Gippsland News & Views

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.

 

Gippslander to Chair Anti Coal Seam Gas Rally (13.9)

Banner from Sid

Paynesville resident Debbie Carruthers has been appointed master of ceremonies for the rally against onshore unconventional gas mining to be held in Melbourne on Sunday 20th September. The rally has been called “Farmers & Friends Against Fracking Melbourne Declaration!” and is meeting at 12 noon outside the State Library in Swanston St before the crowd marches to the steps of Parliament House. Organisers have stated that “We are taking our message to the city again, we need 1000’s of people to send a clear message to the state government that onshore gasfields are not welcome here!”

Debbie is the hard working volunteer co-ordinator of Gasfield Free Bairnsdale. As well as helping to organise a large public meeting in Paynesville nearly 2 years ago, Debbie has assisted Goon Nure, Meerlieu, Perry Bridge and Bengworden with their gasfield free declaration held at Meerlieu last October and more recently has run the Nicholson, Broadlands, East Bairnsdale, Newlands Arm and Eagle Point gasfield free declaration held at Eagle Point in April.  Before declaring those districts gasfield free, landholders were asked if they wanted gasfields on their land (in response to finding out that there was an exploration mining licence on their land) and 98% said no.

Debbie is also calling for the East Gippsland Shire to join an ever growing number of local councils in opposing onshore gas mining. On social media she recently said: “If other Councils are able to take a position on CSG why can’t East Gippsland Shire? Not taking a position leads the community to believe that the Council supports it. Even though there is a moratorium in Victoria many Councils have taken a stand to say they don’t support onshore gas mining. The Council should look at information from the Australia Institute to see the data about the costs of unconventional gas mining.”

Members and supporters of Gasfield Free Bairnsdale and Frack Free East Gippsland and Gippsland2020 will be attending the rally.  

Debbie can be contacted on 0448 809 798 or gasfieldfreebairnsdale@gmail.com or fb: ‘Gasfield Free Bairnsdale’

Climate Change and the Syrian Refugees (11.9)

Syrian Refugees Syrian Refugees (Guardian)

Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times noted: “There is strong evidence that climate change is behind the decline in rainfall in the Middle East from 1971 to 2010.  Since 1902, the region experienced nearly all of its driest winters in the past 20 years. (…U.S. NOAA) The war in Syria was preceded by the worst four-year drought in the country’s modern history, driving nearly a million farmers and herders off the land, into the cities where the government of Bashar al-Assad completely failed to help them, fuelling the revolution.”

The rebellion in Syria was exploited and made far worse by Assad’s enemies -Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. This has been further complicated by the rise of ISIS in Iraq and the Turkish animosity to the Kurds, with the US continuously interfering in chaotic situations and failing to adopt the obvious solution that your enemy’s enemies are your friends. Ironically the most effective force against ISIS so far has been the Kurds now turned upon by the Turks with tacit US support.  

The people in the war zones have been terrorised on the ground and bombed from the air. No wonder they are fleeing in droves. The western allies with their interference in all the Middle East and north African disputes have made complicated and difficult situations far worse. And all our climate change denying PM can do is drop more bombs. The climate refugee crisis is upon us and this is merely the beginning. http://www.feedbackreigns.net/other/climate-change-disrupting-the-middle-east/

Friedman noted that at: “Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, on 31 July recorded one of the most extreme temperature observations ever recorded. It was 115 degrees F with a dew point an unfathomable 90 degrees F (a dew point of 55 F feels dry, 72 F is very humid, while over 75 F is oppressive)” and concluded “The only “ism” that will save the Middle East is not Shiism or Islamism but “environmentalism” — understanding that there is no Shiite air or Sunni water, there is just “the commons,” their shared ecosystems, and unless they cooperate to manage and preserve them (and we all address climate change), vast eco-devastation awaits them all.” (New York Times: 19 August 2015)
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/19/opinion/thomas-friedman-the-worlds-hot-spot.html?_r=0

To which we may refine to ‘awaits us all’.

 

Why a Single Issue Climate Party? (10.9)

CrunchTime_1

I am sometimes asked, usually by a Greens supporter, why a single issue climate party is necessary. Many of them see such an entity as a threat to their own party or at least in some way detracting from it.

But the issue of climate change is vastly underestimated by the mainstream parties – it is seen at best as one of a number of problems that have to be fixed. In reality it is a huge problem threatening the very existence of life on earth as we know it. All other issues pale away into insignificance. One of the tasks of a single issue party is to push the issue before citizens as much as possible. Global warming should be the issue – the only one of consequence – in every election in the country. And the issue is far more important than the party – any party. 

Another task is to appeal across the political spectrum. The current political divisiveness foisted on us by large sections of the media and a dominant, aggressive faction in the conservative parties is bordering on the criminal. What is wanted is a return to bipartisanship on the issue and for it to be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Whilst the position of the Greens on climate is both sensible and admirable it is but one position in an array of policies. Often another policy in their array buries the dominant issue of warming. Tony Kevin in his Crunch Time (Scribe 2009) noted the Greens agenda is ‘overloaded’ and that they are ‘beholden to so many other good causes’. Rightly or wrongly they are perceived by the wider electorate as a party of the left and therefore unable to appeal to the more conservative voter. The Greens position has also enabled Machiavellian politicians (including our PM) to play ‘wedge politics’ with the issue.

Has the Australian electorate (or the earth) the time to wait before the Greens arrive at a position of power where their policies can be enacted? Do we have to await another hung Federal Parliament with the Greens and or climate Independents holding the balance of power? A single-issue party appealing across the political spectrum or even a climate party on the conservative side of politics will be a small step in the right direction.

 

In praise of solar – the Solar Revolution (4.9)

My first experience with solar power was as a fire spotter in east Gippsland in 1976. The tower radio was powered by a 6v motor-cycle battery which was in turn charged by a small photovoltaic (PV) panel measuring about 45cm by 10cm. The panel was unregulated and consequently often boiled the battery.

Six years later when setting up a ‘stand alone’ power system for my home solar was far too expensive, so we opted for a reconditioned ‘Windlite” wind generator. The hope was that after 20 years when the wind generator was due for an overhaul that PV would be cheap enough to cover the roof with panels. This turned out to be a trifle optimistic.

In 1986 I installed 2 30 w PV panels costing about $14 pw. But the big winner at this time was the installation of a solar hot water service which was a perfect match with our slow combustion stove. The stove with hot water jacket at the back of the firebox was used through the cooler months and the solar provided an abundance of hot water for the rest of the year. After 29 years of operation this service is still functioning well with minimum maintenance.

The wind generator was mothballed in 2000 and replaced with 6 80w panels, larger battery storage and was professionally installed. At an approximate guess the price of the PVs was about $8 pw. In 2012 our new retirement unit was fitted with 16 250w panels with a total cost for panels, inverter and installation at $2.5 pw. Since that time with the 30c kw subsidy we have had no electricity bills and have had cash returns of about $1000. A payback time of about 6 years.

In the last 3 years prices of PV panels has dropped substantially. With the loss of our subsidy at the end of 2016 we are planning on adding more panels to our system and changing as best we can to daylight consumption. Batteries, if cheap enough, are a distinct possibility. The solar revolution is upon us.

The Coming Summer: increasing our Roof Insulation (30.8)

Insulation

Now residing in a 30 year old town unit we have been gradually upgrading our power supply, improving energy efficiency and other aspects to make it sustainable. Since our purchase two and a half years ago we have had the roof reconditioned and painted with reflective paint, had 4 Kw of photovoltaics installed, changed the old heater for a reverse cycle air conditioner and installed a heat pump.

The weather predictions for the summer of 2015/16 have been looking ominous. The earth is already on track for the hottest year since records began. As well a super strong El Nino threatens. With previous heat waves in mind I decided it was time to top up our roof insulation. The original insulation was still in place but thin. Typically these places were built to the minimum required building standards.

One phone call, two quick visits from the contractor, a quote, an hour or two installing bats and the job’s done. Hopefully this will reduce the load on our reverse cycle airconditioner this summer and help keep us cool. As there is no insulation in the north-west facing walls we are now looking for ways to provide summer shade for them.  Unlike modern buildings the eaves are substantial and provide wall shade except for late summer afternoons. With this in mind the gardening books have come out and we are searching for some suitable, non-invasive climbers or creepers.

 

Climate Change and Criminal Negligence – Letter to GT 23.8

B'dale Court Bairnsdale Court House

Criminal negligence has been defined as “the failure to use reasonable care to avoid consequences that threaten or harm the safety of the public and that are the foreseeable outcome of acting in a particular manner…a person who is convicted of criminal negligence is subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both, because of the status of the conduct as a crime.”

Climate Change is life threatening. Scientific predictions of an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events, including droughts bushfires floods and heatwaves, have been with us since the 1980s. All of these events threaten harm to public safety. In particular recent heatwaves have been responsible for a substantial increase in mortality. For example the number of people killed by the heatwave preceding Black Saturday was twice as many as killed by the following bushfires. All of these fatalities are ‘potential victims’ of ‘climate change’.

Who then is responsible for this and are they criminally negligent?

The responsibility will be seen to lie squarely with the following:-

  1. The politicians – in particular those who opposed efforts to ameliorate the severity of the threat by gaining short term political advantage. An example is the repeal of the “carbon tax” which was designed to reduce carbon emissions.
  2. Some journalists, media commentators and sections of the media who abuse their positions of power to delay or deny attempts at amelioration and use their positions to confuse and misinform.
  3. Companies and organisations financing and promoting a campaign of confusion and denial.
  4. The companies that are producing the carbon dioxide and have done nothing to reduce their contribution. In particular this refers to our brown coal electricity generators in the Latrobe Valley and possibly also others such logging companies.

Eventually, possibly much sooner than we think, science will be able to state with a fair degree of certainty (95%) that ‘x’ number of fatalities, or ‘x’ amount of property loss, from a particular event was caused by climate change. As an example recent studies claim that between 8% and 27% of the current Californian drought has been caused by climate change.

A bun fight of grand proportions beckons in the courts.