Gippsland News & Views

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

Gippy Solar Bulk Buy Community Donation!

(edited version originally published in the LVCPH Newsletter Dec 19)

The Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub’s Gippy Bulk Buy program donated a new 4.4 kW solar system to the Loch Sport Public Hall. The Minister for Energy, Environment, and Climate Change officially announced the winner late last week in Morwell, along with representatives from the Power Hub, local Government and Loch Sport Community members.

Loch Sport Public Hall Committee of Management President, Bill Klein said “I’m just really pleased that we got it. I was over the moon about it because we wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise”. Loch Sport is a relatively isolated township 56km away from Sale. The Hall is an essential site for the community, providing a valuable place for people to meet and enjoy activities such as creative workshops, ballroom dancing classes, yoga classes and music practice.  The site is also used for regular community meetings of groups such as the Lions Club and Senior Citizens Club.

The Gippy Bulk Buy was one of the first Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub projects which offered quality and cost price solar PV and hot water through a bulk buy scheme for residents and businesses. Local Gippsland installer A1 Solar and Electrical who partnered with the program from the beginning will be doing the install in January 2020. 326kW of solar PV was installed on 42 local households and four businesses.  This will see combined savings of $128,000 per year in electricity bills for the participants and $3.2 million over the life of the solar systems. The program was an initiative with the Latrobe City Council, Wellington Shire, Baw Baw Shire and not-for-profit Yarra Energy Foundation.

A community benefit requirement was that a percentage of the total sales would be used to donate a solar PV system to a community site. The councils and power hub assessed nominated sites across the three council areas on their community benefits and service reach, roof suitability, power usage and usage compatibility with solar and predicted savings, among other things. Three sites; a boxing gym hall in Warragul, Interchange Gippsland in Morwell, and the Loch Sport Hall were all put to public vote as a chance for the community to have their say on what sites mattered to them most which was also taken into account. In the end the Loch Sport site had many positives as well as the highest public vote.

EGCAN meets Chester MHR by Mendy, Ro and Tony

A trio of East Gippsland Climate Action Network members met with Darren Chester shortly before Christmas. During the short meeting each member spoke from their personal perspective on the climate emergency. Unfortunately the meeting outcome was disappointing. In any case, events since then have emphasised how urgent action really is.

The day after the meeting, ABARES, the government’s Agriculture Department statistics arm, issued a report showing an average 20% loss of income by the Australian farming sector over 20 years directly related to climate change.

The following week the East Gippsland fires that were burning in remote countryside since mid-November burst forth and threatened most of the region. This enormous – indeed unprecedented – fire has come almost exactly on target with predictions made by Ross Garnaut back in 2008 of major fires likely by 2020 that would be directly related to climate change

In the context of these events Chester’s response is particularly distressing. He made it clear that he thought the best action for people concerned about climate change would be to become engaged in Landcare or to support picking up rubbish. He stated in his conclusion that ‘‘I don’t share the same level of concern as you’. On a number of occasions Chester’s response seemed to be a distraction, such as minimising Australia’s role in the world effort due to our small size and telling us that the government’s response was adequate.

He listened with most evident interest when one member placed two hand-made dolls on a chair and explained that they represented her grandchildren. She talked about her training as a futurist and what we owe those growing up with global warming as their future. This, however, failed to elicit a meaningful response.

We left seriously disappointed, wondering if we should have been harder and more critical. With all that has happened since and indeed with major fires set to burn until they run out of fuel or we get substantial rain, a dramatically more effective response is required from our regional politicians.

In East Gippsland farmers are one of the groups most at risk of losing their livelihood under unchecked climate change. The National Party seems more intent on nurturing the coal industry than the farmers who traditionally support them. With the additional risk of more frequent, more severe and longer droughts and with the resulting massive bush fires, this party should be the main champions of urgent action on climate change.

Somehow we need to convince the electorate and local politicians at all levels of government that putting pressure on these politicians is the only way they can keep temperature rises in the lower predicted levels which can hopefully contain climate change.

Bushfires and Climate Change by Tom Moore (Part 2)

Whilst acknowledging the limitations of what we can do directly to reduce our global warming, we nonetheless desperately need to use what influence we have with other world leaders to get real global action on global warming. How can we do this?

Our government needs to stop hiding behind the excuse that we are only responsible for 1.07% of global emissions when in fact we are the third largest producer and exporter of coal in the world – which can be translated into an overall responsibility for a very large slice (perhaps up to 6%) of global carbon emissions.

If this fact was acknowledged then we would be duty bound to do more in the fight to keep the global temperature within the required 1.5% of pre-industrial levels. Although we are by no means the only country in the world experiencing widespread drought and catastrophic bushfires, our experience of doing so provides us with the credentials to argue on the world stage that global warming is the biggest threat we have not faced up to in our lifetime. This would represent a complete change from our current position of arguing for things like using credits from Kyoto to make us look better than we really are.

Australia now is in the same position as the Pacific Island nations were recently when they asked our government to take more action on climate change to help them mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. Our government dismissed their requests with a degree of arrogance. We are now facing catastrophic conditions which are being substantially caused by wealthy nations and vested interests around the globe and like the Pacific Islanders we now need global assistance. Rather than stand with those nations who are not taking the action that is required of them, Australia has an opportunity right now to show leadership on global climate policy.

Then we have to call out those governments that are getting in the way of meaningful action, countries like Brazil and (with apologies to the American fire fighters who are currently assisting us) the USA (at least their President). Former fire chief (and current front-line voluntary fire fighter) Greg Mullins makes a good point when he compares our moral obligations re climate change to those when Australia campaigned globally to defeat apartheid even though we were only responsible for 0% of its application in South Africa.

For us to be in a position to take such action we need to firstly put our own house in order and that means we need a credible and bi-partisan climate and energy policy – hard to achieve with our current batch of politicians. Perhaps the only way to actually achieve this is to remove the issue from the political arena and appoint a panel of experts, including a strong representation of scientists and other experts, to formulate policy and oversee our position going forward.

It is time to get serious. Time for our government to stop pandering to the fossil fuel industry; time to stop listening to the climate denialists (including those in its own party); time to start listening to the vast majority of credible scientists; time to stop grabbing for every opportunity to blame others (the “greenies” – who are they actually?); time to stop using climate strategy for political advantage; time to accept responsibility and time to show leadership both here and on the world stage. Please let’s do so before time runs out.

Bushfires and Climate Change by Tom Moore (Part 1)

Like so many others in East Gippsland and more generally throughout the numerous other areas of Australia that are currently burning, our community in Metung* has been looking down the barrel of devastating bushfires. To date we have been lucky with prevailing winds generally blowing the flames away from us. We are all of course acutely aware that when the wind assists us it does so by driving the fires towards other communities further to the north making it difficult for us to feel good about dodging successive bullets.

For those of us who have previously not experienced bushfires first hand (myself included), we have developed a much clearer appreciation of what it feels like to be in this catastrophic and unprecedented emergency. We still face the possibility of loss of property or life – our own or family and friends – and the possibility of this happening is sobering to say the least.

The emergency services, and particularly our wonderful CFA have done, and continue to do, a magnificent job. We are so proud of you. We are also amazed at the resilience of our communities and the will they have shown to keep going in the face of an unfolding tragedy. Our governments, Federal and State are to be congratulated on their various responses. And it is fantastic to hear of generous donations to the bushfire appeals from home and overseas and for these we should be very grateful. So what else can we say?

There is a view that it is not the right thing to focus on climate policy in the midst of a catastrophe – that it is not the right time to point out that this has all been predicted by climate science for quite some time.[see Tom Beer blog] It may not be a good time to say “told you so” and any discussion should certainly not detract from fighting the fires, from rescue operations, from supporting our fire fighters and from assisting those who have lost out to the tragedies, whether that assistance be by action or financial support.  However, in my view, it is acceptable to continue to analyse our politicians focus or lack thereof, on the issue of climate policy – in the same way as John Howard and Tim Fisher focused on gun policy in the midst of Port Arthur’s tragedy. 

I recently wrote about my frustration with the Morrison Government’s approach to all-things climate change. I will not go over this again in writing this piece, other than to acknowledge minister David Littleproud’s denunciation of back bencher Craig Kelly’s comment to UK TV – comments which have the propensity to make the Australian government look particularly out of touch with reality.  But we do need to take this opportunity to encourage our politicians to step back and review where we are at now. If we do nothing to improve our climate policy we will be judged very poorly by our children and theirs. 

(To be Continued)

*first distributed around the Metung village

Bushfire Diary 4(pm) – 7 January

Website views of blog on Tom Beer and the 1987 Monash Conference

4.1.20 My daughter OS stressing from huge media coverage of fires. Send her following response “Poor innocent Bunjie (our cat). Spent the night in the cage by the front door waiting for the message to evacuate. I slept on the couch fully clothed with supplies to hand (blanket, goggles, gloves, towel for cat cage etc.) Please note the bigger the news organisation the more mistakes they make… ABC and Vic Emergency the best sources but not up to date. I have no intention of staying to protect the flat in the worst case Bunjie and me will move to closest evacuation centre…My piece on Tom Beer of CSIRO (one of Barrie P’s contemporaries) has had nearly 4000 views over last week – for me going viral… As of now 160 fb shares! Also important to keep the fires and climate change in the news whilst the pollies are on holiday. Our PM has been copping a heap of sh*t the last few weeks and the leader of the opposition has finally mentioned the words ‘climate change’ in relation to the fires. The media are still a long way behind and the Murdoch media is harbouring climate criminals starting from the very top. If I had a choice between rescuing either Tony Abbott (or Rupert Murdoch) and a koala from the fires I wouldn’t hesitate. I’m sure you know who I would choose.” The SW change has arrived – time to shop, visit the library and catch up on a bit of sleep – but our reprieve now a problem for others. Hotspot indicates whole of south-east of Oz aflame. Emergency warnings everywhere.

5.1.20 First thing on social media clip showing army evacuation from Omeo Oval. A ground I played footy on a few times. Last night left front porch on. Must have been very tired. Few spots of rain hopefully will set in. The weather for the next week for Bairnsdale benign.

6.1.20 Showers and rain overnight. Viewing the great map work by Tom Fairman on twitter again. This time showing a series of maps of the Victorian Alps that have burned this century including some country that has been burned 3 times this century. He concluded: “Alpine ash forests, similarly, are unlikely to persist after two high severity fires under 15-20 years – the age regenerating stems begin to produce seed. The former Alpine ash forest… is now likely to be a future acacia shrubland.” Devastating for the local environment and the forest as a carbon store. Out wearing face mask attracting some notice. A very small political statement? Next warm day Friday.

7.1.20 Still in the smoke apparently like most of SE Oz. EGCAN coffee morning at the Stables. Discuss the complexities of immediate issues surrounding the bushfires and staying on the message of connecting the climate change dots. Very tired and will take a break soon. Our holiday at Lake Bunga abandoned.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

A Bushfire Diary 1-4(am) January

Recent Vic Emergency Map

1.1.20 Day with smoke haze. Posted blog on fires today – the fourth on fires for the month. Visited friends to discuss how the members of EGCAN had faired with the latest fire advance. Tambo Crossing now surrounded by fire or burnt-out areas. The fires are coalescing slowly into one monster fire area. The Vic Emergency maps changing regularly. I have decided to collect as many of the updated maps to use later in a power point lecture on the bushfires and climate change. Note that the Age and ABC evacuation maps differed. The Age included both Mallacoota and Bairnsdale in the evacuation area. The detail of property losses yet to come out but the Clifton Creek School has gone. I am worried about the Upper Dargo fires from recent lightning strikes. They, and if the current fires move towards Bullumwaal, are a direct threat to the town. There is a certain amount of anxiety in the family about the threat. My daughter, currently living in Hamburg, has been urging me to leave before the next bad day – predicted to be Saturday. She quoted (with emphasis) from the current watch status “With UNPREDICTABLE fire conditions due to the weather there is still a potential for conditions to change for the worse VERY QUICKLY”.

2.1.20 Quiet day in the smoke. Saturday starting to look ominous and fires edging towards Bullumwaal to our north. Forecast for a quieter week and some rain afterwards. Deciding whether to remove ourselves (and the cat) to Stratford or some relatively safer place further west. Have just heard artist friend Bob Logie’s place in Ensay has burned after the fires came through a second time. Bob did an art show on the Gippsland massacres about 2 years ago and we have one of his prints on our wall. My anger at the politicians, the Murdoch media, the coal barons and other climate criminals is intense. Have just tweeted a Michael Mann article. Obviously we have to work a lot harder on climate. My blog one month ago on bushfires predictions by Tom Beer and the 1987 Monash conference had 1200 views in the last 24 hours. Longer term not too promising as the fires join together and new ones pop up. Despite preparing for the worst case the authorities undermanned and underprepared for this. Or perhaps it is impossible to prepare for.

3.1.20 Smoke again and eerily quiet. Marg left for family farm in south Gippsland. My Tom Beer blog had over 2K views yesterday. Murdoch media continue with their criminal politicising of the climate emergency. Great series of maps on east gippy’s bushfire history posted on twitter by Tom Fairman. The PM rumoured to be coming to Bairnsdale hopefully someone can voice their displeasure at the political failure of the last 10 years. Started cleaning the gutters and putting a bit of water on the roof. A much bigger job than I anticipated. Chatted to friends and neighbours. We are in the centre of town so relatively secure in the short term. Perhaps we might cop a few burning embers.

4.1.20 A wake-up call from Germany at 3.30am. The north winds yet to arrive. Slept in my clothes on the couch overnight. Warned I may get some ‘climate refugees’ from out of town. Still quiet 8.30am waiting for the North wind. The smoke suppressing the temperatures (19 C). Giving the roof a bit of a hose. Blocked gutter outlets. Ear to the radio but turn-off talkback as want information only. The leader of the opposition mentioned climate change on ABC. Hooray! And Hooray for the ABC!

(TO BE CONTINUED)

Random notes on the Gippsland Bushfires and the Climate Emergency

Evacuation area 29.12 ABC

Writing seven years ago on possible sea level rise in Gippsland for the year 2100 and under the heading of ‘Extreme Event Scenario’ I wrote the following: “The use of the term ‘1 in 100 year’ to describe the frequency of any unusual event is to some extent subjective. The problem of how to categorise the extreme bushfires in Victoria over the last decade is an example. In terms of either size or ferocity it can be argued that Victoria has seen three 1 in 100 year bushfire events over the last decade – in 2003, 2006/7 and 2009.” In terms of area burnt the current fires are well on the way to eclipsing the first and second of these events. And they have the potential to eclipse all 3 in length of time, being already 40 days old with the real summer fire season just beginning.

As I have recently blogged the fires are likely to trickle through the bush on the relatively calm days and flare up under warmer windier conditions (see here). Even so I was shocked at the rapid advance of some of the fires over the past two days. To compound this spot fires and lightning strikes added another two hundred extra fires to contend with. Although confirmed news is scarce it seems that the small communities of Clifton Creek, Sarsfield and Buchan have copped the brunt on the fires, plus Mallacoota has been hit by another fire in the east only two days old.

Chaos reigns. One of my former students referring to family and friends noted on facebook “Update from Nowa Nowa. Bill thinks the fire went just north of Nowa Nowa so he is OK after a night with no reception and not knowing what was going on. Wairewa and Buchan not so fortunate. John Hermans* saved his house at Clifton Creek.” The emergency news on the ABC, as beneficial as it is, cannot keep track of the rapid changes. Power and phone reception often breakdown as is currently the case in Ensay and Tambo Crossing.

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used many times but the call to evacuate a huge area of East Gippsland Shire (see above) was a first – if it was disregarded by large numbers of tourists and residents. And on the last day of the year the Vic Emergency fire maps were almost changing before our eyes showing stunningly advances of some of the fire fronts – jumps of five to ten kilometres were made in a few hours. Having bushfires – large, damaging and continuous – across the nation is also, dare I say it, ‘unprecedented’. For that is what climate change means in practice – extreme weather events on the warmer side of the spectrum continually getting much worse.

During this time the firefighters have been employed purely on asset protection and the perimeter of the fires has also greatly expanded, often in mountainous and inaccessible country, making their containment almost impossible. As one local wit said it looks like they will burn until they reach the ‘big break’ (Bass Strait) or we get a very heavy fall of rain. Climate scientists predicted more than 30 years ago that with global warming we would have longer more intense droughts, more frequent and bigger bushfires and longer fire seasons. Most of these predictions have materialised already. I have the uneasy feeling that the Gippsland bushfires are going to occupy this blog for most of the summer.

*John is an occasional contributor to this blog

East Gippsland Shire’s PPA

Commencing next year the East Gippsland Shire Council “has agreed to participate in a tender to purchase electricity supplied from 100 per cent renewable energy over the next 10 years” with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). This is an exciting move whereby the shire will support the rapid expansion of renewable energy, help make some of our urgently needed greenhouse gas reductions and hopefully save the shire some money. The 10 year period is sufficient to cover the rapid (and hopefully just) transition from the fossil fuel based energy to renewables.

PPAs are contracts between buyers and sellers for electricity. The buyer has a fixed price and is purchasing their power from a solar or wind farm. The seller’s forward contract – in other words a guarantee of sales – enables them to obtain financing. Some of Australia’s biggest companies are using PPAs as a means of drastically reducing their carbon emissions including Telstra.

Shire sustainability officer Rebecca Lamble noted that “The opportunity has been developed by a local government group consortium of 48 Victorian councils. The tender will be managed by the Municipal Association of Victoria and is for the purchase of renewable electricity…  By participating, East Gippsland Shire Council will be able to access renewable electricity for their buildings and assets, such as street lighting, public toilets, aquatic centres and libraries.”

The PPAs are an obvious way for the shire to get in on the ground floor and switch to 100% renewable energy use immediately. The East Gippsland Shire’s push for solar energy is also commendable and in reality they should be looking at 200% renewables or more. More on their recent solar advances in another blog. While the PPAs are encouraging the rapid expansion of solar and wind farms it is a shame that more of them cannot be located in Gippsland where the flow-on effects of employment in construction and maintenance are added benefits.

The Brown Coal to Hydrogen Saga Continues

(Aberle)

A recent article in the Saturday Paper by Mike Seccombe entitled “Hydrogen strategy backs dirty coal” clearly outlined the efforts by our governments to keep brown coal alive. It is a strategy that they have been following for some time and I have commented on a number of occasions that they are backing the wrong horse (see here, here and here), Seccombe noted that “there is evidence to suggest the government’s intent in getting into the hydrogen economy is, as ever, to protect the fossil fuel industry by locking it in as the preferred source for Australia’s hydrogen production. Yet Australia is devoting far more money to pursuing the coal-to-hydrogen option. Of the $370 million funding announced by Taylor and Canavan, only $70 million is earmarked for work towards generating hydrogen from water.

Seccombe continued “Compare this with the amount being spent right now on a single project called the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC). A consortium of Japanese and Australian interests is spending almost $500 million, including $50 million of federal government money and another $50 million from the Victorian government, on building a pilot coal-to-hydrogen plant, due to operate for one year over 2020 and 2021.”

My objections to this are many. Taxpayer funds are going to a project that will never proceed beyond the pilot plant because of the climate emergency. As well as the $100 million direct subsidy from the State and Federal governments there is the additional $150 million spent by the state government to identify locations off the Ninety Mile (see here) where the theoretically captured carbon from a plant operating in the Valley and could be stored. No Carbon Capture and Storage plant has worked properly capturing most of the CO2 and they have been extraordinarily expensive.

Quoting Environment Victoria’s Nick Aberle Seccombe noted “the pilot would produce at most three tonnes of hydrogen during its one year of operation. To achieve that it would use 160 tonnes of brown coal – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – and would emit 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide.” Roughly calculated at a cost of about $100 million per ton for taxpayers but the real figure allowing for company investment, tax right-offs, depreciation is certainly much, much higher.

Most of our elected representatives and senior public servants remain in the pockets of the fossil fuel interests and the status quo and believe ‘they can have their cake and eat it too’. They continue to fund the industries and institutions that cause global warming including ‘Mickey Mouse’ non-solutions like Coal to Hydrogen. It has been clear for some time they are yet to comprehend the urgency of the climate emergency. They are poorly advised or completely deluded.