of the destruction we have just lived through should have been completely manageable.

If the East Gippsland Shire cannot accept the science and declare a climate emergency in the wake of the destruction which it has suffered, where can we possibly go from here? How do we save ourselves? It was my personal hero, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who famously said, “Our house is on fire.” Our house is not just on fire. Our house has already burned down around us. The ashes may have cooled, but the threat of climate change remains.

The councillors on the East Gippsland Shire Council should feel ashamed of themselves. They have just told the people of their municipality that they are satisfied with their current suffering and will tolerate more deaths in the future. Because unless we treat climate change like a crisis, a disaster like the Black Summer will happen again…We need to act now.