Our Fragile Moment and the Nuclear Winter

Michael Mann’s Our Fragile Moment: how lessons from the Earth’s past can help us survive the climate crisis (Hachette, New York, 2023) is a climate and geological history of the planet from its beginning. Each chapter examines in some detail times when the earth was in various climatic extremes such as the “hothouse” of the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum of 55 million years ago or the “snowball earth” of the Proterozoic era 2 billion years ago, and the lessons we can learn from these events.

For personal reasons the chapter that grabbed my attention was called ‘Mighty Brontosaurus’ which covered the demise of the dinosaurs following an asteroid collision 66 million years ago. Mann wrote that: “there are remarkable parallels indeed between the dinosaur–killing asteroid impact and the Nuclear Winter worries of the 1980s” (p.94). I had been an anti-nuclear activist since the early 1970s but the publicity about a nuclear winter where the dust from a widespread nuclear war blocked out the sunlight certainly increased my activism – making nuclear war and its armaments doubly absurd. The nuclear winter book by Paul Erlich and others The Cold and the Dark (Sidgwick & Jackson, London 1984) came out in December 1983 and the following year I stood as a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in Gippsland on a platform of publicising the threat of the nuclear winter.

For the rest of the decade there followed support and work with local PND (People for Nuclear Disarmament) groups. In 1987 friend Barrie Pittock had published Beyond Darkness: Nuclear Winter in Australia and New Zealand (Sun Books, South Melbourne, 1987). Barrie’s lifetime study and work in the CSIRO department of atmospheric physics was on the antithesis of the nuclear winter – climate change – and the same year he was presenting a paper to the Monash University Greenhouse symposium and was later the author of a similar titled work.

In his Introduction Mann noted there: “is a duality that governs the human species and the climate it enjoys. Human actions, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and the generation of carbon pollution, have impacted the trajectory of our climate over the past two centuries, but the longer term trajectory of our climate has also impacted us. It’s what got us here. By looking back at that trajectory, we can see insights into what futures are possible.” (p.6)

Wading through the many scientific acronyms may slow the general reader down but this book is well worth the read. A copy is available in the East Gippsland Shire Library.

Extreme Climate Events in Gippsland 2023/4

EGCAN booth at Orbost Sustainability Festival

The effects of climate change on extreme weather have been visible for a number of years in Gippsland but more so in the last 12 months. The Climate Council noted that “Australia’s driest three months on record (August to October 2023) was followed immediately by a month of well above average rainfall in Victoria. An early and ferocious fire season in Gippsland, Victoria was followed almost immediately by extreme rainfall and flash flooding.” This the Council referred to as ‘whiplash’ climate events – of having a distinct extreme weather event closely following another. Thus we had an extremely dry winter with early spring bushfires at Briagolong and Loch Sport. Then the fires were doused by heavy rain that led to moderate floods. Note that these fires were not the earliest recently experienced with an August bushfire at Marlo about 2017.

On the subject of floods, the Climate Council added “Much of the flooding we’ve experienced this summer has been the result of short, intense downpours that catch communities off guard, and can lead to dangerous flash flooding.” Such was the event that swept through the Buchan Caves campground on Boxing Day 2023 sadly resulting in two fatalities. More than two inches of rain fell in 30 minutes, Vehicles were under water, people were rescued from a nearby bridge, and the campground was trashed. Cr Mendy Urie and the East Gippsland Shire Council CEO Anthony Basford noted the influence of climate change. Cr Urie stated “I think people’s understanding of climate change is changing, even over the past six months, 12 months…But I think we need to be even more aware.”

Whilst the Buchan floods were localised the storms that crossed Gippsland on the evening of 13 February were widespread. In particular there was a severe wind which lasted only a few minutes causing trees and branches to fall and power lines to be cut across the region. The power outages themselves were chaotic with some areas of Bairnsdale unaffected but the centre of town was without power for 24 hours. In town, there were no traffic lights, no mobile phone communications, and no electronic payments – just another warning of the climate emergency. Places like Metung and Mirboo North were extremely hard hit with some residences without power for a week or more.

Most recently, in what is likely to be the warmest year on record globally, we have just had the Labour Day weekend declared a heatwave across south-east Australia, with temperatures 10 degrees or more above average. As well there were associated fire bans and cancelled events including the Moomba Parade. Somewhat ironically, heat closed down the Sustainability Festival event at Orbost (image) at one pm on the Monday.

All of these extreme weather events have been influenced by climate change and although the exact amount caused by our warming world currently cannot accurately be estimated. The influence of global heating on our extreme weather events becomes obvious as their numbers increase in severity and become more common, as they have in the last year in Gippsland. We are in a climate emergency and urgent action is required.

Letter to our Local Member about the ‘Reckless Renewables Rally’

Dear Darren Chester MHR,

As concerned residents living in your electorate of Gippsland (“Gippslanders all”) and trusting in you to provide leadership and representation in Canberra, we wish to express our deep concern and alarm with the Leadership of the National Party. It is obvious from their recent actions that they wish to reignite and promote “the climate wars” that have stood in the way of meaningful climate action and energy policy in Australia for at least two decades. Your party leader, David Littleproud, wants to stop renewable energy projects whilst openly promoting the coal and gas industries.

Your ex-leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has called renewable energy a “swindle” and wind turbines “filth”. He is pictured standing with supporters outside Parliament holding up signs saying renewable energy is “Unreliable, Unaffordable, Uncompetitive, Unpredictable, Unsustainable, Unsightly, Unfit”. Your energy spokesperson, Ted O’Brien, promotes nuclear energy (particularly SMRs of which only one is in operation throughout the world) as the answer to all our climate and energy problems.

Your party stands with the Liberals in refusing to support the introduction of emissions standards for new vehicles – effectively making Australia and Russia the only countries in the developed world to still not require manufacturers to take appropriate action.

These views have been called “unhinged” and “Trumpian” and in our view are calculated to cause division in our society. They are out of step with many farming communities and are politically dangerous.

So, Darren, our question to you is “do you hold the same views as your party leadership?” or are you able to act as a voice within the Nationals for a more rational approach.

Signed

Metung Science Forum

My Climate Poetry

Aside from an odd letter to a politician my first written words on global warming and the climate crisis were in the form of poetry. Writing under the pseudonym Amelia Angove in the 1980s these few brief lines foreshadowed an occupation that has dominated the last twenty years of my life. The climate crisis was briefly mentioned in four of the six slim Angove volumes published in the 1990s. Using fiction inevitably involved the baggage of spelling mistakes and occasionally the more serious factual errors or misdirection.

In the poem ‘Numblamungie 1989’ I wrote “it is easy to believe / the greenhouse effect / is a scientist’s creation” and “as phrophets (sic) of doom our lives / pass us by, preoccupied with / anticipating the greenhouse effect.” Obscure and somewhat ambiguous the second quote meant anticipating the consequences of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – that is global warming. The last verses published in 2000 (see image above) completed the process of using fiction as a vehicle included the following: “No 80. The ground is hard / and the water tanks are low; / perhaps El Nino / is merely the grandson / of global warming.”

By this time I had already published several opinion pieces (see here and here) and numerous ‘letters to the editor’ – mainly in the Bairnsdale Advertiser. Gradually the detail increased until it involved the 500 word blogs that appeared regularly on my website from 2013-23. An occasional piece like this one still appears. The objective analysis of the crisis had overwhelmed all the subjective, emotive attempts.

Since then the only verse written has been limited to lyrics for a few songs – all unpublished. One was a single verse set to the tune of ‘Plastic Jesus’: “Global warming, global warming, / it’s a fact that some of us deny / doesn’t matter whether it rains or freezes / it’s a happening now by Jesus / happening before our very eyes.” When Tony Abbott was opposition leader I penned a six verse song to the tune of ‘Nobby Hall’: “Your name sounds like a rabbit Dr No / and you’ve got a nasty habit Dr No / as the gutters deep you scour / in your endless push for power / with the devil you’d cohabit Dr No” went the chorus.

The first verse went “You deny there’s global warming Dr No / and of the greenhouse you are scorning Dr No / you did not hesitate / to say CO2 had no weight / and give science such a flooring, Dr No.” I still get angry thinking about the ten wasted years of climate denialism that the Abbott era inaugurated. Hopefully the words of songwriters and poets will express these emotions far better than I have been able, in the continuing struggle for meaningful climate action.

The poetry is available in pdfs here

East Gippsland Shire Council and Heatwaves by Nola Kelly

Excerpts from an article first published in the Great Eastern Mail Dec 1

The people of East Gippsland can be proud to have some very progressive and forward thinking councillors representing them. Recently the council voted to pass a Notice of Motion to seek more information about climate change via a report, and then possibly set up an advisory body to inform their actions… It was considered important that this process would be informed by relevant, publicly available and up-to-date scientific information, and the links to this information be available via Council’s website…

By adopting this Notice of Motion they are showing concern for the people of East Gippsland as well as a desire to assist residents to be properly informed with the latest scientific information. In this way the community will be better prepared to deal with climate change impacts, and less traumatised by them… In April 2020 a community petition was presented to Council asking them to declare a Climate Emergency.

One Councillor has admitted to not having a good knowledge of the science and issues associated with climate change but has stated that it appears to be a matter of both importance and concern for many of the constituents represented, especially young people. This approach, of separating personal opinion from the needs and wants of the community, is to be applauded and shows care and concern as well as a desire to genuinely reflect the electorate. 

One issue that has been brought to the attention of Council, and likely to become very pertinent during the next few months, is the need for an active and up-to-date Council Heatwave Plan, as required as part of Emergency Management. The current plan appears to be somewhat outdated and has no provision for community access to “Cool Zones” or “Hot Day Out Centres”…

Heat is not equitable. Renters and those who cannot afford air-conditioning, or even to run air-conditioning, are the most severely hit. Power outages are also a possibility resulting in widespread heat exposure of people living in specific areas. Small children, the elderly, and those with disabilities or complex medical conditions are very vulnerable to the effects of heat stroke and heat related illnesses… The effects of heat stroke can creep up without warning and can have severe and irreversible results.

The Bureau of Meteorology are predicting severe heat for the summer of 2023-24, and 2023 is likely to be declared the hottest year on record. Modelling shows that days when temperatures reach above 35 degrees Celsius are likely to double in the next 6 years in some places in Gippsland. As temperatures rise due to the changing climatic conditions it is important for all people living in warm climates to be informed, aware, and prepared. In some situations this will mean having a Fire Plan or even a Flood Plan, but everyone needs to have a Heatwave Plan and know where they can go to stay cool during excessive heat if staying at home is no longer an option.

The full article can be read here

Beat the Squeeze on Gas Supply by Malcolm McKelvie

Republished from the Baw Baw Sustainability Network Newsletter Dec 23 –Jan 24

Numerous reports are noting the coming squeeze on gas supply with some calling for increased gas exploration and mining and others for efficient electrification. Prices are rising sharply prompting more and more people to electrify. Even those who are unconcerned about climate impacts of fossil fuels are choosing to move away from gas.

Here’s how we made the change to an all-electric home at a unit in Melbourne.

We started with a gas storage hot water system that was ageing, a gas space heater and a gas cooktop- very similar to many Victorian homes. Gas supply charges are costing $355 per year and usage charges around $500 per year.

Step 1:

– was easy! There is also a heat pump single split system that heats and cools so the gas space heater is not needed. Just heat with the more efficient electric appliance. Cost- $0

Step 2:

– replace the ageing gas storage hot water system with a very efficient Reclaim heat pump from Earthworker. Their system is top of the range with 80% less energy used to heat water compared to an electric storage heater, plus a stainless steel tank. It should last many years.

– Cost- around $5000 installed. The plumber also disconnected and removed the space heater. There is a pre-existing solar system facing west so we set the timer on the hot water system to operate from 1pm, so ongoing energy cost for hot water is close to zero.

Step 3:

– replace the gas cooktop with induction. We went with a Miele cooktop- there are many different brands and choices of configuration, size etc. This step took a lot longer while we ummed and aahhed about a kitchen renovation but it’s finally done. Cost, about $2000.

Step 4:

– the most satisfying: ringing the gas retailer to end the contract and have the meter removed. Cost $79.

No more fossil fuels burnt onsite and ongoing power bills slashed!

Review: The Making of the Fittest by Sean B Carroll

These days I seem to be donating large numbers of books to the local opportunity shops and seldom purchasing one. The exception to the rule was my recent purchase of Sean B Carroll’s The Making of the Fittest (Quercus, London, 2008) which I read in two sittings. Subtitled “DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution” this book is only incidentally about climate change. For eight chapters it closely documents the DNA evidence supporting evolution, rigorously following the scientific process, and then in the last few chapters looks at the anti-evolution arguments and the disastrous route of DNA science in the former Soviet Union.

Perhaps prophetically, Carroll dissects the anti-vaccination arguments of segments of US Chiropractic as a similar example to those of the anti-evolutionists and it is immediately apparent that many of these arguments are the same as those put forward by global warming deniers. At the head of the list is the tactic to “doubt the science” followed by attacking the scientists involved and questioning their motives, highlighting any disagreement amongst scientists, and citing what Carroll calls “gadflies” as their main authority – those that hold some credentials “no matter how isolated and unsubstantiated their views.” He notes the denial “of evolution requires denial of the bedrock of two centuries of biology and geology.” (p.272) Likewise, the denial of global warming conflicts with a similar ‘bedrock’ period of climate science including physics and chemistry and countless measurements and experiments supporting it.

Carroll examines in some detail the story of the highly adapted Icefish and notes that:

“history shows that as circumstances have changed, globally or locally, many era’s fittest have been replaced. The fossil record is paved with creatures – tribolites, ammonites, and dinosaurs, to just name a few – of once very successful groups that evolution has left behind. The Icefish have made a remarkable evolutionary journey in adapting to the changing Southern Ocean, but theirs may well be a one way trip.” With climate change, the highly likely future extinction of the Icefish becomes apparent.

“The air temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula has risen by 4 to 5 degrees  in the last fifty years, and water temperature of the Southern Ocean is projected to rise by several degrees over the next century…it is very likely that most cold water species will not be able to adapt to such rapid changes of temperature…” p.39

The last chapter is about species suffering from what Carroll calls the ‘perfect storm’. “A perfect storm is brewing – of overfishing, pollution, and man-made climate change – that threatens to extinguish ecosystems beyond any chance of recovery”. (p.261) Carroll concludes with a quote from Churchill and uses the analogy of the disastrous lead up to World War 11. “Then, as now, most of the West’s leaders were in denial, guided by wishful thinking and blind optimism. They made symbolic gestures in worthless treaties, empty platitudes, and spineless appeasement.” (p.267) This could be an apt description of the last thirty years of climate politics in Australia.

“When the scientific process is abandoned, the lesson throughout history is failure or outright disaster in human affairs.” (p.247) We have been warned many times and I must thank Sean B Carroll for his book, as well as the chance of my purchase. Little has changed since he penned his words 15 years ago.

Asking our Local Member to Support the Get Off Gas Campaign

From the Metung Science Forum

Dear Tim,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my letter and for providing references to your research.

With help from some of my colleagues in the Metung Science Forum I have been trying to get my head around the “Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions” in order to respond to you but believe this would take a considerable amount of time to establish some degree of expertise on how these measures input into the price comparisons of gas v electricity in general. However, we have left further comment on your calculations for the moment and will return to them in the penultimate paragraph of this letter. 

In the meantime, we believe that your comparison ignores the reasons why electricity costs have escalated in Victoria. In this respect, we need to acknowledge that the use of gas to provide peak use power to the grid adds significantly to the costs of electricity as does the burning of coal.

The comparison of costs that you put forward ignores the very strong probability that anyone building a new home now will install solar panels to offset electricity from the grid, and probably heat pumps and possibly also batteries. Surely architects and builders would concentrate on installing all of these into new buildings in the current climate (no pun intended).

Your commentary regarding Hydrogen replacing gas and using the existing infrastructure is we believe well- intentioned but misplaced. It would appear that even our former chief scientist Alan Finkel (a known hydrogen enthusiast) has re-thought the use of Hydrogen in the residential environment, preferring to concentrate on the development of green hydrogen for industry and heavy transport and shipping. (refer his just released book “Powering Up”).

Before returning to your figures however, perhaps we also need to mention some of the reasons for “getting off gas” as follows;

·    The health risks of burning gas in the family home are now well documented and, as we are indeed talking about new homes, we would suggest that continuing to do so is contrary to issues that are designed to improve the safety and environmental performance of these buildings eg. Nathers 7 stars etc. We should note that the target for any new builds should be energy efficiency with at least double glazing, insulation and solar panels and that this translates to far less power being used.

·    The costs of changing new home owners over to more friendly energy systems when gas is no longer viable or desirable (possibly already the case). Even the use of the gas infrastructure for hydrogen if it were ever approved would no doubt involve costs of changes to reticulation systems and appliances. 

·    It is now well appreciated by many of your constituents that the fossil fuel industry could not exist without the enormous fuel subsidies that affect all of us one way or the other.

We could go on but perhaps we should stop there and return to your quoted figures which we are having some difficulty in reconciling as follows;

The Energy Australia information sheet quotes medium usage for gas of 159 Mj/day and high usage as 201 Mj/day.  You have not stated where the annual usage of 29830Mj that you have quoted comes from or how it was arrived at. You also state that 4000KW per year = 14400Mj/year which is half the energy usage for a household using gas according to your own figures.

But 159Mj/day = 56604Mj/year or 4 times the amount of energy and at a greater cost than using power. So, this seems to indicate that we need to consume more Mj for the same outcome and doesn’t take into account that households using gas are also using electricity.

Tim, we may be missing something here but, in summary, we believe that there is a need to further clarify your calculations regarding the short-term future of energy costs. But very importantly for your constituents there is a more urgent need to consider the wider ramifications of maintaining gas usage in the home and the ability to forecast what the actual future costs of doing so will be.

In the meantime Tim, thanks again for the opportunity

Kind Regards

Tom Moore on behalf of The Metung Science Forum

A letter to our Federal Member for Gippsland by Tom Moore

On behalf of concerned members of the Metung Science Forum 5th August 2023

Dear Darren,

Thank you for your letter dated June 2023 in which you provided an update of your actions on behalf of Gippslanders over the past three challenging years. We can see that you have been very busy looking after Gippslanders’ interests over that time and we congratulate you on the good work that you have done. It is clear to us that you do have our interests at heart.

However, we note that there is one glaring anomaly in your report. Whereas you briefly acknowledge efforts for bushfire recovery and “practical environmental initiatives”, you make absolutely no mention anywhere in your letter of any climate change issues that we are increasingly facing, especially in East Gippsland. Virtually all of the matters that you refer to in your letter as being important to Gippslanders, will become increasingly more problematical as our climate changes.

It would be really good to see you acknowledge this reality and show support for the actions of organisations (eg. East Gippsland Shire Council, Farmers for Climate Change and Gippsland Climate Action Network to name but a few) who are committed to reducing emissions and attempting to put in place arrangements to mitigate the damage that we are otherwise certain to face in a changing climate. It would also be good to hear from you on actions being taken to decarbonise and develop alternative power sources (eg. wind, solar and e-cars etc) and the employment opportunities these initiatives could help bring to the region.

You say that “At a national level we are living through a period of global uncertainty and security challenges which require bipartisanship and a mature public debate”. Bipartisanship on the issue of Climate Change would surely represent a major step forward for Gippslanders in particular, and more generally for all Australians.

Yours Sincerely Tom Moore

Contact Metung Science Forum PO Box 128, Metung, Vic,3904

Yallambee Aged Care Rooftop Solar Installation

from the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) winter newsletter

GCCN under the guidance of Chris Barfoot, our Energise Gippsland Project Officer, has successfully completed a solar installation at the 120 bed Margery Cole residential aged care facility as part of the Yallambee Village for the Aged in Traralgon.

Within the first 110 days of the successful installation of 276kW rooftop PV system by local company RACV Solar has produced 108,568kW of power, with (a revenue) cost saving of $27,809.29 and a CO2 reduction of 108.24 tonnes. The cost of the project was $355,200 ex GST with $317,368 being provided through funding from the Latrobe Valley Energy and Growth Program – Stage 2 through The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning within the Victorian Government.

The facility is also expected to receive a Victorian Energy Efficiency Certificate (VEEC) rebate of approximately $105,000 after 12 months of operation for CO2 savings due to solar and energy efficiency measures. Taken without the grant funding and rebates, the installation would be expected to pay for itself after approximately 7.4 years with the VEEC rebates the installation should pay for itself after 5.2 years.

This project is a template for solar installations for approximately 57 other aged care facilities within Gippsland that are looking to develop renewable solutions and for further investigations at Yallambee around the Independent living units on site. The full Yallambee Aged Care Services Solar Installation report can be found on the Gippsland Climate Change Network ‘Resources’ page.