Gippsland News & Views

Letter re Glenaladale & other local mining projects (publ. 13/5)

Mine free Glenaladale
Mine free Glenaladale

Thanks for your letters (Advertiser 6.5) on the proposed mineral sands mines at Glenaladale and Mossiface, the tenor of which I wholeheartedly support. In a submission to the East Gippsland Shire ‘Economic Growth Strategy’ early last year I wrote: “It should be recognized that … there is a conflict between the (Shire’s) directions outlined in the(ir) Sustainability and Economic Growth Strategies. In particular both forestry and mining activities as currently practiced are both unsustainable and are major offenders in terms of carbon emissions. They are the industries likely to suffer most with some form of carbon emissions pricing introduced by a state or federal government. It is therefore wise to direct growth elsewhere where possible.”

I concluded that the mining “industry is carbon intensive. To be sustainable mining projects should be carbon neutral…The energy used to truck the product to the shipping terminal should be considered when calculating their carbon budget… All mining projects should demonstrate their sustainability by being carbon neutral before receiving any support from the Shire.” As well as the energy consumed in mining and transporting the mineral any tree removal should also be considered an integral part of a company’s carbon budget and should be offset. (Although as one Glenaladale farmer recently remarked ‘you don’t get much shade from 200 seedlings!’)

Perhaps enhanced by a strong El Nino, the planet has been warming at an extraordinary rate. The last 4 months around the globe have been, in turn, the hottest ever recorded. The Arctic and parts of the tropics have been experiencing record temperatures and bushfires have forced the evacuation of, and partly destroyed, a large city in Alberta. Somewhat ironically, this city is closely connected with that major greenhouse gas polluter, tar sands mining. (So far this event has generally been ignored in Australia and the media – like our Minister for the Environment – are yet to connect the dots.)

All the major mining projects proposed in East Gippsland over the last decade, at Benambra, Nowa Nowa and now at Glenaladale and Mossiface, appear to be large emitters of Greenhouse gases. Like the Coal Seam Gas projects threatening the Lakes hinterland and much of South Gippsland none of these projects are sustainable. All have other major defects. No wonder our farmers want to ‘Lock their Gates’ to them. The people of East Gippsland should demand thorough and independent Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) be required for each of these projects. Each EIS should also include a Carbon Emissions budget and any mining project that is not carbon neutral should not even be considered.

My Blog and the Election

Election 1

I have just been nominated as the endorsed candidate for the Renewable Energy Party in the Federal seat of Gippsland. It is my intention to keep the campaign over the next month separate from this blog. I will post my press releases and other information on my election campaign here.  What follows is a general appraisal of the election so far and some specific comments on parties and policies.

It goes without saying that of the major parties the Greens have by far and away the best policies on climate and renewable energy. The ALP have some fair policies but appear reluctant to push the issue because of ‘wedge’ politics – being caught between the Lib/Nats just waiting to launch a scare campaign on the new ‘great big tax’ and the Greens pushing for much more action on the matter. The Lib/Nats have no effective climate or renewables policies and their record over the last 3 years on these matters has been shameful. Their current Direct Action program was previously described by Malcolm Turnbull as a ‘fig leaf’ to cover for ‘no action’. There have been numerous other criticisms of Direct Action including that it is both expensive and ineffective. The Lib/Nats also have a strong rump of ‘climate deniers’ in their midst who appear to have tied the Prime Minister’s hands on implementing any useful policies.

Thus we have a situation where neither of the major parities want climate change or renewable energy to be major campaign issues. Though trying much harder to make climate change an issue there are also problems with the Greens. Farmers often, perhaps unthinkingly, associate this party with the Animal Liberation movement as I have been reliably informed by a farmer in our local ‘Lock the Gate’ movement. Again, rightly or wrongly, they are considered to be on the ‘left’ of politics and therefore with limited appeal in rural electorates. Furthermore their policies on climate and renewables are often lost or submerged in the everyday political process when they should have top priority at all times. I have often been called a ‘closet’ green and a ‘green independent’ in previous elections but reject these attempts at ‘pigeonholing’ as I have always been aiming to get votes from across the political spectrum. Farmers and country people have the most to lose from harsh climate change and, somewhat paradoxically, much to gain from serious mitigation policies.

Climate change is a paramount problem for us all, regardless of race, gender, age, religion or economic status. It affects us all now and is getting progressively worse. It follows that we should, as soon as possible, have a bipartisan and very serious approach from all our elected officials on climate and renewables. The regressive factors of the adversarial system, of a near monopoly in the mainstream media (combined with scientific illiteracy) and big money from vested interests in politics must be overcome. Perhaps on July 2 we will make a small step in the right direction.

Climate Change and the Media in Gippsland

Cape Grim Keeling Curve

Recently ABC TV’s Media Watch canned the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) for running a front page story on the CSIRO Cape Grim station carbon dioxide levels reaching 400ppm in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. I thought the TV presentation neither ‘fair’ nor ‘factual’ as it claimed. The distortion was enough to persuade me to write a comment on ABC’s website which I have never done before – for any website. (see here). With regards the overwhelming threat of global warming my ‘two bobs worth’ on the ABC webpage was a condemnation of the media response (basically negligible) and the actions, or no action, of the Murdoch media (bordering on criminal negligence) on this issue. Peter Hannam responded (18.5) to the Media Watch critique with the rhetorical headline ‘When should we care about Climate Change?’ and leading with the answer ‘about 30 years ago.’ Hannam’s reply set me to thinking about local media.

Due to being isolated in the foothills for most of my life I am only familiar with the printed media of East Gippsland News (EGN) and to a much lesser extend ABC radio. Occasionally now I see the Gippsland Times in our library, rarely the Latrobe Valley Express and never the Yarram Standard. I have never possessed a TV so am reliant on information from friends, and more recently, in the case of the ABC TV iview, watch some programs (such as Media Watch) on my computer.

In terms of reporting on climate change generally the ABC and Fairfax media are the best of a bad bunch – in the case of the Murdoch media terribly bad. Apart from election time, the EGN – East Gippsland News, Bairnsdale Advertiser, Lakes Post and Snowy River Mail- have never had a front page news story on climate change or its effects with one notable exception. (They have missed a number of opportunities including the recent catches of Black Marlin off Lakes Entrance associated with our warming oceans) The exception was a report on a presentation by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki where the reporter misinterpreted Dr Karl’s attempt at dark humour.

The media and the two major parties dictate the issues on the agenda in the elections (more on this soon) and it is only the presence of the minor parties and independents that bring climate change and its related issues such as renewable energy to any prominence. To give EGN their due they have almost always published my press releases on this subject – once or twice on the front page. At the last election as an Independent I made several radio interviews and as far as I am aware had one fleeting appearance on TV news. But it remains that, global warming, the most pressing and potentially disastrous threat to us all, is hardly ever found in our local media except at election times. That alone is justification for those such as myself to stand for office. And do so as often as one can.

Voting Below the Line in the Senate

Senate Voting ticket (Morey)

Voting below the line in the Senate has become a whole lot easier. Simply voting 1 to 12 is enough to cast a valid vote. There are many advantages of the new system. You can vote for members of the party you favour rather than in the order dictated by party organisations. You no longer have to cast a vote for parties you don’t like. Stephen Morey (who created the amusing ballot paper image above) noted “Suppose you are a Liberal voter but don’t like the order of candidates as shown on the ballot paper. You may number the squares of the six Liberal candidates in any order – provided the numbers are sequential and each is different.”

This important change may enable a ‘rusted on’ Liberal supporter concerned about climate change still to vote for their party but put the climate deniers last on their preferences or omit them altogether. For example in Tasmania they could target Senator Abetz and the 3rd candidate on their list – also a climate change denier whose name I’ve forgotten – and put them 5 and 6 on the ‘conservative’ ballot, or leave them off altogether. Likewise in SA Senator Benardi could be left off altogether with the conservative preferences perhaps going to the Xenothon team. In Victoria I am not certain how the ‘conservative climate’ voter should go, but generally the Nationals – mostly climate change deniers – can be left off.

In 2013 when voting in the last Federal Election I opted to Vote below the Line in the Senate. I wished to give my first preference to the No Coal Seam Gas party as I considered this a very important local issue. But I did not trust the way the parties allocated their preferences. So I began the laborious task of numbering my preferences from 1 to (I think) 97. After about 15 minute of numbering starting with the candidates I preferred and then numbering backwards from the candidates I distinctly disliked (Climate Skeptics) I found that I had made a mistake when the form was almost completed. The electoral officer laughed when I apologetically asked for another ballot paper “One old gentleman” she replied “came back three times”. The changes to the Electoral Act mean that this time I, and many others, will be able to vote below the line in the Senate with ease.

A Cataclysmic Storm and Lakes Entrance

Burchardi Flood (Wikipedia)
Burchardi Flood (Wikipedia)

Recently I blogged that the Lakes Entrance foreshore could disappear overnight with a cataclysmic storm related to sea level rise and climate change. Naturally these events probably occurred only 1 in 500 or 1 in a 1000 years. One such event was known as the Burchardi flood which demolished the island of Strand (or Nordstrand) in the North Friesian Islands in 1634. The island was overwhelmed and pulverised by a cataclysmic storm that reduced the land area from over 500 sq. Ks to about 50 sq. Ks in three small islands, and 6000 people were drowned. I am aware of this event because I am descended from one of the survivors.

Modern storms such as Hurricane Sandy are similar but these are now definitely, and probably heavily, influenced by man-made global warming. Wikipedia noted that: “According to NCAR senior climatologist Kevin E. Trenberth, “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be” and that “the storm was caused by “natural variability” but adds that it was “enhanced by global warming””. It remains a challenge for science to identify how much influence global warming has on these events.

What we do know is that climate change increases the frequency of these superstorms so that, for instance, a 1 in 100 year event may become 1 in 10. We also know that the intensity of these storms is increased dramatically, possibly exponentially. Also the geographical dimensions of these extreme weather events – the area over which they occur – is becoming progressively larger. To the slowly increasing sea level rise extra hazards such as heavy rainfall, wave size and storm surge can be added. If these events were to coincide with a King tide and if Bruuns Rule (where the coast retreats 100 times more than the sea level rise) is anywhere near accurate then the fate of Lakes Entrance and many similar coastal towns may quite possibly be similar to the Strand.

As the frequency of these storm events increases over time then the chances of these various factors coinciding also increases. When the superstorm comes the foreshore dunes between the Ocean and Cunningham Arm will possibly disappear overnight with enormous damage inflicted on downtown Lakes Entrance – if not demolishing it altogether. All the buildings on the foreshore will disappear, the Esplanade become the new coast and the modern Meyer St footbridge be the bridge to nowhere. It is not a matter of if, but when. The longer term message is that Lakes Entrance will, sooner or later, definitely be going under.

My Failed TV Advert?

During the 2013 Federal Election campaign I stood as a ‘climate emergency’ independent in the seat of Gippsland. My campaign manager and I had big hopes that a 15 second TV advertisement would alert the voting public of Gippsland to the dangers of climate change and the offer of renewable energy as a partial, but attractive, solution to the ‘climate emergency’. It was to be the key part of my ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ campaign. But the campaign was stressed from day one with having to collect 100 nominator’s signatures (doubled from the previous election) and putting up a $1000 bond (also doubled). My finances were strictly limited as I had recently retired and was in the process of downsizing from my place in Ensay to a unit in Bairnsdale.

The plan was to collect substantial donations from a dozen or so solar installation businesses and, in anticipation of reasonable funding, we went ahead to have the advert made. For this there was little change out of another $1000. Our fundraising hit a ‘brick wall’ when we received only one donation from our intended sources. With the advertisement made there was no choice but to scrape together as many funds as possible to run the ad. The reality was that for another $1000 the only part of the viewing day we could get any decent amount of air time was to run the ad in the ‘off-peak’ (middle of the day) with a small number in ‘shoulder’ (early morning, late evening) and none in ‘peak’ viewing time. Had we chosen to run the ad in the ‘peak’ we would have had less than 4 minutes of viewing time in total spread over 3 weeks. This was all on one channel only. (Hardly comparable with the millions poured into the campaign by Clive Palmer. The Palmer party advertising blitz must be considered a success. By doing so he ‘bought’ his own seat in the lower house and 3 seats in the senate. In Gippsland the PUP candidate from the Gold Coast achieved the magical 4%)

So basically the ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ ad appeared to be a failure. However an analysis of my voting results booth by booth indicated otherwise. Apart from 2 local booths, where I was well known, my best performances were with hospitals and retirement villages – all but one returning above the 4% needed for Electoral Office funding. I concluded that these were the booths where the advert would most likely have been seen. Unfortunately my overall performance was just 2.25% still a long way from the 4% and much further still from the target needed to make the sitting member sit up and take notice – at least 10%. One wonders if we had been able to run the advert for at least 4 minutes in peak viewing time and as a luxury, some time on the other 2 local channels, how different the result would have been. Just a tiny sniff of the funds that Clive had at his disposal might have done the trick.

Trees Versus Renewables & the ‘Silver Buckshot’ Approach

East Gippsland Water's panels at Woodglen
East Gippsland Water’s panels at Woodglen

On the social media there has rightly been damning criticism of the ‘20 million trees’ being pushed by the current Government through their Direct Action Program (DAP) which is pathetic, and token at best. The response on the social media has been to put the question simplistically – renewable energy or trees – rather than condemning the government’s overall performance on climate and renewable energy. It is not the right question. We have to do both as quickly and energetically as feasible.

Washington and Cook in Climate Change Denial (Earthscan 2011) talk of Hume’s solution to ‘wicked problems’: “He suggests ‘clumsy solutions’ where you tackle the problem from several aspects, some of which may even be contradictory. Rather than just one ‘silver bullet’ to solve the problem, he suggests silver buckshot. No single solution is sufficient. The silver buckshot are the multiple solutions one applies to the problem. We agree that solving climate change – and the underlying environmental crisis it is a symptom of – will require several different approaches, a number of ‘silver buckshot’” (p.119)

The 20 million trees program is laughable for many reasons. It is a simple solution to a complex problem and as a ‘silver bullet’ appears well wide of the mark. Since the abolition of the carbon tax, which the DAP was meant to replace, our emissions of CO2 are on the rise again. This feeble DAP initiative is more than offset by continued clearing of native forests in Queensland and NSW and the destructive swathe of the loggers in Victoria. The DAP may distort rural markets as the blue-gum projects did – often planted in the wrong places, on good agricultural land and now being removed in many places. Finally the 20 million trees may be a less ambitious copy of the ‘one billion trees’ made by Bob Hawke in 1989 – also a grandiose failure.

The problem of global warming is complex and immense. In the end it is not just a question of trees or renewable energy. Simple single solutions will never be enough. When we have achieved 100% renewables – hopefully in less than 15 years – we then have to work on ways of drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere of which tree planting is one. I am a tree lover. I have lived and worked in the bush for most of my life. For much of that time I have propagated and planted local species in the cleared country. Equally my house was (and still is) powered by renewable energy. These are just two of the pellets of our ‘silver buckshot’.

Flooding, Sea Level Rise & Lakes Entrance

Wheeler model 2

About 3 years ago when writing on the possible effects of climate change on the Gippsland Coast  I mentioned the interactive model developed by Dr Peter Wheeler on flooding inundation at Lakes Entrance. I then incorrectly criticised the Wheeler model by combining it with Bruun’s Rule. This rule basically states that coastlines will retreat about 100 times the amount of vertical sea level rise. The conclusion was that with some of the flood levels in the Wheeler model the foreshore at Lakes would no longer exist. However the model was looking at flooding only and in no way could it encompass the complexities introduced by Bruun’s Rule. This error was pointed out to me by Peter Wheeler and corrected in a subsequent edition.

Though controversial, Bruun’s Rule remains applicable to the Gippsland coast and to the Entrance. And the Wheeler model is applicable to flooding, whether from heavy rainfall or rising sea levels. But as has been pointed out a number of times rising sea levels are not even across the globe but merely an average. The oceans ‘slosh about’ as a result of various factors including tides, currents and storms. They rise because of thermal expansion and ice melt. It also remains that there will inevitably be a number of other influences on local events as a result of climate change including heavy rainfall, coastal erosion, storm surges, wave heights and storm frequencies on top of natural ones such as king tides.

More recently (2013?) Dr Karl Kruszelnicki speaking at a Lakes Symposium made a joke about Lakes being the first town in Australia to go under and that this could be made a tourist event. The humour of his ‘tongue in cheek’ comment was lost on most of the local media including the Bairnsdale Advertiser. Likewise the Lakes community’s response to the Wheeler model has also been disappointing. Locals tend to look at the global average sea level rise of about 3.5mm pa as a gradual phenomenon and in isolation from all these other events and influences. Somewhat simplistically they conclude that they can easily cope with this and rationalise that even if true it is an event far in the future and does not concern them.

Recent sea level rise predictions of as much as 3 metres as early as 2050 would see Lakes Entrance swamped, the Ninety Mile and the foreshore dunes pulverised and the Gippsland Lakes irrevocably doomed.  This worst-case scenario, combined with some of the other aspects listed above, is a dire threat to a number of small towns and holiday villages along the Ninety Mile. Lakes Entrance remains the largest town and the most vulnerable. We ignore these warnings at our peril and almost certainly horrendous financial cost.  Applying the Wheeler model and Bruun’s Rule with even moderate sea level rise to Lakes Entrance would see the disappearance of the Lakes foreshore – possibly in one cataclysmic event.

(for a review of the Wheeler model see here)

State Labor and the Just Transition: good news and bad

Old Brown Coal Mine fire 1929 (SLV)

Old Brown Coal Mine Fire 1929

The State Labor government has just announced a dramatic three-fold increase in the royalties paid by the valley coal mines to bring them into line with other states. With governments of all persuasions almost always crying poor one wonders why this had not been done before. They have also dramatically increased mine restoration bonds and the Hazelwood mine fire bill from Country Fire Authority is, as far as I am aware, yet to be resolved. In short the costs and problems of the privatised Latrobe Valley generators are mounting. As well as the exhaustive enquiries and reports into the Morwell Open cut fire the government has also carried out various community consultations.

With regards the mine restoration bonds Tom Arup in the Age reported “The government will now require the owners of the three big mines in the Valley – Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang – to increase their bonds to half of the owners’ estimated costs of rehabilitation by June, and then the full cost by the start of next year. That means AGL, which owns Loy Yang, will have to increase their bond from $15 million to $112 million by January 2017. The bond for Energy Australia, which owns the Yallourn mine, will rise from $11.4 million to $68.5 million, while the bond for Hazelwood’s owners will go from $15 million to $73.4 million.”  Again this is a step in the right direction but the range of estimates of actual restoration costs vary significantly. The Latrobe Valley Express has reported that there is a wide range of estimates for the restoration of  the Hazlewood Open Cut – well over $100m and probably much higher.

Then there is the CFA bill to GDF Suez for $18 million costs for the Hazelwood mine fire-fighting effort. I have been unable to establish the current status of this claim and one suspects there will be a long struggle in the courts ahead. The real cost of fighting the fire and subsequent clean-up has been estimated at $251m.

In some ways these are all token actions by government. Increasing the revenue from the power generators may become an excuse to delay action. The too hard decisions may become harder still.  Does the increased royalty mean the government has no plans for retiring even one of the valley generators? Unlike their predecessors (the Lib/Nats) at least this government is trying. The next step, which should be taken immediately, is to relocate the SECV to Morwell or create a new organisation. The purpose of this organisation will be to plan and oversee the implementation of a just transition in the valley from brown coal generated electricity to a low carbon future.  This plan should be done in co-operation with Federation Uni engineering at Churchill and with the Energy Institute of Melbourne Uni to identify the most seamless and rapid route to the low carbon economy and establish a rigid timeline to achieve the same. The political support for this should be bipartisan and have the highest priority.


Ruminant Livestock and Greenhouse Gases by Alan Broughton

Cattle Broughton

Within the climate change action movement there is a stream that places priority on reduction in livestock numbers as the key strategy to reduce greenhouse gases. I believe this is mistaken. The choice to not eat meat or other animal products should be regarded as a personal choice, not an ecological choice. There is no ecological justification for advocating a drastic reduction in livestock numbers as part of climate change mitigation. Efforts would be better spent in focusing on the real issues: energy generation, transport and the sustainability of farming systems. Livestock production can become an effective carbon sink with great potential to modify the greenhouse gas effect. The obstacle is not livestock but how the animals are managed.

There are many estimates of the contribution of livestock to human-caused greenhouse gases, ranging from 9% to 51%, depending on what is counted. The FAO estimated 18% in 2006 and then reduced it to 14.5% in a subsequent report. The higher figure, used by the anti-livestock lobby, includes animal respiration and other items which scientists say are not legitimate. However all these figures are gross figures, not net figures. When the carbon sequestration in grassland soils is taken into account, plus the consumption of ruminant-produced methane by soil bacteria, even the conventional grazing of cattle, sheep and goats provides a net greenhouse gas sink, unless nitrate fertilisers are used. With improved grazing management livestock are part of the solution to greenhouse gases.

Improved management means planned grazing systems in which large numbers of animals graze for a short time in a paddock, often only a few days, and do not return to that paddock until the pasture has completely recovered. In this system nitrate fertilisers are not used, soil organic carbon increases, costs are lower, erosion is prevented, soil absorbs rain and holds it longer, and production increases. Nitrate fertilisers are destructive of soil carbon, the mycorrhizal fungi that produce it, and the methane consuming bacteria. Reintroducing livestock into cropland and increasing the percentage tree cover on grazing land are additional carbon sequestration methods.

Effective action on any issue involves both personal decisions and political decisions, with political decision being of paramount importance. The cigarette smoking rate did not decrease because of personal decisions alone – it was because of a massive government-led campaign and a cessation of tobacco promotion. Ending the fossil fuel industry will not be due to people switching off their lights – government approval or non-approval of new coal mines and gas fields is what matters. Personal decisions can only have a marginal effect. Thus spending energy on promoting veganism is a diversion from the real campaign to reduce greenhouse gases, which is the substitution of fossil fuel energy by renewable energy.

(Alan Broughton, Vice-president, Organic Agriculture Association, Bairnsdale. A full copy of his paper with endnotes is available here.)