Gippsland News & Views

Gippsland Climate Change Network Meeting & Forum at Warragul (18.10)

gccn_logo small

The Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) held their AGM in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria at the Federation Training Conference Room at the Warragul Railway Station on the 14th. A few of the more adventurous participants used the train to commute there. The GCCN meeting was ably and quickly conducted by President Cr. Darren McCubbin of Wellington Shire – although the acoustics of the room left a bit to be desired. Board members elected include Beth Ripper of Stratford and Ian Southall of Mirboo North. One position on the board of management is still vacant.

Luke Wilkinson Gippsland representative of Sustainability Victoria conducted the Forum on “State Government Community Conversations on Climate Change Action in Gippsland”. Local organisation the Baw Baw Sustainability Network were well represented and member Natasha Brown spoke to the meeting on the wide range of her group’s activities. Rebecca Lamble, Environment Officer with the East Gippsland Shire Council, spoke at some length on the Shire’s achievements so far, including converting street lighting in the township of Bairnsdale to LED lighting. Several short videos were shown.

It is unfortunate that the segmented nature of our State administration severely hampers Sustainability Victoria’s efforts. Whilst they are working very hard on climate change another department is still issuing brown coal exploration licences. But it is certainly a positive to have a State Government in power that recognises that there is much work to be done on climate change. It is even more important that we support the GCCN and Sustainability Victoria and let all the politicians know of the immense challenges before us.

Sustainability Victoria are conducting these forums or “community conversations” across Victoria. Unfortunately they have received minimal publicity. They will be conducting another “Community Conversations on Climate Change” on Monday 26 October from 11am-2pm at the Segue Community Hub & Arts Café Stratford. If you are interested in attending contact Beth Ripper at eo@gccn.org.au

 

 

Why Not Grow Industrial Hemp in Gippsland? (15.10)

Ind. Hemp

The recently announced ‘medicinal marijuana’ trials appear to be a first for Victoria. Harriet Shing MLC has been touting Gippsland as the ideal place to grow this crop -which it certainly is. Industrial Hemp should also be considered and promoted. Industrial hemp, with only trace elements of the drug component, should be seriously considered as a major crop across the region for two immediate benefits with regards climate change.

Firstly this crop may be able to partially or completely replace wood pulp obtained from logging our native forests. It is becoming increasingly clear that these forests must be preserved and protected as carbon stores and carbon sinks. To make sure that paper manufacturers don’t turn to destroying other native forests a practical and economic source of fibre should be found. Industrial hemp may be the perfect substitute. As well hemp may be used as bio-energy crop to produce either electricity or liquid fuel and biochar. Is it possible that hemp can be cultivated as “carbon negative” product – that it can actually draw down more carbon than is used to produce it and sequester it as ‘biochar’? There are a wide range of other uses of this plant including food, clothing, building materials and products used in the car industry. It would appear that almost every part of the plant can be utilised. 

Industrial hemp as a crop is not catholic in its tastes and can be grown on a wide range of soils with minimal inputs of fertilisers etc. But at present there are too many barriers to its cultivation including a restrictive licencing system and a status quo that treats all hemp varieties as a harmful drug. Perhaps the new Victorian trials will change this. What is needed is some information on the economics of Industrial Hemp cultivation and whether it can actually provide any of the claimed climate benefits.

Historically, in the late Nineteenth Century the flats of the Mitchell and Tambo Rivers grew hops, hemp and opium poppies. These crops were probably cultivated in many other places in Gippsland. Perhaps it is time that industrial hemp is given a decent trial free from all the encumbrances of bureaucracy.

 

Ruminant Methane, Fossil Fuels and Climate Change (11.10)

Source GHGs Oz

There has been a lot of ‘noise’ on the social media recently stating that the methane produced by beef cattle and other ruminants is the main cause of climate change and the answer to it is to stop eating beef. The source for this has been incorrectly attributed to the most recent study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publication. It is true that methane is one of the main greenhouse gases, that in its early stages it is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, that it eventually degrades to CO2 in the atmosphere, and it is produced in the digestive systems of ruminants. However it is not by any measurement anywhere near the main source of greenhouse gas.

Tim Flannery in his recent publication Atmosphere of Hope noted that “three fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – lie at the heart of the climate problem” and that the “burning of coal to generate electricity remains the world’s single largest source of carbon pollution.” The World Wildlife Fund noted that in 2008 72% of Australia’s greenhouse gases came from stationary and transport energy related uses compared with 15.9% from agriculture – mainly cattle and fertilisers. Of that part of energy use 51% came from the stationary generation of power – mainly Flannery’s coal fired power stations. One can assume that these figures are roughly the same today in Australia and similar throughout developed nations.

The stories appear to have originated from vegan organisations. It may be a sad example of an otherwise legitimate cause pushing its own barrow and promoting that cause to the detriment of the whole. As the above information on methane indicates much of what they are saying about greenhouse gases and climate is true but the final extrapolation from IPCC information is not. Unfortunately this is a tactic similar to that used by climate change deniers. The end result is often general confusion and the diversion of energy away from the obvious target – closing down the use of coal as a source of energy.

We should try to reduce all aspects of human greenhouse gas sources by as many different means as possible – this is the “silver shotgun” approach advocated by Washington & Cook in their Climate Change Denial (2011). Some things are far easier for individuals to adopt – the lifestyle choices – and we should all do everything we can to try to avert the ‘climate emergency’. But it is essential that we keep our eye on the main game – coal and coal generated electricity – and are not diverted from it.

Tim Flannery and Extreme Weather Events (7.10)

 

Bell-curve CC

In the first chapter of his new book Atmosphere of Hope: searching for solutions to the climate crisis Tim Flannery spends some time examining extreme weather events. He noted that:  “The contemporary world is changing fast; few changes have been as profound or disturbing as the increases in extreme weather right across the planet…When in late 2013, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and environment minister Greg Hunt argued that there was no link between the warming trend and extreme bushfires, they were arguing not only against science, but also contrary to common sense” and “the link between extreme weather and climate change is a critical area for public understanding because it is the devastating extremes, rather than a shift in averages, that have the greatest impact.”

Flannery cites the example of the 374 “excess deaths” that occurred in the heatwave leading up to Black Saturday 2009 – excess deaths caused by an extreme event influenced by climate change. On the Australian Open Tennis tournament he wrote: “that it is Melbourne’s moment in the sun… during the 2014 Open, a heatwave of unprecedented ferocity struck Melbourne… [and] the stadium built to host the event turned into a furnace. Finally the health risks to both players and spectators became too much, and the multi-million dollar tournament was suspended. Australia’s growing heatwave crises rarely make global news, but the suspension of the Australian Open made page one in newspapers around the world”.

Flannery uses a diagram of a normal or bell curve (see above) to illustrate how a small shift in the average temperatures means a substantial increase in extreme weather. The reality may be even worse than the diagram depicts for if the curve becomes a little flatter then the increase in extreme events (including the odd cold one) will be greater.

This is the most important book on climate change from an Australian perspective to be released in a long time. Flannery remains a beacon of light in an otherwise dull Aussie political panorama. I had originally hoped to be able use the library copy for a review of this book for my blog but since I have yet to pass the first chapter it is obviously a required purchase for my reference collection – and for later blogs. https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/atmosphere-of-hope

 

Confusing Weather & Climate – A Cold Gippsland Winter? (4.10)

Oz Winter 1

Pub talk often says: “I’m ‘x’ amount of years old and haven’t noticed it getting warmer. Climate change is a load of bull.” Or words to that effect. But this is an anecdotal account of which there are literally billions – not all the same – and limited to the one small place on the earth an individual occupies. It is thus a perception of weather over time. But even that is an imperfect one as it refers only to our waking hours. Climate measures temperatures over 24 hours with accurate records now going back more than 100 years.

Climate also refers to space – so we can talk of a Gippsland climate, or a Victorian climate, an Australian climate or an Earth climate. An article in the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) outlines some of the confusion that arises between weather and climate. Many locals, including some in the media, have been speaking of Gippsland’s cold winter. But it turns out that statistically the eastern half of our region had an ‘average’ winter whilst the west and south was slightly colder. But the big surprise is that this winter turns out to have been Australia’s eight warmest (out of 105) on record. (see map)

The BOM report noted: “Some of the headlines this winter -‘Bitter cold snap’, ‘Icy cold front to hit much of Australia’, ‘Australia’s sunshine state covered in snow’, etc.- may have implied that Australia just survived one of its coldest winters on record…But the station recordings actually show a quite different story. They also highlight a number of challenges that…can be easily lost in personal experiences and local news reporting. These challenges include: considering local conditions within the national picture; how we calculate and characterise a ‘record’; and how recent experiences influence our long-term understanding of climate.”

“It is hardly surprising that people may extrapolate cool conditions in southeast Australia or snowy photos on their television to imagine cold conditions across the whole of the country…As our perceptions can be skewed towards recent experience, we need access to good, long-term data to assist our decision making.”

To the Australian landmass we can add the continents of the earth and the oceans to get a clear picture of how our earth is warming with the enhanced greenhouse effect. It is calculated the oceans absorb more than 90% of the extra heat the earth is retaining. With such a complicated and threatening problem governing bodies should be making their decisions based on ‘best science’. And all those who have ‘an opinion’ on climate change that confuses climate and weather – be they in the media, politics, or your local pub – are very foolish.

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/updates/articles/a012-winter-2015.shtml

Risk, Action and Climate Change (1.10)

Croston Cover

Glen Croston in his book The Real Story of Risk argues that evolution has programmed man to respond to immediate risks and ignore long term ones. He wrote that evolution: “does a good job at giving us good responses to immediate threats, but it does a much poorer job at providing effective responses to risks that develop slowly, are far away, or are spread out over a large area. The evolutionary impact of immediate threats is greatest because of the direct link between responding and surviving.”

Croston makes the point that some of these learned responses are obsolete such as our fear of snakes or sharks. He speculates that we may need to experience the effects of climate change before we are forced to act. Whilst such an experience may be the ‘best teacher’ it is also most likely that by the time enough people experience these changes to act decisively it will probably be too late. Fatalism and inaction may also be a response to this situation. 

He continues: “There was probably a time in human prehistory when taking a short-term perspective on life made sense. Life was short, and the threats against it were constant and immediate… The times have changed though, while we haven’t. We’re still on the lookout for immediate risks acting directly on us, and we’re blind to long-term risks, like climate change with far greater long term costs.” (p.59)

Parts of the ‘learning experience’ Croston talks about are with us now – the increasingly severe and more frequent extreme weather events. It is now a matter of identifying how much of this flood or that drought or this bushfire was caused/influenced by climate change. And if our responses have little or no effect then eventually we will be forced into some form of emergency war-time style government – even, horror of horrors, an international one. One can only hope that those then in power are more gifted that the incompetents (with some exceptions) we have managed to elect to parliament for the last few decades.

 

A brief history of fire in the Valley Open Cuts (27.9)

Old Brown Coal Mine fire 1929 (SLV)

1929 fire in the OldBrown Coal Mine (SLV)

The current Royal Commission into the health effects of last year’s Morwell Open Cut fire is a current reminder of this disastrous event. But fires in the open cuts have by no means been uncommon. There have been fires in the open cuts in 1895, 1902-10, 1926, 1929, 1944, 1977, 1983, 2006 and 2014. There have also been near misses or fires burning adjacent to mines or on land later mined on many occasions including 1898, 1915(?), 1923, at numerous times during the 1930s, 1962 and in 2009.

The fires were most common in the uncontrolled burning period prior to Black Friday in 1939. After the 1944 Yallourn open cut fire with the strict fire controls and vigilance adopted by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) and the newly formed Country Fire Authority there followed fifty years almost free from fire in the open cuts. The exception was in 1977 when an immediate, rapid and energetic SECV response controlled the fire after 4 days. There were also some small spot fires during Ash Wednesday in 1983. Aside from widespread fires in 1966 and 1983 these were mild and benign bushfire years.

Since privatisation the new owners have not been so lucky. Climate change has definitely affected the valley with summer weather patterns this century being generally warmer, longer and dryer. We have had extremely large fires (1 in 100 year) burning in Gippsland in 2003 and 2006-7 with a fire in the Hazelwood open cut occurring during the latter event in 2006. In 2009 during Black Saturday Loy Yang Power Station was threatened but it is not clear whether there were any spot fires in the open cut. Finally we have the disastrous Hazelwood fire and much smaller spot fires in the Yallourn open cut in February March of 2014. As the hashtag goes it is certainly time to act on climate. 

Climate change predictions makes the future of all the open cut mines precarious. Aside from the fact that they are Australia’s most carbon intensive mines and should therefore be the first to close to meet our carbon reduction responsibilities the threat of fires remains ominous. If the status quo prevails we are likely to see events similar to Hazelwood in 2014 repeated on a regular basis, perhaps even every five to ten years with fire seasons gradually becoming worse – longer, more frequent and severe.

In news just to hand the Minister for Resources Lily D’Ambrosio  announced that the “Latrobe Valley will be better protected from the risk of coal mine fires, with the Andrews Labor Government establishing a dedicated fire safety team in the area.” She said the “positions for six mine fire safety experts will be advertised tomorrow, with most of the roles to be based in the Latrobe Valley region.” This is a very small step in the right direction – in reality a token change. It clearly shows that at least some in our State government do not understand how severe the threat of climate change is or the role that our brown coal generators play in it.

 

Renewable Energy Demonstration Trailer (REDT) (24.9)

REDT

The REDT has been a familiar sight at Gippsland festivals, field days, expos and schools over the past few years. Co-ordinator Ian Southall has noted:

“The REDT is integrated with up-to-date technology to allow combinations of stand- alone off-grid and energy storage options to drive a computer modelling system, and programs and teachings on sustainability and energy efficiencies displayed on the interactive screens installed in the trailer. We can also “Boil the Billy” from solar PV, “Fan yourself” with power from the wind turbine, or “Light your Life” with LEDs on the REDT. It can store enough energy in the deep cell batteries “ON BOARD” – enough to power a house over night or even operate an event site during the day.”

“The REDT has been engaged in some 75 events – over half of them in schools – in the last 3 years, with over 20,000 people, over 5000 of them students, exposed to the messages the REDT delivers.”

In 2014, Federation Training relinquished its role in the REDT and Ian Southall, who has been the coordinator since 2012, purchased it.  Ian has continued to teach its renewable energy applications in schools and public events as a sole operator with some support from local government, Resource Smart Schools, businesses in the industry and the Gippsland Climate Change Network. We hope to be able to put Ian and the REDT appearances on our calendar, updated on a regular basis on the Events page. For further information Contact Ian at ian@ecohubgippsland.com.au

 

A Personal Report on the Sunday Rally (21.9)

LTG Demo 1

Impressions on “Farmers & Friends Against Fracking Melbourne Declaration!” to help make Victoria Gasfield Free. 

As a member of Gasfield Free Bairnsdale (GFB) I was attending the Melbourne rally to carry the “Bairnsdale East” yellow triangle as farmer (Leanne) was unable to attend. On the 7.50 am departure of the Gippslander from Bairnsdale spread throughout the train were Bill (farmer carrying the Broadlands triangle) Paul (a green) and myself plus some youths – Harry (AYCC) and Aaron who were unaware of the rally but (I think) persuaded to attend.

The train journey was enlivened at Sale by the addition of a substantial contingent from Seaspray, Sale and Maffra with more joining in Traralgon, including former greens candidate in Morwell Dan Caffrey. The Seaspray people – arguably the most threatened area in Victoria with unconventional gas development – were loud, highly visible with their signs, badges and t-shirts and intent on having a good time.

On arrival at Flinders St Bill remarked that it was the first time he had been in the station for 50 years. We caught the tram to the library where amongst the sea of yellow triangles he met his daughter-in-law and 2 grand-daughters, there to help him carry the banners. I met my close friend and long term climate activist Andrew (see http://www.feedbackreigns.net ) who between us have shared editing climate newsletters for about 5 years. A few others turned up including Ivan and his wife from Nungurner.

MC for the event was our GFB co-ordinator Debbie Carruthers and after a few speeches, including by Lock the Gate founder, Queenslander Drew Hutton, we set off down Swanston St chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho Coal Seam Gas has got to go” (and other slogans) amongst a horde of media personnel. Carrying my locality sign I walked beside Dan Caffrey (Tinamba 99%) and the sign bearers of the other 65 CSG free declared localities in Victoria. I started to tire a bit up Burke St and by the time we reached parliament stumbled on the steps.

Here 2 farmers (including Trevor Flint of Seaspray) made impressive speeches and the names of all the communities that had declared their localities gasfield free were read out. We then formed a rough triangle for the last photo opportunity. The crowd was estimated at 2000 and impressive enough. Andy and I headed back down Burke St where I was revived with lunch and cold drinks and we spent a pleasant afternoon catching up with our news.

Back in Flinders St waiting for the Gippslander I chatted with a fellow protestor – Des from Sale who was quite a bit older than me – about our experiences for the day and how we were wearing. The train was full and I was tired, farewelling the Seaspray/ Sale crew about 9pm. About 10.15pm I was home (and in the vernacular “buggered”). Andrew had already relayed the good news that the event had made quite a splash on TV. A perfect ending to a great day.

Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and Climate Change (16.9)

CSG PosterIn 1857 English chemist James Tyrell identified methane as one of the major greenhouse gases. Methane is thought to be thirty to one hundred times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the short term, but is not as long lived in the atmosphere as CO2.

Professor Tony Ingrafea, a pioneer of the fracking process, in this youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o78j77I7XUw&noredirect=1 explains how methane escapes from fracking and piping of CSG and concludes that mining and using CSG is more harmful to the climate than burning coal.

Perhaps it is time to move away from using gas altogether. After all it is still a greenhouse gas even if it is more benign than coal or petroleum. Reverse-cycle air-conditioners, heat pumps, solar hot water and induction cooktops are some of the means by which gas can be easily replaced – especially if powered by solar panels on your roof.  

Anyone in Melbourne concerned about climate change should support the Farmers & Friends against Fracking Rally in Melbourne on Sunday 20 at 12 noon State Library of Victoria Swanston Street and march to Parliament House.