Gippsland News & Views

EGCAN Submission to the Bushfires Royal Commission Part 2

(edited)

The risk with the multiple enquiries into these catastrophic fires is that they will focus on the small picture: mitigation by changed controlled burning, land management practices, fire services staffing issues, equipment etc. These are all, of course important and with the increases in fires as the planet warms, we will need to invest significant capital into these on-ground measures. Unfortunately, wildfires are going to become more frequent and widespread with increased global warming, and once started will be, like the fires we had this summer, unstoppable. We will often have to hunker down and protect as much as we can till they burn themselves out.

The only way that we can manage the fires in future is to attempt to halt climate change at less than 1.5ºC warming. As the slogan used by climate change activists in Bairnsdale, Sale and Melbourne says ‘If this is 1ºC warming what will 3 degrees look like?’ We may have missed the boat to stop global temperatures at less than 1.5°C. We are rapidly running out of time to stay below 2°C. This state of affairs means that the type of fire season we have just experienced will happen more often. With the further drying of the driest continent, more areas will burn repeatedly… The cost of ongoing inaction will be more than can be imagined – environment destruction, economic collapse, social upheaval, fear, and incredible personal loss.

We cannot afford to countenance any more developments that will release carbon into the atmosphere. New coal mines such as in the Galilee basin must not go ahead. The Victorian State governments opening up of land based gas exploration is the last thing we need. New research shows that rather than being less environmentally destructive than coal, gas exploration and production is at least as bad. In fact, fossil fuels will be a bad investment in any case and new fossil fuel start-ups are almost certain to become stranded assets with negative impacts on our economy as it recovers from the dual hit of immense fires and COVID19.

The current federal government response to climate change with 25-28% emissions reduction by 2030 is actually a plan for global warming of 3-4 degrees. Climate change has been significantly affecting the length of the fire season, the severity of the fires and their range. This last fire season has been uniquely destructive and unmanageable. Unfortunately the science is showing us that this is only going to get worse. The only action that will stop this worsening by many orders of magnitude will be urgent action on reducing global CO2 emissions.

Numerous recommendations will be made by impacted stakeholders; individuals, communities, various vested interests, emergency services, scientists, in fact all parts of the communities affected. Many of these will make a difference and may increase our preparedness to deal with increasingly worse fires in future.

For all the words that will be written to the Royal Commission, there is however, only one recommendation that can prevent the risk and intensity of fire increasing year after year. The only measure that will matter will be for every level of government and society to take urgent, effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not done we will be pouring more and more money and resources, lives and infrastructure into a losing battle.

Footnotes and full submission.

EGCAN Submission to the Bushfires Royal Commission Part 1

(edited)

East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) is a community group promoting urgent action on climate change. We focus on our region of East Gippsland, but we see that national and indeed global solutions are required…our members have been affected by the fires; loss of property, loss of income, long term smoke inhalation, and had their lives disrupted for weeks and months as they were forced from their homes and communities by the fire threat. Many are living amongst a blackened landscape, still waiting for permanent housing and property restoration. Now all are in social isolation due to the COVID19 pandemic. The bushfires that impacted much of East coast Australia over many months have caused immense damage to individuals, whole communities, regions and the precious remaining forests in the burnt areas. The British Met office has estimated that global CO2 will rise by 10% in 2020 with 1/5th of the rise solely attributable to our bushfires.

The only way to mitigate fires such as those in 2019-20 is to treat global warming as an international emergency, as we have with the COVID19 pandemic. With ‘all stops pulled out’ we may be able to hold warming at 1.5ºC. While we will still have an increase in severity of weather events, the risk will not get exponentially worse, as it will with the Federal Government’s plan of only 25-28% cuts to CO2 by 2030.

In 2008 Ross Garnaut made the prediction that global warming would result in extreme fire weather with resultant bush fires by 2020. While he may seem to have been prescient, he based his predictions on research from multiple organizations including the CSIRO. The CSIRO report Climate change impacts on fire weather in South-East Australia (2005) predicted extreme fire weather by 2020. They also identified that this would become even worse by 2050. Astonishingly little effective action has been taken on this and myriad research that has predicted similar dire outcomes.

Indeed, as it is well publicised, more than 97% of climate scientists agree with the evidence showing that burning fossil fuels and releasing long stored carbon into the atmosphere is causing dramatic increases in global temperatures. The consensus is clear. There are also many alarming studies showing that if we do not act decisively in the next decade we may trigger a series of tipping points that will lead to a cascade of dramatic, irreversible changes in our planet.

There is a great deal of research outlining solutions to this global issue. The key however is to urgently cut greenhouse gases. The ‘unprecedented’ fires of the 2019-20 fire season, which burnt from September to March, have been somewhat overwhelmed by the equally unprecedented COVID19 pandemic.

However, unlike COVID19, to which we will hopefully develop a vaccine, global temperatures will continue to rise until effective action is taken. There is no vaccine for climate change. Governments and communities at all levels have listened and acted with a sense of urgency following clear scientific advice in relation to COVID-19. Early decisive action has been central in reducing the scale of future devastation. The same must happen in relation to the clear scientific advice regarding climate change.

(to be continued).

Footnotes and full article here.

Post Pandemic Jobs for East Gippsland by Angela Crunden

First published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 21 May

As we start to hear promising news about emerging from stage three restrictions, it is a great time to get some inspiration. I had the good fortune to participate along with around 100 other people in the first of six webinars from the Gippsland Smart Futures series. Three large-scale renewable energy companies were show cased, all awaiting final approvals and all promising significant job opportunities. The development of these three inspiring projects will occur from Perry Bridge and westward. It set me to thinking about possibilities for East Gippsland.

It didn’t take long to come up with ideas that would enhance East Gippsland and address the need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We enjoy a place of great natural beauty that provides endless opportunities to develop tourism. Eco-adventure recreation and heritage restoration projects such as the Omeo mountain bikes trails, the Emerald Link walk and Orbost railway bridge are some examples.

We could extend and improve our public housing stock to address a desperate need. Just last week The Advertiser featured a story on the plight of homeless people in Bairnsdale. We could build 10 star houses for low-income people to live economically, comfortably and with dignity. We could introduce mechanisms to improve the efficiency of existing housing through incentives for improved insulation, glazing, heat pumps and domestic solar generation.

These are small-scale projects that have the added benefit of saving money, greenhouse gas emissions and improving peoples’ lives. Projects of this nature provide much needed employment; boosting demand for our local electricians, plumbers, glaziers- indeed all trades and local businesses. The opportunities are endless but we need government support and money. That’s where the influence of local politicians Tim Bull and Darren Chester is critical.

Post COVID -19, let’s go for a clean green future; one which is more sustainable, stimulates our economy and brings long term gains for this wonderful part of Victoria.

Our Heroes by Rosemary Gooch

First Published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 21May

During the devastating fires this summer, the firies were our heroes… universally recognised and applauded, rightly so! During COVID-19 our health workers and medical scientists have been and still are our heroes, universally recognised and applauded, rightly so! Now we urgently need to do the same for our climate scientists, often ignored or downplayed in the past by our governments.

People are saying let’s get back to normal, but what’s normal? For us in East Gippsland pre-virus meant a three-year drought and a devastating bushfire that burnt more than 18 million hectares of south east Australia and sent smoke plumes around the planet. A bushfire predicted by scientists and firefighters alike. A bushfire, that research has shown, was significantly more likely because of human-induced climate change.

With COVID-19 our government took heed of the scientists and acted quickly and decisively and in doing so they significantly reduced the potential pandemic deaths for us here in Australia. They have shown us that they can put aside their differences and work together for the good of us all. COVID19 has also shown us that the Australian people, when presented with the facts, respond enthusiastically and responsibly. There has been a tremendous sense of community support and good will. Most people want to do what is right for society as a whole.

So, this is a plea to our Government; follow the science and take the actions needed to make a difference on climate change. This is a plea not to go back to party politics and simplistic one-liners. This issue is too important for that. People need to know what is at stake and what are the possibilities. We need the facts laid out truthfully and clearly, not the fear mongering, political spin and actual misinformation we have had in the past.

We need to honour our climate scientists* just like we did with our firies and medical professionals. We need to listen to and act on climate research and modelling just like we have with the pandemic. Flattening the curve is a concept well understood now and is equally important for minimising the worst of climate change. We have the resources and the know how to build a healthy sustainable environment as well as a thriving economy.

So, let’s do it.

The Author if from Nicholson and one of the founders of EGCAN

* See similar blog on our science heroes here.

Just Science by Dr Michael Borgas

Scientific advice to governments and communities is one important thing scientists do. There are many scientific voices in the media, so it can be confusing. These voices can also often lobby politicians for vested private interests rather than for broad community benefit. That is why CSIRO is important – it is largely funded by the public for public benefit in Australia. It is regularly scrutinised in open senate estimates committee hearings to test its integrity and it is an independent statutory agency, not a government department controlled by a Minister.

I worked as an Atmospheric scientist in CSIRO* for 30 years and represented scientists as President of the staff association for 15 years. When I began my career at CSIRO, I was directly involved in the Latrobe Valley Air shed looking into pollution from coal-fired power stations.

Over time issues have changed: climate change, wind energy, bushfire smoke, atmospheric particulate matter, even airborne viruses, all of which have recently impacted on South Gippsland, where I am now living.

Public research activity and science always changes as new issues impact on our lives. Often, and today, our work as scientists goes beyond narrow economic benefits, for concern about our shared health and well-being affects us all. The decisions that governments make need to be informed by the best science, but politicians don’t always respond well to experts. CSIRO is important for advice on climate, energy, water resource management, agricultural and human biosecurity, all critically important current issues. For example, CSIRO biosecurity scientists warned in December 2019 against international travel because of the coronavirus.

On the other hand, CSIRO advice on climate science has famously been ignored in Canberra and many State capitals — repeatedly, year after year, it seems. For all of Australia, what we need is leadership from our elected representatives, leadership which relies on the best scientific advice. We also need responsibility from all citizens to assess, and to learn to assess, the scientific advice that impacts on how we are going to live our lives: from lockdowns, hygiene, energy use, climate adaptation, pollution mitigation; this advice is crucial to the future economy and the creation of jobs.

Clearly, our lives are changing dramatically right now, and we need to demand wise and compassionate leadership to build a future containing the broadest community benefits. We are fortunate to have active institutions like CSIRO (among other public agencies) to help advise on the path forward. It is up to us as citizens to demand that our politicians work more closely with scientists and with communities, in open, consultative ways, if we are to rebuild our lives, and society in safer, cleaner, prosperous and sustainable ways. Simply asking your elected officials to do this is a way to start – you can always write an email in a lockdown.

Yanakie

Republished from Just Community No.2 April 2020

*For more on CSIRO scientists see here.

Command Economies, Coronavirus, Climate Change and Jobs

It has been obvious for many years that the climate emergency will only be solved by active government planning, direction and finance in what I have loosely called a ‘command economy’. The question of how our economy recovers after the coronavirus lockdown is paramount – business as usual (and climate catastrophe) or working towards Australia as a renewable energy superpower.

Writing in an irregular newsletter Peter Cook* President of the Dandenong Ranges Renewable Energy Association under the heading ‘Corona Conversations 3’ noted the following: “Last night on ‘The Drum’ and again on ‘Q&A’ some people were posing the question of what sort of society Australia wants to become post pandemic? A related and similar question is what sort of economy will we need and want? Outspoken climate activist from Gippsland Peter Gardner recently suggested that western governments “will move away from the ‘laisse faire’ of free enterprise towards that of a command economy”.

Cook added that “About the same time over 80 Landcare, environmental, farming and conservation groups suggesting a ‘hands on’ interventionist approach wrote to state and federal governments proposing the creation of 24,000 jobs in land rehabilitation as part of a post-pandemic stimulus package. Under the proposal, landscapes and infrastructure damaged by the recent drought and bushfires would be rehabilitated in part by people who had lost jobs as a result of COVID-19”.

Cook continued: “I hope this is a conversation that keeps going and that politicians realise that we should not go back to what was because community expectations of governments have changed permanently. In some ways, it is up to us to drive this conversation to where we want it to go. It may not become a command economy like Peter Gardner is suggesting…but it will need to be a much more proactive system of government.”

Another reader also questioned the meaning of ‘command economy’. She was worried in particular that the term meant an authoritarian government like that of China. In the blog that interested Cook I suggested that some form of conscription may be needed to direct labour to where it is most needed. Perhaps what I had in mind is a ‘mixed economy’ where capital and business has a role to play, albeit with them subservient to government and not the opposite (which is currently the case).

One historical example of an economic revolution of the sort that is needed is Germany in the 1930s when Nazi government direction, planning and coercion, saw the economy grow from the depths of depression in 1932 to one of substance and full employment by 1939. Business and capital played a significant role in this. This growth unfortunately involved the re-militarisation of Germany – achieved for all the wrong reasons and with eventually disastrous results.

This shows however, that governments have a major role to play and that it is possible to achieve the required changes. With noble and humanitarian aims and democratic and co-operative tools, the positive outcomes will benefit us all. Command economies and democracies are not mutually exclusive. The jobs suggested above by Cook, for instance, should involve far less government interference than is currently the case in the coronavirus pandemic. All that is missing is the will to act.

*Peter Cook can be contacted here.

Happy Birthday EGCAN by Angela Crunden

What an amazing first year! The birth of the East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) came about in an enthusiastic response to the Bairnsdale presentation of Climate activist and presenter Jane Morton. EGCAN formed in March 2019. This non-profit, apolitical organisation has brought together a diverse group of people who want strong and immediate action on climate change. In a year of a newly elected anti-science, climate-change denying government, the time was ripe for a group to gather and become climate champions.

East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) is a forum for local people wanting action on climate change. EGCAN advocates for urgent political and community action to address the climate crisis locally, nationally and globally in order to minimise harm to society and our natural environment.

Members accept the science of human induced climate change and agree to guiding values that include respectful listening and behaviour, inclusiveness, non-violence and kindness. Amidst increasing warnings, lack of progress and very loud bells ringing from the world’s leading climate scientists and the IPPC, the group focuses principally on rising greenhouse gas emissions.

To this end the group has been advocating the concept of a climate emergency where urgent action is taken at all levels of government, business and community. EGCAN actions and activities have centred around information sharing, community talks, media messaging and letter writing. Some members have been more visible in the community via ‘die-ins’, rallies, silent vigils and having a regular presence outside our State and Federal politician’s offices.

The group nervously took on their first major action in the form of a “die-in”. They would have been happy with 10 participants but wonderfully, over 50 people were willing to lie in Bairnsdale’s Nicholson Mall pretending to be dead for 5 minutes, only to emerge as living people to the reading from Greta Thunberg’s inspiring speech ‘Our House is on Fire’. Some members have gone on further to form Bairnsdale XR (Extinction Rebellion) enabling participation and actions that join with the global XR movement.

And then, between Christmas and the 2020 New Year, East Gippsland was ravaged by fires that had been flaring since November. Australia was experiencing ‘unprecedented fires’ and the broader community saw the long predicted impact of increasing global temperatures.

EGCAN members, like all members of our community, were devastatingly impacted, losing homes, property, fearing for their lives and those they love, fleeing, fighting and universally being left with feelings of deep grief and an ongoing sense of loss at the massive destruction for animals, ecosystems and ourselves: Climate Change hit home deeply.

A dedicated group of EGCAN members organised a petition calling on the local shire council to declare a Climate Emergency. The petition, signed by more than 1,600 people succeeded in gaining agreement for shire projects to be viewed through the lens of their potential climate impact. The council stopped short of declaring a Climate Emergency.

Amidst what seems an era of failings and collapse, there are many positive signs emerging. EGCAN members are looking to the future and exploring what it is that will help bring a new world into reality; one which is in tune with nature, which doesn’t exceed our planet’s carrying capacity, which is more just, more equitable and more kind. Vive l’EGCAN.

Malcolm Turnbull and Climate Politics

In 2010 when I was still trying to form a single-issue centrist climate party (the Global Warming Action Party Australia) Malcolm Turnbull, recently deposed as opposition leader by Tony Abbott and the climate denialist faction of the Liberal Party, was contemplating abandoning federal politics altogether. I wrote to him then suggesting that instead of resigning from parliament, he resign only from the Liberal Party and then form a centrist (or even slightly right of centre) climate party*.

Malcolm’s refusal (he actually suggested I abandon my quest and join the Liberals) and change of heart leads us to one of those ‘what if’ moments in history. If, when Prime Minister, Malcolm had faced down the extreme right of his party over climate, causing, at worst, a monumental split in the ranks of the conservatives. After all, on the climate question, the Liberal Party has been, and continues to be, a split waiting to happen.

Now retired, Turnbull’s recent political autobiography explains in part what has been obvious to any serious political analyst for the last 15 years –that the LNP remains hopelessly factionalised and has a powerful rump of climate change deniers in its ranks. In an interview with Turnbull for the Sydney Writers Festival Annabelle Crabbe noted: “He argues that the “crazed ideology” dictating the Liberal Party’s policy on climate could now only be altered by a crushing electoral defeat, or an about-face on the issue from media magnate Rupert Murdoch**.”

“It’s basically just Australia and the United States above all where this issue of climate policy has been turned into an issue of belief,” the nation’s 29th prime minister says in the interview. “And it’s bonkers.” Turnbull is frank about the solution: “To be honest with you, I think the only way out of it — unless you believe the Coalition can have a road-to-Damascus conversion which I think is unlikely — is a devastating electoral defeat. I’m not saying I want that to happen… that is what would shock the Coalition.”

The Liberal Party remains captive to the fossil fuel lobby – in particular big coal. But it is not too late for Malcolm to put his moral, political and financial support behind a new climate party. There are a number of options available, including party minnows like the Independents for Climate Action Now, but he may choose to start afresh. Such a new party would help bring about the massive defeat of the conservatives that Malcolm suggests is necessary for meaningful climate action to occur. The real climate elections are yet to come.

*a sitting member of parliament can form a political party with only 30 members

** I have blogged on the News Corp climate criminals a number of times (see here and here).

Vale Deb Foskey by Tony Peck

Deb at the Sale Demonstration February 2020 (Sam Peck)

The East Gippsland Climate Action Network* mourns the passing of Dr Deb Foskey, social activist, environmental warrior and tireless campaigner. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family and her many friends in the knowledge that she will be deeply missed by all.

Deb’s great passion for the environment and social justice led her to become a Greens MP in the ACT parliament. Her base though has been in East Gippsland, from her beloved Warm Corners and across East Gippsland. Deb fought right up to her death for a better place in our region and beyond.

In the most recent Federal Election** Deb stood as the Greens candidate for Gippsland. While this was an un-winnable fight, Deb treated the election campaign as though there was a chance. She lent the campaign her intelligent and confidant energy and earned the respect of candidates and opponents who appreciated her determination and decency.

Debs passion for a sustainable future led her to live much of her life in remote country where she maintained strong community connections coupled with effective environment campaigns that led to many environmental wins.

True to her convictions Deb joined the East Gippsland Climate Action Network and was a participant at our most recent protest – a march and vigil at Darren Chester’s office in Sale (image above). Her contribution was enormous and she will be missed by all her knew her.

Thank you Deb for making difference.

*republished from EGCAN facebook page For a more detailed account of Deb’s life see here.

** Deb was also a candidate in the last State Election. See her media release here.

Climate Emergency Declaration Rejected by EGSC

A major symbolic step forward in our local area was the presentation to East Gippsland Shire (EGSC) of a Climate Emergency Declaration petition by members of East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG CAN)*. The petition was signed by more than 1,600 people.

The goal of the petition was to request the shire join more than 1,400 jurisdictions around the world who have already declared a Climate Emergency. Neighbouring shires Bega and Bass Coast have already signed on, joining 95 other shires Australia wide. ‘Unfortunately the East Gippsland Shire councillors unanimously voted against declaring a Climate Emergency,’ EGCAN spokesperson Angela Crunden said when expressing profound disappointment at the decision.

‘We are facing a Climate Emergency. This might not be as obvious as COVID 19, but is in fact, far more serious and devastating. Declaration of a Climate Emergency signals collective co-operation and willingness to work meaningfully towards net zero carbon emissions,’ Ms Crunden said. ‘East Gippsland Shire’s adoption of the Victorian state initiative Take2 pledge in 2017, and their various projects over the past decade are commendable but these efforts are simply not enough, not in extent, nor urgency,’ she continued.

‘Climate change has been identified as a major factor in the fires only recently, finally extinguished in East Gippsland. Fire, flood, storm and drought are all predicted to be much more severe and frequent without urgent effective action. Our council has ignored community concerns on this issue and passed up an opportunity,’ Ms Crunden said. Seventeen letters in support of the 1600+ petition signatories were read out at the council meeting and five of the seven councillors present discussed the importance of Climate Change impacts and implications for our Shire.

General Manager Assets and Environment, Ms Weigall presented a report drafted from councillors’ reasoning and recommendations. Councillors expressed concern that terminology, using the word ‘emergency’ was sensationalist and would divide rather than unite people in our conservative region. Councillor Reeves expressed his support for effective action by the council on climate change. He said ‘…everything asked for in this petition we have put in place… we’ll hold the CEO and officers to account to put them in place.’

‘Council’s willingness to adopt other parts of the petition has given EGCAN members some cause for optimism, and Council’s aim to bring all of East Gippsland along in efforts to address climate issues is pleasing. Assurance that actions council takes to address climate impacts will be done with “renewed vim and vigour,” is also reassuring. All decisions made by council will now be with a view to mitigating climate impact which is certainly an essential and very welcome step forward,’ she said.

‘EGCAN is pleased for the opportunity to hold council to account in this respect and will revisit the idea of a Climate Emergency declaration. In the meantime, if all levels of government work as though our ‘houses are on fire’ we may still be able to keep global warming under 1.5ºC,’ Ms Crunden concluded.

* Press Release from East Gippsland Climate Action Network