A group of local people, under the name of Extinction
Rebellion, staged a mock death event in Sale [on Saturday 23 November]. The
‘die in’ [protesters] demonstrated their support for immediate action on the
climate crisis we, as a world, are facing. The act of playing dead illustrates
the extinction humans and animals inevitably face if we continue to ignore the
warnings of expert climate scientists. Members of the public could also join in
drawing and painting animals that are facing extinction, such as the
Black-throated Finch (that is under threat from the Adani Carmichael Mine) and
the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.
A spokesperson from the event said, “It is ridiculous
that against the backdrop of the recent catastrophic fire events in NSW, the
federal Lib/Nat government continue to deny the science. We are here to send a
message that if the government do not take these issues seriously, then the
citizens will rise up like the oceans and cause mass disruption.”
The protesters held placards that read phrases such
as “Extinction is Forever”, “There is no Planet B” and “This is a Climate
Emergency” among others. Extinction Rebellion is a worldwide movement that
started in London, UK. There are groups around Australia and recently one has
formed in Sale. Using acts of civil disobedience, they promote three demands to
the Government: Tell the Truth about climate change, Act on the Truth to achieve
net zero emissions by 2025 and form a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the
*Dawn’s media release was published in an article in the Gippsland Times on 25.11.19 under the headline “A ‘die in’ and ‘paint in’ were held in the Sale Mall to protest a lack of action on climate change”. As well as Concerned Artists Resisting Extinction and Extinction Rebellion Dawn is also an active member of East Gippsland Climate Action Network.
The Wikipedia entry for dry thunderstorms refers mainly to North America. They note that in “areas where trees or other vegetation are present, there is little to no rain [in the dry storm] that can prevent the lightning from causing them to catch fire. Storm winds also fan the fire and firestorm, causing it to spread more quickly” and “dry thunderstorms generally occur in deserts or places where the lower layers of the atmosphere usually contain little water vapor…They are common during the summer months across much of western North America…” The entry makes no connection between this phenomenon and climate change.
But humidity was identified as a critical factor in Australian bushfires by Tom Beer et al in a 1987 paper which examined the relationship between the enhanced the Greenhouse effect and our bushfires. As predicted this century has seen a strong rise in the frequency and size of damaging bushfires in the east and south-east. In particular the fires of 2003, 2006/7, 2009 and 2019 have all been ‘unprecedented’ in some way. Of these fires 2006/7 was an, early then, December start and this year a November start – earlier still and indicative of a lengthening fire season.
On 8 January 2003 eighty-seven fires in the mountains were started by lightning in dry thunderstorms. Something similar, though not as large, has just occurred across east Gippsland and the north east. As in 2003 conditions were favourable for the rapid spread of fires with severe rainfall deficiencies over a number of years and a warm to hot November. The numerous blazes started by the lightning strikes created a logistical nightmare for fire-fighting authorities. The obvious response has been to fight those parts of the fire that threaten property. The downside of this is that those fires that are in remote, rugged country receive little or no attention and are allowed to grow in size and these can massively expand rapidly with the arrival of hot windy conditions.
Climate predictions have long been for warmer dryer conditions to increase. Studies of thunderstorms in relation to climate change have mostly been about their increasing frequency, severity, winds and hail size. An Australian study in 2013(Allen et al ) noted “significant increases to the frequency of severe thunderstorm environments will likely occur for northern and eastern Australia in a warmed climate”. From this we may draw the tentative conclusion that ‘dry thunderstorms’ will also increase.
A more recent study on ‘climate event attribution’ observed “overall bushfire risk depends on fuel type, fuel amount, fuel dryness, weather conditions and ignition sources including lightning and humans”. Beyond this I have been unable to find any evidence supporting links between dry thunderstorms, climate change and bushfire ignition.*
But we may ask were the current fires, and those of 2003, at least partially started by climate change, via these dry storms? In 2003 the black humour went something along the lines of “the good news is there are less fires today, the bad news is they have joined together”. Fortunately for Gippsland, the conditions now (end of November) and weather predictions are benign for the immediate future, but a number of the fires are already large and may continue burning for some time.
*An article on Tasmanian bushfires earlier this year that confirms this link has been brought to my attention post publication. See here.
The East Gippsland Climate Action
Network (EGCAN) recruitment and information drive have been pretty well
received over the Friday’s that I’d been sitting outside Woolworths. I’ve had
regular interactions with wonderfully supportive people who wanted to join
EGCAN but there were the not so positive encounters too. It was invariably men
who wanted to tell me a joke about Greta Thunberg; who wanted to tell me that
Greta Thunberg was a selfish little bitch who didn’t care about starving
children; who wanted to say that I was a victim of fraud; who told me to fuck
off; who just muttered and shook their heads in disgust. Thankfully they were
all manageable and in fact non-existent when my 50 something year old niece
joined me one Friday. There was safety in numbers. But finally the council
ranger put an end to my recruitment endeavour. I was told I needed a council
permit and $10 million public liability insurance to hand out EGCAN climate
In the last couple of months I’ve
become involved with Extinction Rebellion (XR) a movement that has lifted my
spirits and directed flagging creativity. It has given me hope. I closely
identify with XR principles particularly that of nonviolence. The one issue
that I struggle with is the issue of civil disobedience that causes
inconvenience to people. Whilst sitting outside Woolworths, causes no
inconvenience, it can certainly seem to ruffle some people’s day.
Inconvenience on the other hand,
for people going about their work and their daily activities is more than a
dent in the day. I know what inconvenience feels like, it’s rotten. It’s the
train running late when you have an important meeting, it’s being forced to run
late at the school pick up. It’s all those things that get in the way of your
day and I’m really sorry. But I’ve run out of ideas. I listened to Nicki Hutley
of Deloitte Access Economics on The Drum recently. She confidently assured
viewers that there were many actions that could be taken that wouldn’t cause
inconvenience for people going about their everyday lives. I’m inclined to
write to Nikki Hutley to ask her just what actions she has in mind. Does she
think that the closure of 600 schools in New South Wales constitutes
inconvenience? And how does that inconvenience compare with the blockage of a
few intersections in metropolitan Melbourne?
The problem as I see it is that nothing that I’ve done so far has had any impact or created a change at a government level sufficient to deal with the climate crisis. I lived off the grid, grown vegetables, have been an avid recycler, written letters, protested and chanted. Nothing has worked.* I’ve run out of ideas. Then along came extinction rebellion. A movement that had clear principles and for me the most compelling principle was one of non-violence.
*It is most difficult to ascertain the results of any our actions. But to paraphrase Gandhi “if we do nothing there will be no result” (ed).
On 14 November the Age published a short letter from Tom Beer, retired CSIRO scientist, on the bushfire emergency of our northern neighbours. Beer looked up an article he had lead authored in 1987 the conclusion of which was that with climate change “the fire danger every year on average would be larger than the fire danger during the year (1983) in which Ash Wednesday occurred.” This was followed up immediately by Graham Readfearn in a great article that expanded on Beer’s work in the CSIRO department of atmospheric physics and looked at the effort of others including Graeme Pearman and Barrie Pittock. Readfearn noted that the science had not changed since 1987 – referring to the Monash Conference when over 50 papers including Beer’s were presented.
He continued: “What Pearman is seeing play out now, in the bushfire crisis and the drought, “is what we were talking about at the Greenhouse 87 meeting. That was about the changes that we anticipated, based on basic physics of the climate system.” Despite the fact that Pearman gave more than 500 presentations on climate change between 2000 and 2010, he still asks himself if he could have done more. “What could I have done? What did I do wrong?”
Interestingly one set of data used by Beer et al* was from East Sale Air Base from 1945-1986. The abstract of the paper noted the importance of humidity and that “estimating the likely changes in relative humidity for any future climate scenario is vital for examination of future bushfire incidence” with relative humidity being a function of a number of factors including temperature rainfall and wind.
For those too young to remember on Ash Wednesday 16 February 1983 over 100 fires burned across Victoria and South Australia causing 75 fatalities and the loss of over 2,500 homes. It was an El Nino year and very dry when many of the rivers in East Gippsland stopped flowing. This century has started to fulfil the forecasts of Tom Beer. Both the 2003 and 2006/7 fires in Gippsland burned huge areas for more than 2 months. The fatalities and damage caused by Black Saturday have eclipsed all previous bushfires. The NSW and Queensland fires look set to burn for some time yet. And summer is yet to come**.
*T.Beer, A.M. Gill and P.H.R.Moore “Australian bushfire danger under changing climatic regimes” p.421 in G.I.Pearman (ed.) Greenhouse: planning for climate change, CSIRO Australia, 1988
**Since this was written a number of ‘unprecedented’ bushfires have been burning in Gippsland at Gelantipy, Ensay, Bruthen and other locations.
LOCAL musician Maddy May headlines the Sound for
Climate concert, which features a distinguished line-up of some of Gippsland’s
best young musicians. She brings a captivating presence that will make your
heart flutter with her sweet voice and beautifully haunting lyrics. Her
folk/jazz/alternative sounds are easy to listen to and will leave your ears
happy and your heart full. Maddy has found her way to some of Australia’s
biggest stages, including Splendour in the Grass, Bluesfest Byron Bay, The Hills
Are Alive and the Moto GP.
The concert is run by Bass Coast CAN (Climate Action
Network) and Friends of the Earth and will include guest speakers talking about
aspects of climate action.
Inverloch songwriter, musician and climate activist
Mat Morgan has toured his music all over Australia and New Zealand. His
contemporary folk style brings his poetry to the forefront of his music. Having
written for and played with many artists, Mat understands how to deliver a
message and captivate an audience he’s just met, like he’s known them for
Gippsland songwriter and guitarist Olivia Lay has had
a guitar in her hands most of her short life, though it sounds like she’s been
playing since Woodstock. Olivia takes inspiration from artists such as Newton
Faulkner and John Butler. She’ll tell you a detailed story with an instrumental
piece, before she even starts singing. She recently supported Ruby Fields and
Baker Boy, and is ready to take on the world.
Folk singer-songwriter Matthew Bentley will hit the
stage with an acoustic guitar and some tricks. Matthew’s no stranger to a
stage, having toured extensively for the last two years, including shows at the
Workers Club and St Kilda Festival. His melodies sit upon on his gentle guitar
work like the frame of a painting. Swinging by Inverloch for the Festival, on
his national tour, it’s a treat to have Matty coming over to put on a show.
Pia Nesvara is a small but powerful
Chilean/Australian songstress from the Dandenong Ranges. Always armed with her
flamenco guitar and her cheekiness, she takes on elements of folk, roots, jazz,
soul and Latin music to create her own truly unique sound. The 20 year old
finds power in vulnerability and through her introspective lyrics offers you a
new perspective, one of empowerment and honesty. Pia’s powerful voice, her
exploration of genres and use of timing and syncopation will captivate you and
leave you feeling a little more whole.
Jimmy Harwood plays like he sings, and sings like
it’s always his last song. Having played the Melbourne circuit extensively
through his teenage years, Jimmy has built a serious following for his hip-hop
influenced vocals and smooth guitar vibes. Notching up over 100,000 streams of
his EP ‘Choose Your Colour’, and reaching #3 on the triple J unearthed roots
charts. Jimmy has hit the road supporting Coast and Ocean on his East Coast
tour, and is not slowing down anytime soon.
The notice for this climate action was short. An email from East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) and the local Extinction Rebellion (XR) group* received late Thursday gave notice of a silent vigil to be held for half an hour in the Nicholson St mall. The purpose it stated was as follows: “This will be a respectful symbolic action of support for all the communities facing the incredibly devastating fires in NSW, Queensland and WA. We will stand in solidarity with the bushfire victims, emergency services workers and volunteers.” Participants were invited to ‘wear black for mourning if possible’ and to ‘bring a friend’.
I was five minutes late attending and not dressed for mourning. The vision as I rounded the corner from the Safeway carpark into the mall was quite impressive – a row of silent figures dressed in black – like crows on a fence. I joined the dozen or so participants followed by a few others to bring the total to 17 or 18.
The EGCAN facebook page later reported: “A silent vigil was held in Nicholson Mall yesterday in support of people across Australia affected by bushfires. Members of East Gippsland Climate Action Network and Bairnsdale Extinction Rebellion took part in the vigil. Our Federal Government cannot simply observe these events – this unprecedented destruction of people and homes and land – and keep denying the truth of the Climate Emergency. We stand in solidarity with Australians and communities on the frontlines of the Climate Emergency and our emergency services workers and volunteers working round the clock to put out these blazes and support those affected.”
The response from the public was varied. Some stopped and stared, some avoided us completely, and two delightful souls read the sign, clapped and gave us encouragement. By the end of the thirty minutes (or in my case 25) we finished for which I was thankful as sitting rigidly was causing me some discomfort in the lower spine. There can be little doubt that EGCAN (and XR) are making a splash around Bairnsdale and at the very least causing many to stop and think. Meanwhile the bushfires continue in NSW and Queensland and another hot spell will arrive on the east coast by mid-week (20th).
What is shaping up to be a long, hot summer in a dry Gippsland is still to come. The bushfires in Victoria this century have been frequent, large and damaging to life and property. Recently the fire season in Gippsland extended (in August 2018) to winter fires . A massive injection of funds and human resources for the State firefighting and emergency sectors is urgently required. On the net the Anthropocene has already been superceded by the Pyrocene. Welcome to the climate emergency.
Nothing annoys me more than the persistent denial of climate science by some whilst they freely use the means of communication that science has given us to promote their propaganda. One wonders if these people ever consider the contradictions this involves. Most of modern western society is based on science including medicine. Without the medical advances of the last 200 years many of our lives would have been short and brutal. (see here)
whilst reading a biography Stephen
Hawking: a life of science by Michael White and John Gribbin (BCA/Penguin 1992)
I was struck by an early passage in the ‘Classical Cosmology’ chapter
explaining quantum physics. In particular I noted how important the science of
quantum physics was to things in everyday modern life we take for granted. Most
of this White and Gribbin stated “we can safely leave the physicists to worry
about” but noted that “it is worth realizing that the physics behind how a
computer or TV works depends on an understanding of the quantum behaviour of
electrons. Laser beams, also, can be understood only in terms of quantum
physics, and every compact disk player uses a laser beam to scan the disk and
‘read’ the music. So quantum physics actually does impinge on our everyday
Thus we have a
bizarre situation where computers are the main avenue of communication on which
climate deniers either deny or dispute the science of climate change but
without quantum physics the computer could not exist. There is a certain irony
here and it is a clear illustration of how you cannot choose the science. One
wonders where would the climate deniers on the social media be without their
computers and smartphones? Making the time and effort to pen a ‘letter to the
editor’ of the ‘Daily Blurb’? Perhaps.
Sometime ago I blogged on some facetious comments Hawking had made about climate change deniers . Commenting on the runaway global warming that has occurred on planet Venus he said “‘This is what happens when greenhouse gases are out of control’… implying that our own planet could also meet the same fiery fate. He then amusingly quipped, ‘Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare.’”
Hawking is no longer with us (he died last year) but his work, and the absurdity of being able to select the science you like and denying or even opposing some aspect you don’t like, remains. The lessons are there in history from King Canute to Stephen Hawking. The climate deniers just have to open their eyes or as Greta Thunberg says “listen to the scientists”. But we won’t hold our breath waiting.
Soils provide the greatest carbon sinks apart from the oceans. There is more carbon stored in soil than in the atmosphere and vegetation combined. Despite the massive losses that unsustainable agricultural practices have caused, this is still the case. Sequestering carbon in soils can be achieved much more rapidly than tree planting, and many farmers are now doing that.
Grasses are the fastest carbon
sequesters, not in their foliage or roots, though that also contributes, but
because of the carbohydrates their roots exude into the soil. Grasses do this
to support the microbes in their root zone which in turn mobilise nutrients for
the plant. The greatest value are the mycorrhizal fungi that enter the plant
roots. Their mycelium networks effectively enlarge the plants nutrient and
water searching ability many fold. The by-product is glomalin, a very stable
humus-forming compound. Mycorrhizal fungi are very sensitive to nitrate and
phosphate fertilisers, herbicides and fungicides. Plant root exudates are reduced
when soluble fertilisers are applied.
Grasses need grazers – they have
evolved symbiotically. Without grazers the grasslands decline as they get old,
photosynthesis ceases, glomalin is no longer produced and woodlands or deserts
take over. Woodlands store carbon in their trunks and branches and roots but
release little into the soil compared to grasses.
For grasslands to work properly the
grazers have to be managed to prevent over-use. In natural herds the animals do
this themselves, but when confined by fences they cannot migrate to allow
pasture recovery. Farmers can do this, and many now are.
The movement towards regenerative
agriculture without chemicals has gained great momentum in Australia and other
parts of the world. Many Landcare groups are now providing support. Large
numbers of farmers are attending talks and workshops by regenerative farming
advocates. There are many fine examples. There is no inherent reason why food
production should be a polluting industry. It is polluting because of the huge
profits available to input suppliers who are supported by government policies.
Change is occurring despite governments and despite the hardships many farmers
face. Farmers are the primary victims of climate change; many are realising
that increasing soil carbon is the best way of creating resilience. Soil carbon
stores vast amounts of water.
The debate about agriculture’s
contribution to greenhouse gases has been perverted. Methane is not the
important issue – nitrate fertilisers and soil carbon loss are the important
issues. Alternative agriculture in its many forms and terms – organic,
biological, biodynamic, ecological, agroecological, holistic – provides the
solution. Corporate influence on governments, farmer information services and
agricultural education and research is the major barrier to change agriculture
from a greenhouse gas producer to a greenhouse gas sequester.
*Alan is a Gippsland teacher and author of Sustainable Agriculture Versus Corporate Greed. Previously published by Green Left Weekly
All three major greenhouse gases
are influenced by farming practices: methane, nitrogen compounds and carbon
Methane: the contribution of
farming to greenhouse gases has centred on methane produced by ruminant animals.
This is not where the focus should be. It provides a helpful diversion from the
main methane increasing culprit, which is gas mining and use. Ruminants do
belch out methane and have been doing so for many millions of years. Nature
does not allow waste. In natural systems the methane is consumed by
methanotrophic bacteria that live in the soil. In healthy farm ecosystems they
continue to play this role, but being very sensitive to synthetic fertilisers
and many pesticides they fare poorly in farming systems that rely on chemical
Ruminants in confined feedlots
often produce less methane than grazers, because of their more concentrated
lower fibre diet. However, methanotrophs are not active on bare concrete, and
the manure is not rapidly decomposed as in a well-managed grassland, so methane
and ammonia enter the atmosphere. Feedlots should be phased out, not only
because of their net greenhouse gas production but also because the animals are
forced to live in non-natural crowded confinement and on non-natural feedstuffs
and antibiotics, and the meat produced is nutritionally inferior. Animals need
to be removed from feedlots and reintroduced into cropping systems to recycle
nutrients and replace herbicides. Rice fields also produce methane. Much of the
world’s rice production occurs on what were once natural swamps. In those
natural ecosystems, which also produced methane from the anaerobic
decomposition of organic matter under water, different kinds of methanotrophs
took care of that methane. Synthetic fertilisers and pesticides inhibit their
work in rice fields.
Nitrous oxide: the greatest
producer of nitrous oxide and nitrogen dioxide is nitrate fertilisers – urea,
ammonium sulphate, potassium nitrate, mono- and di-ammonium phosphate and
anhydrous ammonia (ammonia gas drilled into the soil). Only a small proportion
of applied nitrate fertiliser is used by plants, usually no more than 20%. The
rest pollutes the atmosphere as nitrous oxide and nitrogen dioxide, or waterways
and aquifers as nitrates and nitrites. The nitrogen compounds are major
greenhouse gases, damaging the ozone that helps protect the earth from the
sun’s heat. Some of this nitrogen forms ammonia in the atmosphere, combining
with moisture to produce acid rain. Nitrate fertiliser use has skyrocketed
since the 1950s around the world, from about 5 million tonnes per year to close
to 200 million.
In natural ecosystems the nitrogen
needed by plants is made available by soil microbes. Farming systems can make
use of these microbes as has done for the past 10,000 or so years, unless
poisoned by farm chemicals. The greater the damage done to soil microbes, the
greater the amount of nitrate needed to get the same yield. Undecomposed manure
also emits ammonia and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Dung beetles,
earthworms and the huge variety of soil microbes deal with manure in a short
time, providing conditions are right for their activity, which means no
chemical inputs to interfere with their work.
Carbon dioxide: nitrate production
is an energy intensive industrial process needing huge amounts of natural gas
(methane) to heat nitrogen and hydrogen under pressure to 1,000 degrees to make
ammonia which is further processed into nitrate fertilisers. An estimated 3% of
global carbon dioxide is the result of burning natural gas for this purpose.
Nitrate fertilisers gradually destroy soil organic matter, turning it into
carbon dioxide. The bacteria that the fertilisers stimulate need a carbon
source for energy – they take it out of the soil. Excessive soil tillage does
the same thing. Bare soil also loses organic matter as it becomes oxidised to
carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide (and nitrous oxide and methane) is also produced
from burning the fuel to drive the machinery. Efforts should be put into
developing energy sources that are renewable.
*Alan is a Gippsland teacher and author of Sustainable Agriculture Versus Corporate Greed. Previously published by Green Left Weekly.
What does climate change have to do with vaccinations? On one level, nothing. But if we look at denial of the science, there are many similarities. Our understanding of the world is based on centuries of scientific inquiry, hypotheses, experimentation, refutation and discussion before agreement is reached as to the validity of the theory explaining how things work. Vaccinations came about through a gradual understanding of germs and how the body defends itself against disease.
The last 80 years has seen an unprecedented decline in mortality due to infectious diseases, due to the development of antibiotics and vaccines. The proof of the effectiveness is undeniable; who today knows anyone who has contracted polio, diphtheria or tetanus? Yet there is an increasing cohort of the population who believe that vaccinations are harmful, unnecessary and part of a conspiracy by “big pharma” and the medical establishment. Apparently, governments and agencies like the World Health Organisation turn a blind eye to the supposed harm vaccines cause because they are beholden to multi-national drug companies. Anti-vaxxers deny the science of immunology based on pseudo-science they read on the internet and their own prejudices, not on any understanding of how the immune system works or of medical science in general.
Similarly, with climate change, the people who choose not to believe the science are doing so because it does not fit their world view. The role of CO2 in creating the greenhouse effect was first postulated in the 1820s by Fourier, since then scientists have been doing what scientists do: they try to pick holes in the argument, conduct experiments, look at alternative explanations for the findings, record temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels, publish papers which lead to more discussion and arguments back and forth until they come to a consensus. For the last 60 years or so, that consensus has been that the world is warming due to increased C02 from the burning of fossil fuels.
The science is settled. We are today seeing the beginnings of what the science has predicted in terms of a changing climate; coral reef destruction, vast swathes of mangrove die-off along Australia’s top end, drought, bushfires, sea-level rise. Yet still, people refuse to believe the science. Denialists, like anti-vaxxers, do not understand the science or the scientific method that underpins these discoveries. They believe that there is some vast, worldwide conspiracy behind climate science.
Anyone who has read about the history of science knows that discoveries that challenge our current view of the world are usually met with disbelief and hostility. Galileo was found guilty of heresy and lived the remainder of his life under house arrest for daring to suggest that the earth travelled around the sun. This was an affront to people who believed that the earth and humanity was the centre of the universe. Charles Darwin was ridiculed for his theory of evolution because people could not accept that we were “descended from apes” rather than being created by God in his image. Scientists have been burned and tortured because their theories disturbed deeply held world views.
We have long believed that we can take what we want from the planet, buy whatever we desire, and throw away what we don’t need. This underpins much of our modern life. No wonder so many people are unable to accept that this is not sustainable. It is easier to deny the science, castigate people like Greta Thunberg and crank up the air-con.
What do we suppose that an anti-vaxxer would do if their child contracted polio and could suddenly no longer move and was struggling to breathe? They would most likely go to the nearest emergency department and put their faith in modern medical science to save their child’s life.
And hope it’s not too late.
*Mark is a community health nurse in East Gippsland