Gippsland News & Views

Power Politics, Tactics and the Climate Election

One of the things that annoys me intensely in politics is the parties slanging off at each hoping no doubt for some marginal political gain. It is another sign that the most important thing for the party is its quest for power. More votes means more electoral funding, seats in parliament and the ultimate goal of forming a government. But what is the point of all this if it is merely a quest for power with no substance. The last six years of Federal government seems to be a good example of this with little legislation, internal squabbling and division, leadership challenges and big money talking. The latter being directly tied to funding electoral campaigns and maintaining power.

What is needed urgently is a move from the quest for power to the need to do the right and proper thing which is, after all, what responsible governments are supposed to do. There needs to be a massive swing away from money, ambition and personal gain to government based on the best science, loyalty to the issue and good works. To achieve this some media and advertising controls may be needed in an industry where diversity is lacking.

On more a practical and immediate matter co-ordination and co-operation between parties with similar aims regarding the climate election appears to be missing in action. An example of this, and what I consider to be a tactical blunder by the Greens, is their appointment of Julian Burnside as their candidate in Kooyong. Burnside is best known for his opposition to asylum seeker detention but is also very strong on climate. I have paraphrased him on a number of occasions with the quote ‘If you can’t fix climate nothing else matters’.

The problem with this is he is opposing the best credentialed climate advocate in Victoria – Oliver Yates – whose campaign in Kooyong has already been running strongly for some months. Whilst this may add some interest and focus attention on Kooyong surely it would have been better to run Burnside in adjacent Higgins which includes the green held state seat of Prahran. Or even better to stand him against climate change denier Andrews in the adjoining electorate of Menzies.  Of the two best credentialed and well known climate candidates in Victoria only one can win. At worst by substantially splitting the climate vote may mean neither gets up.

The same lack of co-ordination can be found amongst non-government environment and political lobby groups. Are GetUp, StopAdani, FOE, Environment Victoria, ACF, 350.org, Solar Citizens and Greenpeace amongst others, all of whom are acting positively in some way on the climate election, talking to each other so that they maximise their climate efforts? Their aims should be as follows: to make climate change the top issue, to eliminate as many of the climate deniers from parliament as possible (in effect to decimate the Lib/Nats) and acknowledge the climate emergency.

Moves on party or group loyalty, personal ambition, power grabs and all other aspects overriding the climate issue should be discouraged. Supporting and promoting climate independents in safe National rural electorates should be considered an integral part of this campaign.

The Strike for Climate and Student Activism

image Zarb graffiti “painted in October 1968 on the back wall of Fowler’s Vacola factory Hawthorn (beside railway line, near corner of Power Street and Burwood Road Hawthorn)”*

From a solitary striking teenager sitting outside the Swedish parliament last year the student ‘strike for climate’ movement has mushroomed beyond imagination. On March 15 student strikes took place at more than 1000 locations in more than 100 countries around the world. Greta Thunberg, the 15 year old who started it all, has just been nominated for a Nobel Peace prize and the movement in a very short space of time must have succeeded her wildest dreams. A combination of the dire future threat, the relative powerlessness of a generally well-informed youth and their mastery in the social media has fuelled this amazing phenomenon. “I don’t want you to be hopeful,” said Greta, “I want you to panic.”

A similar, but localised situation, occurred in my youth. In 1964 conscription was introduced in Australia for 20 year old males, chosen by lottery, to help fight the Vietnam War. It radicalised a generation of youth and fortunately I was balloted out in the second draw. But because of this from an apolitical position I became firmly opposed to the war and conscription only to be temporarily disheartened by the failure of the opposition during the 1966 scare campaign election. An election in which I was too young to vote as were those conscripted who came after me.

The gains of the anti-conscription movement at first came slowly. With the protests of conscript mothers (Save our Sons) and a number of conscientious objectors being jailed – in particular Pasco Vale postman John Zarb – the movement snowballed. The “Free John Zarb” graffiti remained along various Melbourne train lines for many years. This initiative was later taken over by the Draft Resisters Union and the media grabbing antics of Michael Hammel-Green and others. Two hundred and two conscripts later paid with their lives in the war – approximately 40% of all Australian fatalities.

The momentous “climate emergency” is before us. It is affecting us now but the future for youth, if nothing is done is grim indeed. It is not known how many Gippsland students participated in the Melbourne strike but following an earlier strike in November last year news of the strike for climate has proliferated through the social media. A group of students from the Baw Baw shire attended the Melbourne event asking fellow students and supporters “Let’s show the pollies in the big smoke what Gippslanders are made of! Meet us on the train to the Melbourne event!”

Whilst there will be many ups and downs a new generation of activists is with us. From the first draft to the end of conscription and our involvement in Vietnam took seven years. With the assistance energy and urgency of the ‘climate strikers’ the path to climate emergency action will be achieved more rapidly. It is time for us all to ‘panic’ and then to act.

*image

Scare Campaigns and the Federal Election

It’s a lay down misere that the incumbent coalition will resort to scare campaigns in the run up to the next election. They have already commenced doing so and serious campaigning is underway. The scare campaigns will probably revolve around immigration (Stop the Boats) averting an economic catastrophe and the threat of terrorism. With immigration there is not much difference between the policies of the main parties with that of Labor’s being slightly more humane. With regards economic management the recent record of Labor in handling the GFC earned it praise around the world. But with the terrorism threat the scare campaign is an obvious distortion of the truth.

The number of people killed by political terrorism in Australia over the last one hundred years can be counted on your fingers. As a comparison Melbourne climate commentator Dr Gideon Polya noted “Presently about 80,000 Australians die… each year in Australia from “life-style” and “political choice” causes (e.g. 15,500 pa from smoking, 10,000 pa from air pollution, 500 pa from heat stress) as compared to 0.2 pa from jihadi terrorism this century.” You have more chance of dying falling out of bed. Also of note is the 500 fatalities per annum due to heat stress – an extreme weather event heavily influenced by global warming.

Polya continued “However globally about 7.5 million people die avoidably (prematurely) each year due to the effects [of] carbon burning pollutants (7.0 million) (WHO) or to climate change (0.5 million).  This latter estimate of presently about 0.5 million climate change-related deaths may be an under-estimate… [with] impoverished, tropical or sub-tropical countries already being severely impacted by global warming.”

How many Gippsland fatalities have been caused by global warming? Whilst being unable to quantify this we can safely conclude that the deaths resulting from climate change this century in Gippsland alone far outnumber those that have resulted from terrorism across Australia ever. The climate influenced fatalities of the heatwave preceding Black Saturday and the bushfires are probably greater than the terrorism total on their own.

Obviously the real scare campaign should be about global warming which our governments for the last 6 years have denied, dismissed or ignored. They continue to do so with the aid of an extremely shallow and biased main stream media. Hopefully people will see through these fraudulent campaigns – the sooner the better. We must make this election the first of many climate elections.

Bogong Moth: history and climate change

I first learnt of the importance of the bogong moth in Alpine Aboriginal society in 1973. As my studies were primarily on frontier conflict I did not write anything further on this until about 1990. In one of the essays I republished in a little booklet entitled Notes on Victorian Alpine Aborigines (1997) I wrote the following.

“The bogong moths were seasonally abundant and harvested from the crevices of granite boulders in the high country. Early European observers were obviously intrigued by this unusual example of insectivorous man and some made written references to the various aspects of gathering and cooking. As the Omeo Plains appears to have been one of the main congregating points both prior to, and during, the moth season the practice has consequently been closely associated with the Jaitmathang (Omeo tribe)…

“But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the moth season was the large numbers of Aboriginals observed on the Omeo Plains, with estimates as high as one thousand along the upper reaches of the Mitta Mitta River. These figures indicate a seasonal movement of associated tribes and allies into Jaitmathang territory. They also suggest co-operation in moth gathering and common camping places. Whilst the moth season tends to show that borders, as we understand them, were almost non-existent between friendly and related tribes, all group and individual activities were probably closely governed and directed by custom.” (p.5)

There can be no doubt that the bogong moth* was a very important food item in all the Aboriginal groups with access to the high country including four of the Kurnai tribes. But beyond the historical Koori connection I had done no further work until the recent reports in the main stream media of the catastrophic collapse of their population (see here and here) the articles of which I summarised here.

The moth has obviously survived for millennia including bad droughts. But the droughts are now longer, harsher and more frequent as the planet warms. As well science is yet to establish when warming first commenced in our region as a result of the enhanced Greenhouse effect**. Perhaps the 1898 fires in south Gippsland and the Federation drought were early local events influenced by global warming? On top of this the breeding grounds of the moth have seen a massive expansion of cropping and many larvae must fall victim to chemical sprays. Time will only tell whether the bogong moth numbers will recover but as many animals and insects are now struggling with one degree of warming how they will cope with a further degree or more is foreboding.

*see Flood, J. The Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital Territory (1996) pp.12-17 for more detail.

**Joelle Gergis in a Sunburnt Country revealed human induced warming in the northern hemisphere commenced as early as the 1830s (p.167).

Gippsland Hot, Dry and Burning

The news is just in from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) that Australia has just experienced its hottest summer since records began (see here and here). Not only were the records beaten they were ‘smashed’ by 2 degrees above the long term average. It comes as no surprise, as the BOM map indicates, that all of Gippsland (except for the far south west around Grant and Wonthaggi) experienced a record breaking summer.

Also Australia wide rainfall was 30% below average “making it the driest summer since 1982-83, a season affected by a strong El Nino event.” The summer rainfall map for Gippsland is more complicated with a most of the region experiencing a rainfall deficiency with an area in south Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley experiencing a ‘severe deficiency’. Only in the far-east, Cann River to Mallacoota, was average summer rainfall received. It must be remembered that this is for summer rainfall only and consequently most of the region remains in drought. I have commented on this recently here.

The current bushfires across Gippsland from Bunyip to Dargo and in the Strzeleckis near Yinnar combined with the early autumn low intensity heatwave felt across most of the region are indicative of how dry it is. But I have yet to see a media article that mentions the planet warming or the words ‘climate change’ in association with either the fires, the unusual warmth or the dry. Like the ‘Timbarra’ these bushfires will continue to burn for some time and may await substantial rain to put them out completely. It is of more than passing interest that the region has experienced bushfires across the last four seasons – from the winter bushfire at Cape Conran to those currently burning.

And unfortunately the autumn outlet is not looking promising. We have entered the season with low intensity heatwave temperatures and the BOM predictions for the eastern half of the continent are for a below average rainfall in autumn. For Gippsland the predicted chances of exceeding ‘median’ rainfall are low – in the 25-30% range.

Action to combat global warming poses a dilemma for whatever we do now is not going to solve anything in the short term. But by doing nothing or making tokenistic efforts, or worse still fiddling our carbon accounts, we can be sure that it will get worse and worse and worse – hotter and dryer with the occasional catastrophic bushfire or drought breaking flood thrown in. That we are in a climate emergency has been apparent for some time.

Bogong Moth another victim of climate change?



A recent statement by ecologist John Morgan on twitter alerted us to the possible demise of the iconic Bogong moth. He stated “Another beautiful evening in the Victorian Alps. But not a Bogong Moth to be seen……..for the 2nd year running. Once in their tens of millions (indeed it was often newsworthy), their failure to arrive in the alps to aestivate has almost gone unnoticed.”

This was closely followed by a Guardian article by Graham Readfearn that noted the direct connection between climate change exacerbated drought in their breeding grounds and the drastic drop in their numbers. “The ecologist Dr Ken Green has been monitoring bogong moths for 40 years. He said: “Last summer numbers were atrocious. It was not just really bad, it was the worst I had ever seen. Now this year it’s got even worse.”

“The moths find caves and cracks in boulders to hide away in a torpor state. A cave at Mount Gingera, near Canberra, has been known to house millions of the moths but last month Green and colleagues counted just three individuals. Searches of about 50 known sites have turned up similar catastrophic absences. They haven’t just declined. They’ve gone…”  The article also emphasised the impact that this was having on the endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum – heavily dependent on the moth as a food source.

Wikipedia notes that “The bogong moth (Agrotis infusa) is a temperate species of night-flying moth, notable for its biannual long-distance seasonal migrations towards and from the Australian Alps, similar to the diurnal monarch butterfly. During the autumn and winter it is found in southern Queensland, western New South Wales, western Victoria… Adult bogong moths breed and larvae hatch during this period, consuming winter pasture plants during their growth. During the spring, the moths migrate south or east and reside in mountains such as Mount Bogong, where they gregariously aestivate over the summer until their return towards breeding grounds again in the autumn.”

Of some interest is a review I recently posted of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior – an account of how the changing climate messed up the aestivation and migration of the monarch butterfly. Now it appears as though some of the bizarre fictional accounts are being realised in our own backyard, with the bogong moth a species with a similar life cycle to the monarch.

Like the recent dreadful mortalities amongst Bairnsdale’s flying-fox colony, the plight of the bogong moth is another wake-up call – another ‘canary in the coal mine’ – that tells us urgent action is required on climate change now. I hope to do a follow up post on this in the next few weeks.

Jane Morton to speak in Bairnsdale

Jane Morton, author of Don’t Mention the Emergency: making the case for emergency climate action will be speaking in Bairnsdale on Tuesday March 19 (see here for full details). Jane “is a clinical psychologist, who worked for 30 years in public sector mental health services. She is the lead author of a book on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and a number of consultants reports to the Victorian government. Five years ago, she went into semi-retirement to campaign on the climate emergency. She is convenor of Darebin Climate Action Now, and active in the Australian campaign to declare a climate emergency.”

In her introduction she notes that “Recently, climate experts have started talking about a new category of threat: not just ‘dangerous’, or even ‘catastrophic’, but ‘existential’ – a threat that could annihilate most people on earth” and that the current warming we are experiencing is not safe. “Even the current level of warming (just over one degree) is clearly far from safe: extreme weather is increasing, ice caps are melting, and coral reefs are dying.”

The need for emergency action is not reaching the public. “Time is running out to address the climate emergency, but there remains a vast gulf between what political leaders and the media say, and the truth. The most frequently heard message is that staying under two degrees of warming will keep us safe, and that gradual emissions reductions of around 26% (Coalition) or 45% (Labor) represent ‘our fair share’ of the challenge. The catastrophic risks are not explained and the speed and scale of action required is massively understated.”

There is a need for “leaders to step up, but they must hear a clear, strong emergency message coming from all sides before they will be willing to lead the public on emergency action.”

Organiser of the event Ro Gooch stated: “The aim of the meeting is to help inform people and to discuss ways we can help both locally and globally.” Ro heard Jane recently speak at the Sustainability Festival and invited her to speak in Bairnsdale. Hopefully the audience will include local councillors and representatives of the media, as well as a cross-section of the general public. A full report will follow the meeting.

Senate Estimates and the Star of the South by Pat Simons

Australia could soon be home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm, with the 2GW Star of the South proposed off Victoria’s Gippsland coast in June 2017.  But more than 18 months later, the federal Coalition government remains quiet about the proposal despite receiving departmental recommendations, as revealed in Senate estimates yesterday.

Answering questions from ALP Senator Anthony Chisholm in Senate estimates during the final sitting days of Parliament, the Department of Environment and Energy revealed it has made a recommendation to the Energy Minister as part of a briefing about the project. The decision now rests with Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

In order to proceed to the first stage of detailed planning processes to properly assess wind resource and any possible environmental impacts, the project requires an exploration license from the federal government. The obvious question is why the delay?

If it goes ahead the Star of the South offshore wind farm could create as many as 2,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs, and avoid up to 10.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector every year. The prospect of powering as much as 20% of Victoria with clean energy shows that Star of the South could be a game changer for action on climate change. Not only that, at a time when the federal Coalition insists it is squarely focused on reducing power prices, it is bizarre that the Morrison government appears to be delaying a landmark renewable energy project that would bring on new electricity supply.

We’re calling on the Energy Minister to:

1. Immediately provide a status update on the Star of the South Energy Project.

2. Approve the requisite exploration license so the project can undertake detailed ecological, social and economic assessment.

3. Clarify his position on the role of wind energy technology in Australia’s electricity grid as part of action on climate change.

Original article here.

Strategic Voting, Climate Independents and the Federal Election

Former Nationals leader spruiking coal (ABC)

Climate Independent candidates for the approaching federal election are coming ‘out of the woodwork’ on a regular basis now. Some very high profile candidates – Zali Steggall in Warringah, Oliver Yates in Kooyong – are already campaigning strongly and getting publicity in the main stream media. There are also some climate independents with a high local profile getting onto the bandwagon. I believe that there are two climate candidates in the seat of Mallee. We await further climate independents – preferably high profile – to appear in the seats of climate change deniers Joyce (New England) Kelly (Hughes) and Andrews (Menzies).

Having a large number of climate independents is a great first step. On its own it will help push the election towards a referendum on climate change. It is of note that some candidates are far more ‘progressive’ on the climate solutions than Labor. Steggalls for instance wants Labor to drop any support for Adani. Many of these candidates accept that there is a climate emergency. Their high profile and public support means the media – even News Corp – are obliged to give them some coverage. This will also give momentum to the climate referendum.

Voting strategically is not new to Australians. They have been doing it for many years with first the Democrats and then more recently with the Greens. This has mainly involved switching votes from one party to another between the lower and upper houses. Only occasionally it has helped elect an independent in the lower house. And in these instances it has almost always involved splitting the conservative vote as in the case of Kerryn Phelps and the recent Wentworth by-election.

For the climate independent to succeed two critical factors are involved – reducing the incumbent’s primary vote to 45% or below and garnering enough primary votes to come second in the contest. This will involve ‘strategic’ voting by Labor and Greens supporters who, for a number of reasons, may cast their primary vote for the climate independent. The remainder – ‘rusted on’ voters of these parties – must direct their preferences away from the incumbent to the climate independent.

I don’t hold out much hope for this in Gippsland but it would be nice for climate independents to step up in the Gippsland and Monash electorates to help focus our region on the real issues that confront us. On a national scale the election of one or more climate independents and the removal of some of the climate dinosaurs will be a big step towards a common sense approach towards the climate emergency.

Latrobe Valley Coal to Hydrogen Farce Continues

Edited Media Release from Friends of the Earth (FOE) 15.02.19

Environment group FOE has criticized the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) decision to approve a trial brown coal to hydrogen project in Latrobe Valley* on the 14th of February as a costly distraction from action on climate change.

The project is led by the multinational corporation Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It involves building a test plant to extract hydrogen from brown coal from the Loy Yang to be exported to Japan. This trial project requires the dredging of Westernport to enable the export of the hydrogen from the Port of Hastings, and the injecting of carbon-waste into the seabed off Ninety Mile Beach using unproven and risky technology. “Kawaski’s brown coal project is yet another clean coal pipe-dream, a false-promise to the Latrobe Valley community and an expensive distraction in a time when we need urgent action on climate change,” FOE coal spokesperson Kate Wattchow said.

The Federal Government has committed $50 million in public funding to Kawasaki’s trail project, in addition to $100 million towards CarbonNet, who are leading the proposed carbon-waste injection project. “This project is entirely dependent on the successful injection and long term storage of carbon waste into the Ninety Mile Beach seabed, yet despite billions of dollars of investment in this technology it has failed to become viable in Australia,” campaigns coordinator Cam Walker from FOE said.

“Any assurance from advocates for this new brown coal project is not based on the evidence we see across Australia, which is that waste-carbon injection technology is not reliable. In Western Australia Chevron started a new gas plant in 2016 with the commitment they would be storing a majority of emissions, to keep Australia in line with its Paris Agreement targets. However in their continued failure to do so by March this year we will have roughly 6.2 million tonnes of extra CO2 added to Australia’s emissions. Because of this, the State Government and EPA’s approval of Kawasaki’s brown coal project is not in line with their own policies and standards.”

“The fact that the EPA has approved this project reveals a significant flaw in the approval process, as well as a disregard of the viability of the technologies involved and the impacts on the community of even a trial project,” Kate Wattchow said.

The coal to hydrogen trial plant in Latrobe Valley, the connected port expansions in Westernport, and the carbon-waste trial project on Ninety Mile Beach, are all opposed by local community groups. Opposition is broad ranging, though all groups share common themes of opposition based on the impacts on human health and the local environment, the need to act on climate change, and the wasteful spending of public funds.

“We are in a climate emergency and cannot afford to waste public funds, resources, and time with projects that prop up the fossil fuel industry,” Kate Wattchow said. “The EPA and Premier Andrews have a responsibility to Victorians to stop twiddling their thumbs and get serious about climate change.”

The full MR is here.

*I have blogged on this several times. See here and here.