Gippsland News & Views

The Climate Emergency Declaration Petition

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I came to the conclusion that humanity (rather than the planet) was threatened by global warming in 2008 and that we were in a climate emergency. I resolved to become politically active standing for office whenever I could to publicise the matter, trying to form and then join a single issue climate party that appealed across the political spectrum and more recently blogging and using the social media. When I have the opportunity I often quote the English divine Thomas Norton “hope for the best prepare for the worst.” And the worst is definitely a climate emergency.

In all this I have been heavily influenced by former CSIRO Atmospheric physics scientists – Barrie Pittock, Ian Enting and Roger Francey. David Spratt and Phil Sutton’s Climate Code Red was published the same year if I needed any further encouragement. Since then my political efforts in Gippsland – one of the conservative bastions in the country – have so far made little progress. In my six previous efforts at office, for instance, I have always lost my deposit.

The recent storm events in South Australia may be a foretaste of the climate emergency. That extreme weather events will become more common and more extreme has been one of the major predictions of climate scientists for more than 30 years. These events are surely an example of both of these predictions with severe winds and more than 80,000 lightning strikes across the state. With 22 power pylons blown over the whole State was blacked out. We can safely conclude that climate change has heavily influenced this event. Imagine a similar circumstance in Gippsland with fires everywhere (from dry thunderstorms) in a heatwave and the state’s electricity blacks out.

In their madness our leaders have attacked SA’s renewable energy sources, wind in particular. They are obviously still prisoner to the coal lobby and advocating the opposite of what needs to be done. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could accept such brazen lies when looking at the physical evidence – photos of twisted power pylons lying on the ground.  In the wartime emergency which we will eventually have there will probably be censorship and prison terms for those that act or propagandize against the emergency. Our deputy PM (and a substantial proportion of the media) would be in jail.

On 16 June the Climate Emergency Declaration petition was launched with an open letter from prominent Australians called for “an immediate ban on new coal and gas developments and an emergency-speed transition to zero emissions. We must begin the enormous task of safely drawing down the excess greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. We call on the new parliament to declare a climate emergency.” – See more here.

Among the signatories of the original letter were Philip Adams, Judith Brett, Ian Dunlop, John Hewson, Robert Manne, Bill McKibben, Peter Singer, David Karoly and Christine Milne. I signed the Climate Emergency Declaration in June or July, and then forgetting, tried to sign it again recently. But all the evidence around us of warming is not good and we need many more around us to sign, push and promote the Climate Emergency Declaration Petition.

Closing Hazelwood and the Just Transition

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In case you missed it the headline in the Melbourne Age on Saturday (24.9) was that Hazelwood power station was to close next year and up to 1000 jobs could be lost. However it is not definite that the station (and presumably the mine) will close next year and this may be another false alarm. What we can be sure of is that Hazelwood will close, and close soon, and will be progressively followed by the other brown coal fired generators. We have almost run out of time for an orderly and just transition. Brown coal power generation has to cease as quickly as possible and be replaced by renewable energy if we are to have any chance of combating climate change. 

Three years ago during an election campaign, I made some brief suggestions as to how a just transition in the Latrobe Valley could be achieved. Since then I have made a number of comments in this blog on a just transition in the valley.  But virtually nothing has been done in the way of planning and therefore governments must react to now to what is almost certainly a fait accompli.    

A planning organisation for the Valley transition must be put in place immediately. The first task of this organisation should be to absorb the local unemployment pool. Unemployment has been reported at 18% in Morwell and 14% in Moe and is the highest in the state. This was done on a very small scale in 1999-2000 in the old Omeo Shire following disastrous floods in the Tambo valley where the unemployed were employed tree planting on land considered marginal or unproductive and bought back by the state. Tree planting is only one of the options to reduce unemployment but it can be put into effect quickly, co-ordinated with various state government departments and local bodies, and is the only carbon capture and storage system that works. Other options include an expansions of the education system, apprentice numbers, local fire fighting and emergency systems and other actions all designed to fit in with tackling the problem of climate change.

At the same time as the unemployment pool is being absorbed planning should commence for joint ventures between the state, business and workers. The earthworker co-operative is one embryo organisation of this type but so far any contribution from the state is lacking. Earthworker requires a massive order of heat pumps that must be increasingly manufactured in Morwell. These should be placed in all state owned buildings starting with those in the valley. Using the open cut and pondage for pumped hydro is another option.

Part of the just transition must be some form of security for the workers who lose their jobs. Generous redundancy or retirement packages must be offered. One suggestion has been for workers to keep getting their pay for a year. It is now not a matter of economics but of survival. It is not a matter of whether it must be done but how it must be done. Profitability should only be applied when all the other conditions have been met. I have made a suggestion for raising finances locally here. The Victorian government has just raised $300m in green bonds. What better way to use these funds than to rapidly increase the speed of the just transition? State and local governments must devise means to attract business. A range of options is needed. No doubt I will still have more to say on this in the future.

 

The Onshore Unconventional Gas Ban by Lorraine Bull

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Letter in the LVE 12.9.16

An extensive Parliamentary Inquiry into unconventional gas received over 1600 submissions, interviewed numerous witnesses, and 75 Victorian farming communities declared themselves to be against CSG, as did several councils.   Many independent community consultations were held; open to all.  

Farmers travelled from interstate and the USA to warn Victorians of devalued properties and disrupted farming practices, of methane gas bubbling up in rivers and water polluted by fracking chemicals including BTEX.  They had endured dust from frequent trucks, 24 hour lighting and regular blasting. Families and the local community suffered from respiratory problems, eye irritation, nose bleeding, severe headaches, skin rashes, fatigue and sleep disturbance. Psychological problems ensued.

Yet it is now suggested that the well-considered and informed decision of the Andrews government to ban unconventional gas should be overturned to create thousands of jobs in the Latrobe Valley; skilled jobs often done by fly in/fly out workers.  Our clean green agricultural industry is worth $111.6 billion, employing over 190,000 people. Perhaps those looking for work should consider agriculture which is becoming increasingly reliant on backpackers and overseas workers. 

A little research would have revealed that usable quantities of CSG are not normally found in brown coal. Maybe ExxonMobil had an inkling about the prospects of finding commercial quantities of unconventional gas in Gippsland when they exited their onshore exploration connections in December 2014.  The Victorian Farmers Federation has welcomed the permanent ban as did over 55% of Victorians polled in August.

(Eds. Note: we are opposed to any fossil fuel development as a source of extra greenhouse gas.)

Gas is not the Way to Go

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When moving into our retirement unit four years ago we seriously considered gas for heating and as a hot water back-up. Gas was relatively cheap and being touted as an ‘environmentally friendly’ bridging fuel. A solar hot water heater was planned with a gas booster. It soon became apparent that a reverse cycle air conditioner was a far more efficient heater than gas with the additional benefit of summer cooling.  It then became obvious that if we were to get the gas connected that we would need to use it for more than just as a booster for the solar hot water. There was also monthly usage charges to be considered whether we used any gas or not. The final sealer was the quotes we received for the installation of a solar hot water system (with gas booster) which seemed high and when taken in conjunction with additional plumbing costs we decided to remain an all-electric house.

Once the decision was made things seemed to fall neatly into place. Even before our solar PV panels were installed our conventional electric wall heater – which was by far and away the largest energy consumer in the unit – was removed and replaced with a reverse cycle air conditioner. There then followed a succession of improvements as we could afford them over the next four years. After having our roof reconditioned and painted with a light reflective paint (cream) our 4kw of solar PV panels were installed. According to my calculations this would provide us with enough power and income so that we did not have to pay any power bills. This will change next January when our feed in tariff drops from 31c a kilowatt hour to about 7c.

Then came replacing incandescent globes first with compact fluorescents and then LEDs and installing a heat pump for the hot water. About a year ago I obtained a copy of Beyond Zero Emission’s The Energy-Freedom Home: How to wipe out gas and electricity bills in nine steps. To my delight I discovered that my decision to remain an all-electric house was the correct one. Since then we have replaced the last of our power guzzlers – our old electric stove and oven – with an induction cooktop stove and topped up our roof insulation.

We now are now only a step or two away from the book’s grand design with work planned on indoor curtain pelmets, eliminating the last few draughts and external cover for north facing walls and windows. If you are even considering getting gas on or weaning yourself off it The Energy-Freedom Home is the way to go. More information on the book can be found here and it can be purchased here for $40 plus $12 postage.

My Backyard Biochar

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Recently I ran a blog on black wattles being my favourite tree species. The fact that given the right conditions they can grow large and fast means they may be an ideal species for capturing carbon. The problem is in the storing.

If my tree dies after 15 years having captured one ton of carbon and then is burnt a large part of the carbon reverts back to carbon dioxide in the combustion process. Even if all the tree was burnt, for cooking say or heating, the process would still be carbon neutral as I have grown the tree from seed. This then applies to all plantation or purpose grown trees. Estimates of how much carbon a tree stores in the ground are approximately 50% so if the root system below the surface is left undisturbed then approximately half a ton of carbon is being stored. How long it will be stored though is another matter. Substantial parts of sub surface trunk and roots will eventually rot and an unknown quantity of carbon dioxide will return to the atmosphere. It would seem that a lot of detailed study on this matter is required.

If a plantation wattle could be harvested above ground and converted to biochar and electricity this would be a win/win situation. Biochar is basically charcoal and thought to be stable for hundreds of years. It is seen as one of the great hopes of ‘carbon drawdown’ to help return the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back to ‘holocene’ levels – 350ppm or less. The ideal is a ‘pyrolysis generator’ that produces both biochar and electricity from carbon waste products so that it is carbon negative.

But charcoal making is an age old process. I have experimented using the dead branches of a black wattle as a fuel. This mess was a fire hazard and had to be cleaned anyway. A five gallon drum was packed with small branches and then placed upside down inside half an old 44 gallon drum. The remainder of the waste was then burned in the 44 gallon drum around and on top of the inverted drum. The next day ‘Bob’s yer uncle’. (see above)

There are examples of mobile farm biochar producers that theoretically are used to reduce weeds the problem being the definition of what is a weed. Farmers around here for instance place my favourite tree species in that category. Under no circumstances should this process be used to justify the continuation of logging our native forests or for clearing bush for farmland.  The best place for super-efficient pyrolysis generators – where the energy is used to produce biochar and generate electricity – are shire waste depots. Just a bit more sophisticated than my backyard job.

Biodiesel: A simplified view of my early experience by John Hermans *

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Upon purchasing my first diesel van in 2007, my intention was to collect vegetable oil to manufacture into biodiesel. The construction of the biodiesel conversion plant took several days. So little more than a tank full of fossil diesel was used before I became fully independent of the multinationals and their polluting diesel fuel. I have not returned!

The use of vegetable oil is by no means a solution to the impending global fuel shortage. Turning food production areas into fuel production will lead to global food shortage. I am simply using a deep fry oil waste product, and intercepting it before it is collected and refined into biodiesel. The refining process requires the use of methanol at the rate of 20% of the oil volume. My currant biodiesel production and use is minimal, as I will explain.

I found myself making a fresh 350L batch of biodiesel every couple of months. This process occurs over 4 days and takes about eight hours to complete. On day 1, I fill the reactor vessel, course screen and dry the oil, day 2, I heat the oil and reacted it with the methanol, potassium hydroxide mixture, to chemically split the methyl esters (biodiesel) from the glycerine. Then on day 3, the glycerine is drained off and the biodiesel is mist spray washed with water, day 4, it is dried with an aquarium bubbler, and dry air is bubbled up through the oil container. This entire process, although cheap (30c per treated litre), still requires the use of a fossil fuel based additive, methanol at 20% of treated oil, and a caustic additive.

After around a year of biodiesel making, I researched the option of running the motor on straight veggie oil (SVO). This change was a positive forward step. Since the vehicle has been changed to a two-tank system (original 60 L tank with biodiesel and extra 120L tank for SVO) my oil processing has been reduced in both time and cost. I now only make a batch of biodiesel every 6 months, as I use 90% of fuel oil as SVO, which only requires course straining and bubble drying.

The Biodiesel production process requires the use of highly volatile, fossil methanol (20%), and highly corrosive Potassium Hydroxide (KOH @ approx. 20 g/L).  So any conversion plant needs to be safely located away from residences and children, preferably, simply a lean to, on a farm shed. 

*John is a regular contributor to RENEW magazine and president of the Gippsland Environment Group.

 

Climate Change Deniers in our Local Paper

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I no longer reply to the climate change deniers that regularly contribute their falsehoods to the letters column of the Bairnsdale Advertiser. It would be a complete waste of time. After all they are in a way representative of a highly conservative and scientifically illiterate local population. Their letters follow a well-worn path and have been appearing in this column for many years. The crucial facts they repeat ad nauseum are invariably cherry picked. One tell-tale sign is the use of the year 1998 (where they use limited HadCRUT temperature figures) as the ‘holy-grail’ to prove the earth’s climate has not got any warmer since, or even better, cooled. The fact that every year this century, except one, has been warmer is ignored or denied.

The denialists also ignore or disregard information from leading scientific bodies around the world such as NASA and the Royal Society, and in Australia such as the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO. They ignore the overwhelming evidence from a variety of sources that support the statement made by more than 97% of the earth’s climate scientists that the earth is warming at an alarming rate and that the humans are the cause of that warming. I suspect that 97% is a conservative number and the real figure much closer to 99%. Who but the deluded would choose to back this miniscule minority with their aggressive letters to the editor.

The denialists instead choose supporting evidence from obscure websites and repeat various standard arguments, all refutable and some contradictory, and flirt with the most outrageous and absurd conspiracy theories. Their failure to critically evaluate their sources of information is legend. This plethora of misinformation and lies on climate abounds on the internet and is encouraged by similar attitudes and ignorance in both the mainstream media and reactionary and conservative politicians. It is fuelled and funded by some of the wealthiest companies on earth whose defence of their vested interests is Machiavellian and almost certainly criminally negligent.

Finally their failure to understand basic physics, or ignorance thereof, is evident. The greenhouse effect, and the identity of the greenhouse gases, has been established for 150 years. The physics clearly indicates that as greenhouse gases are increased the earth’s temperature will rise. The amount of the main greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere has been accurately measured for 60 years and has been increasing steadily all that time. The predictions of CSIRO scientists in the 1980s including warming oceans, retreating ice, longer fire seasons and more severe extreme weather events such as heatwaves, are all being realised now.

For many years I have repeated the Nortonian adage “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”  It is more relevant now than ever and with every year of inaction, or insufficient action on climate, the ‘worst case scenarios’ – that threaten the survival of humanity itself – loom large.

Geothermal Energy in Gippsland Again

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Some fellow Bairnsdale U3A students recently visited Iceland and gave a talk on their trip that featured the wonderful geothermal resource that this country utilises. I’ve previously done a blog on the potential of geothermal energy in Gippsland and utilising the geothermal energy under the brown coal was my main platform standing in Morwell in the 2010 State election. More recently whilst campaigning in the Federal election visiting the launch of Gippsland Solar’s electric car changing station I came across AusGeothermal  a local company in Traralgon.

The AusGeothermal brochure states that it “is an alternative energy company manufacturing Australian made geothermal heating and cooling products” and “geothermal is an alternative energy source that takes heat from the earth, where the temperature is a constant 15 degrees, and uses that energy to heat and cool your home or business.” The company claims up to 70% reduction in home energy costs and once the system is installed it is free. These systems would appear economically attractive to large homes and buildings, and those with significant heating or cooling components.

On a wider scale nothing much appears to have changed across Gippsland. Disappointingly, no further positive news has emerged on the possible geothermal resource below the coal. Most of Gippsland is still covered by geothermal prospecting licences which are best described as ‘inactive’. In East Gippsland Petratherm still holds the licence. This company, a ‘penny dreadful’, lingers at the bottom of the market and is obviously starved of capital.  In 2008 they noted that “preliminary economic analysis indicates that the [East Gippsland geothermal] project is capable of producing commercially viable, large scale base load, power generation.” But East Gippsland has been, and is still, well down their list of priorities. In general Petratherm has sat on their East Gippsland Exploration licence for 8 years producing nothing tangible in that time.

Whilst generating electricity using closed circuit heat exchangers should be the main priority there are many other practical applications of geothermal energy. In Iceland the first uses were bath houses and swimming pools. In Metung for many years there was a small heated pool taking water from an oil bore. Perhaps local use of geothermal can be commenced in this way utilising the resource for things like tourist attractions and growing vegetables.  

A Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) machine that works

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I am a fan of the black wattle (acacia mearnsii) tree and have been propagating and growing them for many years. This species is a fast growing acacia and has many advantages. In the right conditions it can grow quite large very quickly. On my 20 acres at Ensay I have planted them for more than 30 years and in some places third generation trees were growing quite strongly when the property was sold.

They are leguminous (fixing nitrogen in the soil), provide a small amount of shade and shelter and attracted a number of species of birds. When flowering they add colour to paddocks and attracted honey eaters. They generally produce abundant crops of seed and I have sometimes harvested small amounts for propagation. As long as the area around the trees is not grazed they will self-sow in abundance. Where areas in the bush have been burnt the germination of black wattles is sometimes very thick. After the 2007 fires in the Tambo valley the wattles regenerated at Wattle Circle were so close together – a matter of 10cm or so – as to make these parts of the country impenetrable.

The dried timber is a hot, but relatively fast, burning fuel and was the fuel of choice when the Swifts Creek bakery used their wood fired oven. After harvesting a large amount of windfall timber in the 1990s this dried wood became the main (carbon neutral) fuel in our heater and was occasionally used in our slow combustion stove. Dry and dead limbs off living trees were handy to the house providing an inexhaustible supply of kindling. When harvesting the dead and fallen timber for firewood I made sure that the stump remained and was left to rot – hopefully leaving a substantial amount of the carbon in the root system to remain in the soil. (It has been estimated that up to half the carbon of some trees is in their root system.) I have even experimented with making charcoal, or agrichar as I prefer to call it, but that is another story.

Counting the carbon in the root systems mature black wattles generally store about half a ton of carbon each. I have had trees growing fast and large where the household waste water was fed into the paddock. These I estimated stored about one ton of carbon each. Farmers generally consider them a weed. Perhaps if they could crop them, and be paid for the carbon that is stored in the trees and soil and removed from the atmosphere this could change. For the tree is the only CCS system we have at the moment that actually works.

Global Warming Commenced many years ago

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Many people have difficulty grasping the idea of a gradual warming across the planet. They also continue to confuse weather and climate as most of our weather still falls within the extremes of hot and cold. But gradually the earth’s climate is warming around the globe as the illustration of the normal curve above depicts.

You still get cold weather, but mostly it is warmer, and with much more extreme weather events that are on the hot side rather than the cold. The new curve – the shaded red area – is flatter than the curve of last century. This means less moderate or normal weather and far more extreme weather. This extreme weather is overwhelmingly on the hot side which includes heatwaves and the fact that generally speaking, at least 6 new heat records are set for every cold one. This information is not new and was clearly predicted by CSIRO climate scientists in the late 1980s.

The weather in Gippsland is becoming milder although we still get occasional cold snaps and light frosts. Because we are becoming used to the milder weather we tend to notice the colder snaps more and can be deceived. But personal accounts or anecdotes of cold spells do not translate into climate. For climate is the aggregate of weather across large areas of earth over a considerable period of time. It may come as a shock to many of us that not only has the climate of the earth been gradually warming over our own lifetimes, it has also been warming over our parents, grandparents and great grandparent’s as well.

Studies using data from coral, tree rings, cave decorations and ice cores have indicated that parts of the earth started to warm in the 1830s. This was, more or less, just 50 years after the start of the industrial revolution in England when mining and manufacturing began consuming large amounts of coal and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Amazingly this was just a few years after French mathematician Joseph Fourier postulated the presence of the greenhouse effect, thirty years before Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide and methane were the main greenhouse gases and nearly 70 years before Svante Arrhenius made his first calculations about increasing greenhouse gases and a warming earth.

With hindsight, and much scientific endeavour, this is exactly what the laws of physics, as founded by Fourier et al predicted – that after a given certain, but unknown, time lag (of about 50 years?) the warming of the earth would commence.