Gippsland News & Views

Star of the South Community Consultation at Lakes

I attended the Star of the South Community Consultation at Lakes Entrance on Friday – the second in a round of consultations being held across Gippsland. Around 60 people attended in one of the Central Hotel’s small meeting rooms including a number of professional fisherman. A brief video was accompanied by slides and a talk by one of the founders to complement the displays around the room. 

The Gippsland offshore location has been chosen as the best site around Australia with access to the infrastructure of the Latrobe Valley and suitable depths for the generator towers to be set on the ocean floor.

Currently the project only has an exploration licence for five to seven years for a variety of lengthy onsite investigations and envisages producing 2,200 megawatts of power with 220 10mw turbines when completed. The first electricity is planned to come online in 2025 and be in full production by 2037 to replace the ageing Yallourn generator scheduled for closure that year. However the climate emergency will probably bring this date forward well into the 2020s and the meeting noted that the generator operators only have to give 3 years notice of closure. Some of the other benefits to the local community were mentioned – specifically employment and local manufacturing.

A recent Yes 2 Renewables (Y2R) article recently stated: “Victoria is already home to one wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prince in Portland in the state’s west – the creation of an offshore wind sector could mean a second. This represents an opportunity to create good climate jobs while doing a heavy lift on cutting emissions. Proposed in waters directly east of Port Albert about one hour drive from the Latrobe Valley, home to the country’s most polluting brown coal fired power stations, the Star of the South represents an opportunity for the region to prosper as Victoria moves towards a zero-carbon economy.”

The real benefit of renewables and climate change – abating our greenhouse gas emissions – was not mentioned once and even the term ‘renewable energy’ was used only briefly. The Y2R article noted “If we’re going to prevent the worst possible impacts of the climate crisis – from extreme drought to more frequent bushfires and sea level rise – it’s vital we embrace solutions that match the scale of the problem. Offshore wind is one of those solutions, and could create thousands of good climate jobs. Gippsland has long played a role in generating Victoria’s electricity. Embracing offshore wind would mean that tradition continues into the future as the state transitions to a zero-carbon economy”.

With the possibility of an early Yallourn closure looming large there are only two proposals that I am aware of that can replace it – the Star of the South Offshore wind project and Paul Treasure’s Pumped Hydro project for the Thompson Dam. The latter remains a proposal on paper. Since both will eventually be needed it is essential that they are fast tracked and given all the help governments can provide. In particular negotiating their way through the myriad of molehills put up by State and Federal bureaucracies. At least with the Star of the South the ball is already rolling!

Star of the South website here .

Reflections on the Climate Emergency by Dr Laura Brearley

Coastal Erosion at Inverloch

Edited version from Bass Coast Post.

According to the Climate Emergency website, 800 local councils around the globe have declared climate emergencies, 43 of them in Australia. Bass Coast Shire Council recently became one of them. I was one of many community members who attended the council meeting when this decision was made. The room was overflowing with people who were aware of the significance of the vote. We witnessed the courage and foresight of our councillors, led by Cr Michael Whelan, who proposed the motion for Bass Coast to declare a climate emergency. He spoke compellingly of the risks of not taking action, both environmentally and economically.

​In his closing remarks, Cr Whelan named his three grandchildren, one of whom was present in a pram, and identified them as key motivators for his proposed motion.

It was a moment of humanity and clarity at the heart of a formal, political process. In supporting the motion, Cr Pamela Rothfield said “This is one of the most important decisions we can make in this term as councillors.”

I am proud to be a member of a community that is awake to what is at stake. We have joined 212 million citizens around the world (as of August 25 2019) whose jurisdictions have also voted to declare a climate emergency.  We now have the opportunity to be part of conversations and projects about our individual and collective responsibilities and to plan how to most effectively reach identified targets for renewable energy use and zero net emissions…

This call for immediate action is central to the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement and the Climate Emergency Declaration mobilisation and petition which was launched in Australia in May 2016.

In reflecting on the nature of “emergency”, I am aware that it can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed and even paralysed by the crisis. If we are to respond to the local and global imperatives of climate change, how can we avoid being overcome by the enormity of the issues? And what needs to underpin our actions?

I’m conscious that scientific knowledge, ancient wisdom, community engagement, thoughtful consideration and creative expression all have something important to contribute in this space. In my view, to work together effectively on this, we need to take time to come together as a community, to listen to the environment, to each other and to knowledge holders from many different disciplines… 

As a result of the leadership shown by our council, we are now more equipped to respond collectively to this great ethical challenge. We are a strong community and have chosen to live in a beautiful part of the world. We love our children and grandchildren. It’s an amazing time to be alive and to be part of what will emerge from this emergency.

Divorced from Reality: Trolls and Climate Change

Recently one of my blog posts (Greta Thunberg and our Media) shared by East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG CAN) performed quite well on Facebook. The Facebook pop-up (?) suggested that we boost the post and after examining the options decided to invest the princely sum of $22 (including GST) to boost the post across Victoria. Though I have been blogging for six years this was my first experiment of paid boosting. On the whole the boost has been most satisfying with at least 20 shares and a more than trebling the number of readers of the post.

Another result was that the EG CAN post was discovered by climate denialist trolls. Whilst their comments have been ignored or blocked their reasoning and motivation is of some interest. Most of their claims such as the boost ‘cost a huge amount of money’ and is therefore ‘part of a conspiracy’ to the more general ‘scam’ and ‘exploiting of Greta’ claims are patently absurd. These people are misled, assertive, possibly uneducated and easily influenced by reactionary journos like Andrew Bolt. Unfortunately this ‘denial of the facts’ disease goes the top of society and politics. In the long term this denial is doomed to failure. In the short to immediate term it is dangerous and life threatening.

There is a certain irony in the fact that our whole society is based on science and is factually based and these individuals obviously use aspects of this such as smart phones, computers and the social media, as well as many other aspects such as doctors and medicine, whilst on the other hand they refuse to acknowledge the heavily studied and measured elements of our warming planet. As individuals our waking days and even our survival are based on continuous observation – as for instance when we want to cross a busy road. In our everyday actions observation, measurement and even experiment are used. Simply put science is an extension of this to the whole of society.

As I have frequently repeated there are a number of aspects of global warming that are not understood or commonly appreciated – the inertia in the climate system, amplifying feedback loops and tipping points. If the evidence changes then so must we. It is not a matter of opinion but fact. Ignoring the evidence, the science, is not an option.

As google analytics indicates the Facebook boost was successful no doubt it will be repeated. The trolls will not be pleased.

More on the Bass Coast Climate Emergency Declaration

The following are some quotes from those Shire Councillors supporting the Bass Coast Climate Emergency Declaration as reported in the Bass Coast Post. The first declaration in our region is a beacon of hope for all of us wanting political change in Gippsland. Hopefully other councils will follow.

Cr Pamela Rothfield: “Is it within council’s remit to make such a decision? … The Local Government Charter states ‘The primary objective of a council is to endeavour to achieve the best outcome for the community having regard to the long term, cumulative effects of its decisions.’ If this is not one of those instances where we have to make a decision for the best outcome, I don’t know what is.”

Cr Bruce Kent: “Last year I went diving in the Maldives. Every year the temperature shoots up by one degree in January. A couple of years ago it went up by one and a half degrees and it did it for six or seven weeks. The coral’s dead. It was so devastated. It is recovering, and I mention that because it shows that we’ve got hope. The earth can recover if we give it a chance.”

Cr Clare Le Serve: “The science is clear. It’s plain and it’s devastating. We’ve seen and learnt about its impacts on council’s assets and infrastructure, the impact on farming and our coastal vulnerability. We need to show leadership as a council. To do nothing would be irresponsible.”

Cr Geoff Ellis: “I believe this declaration will pass the pub test in any coastal town in this shire and the region. It’s an opportunity for us all to come together as we do in an emergency. If there’s a bushfire everyone runs to get a bucket. … I think this is a good opportunity for us to come together as a community and do something for the good of humanity. It isn’t us and them, it’s just us. We’ve only got one planet.”

And finally on a lighter note Cr Stephen Fullarton: “Seventy odd per cent of our boundary is beaches. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who’s spent more time on beaches than I have …. I support the motion.”

Bass Coast Climate Emergency Declaration Speech by Cr Michael Whelan

Edited version of this article from the Bass Coast Post

There are three reasons why I’m passionate about action on climate change. Their names are Seamus, Eliza and Thomas, and they’re my grandchildren. Little Thomas and his peers around the world have got more at stake in this business than anyone in this room. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about trying to turn this around because we are heading to disaster if we don’t.

​We are facing an existential crisis in the world. Business as usual won’t do it. We’re already seeing the consequences of 1 degree of global warming. Locally we’ve lost almost 50 metres of coastline at Inverloch. Cowes East is under attack. What’s happening at Jam Jerrup is scaring the hell out of the locals. It’s not just a Bass Coast issue but we need to play our role.

Using the term ‘emergency’ signals that business as usual won’t do it anymore. The strategy is to start with local governments because it’s easier to find innovative councils to be early movers than it is to get state and national governments to respond. Bass Coast Shire becomes the 31st council in Australia to declare a climate emergency, joining Melbourne, Sydney and regional councils with similar coastal issues…

We need to actually incorporate climate change governance in everything we do. We have to ask what the impacts of climate change are on everything we do. Our audit committee already does risk assessment for finance, we need to do it for climate change.

We can’t under-estimate the impacts. The severe heat waves are occurring every year. One of the big insurance issues is the drying of footings from prolonged drought. Our rainfall is becoming increasingly unreliable.

Bass Coast was quite early in developing a climate action plan – 2014 – but it’s been honoured more in the breach than the observance. I haven’t found evidence of the reporting of our annual emissions, which is required under the action plan, or the development of a carbon plan. We need to do that and we need to do it quickly…

Noel Hutley, a barrister from Sydney points out that directors are under an obligation to inform themselves of the risks of climate change, to disclose the risks as part of their financial reports and to take practicable steps to mitigate the risks. It’s happening all round the world. There’s been a view that we don’t need to do that in local government.  In February council was briefed by Sarah Barker, the special counsel from Minter Ellison, who made it very clear that there is a strong expectation that council will undertake strong climate change governance.

We talk about the cost of climate change action. As was pointed out by Nicholas Stern back in early 2000s, and by Ross Garnaut in 2007, the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action. We need to act and we need to act quickly. We need to play our role. We need to say there’s hope… We go out there and look at what we can do…We sell the hope and we enlist people onto this campaign.

The End of Ice: a review

Subtitled ‘bearing witness and finding meaning in the path of climate disruption’ The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail (The New Press, 2019)* is another of the many climate change publications appearing on a regular basis. The fly-leaf blurb described the work as a “passionate, emotional ode to the wonders of our dying planet and to those who, hopelessly or not, dedicate their lives to trying to save it.” Of course the planet is not dying but life as we know it may well be if we do not make a major effort to combat the climate emergency.

Part of the problem for me is that I have been reading, and sometimes reviewing, books in this genre for more than 10 years. The structure and often the content of these works is similar. The End of Ice has the usual chapters covering, obviously, melting ice and retreating glaciers (Time Becomes Unfrozen) coral bleaching (Farewell Coral) and sea level rise (The Coming Atlantis) but does so from an intriguing personal perspective.

I have followed the author for many years and was most impressed with his courageous and independent award winning journalism during the Iraq war when he worked for Al Jazeera and I frequently quoted him or repeated his articles in full in my little ‘peace’ newsletter. What I was unaware of until now was that he was also an ‘accomplished mountaineer’ and had worked in a voluntary capacity as rescuer on Mt Denali in Alaska. And it is Denali that becomes the first chapter which opens with the author experiencing a blizzard high on the mountain.

He later notes: “There has been evidence of dramatic climatic shifts in front of us all for decades. Most people in the so-called developed world are not connected enough to a place on the planet to notice. They are unaware of the dire ramifications of what this means, both for the planet and our species.”(p.21) Whilst most of the book concentrates on various parts of America including a visit to the Amazon rainforests, Jamail travels to Queensland for his chapter on coral bleaching where he records “The 2016 bleaching event that killed more than one-fifth of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef could have been far, far worse if it had not been for a tropical cyclone. Cyclone Winston brought massive amounts of cloud and rain to the southern two thirds of the reef, dramatically cooling the overheated waters on top of the reef.” (p.93)

The book ends where it began on the slopes of Mt Denali where Jamail notes that “Indigenous cultures teach of ‘obligations’ that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself.” (p.225) He then asks rhetorically “what are my obligations” with regards the climate emergency he has outlined with example after example throughout the book. The answer of course is that it is everyone’s obligation to do what they can – to sound the alarm bells loudly and continuously. As I write these words Alaska has again experienced record shattering heatwaves and bushfires have burned across the countryside.

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

Three Climate Letters in the Advertiser

The following letters were published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser on 16 August and are re-published here with some small editorial changes. 

1.Under the headline ‘Wake up to Madness’ in last week’s Advertiser Have Your Say section, the author denies that climate change is happening. I heartily endorse the headline, but not the letter’s content. Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland recently wrote “I believe that climate change denial is not just ignorant, it is malign, it is evil…The evidence about the effects of climate change is incontrovertible, and the moral case for urgent action indisputable”.

Local action groups, like East Gippsland Climate Action Network and the Extinction Rebellion are working to ensure that government policies change to reflect the emergency of global warming. I for one will be supporting the students and others participating in the Schools Strike 4 Climate protest planned for September 20 in Bairnsdale as one step in advocating for effective policies. Tony Peck Bairnsdale

2.I am writing to respond to the recent letter denying the role of CO2 in global warming. While I am sure the author has strong opinions… I wonder what he understands about science and the scientific method.

When I want medical advice I see a GP who draws on hundreds of years of scientific knowledge to advise me. Some people choose to ignore this accumulated knowledge and believe that vaccinations are a conspiracy by governments and the United Nations and cause autism. They believe this despite all scientific evidence to the contrary.

Climate science relies on the advice of meteorologists, physicists, glaciologists, geologists, oceanographers and many other sciences to reach their conclusions and they use the same scientific method which informs our GPs. Have all those thousands of scientists around the world and across many disciplines got it wrong? Or does the writer believe that there is a worldwide conspiracy involving NASA, the Bureau of Meteorology, the United Nations and every major scientific organisation in the world?

If I get a pain in my chest I have a choice. I can rely on medical science to investigate and treat a potentially life threatening condition, or I can ask some bloke with strong opinions but not much scientific training. Mark Kilpatrick Bairnsdale

3.In response to J*** M*********’s letter published on August 8 – we  have no time for climate debate. Our efforts are best devoted to working together to create the safest planet using the smartest solutions – and to do it in a way that avoids economic chaos as well as environmental chaos in the challenge we all face. Robyn Hermans Clifton Creek

Greta Thunberg and our Media

The bitter and personal attack on young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg by Murdoch ‘hit man’ Andrew Bolt has been echoed by reactionary journos and commentators everywhere (see here and here). But this is a ‘David and Goliath’ struggle of mammoth proportions. ‘David’ of course is Greta Thunberg and ‘Goliath’ the combination of fossil fuel vested interests and reactionary media and politicians around the globe, both immensely rich and powerful.

But Greta is no longer a single teenager striking from school on Fridays to protest the inaction of governments on climate change. Almost overnight the ‘strike for climate’ took off and has been repeated amongst students and their supporters world-wide numbering in their millions. It is this movement that clearly has the vested interests worried. And they should be for Greta’s message is simple, urgent and common sense – unite behind the science.

The media is all powerful in this struggle but their resolve and, or inaction on climate change, is weakening. A number of media organisations – mainly online but including the BBC, the Guardian and SBS – are now freely mentioning and screening Greta’s activities. Supposedly ‘middle of the road’ publications like the Melbourne Age (from which I have recently unsubscribed) have yet to mention her in any detail. The media generally sees no contradiction in denying or ignoring a critically important part of science whilst existing in a society based on science – from medicine through to smart phones and computers. They are in reality ‘flat earthers’ even if they cannot comprehend or visualise the fact. The conservatism of the print media on the ‘climate emergency’ may well be its death knell.

Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland recently stated “I believe that climate change denial is not just ignorant, it is malign, it is evil…The evidence about the effects of climate change is incontrovertible, and the moral case for urgent action indisputable”. Something for everyone in the media to ponder, especially those ignoring the science and those led by the climate criminals of News Corp.

This year the newly formed East Gippsland Climate Action Network has had two die-in demonstrations in Bairnsdale. On both occasions brief excerpts from Greta’s speeches were read to the gathering on the climate emergency (our house is on fire) and accepting the science (even a small child can understand it). Both demonstrations have been reported in the conservative Bairnsdale Advertiser. Now we look forward to the student strikes in Bairnsdale, Sale and Traralgon (and others) on September 20. The wheel is slowly turning but the battle against ‘Goliath’ continues not yet won.

Climate Crimes against Humanity and the Murdoch Media

The online definition of ‘Crimes against Humanity’ is “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale”. There can be no doubt that fossil fuel vested interests have known for a long time that catastrophic climate change may result from the continued sales of their product. Exxon (aka Esso) for example has been aware of this for forty years. From the 1990s many of these companies launched a ‘systematic campaign’ to either discredit or confuse the science to enable them to continue selling their products.

Further this campaign – conducted in the mass media and through favourite politicians and commentators – has been highly successful. And there can be no doubt that in the last 20 years extreme weather events (predominantly heatwaves, droughts) have caused ‘human suffering or death on a large scale’. Examples include the Paris heatwave causing 15,000 deaths in 2003, the Russian drought of 2010 leading to the Arab Spring and the Syrian drought leading to the civil war and a massive exodus of refugees. In Australia the heatwave preceding the Black Saturday bushfires caused an extra 370 fatalities – not something you read about in the media.

It follows then that the actions of the fossil fuel companies and their organisations promoting climate change denial – including various politicians and media players – have been (and are) committing crimes against humanity. Due to inertia in the climate system the successful campaigns of the climate change deniers may be the difference between harsh but manageable effects and catastrophic results threatening human existence itself.

In Australia the near print monopoly of News Corp (controlled and directed by climate denier in-chief Rupert Murdoch) and their media organisations have set the agenda for the denial of climate science to be accepted politically and generally in the community. This agenda leads other media organisations such as Fairfax and the ABC to be hesitant in their advocacy of the science. The reluctance of politicians to adopt meaningful measures in Australia is heavily influenced by the Murdoch media. Thus, from the mogul himself down, his acolytes and mercenaries in the Australian, and on Sky News, the obnoxious Andrew Bolt, the sundry radio ‘shock jocks’ and fellow travellers, it follows that they are all ‘climate criminals’.

If I were to attack someone in the street I would be charged with a crime and rightly imprisoned. Yet these purveyors of lies and deniers of climate science continue unhindered despite helping perpetuate ‘crimes against humanity’ which may eventually be much worse than the Nazi holocaust.

A Renewable Energy Superpower Lecture

Norway in the near future?

I recently delivered a power point lecture at the Bairnsdale U3A on Australia (and Gippsland) as a renewable energy superpower based on the need to change from fossil fuel based industry to renewables as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. In doing so I relied heavily on a Beyond Zero Emissions paper of the same title and the feedback reigns website.

After an historical introduction on the greenhouse effect and the role of climate inertia in the climate emergency the advantages and options of having a renewables revolution in Australia and our region were examined.  The importance for Gippsland cannot be overstated when much of our local economy is dependent on fossil fuel based industries and others like logging that have to be rapidly phased out in any real emergency action.

A wide range of options were examined including solar, wind, pumped hydro, batteries, other forms of energy storage, green blue and brown hydrogen, burning rubbish for energy, pyrolysis, geothermal and even the possibilities of nuclear generation. The performance criteria for the options being that they were carbon neutral, could be established rapidly within a 10 year time frame, and either were not capital intensive or had ready finance. Consequently many of the options for Gippsland failed including burning rubbish (produces greenhouse gases) brown hydrogen (ditto) and nuclear (establishment time and capital requirements). The options of manufacturing electric vehicles included the establishment of a Sea Electric factory in Morwell next year with the promise of 500 jobs. Other manufacturing options were canvassed for the Latrobe Valley including heat pumps, floating solar floats and the BZE plans for carbon neutral cement production.

In particular I examined two major job and power generating proposals – the Star of the South offshore wind farm and the Thompson Dam pumped hydro proposal – both of which when completed could produce or store more energy than Yallourn. There is no employment estimate made for the pumped-hydro project though it can be assumed that during construction it would be substantial whilst the Star of the South projects claim the creation of 12,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and 200 permanent jobs on completion. High employment is essential to a rapid just transition in Gippsland and both these proposals take full advantage of valley infrastructure.

I also looked at transport in some detail including the BZE Very Fast Train (VFT) proposal between Melbourne and Brisbane. Whilst there are number of these trains operating successfully overseas the obstacles to a VFT in Australia are enormous including the time period for construction and capital requirements – estimated by BZE to be in the vicinity of $90b. But the fact that battery powered planes already exist with the prospect of a small passenger carrying electric plane in Norway by 2022 with a 500 K radius and larger ones with a 1000 K radius by 2027 may mean the VFT proposals for Australia are obsolete.

When communities and governments realise we are facing an emergency it is then not a question of whether we change from fossil fuels to renewables but how and how quickly they can be done.