Gippsland News & Views

Time and Climate Change

It is a sad fact that a large number of Gippslanders (70% to be precise) still incorrectly think that the current climate change we are experiencing is at least in part a natural process. The consequence of this is that there is nothing they can do about it and so either ignore the problem altogether or relegate it well down their list of priorities. But in this they are mistaken as it can be clearly demonstrated that our current warming is man-made – now generally called the Anthropocene. This confusion often resolves around concepts of time.

Geological time is the process by which momentous events occur over inordinately long periods. Some examples include: drifting continents where the Australian plate is slowly drifting north at about the same pace as a fingernail grows; the laying down of the brown coal deposits of Gippsland over millions of years about 70-80 million years ago; the end of dinosaurs now fossilised in the cliffs near Inverloch 66 million years ago and even the total span of human beings on earth of about 3 million years. Natural climate change fits into this category with some ice ages lasting millions of years.

Even thousand year periods are hard to grasp. Ancient civilisations are about 6,000 years old. Gippsland was occupied by Aboriginal people 20,000 years ago (and probably a lot longer). Then Aboriginal people could, and obviously did at some time, walk to Tasmania. The end of the last ice age about 18,000 years ago meant as the ice caps melted sea levels rose. Bass Strait was created roughly 8-10 thousand years ago. The current Gippsland coastline formed about 6,000 years ago completing an average sea level rise of about 1 metre per century over those 10-12,000 years. The modern geological age – the Holocene – heralded the rise of human civilisation which occurred over the last 10,000 years when the carbon dioxide levels oscillated at or below 280ppm of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere.

Human time by comparison is almost instantaneous. My mother lived to 98 years and the average life expectancy of Gippslanders is about 80 years. However for a child waiting for school holidays or a worker stuck in an unpleasant job waiting for the end of the day human time can appear exceptionally long, or perceived to pass very slowly. But on the other hand the European occupation of Gippsland is less than 200 years and the industrial revolution when humans began pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere not much older. Since 1780 mankind has burned enough fossil fuels to raise the greenhouse gas levels to about 410ppm – an increase of not quite 50% on the pre-industrial level.

The effects of the current warming – land and sea temperatures increasing, melting ice, retreating glaciers, sea level rise – are all being measured in human time and the results are alarming. In geological time this warming is instantaneous and such incidences do not appear in the geological record. Climate Change is happening now and this is not natural.

 

Wanted! Climate Independent Candidates for our next Elections

(Andrew Meares)

The Liberal National Party coalition in Australia is a split waiting to happen. A small coterie of conservatives within their federal and state parliaments and organisations are proving utterly resistant to necessary change and remain aligned with the old economy and big money. From our ex PM down many of the members of these groups are readily identifiable and to increase the tempo of change they must either be removed or their influence severely restricted.

The upcoming state election in Victoria and a federal election sometime in the next 12 months is an opportunity to do something about it. The problem is that almost all of these MPs so far identified are entrenched in safe conservative electorates in the city and country. Thus the ALP or the Greens are unlikely to make an impression in any of these conservative electorates in the foreseeable future. But Victoria has had a number of examples of outstanding independent candidates who have triumphed against the odds.

Currently there is the member for the Federal electorate of Indi in north-east Victoria, Cathy McGowan, who is in her second term, in an otherwise conservative seat. Closer to home, Independent Craig Ingram, held the state seat of East Gippsland, against the odds, for 3 terms. Aside from that this seat has been held by Country Party and National Party representatives for nearly 100 years. The point of this is that reactionary members of Parliament are vulnerable to candidates with appeal who are either from the centre or their own side of politics.

The qualifications suitable candidates require is fairly obvious. Cathy McGowan, for instance, was a former member of the Liberal Party and came from a well-known local family. Likewise the 1999 state election in East Gippsland was a battle between the status quo, necessary change and between two of the regions oldest established families. Some local issues worked in Craig Ingram’s favour – notably the issue of Snowy River water – and he also had some luck garnering the preferences of Bill Bolitho, the strongest local ALP candidate in a generation. Besides this it would also be a great help if the candidate is media ‘savvy’.

Furthermore it may not necessary for these candidates to unseat the sitting member but merely to make the seat less ‘safe’ may make the sitting members more amenable to change. It would be too much to hope for that these candidates actually pushed a climate change agenda but, for instance, they may push a ‘clean energy’ platform or call for ‘donation reforms’. It is time we removed or severely restricted the climate change deniers from their positions of influence and power. Climate change is a momentous problem facing us all. It should never have been politicised.

 

Climate Change and Gippsland Public Health

One of the songs in the musical Hair, which I saw in London in 1970, opened with the line “Hello sulphur dioxide…” The knowledge that burning fossil fuels is a health hazard has been around for a long time. A Sustainability Vic survey of Gippsland public opinion found that our “priorities from the top are public health 62%; jobs 62%; cost of living 55%; roads & transp. 50%; education 48% with climate change a lowly 21% languishing at the bottom!” In comment I noted “Some of these aspects [of climate change] already threaten our way of lives or, in other words, are a public health matter. Extreme weather effects our health, whether it is the heat stress of heatwaves or the physical threat of bushfires and floods to our lives and property.”

Gippslanders – those in the Latrobe Valley in particular – are in a bind over this. Coal fired energy production and logging are major employers in the region, but they are also the greatest threat to public health. A combination of autumn forestry controlled burns, normal coal generation emissions and a temperature inversion, as occurred earlier this year, makes living in the valley particularly hazardous. And doubly so for asthma sufferers.

There are other additional harmful factors associated with brown coal generation. Eleven fatalities for instance, have been directly attributed to the Morwell open cut fire. Longer term there is the threat of heavy metal pollution from these operations, in particular that of mercury contamination in the Gippsland Lakes. As with the fine particles produced by burning there is no safe level for mercury.

An article by Anna Saleh noted that “Burning fossil fuels produces CO2, which is bad for the climate, but it also tends to produce air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and very fine particles that can play havoc with our respiratory and cardiovascular systems, even in countries with good pollution laws. While air pollution levels in Australia may be low when compared to countries such as China, there is evidence that even low levels can be damaging to health.” The article concluded that there may be huge savings in public health with a rapid transition to clean energy production.

Whilst such a win/win situation can occur it requires both state and federal governments to assist in this rapid transformation. Two major steps are required. Creating over full employment in the areas where jobs will be lost (in the old carbon intensive industries) and then removing the impediments to a rapid adoption of clean energy production for electricity and public transport. Encouraging them would be far better. But where private enterprise does not fill the gaps, governments must be prepared to step in.

Journalism and Climate Change

I was reminded of how critical the role of journalism can be when a journalist acquaintance, interviewing a local politician, let pass a bland reply about the origins of current climate change implying, incorrectly, that it may be natural. More than likely the pollie was just ‘hedging his bets’ rather than propagating the American narcissist’s incessant ‘fake news’ claim (I think it was Nazi minister for propaganda Goebbels who stated that if a lie was repeated often enough people will believe it). But it is a sad commentary on our current media that a PhD may be required to sort out what is real from propaganda. Is a journalist that lets an interviewee get away with a misleading statement on climate thereby helping propagate this crime against humanity? How do journalists handle climate change?

Journalists have continuous pressure on them – meeting deadlines, satisfying editors and bosses, and searching out real news stories amongst the banalities of press releases from various organisations, politicians and pressure groups. They are continually involved with the immediacy of their information and a desire to be first off the rank with the story. But stories lacking this immediacy and requiring a longer term view such as the manifold effects of climate change are relegated down the list of priorities or often miss out entirely.

Private ownership of the media means a bias towards the status quo and conservatism. Even the publicly owned news outlets are strongly influenced and often lead by this. Generally the media has a pro-capital and anti-labour stance although sometimes this is very subtle. Examples of propaganda in the nineteenth century abound. David Syme of the Age pushed protectionism and changed governments in Colonial Victoria and the Daily Telegraph for a decade or so pushed a strong ‘Christian’ and teetotal agenda. In the 20th century there was the pro-war jingoism of the Herald and general anti-labour stance of newspapers for most of this century. We also have the vicious and sometimes spiteful climate change denialism of the Murdoch media – notably in the Australian – of the last 30 years.

Recently Parker and Woodworth in their Unprecedented Crime (Clarity Press, Atlanta, 2018 ) made the case that climate change denialism was a ‘crime against humanity’ and that the media were strongly implicated in this. For powerful organisations to control the agenda and influence the political process they need the assistance of the media.  In this they have taken advantage of the scientific illiteracy amongst the general population and perhaps even amongst journalists.  One murder may dominate the media and yet the insidious deaths of thousands in climate change influenced events like heatwaves remains unreported.

Can journos do better? The image above is taken from a New Zealand country paper of 1911. This paragraph summarises the essence of the greenhouse effect and anthropogenic global warming in 65 words. Perhaps by consulting a few basic sources, even Wikipedia, journos will be able to ask our pollies the right questions and when they reply with myth, misleading statement or fail to answer the question, make some attempt to hold them accountable. Very difficult I know but some unknown Kiwi journo/ editor did it many years ago.

Social Media and Climate Activism

‘Clictivist’ in action

I have been a climate activist for the last 10 years. Prior to that I would send off the occasional letter to the Bairnsdale Advertiser (usually to refute some of the outlandish claims of our local climate change deniers) and may have written a short piece on the subject as early as 1996. But up to that time I was more concerned with local Aboriginal and union history and most importantly making a living. However as early as 1986 I was aware that our human caused warming planet could be a momentous problem.

After examining images of a much ice depleted 2007-8 Arctic minimum I decided that this warming overwhelmed all other issues including war and nuclear disarmament and decided to devote most of my spare time to doing something about it. I continued a range of actions including letter writing, attending demonstrations mainly in Melbourne, trying to form a single issue political party then joining another, occasional public speaking and standing for public office whenever I was able. The latter action, standing 7 times at different levels of government over the last 10 years consumed much of my energy and a large chunk of my finances. I may write about this in more detail at some later date.

About 2012 I joined facebook following instructions from my daughter. This part of the social media still remains mostly a mystery to me. Initially my friends were real acquaintances and family later followed by mostly political connections. Later that year my Canadian sister and niece presented me with a website and twitter account and I have been using both these tools actively since then. The website remains much as my niece designed it and for which I am most grateful. It is mostly climate change and global warming politics but one page (publications) has a longish list of my history essays and articles available free as pdfs.

It was the introduction to twitter that was most revolutionary. I quickly, and perhaps too aggressively, built up my followers, organised my tweets to appear automatically on facebook, and made regular daily visits to twitter promoting a wide range of good and bad news on climate change and my twice weekly blog. I now manage 3 other twitter accounts and co-manage another facebook page.

Generally twitter and facebook complement each other. Twitter goes to a far bigger audience, but mostly it is speaking to the converted or disinterested. Facebook on the other hand speaks to a much smaller audience – but it is local and with more varied background and views. The social media is an excellent tool for those no longer able to march in the streets, especially people of my generation. Action using the social media is sometimes derided as ‘clictivism’ but these tools enable you to spend hours each day working actively for your cause. As to how effective this all is I can only paraphrase Gandhi “you may never know the results of your actions, but if you do nothing there will be no result.”

Climate Change and Fiction

I recently read Robert Goddard’s current thriller Panic Room* (Bantam Press, 2018). The purpose was enjoyment and relaxation (rather than work) and I have read and enjoyed most of Goddard’s novels. As usual the Panic Room was full of twists and centred on what was in this room hidden in a mansion in Cornwall. It turns out that the room is central to a diabolical plot to kill a large section of the earth’s population and thus give time to handle the impending disaster of climate change.

The plot is foiled but Goddard’s heroine is left wondering: “A thought keeps bobbing up in my head though, I can’t seem to stop it. Twenty percent of all species on Earth extinct by 2050…And floods and storms and droughts and famines like we’ve never seen before. If we don’t get our act together. Which, as I stand here and seriously ask myself the question, I don’t see us doing. Who’s really insane” she asks, the villains “Or the rest of us?”

I have come across references and mentions to climate change and global warming many times in ‘light’ fiction, but much of it was frivolous, ill-informed or wrong. A brief search online informed me that there was a group of climate change fiction books labelled ‘Cli-Fi’ and included serious and well researched work by such well known authors as Margaret Attwood. An article in the Conversation on this noted “If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing.”

This reminded me of book I read more than 20 years ago by Australian science fiction writer George Turner.  The Sea and the Summer (Cassell, 1987) is about sea level rise in a future Melbourne. Wikipedia noted: “Turner’s science fiction narratives contain…earnest approach to moral and social issues. In such novels as The Sea and the Summer…he displayed a gloomy vision of global warming’s future ramifications…The Sea and the Summer is… [a] work of science fiction realism, it concerned a future historian, writing a historical novel about a near future Melbourne, beset by the problems of climate change, unemployment caused by excessive automation, the collapse of the monetary system and the division of society into elite communities segregated from impoverished masses. Turner concluded the novel with a personal reflection on the urgency of giving serious consideration to social and environmental issues highlighted by the narrative.”

My own recollections of this work are mixed although I may be wrong in this regard. Set in a future Melbourne flooded by sea level rise (which made residential towers into islands) Turner concentrates on social aspects and barely mentions other complicating aspects of climate change such as heatwaves and extreme storms.

The question of climate change is increasingly being dealt with by novelists.  The purpose of ‘Cli-Fi’ must be to raise awareness about climate change and not be propaganda. Robert Goddard does this subtly in Panic Room. I apologise to any reader for whom I have spoiled the plot of this novel.

*Panic Room is available in the East Gippsland Shire Library. The Sea and the Summer should be available via Inter Library Loan

 

Thermal Inertia and the Climate Emergency

In my recent blog on the ocean warming and the large black marlin caught off the coast at Mallacoota I quoted at length from the Skeptical Science website on how thermal inertia works. Skeptical Science used the analogy of a boiling a pot of water on the stove. Even though there is an enormous amount of heat under the pot and a relatively small amount of water in it there is still a delay of some minutes before the water boils.

In the real world we have the opposite occurring. We have a human enhanced greenhouse effect warming the planet – gradually in human time but almost instantaneous in geological time. And this increased temperature is acting on the vast oceans of the planet. Extra energy of the equivalent of four Hiroshima atom bombs per second is being added to our atmosphere and more than 90% of this heat is absorbed by the oceans. Even so the delay in the warming of the oceans is measured in decades and of which the 40 year delay is the mid-point of the scientific estimates of this extremely difficult calculation.

Factoring in the thermal inertia of the oceans has a number of consequences. One being that if we could somehow stop all greenhouse gas emissions instantly the warming would continue for 40 years and possibly a lot longer. But perhaps the big message is that mankind has already caused much more warming than we can possibly imagine. The warming of our oceans, the one degree temperature rise over the century, the ‘Black Saturdays’, the ‘Millennial Drought’, the heat waves, the record black marlin at Mallacoota and Bass Strait, are all just the start of bigger (and worse) things to come.

As I pointed out the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere in 1980 was 340 parts per million (ppm) whereas now it is over 410. If we assume the pre-industrial level was 280ppm then the additional 60ppm to 1980 has caused at least the one degree of temperature rise we are now experiencing and probably more. We note that in the last 40 years we have added a further 70ppm indicating that possibly a further degree of warming is already in the pipeline. Finally we can add the one or two ppm we are continuing to add to the atmosphere each year. Even these very rough layman’s calculations indicate that keeping temperatures below the generally accepted safe level of two degrees is looking impossible.

Whether it is a dry that never seems to end, a bushfire that consumes everything in its path to the big break (Bass Strait) a heatwave that hits 45 degrees each day for a week causing a rush of fatalities overwhelming our hospitals and running blackouts across the power system or regular flooding of Lake Entrance and coastal villages this will be the sign that the climate emergency has started in earnest.

Unprecedented Crime: a brief review

I have just read Carter and Woodworth’s Unprecedented Crime* (Clarity Press, Atlanta, 2018) about the massive crime of climate change. The book has a foreword by James Hansen and is divided into two parts – ‘Crimes against Life and Humanity’ and ‘Game Changers for Survival’. It is my intention to concentrate entirely on the first part of the book where the authors outline their case of climate crimes and against the criminals that perpetuate them.

Very early the authors make the point that the science of climate change has been clearly established since 1990 and companies like Exxon Mobil (of Bass Strait oil and gas fame) have been aware of this huge and life threatening problem much earlier than 1980. The main effect of climate change so far has been to influence the numbers and intensity of extreme weather events including hurricanes, heatwaves and fires causing immense damage and fatalities. They quote one source indicating that about 400,000 human fatalities occur each year as a result of climate change.

As well as Exxon about 1990 a range of fossil fuel companies and related organisations including the Heartland Institute, the Koch bothers and Peabody Coal, decided to protect their business and profits by denying the science, by creating doubt and spreading disinformation. In this they have been successful with the process of concerted action being delayed by nearly 30 years, and with an ignorant denier sitting in the White House. These deniers, the directors and individuals that made these decisions are the first of the climate criminals.

The authors note that climate change denial is a crime against humanity which is “a deliberate act, typically as a part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering and death on a large scale. (p.46)” The systematic campaign of climate change denial which we have seen over the last 30 years has permeated our media and dominated the political process. Here the media is dominated and lead by News Corp whose influence extends across all media. Between them, and some misinformed and/or ignorant politicians, this influence has made it taboo for any journo to mention ‘climate change’ in connection with a heatwave, with warming oceans, with bleaching of parts of the Great Barrier Reef, or with the current drought in parts of NSW and Victoria. It is a sorry state that, with one or two exceptions, the main reliable source of information on climate change is the internet.

Who then are the climate criminals? Parker and Woodworth devote chapters to a number of categories beyond the original fossil fuel deniers including ‘Media Collusion’ with the spreading of doubt and disinformation (the hoary question of a debate about ‘the science’ comes to mind); politicians, especially in the conservative camp, who have swallowed and in some cases promote, the denialist propaganda; the banking and finance industries still heavily invested in fossil fuels and protecting their bottom line.

Even in Gippsland the climate criminals are obvious with the Murdoch media continuing their flat earth tactics in the Australian and to a lesser extent the Herald Sun. And at Longford Esso continues to release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

*a copy held by the East Gippsland Shire Library

 

Energy Efficiency as a Climate Solution (and Money saver)

One of the hardest things to write about with climate change solutions is energy efficiency. Yet in essence it is also the simplest. Like ‘demand response’ (being paid to turn off your power when the demand is high) energy efficiency is a demand tool. It can either reduce your power usage when performing the same task or it can substantially increase your productivity using the same amount of power. It can be applied on an industrial scale in large factories and warehouses down to your humble home. It has been described by some as one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ in the jargon of climate change solutions meaning that it is the easiest and frequently the cheapest of options.

One example rapidly becoming universal is the LED lighting which when installed gives massive savings in energy. As well, as the adoption proceeds, the price per unit continues to drop. At a government level an act to increase regulations on auto emissions should assist the rapid adoption of electric vehicles. Currently the Internal combustion engine is about 20% efficient when propelling a motor car – most of the energy is wasted, mainly in heat. An electric motor by comparison is 95% efficient and this is one of the many advantages the electric vehicle has over our fossil fuelled vehicles. Our future is looking increasingly ‘all electric’.

Recently Mike Hinchey of Bairnsdale has been running ‘energy efficiency’ classes at U3A. The lectures include basic electricity and how the home owner can get the ‘best bang for their buck’. They are about reducing our power bills as much as possible whilst still maintaining our comfort levels. Examples include increasing insulation of the house wherever possible to reduce the demands for heating and cooling in summer and winter. As with the motor vehicle in the home the future is also looking ‘all electric’ with the super-efficient air cons replacing bar heaters in the winter and providing comfort in the summer. One must be aware however of regular cleaning of filters and that the higher the air con is set in summer, or vice versa, the more energy it will use and the more it will cost.

Mike’s classes have looked at summer cooling of residences including insulation qualities of windows (virtually none), blinds, curtains, eaves, shaded windows, and uses the East Gippsland Shire Energy Smart Housing Manual as a guide. He emphasizes low cost options all reducing energy use, saving money and reducing each household’s carbon footprint. Mature-age members of our society will notice many changes in the architecture of the buildings around them – the loss of eaves in new constructions, for instance, increases the need for artificial cooling. This can be compared with the large verandas that inevitably surrounded our old country homesteads.

The proliferation of dark roofs is another example that compounds both the heat problem of individual houses and the heat island effect. Whereas in traditional warm climates the building and roofs are painted a reflective white some countries are now legislating that new roofs be either covered with solar panels or have a roof garden on them. All this means that by increasing your energy efficiency you are saving yourself money and in a small way helping to save humanity. It can start with you replacing each incandescent light with LEDs if you have not already done so.

Victorian Labor’s Climate Woes

The Victorian Labor government’s extension of life to Latrobe Valley brown coal generators, along with other recent counterproductive measures, shows they do not understand climate change, the threat of the climate emergency or the inevitable solar revolution. Their other recent retrograde steps include coal to hydrogen, Carbon Capture and Storage drilling, the purchase of the Heyfield Timber Mill and continuing logging as usual and the decision to release oil and gas exploration licences off the south west coast. I have written endlessly about the need for rapid change from our current high intensity carbon economy to a low intensity one. Unfortunately for Labor their latest plans are unnecessary and will come unstuck anyway.

This is because the solar revolution is already upon us. Professor Andrew Blakers of ANU in evidence to a NSW Parliamentary Select Committee on Electricity Supply Demand and Prices  stated the case clearly. He said “The key point that I would like to get across is that the game is up— wind and solar photovoltaics [PV] have won the race. It is a lay-down misere. The number one new generation technology being installed around the world is solar PV, number two is wind, and coal is a distant third. This year, roughly 200 gigawatts of PV and wind new generation capacity will go in around the world, while only 50 gigawatts of coal will go in. That is a difference factor of four between PV and wind and coal. In Australia, virtually all new generation capacity is PV and wind. The reason for this is that PV and wind are decisively cheaper than coal, even when one adds the additional costs to stabilise a variable renewable energy supply, such as storage, primarily in the forms of batteries and pumped hydro; stronger interconnection; and some spillage of wind and PV. That is the basic message I have. If you want cheap electricity you push renewables as hard as you can.”

Labor, at least in western Victoria, is doing very well on this aspect alone. But they do not seem to understand the conflict or the contradictions involved with their piecemeal climate policies. The development of renewables in the west of Victoria will eventually displace jobs in the east. Also because of economics alone coal will be replaced by renewable energy, storage and High Voltage Direct Current connections very rapidly. As Blakers points out coal has lost and the solar revolution, or whatever you want to call it, is a ‘lay down misere”.

What then is the point of these measures when they will not occur? Economics alone dictates that it is most unlikely that any brown coal generators will be operating beyond 2030. Even that may be too generous. When combined with the increasing number and intensity of weather disasters of the ‘climate emergency’, the political ‘penny’ will eventually drop and the pollies will begin implementing real options for the low carbon economy.  Unfortunately Labor has done insufficient to boost renewables and employment in the valley and Gippsland, which has always been the best option in a ‘just transition’. More unfortunately still, the LNP opposition policies, or lack of them, are far worse.