Gippsland News & Views

Independents for Climate Action Now

ICAN is the latest in a string of political ‘climate’ parties endeavouring to make some impact on the Australian political scene. I have written on a number of occasions about the history of climate parties over the last 10 years (see here and here). There has yet to be one of these parties that has had any resilience or staying power. Mostly they have been born of hope and overoptimism and short lived. Of the 2 parties that have successfully registered with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) – the Climate Change Coalition (CCC) and the Renewable Energy Party (REP) – both disappeared after disastrous initial election performances, although a small group, including yours truly, unsuccessfully attempted to save the latter.

As well as ICAN there are currently two* other unregistered political parties – the Climate Democrats aiming for the centre voter and Save the Planet (STP) appealing to the left of the greens. Both appear to be well short of the membership (500) necessary for registration although the latter group has been in existence for a number of years. Prior to joining the REP I was a member of this organisation. ICAN membership is currently over 700 and AEC registration was applied for earlier this month. Hopefully this will be successful.

The ICAN website has amongst other important information a link to activist Jane Morton’s “Don’t Mention the Emergency” booklet. The news however is a little bit dated and it is very important that members know what is happening and are continually informed. I suggest that the news page could be updated on a regular basis – say fortnightly – and a monthly email newsletter be available for those interested. Links to the party’s social media sites would also be helpful.

One of the main problems with single issue parties of this nature is their somewhat naïve approach to electoral politics. Both the climate parties previously registered with the AEC – the CCC and the REP – collapsed after one election, in 2007 and 2016 respectively. Both parties concentrated on the Senate with minimal House of Reps candidates and all of their candidates lost their deposits. It is most unlikely that any new party will get a Senator elected except my accident.

A climate party is necessary to help frame the debate and the process of winning seats should be secondary. The appeal across the political spectrum is one of the positives of ICAN and makes it a direct successor to the CCC.  And if it is not tarnished with the left/green brush it can appeal to voters in very conservative electorates, especially in the bush.

The primacy of global warming and the need for urgent action should be thrust before the electorate at every opportunity. Party loyalty is meaningless in the face of the climate emergency. Co-operation and co-ordination between these groups is essential as it is with the numerous extra-parliamentary groups. A single issue climate party is another ‘string in the bow’ to radically transform our politics. But above all we must work to make the next federal election a ‘climate election’.

*I have just found another – One Planet

Some Gippsland Climate Predictions

Ocean Warming 2018

A fair amount of doom and gloom pervades the social media on the fate of humanity in the face of global warming. Too much pessimism inhibits any motivation to combat or solve the problem. But concerted action is required with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stating urgent action is needed to limit the human caused warming of the planet to 1.5C

It is possible with the information before us to already state with some certainty what is most likely to happen. On the down side the inertia (think energy embodied in a truck without brakes moving down a hill) built into the climate system means that the planet will keep warming and sea level rising for many years even if we could stop all greenhouse gas emissions immediately. And the associated extreme weather events continue to worsen.

On the upside the solar revolution and the path to 100% renewable energy is going to happen very quickly regardless of the last ditch stand by vested interests and our politicians. Somewhat ironically the rather pathetic renewable energy target of the governing party (as opposed to their also rather pathetic target for greenhouse gas reductions) will be easily achieved.  An apolitical message of hope is delivered persuasively by Tony Seba and the revolution will happen very quickly for economic reasons. A similar message of hope is spread by Prof. Ray Wills in Australia.

What does this mean for Gippsland? The Seba/Wills predictions suggest the following. By 2030 the Latrobe Valley generators have closed as have all of the offshore oil and gas rigs. They have been replaced by large offshore wind farms, large solar farms covering partially reclaimed open cuts and other generator properties and solar panels and lithium batteries are found everywhere. Floating solar farms partially cover a number of reservoirs and a number of pumped hydro plants are operating. Motive power – buses tractors cars – is all electric and the Sea Electric vehicle manufacturer in Morwell a major employer. Quite a few internal combustion vehicles are still on the roads but they have no value and are expensive to run. By 2050 these have all vanished – Gippsland is 100% renewable and an energy exporter manufacturing hydrogen from water – not coal.

On the downside sea levels continue to rise over the next 30 years with regular flooding of downtown Lakes and Paynesville occurring and there is severe erosion along the 90 mile. The rainfall totals remains about the same but the rain falls mostly in late spring and summer as torrential downpours. Rain from the south west and west is negligible, but flash flooding is common. For the rest of the year it is dry and warm, droughts continue as the main weather pattern and bushfires burn throughout the year with catastrophic fires occurring through a lengthening summer and autumn.

We need to be planning and preparing to counter this predicted downside – a sense of urgency is required. Whilst reaching carbon neutrality will be a major achievement the major task will be carbon drawdown to return the earth’s climate to liveable sustainable temperatures. And to counter all the complications of the warming – especially the droughts, heatwaves and bushfires – by 2050 we will be in climate emergency mode with a war time style emergency government.

“Jellyfish and Chips”

Unidentified Jellyfish in the Gippsland Lakes (Scott)

Jellyfish have been in the news* recently with an article on the ABC by Hong Jiang and Sasha Fegan  linking them with climate change noting how they have been blocking the water intakes of power plants in Japan and how suited they are to taking advantage of global warming’s warmer waters. This was followed by a podcast of Phillip Adams interviewing jellyfish scientist Juli Berwald and a Guardian article on a large number of tourists being stung by them on Queensland’s beaches.

This reminded me of the series entitled ‘Jellyfish and Chips’ by Inverloch artist Ray Dahlstrom whose work I have written about on several occasions (see here and here ). This series – commenced more than 5 years ago – depicts our oceans overwhelmed by jellyfish with the skeletal remains of fish on dark blue canvas; a foreboding apocalyptic vision. The artist saw this proliferation as a result mainly of our oceans slowly acidifying – a sort of by-product of burning fossil fuels and global warming. When the warming oceans are added to the acidification Ray’s prophetic vision may well materialise before our eyes.

It also reminded me of a very early post to this blog of a new species of unidentified jellyfish** (image above) found in the Gippsland Lakes.This species was first found in 2013 by Gippsland Lakes identity Ross Scott and it was suggested that the species had migrated southwards with our warming waters. The warming oceans off our coast have been clearly measured and identified by the Bureau of Meteorology and others as a ‘hotspot’. This Xmas time I observed unusually large numbers of small jellyfish in the brackish waters of Lake Bunga but they are now gone.

Imagine a fishing industry destroyed by exploding populations of jellyfish and a tourist industry blighted by a range of new and toxic, stinging species colonising our beaches. And if there is no fishing and no swimming, Lakes Entrance will hardly survive long enough to be submerged by floods and rising seas. “Jellyfish and Chips” indeed.

*For the latest general account see here

**This species is still awaiting identification and is now in Cairns with ex CSIRO Jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin

Scrublands: a brief review

 

When I picked up Chris Hammer’s Scrublands (Allen & Unwin 2018) from the local library* I had forgotten I had ordered it and more importantly why I had done so. It is a whodunit/ thriller set in the fictitious town of Riversend an hour’s drive from the Murray River in New South Wales involving drugs, bikies, mass murder, and a ferocious and at times misleading media pack. As the ‘whodunnit’ genre of fiction is my reading for relaxation this was my first assumption.

But Scrublands is a climate fiction novel without mentioning the words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming once in its 481 pages. The first lines set the scene: “The day is still. The heat having eased during the night, is building again; the sky is cloudless, the sun punishing. Across the road, down by what’s left of the river, the cicadas are generating a wall of noise…” The setting is drought and scorching heat that melts the bitumen – that of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change. It follows you through the book to the very end where the “day is hot and the day is barren. The morning’s breeze has died and the sun hangs over Riversend like a sentencing judge.” (p.457)

Hammer in his author’s note explains the “setting for Scrublands emerged from my travels in the summer of 2008-09 at the height of the millennium drought…” – a drought recent accounts** state was heavily influenced by climate change. “Martin sits next to Goffing, sipping his tea and looking up at the sky. He knows that somewhere in the world there must be clouds; there has to be. Somewhere it is raining; somewhere it is pelting down… Here there are no clouds and no rain, the drought can’t last forever; he knows it, everyone knows it. It’s just become hard to believe.” (p.443)

Then there are the bushfires. “The heat is worse. Yesterday’s wind has turned hot and dusty. Gusting in from the north-west, propelling fine particles of dust and carrying the threat of fire” (p.76) and the following bushfire is dealt with in some detail from pages 94 to105. The heat continues: “Outside the heat is waiting. It no longer comes as an affront or a surprise, merely as an accepted constant, bearing down on the weight of existence, all that he deserves. He walks to the shade of the shop awnings…” (p.225)

In reality this is depicting our heatwaves: “The heat is rising although it’s still only nine-thirty in the morning and the sun is a long way from its zenith…The temperature already in the high twenties, will climb much higher. He might be acclimatised to the dry heat but no-one acclimatises to forty degrees.” (p.452)

The town name Riversend is allegorical. Its message is that the town, with continuing heatwaves and bushfires, without water, has no future. And that can be extended to the nation. Much of Australia is now feeling these blistering heatwaves and droughts and both are occurring earlier and lasting longer. For Australia perhaps the grim future has already arrived?

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

**Gergis, J. The Sunburnt Country, MUP, 2018 p.101 “the duration of the Millenium drought was unprecedented in the instrumental record…The likelihood of observing a long sequence of dry years by chance was less than 0.5 per cent.” –

A Climate Question for our Politicians Refined

During the recent State Election (see here) a small number of activists asked various candidates the Simon Holmes à Court basic question “Do you accept the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming?” After planning to ask the question of all candidates across the five Gippsland electorates – Narracan, Bass, Morwell, and Gippsland South and East – the task became overwhelming and I decided to concentrate on my own electorate of Gippsland East.

The positive responses here were from Labor, the Greens and two independents and these were publicised on the social media. Of the seven candidates 6 replied and only one failed to respond. Two of the replies were interesting in that they skirted around the central question but implied acceptance and in the case of the Liberal Democrat candidate expressed enthusiasm for renewable energy. Both these replies slightly contradicted their party positions.

Sitting member Tim Bull accepted that climate change was happening but took the position that the human influence aspect is ‘still open to debate’. This is basically a denialist position and a rear guard action, probably to remain within National party guidelines.  It emphasises his, and his party’s, failure to grasp the basics of climate change – the greenhouse effect, the role of carbon dioxide and of humanity’s burning of fossil fuels.

As most readers will be aware the question and social media had no immediate effect in Gippsland East. But activists should not be too disappointed. For a start the social media campaign goes everywhere and the statements of support for the various candidates were circulated far wider than the Gippsland region. It also means we have to work harder and smarter and in greater numbers to extend the message well beyond the social media.

Simon Holmes à Court was aware of the Tim Bull reply and possibly partly because of this has improved his question to “can you please confirm that you accept the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming and tell us what *you* will do to address the challenge?” Hopefully this will allow less leg room for candidates in their replies and being able to avoid answering the question.

This is the question we should be asking now, not just once but many times and asked by as many people as possible, by writing to our local papers and by word of mouth. This then will be small but significant part of the task of turning the upcoming federal election into a ‘climate referendum’. After our trial run last year we will be better organised.

Farms, Trees and Climate Change

A recent op shop purchase of John Fenton’s The Untrained Environmentalist (Allen & Unwin, 2010) reminded me of how important trees are both to farms and helping solve the climate emergency. Fenton started with a treeless farm near Hamilton in the Western District and a lifetime later had transformed it into a wonderland with a network of windbreaks, farm forestry and a block of restored native vegetation.

Fenton championed what he called Farm Stewardship which called for payments to farmers (and private landholders) for protecting natural habitat in bush blocks and for assistance with farm forestry. This reminded me of a climate change meeting in Bairnsdale some years ago when a farmer outlined the financial difficulties he had in keeping a substantial bush block from which he received no income.

This blog has frequently repeated the call to phase out logging of native forests as quickly as possible. But this is of no use whatsoever to tackling global warming if we immediately replace that timber from an overseas source – Indonesian rainforests for example. So farm forestry should be encouraged with as much government assistance as possible preferably planting native species but also including exotics like pinus radiata. And one can only lament that this was not done thirty years ago when many scientists, including the CSIRO*, were already pointing out the immensity of the problem of human caused warming. Thus we need to look at timber substitutes, reused timber, as well as farm forestry and phasing out timber as a fuel in towns.

My late brother-in-law Jim Lane was one of those farmers who had the foresight and could afford to experiment with farm forestry. At his Buckleys Hill, Fish Creek property in South Gippsland he planted 13.2 hectares (32 acres) of various native species between 1999 and 2002. Some have been more successful than others. The 6.3 Ha of Southern Mahogany (Eucalyptus botryoides) has been form and lift pruned, thinned twice, and as of December 2018 looking pretty good. They are due for harvest in 2027 as sawlogs. The remainder including Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon) are due for harvesting over the following 8 years. The exception has been the block of spotted gums (Corymbia maculata) which are suitable only as firewood.

The only farmers who can afford to have their land non-productive for 30 years are either those relatively financially independent like Jim Lane or the rare exceptions like John Fenton who succeed with determination and perseverance. But what is required is a substantial number of farms to convert suitable parts of their farms to forestry with every assistance including selection of suitable species, silviculture advice and financial support. Fenton’s ‘farm stewardship’ is a good idea that should be implemented as soon as possible. Without extra financial assistance any significant farm forestry will remain in the doldrums.

*see Pearman, G.I. (ed) Greenhouse: planning for climate change, CSIRO Publ. 1988.

Gippsland Lakes, Kalbar and Climate by Chas Becket

Mine free Glenaladale

(letter to the Bairnsdale Advertiser – unpublished)

The Gippsland Lakes is one of those rare entities that once had many Earth Mothers. These were the Thomson, Latrobe, Nicholson and Tambo catchments and closer to home, the Mitchell catchment. The Mitchell is the last wild river and true Earth Mother that helps to feed and maintain the beautiful Lakes system. All the other catchments have been exploited for economic reasons in such a way that unfortunately has altered the ecology of the Gippsland Lakes.

Mother Nature is creaking under the weight of interference from the human race. This interference is manifesting in a climate change condition the symptom of which is extreme weather behaviour. It is either the presence of extreme heat and dryness, a catalyst for bush fires, ferocious winds or just too much water causing major flooding. All these symptoms impact on lives, property and infrastructure. Sand mine notwithstanding, the local agricultural industry will have enough on its plate adapting to the severe conditions of climate change let alone having to adapt to a potentially industry and environment polluting sand mine.

World renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough opened the UN climate summit on Monday 3rd December with the following observation in reference to climate change and I quote. “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world are on the horizon”. We may attribute this extreme natural behaviour to human inducement or we may not. Regardless, the change is happening and a new metrological term has emerged. ‘Accelerated Climate Change’

So, it is proposed to have a large 1700 odd hectare mineral sand mine operation with twenty years of operating life on high ground adjacent to the pristine Mitchell River and an economically significant and intensely inhabited agricultural food bowl within the Mitchell catchment. This food bowl is so critical that even house building, a non-agricultural activity, is now regulated by the Planning Scheme so not to impact on the integrity of the agricultural industry. Therefore, how could the Lindenow Valley sustain this major extractive industry?

The mineral sand mine application process has been navigated through to the State Government for a judgement based upon an Environmental Effects Statement (EES) being prepared for Kalbar Resources. Even under normal and predictable conditions, the EES is seen by State Government Auditor General as a flawed document that is traditionally skewed in favour of the applicant. Politicians of either stripe are always positive towards applications requiring an EES in fear of discouraging future investments in a process known as ‘Sovereign Risk’.

How can Kalbar Resources or their consultants anticipate what form these extreme weather conditions will take and what remedial measures they intend to adopt over the life of the mine? This may explain why many local people are disgruntled when at public forums Kalbar Resources consultants allegedly gave the mushroom reply to people’s queries followed with the ubiquitous ‘wait until the EES is concluded’. Are Kalbar being disingenuous or they just don’t know? Sadly, even the perception of contamination can ruin the marketability of Lindenow Valley produce.

I am trying to contemplate the impact this mine may have on our beautiful inland waters. Could the Gippsland Lakes survive losing the last Earth Mother? Do the dozen or so ‘out of town’ board of directors, secretary and executives of Kalbar Resources really care?

Climate Change education and Government Action

In a recent post I briefly touched on the desperate need for some basic scientific education in our body politic. This will be especially so when governments start implementing some of the more unpopular laws required to combat the climate emergency. The education process should be everywhere – especially in government departments, legislative chambers, across the media, schools and the general public. It should especially be part of any climate strategy which can be directed immediately to the elites – upper levels of government – as suggested by Alan Pears.

The promotion in the media should be science based and ubiquitous. Above all it should non-political. There is already a mass of visual material on the net that could be easily crafted for television and the print media giving basic explanations in a variety of ways on the greenhouse effect and all aspects of climate science. It should be information based – not a scare campaign – and a huge budget is probably required to counter the reaction from fossil fuel and other vested interests. Schools are almost certainly the best organised in this regard but provision of extra learning materials may assist in some areas.

Had something of this sort had been introduced by the Rudd/Gillard governments the ‘carbon tax’ may well have succeeded. On the one hand the negative scare campaign of the Abbott opposition would not have fallen on such fertile ground. The legislation may have been more carefully crafted and introduced possibly even in a bipartisan manner if the legislators themselves had been more thoroughly informed on the issue. Finally if PM Gillard had honestly admitted her mistake of her pre-election ‘no carbon tax’ claim public sympathy would have helped. It is clear still that many of our leaders on both sides of politics have yet to come grips with, or understand, the problem.

Within the media the unprincipled Abbott opposition was cheered on by the anti-science Murdoch media and this anti-science stance of the largest player in the print industry continues to this day. Strategically it may be necessary to direct the science based publicity campaigns away from this sector though perhaps unwise to exclude them completely. Science based adverts provided by the CSIRO for instance, would make interesting reading placed next to an opinion piece by Andrew Bolt in the Peoples Paper.

Finally, and in conjunction with the education campaign, any legislation that is introduced in the future should be revenue neutral – all the money collected is returned equally to the people. This in turn will mean such legislation will be more readily accepted, and is basically James Hansen’s ‘fee and dividend’ proposal. A carbon ‘fee’ of this kind is currently being implemented in Canada. Another way the ‘fee and dividend’ could be gradually introduced is by applying it to targeted areas – for instance on exports of coal and other fossil based fuels.

Solar Revolution takes off in Gippsland

Bruthen General Store

In 1976 I first saw a tiny solar panel in action on the Mt Nugong fire tower. Ten years later I installed my first panels at home – 2 X 30 watt panels that cost more than $10 a watt (incidentally they are still producing energy).  Around 2000 we swapped from wind energy to solar with the help of Howard government subsidies installing 6 panels to have just under half a kilowatt of panels in our stand alone system. In 2012 we installed 4 kw in 16 panels on our retirement unit. Since then the efficiency of panels has continued to increase and the cost continues to come down – heading for around 50 cents per watt if it is not there already.

Now the solar revolution has taken off in Gippsland. There is plenty of evidence for this both regionally and nationally (see here and here). The high prices of electricity and gas make solar doubly attractive. As well the low feed in prices paid by electricity retailers for residential rooftop solar almost ensures a future, rapid take-up of batteries to store energy for home consumption when they become a bit cheaper.

Bulk buys of solar panels organised by shire councils have been operating across Gippsland for more than a year. Many of the installations are not visible from the street but solar installations are going up on community buildings, schools, halls and sporting facilities including a recent addition on one of the buildings in the Gellen complex at Bairnsdale.

The Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub Newsletter noted the “independent agency, Solar Victoria which is to be based in Morwell, will work with industry, regulators and training organisations to deliver the Solar Homes Package” and “Mirboo North Community Shed Co-operative has just been awarded $88,000 to develop 82.5kW of behind the meter solar PV to be installed on four buildings in Mirboo North.” As well there were othering interesting and innovative projects such as the solar lit footpaths in Yinnar.

But the real revolution is in businesses installing large, behind the meter, rooftop PV to approximately match their power consumption. This is the obvious step for businesses to significantly reduce their power bills. The panels are often purchased by loan and adds to the value of the business. Again many of these are not visible from the street but often involve covering roofs completely with panels. I saw two examples of this for the first time on a recent trip to the Bruthen market noticing that both the general store and the microbrewery had both done this. It is an action that significantly reduces their power bill at little or no cost to the business.

Each panel installation reduces energy demand from coal fired generators. When installed in large numbers this must be having a substantial effect on their profits and it is not going to get any better. Within a few years – say to 2025 – panels will cover most rooftops, some car parks and there may be even a solar road. The rapid solar adoption may well force the closure of all the Latrobe Valley generators by 2030.

The Latrobe Valley Hydrogen Fiasco

Governments are notoriously wrong at picking winners and the coal to hydrogen fiasco in the Latrobe Valley is a case in point. DELWP has just announced a $2 million investment in the “green hydrogen economy” which has all the appearances of more ‘greenwash’. One suspects that the coal to hydrogen project will be the chief beneficiary of this largesse.

These funds can be added to the $100 million already contributed by the State and Federal governments to the coal to hydrogen project to produce an estimated 2 tons of hydrogen. It is also not clear whether the Victorian government’s offshore drilling program to locate places to store carbon dioxide – the chimera of carbon capture and storage (CCS) – is part of, or extra to, the Victorian government’s contribution.

As readers will know the coal to hydrogen plans cannot be described as a ‘green process’ (see here). Using fossil fuel means that CO2 will be produced and contribute to global warming unless all this greenhouse gas is captured. The best result of CCS trials to date has been to capture up to 30% of CO2 which was prohibitively expensive (see here for more detail).

This is not to say that ‘green’ hydrogen cannot be produced but rather that the Valley coal to hydrogen project is a ‘dud’. The CSIRO have been working for many years on sustainable hydrogen processes. They produce the hydrogen by electrolysis from water using renewable energy and using air convert the hydrogen to ammonia for safety, storage and transportation. I know of no plans for anything like this in Victoria although the water being evaporated in the cooling towers of the electricity generators may be the resource to exploit rather than brown coal.

Another problem with hydrogen as a fuel is that any substantial production is at least ten years down the track. It is touted as the green fuel for transport but in the area of cars, buses and light trucks it has already lost the battle with battery powered electric vehicles. The Sea Electric operations in Morwell is just the beginning. One expert predicts that no new internal combustion engines will be manufactured after 2025 and the winner will definitely be the electric vehicle. This does not exclude hydrogen as a source for heavy vehicles, trains, shipping amongst various options.

It is difficult to imagine why these decisions have been made. Governments have probably been receiving poor or incorrect advice from department heads – especially DELWP and Earths Resources. These departments are welded to the status quo supporting what is already there – the coal deposits. They are fixated with brown coal and cannot see beyond it. And most of all they do not comprehend the enormity of global warming and the enormous task to reduce greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050.

Mining brown coal for generating electricity or converting coal to hydrogen is not the future for the Latrobe Valley. Numerous proposals have been made for generating more than enough jobs to assure a just transition in the Gippsland to a sustainable and non-polluting era. Most of them do not require any government funding but just general support and fast tracking the various renewable energy and industrial solutions. The Star of the South offshore wind project is a good example of this.