Gippsland News & Views

Inverloch Coast Retreats

Storm surges at Inverloch are actively eroding the coast. Roads and lifesaving towers have been threatened and some severely undermined. Friends of the Earth Act on Climate campaigner Lee Ewebank recently visited the area with Victorian Minister for Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio and saw “an emerging frontline of the crisis—to survey dramatic coastal erosion from intensifying storm surges and rising sea levels.” He wrote of his trip here and the following quotes are from Lee’s article.

The visit followed closely on an ABC News Report with local citizen scientist Aileen Vening. She noted that “It’s a relief that what I’ve been recording and talking about for several years is now finding a wider audience,” and “Unfortunately it has taken the loss of such huge amounts of sand, which means infrastructure is under threat, to make authorities act…This delay has made it so much more difficult and costly to make action effective.” Since 2012 Vening has “documented 36 metres of erosion” – presumably horizontal coastal retreat.

There is a need to elaborate on certain aspects of this. Storm surge as opposed to a gradual but evenly increasing sea level rise is almost certainly the way humans will experience this phenomenon. Further the sand the storm surges remove may be deposited offshore or possibly at other places along the coast leading to an accretion of sand elsewhere.

The natural sea level rise that occurred in Bass Strait from the end of the last ice age till about 6000 years ago saw the sea level rise on average a metre every 100 years for over 12,000 years. Now with human caused warming the sea level rise may be even more rapid than this though at the moment it is still only 3-4 mm per annum. The predictions of sea level rise vary widely and range from about 30cm to approaching 2 metres by 2100.

Another aspect concerning coastal retreat is the not well known and controversial. Bruun’s rule predicts that coastlines will retreat by about 50 times each unit of sea level rise. That would indicate with a sea level rise of about a metre the coast would retreat 50 metres. The current rapid retreat of the coast reinforces this and if it proceeded at the same pace for next 70 – 80 years the coastline would at least be a further 200m inland.

Which leads us to another aspect of this complex situation. The last time greenhouse gases were this high was 3 million years ago. Then the sea level was approximately 25 metres higher than it is now. Unless there is a rapid drawdown of these gases sea levels will rise inexorably until they reach this level perhaps in a thousand years, or with catastrophic change far less. Amongst the large list of urgently needed actions is a long term, planned, orderly retreat from the vulnerable coast.

Single Issue Climate Parties and ICAN

Senate Candidate visits Bairnsdale

I wish to offer my congratulations to the outstanding election campaign run by Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN) of which I am a member and supporter. In their brief life so far – only as old as the formal election campaign itself – ICAN has managed to stage a quite credible election campaign. In the short time available they have put up excellent Senate candidates in three states – all highly qualified and local – and in each managed to run prominent, if unco-ordinated campaigns. Their presence on social media has been boosted by having Anglican priest Fr. Rod Bower as lead NSW candidate. Rod is an accomplished and outspoken twitter user with a large following. The other candidates quickly adapted to using twitter though I am not sure how they fared on facebook. It remains to be seen whether this translates into primary votes.

Comparing ICAN with previous ‘climate’ party efforts this seems to be, hopefully, third time lucky. ICAN’s organisation and efforts appear to be much more closely aligned with the Climate Change Coalition (CCC) of 2007 than that of the Renewable Energy Party (REP)* of 2016. The CCC were swamped in the Ruddslide and although they had excellent candidates with a polarised election they found it difficult to get any publicity in the mainstream media. Whilst ICAN’s situation is similar the burgeoning social media has helped them immensely. As well they have gained TV slots by both science and stunt, in all of the eastern states except Tassie. The REP’s campaign was, aside from a few online articles, ignored and they had little traction in the media. Possibly working to ICAN’s advantage has been the promotion of the election by NGOs as the ‘climate election’ – notably by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

As I noted last week the chances of ICAN getting a candidate up are very small indeed and even getting funding and deposits returned (4% of primary votes) may be hard to achieve. But the next steps for ICAN may be the most difficult of all especially if their electoral performance is below expectations. Both the CCC and the REP failed to survive their one election disappointments. So the need is for ICAN to now step up, whatever the election results, and to build, organise and capitalise on their energetic, welcome and necessary introduction to our electoral politics.

*by the time I attempted to join the CCC in 2008 it was already defunct, a demise brought on by conflict over previous bizarre preference deals. I was a member, candidate and eventually secretary of the REP before it was deregistered in 2018.

The Climate Election – Prospects in Gippsland

Coastal Erosion at Inverloch (Bunurong Coast)

The seat of Gippsland held by Darren Chester is one of the safest in Victoria and the opposition candidates have a difficult task making any inroads into his majority. It will be interesting to see whether the severe drought, clearly influenced by climate change, has any impact on the vote. More importantly the Greens Deb Foskey has run on a ‘Climate Election’ platform and has made three short videos on this subject – with a winemaker, an organic farmer and on the Toora windfarm. As far as I am aware she is also the only candidate in Gippsland or Monash to actually sign the climate emergency declaration.

Deb also agreed to the question ‘Do you accept the scientific consensus on human caused global warming?’ as did ALP candidate Antoinette Holm. Surprisingly, sitting member Darren Chester has also agreed, though this conflicts with his previous (and continuing?) promotion of coal. I was recently quite severe on his position with regards the promotion of electric vehicles and commented on his, and his government’s, failure to act. But his agreement to the question must be considered a positive step.

If any electorate changes hands it will be the newly named Monash. Catherine Watson of the Bass Coast Post has interviewed a number of the candidates and points out that the boundaries have been redrawn – adding Bass coast and Phillip Island and removing a strong labour area in Pakenham. Another unknown is the youth vote. The margin for current incumbent Russell Broadbent is about 6% making him vulnerable to any swing against the LNP. This is about the same margin as in the state seat of Bass* that changed hands last year.

Of the candidates interviewed all seemed concerned with the severe coastal erosion at Inverloch, though only one of them took the extra step to link this with climate change. The Greens candidate Will Hornstra emphasised renewable energy projects whilst Independent Michael Fozard was the only one to actually mention climate change. He said “At our end of the electorate one of the most pressing issues is beach erosion. It’s urgent, we need now to be taking action now.  It’s part of climate change and rising sea levels. Whether climate change is cyclical or man-made, we need to take action. We can’t just put our heads in the sand.” This otherwise good comment was somewhat spoilt by his ambivalence on the warming being man-made. If Monash changes hands it will almost certainly go to ALP candidate Jessica O’Donnell.

Unless there is a very large swing against the government the Victorian Senators will remain the same except perhaps for the last seat held by Derryn Hinch. There is a very small possibility of this going to a climate party independent**. Whichever way the vote goes the outcome in the Senate will probably take several weeks to be finalised. And May 18 will be the first in a long series of climate elections to come.

*I was one of the few commentators to suggest the State Electorate of Bass could change hands in the State Election. See here.

** I am a member of Independents for Climate Action Now.

Gippsland as Renewable Energy Superpower

Sea Electric Garbage truck (City of Casey)

I have written at length on the many opportunities that the region of Gippsland has of becoming a renewable energy superpower. An ideal opportunity exists to rapidly transform Gippsland* away from the old fossil fuel industries of oil and gas and take full advantage of the renewables revolution – especially in areas of power generation and manufacturing.

Rather than repeat myself readers are referred by link to the more detailed posts on each of these proposals. First are the large wind farm projects of Delburn near Morwell and the offshore Star of the South. Both these projects are large and will employ a large workforce during erection as well as permanent employment on care and maintenance afterwards. Both of these projects link in to the valley infrastructure and between them could easily replace the next coal fired generator to be retired – probably Yallourn. As well there are other smaller wind projects at various stages of development.

Also there are a number of solar projects planned – all much smaller than wind – but combined with the uptake of rooftop solar by homes and businesses, beginning to make a significant contribution to energy supply. See here and here. But the large scale floating solar projects outlined by retired engineer Chris Barfoot are by far the most interesting.

On energy storage the pumped hydro proposal of Paul Treasure was posed as an alternative to Snowy 2 and sited to take advantage of local infrastructure including the Thompson Dam. There are a number of other smaller pumped hydro projects including one proposed by Barfoot using the Yallourn open cut. The widespread adoption of lithium ion batteries both domestic and on a commercial scale is yet to come. Perhaps there is a manufacturing opportunity here too.

With regards manufacturing heat pumps are currently being produced by the small Earthworker Co-op in Morwell and the much larger electric vehicle manufacturer Sea Electric is to set up next year in the same town. The floating solar project of Chris Barfoot (above) was designed to make use of local manufactured components and turning the fly ash waste to cement was proposed by think tank Beyond Zero Emissions. Both have so far failed to attract interest though each would benefit the Latrobe Valley and the environment. I believe there is also some exploration for lithium minerals adjacent to old tin workings in the district.

On the downside missing will be the coal to hydrogen project which is unlikely to proceed beyond the next few years and is another example of governments backing the wrong horse. Likewise it is unlikely that the proposals to burn rubbish to generate power will proceed except perhaps on a small decentralised scale burning carbon based rubbish in pyrolysis agrichar generators.

This is merely a brief outline of possible, and in many cases necessary, action to be carried out in the climate emergency. What is missing – money, co-ordination and urgency – can be provided by well-informed governments and based on the necessity to move to carbon neutrality as quickly as possible.

*For information on Australia as a Renewable Energy Superpower go here.

The Tree Vandals Again

The blue gum tree recently removed at Phillip Island was estimated to be at least 150 years old. Photo: Lisa Schonberg

It has come to my notice that the tree vandals are at it again. Last December my most read post was on the removal of a very old yellow box tree on the Great Alpine Road. Now in an article in the Bass Coast Post John Eddy has documented the removal of a number of trees by the local shire, including a 150 year old blue gum, for a ‘transit hub’(bus station?) in Cowes. In the article entitled ‘How much is a tree worth?’ John wrote: “Last month 15 trees were removed to make way for the new transit hub in the centre of Cowes. They included a magnificent southern blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) that was probably in the order of 150 years old, perhaps older”.

John noted this particular tree was 1.3 metres in diameter (storing approximately 50 tons of CO2) and commented on its environmental and cultural significance. On their general removal he stated that “However, the value placed on individual trees by shire engineers and planners may be quite different from the value placed on them by many in the community, and the planners have limits in how far they are prepared to compromise their projects” and that “We need to work together towards a better outcome for our significant trees and our native vegetation in the face of future development. We must nurture a continuing change in culture to see the true value of trees and their fundamental part in our lives.”

Also currently in the news is the Vic Roads plan to remove 260 trees for road duplication between Ballarat and Stawell. A spirited defence has been made of these trees by Aboriginal groups and their supporters as some of the trees have Aboriginal heritage significance and may be as old as 800 years – four times as old as the European occupation of the continent. I support them in their quest and if the project is so important why don’t Vic Roads realign the road? And we should never forget that loggers are still rampaging through our forests on a daily basis.

The tree vandals are everywhere, chain-sawing and bulldozing, and they seem to have no respect for life. The tree is seen as an obstruction in the way of some project or as a source of income that has to be exploited or removed. Not as something that is precious to all life. Amongst a tree’s many attributes is the oxygen it makes through transpiration helping provide the vital part of the air we all breathe. Another increasingly important attribute is the carbon that it stores.

It is essential that we preserve as many trees as possible and embark on a massive program of reafforestation to start drawing down the CO2 from the atmosphere. As many have pointed out trees are the only method of carbon capture and storage that actually works.  The real monetary value of a tree as a carbon store has never been truly quantified but if it were done properly it would be forbidden to remove any tree except under exceptional circumstances. In every exceptional case each tree removed should be replaced by at least 100 tree seedlings. And these must be nurtured until mature.

Why I am not a Candidate in this Election

At the moment the most frequent question I am asked is whether I am running for parliament again and when I reply in the negative am usually asked why. The short answer is that in terms of attracting attention and thus votes my attempts have all been failures. The best result in all seven election I contested was just over 3% and in consequence forfeiting my deposit of between $400 and $1000 each time.

For all but one of these elections I ran as a climate independent. This meant support from friends both physically and financially but otherwise it was a ‘one-man’ show – working long hours, striving for media appearances and speaking at meetings sometimes travelling long distances to do so. The exception was standing in the last Federal Election as a candidate for the Renewable Energy Party (REP). This conferred two small advantages – the stress of collecting more than 100 signatures when nominating as an independent was avoided and the party name and logo appeared on the ballot paper. But basically I still ran as an independent and shouldered most of the stress with no support from the party. Failing to garner any media attention all the REP candidates lost their deposits and after a period of inactivity was deregistered by the Australian Electoral Commission.

But failure doesn’t enter the personal equation. Despite all the setbacks I remain as determined as ever to continue my climate change activism. Also there are many ways of looking at the cumulative effect of the campaigns. Whilst I could only garner 1 vote in every 50 voters regularly the publicity I received locally on each occasion was substantial – in an otherwise ultra-conservative media which was (and is) most reluctant to mention the words climate change, global warming or climate emergency.

So now in the political field I have adopted different tactics. My blog continues, explaining, expanding, polemicizing and repeating all things climate and with various solutions. The blog now attracts about 700 visitors per month and with one or two popular posts over 1000. My home page has not changed since 2012 and it repeats the simple slogan – vote climate vote solar – I adopted around 2008 for electioneering purposes.

My efforts now in the political arena are twofold. First encouraging local political candidates to accept the consensus on climate science and the need for urgent action. Second supporting the newly formed Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN). The chance of ICAN getting a candidate up in the Senate in the three states they have put up candidates is very slim indeed. But it is vital that the party continues to function beyond the election to grow and become more widely known. And it is vital that all elections from now on are climate elections as we rapidly move towards the climate emergency.

East Gippsland Climate Action Network formed

Following on from the very successful climate emergency lecture by Jane Morton (image above) the East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) was formed on 23 April at a meeting held at the Bairnsdale Neighbourhood House. Despite being wedged between the Easter holidays and Anzac Day fourteen people attended the meeting and there were several apologies. The group now has an extended mailing list of over 50 people. Interestingly those in attendance were overwhelmingly female and the facilitators of the meeting Ro Gooch and former shire mayor Mendy Urie handled the meeting smoothly and efficiently.

The mission statement of the group was that they accepted the scientific consensus on human caused global warming and would act upon this information. To qualify as member of the group prospective members must accept this. For practical reasons rather than incorporate the group decided to operate under the auspices of the Gippsland Environment Group. A number of other in-house matters were discussed including where and when to meet. It was decided to meet monthly and the next meeting will be held in the Neighbourhood house on May 23.

Most of the evening was taken up with discussion about activities. A wide range of possible actions was put forward – many of them educational – including everything from a market stall upwards. It was decided to try to have a delegation of three meet with the local member. There was much discussion about the upcoming election and what could be done about it. I volunteered information on questioning of political candidates and pointed out that it was a matter of asking them to accept the group’s mission statement. The discussion was shared around the room and the group agreed that they would not align with any political party.

The possibility of candidate’s forums was also discussed. It was pointed out that the Bairnsdale Advertiser ran one of these at the last election and would possibly do so again.* Further discussion on actions will be continued at the next meeting. It was also noted that a Bass Coast Climate Action Network group had just formed in Wonthaggi and someone mentioned that there may be a similar group in Leongatha.

Anyone interested in joining the group should contact Ro Gooch

*May 14 Bairnsdale Sporting & Convention Centre at 7 pm.

Making your Climate Election Vote Count or a Plea for Climate Independents

The fact that increasingly large numbers of Australians are voting at pre-polling stations has prompted me to write this now rather than the week before polling day. What follows is a very brief ‘how to vote’ guide for the person concerned with climate change and the climate emergency. My apologies to those (most?) who have already made up their mind but I am often asked for advice and have already been asked this time.

I recently commented on the failure of the Lib/Nats climate performance over the last six years and Labour are again demonstrating (as they did in the last state election) that although they say they accept the science they haven’t quite worked out the consequences. Of the major parties the Greens offer the best policies though there are problems of priority and accepting the climate emergency.

In the lower house where there is a need to assess each of your candidates my suggestion is to ask the Simon Holmes à Court question “Do you accept the scientific consensus on human caused global warming?” I have already emailed this question to the Candidates Forum to be held in Bairnsdale on May 14. In many, even most cases, the answers will already be obvious in what the candidates, or their parties, say or don’t say. If you have further doubts about Independents ask them to explain the greenhouse effect and what they would do to help reduce our carbon emissions.

There are a large number of ‘Climate Independents’ around the country from high flyers like Oliver Yates in Kooyong to the  unknown Ray Kingston (at least in Gippsland) in the seat of Mallee. Labour is still on the nose, especially after Bill Shorten’s blunder on CSG in Queensland. But as I have said previously they are still a ‘country mile’ ahead of the Lib/Nats so as a general rule vote climate independent if you can find one, then preference to Greens and Labor.

In Gippsland two candidates – Labor and the Greens – have said yes to the Holmes à Court question. If you cannot find an Independent good on the climate change question I suggest you vote Green and preference the ALP or vice versa. It should be noted that the Greens candidate in Gippsland, Deb Foskey, is the only candidate so far in either the Monash or Gippsland electorates to have signed the climate emergency declaration.

In the Senate there is only one genuine climate party – Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN) – of which I am a member. ICAN was only registered the day before the official campaign was declared and it is the only climate party on the Senate ticket in Victoria, NSW and Queensland (although there is another ‘dummy’ party with climate in their name on the Victorian ballot paper). ICAN recognises the urgency of climate action and supports the climate emergency. But they face a huge uphill battle for public recognition and I urge you to consider giving them your first preference.

A Bolt from the Blue by Neil Daly

Could Western Port’s mangroves help to tackle climate change?

OUR community is fortunate to have a dedicated and expert team of environmental scientists and researchers studying Western Port’s environment and producing world-class research papers – but how much longer must this research go on before our federal politicians take notice? At least two local councils were represented at last month’s Western Port Environment Research Forum, perhaps indicating that at least at a grass roots level somebody is listening. If the response to one questioner is anything to go by, the community is now looking for somebody to come up with a Western Port management plan based on a practical application of the research now in place, and move on from the current haphazard management of possibly Victoria’s most important “blue wedge”.

But how this can be achieved is still a problem, for it would seem that unless governments can see an “economic or political return” for taking an interest in a subject, matters drag on … but the last speaker at the forum may have found the answer.

Associate Professor Peter Macreadie’s talk was about the Blue Carbon Lab based at Deakin University. The lab “specialises in capitalising on ‘blue carbon’, which refers to the powerful ability of coastal vegetated ecosystems to sequester carbon, and thereby help mitigate climate change”. It would seem Western Port has a role to play in implementing this program and it’s imperative that its saltmarshes, mangroves and seagrass meadows continue to be nurtured and expanded. A recent ABC TV 7:30 Report: “Push to protect blue carbon sites” illustrated this point.

From an economic perspective, Western Port could become an important part of the global carbon capture market, said to be worth $90 billion dollars or more. For while vegetated coastal ecosystems “occupy less than 1 per cent of the sea floor, these ecosystems hold onto around half the ocean’s carbon – and they can capture and store it up to 40 times faster than tropical rainforests.” Professor Macreadie also pointed out that “Even better for the long-term climate change game, blue carbon ecosystems can trap carbon in a watery grave for thousands of years – far longer than trees can manage. Australia has more blue carbon ecosystems than anywhere else in the world.”

To the best of my knowledge, no state or federal parliamentarian attended the Forum – what a pity for they too may have come to realise there is an economic benefit of delivering an environmental management plan for Western Port. For in addition to isolating carbon, “blue carbon ecosystems provide other important ecosystem services: they enhance biodiversity, support fisheries, and protect our shorelines against extreme weather events” – this must be worth something!

So it is hoped that each time our politicians “have a cuppa”, they come to realise they’re actually holding the world’s future in their hands, for the humble teabag is being used “as a cheap, standardised way of measuring the rate of carbon breakdown in soil” – some are already buried in Western Port, just waiting to reveal their message.

First published Bass Coast Post.

Six Wasted Years

Yours truly (as Renewable Energy Party candidate) and Greens Ian Onley at 2016 Gippsland Solar Tesla Station Launch


In June 2016 as part of the last election campaign Darren Chester MP officially opened the new Tesla electric vehicle charging station at the Gippsland Solar rooms in Traralgon. Whilst it was a coup for Gippsland Solar in terms of publicity, Darren Chester MP has been at best a feeble advocate for the electric vehicle revolution. And now one full government term and a new prime minister later the Liberal National Coalition have decided to attack the modest electric vehicle proposals of the ALP in the most ridiculous and absurd fashion. See here and here. Some parts of the media insist that there is little difference between the policies of the major parties on electric vehicles. But there is one big difference. In a government with an ex-PM who liked photo ops with electric vehicles, and our local member praising the innovations of Gippsland Solar, they have done precisely nothing.

I cannot recall what Darren said at the Gippsland Solar opening and probably, like most political speeches, was eminently forgettable. His parliamentary record gives a better indication of what he stands for rather than his media appearance at Traralgon. Over the years he has voted strongly against the carbon price, the carbon pollution reduction scheme, the carbon farming initiative and strongly for unconventional gas mining (also known as coal seam gas). As far as I am aware he has never commented on climate change or accepted that our current warming is caused by human activities. I had a go at him in a post to this blog just before the 2016 election calling him ‘climate change denier’ and a ‘climate dinosaur’ who was firmly entrenched in the coal lobby and in particular the brown coal lobby. However, besides some of his colleagues, he seems to be reason and good manners personified and is considered by the main stream media to be a moderate in the National Party.

But the recent outrageous statements on electric vehicles are made laughable by the progress in other countries around the world, Europe and China in particular. And with sensible incentives as have been introduced in countries like Norway the transition to electric vehicle adoption can be very rapid indeed. As usual New Zealand is well ahead of us. There are also many other advantages to a  rapid adoption besides acting on climate change and the Paris Agreement including solving balance of payment problems and reducing city pollution.

Whilst we are pushing this as a ‘climate election’ it is unlikely that opposition candidates will make inroads into Darren Chester’s parliamentary majority. This in spite of the fact that the current drought we are experiencing in Gippsland is almost certainly heavily influenced by the human caused global warming that he refuses to accept or acknowledge.* For many farmers feeding out in the region the cost of loyalty to the National Party and their sitting member is becoming very expensive indeed. And for those who accept the science it has been six wasted years.

*to the question I have been sending to all candidates “Do you accept the scientific consensus on human caused global warming?” he has yet to answer.