Gippsland News & Views

A 2002 Essay on Global Warming Part 2

From my pre-blog archives first published online in April 2002 (edited)

In a recent article in the Guardian Andrew Simms pointed out that the requirements for cutting greenhouse gas levels by nations are non-negotiable and that negotiating on who cuts what is like negotiating to build a bridge half way across a canyon. Some time ago a CSIRO scientist pointed out to me that global warming was an established fact and will only continue to increase. The actions of man and governments will only ameliorate the increases and the effects of these. They will not stop it.

As old colonial boundaries render it difficult to solve Australia’s water problems, so the nation state appears incapable of solving world problems, of which global warming is predominant. It seems wiser to accept that due to the inability of the nation states to solve or agree to solve world problems, along with the ability of vested interests to direct the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth, that global warming will continue and its effects will quite possibly be catastrophic, if for example, the West Antarctic ice sheet were to melt over a relatively short period of time.

As I write this another article in the Melbourne Age (18.4) warns of dire consequences of global warming in the Himalayas. Studies have identified 44 glacial lakes in Nepal and Bhutan that have substantially grown in area over the last 40 years, and were in danger of bursting within ‘five to ten years’. This growth in size is due to the increased melting of the glaciers, itself in turn due to a local warming increase of the average temperature of one degree centigrade. The article warns of the danger of these lakes bursting the natural dams that confine them and of the havoc such an event would cause to lives, stock, agriculture and infrastructure downstream. It also warns that such an effect may be occurring more widely in the more than 2000 glacial lakes in Nepal and at various other glacial lakes spread throughout the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and other mountain ranges. The consequences of this occurring seems statistically quite probable and will have a disastrous, but localised, effect.

The consequences of a melted, partially melted or even slowly melting West Antarctic ice sheet on the other hand will certainly be both of disastrous proportions and universal. Real estate at various points around coastlines will be the first casualty. Often this land such as alluvial river deltas is agriculturally quite rich and heavily populated. The movement of refugees within and between countries will consequently be enormous as too death from floods that combine with rising sea levels. The infrastructure of docks, port facilities and commercial areas of large cities will also be threatened and possibly severely disrupt world trade, in particular the bulk movement of grain to prevent starvation on a massive scale.

The association of lung cancer and cigarette smoking took an absolute age to be established and generally accepted, whilst scientific studies had been indicating the obvious for several decades. Perhaps too, the evidence of an infinitely more complicated global warming will have to be seen to be markedly varying from the average before being accepted by both nations and individuals. By then it will be far too late.

A 2002 Essay on Global Warming Part 1

Larsen B Ice Shelf Collapse

From my pre-blog archives first published online in April 2002 (edited)

Over the last five years there have been various reports of warmer polar circles, ice thinning, and the ice caps shrinking. All these reports have been guarded with the usual curious scientific reserve. The reports always appear to be ultra-conservative with their predictions. And usually hedge their bets by saying that there is no evidence that the phenomenon observed is due to global warming and may be part of a natural process or cycle. However the basic science of a ‘greenhouse’ planet is well established – without the greenhouse effect there would be no life on earth. This combined with the steadily increasing amounts of greenhouse gases man has returned to the atmosphere over the last two hundred years means the atmospheric temperatures must be warming up, no matter how slowly, and regardless of whether it can be recognised above normal variation or not.

The most recent developments have been the huge icebergs breaking off the Larsen B ice shelf on the West Antarctic Peninsula… There are a number of new theories relevant to this occurrence and the future of mankind. One is that the ice shelves are like a ‘cork in the bottle’ that stops the ice sheets that cover the land from travelling rapidly to the sea and melting. Were the West Antarctic Ice shelf to melt then sea levels would be raised around the world by 5 metres. Current estimates give a probability of this event occurring at only 1 in 20 chance in the next 200 years.

Another is the new thesis that environmental changes (and extinctions) can occur rapidly and almost in a human time scale (ie about 100 years). Many of the current scientific calculations like the estimate of probability for a melting West Antarctic ice sheet above may be based on the false assumptions – that the changes will be gradual rather than catastrophic and that the rising sea levels will be caused by thermal expansion of the sea and not by melting Antarctic ice sheets. Note the current estimates that predict a sea level rise of about .4 to 1.4m over the next 100 years are based on the thermal expansion of the oceans alone and are not inclusive of any ice melting over land.

Meanwhile anecdotal evidence reported in the (mainly electronic) media of what appears to have been a fairly cool summer has meant uninformed commentators, from sundry radio jocks, and even on the ABC, have been claiming that the ‘greenhouse’ and global warming are all bullshit, or words to that effect. What they have failed to recognise is that global warming is measured in world averages. Some places may actually get colder and there may be also wide seasonal variations. For example there may be cooler summers with the other seasons warmer, or there may be diurnal variation with warmer nights and the days the same, leading to higher average temperatures. Apparently the Victorian summer, despite its lack of scorching hot days, was about average. What may be cause for some alarm is that the breakup of Larsen B ice shelf was caused by variations of this kind – local warming which had a “strong and immediate effect”.

(to be continued)

A Bairnsdale Die-in

On Friday morning a crowd of about 70 met at the front of the Masonic lodge on their way to carrying out East Gippsland Climate Action Network’s (EG CAN) first climate action. Protestors of all ages were present including, pleasingly, a large number of children wearing red and carrying placards and pots. Dividing into two groups they converged on the Nicholson Street Mall from east and west making a rowdy entrance banging their pots. At a signal from organiser Angela Crunden about 50 of the group lay down in the Mall centre.

After 3 minutes silence simulating death by extinction a message from the Swedish teenage founder of the Student Strike movement Greta Thunberg was read to the crowd: “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.” (No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, Penguin, 2019 p.24) Though this was the end of the short protest most of the participants stood around chatting and taking photos for some time.

A small explanatory pamphlet was distributed whilst the die-in was going on with EG CAN principles and contact details listed. The pamphlet noted the “human race is at risk of becoming extinct as a result of climate change” and that “we still have time. If we act now we can avert the worst effects of climate change and make this a safe place for our children.”

Over a quiet coffee at The Stables afterwards, organisers considered the action a success. EG CAN founder Ro Gooch had already done an interview with ABC radio before the event and there are hopes for further publicity in mainstream and social media. EG CAN’s facebook page is here and all likes and other support appreciated. Organisers can be contacted here and it’s hoped many more interesting actions will follow. Watch this space!

Climate Change and the Just Transition

The Friends of the Earth Melbourne have just released an important paper entitled “Transforming Victoria: creating jobs whilst cutting emissions” calling for a ‘green new deal’ and a ‘fair and just transition’. Essentially the report highlights the chaotic nature of the rapid change we are currently experiencing moving from a fossil fuel based economy to one based on renewable energy. It then offers a substantial range of solutions.

They note that “Many aging coal-fired power stations are nearing the end of their lives and the native forests sector is clearly unsustainable and on the verge of collapse. The economy is undergoing a market-driven transformation and many of these changes are bad for blue collar workers, for instance, as was shown by the closure of the Australian car industry” and that “Without a fair and just transition (FJT) plan, the inevitable impact of future changes will disproportionately fall on workers and communities who are currently reliant on the stationary energy sector, fossil fuel extraction, forestry products, and associated downstream industries.”

As I have pointed out many times in this blog the unplanned and unco-ordinated nature of the current transition is a recipe for political reaction, as is happening in Queensland now or in the Latrobe Valley after privatisation. For Gippsland the Report advocates a package for the rehabilitation of Hazelwood and duplication and bridge projects on the railway. It calls for a ‘Just Transition Authority’ to be created to oversee and co-ordinate the transition which in Gippsland involves both the Latrobe Valley and the bush. In particular fair employment opportunities are required for those who have lost, or about to lose, their jobs in the old industries.

On the offshore wind farm proposal in South Gippsland the report notes “Victoria could soon be home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the landmark Star of the South offshore wind proposal. To make the most of this opportunity, the Victorian government should consider the importance of this project within a regional planning approach that can maximise local job creation in the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland more broadly. The Latrobe Valley Authority must be specifically tasked with assisting workers from the Latrobe Valley and offshore oil and gas industry in Gippsland in gaining employment on the Star of the South project.” They note also that the farm must be built in Commonwealth waters and detail the tardiness of the current Federal government in this regard. Besides wind and mine rehabilitation another Gippsland project mentioned was the Paul Treasure pumped hydro energy storage proposal which was first published in this blog. 

Overall the report is comprehensive and detailed and should be required reading for all our State politicians. Above all a condition of over full employment is needed in Gippsland as soon as possible. This alone will enable the change to occur as fairly as possible. As the report notes “We need to act on the climate crisis at an unprecedented speed and scale if we are going to prevent climate change from getting worse and protect the community from the impacts.” It is not a matter of whether we do this but how we can achieve it as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

More on the Burning Question

(Weekly Times)

Blogging by definition is amateur journalism. As a consequence today’s news or commentary is tomorrow’s history. But as many readers will know history is very important to me and I have resisted the suggestion that previous blogs be rewritten, condensed or even removed from my website, in order to make it more suitable for the search engines. I was reminded of this recently when a friend asked whether I had written anything on fuel reduction burning and other aspects of the logging industry.

A google search brought up one or two of the more recent pieces on this subject but the remainder – I later discovered more than a dozen – stayed buried. Consequently I searched my own blog archives and came up with most of the others. Some of the pieces may be slightly dated but generally speaking they remain topical today. There also remains a certain amount of repetition – a general feature of both journalism and politics. What follows is a brief summary of some of these not so easily found articles.

One of the first I found was a blog on Aboriginal burning entitled Firestick Farming Controlled Burns and Climate Change which looked at the propaganda that promoted widespread controlled burns. This was because it was supposedly a practice widespread in Gippsland and across Australia before the arrival of Europeans. The evidence, at least for Gippsland, suggests otherwise.

Other blogs more specific to the burning practice included Controlled Burns, Asset Protection and Climate Change which highlighted the work of Dr David Cheal and came to the conclusion that these burns “in terms of asset protection, [were] useless and a waste of resources” and that logging and burning practices should be phased out as quickly as possible.

Dr Cheal was the keynote speaker at the Burning Issue symposium chaired by Deb Foskey, to which I made a small contribution. This in turn was based on earlier research blogged as Logging Coupe Burns and Greenhouse Gas Emissions which looked in some detail at how disastrous the practice of clearfell logging and associated burning was for climate change. It was clear then that the loggers and the bureaucrats had little idea of the science of climate inertia, forests as a carbon store and other aspects of climate change and the climate emergency.

This was highlighted by the recent wholesale removal of trees along roads near Cape Conran and the Mitchell River National Park. The only so-called assets these planned burns are protecting are logging coupes and the whole ‘burning’ process is abused and misdirected. Obviously many bureaucrats and politicians need to be educated on climate change and the climate emergency. When they have some knowledge, even an inkling of possible future climate disasters, the logging economy will disappear and be replaced by the forest protection and fire prevention.

Bairnsdale Scouts attend EGCAN Meeting

Scouts tree planting on Mitchell River

Media Release: East Gippsland Climate Action Group

Last week the members of the East Gippsland Climate Action Network met to explore ways to deal with the issue of climate change and to raise public awareness of the potential destruction of so much of our environment, both regionally, nationally and globally.

The Network members were delighted to welcome members of the Bairnsdale Scouts to their meeting.  The scouts are working towards their environment badges.

The work being undertaken by young people at a local level gave inspiration to the group.  Sarah Lamble, Scout Leader and teacher at the Bairnsdale Secondary College, described some of the initiatives of her students.  These included the planting of 3500 tree seedlings over the past seven years, VCAL students installing bird nesting boxes made from recycled timber, food waste studies, assisting with cooking meals at the neighbourhood house, and studies on ethical clothing.

The scouts were enthusiastic in providing positive actions they can be involved in, to make a difference to climate change.  They were concerned about the threat of extinction of many of our native animals and plants, and were keen to explore the options of renewable energy rather than carbon based energy generation.

Some of the quotes from members of the Bairnsdale Scouts were:

“I love animal, so I care about the environment.”

“We have to look after this planet as it’s the only one we’ve got.”

‘We need to protect the water.”

The scouts talked about ways they already reduce their impact on the environment.   They mentioned planting seedlings as part of national tree day, riding or walking to school (instead of emissions from driving), recycling and avoiding single use plastic (inefficient use of energy and raw materials).

The scouts have offered to work with members of the Climate Action Network to develop posters depicting issues about climate change, and to be involved in public education.

One of the things members stressed was to be aware of the “food miles” travelled by much of the food we purchase.  If food and produce can be sourced locally and in season, it is fresher, supports local producers, and lessens the impact of carbon production.  And the group stressed that people should look towards energy efficiency and low emissions first, before relying on solar power.

More information on EGCAN can be found on their facebook page.

Power to the People by Catherine Watson

South Gippsland Energy Road Map

(edited account of a possible South Gippsland)

Imagine this. It’s 2030 and you’re driving from Cowes to Inverloch in an electric share car. You could have gone driverless but hey, it’s a nice day and you feel like driving. Besides, it costs nothing to charge the car off your solar panels. Your electrician has been telling you to use more power. “Just leave the lights on,” she says, but it’s hard to get into the habit. All those years of being ultra-careful about wasting electricity…

You catch a sight of a work team putting the finishing touches to the new carpark at the Koala Conservation Sanctuary. It’s roofed in solar panels that will provide all the electricity they need. Why on earth did they wait so long? Past the sanctuary, you catch a flash from the inland solar farm that’s powering the residents of Smiths Beach and Wimbledon Heights.​

As you cross the bridge to San Remo you glance to the right to see the sun flashing on the floating solar array. That caused a bit of a sensation when it first went in. Someone told you it was the world’s first marine grade solar farm. It became a bit of a model, especially for Pacific countries.

In the middle of the channel you can see the tidal generator that now powers most of Newhaven and San Remo through a mini grid. You take the turnoff to Wonthaggi and as you’re approaching the roundabout you see the Anderson solar/wind farm. The beauty of it is that when one source isn’t producing the other generally is, and it provides valuable backup power for the island.

You come around the Kilcunda headland to the enchanting sight of the six Wonthaggi turbines. That’s where it all started, you reflect, way back in 2005. That was our first renewable energy project. The changing of the guard. It created a bit of a stir at first. People reckoned it would kill birds. There was something about the rare orange bellied parrot. And the rotating blades were going to make the cattle stampede.

Things soon calmed down. A lot of people fell in love with them. The six turbines are now owned by a local energy co-op. There’s a bit of sentiment involved. The turbines are first generation and not very efficient but on a good day still produce enough energy to power half the town…

So much has changed in the past 10 years. Who would have thought the power hungry desal plant would one day be returning energy to the state? Turns out that if you’re producing water, you might as well produce hydrogen to power the plant. Since they closed Yallourn and Loy Yang coal-fired power stations, the excess energy from Wonthaggi now returns to the La Trobe Valley through the 90MW electricity cable and then to the townships of Moe and Morwell …

Fantasy? Maybe, but these are some of the ideas put forward for a Renewable Energy Roadmap for Bass Coast and South Gippsland.

Full article here.

More on Climate Inertia

HMAS Melbourne post Voyager collision

I confess that as a non-scientist the principle of inertia is one aspect of climate change I have had trouble coming to grips with. I remember in my last science classes at school the master posing the question at the beginning of each lesson ‘What is inertia?’ A question I clearly remember because of the enthusiasm of the teacher. Recently I used the example of the Titanic tragedy as an analogy for climate change inertia.

I could as easily have used the collision between our naval ships Melbourne and Voyager. The captain of HMAS Melbourne realised the collision was inevitable almost a minute before the collision occurred. This was in spite of every action and manoeuvre that both ships made to avoid it. The movement of ships is a popular analogy for inertia in the climate system with the sceptical science website using that of a supertanker trying to avoid a collision.

They note “The climate system also has a tremendous amount of inertia built in. And like with the supertanker, this means that early action is required if we want to change the climate’s course. This inertia is a crucial aspect of the climate system, both scientifically but also societally – but in the latter realm it’s a very underappreciated aspect. Just do a mental check: when did you last hear or read about the climate’s inertia in mainstream media or from politicians?”

The simplest definition of inertia is that it is ‘a property of matter by which it continues in its existing … uniform motion in a straight line’. The inertia in climate systems is defined by Wikipedia thus: “Inertia means a delay, slowness, or resistance in the response of climate, biological, or human systems to factors that alter their rate of change, including continuation of change in the system after the cause of that change has been removed.”  Wikipedia further noted the lags and delays in particular components of the climate system – in particular the thermal inertia of the oceans which in turn leads to the inertia of the ice melt of the poles.

The implications are clear. If CO2 and other greenhouse gases cannot be cut back then all aspects of the climate will continue warming. Even if we could somehow instantly stop greenhouse gas emissions the earth will continue to warm for hundreds of years.  Three million years ago when CO2 levels were last over 400ppm the earth was at least 2 degrees warmer and sea levels were about 25m higher. But civilisation may collapse well before this, perhaps even before sea levels have risen by little more than a metre, with heatwaves, droughts, and food scarcity causing mass movements of refugees.

Global warming is already causing large numbers of climate refugees most noticeably following the Syrian civil war and the failure of Honduran food crops – both after severe droughts. The movement of Syrian refugees has spawned an anti-immigration political reaction in Europe. Somewhat ironically it is these same political parties that deny or ignore climate science. Their reaction and the impetus of climate inertia means that humanity is in for a very rough ride. And this is only the beginning. Meanwhile we await the first climate emergency declaration in Gippsland.

Gippsland Tree Vandals as Climate Criminals

Cabbage Tree Palms Flora Reserve

A recent media release from the Gippsland Environment Group noted the wholesale destruction of trees in parts of East Gippsland. “Hundreds, possibly thousands, of trees have been felled in protected forest areas with the approval of the Department of Environment Land and Water (DELWP), in what has been described as an excessive and extremely environmentally damaging operation.”

The MR continued “Gippsland Environment Group has documented the irreparable damage to much loved and picturesque roadsides into the highly significant Cabbage Tree Palms Flora Reserve near Cape Conran and into the old Mitchell River Weir and Billygoat Bend in the Mitchell River National Park. Roadside trees have been clear felled by contractors under the guise of ‘worker safety’ as part of planned burning preparations.”

GEG secretary Louise Crisp added “There is a mass of trees down in Mitchell River NP on tracks. On the west side of the river, we checked out Billygoat Bend access tracks from Dargo Rd and Park Rd (Den of Nargun) and on the east side down Old Weir Track” and that it was “probably too difficult to calculate the lost carbon in the many trees felled but I can work out the kilometres cleared if that’s any relevance.” Crisp then estimated that at least 10 kms of roadside were cleared in the Mitchell River National Park and 8kms at Cabbage Tree Palms.

Commenting on the MR on facebook a very angry former landcare co-ordinator Paul Harvey noted “And you should see the damage that DELWP and Parks Vic (PV) have caused in and around Cape Conran Park. PV’s small burn 2 weeks ago turned into 135ha of out-of-control fire that ripped through a swamp area, unsurprisingly dry after 2 years or more of drought, crossed the road and nearly took out the office. PV celebrated their incompetence by then pushing over heaps of trees (unsafe, you see……actually I didn’t; many of them were rock-solid, 100 year old banksias). That dovetails neatly with their destruction of habitat on the road to Yeerung Gorge last year.”

“Meanwhile, DELWP contractors…[who created an]…astonishing amount of damage in a very short space of time – then proceeded to push over hundreds and hundreds of trees along the Cabbage Tree / Conran Road, turning a once beautiful rural road, delineating a supposedly protected National Park, into a logging coupe. It’s truly unbelievable – and they don’t have to do any sort of offsetting, unlike everyone else. So here’s a question; if a government agency like, say, Vic Roads, has to offset any vegetation removal that they do in the course of their duties, why don’t other government agencies, like DELWP?”

To which we may add what part of climate science the DELWP administrators and contractors don’t understand? Whilst their actions were, and are, sanctioned by the status quo so were those of Hitler and the Nuremberg defence of ‘following orders’ was not valid. They have destroyed and continue to destroy with their burning and logging Victoria’s most valuable carbon store. Trees are precious and should be preserved at all costs. These rapacious actions are more like those of ‘Attila the Hun’ and bordering on the climate criminal.

Gippsland Drought, Politics and Adani

Much of Gippsland remains in a ‘green drought’. This has been highlighted recently in the Gippsland Times especially in relation to the Giffard area in south Gippsland. Local MP Danny O’Brien of the National Party, with support from the local Victorian Farmers Federation branch, has been calling for the Premier Daniel Andrews to visit the drought affected areas. But the Premier will be welcome only “if a suitable guarantee of assistance was forthcoming.” The current drought has been with us for some time and I have written about it on several occasions. See here and here.

Having lived most of my life in pastoral country in the foothills of the Victorian Alps I sympathise with farmers struggling with drought conditions many of whom, especially at these times, are asset rich and income poor. Their choices are limited to sending the stock away on agistment or reducing the herd size to a minimum and feeding out. Due to drought conditions prevailing in western NSW and other parts of Victoria as well as Gippsland fodder is scarce and expensive. I am aware of many farmers currently feeding out and, by hearsay, one who has been feeding out for the best part of 2 years at a cost of $1000 per week.

To complicate the politics the Adani coal project has just been given the go ahead by the Queensland government. Coincidentally I was given a small window of opportunity to comment on this on ABC Gippsland radio. I pointed out the disconnect between what governments and politicians were doing and the basic physics of the greenhouse effect and stated that the current drought in Gippsland was certainly made worse by global warming. It is unfortunate that such opportunities mean only brief messages can be conveyed.

Which brings us back to the question of drought and the warming. The science has been in on climate change and its effect on droughts for some time so politicians and farmers representatives ignore it at their peril. It is not possible to select the facts (or science) that you like or agree with, and ignore or even oppose those which you don’t. To ask someone whether they ‘believe’ in climate change is the wrong question for personal beliefs are irrelevant to what actually is.

So when our local National MPs finally talk about climate change and the need for urgent action, when they oppose the most ridiculous statements of their colleagues in Queensland on coal and the Adani mine, when they support a ‘just transition’ from coal to renewables in the Latrobe Valley, when they spruik hard and continuously the advantages of the various wind generator and energy storage projects, then they will have more credibility.