Gippsland News & Views

Bass Coast Councillors at the Climate Emergency Summit (1)

from left: Oliver Yates, Lydia Thorpe, Greg Mullins.(Geoff Ellis)

Salutations from the high ground by Geoff Ellis*

Excerpts from an article in the Bass Coast Post

Like the climate emergency itself, the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne last weekend was almost too big. As the nine o’clock opening approached I strode to the end of the queue for the delegates’ entrance. Surprise! The line starts 200 metres around the next corner.

I shuffle into the queue and put my journo question to the first person who makes eye contact. “Where are you from and why are you here?” The couple next to me are from the edge of Torres Strait. Their beaches and their islands are in peril. They had to shift their cemetery to higher ground to save it from the rising tide. I compare the risks to our dunes and Bunurong artefacts. Inundation and development.

We have the same issues at both ends of our continent. Fires and floods in between. What’s the word I’m looking for? Sobering, poignant, critical, doomed – it’s all of that, and more, and the line shuffles forward. Later in the day I talk to a guy sitting by himself, three rows back from the main stage. Geoff’s from Peregian Beach, Sunshine Coast. He’s been evacuated FOUR times between September 1 and December 18 due to uncontrollable bush fires…

Near the end of the two days, I attend a session that includes a presentation by a guy from Friends of the Earth who visited Inverloch. Twice. Don’t mention the Inverloch Surf Life Saving Club, eh? He mentions Bass Coast in his talk and how good it is to see local government represented here. I snap a pic and post it on Facebook, just to return the compliment…

Somewhere in there I was interviewed by 3CR for a summit special to be broadcast from 7-9 am this Saturday. The interviewer asks me why I’m here. Because Bass Coast Shire declared a climate emergency in August and our action plan is about to commence. Here to listen to the experts and the true believers. I mention John Hewson and Zali Steggall.

The summit was full of optimism but if you look at the targets there isn’t much time. The road along Jam Jerrup might crumble into the sea within three years, according to DELWP. But the planning scheme still permits development along that road.

On Saturday afternoon we had a thousand people on the same page. On Sunday morning I watched Insiders and there was nary a mention of climate, action or otherwise. There was a half an hour discussion about leadership tussles in the Nationals. Barnaby. Who?

After the final session, on the way out of the Town Hall, I bumped into Julian Burnside. I had to ask him “What did you think of that?” “It was a great event,” he said politely. I asked him if he was optimistic. “Not while fuckwits are in power,” he said.

*Cr Geoff Ellis and Cr Michael Whelan attended the 2020 National Climate Emergency Summit as representatives of Bass Coast Shire Council. Next week Cr. Whelan’s piece.

Heads in the Sand XR South Gippsland by Jessica Harrison

From Bass Coast CAN Newsletter Feb 20 [pdf]

To reflect the nation’s poor leadership in tackling the ravaging effects of climate change, over 250 community members gathered to bury their heads in the sand at Inverloch beach.

Lead by Southern Gippsland Extinction Rebellion, the aim was to bring attention to the attitude of political leaders and multinational corporations towards climate change.

Group Convenor and Foster local Lynn Atkinson said she was burying her head in the sand to highlight the behaviour of this country’s political leaders when facing climate change and the multinational corporations which profit from their inaction.

“It warmed my heart to see so many Gippslanders, plus people from as far away as Healesville, coming here today to demonstrate how important it is to address the climate emergency,” she said.

“At the start of these bushfires, our nation’s leader was literally on the sand, in Hawaii on holiday. Companies keep on opening up new coal mines and coal power plants without any consideration of their impact on our environment,” she said.

“Negligence from successive governments is killing people, and harming the health of many more, with disadvantaged communities the hardest hit. Whole ecosystems have been destroyed while extinction threatens many species.”

Miriam Riverlea from Mallacoota attended the action. Her family is staying at Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island until it is safe to return. “What is so amazing is to have no idea when we can go home, but to find a community of people here who totally get what our family is going through as a result of climate change.”

The East Gippsland Bushfires Still

I have just learned that an EGCAN member and contributor to this blog Kay Schieran has had his house burned down. He is the second friend to suffer this loss in our ‘unprecedented’ fires. Anecdotal evidence continues to indicate how the disaster has affected everyone’s lives from the numerous evacuation notices and false alarms to those smoke affected, to the tourist business casualties and the rush for rental accommodation in Bairnsdale.

The Murdoch media continues to deflect from the climate change issue sowing doubt and apportioning blame. The two main furphies they have floated have been that the fires have been started by arsonists and that the fires could have been controlled or stopped with controlled burns. With regards climate change both claims are beside the point as it is the warming and drying of the region, combined with strong winds, that has made the fires unstoppable.

As well as this many commentators (old, white, male, ‘shiny bums’ from the city with a few exceptions) confused ‘back burning’ with ‘controlled’, ‘low intensity’ or ‘prescribed’ burns. The former being part of the fire-fighter’s tools whilst the latter being burns conducted in the off season to reduce the fuel load. There is a small element of truth in the ‘controlled’ burns thesis. I am reliably informed that some areas, such as Sarsfield, could have been better prepared with limited controlled burns, especially noting that these burns are most effective close to the assets they are designed to protect.

Although fuel loads are an important aspect of the fires, to isolate and appropriate blame on this element alone to the exclusion of temperature, topography, vegetation, humidity, and wind speeds is pure political propaganda. To counter this some anecdotal accounts have country burning twice – tricking along the ground during mild conditions and crowning when the Forest Fire Danger Index soars. Also country that has been previously burned in bushfires or in controlled burns in the last ten years has burned again. Finally there is mounting evidence that the burning process, whatever its origins (controlled burns, logging or bushfires) actually encourages low level fire prone vegetation for about thirty years.

Another aspect barely considered is that as the region has warmed and dried the ‘window of opportunity’ for controlled burns is restricted. Controlled burns can quickly become uncontrolled. There are a number of examples of these ‘escapes’ – the winter bushfire at Cape Conran in 2018 is one example.

The other media slander – that the fires were caused by arsonists – is demonstrably untrue. A number of fires in mountainous, inaccessible areas in East Gippsland were ignited by ‘dry lightning’ on November 21. As I have previously pointed out, so too were the mammoth blazes in Gippland earlier this century 2003 and 2006/7 ignited by dry thunderstorms. And as noted previously there is evidence that this form of ignition will increase with the warming (see here and here).

ABC journalist Kellie Lazzaro noted on February 10 (see above) that there was still substantial fire activity in our region. This date makes the East Gippsland fires of 81 days duration – unprecedented and still trickling away in many places. The final statistics for these fires may still be some time coming.

Scott Hamilton and the Black Saturday Anniversary

from the Hamilton article

Sometimes an important article passes ‘under the radar’ in the 24 hour news cycle. Such was the fate of Scott Hamilton’s article last year on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires published in the Conversation under the headline ‘Climate change is poised to deliver more Black Saturdays in decades to come’. The article begins with an account of his involvement with relatives in Churchill and Boolarra during the fires and other details of the damage caused on Black Saturday. Scott then relates some of his experience advising governments on climate change* and aside from advising the Victorian government, noted his own work on the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, and reports from the CSIRO in 2015 and the Climate Council in 2017.

On the consequences of a warming planet and our unique fire-prone locality Scott noted that:“The climate is changing due to human induced greenhouse gas emissions, and this means more bushfire danger days in what is already one of the most fire-prone countries in the world. Unfortunately, we have not done enough to curb climate change and the situation is getting worse…” and “Climate change means more days of extreme heat, longer heatwaves and more frequent droughts. Droughts now occur further south than in the past and have been increasing in Australia’s southeast, including Tasmania. The records continue to tumble, and the evidence of dangerous climate change continues to mount.”

In his conclusion Scott warned of the possibility of major disruptions to our water supply with future fires. “Our grandfathers and grandmothers had the wisdom to build amazing water infrastructure, protected by the “closed catchments” that give Melbourne and Victoria some of the best water in the world. Bushfires are a major risk to these water supplies – particularly in the catchments of major dams such as the Thomson. A bushfire followed by a downpour that washes ash into the dam could potentially force the closure of the trillion-litre capacity Thomson reservoir, making it unusable for months.”

Fortunately that has not yet come to pass. However almost all of the predictions of Scott and the others have been seen in our 2019/20 bushfires – some, like East Gippsland, still burning. Their work has built on, and expanded, the pioneering work of Tom Beer and others at the CSIRO when they predicted that with 3 degrees of warming “the fire danger every year on average would be larger than the fire danger during the year (1983) in which Ash Wednesday occurred.” As the work of Hamilton, Garnaut, the CSIRO and the Climate Council has shown we are well on the way there. To repeat a phrase I have already overused ‘Welcome to the pyrocene.’

* Scott still “advises governments, businesses and communities on climate change, water and renewable energy

Our Bushfires, Science and Climate Change – a call to action by 274 Australian Scientists

A brief excerpt of the introduction and key points. Full letter here.

“Scientific evidence unequivocally links human-caused climate change to the increasing risk of frequent and severe bushfires in the Australian landscape. That same science tells us these extreme events will only grow worse in the future without genuine concerted action to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases.

We, the undersigned climate, weather and fire scientists, call on our country’s leaders and policymakers to develop science-informed policies to combat human-caused climate change. To be successful, these policies must urgently reduce Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions and lead to constructive engagement and agreements with other world leaders for coordinated global climate action.

We call on our leaders to unite to develop non-partisan, long-term policies that will enable the managed transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 that the scientific evidence shows is required to avoid dangerous human-caused climate change. The science is clear. It is time to show leadership and set a clear path to protect our country and way of life for future generations.

This statement summarises the scientific basis for the links between climate change and bushfires in Australia, and the climate action that is required to limit further worsening of our bushfire risk and build a stronger and more resilient Australia.

Key points:

Human-caused climate change is worsening fire-weather and bushfires in southern and eastern Australia.

Observations show a trend towards more frequent and extreme fire-weather conditions during summer, and an earlier start to the fire season, particularly in southern and eastern Australia.

Australia’s year-to-year climate variability is being altered by climate change. This variability, combined with regional rainfall trends and human-caused warming, contributed to the extremely dangerous bushfire conditions this summer.

Dry fuel loads related to widespread drought provided conditions for extensive burning in the 2019/20 bushfires.

Australia’s dangerous fire-weather is virtually certain to worsen in the future with ongoing human-induced climate change, making fire management increasingly challenging.

Australia is part of the Paris Agreement and has a commitment to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which would significantly reduce the intensification of Australia’s bushfire risk along with many other climate change risks. The current emission reduction targets of Australia and the world are insufficient and will commit us to 3°C or more of warming by the end of this century.

Sale Climate Emergency Rally Speech by Angela Crunden

Angela and Robyn are interviewed

A number of us had made tentative plans to travel to Canberra to attend the climate emergency rally that coincides with the opening of parliament. We had to shelve those plans because some of us have been burnt out in the fires, some of us have been flat out helping friends and families and in many cases total strangers clean up after the fires, some of us have been housing fire evacuated people, feeding starving wildlife,  the list goes on and on.  And so with road closures and all these other things, travelling to support our fellow climate activists in Canberra was too much.

So here we are. We are here and we are angry, angry at our federal government that ignores scientific evidence that has been before their eyes for decades. Angry at our federal government that throws up distractions of fuel reduction burning when it should be talking about strategies to reduce our emissions. We are angry that the Morrison government is heaving with former minerals council executives and mining industry lobbyists. We are angry that those same people not only benefit from industry donations, they work with the Murdoch media monopoly to foster distractions, misrepresent facts, demonise activists, and keep the community in the dark about how the future for our children and grandchildren will look.

We are here in Sale and we are angry. But we have decided to channel our anger not into aggression, not into violence or other destructive means of protest, we are joining together – East Gippsland Climate Action Network, Bairnsdale XR, Wellington Climate Action Network and Sale XR with support too from XR Gippsland. All these groups are represented here today. We are a group who have gone beyond politics, we have recognised that we are all going to have to face this impending disaster together so we are not here to pick any fights. We are organising, we are respectful to each other and to those with whom we disagree, we write letters, we protest peacefully, we present to local government and our local federal and state politicians and we will continue to do so. Some of us have added non-violent civil disobedience to our repertoire of activities. We do this not because we want to, but because of a need to amplify the urgency with which governments need to act.

So we are here in Sale, not in Canberra. But our best wishes go to Canberra; we are with you in spirit and we will continue to support you in putting upward pressure on our politicians.”

Rally publicity stated: “Our message is simple: we both want and deserve more from our leaders. We want our elected representative for Gippsland Mr Darren Chester to be speaking out loud and clear in support of the impending Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Action) Bill 2020 to be introduced by Zali Steggall, Independent MP, in the near future.”

Sale Rally for Climate Change Action

 

Yesterday members of a number of Gippsland Climate Action groups staged a rally and ‘die-in’ at Sale. It was decided to hold the rally in Sale as many activists who originally were intending to attend the rally in Canberra at the opening of Parliament were unable to do so because of bushfire road closures. Of course our local member was in Canberra but it was decided to hold the rally anyway. A mini-bus proceeded from Bairnsdale to Sale for the event.

About 60 protesters gathered at the Clock tower in the mall where the die-in took place and parts of the Greta Thunberg ‘Our House is on Fire’ speech were read to the participants. They then marched to Darren Chester’s office. There were lots of XR flags and placards and a number of speeches were given. The media presence was noted including Win TV. The die-in was a lengthy 5 minutes!

A ceremony (and silent vigil) was carried out with those present depositing burnt embers from the bushfires in a tray on the steps to Darren Chester’s office. Bairnsdale activist and event MC Angela Crunden stated: “We are here together to stand in silence and in sorrow as we honour the lives lost, our firemen, our friends and family, our houses, our infrastructure, schools, to honour our wildlife and their habitat. We honour all the losses as symbolised by this burnt material washed up on a beach in Lakes Entrance. And we are here to remind our federal National Party representative Darren Chester that if only governments had acted all those decades ago when science first predicted our worsening future, these terrible losses may well have been avoided.” The embers and a handwritten copy of a verse from a poem by Christie Ann Martin were then presented to his office.

As the rally publicity stated “Australia needs to be able to make an immediate, positive and nationally supported response to the risks, challenges and opportunities of climate change. We will no longer watch on as Scott Morrison leads a Parliament that fails to act on Climate Change. We’ve watched the destruction of our homes, wildlife and lost friends – just an example of the consequences of negligence and inaction. And there is no end in sight, as our politicians ignore experts, ignore citizens and ignore the rest of the world. This is an emergency – a climate and ecological emergency.”

Participants came from across Gippsland including Sale, Briagolong, Maffra, Morwell, Clifton Creek, Metung, Nicholson and Bairnsdale. The bushfires across our region – and in every state in Australia – are without doubt unprecedented. As they have clearly shown “our house is on fire” and the time for greenhouse gas reductions is long overdue.

Huntley’s Climate Change Response Analysis

An important article by Rebecca Huntley on the community’s response to the problem of climate change was published recently on the ABC (29.1). Huntley has based her analysis on the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication which divides citizen responses to climate change into six categories – alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive (see image). Interestingly the ‘Alarmed’ and ‘Concerned’ categories together form majorities in both the USA and Australia – although in the US the ‘Alarmed’ number is much higher than Australia. Likewise the ‘Dismissive’ (polite language for climate change deniers) is 10% in the US whilst only 7% in Australia though this number for Gippsland is almost certainly higher than the US average.

The categories are for the most part obvious. The ‘Alarmed’ are those that accept the science and are actively involved in climate action in some way – in Australia about 18%. The ‘Concerned’ (33%) also accept the science but are yet to translate their concerns into deliberate action – political or otherwise. If my neighbours in Bairnsdale are any indication the ‘Disengaged’ numbers are also probably higher than in the US thinking along the lines of “She’ll be right, mate” if they consider the problem at all.

But Huntley’s important contribution is on what needs to be done to get concrete political action on climate change. Here I quote her at some length:

“We need to increase the ‘Alarmed’ cohort, absolutely no doubt. But we also need to develop and hone their (our) skills of talking to others not of the same mindset. And we need to provide social and emotional support as many of them — many of us — struggle with feelings of grief, dread and burning anger about what’s happening to the planet and the response of many of our political leaders.

“We need to shift more of the ‘Concerned’ group into the ‘Alarmed’ group. We need to find a way to convince the ‘Cautious’ that urgent action is necessary. This very difficultly, often requires language that isn’t fraught with tones of crisis…We need to engage the ‘Disengaged’ — probably the hardest task of all, because it requires us to rebuild their faith that our democratic institutions are capable and willing to do something about it.

“And finally — in my opinion, and I say this with no trepidation whatsoever — we need to drive the Dismissive group out of positions of power in our government, stop the flow of their donations into our political parties, and find smarter ways to engage with them in the media, including social media.”

I have been advocating Huntley’s last suggestion for a number of years and is one of the reasons why I persist against the odds with my support for single issue ‘climate’ parties. But it seems to me that if we can persuade a sufficient number of the concerned (including some of my family) of the necessity to engage in some action then the battle against the deniers and the vested interests will be won. Part of the strategy must be to convince them that this is the most important problem they (we) have ever faced and the need for urgent action.

The science of global warming is above party politics and party loyalties. As we have seen with the bushfires, global warming in one way or another will affect us all and the effects of extreme weather events are set to worsen in the foreseeable future.

Solar Revolution in East Gippsland Shire Continues

Lakes Aquadome

Edited article first published in Environment Connect Summer 2019-20

The EGSC received $100,000 from Sustainability Victoria to provide energy efficiency and solar funding for community buildings. Notification of an additional $10,000 was also made for the Local Government Energy Saver Program bringing the total available funding to $260,000 including Council contribution of $150,000. Energy efficiency and grid connected solar energy have been implemented on community buildings, which has an estimated payback period of 5 years and annual savings of $45,000 and 308 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The following have now been completed:

Lakes Entrance Aquadome: A grid connected 46kW solar system on the roof of the Aquadome – the biggest on a Council facility so far.  This solar system is projected to save $10,977 in electricity and 61 tonnes of CO2 emissions pa.

Squash and Table Tennis, Lucknow: Nine external 400 watt floodlights have been swapped to 100 watt and 150 watt LED fittings, and a 5.6kW solar system was installed to make combined annual savings of $4,300 and 11 tonnes of CO2.

Corporate Centre, Bairnsdale: A 26 kW grid connected solar system was installed in September 2019. It is projected to save $3,600 a year in electricity and 17 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions pa.

Orbost library: An extensive LED lighting upgrade has taken place at the Orbost Customer Service Centre and Library, with predicted reductions of 18 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year and electrical savings of $3,700 pa.  Approximately 130 lights were changed, mostly fluorescent tubes.  Lights have been changed as part of the VEET scheme, and all old fluorescent lights have been sent for recycling.

East Gippsland Art Gallery: A significant energy makeover has taken place at the Art Gallery.  Installation of LED lighting, a heat pump hot water switched to heat only during the day using the new grid connected 5kW solar system, and replacement of old air conditioning, has been completed in the past few weeks resulting in the gallery being close to energy neutral for its daily operations. Old air conditioning has been replaced with new systems containing refrigerant R32 (which has a global warming potential of 688 compared to R401 global warming potential of 2088).

Bairnsdale library: A 9kW grid connected solar system was installed on the Bairnsdale library in September with savings of $2,400 and 15 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.  The solar panels are visible from Service Street.

East Gippsland Historical Society: An internal LED lighting upgrade and installation of a 5kW solar system has taken place in past two months. The combined energy saving upgrades are projected to save the Society $1,700 a year in electricity and 11 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions pa.

Also completed since May 2019: Bairnsdale City Oval – 10kW solar system and internal LED lighting upgrade, Forge Theatre – installation of a 10kW solar system.

To be completed by February 2020: AJ Freeman Reserve – 10kW solar system installation, BARC & Forge – LED lighting upgrades, installation of Solar Analytics devices with automatic fault detection alert and consolidated monitoring from inverters.

Further information: Rebecca Lamble, Sustainability Officer

Climate Change Denialism in a Nutshell by Tom Moore

My favourite (living) astrophysicist, Neil De Grasse Tyson – an excellent communicator of scientific principles – has a saying that too many people: “know enough about their subject to think they are right but not enough to know when they are wrong”. This fits perfectly with the arguments put forward by climate change denialists.

Arguments such as: water vapour is the strongest greenhouse gas; it’s all due to Milankovitch cycles; it’s solar activity – sun spots; the concentration of CO2 is too small to have any effect; the models are unreliable etc. etc.

These clearly demonstrate Neil’s principle. The users of these arguments have a little knowledge of the subject they espouse to understand (probably picked up from a conversation with another denialist or by selective reading on the internet) and then justify their beliefs by quoting the same old discredited rubbish we’ve been hearing for decades.

Do they really understand the full scientific story of water vapour versus CO2? Obviously, if they are still using the argument they are unaware of what scientists call feedback loops – in this case, an increase in CO2 causes warming which adds more water vapour to the atmosphere which enhances the greenhouse effect. Do they not know that water vapour disappears quickly from the atmosphere whereas CO2 hangs around for a very long time?

They read that Milankovitch cycles have a connection with glacials and interglacials, but do deniers know what the cycles are and that the major one effecting change has a cycle of 100,000 years? Do they not appreciate that the 200 years since the industrial revolution is a little bit less than 100,000? Have they no appreciation of time intervals at all?

Of course, our denialist will point to the evidence referred to by a “qualified” scientist who makes the claim that his/her research is being ignored or ridiculed. Generally speaking such so called “scientific research” is never peer reviewed and is far too often funded by the fossil fuel industry.

But all of the arguments raised by climate change denialists when put up against the enormous body of work produced by climate scientists and can be reduced to a few very basic allegations as follows:

 1 the scientists working on climate change are unaware of the factors raised in arguments against anthropogenic global warming

2 these scientists do not understand the effects of the issues raised or

3 they understand the effects but for one reason or another hide the evidence and give misleading advice. In other words, there is a global conspiracy amongst scientists to mislead the world.

All of these allegations are of course spurious and it is difficult to understand how the denialists can be so out of touch as to think that one or other of these basic allegations can really apply and that they know better. Back again to Neil De Grasse Tyson, and if you’re a climate denialist who cannot appreciate Neil’s principle then let me ask the question the other way around. “Do you know enough about the subject you are quoting to know when you are wrong – or only enough to think you may be right.”

Now do you get it? Probably not.

*the author is a resident of Metung