The Melbourne Age remains by far and away the best of the local printed media (possibly all media except social) in its handling of the huge problem of climate change. On the plus side they have regular features and news items by excellent journalists – in particular Peter Hannam, Tom Arup and Adam Morton. The letters columns are also equally informative sometime more so than the rest of the paper. Also they occasionally editorialise in favour of some action on climate. It should be noted that they have no competition – the Murdoch press is still operating in the Dark Ages.
On the downside we have to tolerate the climate denialist cartoons of Spooner, occasional put downs from the Institute of Public Affairs regular column, and worst of all, giving opinion pieces to outrageous Climate Change deniers in the guise of balanced presentation. A recent example of this was a piece by Christopher Booker attacking the upcoming Paris talks as a waste of time. (The Age 3.11) I found this distressing in the extreme and went so far as to threaten to cancel my subscription.
The problem is that the Age persists with the false dichotomy of balance and debate. There is no debate about anthropogenic climate change. The science is well established, documented, and various indicators including land and sea based temperature rises are occurring exactly as predicted 30 years ago. Since the science is 97.5% sure (perhaps even 99%) the Age should present 98 articles to ‘balance’ each item of scientific illiteracy by Booker and his ilk. To present Climate Change as a ‘debate’ – both for and against – is itself a grand distortion and can be likened to arguing about gravity or the shape of the earth.
Where are the front page headlines informing the public that the October just past was the warmest ever recorded in Victoria, Australia and the Earth? Where are the investigative pieces outlining worst-case scenarios of climate change on security, refugees, health, food production and the life threatening heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and floods? Where are the headlines specifically linking climate change with our gradually expanding bushfire season? Or examining how warming influences El Nino? And many other questions far too numerous to mention.
The Age emphasises the momentary (a murder) the parochial (Essendon Football Club) and false balance. They appear too timid to get too far ahead of their opposition – many of whose journalists are probably criminally negligent – instead of leading public opinion. As a long term reader my subscription remains, but only just.
There continue to be loud protests from certain sections of the social media confusing weather and climate. Because Gippsland (or most of it) has been experiencing above average to very good rainfall then the predictions of the weather bureau about a super El Nino and a subsequent dry are all ‘rubbish’. Regardless of how adamant these claims are they remain anecdotal.
For what they are worth my own memories (anecdotal accounts) are also of rainfall rather than heat. 1983 and 1997-8 are generally listed as the previous super El Nino years. Both ended in the Omeo district as relatively shorts spells that were very dry. Preceding Ash Wednesday in 83 the Tambo River was completely dry for long distances – sometimes going for kilometres before even a small pool could be found. The Little River, a short and reliable stream, stopped in the town of Ensay for the first and only time in living memory. 1997 does not stand out as being dry but the first 4 months of 98 were again ‘bone dry’. Stock feed disappeared and small sand dunes formed in the lee of the hills following a dust storm in late April. In June the short drought broke when we received half our annual rainfall in one month – most of it in 3 days.
With climate change, which has been gradually happening since the industrial revolution, science predicts an increasing number of extreme weather events. That is what both the drought and the flood in the Omeo district in 1998 were. These events were directly related to El Nino and probably heavily influenced by climate change.
El Ninos also enhance the warming effect and 1998 was the warmest year to that time. It now appears that 2015 will be the same. El Nino events themselves must in turn be enhanced by a warming climate and the connections between these events and climate change are not clear. It is obvious though that climate change must also influence the El Ninos as it does extreme weather events.
For each degree of warming the planet’s atmosphere holds an extra 7% of moisture. This in turn means more rain, probably in heavier rainfall events, and more electrical storms. But the hardest thing of all for the weatherman to predict remains where the rain will fall, and when, and how much rain we will get. For more on the current El Nino go to http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/
My isolated house in East Gippsland functioned very well with a stand-alone power system for 30 years until the property was sold. And as far as I am aware it is still doing so. Integral to this system and its most expensive part were the lead acid deep-cycle batteries. My 12 volt battery bank initially stored 200 amp hours in 6 2v cells in series. The storage was then doubled with another 6 2v cells added in parallel. Finally after changing over from wind to solar as the energy source large 600ah 2v cells were installed with 6 200ah cells in parallel giving us 800 ah storage. The rough formula for this is amps X volts = watts thus 800ah X 12v = 9600 watt hours storage. Enough, in theory, to run a 60w globe continuously for 6 days.
In practice the lead acid batteries seemed to have memories and needed to be ‘mollycoddled’. Through trial and error and the occasional dud cell, it was found that they functioned best and their lifetime was extended when only the top 20% of the power stored was used giving us under 200ah of usable energy. They are called deep cycle batteries but the number of times you could actually deep cycle them was strictly limited. The 800ah bank was still functioning well after 12 years with no problems when the house was sold.
In all the system was quite reliable with only 2 power failures in 30 years. One was a faulty connection between terminals that was fixed in a few minutes. There were teething problems with the system as we learned the hard way of the limitations of the term ‘deep-cycle’. When deep-cycled too frequently the weakest cell would fail and the system’s voltage, usually 13v to 13.5v, would drop to 12v or below. The faulty cell had to be identified and replaced which I did with selected second hand ex-telecom ones. Otherwise it would have been an expensive business.
Now with the Tesla battery (and a number of other competitors) and the lithium technology the battery revolution is upon us. For anyone building beyond 1 km from the grid a stand-alone system is already the best financial option, in particular for large parts of Gippsland remote from the grid. In reality we are now experiencing two revolutions – energy storage is the complementary partner to the solar one. A Battery Information Night is being held at Mirboo North on Thursday 3 December. (See Events page)
It is more than fifty years since I attended my first demonstrations in Melbourne. Then the issue was conscription and the Vietnam war. Those demos were followed in the early 70s by the massive Vietnam moratoriums, and in the 80s by large People for Nuclear Disarmament Rallies. Although residing in the bush by then I attended many of these rallies. This century the madness of the invasion of Iraq again brought the people into the streets in large numbers. Now it is climate change.
In the early 80s scientists were offering us the bleak oblivion of the ‘nuclear winter’. Today it is the reverse of that coin for instead of the cold brought on by nuclear war (global dimming) the evidence overwhelmingly supports a warming planet. The physics of the greenhouse effect, pioneered well over 100 years ago, are being realised. Global warming is not a scientific problem. It is a human and political one. Currently vested interests still dominate the Australian and international political processes. These forces of reaction and self-interest must be opposed at every step.
The politics of change is not only a matter of voting. It requires you to participate in the political process; to speak out as often as you can; to apply pressure to politicians and to people with power and influence; to act, doing things both large and small; to complete these acts where possible and persevere with them whilst you are able when you can.
Which brings us to next week’s rally. Gandhi once said: “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” Participating in a demonstration such as the People’s Climate March is an admirable action. In action there is hope. On Friday 27 November we will be gathering at the State Library of Victoria at 5.30pm. Please support this event.
(photo by Stitch)
We have, somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ labelled John Hermans of Clifton Creek, ‘Mr Sustainability’ of Gippsland. John is a man of many parts but he will probably be embarrassed by our label. Above all he is practical having built and lived in his sustainable house for many years. As well as teaching by example John is a great publicist for many of the basic tenets of sustainability. He is a long term member of the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) and has been a frequent contributor of articles to their publications Soft Technology and Renew. He has also been the President of the Gippsland Environment Group (link on side bar) for many years and has participated in the ATA’s solar installation project in East Timor.
His owner built home – incorporating a substantial workshop – is a showpiece. It is constructed of earth walls and an earth roof and John has used mostly onsite and second hand materials in its construction. Integral to this was his own small timber mill in which he was able to mill timber for the house from trees that had to be removed from the house site.
John is perhaps best known for his hydro-electric plant on the nearby Nicholson River which has generated renewable energy to the family home for many years. But he also has a large, netted, fruit and veggie garden in front of the house, and has been running his vehicle on biodiesel for many years. The oil is collected from fish and chip shops and processed on site. The vehicle uses either biodiesel (manufactured on site) or straight veggie oil. John is also a great fan of recycling and is often repairing electrical goods, cast off with simple malfunctions like a faulty switch. Recently he has been experimenting with biochar production. Is there anyone in greater Gippsland who can match this record?
A wonderful article, interview and photos was done with John seven years ago by the ABC’s Cath McAloon. It is still relevant, available online and well worth a visit. http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2008/05/08/2239377.htm
My fellow climate activist Andrew Gunner has gone through the financial aspects of installing rooftop solar on his suburban home. His calculations produced some astounding results – that even at the low feed in tariff of 6.4 cents and feeding all the energy back into the grid they were profitable. His calculations went through several upgrades and eventually this proposition was revised downwards to about break even. So unless you are absent from your dwelling during daylight hours every day of the week and use little of your rooftop power you will be ahead. Andrew noted:
“Here is a step by step guide to help you work out whether getting photovoltaic solar panels for your house is good financially. You can do the calculations with a hand calculator.”
His final calculations take account of all the costs of installation, maintenance, depreciation, current and future electricity prices, inflation and opportunity costs. His conclusion is that if you use 22% of the energy from your rooftop and export the rest at 6.4 cents per Kilowatt hour your return on your investment will be 8.5% and far better than bank interest. Most of us would try to improve on the 22% base by bringing flexible energy tasks, such as washing clothes, into the sunlight hours.
To back up his in-depth calculations Andrew has provided an excel spreadsheet where you can enter your own data and modify his assumptions to suit your own circumstances. He does note that if you are paying off a mortgage – about one third of Australian households – that this repayment may be preferable to installing solar. For further details go to Andrew’s blog a site worth visiting regularly
Currently calls are being made for Exxon – the long running climate change denier – to face charges and fines for their denial in the same way as the tobacco industry is now being forced to do. I have written previously on criminal negligence and loosely defined it as “the failure to take action against something that causes harm.” This presupposes the offender is aware that their actions may cause harm and does nothing about it. Worse still they may make every effort using all their available resources to present the opposite view, or at the very least to create confusion and doubt. The latter action was the path taken by the tobacco industry and equally so by Exxon.
Writing about the, at best abysmally slow, actions of governments to mitigate climate change Tim Flannery in his Atmosphere of Hope recently noted: “Some companies bear a disproportionate share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. The most important by far in the media is the Murdoch news empire, from Fox News to the Australian newspaper and the many tabloids that help shape public opinion. It’s extraordinary to think that a media empire overseen by Rupert Murdoch, a man whose father was a frontline news reporter in World War I, continues in the twenty-first century to impede progress on this most vitally important issue.” (p.72)
To ‘balance’ the books The Melbourne Age has just published (3.11) an opinion piece by climate change denier Christopher Booker. The lie that there is a ‘debate’ about climate change is still found across the media. But the debate – if there was any – about climate change and its obvious human origins is long past. There is debate about how bad climate change will be and whether there will be abrupt harmful changes that we as a species can do nothing about. Flannery cites the 374 additional deaths caused by the 2009 heatwave in south-east Australia – an event that in turn was influenced by climate change.
Still fighting against the overwhelming evidence supporting basic greenhouse physics we have the bile of the ‘flat earthers’ – Andrew Bolt, sundry ‘shock jocks’ and other supposedly more sophisticated parts of (mainly) the Murdoch media, along with too many of their foolish followers in Canberra. Their monumental ignorance is no longer an excuse. They must now be aware that the misinformation, lies and distortions they have written in the past and continue to peddle is causing harm and may have already contributed to the premature deaths of hundreds of Australian citizens.
That is criminal negligence. The case against the climate criminals is only beginning and the media’s spurious attempts at balance must carry a large part of the blame. As an interesting postscript it has been suggested on the social media recently that all climate change deniers be disbarred from public office.
Energy conservation and energy efficiency have long been known as the easiest means of reigning in one’s greenhouse gas output – sometimes categorised as the “low hanging fruit”. Local shires have been at the forefront of these operations from which there should also be considerable financial benefits.
Commenting on the changeover in street lighting in East Gippsland, EGS environmental officer Rebecca Lamble recently stated that “it’s not just Bairnsdale and Paynesville that have had the LED street lights swapped…it’s all the 80w mercury vapour lights in residential streets across East Gippsland…” Information on the EGS LED program can be found here http://www.eastgippsland.vic.gov.au/Plans_and_Projects/Bright_Futures_energy_efficiency_Project/Street_Lights
Rebecca noted that “The final street light report is due in May next year…and it will show the emissions avoided and how much money we will be saving…after being installed for 12 months.” The EGS website estimated that their “energy efficient residential street lighting project” would make “energy savings of over 70%. Replacing these street lights will save 1,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. This is the single biggest action East Gippsland Shire can take to reduce its carbon emissions. In fact, streetlights typically represent 30-50% of a metropolitan councils’ carbon footprint.”
The EGS should now be considering some of the harder options. At State and Federal levels Government departments are often pulling in different directions on climate change and thus working against each other. Something of this kind is happening on a smaller scale locally with sustainability and old fashioned economic growth in competition. Action on climate change as a matter of urgency must take priority. It is time for the EGS to break ranks with the rest of Gippsland – including specifically the promotion by the Committee for Gippsland – over coal, to move from promoting the logging industry to protecting our forests and a number of other no cost actions like banning another harmful fossil fuel – CSG or ‘Unconventional Gas”.
With the current business as usual scenario the planet is still heading for a warming of far greater than 2 degrees. There is mounting evidence that even a 2 degrees rise will be disastrous for most of the planet. Even now with a warming so far of about .8 of one degree the human occupied planet is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and bushfires. Climate Change has been a major factor in the current Syrian crisis and the refugees flooding Europe are the just the first of the climate refugees. Refugees from a number of Pacific Islands that are regularly flooded by storms and high tides may be next.
It follows that it is high time that the overwhelming issue of climate change took priority over party. A government of National Unity on Climate Change will probably be the precursor to an Emergency (war-time style) government. Major changes in direction, policy, finances will be required across all levels of government where measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change become paramount. It may be necessary at least to name and shame, and possibly make illegal, resistance to the required changes.
The immediate aim of climate activists across Australia should be to use the system to cleanse denialists from both houses of parliament. The preferential system makes this possible. Preference trading should be ignored by all people and parties of goodwill and be replaced with preferences for strong climate candidates and against the climate deniers. This tactic is especially needed in the Senate to help the major parties dispose of some of their ‘albatrosses’ like Senator Benardi.
At the moment a government of national unity would be comprised of about half the Liberals, most of Labor, all the Greens, some Independents and even perhaps one or two Nationals. It would have an overwhelming majority in both houses. It could even be led by Malcolm Turnbull who, of the leaders of both major parties, has been most outspoken on climate change in the past.
The term ‘just transition’ has been bandied about by all and sundry recently but we need to ask “What does a Just Transition mean?” It certainly involves a substantial amount of planning but both the previous State government and the current one seem to have little idea of the processes involved. The Greens are correct in their recent call for an overseeing or co-ordinating body on this matter. I have suggested a number of times that perhaps the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) can be revived from its current hollow shell to co-ordinate and direct proceedings so that the changeover from coal based to renewable energy is gradual, smooth and seamless but done as quickly as possible.
The planner’s (SECV or otherwise) first task should be the elimination of unemployment in the Valley whilst looking for a complete shutdown of the Hazelwood Power Station within 12 months as the first major steps in the transition. This closure of the nation’s most carbon intensive power station should be a priority and follow full employment. Considerable finances and co-ordination will be required. The ample funds should be directed towards providing both renewable energy and local employment. Basic employment programs such as tree planting or a new greatly expanded apprenticeship program in the various renewable energy areas should be considered as possible means to help soak up the local pool of unemployed.
The planners should also be looking at means of utilising the current infrastructure as much as possible including closely examining possible power sources as pumped hydro and geothermal energy. Study programs on these matters should be implemented at Churchill’s Federation University – perhaps in conjunction with the Melbourne University Energy Institute – and used to assist and direct planning.
One thing the ‘just transition’ will not mean is that workers and miners will transfer out of their current jobs into 6 figure salaries doing unskilled labour. There will be still be highly paid jobs but they will be in different areas. One possibly is the technical and physical aspects of asbestos removal during power station rehabilitation. The power station owners, and in particular GDF/Suez, should be gradually downsizing now, retiring employees and generators at appropriate times and with proper payments. They should also be carefully examining ways in which they can utilise their resources beyond coal. A transition of this sort will not only benefit the workers and residents of the valley – it will benefit us all.