Gippsland News & Views

Just Science by Dr Michael Borgas

Scientific advice to governments and communities is one important thing scientists do. There are many scientific voices in the media, so it can be confusing. These voices can also often lobby politicians for vested private interests rather than for broad community benefit. That is why CSIRO is important – it is largely funded by the public for public benefit in Australia. It is regularly scrutinised in open senate estimates committee hearings to test its integrity and it is an independent statutory agency, not a government department controlled by a Minister.

I worked as an Atmospheric scientist in CSIRO* for 30 years and represented scientists as President of the staff association for 15 years. When I began my career at CSIRO, I was directly involved in the Latrobe Valley Air shed looking into pollution from coal-fired power stations.

Over time issues have changed: climate change, wind energy, bushfire smoke, atmospheric particulate matter, even airborne viruses, all of which have recently impacted on South Gippsland, where I am now living.

Public research activity and science always changes as new issues impact on our lives. Often, and today, our work as scientists goes beyond narrow economic benefits, for concern about our shared health and well-being affects us all. The decisions that governments make need to be informed by the best science, but politicians don’t always respond well to experts. CSIRO is important for advice on climate, energy, water resource management, agricultural and human biosecurity, all critically important current issues. For example, CSIRO biosecurity scientists warned in December 2019 against international travel because of the coronavirus.

On the other hand, CSIRO advice on climate science has famously been ignored in Canberra and many State capitals — repeatedly, year after year, it seems. For all of Australia, what we need is leadership from our elected representatives, leadership which relies on the best scientific advice. We also need responsibility from all citizens to assess, and to learn to assess, the scientific advice that impacts on how we are going to live our lives: from lockdowns, hygiene, energy use, climate adaptation, pollution mitigation; this advice is crucial to the future economy and the creation of jobs.

Clearly, our lives are changing dramatically right now, and we need to demand wise and compassionate leadership to build a future containing the broadest community benefits. We are fortunate to have active institutions like CSIRO (among other public agencies) to help advise on the path forward. It is up to us as citizens to demand that our politicians work more closely with scientists and with communities, in open, consultative ways, if we are to rebuild our lives, and society in safer, cleaner, prosperous and sustainable ways. Simply asking your elected officials to do this is a way to start – you can always write an email in a lockdown.

Yanakie

Republished from Just Community No.2 April 2020

*For more on CSIRO scientists see here.

Command Economies, Coronavirus, Climate Change and Jobs

It has been obvious for many years that the climate emergency will only be solved by active government planning, direction and finance in what I have loosely called a ‘command economy’. The question of how our economy recovers after the coronavirus lockdown is paramount – business as usual (and climate catastrophe) or working towards Australia as a renewable energy superpower.

Writing in an irregular newsletter Peter Cook* President of the Dandenong Ranges Renewable Energy Association under the heading ‘Corona Conversations 3’ noted the following: “Last night on ‘The Drum’ and again on ‘Q&A’ some people were posing the question of what sort of society Australia wants to become post pandemic? A related and similar question is what sort of economy will we need and want? Outspoken climate activist from Gippsland Peter Gardner recently suggested that western governments “will move away from the ‘laisse faire’ of free enterprise towards that of a command economy”.

Cook added that “About the same time over 80 Landcare, environmental, farming and conservation groups suggesting a ‘hands on’ interventionist approach wrote to state and federal governments proposing the creation of 24,000 jobs in land rehabilitation as part of a post-pandemic stimulus package. Under the proposal, landscapes and infrastructure damaged by the recent drought and bushfires would be rehabilitated in part by people who had lost jobs as a result of COVID-19”.

Cook continued: “I hope this is a conversation that keeps going and that politicians realise that we should not go back to what was because community expectations of governments have changed permanently. In some ways, it is up to us to drive this conversation to where we want it to go. It may not become a command economy like Peter Gardner is suggesting…but it will need to be a much more proactive system of government.”

Another reader also questioned the meaning of ‘command economy’. She was worried in particular that the term meant an authoritarian government like that of China. In the blog that interested Cook I suggested that some form of conscription may be needed to direct labour to where it is most needed. Perhaps what I had in mind is a ‘mixed economy’ where capital and business has a role to play, albeit with them subservient to government and not the opposite (which is currently the case).

One historical example of an economic revolution of the sort that is needed is Germany in the 1930s when Nazi government direction, planning and coercion, saw the economy grow from the depths of depression in 1932 to one of substance and full employment by 1939. Business and capital played a significant role in this. This growth unfortunately involved the re-militarisation of Germany – achieved for all the wrong reasons and with eventually disastrous results.

This shows however, that governments have a major role to play and that it is possible to achieve the required changes. With noble and humanitarian aims and democratic and co-operative tools, the positive outcomes will benefit us all. Command economies and democracies are not mutually exclusive. The jobs suggested above by Cook, for instance, should involve far less government interference than is currently the case in the coronavirus pandemic. All that is missing is the will to act.

*Peter Cook can be contacted here.

Happy Birthday EGCAN by Angela Crunden

What an amazing first year! The birth of the East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) came about in an enthusiastic response to the Bairnsdale presentation of Climate activist and presenter Jane Morton. EGCAN formed in March 2019. This non-profit, apolitical organisation has brought together a diverse group of people who want strong and immediate action on climate change. In a year of a newly elected anti-science, climate-change denying government, the time was ripe for a group to gather and become climate champions.

East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) is a forum for local people wanting action on climate change. EGCAN advocates for urgent political and community action to address the climate crisis locally, nationally and globally in order to minimise harm to society and our natural environment.

Members accept the science of human induced climate change and agree to guiding values that include respectful listening and behaviour, inclusiveness, non-violence and kindness. Amidst increasing warnings, lack of progress and very loud bells ringing from the world’s leading climate scientists and the IPPC, the group focuses principally on rising greenhouse gas emissions.

To this end the group has been advocating the concept of a climate emergency where urgent action is taken at all levels of government, business and community. EGCAN actions and activities have centred around information sharing, community talks, media messaging and letter writing. Some members have been more visible in the community via ‘die-ins’, rallies, silent vigils and having a regular presence outside our State and Federal politician’s offices.

The group nervously took on their first major action in the form of a “die-in”. They would have been happy with 10 participants but wonderfully, over 50 people were willing to lie in Bairnsdale’s Nicholson Mall pretending to be dead for 5 minutes, only to emerge as living people to the reading from Greta Thunberg’s inspiring speech ‘Our House is on Fire’. Some members have gone on further to form Bairnsdale XR (Extinction Rebellion) enabling participation and actions that join with the global XR movement.

And then, between Christmas and the 2020 New Year, East Gippsland was ravaged by fires that had been flaring since November. Australia was experiencing ‘unprecedented fires’ and the broader community saw the long predicted impact of increasing global temperatures.

EGCAN members, like all members of our community, were devastatingly impacted, losing homes, property, fearing for their lives and those they love, fleeing, fighting and universally being left with feelings of deep grief and an ongoing sense of loss at the massive destruction for animals, ecosystems and ourselves: Climate Change hit home deeply.

A dedicated group of EGCAN members organised a petition calling on the local shire council to declare a Climate Emergency. The petition, signed by more than 1,600 people succeeded in gaining agreement for shire projects to be viewed through the lens of their potential climate impact. The council stopped short of declaring a Climate Emergency.

Amidst what seems an era of failings and collapse, there are many positive signs emerging. EGCAN members are looking to the future and exploring what it is that will help bring a new world into reality; one which is in tune with nature, which doesn’t exceed our planet’s carrying capacity, which is more just, more equitable and more kind. Vive l’EGCAN.

Malcolm Turnbull and Climate Politics

In 2010 when I was still trying to form a single-issue centrist climate party (the Global Warming Action Party Australia) Malcolm Turnbull, recently deposed as opposition leader by Tony Abbott and the climate denialist faction of the Liberal Party, was contemplating abandoning federal politics altogether. I wrote to him then suggesting that instead of resigning from parliament, he resign only from the Liberal Party and then form a centrist (or even slightly right of centre) climate party*.

Malcolm’s refusal (he actually suggested I abandon my quest and join the Liberals) and change of heart leads us to one of those ‘what if’ moments in history. If, when Prime Minister, Malcolm had faced down the extreme right of his party over climate, causing, at worst, a monumental split in the ranks of the conservatives. After all, on the climate question, the Liberal Party has been, and continues to be, a split waiting to happen.

Now retired, Turnbull’s recent political autobiography explains in part what has been obvious to any serious political analyst for the last 15 years –that the LNP remains hopelessly factionalised and has a powerful rump of climate change deniers in its ranks. In an interview with Turnbull for the Sydney Writers Festival Annabelle Crabbe noted: “He argues that the “crazed ideology” dictating the Liberal Party’s policy on climate could now only be altered by a crushing electoral defeat, or an about-face on the issue from media magnate Rupert Murdoch**.”

“It’s basically just Australia and the United States above all where this issue of climate policy has been turned into an issue of belief,” the nation’s 29th prime minister says in the interview. “And it’s bonkers.” Turnbull is frank about the solution: “To be honest with you, I think the only way out of it — unless you believe the Coalition can have a road-to-Damascus conversion which I think is unlikely — is a devastating electoral defeat. I’m not saying I want that to happen… that is what would shock the Coalition.”

The Liberal Party remains captive to the fossil fuel lobby – in particular big coal. But it is not too late for Malcolm to put his moral, political and financial support behind a new climate party. There are a number of options available, including party minnows like the Independents for Climate Action Now, but he may choose to start afresh. Such a new party would help bring about the massive defeat of the conservatives that Malcolm suggests is necessary for meaningful climate action to occur. The real climate elections are yet to come.

*a sitting member of parliament can form a political party with only 30 members

** I have blogged on the News Corp climate criminals a number of times (see here and here).

Vale Deb Foskey by Tony Peck

Deb at the Sale Demonstration February 2020 (Sam Peck)

The East Gippsland Climate Action Network* mourns the passing of Dr Deb Foskey, social activist, environmental warrior and tireless campaigner. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family and her many friends in the knowledge that she will be deeply missed by all.

Deb’s great passion for the environment and social justice led her to become a Greens MP in the ACT parliament. Her base though has been in East Gippsland, from her beloved Warm Corners and across East Gippsland. Deb fought right up to her death for a better place in our region and beyond.

In the most recent Federal Election** Deb stood as the Greens candidate for Gippsland. While this was an un-winnable fight, Deb treated the election campaign as though there was a chance. She lent the campaign her intelligent and confidant energy and earned the respect of candidates and opponents who appreciated her determination and decency.

Debs passion for a sustainable future led her to live much of her life in remote country where she maintained strong community connections coupled with effective environment campaigns that led to many environmental wins.

True to her convictions Deb joined the East Gippsland Climate Action Network and was a participant at our most recent protest – a march and vigil at Darren Chester’s office in Sale (image above). Her contribution was enormous and she will be missed by all her knew her.

Thank you Deb for making difference.

*republished from EGCAN facebook page For a more detailed account of Deb’s life see here.

** Deb was also a candidate in the last State Election. See her media release here.

Climate Emergency Declaration Rejected by EGSC

A major symbolic step forward in our local area was the presentation to East Gippsland Shire (EGSC) of a Climate Emergency Declaration petition by members of East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG CAN)*. The petition was signed by more than 1,600 people.

The goal of the petition was to request the shire join more than 1,400 jurisdictions around the world who have already declared a Climate Emergency. Neighbouring shires Bega and Bass Coast have already signed on, joining 95 other shires Australia wide. ‘Unfortunately the East Gippsland Shire councillors unanimously voted against declaring a Climate Emergency,’ EGCAN spokesperson Angela Crunden said when expressing profound disappointment at the decision.

‘We are facing a Climate Emergency. This might not be as obvious as COVID 19, but is in fact, far more serious and devastating. Declaration of a Climate Emergency signals collective co-operation and willingness to work meaningfully towards net zero carbon emissions,’ Ms Crunden said. ‘East Gippsland Shire’s adoption of the Victorian state initiative Take2 pledge in 2017, and their various projects over the past decade are commendable but these efforts are simply not enough, not in extent, nor urgency,’ she continued.

‘Climate change has been identified as a major factor in the fires only recently, finally extinguished in East Gippsland. Fire, flood, storm and drought are all predicted to be much more severe and frequent without urgent effective action. Our council has ignored community concerns on this issue and passed up an opportunity,’ Ms Crunden said. Seventeen letters in support of the 1600+ petition signatories were read out at the council meeting and five of the seven councillors present discussed the importance of Climate Change impacts and implications for our Shire.

General Manager Assets and Environment, Ms Weigall presented a report drafted from councillors’ reasoning and recommendations. Councillors expressed concern that terminology, using the word ‘emergency’ was sensationalist and would divide rather than unite people in our conservative region. Councillor Reeves expressed his support for effective action by the council on climate change. He said ‘…everything asked for in this petition we have put in place… we’ll hold the CEO and officers to account to put them in place.’

‘Council’s willingness to adopt other parts of the petition has given EGCAN members some cause for optimism, and Council’s aim to bring all of East Gippsland along in efforts to address climate issues is pleasing. Assurance that actions council takes to address climate impacts will be done with “renewed vim and vigour,” is also reassuring. All decisions made by council will now be with a view to mitigating climate impact which is certainly an essential and very welcome step forward,’ she said.

‘EGCAN is pleased for the opportunity to hold council to account in this respect and will revisit the idea of a Climate Emergency declaration. In the meantime, if all levels of government work as though our ‘houses are on fire’ we may still be able to keep global warming under 1.5ºC,’ Ms Crunden concluded.

* Press Release from East Gippsland Climate Action Network

The Perry Bridge Solar Farm

 

The plans for a large solar farm and batteries at Perry Bridge have recently come to my notice. The company website states the following: “The Perry Bridge Solar Farm concept was conceived because of the desperate need for additional electricity supply and increased reliability within the region east of the Latrobe Valley.”

“The design of the project, subject to sign off by the design engineers, will be a single axis array system of around 110,000 high voltage mono-facial output solar panels with the possible addition of some bi-facial modules. Bi-facial modules as the name suggests produce solar power from both sides of the solar panel and can improve energy generation by up to 8%.” 

“The battery storage is an essential part of the project as it assists in ensuring consistent energy supply to the electricity grid during times of low solar energy output. The solar farm is to be connected to the AusNet Services 66kV network in the proximity of Stratford-Bengworden Road at Perry Bridge. The connection process has commenced with final approval expected by October 2020.”

The proposal is to have 44MW of panels and 40-50MW of battery storage on 232 acres of relatively low productive land. The battery is about half the size of the big battery at Hornsdale in South Australia. Of importance is the location adjacent to/ near the existing mains transmission lines where no added infrastructure is required.

This blog has been advocating for some time that projects of this sort be fast forwarded as quickly as is possible. Projects on the drawing board that could be assisted by special government attention include the offshore wind project Star of the South, and the Delburn wind farm and the Sea Electric electric vehicle factory both in the Valley.

To these admirable projects can be added the Perry Bridge Solar Farm which is situated close enough to Bairnsdale and East Gippsland to provide employment for a local economy first ravaged by the bushfires and now by the coronavirus lockdown making it an ideal project for a depressed East Gippsland economy.

Our Climate Heroes and a Post Covid-19 Recovery

 

Good friend and long-time acquaintance Barrie Pittock emailed recently (23.4.20): “At age 81 it is beyond me to do much re [the climate emergency], but as a long retired CSIRO climate scientist with many rewards for my work including a Public Service Medal, a share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for my work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), etc., I want you and others to act on the message that after the Covid-19 emergency, global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions will be a far more pressing global emergency, with dire consequences for the human race, with large sea-level rises, more extreme weather events, more bushfires, etc., etc. Can you spread the message and act on it?”

Barrie’s list of his achievements is modest in the extreme. He was a participant in the 1975 “Australasian Conference on Climate and Climate Change” conference at Monash University, wrote the overview of the conference and was one of the editors of the subsequent publication Climate Change and Variability: a southern perspective (Cambridge UP 1978). Twelve years later there was another climate conference at Monash in which Barrie, along with many others from CSIRO atmospheric physics division, presented a paper. These papers were published in a large volume Greenhouse: planning for climate change (CSIRO, 1988) edited by GI Pearman.

In 2005 Barrie’s Climate Change: turning up the heat (CSIRO Publ. 2005) was published with an exhaustive, detailed analysis of the climate science to that date. In his introduction he wrote: “Hope lies not in science but going beyond the science to examine the policy questions and moral imperatives that the scientific projections throw into stark relief…making direct links between the science and the consequences… If this encourages you to address the issues, to make your own assessment of the risk, and to act accordingly, this book will have achieved its purpose.”

The politicians have been caught out with the coronavirus – having to act on the science for the pandemic and yet still ignoring the science on climate. The real heroes of Australia are the climate scientists once found in the CSIRO’s division of Atmospheric Research. As well as Barrie and Pearman they include Roger Francey, Tom Beer and Ian Enting amongst many others.

Each day that our representatives continue to deny or ignore the science of climate change must make us more determined to remove them from the portals of power or make them change their minds. Above all let us heed Barrie’s warning that the global warming emergency is far more serious than the coronavirus pandemic and “spread the message and act on it”.

Just Climate by Madelaine Moore

Russell Broadbent MP with citizen scientist Aileen Venning at Cape Paterson

Republished from Just Community

It may be hard to think beyond Corona at this moment. However, climate change has not gone away and, recently, we heard some critical news on the climate front that will impact our area. In March, the Victorian state government, under pressure from the federal government, removed the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling in Victoria. Unconventional gas extraction, that is, fracking in shale or coal seams, is still banned.

Nevertheless, this is bad news, as conventional extraction is still very damaging to the environment. It releases high levels of methane during extraction, production and transportation, and is also a risk to our water. That’s why so many people across the state, particularly in Southern Gippsland, fought hard to protect our region from gas extraction.

The argument put forward by the gas industry is that this will lower gas prices. But this is misleading, for in order for gas prices to drop, the federal government would need to implement a gas reserve policy, which it is unwilling to do. Furthermore, new gas projects offer short-term jobs, but threaten our established industries such as agriculture and tourism. Compare this with renewable projects, such as the Star of the South, which would be a long-term employer of well-paid jobs.

Although not directly impacting our area, other governments also seem to be using the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to open up new gas and coal drilling sites, and to avoid action on climate. For those who missed it, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced another destructive bleaching event. The NSW government is about to allow coal mining in water catchments and has ramped up the clear-felling of hardwood forests, including the Bimblebox Nature Reserve, a critical habitat for endangered wildlife.

This is the time to demand that our representatives take action. Please write to Dan Andrews to let him know what you think about the risks of gas extraction to our area. And don’t forget our federal rep, Russell Broadbent… Mr Broadbent has continued to refuse to sign Zali Stegall’s climate action bill, even though it goes no further than what business is already asking for.

What the pandemic has shown us is that governments can act and they can act with great speed when they want to. Like the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis also threatens our loved ones, our livelihoods, our health, and way of life. In the aftermath of the pandemic, let’s re-build and protect our environment, creating a healthier and more sustainable South Gippsland for all humans and creatures that call it home.

The Author is from Fish Creek

Wind farms reduce greenhouse gases

East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG   CAN)* is delighted to hear that the Star of the South Wind Farm planned for the Gippsland coast has entered its next stage. Negotiations are underway with land-owners for contracts to put underground power transmission lines through their properties. This is an exciting project and hopefully one of many local renewable energy developments in the next decade.

EG CAN spokesperson Tony Peck said ‘While we are currently focused on the tragic outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency response to this, we need to keep in mind that there will most likely be a vaccine next year. Climate change on the other hand is an ongoing emergency, with no ‘one shot’ vaccine solution. A timely response implemented with the urgency of the COVID-19 actions will be both more effective and much cheaper in the end’.

Peck commented: ‘It is disappointing to read a recent Bairnsdale Advertiser editorial perpetuating fallacies about wind farms and their sustainability. Wind turbines have a planned life span of 25 years. The steel and aluminium used in their structure is easily recycled using current technology. Fibreglass blades are more challenging, but effective recycling processes are being developed as blades near the end of their life.’

‘All forms of power production require energy inputs for construction. Research has shown that wind turbines have a very short payback time: 6 months to 2 years depending on location.

‘By contrast,’ Mr Peck said, ‘coal fired power stations emit gases causing global warming and every day that power is produced, more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere. This happens for the entire life of coal fired power stations.’ Coal has fuelled the industrial age but the gains have come at great cost. The natural environment has been driven to a crisis point; air pollution from coal fired power stations affects both industry workers and the wider community with associated costs estimated at $2.8 billion a year,’ he said.

‘Coal is not the future. The best future for Gippsland will require planning for a transition to renewable energy in the shortest time possible,’ Mr Peck said. As coal has been a significant contributor to the regional economy, we need to ensure that new employment opportunities are a top priority in planning and local businesses can have a constructive role in this transition. We all need to accept the science of climate change and the types of action required to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. Renewable energy, including wind farms, will play a big role in this transition.’

* Media Release EG CAN. An edited version published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 16.4