(photo by Stitch)
We have, somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ labelled John Hermans of Clifton Creek, ‘Mr Sustainability’ of Gippsland. John is a man of many parts but he will probably be embarrassed by our label. Above all he is practical having built and lived in his sustainable house for many years. As well as teaching by example John is a great publicist for many of the basic tenets of sustainability. He is a long term member of the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) and has been a frequent contributor of articles to their publications Soft Technology and Renew. He has also been the President of the Gippsland Environment Group (link on side bar) for many years and has participated in the ATA’s solar installation project in East Timor.
His owner built home – incorporating a substantial workshop – is a showpiece. It is constructed of earth walls and an earth roof and John has used mostly onsite and second hand materials in its construction. Integral to this was his own small timber mill in which he was able to mill timber for the house from trees that had to be removed from the house site.
John is perhaps best known for his hydro-electric plant on the nearby Nicholson River which has generated renewable energy to the family home for many years. But he also has a large, netted, fruit and veggie garden in front of the house, and has been running his vehicle on biodiesel for many years. The oil is collected from fish and chip shops and processed on site. The vehicle uses either biodiesel (manufactured on site) or straight veggie oil. John is also a great fan of recycling and is often repairing electrical goods, cast off with simple malfunctions like a faulty switch. Recently he has been experimenting with biochar production. Is there anyone in greater Gippsland who can match this record?
A wonderful article, interview and photos was done with John seven years ago by the ABC’s Cath McAloon. It is still relevant, available online and well worth a visit. http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2008/05/08/2239377.htm
My fellow climate activist Andrew Gunner has gone through the financial aspects of installing rooftop solar on his suburban home. His calculations produced some astounding results – that even at the low feed in tariff of 6.4 cents and feeding all the energy back into the grid they were profitable. His calculations went through several upgrades and eventually this proposition was revised downwards to about break even. So unless you are absent from your dwelling during daylight hours every day of the week and use little of your rooftop power you will be ahead. Andrew noted:
“Here is a step by step guide to help you work out whether getting photovoltaic solar panels for your house is good financially. You can do the calculations with a hand calculator.”
His final calculations take account of all the costs of installation, maintenance, depreciation, current and future electricity prices, inflation and opportunity costs. His conclusion is that if you use 22% of the energy from your rooftop and export the rest at 6.4 cents per Kilowatt hour your return on your investment will be 8.5% and far better than bank interest. Most of us would try to improve on the 22% base by bringing flexible energy tasks, such as washing clothes, into the sunlight hours.
To back up his in-depth calculations Andrew has provided an excel spreadsheet where you can enter your own data and modify his assumptions to suit your own circumstances. He does note that if you are paying off a mortgage – about one third of Australian households – that this repayment may be preferable to installing solar. For further details go to Andrew’s blog a site worth visiting regularly
Currently calls are being made for Exxon – the long running climate change denier – to face charges and fines for their denial in the same way as the tobacco industry is now being forced to do. I have written previously on criminal negligence and loosely defined it as “the failure to take action against something that causes harm.” This presupposes the offender is aware that their actions may cause harm and does nothing about it. Worse still they may make every effort using all their available resources to present the opposite view, or at the very least to create confusion and doubt. The latter action was the path taken by the tobacco industry and equally so by Exxon.
Writing about the, at best abysmally slow, actions of governments to mitigate climate change Tim Flannery in his Atmosphere of Hope recently noted: “Some companies bear a disproportionate share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. The most important by far in the media is the Murdoch news empire, from Fox News to the Australian newspaper and the many tabloids that help shape public opinion. It’s extraordinary to think that a media empire overseen by Rupert Murdoch, a man whose father was a frontline news reporter in World War I, continues in the twenty-first century to impede progress on this most vitally important issue.” (p.72)
To ‘balance’ the books The Melbourne Age has just published (3.11) an opinion piece by climate change denier Christopher Booker. The lie that there is a ‘debate’ about climate change is still found across the media. But the debate – if there was any – about climate change and its obvious human origins is long past. There is debate about how bad climate change will be and whether there will be abrupt harmful changes that we as a species can do nothing about. Flannery cites the 374 additional deaths caused by the 2009 heatwave in south-east Australia – an event that in turn was influenced by climate change.
Still fighting against the overwhelming evidence supporting basic greenhouse physics we have the bile of the ‘flat earthers’ – Andrew Bolt, sundry ‘shock jocks’ and other supposedly more sophisticated parts of (mainly) the Murdoch media, along with too many of their foolish followers in Canberra. Their monumental ignorance is no longer an excuse. They must now be aware that the misinformation, lies and distortions they have written in the past and continue to peddle is causing harm and may have already contributed to the premature deaths of hundreds of Australian citizens.
That is criminal negligence. The case against the climate criminals is only beginning and the media’s spurious attempts at balance must carry a large part of the blame. As an interesting postscript it has been suggested on the social media recently that all climate change deniers be disbarred from public office.
Energy conservation and energy efficiency have long been known as the easiest means of reigning in one’s greenhouse gas output – sometimes categorised as the “low hanging fruit”. Local shires have been at the forefront of these operations from which there should also be considerable financial benefits.
Commenting on the changeover in street lighting in East Gippsland, EGS environmental officer Rebecca Lamble recently stated that “it’s not just Bairnsdale and Paynesville that have had the LED street lights swapped…it’s all the 80w mercury vapour lights in residential streets across East Gippsland…” Information on the EGS LED program can be found here http://www.eastgippsland.vic.gov.au/Plans_and_Projects/Bright_Futures_energy_efficiency_Project/Street_Lights
Rebecca noted that “The final street light report is due in May next year…and it will show the emissions avoided and how much money we will be saving…after being installed for 12 months.” The EGS website estimated that their “energy efficient residential street lighting project” would make “energy savings of over 70%. Replacing these street lights will save 1,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. This is the single biggest action East Gippsland Shire can take to reduce its carbon emissions. In fact, streetlights typically represent 30-50% of a metropolitan councils’ carbon footprint.”
The EGS should now be considering some of the harder options. At State and Federal levels Government departments are often pulling in different directions on climate change and thus working against each other. Something of this kind is happening on a smaller scale locally with sustainability and old fashioned economic growth in competition. Action on climate change as a matter of urgency must take priority. It is time for the EGS to break ranks with the rest of Gippsland – including specifically the promotion by the Committee for Gippsland – over coal, to move from promoting the logging industry to protecting our forests and a number of other no cost actions like banning another harmful fossil fuel – CSG or ‘Unconventional Gas”.
With the current business as usual scenario the planet is still heading for a warming of far greater than 2 degrees. There is mounting evidence that even a 2 degrees rise will be disastrous for most of the planet. Even now with a warming so far of about .8 of one degree the human occupied planet is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and bushfires. Climate Change has been a major factor in the current Syrian crisis and the refugees flooding Europe are the just the first of the climate refugees. Refugees from a number of Pacific Islands that are regularly flooded by storms and high tides may be next.
It follows that it is high time that the overwhelming issue of climate change took priority over party. A government of National Unity on Climate Change will probably be the precursor to an Emergency (war-time style) government. Major changes in direction, policy, finances will be required across all levels of government where measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change become paramount. It may be necessary at least to name and shame, and possibly make illegal, resistance to the required changes.
The immediate aim of climate activists across Australia should be to use the system to cleanse denialists from both houses of parliament. The preferential system makes this possible. Preference trading should be ignored by all people and parties of goodwill and be replaced with preferences for strong climate candidates and against the climate deniers. This tactic is especially needed in the Senate to help the major parties dispose of some of their ‘albatrosses’ like Senator Benardi.
At the moment a government of national unity would be comprised of about half the Liberals, most of Labor, all the Greens, some Independents and even perhaps one or two Nationals. It would have an overwhelming majority in both houses. It could even be led by Malcolm Turnbull who, of the leaders of both major parties, has been most outspoken on climate change in the past.
The term ‘just transition’ has been bandied about by all and sundry recently but we need to ask “What does a Just Transition mean?” It certainly involves a substantial amount of planning but both the previous State government and the current one seem to have little idea of the processes involved. The Greens are correct in their recent call for an overseeing or co-ordinating body on this matter. I have suggested a number of times that perhaps the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) can be revived from its current hollow shell to co-ordinate and direct proceedings so that the changeover from coal based to renewable energy is gradual, smooth and seamless but done as quickly as possible.
The planner’s (SECV or otherwise) first task should be the elimination of unemployment in the Valley whilst looking for a complete shutdown of the Hazelwood Power Station within 12 months as the first major steps in the transition. This closure of the nation’s most carbon intensive power station should be a priority and follow full employment. Considerable finances and co-ordination will be required. The ample funds should be directed towards providing both renewable energy and local employment. Basic employment programs such as tree planting or a new greatly expanded apprenticeship program in the various renewable energy areas should be considered as possible means to help soak up the local pool of unemployed.
The planners should also be looking at means of utilising the current infrastructure as much as possible including closely examining possible power sources as pumped hydro and geothermal energy. Study programs on these matters should be implemented at Churchill’s Federation University – perhaps in conjunction with the Melbourne University Energy Institute – and used to assist and direct planning.
One thing the ‘just transition’ will not mean is that workers and miners will transfer out of their current jobs into 6 figure salaries doing unskilled labour. There will be still be highly paid jobs but they will be in different areas. One possibly is the technical and physical aspects of asbestos removal during power station rehabilitation. The power station owners, and in particular GDF/Suez, should be gradually downsizing now, retiring employees and generators at appropriate times and with proper payments. They should also be carefully examining ways in which they can utilise their resources beyond coal. A transition of this sort will not only benefit the workers and residents of the valley – it will benefit us all.
In 1982 a reconditioned wind generator was installed at our newly built ‘mudbrick mansions’. It was to be our main power source for 16 years along with a small backup petrol generator and 200 amp hours of lead acid battery storage. The generator was rated at 300 watts. The total cost of the whole system including tower, reconditioned generator and blade, a small back-up petrol generator, battery bank, inverter, dual power wiring and installation was less than one third the cost of getting the mains power brought to the house. The genius behind it all was my good friend (and ex-student) James Poynton. This, along with a swap of an old trail bike for the tower, and lots of help from friends and neighbours, got everything up and running over one hot summer.
To minimise power lost through resistance the tower was situated close to the house. And the power system went through a number of upgrades over the years. The problem with the wind generator was matching supply with demand. For a lot of the time the generator was physically turned off with the blade feathered to the wind. For the windy months of winter, it was turned off frequently whilst there were also still periods, sometimes lengthy, in autumn. One experiment was to use a rotary inverter to run a dishwasher (with the heater disconnected) usually during windy periods. Another improvement was to double the battery storage.
Until the end of its life mechanical problems were few, and aside from once losing the magnetism of the outer casing and annual maintenance, the system required a daily battery check-up and sometimes turning the generator on or off according to the level of power storage. It was definitely a ‘hands on’ operation. The back-up petrol generator, when brought into use to charge the batteries during still periods, also pumped water and was sometimes used for the rare times clothes needed ironing. One quickly got used to the sounds and rhythms of the wind generator and it was easy to detect when electricity was being generated or if there was a problem with the system.
On the downside the generator blade did kill birds. When charging the blade was like an aeroplane propeller – invisible. The total kill was about one a year – exclusively magpies which was the most common species in the area. By comparison about twice that number of birds – and of a wider variety of species – were killed annually by flying into our house windows.
Excluding one’s labour and depreciation costs we operated with free power. With the help of amazing advances in solar PVs and energy efficiency we continue to do so. And it goes without saying that I am a strong supporter of wind power. It is the modern wind generator that is challenging the dominance of coal in our electrical supply system. Without a rapid phase out of coal and other fossil fuels mankind will be condemned to the most diabolical scenarios of global warming.
The Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) held their AGM in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria at the Federation Training Conference Room at the Warragul Railway Station on the 14th. A few of the more adventurous participants used the train to commute there. The GCCN meeting was ably and quickly conducted by President Cr. Darren McCubbin of Wellington Shire – although the acoustics of the room left a bit to be desired. Board members elected include Beth Ripper of Stratford and Ian Southall of Mirboo North. One position on the board of management is still vacant.
Luke Wilkinson Gippsland representative of Sustainability Victoria conducted the Forum on “State Government Community Conversations on Climate Change Action in Gippsland”. Local organisation the Baw Baw Sustainability Network were well represented and member Natasha Brown spoke to the meeting on the wide range of her group’s activities. Rebecca Lamble, Environment Officer with the East Gippsland Shire Council, spoke at some length on the Shire’s achievements so far, including converting street lighting in the township of Bairnsdale to LED lighting. Several short videos were shown.
It is unfortunate that the segmented nature of our State administration severely hampers Sustainability Victoria’s efforts. Whilst they are working very hard on climate change another department is still issuing brown coal exploration licences. But it is certainly a positive to have a State Government in power that recognises that there is much work to be done on climate change. It is even more important that we support the GCCN and Sustainability Victoria and let all the politicians know of the immense challenges before us.
Sustainability Victoria are conducting these forums or “community conversations” across Victoria. Unfortunately they have received minimal publicity. They will be conducting another “Community Conversations on Climate Change” on Monday 26 October from 11am-2pm at the Segue Community Hub & Arts Café Stratford. If you are interested in attending contact Beth Ripper at firstname.lastname@example.org
The recently announced ‘medicinal marijuana’ trials appear to be a first for Victoria. Harriet Shing MLC has been touting Gippsland as the ideal place to grow this crop -which it certainly is. Industrial Hemp should also be considered and promoted. Industrial hemp, with only trace elements of the drug component, should be seriously considered as a major crop across the region for two immediate benefits with regards climate change.
Firstly this crop may be able to partially or completely replace wood pulp obtained from logging our native forests. It is becoming increasingly clear that these forests must be preserved and protected as carbon stores and carbon sinks. To make sure that paper manufacturers don’t turn to destroying other native forests a practical and economic source of fibre should be found. Industrial hemp may be the perfect substitute. As well hemp may be used as bio-energy crop to produce either electricity or liquid fuel and biochar. Is it possible that hemp can be cultivated as “carbon negative” product – that it can actually draw down more carbon than is used to produce it and sequester it as ‘biochar’? There are a wide range of other uses of this plant including food, clothing, building materials and products used in the car industry. It would appear that almost every part of the plant can be utilised.
Industrial hemp as a crop is not catholic in its tastes and can be grown on a wide range of soils with minimal inputs of fertilisers etc. But at present there are too many barriers to its cultivation including a restrictive licencing system and a status quo that treats all hemp varieties as a harmful drug. Perhaps the new Victorian trials will change this. What is needed is some information on the economics of Industrial Hemp cultivation and whether it can actually provide any of the claimed climate benefits.
Historically, in the late Nineteenth Century the flats of the Mitchell and Tambo Rivers grew hops, hemp and opium poppies. These crops were probably cultivated in many other places in Gippsland. Perhaps it is time that industrial hemp is given a decent trial free from all the encumbrances of bureaucracy.
There has been a lot of ‘noise’ on the social media recently stating that the methane produced by beef cattle and other ruminants is the main cause of climate change and the answer to it is to stop eating beef. The source for this has been incorrectly attributed to the most recent study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publication. It is true that methane is one of the main greenhouse gases, that in its early stages it is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, that it eventually degrades to CO2 in the atmosphere, and it is produced in the digestive systems of ruminants. However it is not by any measurement anywhere near the main source of greenhouse gas.
Tim Flannery in his recent publication Atmosphere of Hope noted that “three fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – lie at the heart of the climate problem” and that the “burning of coal to generate electricity remains the world’s single largest source of carbon pollution.” The World Wildlife Fund noted that in 2008 72% of Australia’s greenhouse gases came from stationary and transport energy related uses compared with 15.9% from agriculture – mainly cattle and fertilisers. Of that part of energy use 51% came from the stationary generation of power – mainly Flannery’s coal fired power stations. One can assume that these figures are roughly the same today in Australia and similar throughout developed nations.
The stories appear to have originated from vegan organisations. It may be a sad example of an otherwise legitimate cause pushing its own barrow and promoting that cause to the detriment of the whole. As the above information on methane indicates much of what they are saying about greenhouse gases and climate is true but the final extrapolation from IPCC information is not. Unfortunately this is a tactic similar to that used by climate change deniers. The end result is often general confusion and the diversion of energy away from the obvious target – closing down the use of coal as a source of energy.
We should try to reduce all aspects of human greenhouse gas sources by as many different means as possible – this is the “silver shotgun” approach advocated by Washington & Cook in their Climate Change Denial (2011). Some things are far easier for individuals to adopt – the lifestyle choices – and we should all do everything we can to try to avert the ‘climate emergency’. But it is essential that we keep our eye on the main game – coal and coal generated electricity – and are not diverted from it.