Gippsland News & Views

Gippsland Public Opinion: Climate Change Effects Everything

The current opinions and priorities of Gippslanders are clearly shown by the Sustainability Victoria commissioned opinion poll on climate change in our region. The 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!

A Sustainability Victoria employee described the survey as “the social research is far beyond an opinion poll.  It is robust enough for results to be utilised in scientific literature. It is independent delivered with a sample size significant enough for the results to represent the wider population, and representative of all demographics (gender, age, education level, income, etc.).” We conclude that the poll is reliable and that few Gippslanders realise all these aspects of our lives are affected in some way by human caused climate change.

Some of these aspects 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. Farmers during periods of extended dry face mental stress as do other workers whose jobs are put at risk by the clean energy disruption. These are but a few examples of climate change’s direct or indirect effects on public health problems.

On the up side there are numerous reasons why we should rapidly change from dirty to clean energy. The Morwell open cut fire for instance was responsible for more fatalities than those caused by all the terrorist acts in Australia in over a century. The major industries, and thus employers, in the Gippsland region – logging and fossil fuel – are all operating on borrowed time. Others aspects such as jobs are being eroded by the disrupting solutions to climate change. Renewable Energy is a job boom area but jobs appear to be leaving the Latrobe Valley for elsewhere.

With regards the other high polling priorities in the survey the cost of living is affected in many ways. A few examples include insurance going up to cope with the damage costs of extreme weather events and the creeping costs to us all of the privatised (and heat stressed) power industry. With roads and transport climate change means fossil fuel transport must be phased out and replaced by improved public transport, electric vehicles and eventually autonomous or self-driving cars. And it is the apparent lack (or inadequacy) of science and logic in our education system that means the connection between climate change and all aspects of our lives is not made.

The alternatives to acting on climate change are stark. Supporting or voting for the reaction perhaps may defer the inevitable – the end of coal fired generation and the logging industry – for a year or two. But in doing so, many of the opportunities that accompany the disruptive change will be lost. I hope to examine these aspects of public opinion in Gippsland in more detail at a later date.

Some Excerpts from a DEA fact sheet on bushfires

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) recently released a fact sheet on bushfires and health in Australia. The following are excerpts from that publication relevant to all Gippsanders. Note for references go to the original.

“Extreme fire weather has increased in Australia over the last 30 years. Our fire-prone continent is at particular risk from the impacts of climate change, and we are experiencing more extreme heat events, an increase in severe fire danger days and a longer fire season…The south-east and south-west of the country is especially vulnerable to bush fires. Modelling of weather projections across these areas show increasingly hot and dry conditions for longer periods over the coming decades.

Destructive fires generally occur when a period of hot dry weather with strong winds follows a season of high rainfall that has created a large fuel load. Accidental ignition, lightning or arson can start a fire which spreads rapidly, becomes fast moving and difficult to control. The health impacts of bushfires can be severe and long lasting, but can be reduced through bushfire prevention, preparation and education…

“Bushfires can have profound and devastating consequences. They can also place significant pressure on communities that will only worsen with climate change.

“Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of bushfires in Australia, exposing more people, especially the most vulnerable, to sickness and death. There will be increasing demands on our communities, fire-fighting resources and health services.  An urgent response is required to protect communities and human health…

“People exposed to radiant heat while fighting fires are vulnerable to heat stress from very hot and dry conditions, potentially compounded by the necessary use of heavy protective clothing. Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to reduce its temperature adequately. Heat related illness can be mild to severe. Early signs of heat stress may include dizziness, weakness or fatigue. More severe illness may progress to include confusion, altered behaviour, hot dry skin, vomiting or rapid breathing. The most severe form of heat stress is heat stroke, which can be fatal.

“Doctors for the Environment Australia calls for: • Urgent action to mitigate climate change, by reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including our usage and reliance on fossil fuels. Australia’s GHG   mitigation policies are currently inadequate to limit warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and need to be revised. • A nationally coordinated approach to the health impacts of climate change, including preventing and managing the health impacts of bushfires.  This could include strengthening community and health care capacity to cope with bushfires, including improved education and training of health care workers, and raising public awareness of the acute and long-term health effects of bushfire smoke. • For those affected by bushfires, recovery plans and adequate funding should be put in place to cope with long- term health effects.

Gippsland Climate Change is Not Natural (Again)

At a recent ‘do’ at the East Gippsland Art Gallery I was discussing climate change (as is my want) with an acquaintance. I was telling him about the recent survey done for Sustainability Victoria and how a substantial proportion of Gippslanders, at least in part, attributed climate change to natural causes. “Isn’t it all volcanoes?” he asked leaving me momentarily flabbergasted. “No” I assured him “the contribution of volcanoes is insignificant”, and picking a number out of the air “less than 5%”. On later checking a reliable source I found that the human contribution of CO2 was 100 times more than volcanoes.

The source of this myth is not hard to find. In our local library are 2 copies of climate change denier, geology professor and mining company director Ian Plimer’s Heaven + Earth. Plimer has constructed a detailed tome arguing that all warming is natural, and paradoxically that the planet is not warming. (Apparently Plimer made a bet that 2015 would not be a warmer year than 2008. He lost a paltry £1000 on this matter.) He also downplays the role of the greenhouse effect confusing us with arguments about the carbon cycle. Volcanic emissions, for instance, are part of the natural carbon cycle.

The arguments made by Plimer are debunked by Prof. Ian Enting in detail here. Enting noted that Plimer’s claims of undersea super volcanoes were not supported by evidence gathered by the American Geological Survey. His damning critique includes claims of plagiarism, ‘cherry picking’ of evidence, misrepresentations and ‘numerous internal inconsistencies’. Perhaps our library should also carry a copy of Enting’s Twisted: the distorted mathematics of greenhouse denial.

I am reminded of the apt quotation of Walter Scott “O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”.  As a director of three “mining companies ultimately owned by Gina Rinehart” it can be seen that Plimer is an intellectual propagandist of these vested interests. Of most interest to us is Lakes Oil – a company wanting to exploit CSG and use the fracking process in onshore Gippsland.

 

Excerpts from a Letter to the Editor by Chas Becket

(published Bairnsdale Advertiser 17.11)

I wish to reply to Mr. Douglas McKeown’s November 10 letter to the Bairnsdale Advertiser denying the scientific wisdom of carbon emissions impacting climate change. This denial is almost understandable given the strident misinformation and the wilful discrediting of science peddled by vested interest groups of all hues in this country and around the world.

Who are [some of] the cheer leaders and champions of this misinformation? Donald Trump …has pulled the US out of the ‘Paris Accord’ but the separate states are going their own way developing a renewable energy structure…big business in the US and here are normally dedicated to survival and profit. They have enough future vision to…[support] Renewable Energy…

Ex PM, Tony Abbott…referred to man-made climate change science as crap. But Tony Abbott is an acknowledged wrecker of ideas who, by his own admission, [has been] a bit loose with the truth in order to gain a vote or two. He leads a far right ‘we know better’ faction who are committed to mining and the use of fossil fuels with little regard for the consequences to our future generations. Ex One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts…from a mining background [is another]…

Mr. McKeown’s assertion that climate scientific studies are out of man’s control…[is] another piece of misinformation. 97% of scientists believe…the climate science…  As part of studying climate to perfect forecasting for the benefit of agricultural industries, the fishing industry or flight matters the Bureau of Meteorology has for many years carried out upper atmospheric sampling and research…But, the BOM is not the only climate research institution around…

The vision of the Global Monitoring Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based in Denver Colorado states that a society that has access to and uses the best possible information on atmospheric constituents that drive climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and baseline air quality.

With the use of balloons, aircraft and land-based observatories these scientists study the presence of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, CFC’s, hydrocarbons, sulphur gases, aerosols and solar and infrared radiation. The scientists are aware of what they call the Carbon Cycle whereby the carbon circulates between the upper atmosphere, the terrestrial biosphere, (our land), and harmful absorption into the ocean…

Isotopes are the key in differentiating between naturally occurring carbon dioxide and human induced CO2. All the other gases referred to above are man-made. However, each form of carbon has its own isotopic fingerprint and although they are the same element, they both have a different mass. I would have thought that this information constituted ’empirical evidence’ but there we go.

The master scriptwriter may have laid out a beautiful plot which I am sure includes enough evidence that allows us to exercise an open mind. I am also sure if there was a reasonable scriptwriter he would not have plotted in the systematic fouling of this beautiful nest we call the Earth.

My Most Popular Blog for 2017 – Wet Bulb Temps & an uninhabitable Earth

 Wet Bulb Temperatures and an Uninhabitable Earth.

By far the most popular blog of the year attracting substantial International attention. At wet bulb temperatures (when high temperatures and high humidity combine) in the high 20s unprotected humans start dying. At 35 degrees wet bulb no human can survive more than a few hours without artificial cooling. We are already well on track to make large parts of the earth uninhabitable.

Gippsland Climate Change is not Natural

The recent survey commissioned by Sustainability Victoria came up with the startling statistic that more than 70% of Gippslanders consider that climate change is at least partly the result of natural causes. More so 11% think the warming is entirely natural. Locally, East Gippsland Shire Councillor Ben Buckley has espoused this cause for some time. But it is a recipe for inaction and both Ben and the majority of Gippslanders are in this instance wrong.

The evidence for global warming is overwhelming. A recent US government report measured 9 different indicators of this including warming oceans, land and sea surface temperatures and sea level rise. The evidence in turn came from 28 different databases. See here. This warming is directly the response of humanity burning fossil fuels on an increasingly grand scale since the industrial revolution.

How do we know this? The basic physics of the greenhouse effect tells us that if we increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere the planet will warm. The steady increase of these gases has been measured for more than 50 years. Testing of the carbon isotopes in the atmosphere indicates combustion of fossil fuel origin – verifying the obvious.

Could the basic physics be wrong? Most unlikely. The theory of the greenhouse effect is approaching 200 years of age. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increasing the planet’s temperature (scientists use the term ‘climate forcing’) has been known for 120 years. The greenhouse effect has stood the test of time.

Natural change implies that the planet is heating up from increased radiation from the sun, either by increased activity in the sun or by some small alteration in the earth’s inclination or rotation. It should be mentioned that the warming (or cooling) engendered by these natural changes takes place over long periods – in geological time. The warming we are currently experiencing by comparison is taking place in an instant on this time scale.

Satellite measurements prove that extra radiation from the sun is not the cause of our current global warming. If the source of the extra energy was from the sun the upper atmosphere (Stratosphere) should be warming. In fact it is cooling. As the graph above indicates the energy from the sun has shown a slight cooling this century. The conclusion from this is that planet should be cooling. More details on this can be found here.

The message is clear. Climate change is a threat to human existence. It is a threat we have caused ourselves. We must therefore act now on as many fronts as possible. In Gippsland that initially means a rapid (and just) transition from coal fired power plants and destructive logging to renewable energy and other sustainable practices.

 

 

Electric Lawn Mower by Wendy Savage

(first published in Sustain Nov-Dec Newsletter of the Baw Baw Sustainability Network)

We have just bought a battery powered electric lawn mower to mow our 1½ acre Garden and I think it is one of the best purchases we have made. We had done some research on them in preparation for when our petrol mower died, thinking that would be a long while away, but not so. Suddenly we needed a new mower and we had already found one locally.

We bought a 56 Volt Lithium-ion Cordless Mower with a 50cm cut, a steel deck, and a 5 year warranty.  It’s lighter than our old mower of the same size and much quieter. There is no smell of petrol and you can stop and start it in an instant. No pulling on starter cords, especially the ones that need lots of pulls! You just press the green button and pull back the bar at the top of the handle  and hold the bar against the handle as you mow. As soon as you let go of the bar it stops.

When   you finish mowing, you fold it up and you can hose off all the excess grass then put it away for next time. There’s no oil or petrol to leak out and it’s very compact to store in the shed. We use ours as a mulching mower, but it comes with a grass catcher (a mesh bag that clips on the back). The battery lasts about 30 – 40 minutes on one charge, and takes about the same time to charge up. That suits me fine, as I can mow while I’m doing other tasks in the garden, or have a break and a cuppa which is rather nice after 30 minutes mowing. When charged the battery slips easily into a lidded compartment on the top of the mower.

This mower cost $899. Very comparable to a good quality petrol mower, or maybe cheaper.  The cost of a second battery is $299 so certainly not worth getting. It will be interesting to see how long before we need to replace the battery, as although we are saving on petrol, oil and servicing, a new battery is quite expensive. Maybe in 3 years they will be cheaper. We’re very happy to be reducing our carbon footprint by using our solar panels to mow the lawn.

 

Diesel Generators at Morwell by Dan Caffrey

 

(photo: Brett Tippet)

Over a hundred diesel generators are in the process of being placed on the site of the old Briquette Factory at Morwell, (decommissioned in 2009), in order to provide back-up electricity supply on the really hot, high demand days of the coming summer. Despite our local Latrobe City Councillors trying to make a big deal of this when the Minister overrode their discretion to object, it really is not something to be too concerned about for the following reasons.

1. The probability of them not ever being turned on is 61%

2. The probability of them being run for a maximum of 8 hours in the three months they will be there is just 32% and the probability of them being run for longer than 20 hours is almost zero. These probabilities were calculated on an analysis of the likely weather conditions, the existing generating capacity and other measures to abate demand on extreme weather days

3. AEMO made the decision to install the generators here, based on the scientific imperative

4. It is only ever intended to run these generators as the very last resort and a lot of things would have to go wrong before this happens

5. The siting at Morwell as opposed to at Hazelwood is because it is right near the lower voltage – 22 kV power lines that used to connect the briquette factory. The Hazelwood power lines carried loads of up to 660 kV, which would be unsuitable for the 102 MW output of the combined generation capacity for these diesel generators.

6. If the generators were activated, it would be when north winds were blowing and would take the noise, exhaust fumes and particulate matter away from the Morwell township and in any case the amount of pollution would be less than any of the coal fired power stations, notwithstanding that the pollution is exhausted from stacks at almost ground level compared with the 100 metre stacks of a power station

7. Extreme demand only ever lasts for spikes of at most 3 hours.

8. The hierarchy of events to respond to higher demand on extreme weather days is  a) Power up the coal fired plants to maximum capacity b) Increase the amount of hydro power c) Fire up the existing gas fired peaker units that exist around the state d) Import power from Tasmania via Basslink and the other states by one of the inter-connectors e) Demand Damping, whereby customers voluntarily agree to reduce their demand and get rewarded financially for doing so.

The important thing to remember is that these generators are a transitional arrangement and are only potentially needed because there is not enough dispatchable power in the system; things such as pumped hydro and solar thermal power stations with storage. These facilities are being built now and should ease the situation next summer and progressively more so over the years as more renewable energy comes online over a wider area of the country. This will ensure that the electricity grid is more constantly supplied with those very useful electrons.

East Gippsland Shire Council signs TAKE2 Climate pledge

The following is taken from the Shire’s recent EnvironmentConnect publication:

“At the November 21 meeting, Council resolved to pledge its support for the Victorian Government’s TAKE2 initiative as follows:

“East Gippsland Shire Council is committed to tackling climate change. We have a role in maintaining, protecting and enhancing the regions environment. We do this by using our resources more efficiently, by reducing our everyday impacts, planning for changing conditions and encouraging the people of East Gippsland to do the same.”

“TAKE2 has been developed as a part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to climate change. It is a collective pledge and community awareness program to help Victoria reach zero net emissions by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to below two degrees.

“There is already strong community support for the TAKE2 initiative with businesses and individuals across East Gippsland already participating in the initiative. Across East Gippsland 93 pledges have been made, giving East Gippsland the highest number of pledges across the Gippsland region. With the top three pledge actions being: buy products that include recycled content; install insulation in ceilings, walls and/or floors; and install solar photovoltaic panels.

“We encourage East Gippsland individuals, business, government, educational and community organisations to visit the TAKE2 website, make the pledge and make a difference to help Victoria reach net zero by 2050.

The Take2 pledge is a small step in the right direction. It is a recognition that climate change exists, is a problem and that something must be done about it. As usual there was opposition from some members of this very conservative body to take this small step. Until Labors’ election in 2014 local government was the leader in climate action – a role that has largely been taken over by the State of Victoria.

The Bairnsdale Advertiser (1.12) noted Cr Ben Buckley “questioned the fear factor of the pledge” although he did not elaborate on what this ‘factor’ was. Ben is of the school that current climate change is a natural phenomenon and not induced by human activity – demonstrably untrue as I hope to show in a later blog. He is certainly not alone in this as almost half the population of Gippsland incorrectly attributes climate change at least partially to natural causes. This shows a widespread lack of knowledge about the greenhouse effect. Even so Cr Buckley voted for the motion to sign.

Cr. Ellis in turn was worried that a change of government in 12 months (elections are due November 2018) would have a deleterious effect on the shire if it signed. It then emerged that it was more likely that the shire would suffer financially if it did not sign and a planning officer stated “that it’s not unusual for government to link grant funding to policy issues…We do it ourselves, through our community grants.”

Again this is a small step in the right direction and we thank the Shire for taking it and Sustainability Victoria for making it available. But let us bring the ‘netzero’ target forward to 2030.

Gippsland Opinion and Politics on Climate Change

A recent blog of mine pointed out that having an opinion on climate change is irrelevant as far as the eventual outcome is concerned. The point being that even if we don’t do something about it it’s going to happen anyway. This also applies to the opinions of all climate denialists – those that completely disregard, ignore or even fight against the science and the evidence.

On the other hand personal opinions have a very strong influence on politics. And whilst in the long run the opinions of the ‘do nothings’ and ‘don’t knows’ does not matter politics is the battlefield on which we must fight the issue now. Vested interests and those fighting change have long recognised and used the fact that to influence public opinion is vitally important.

Recently Sustainability Victoria commissioned a highly reliable survey of the attitudes and opinions of Gippslanders on climate change. See here.  The results are interesting. The good news is that an overwhelming 94% of locals accept that climate change is happening and thought that it is at least partially caused by humans. A further 69% indicated that climate change ‘requires urgent action now’. They are concerned about the impact of climate change on bushfires (83%) drought and water supply (70%) and heatwaves (63%).

Unfortunately climate change is at the bottom of our list of priorities. The other bad news is there is a major disconnect between the recognition that climate change is happening and what is causing it.  Only 9% correctly think that current climate change is a direct result of human activity. A further 26% think that it is mainly caused by human activity and a whopping 48% think the causation is partly human and partly natural, 11% think it is mainly natural and 4% entirely natural.

These opinions probably arise from a number of misconceptions including confusing climate with weather.  But the failure to ‘connect the dots’ indicates a widespread misunderstanding, or ignorance, of the role of the greenhouse effect. Accepting the cause is natural or that nature is even partly responsible removes much of the incentive for action.

Our political representatives, both state and federal across greater Gippsland are either Liberals or Nationals. Both these parties are reluctant to adopt climate mitigating policies and include a small number of vocal and powerful climate change deniers. New England is an area that is at the frontier of fossil fuel development of both coal and CSG in Australia. As the by-election there indicates the Nationals are very hard to budge and may be the last to change even though their actions in promoting coal and CSG are harmful to all electors including their supporters and the direct opposite of what is urgently needed.

We need politicians – either independents or a party that has some conservative appeal and is not perceived of as ‘left’ – to contest the seats of these parties and of the ‘climate deniers’ in their ranks in particular. But even they will not gain much traction until much larger numbers of country people realise that climate change is being caused by our own activities. In particular burning fossil fuels.