Gippsland News & Views

Why I Glued My Hand to the Road by Ro Gooch

In the week starting Monday 22nd March, Extinction Rebellion, a non-violent, apolitical worldwide movement, initiated a coordinated national series of protests to draw attention to the climate and ecological emergency we are currently facing. I, along with others from Gippsland, attended some of these protests because our government is ignoring the urgency of this crisis and in doing so, is endangering all future generations and us.

We are sleepwalking into a catastrophe. The path we are on in this country and around the world is not sustainable. If we continue with our present climate change action plans, we will have a three plus degree rise in the average temperature from the industrial times, which will make our world almost unliveable.

I chose to be arrested by gluing my hand to the road on the day of the Women’s March for Climate Action. I chose this day because women worldwide will bear the brunt of climate change. They are the food gatherers; the lynchpin of families and communities yet are affected inequitably by natural disasters as highlighted by COVID19. As scientists have warned us, with climate change there will be more frequent and more severe climate related disasters. I did this because I am angry and filled with grief for what I see is happening around me.

I glued my hand to the road because my beloved snow gums are in trouble, my favourite birds are on the extinction list, and old growth forests are disappearing. My grandchildren may never see or touch a 400-year-old towering tree and think about who has walked beneath it, contemplate the elegant beauty of our mountain ash, swim in a beautifully cooling mountain stream or experience the magic of the Tasmanian beech forests. They may never ski on the Bogong high plains or experience the challenge and joy of bushwalking in the wild parts of Australia. The grief caused by the changes I see is present. I cannot sit and watch while this happens.

My generation (baby boomer) has reaped the benefits of fossil fuel, we must now step up and pay our dues. We cannot leave this fight for a healthy, liveable planet to the young people. We, as in our scientists, technicians, farmers, have the answers but our politicians refuse to take the necessary actions despite years of public letter writing, petition signing, rally walking. I glued my hand to the road to demonstrate the depth of my feelings and the urgent need for action by the Federal Government. I glued my hand to the road in solidarity with my fellow activists who feel the same grief and work in a myriad of ways to make our government take this crisis seriously.

*Ro is the founder of East Gippsland Climate Action Network and a member of Extinction Rebellion

Paul Gilding’s Climate Contagion

In December 2019 Paul Gilding wrote an article entitled Climate Contagion 2020-2025 which grabbed my attention. The contagion he refers to is an economic collapse brought about by a number of factors. He noted we “are just waiting for the storm to hit. When it does, it will be the climate emergency meets financial contagion. When the global market flips to FOMO (fear of missing out) – from fear of acting too early to fear of being left behind as everyone races for the exits.”

Gilding lists four critical factors “that lead me to conclude this shift in sentiment is now imminent – anytime from tomorrow morning to 2025 but not later.” They are “1. Clean technology is available, scalable, superior and investable. 2. Physical climate change is obvious and accelerating. 3. Public engagement and political momentum are rapidly turning [and] 4. The financial markets are primed” to react.

The article is an appealing, if pessimistic, analysis of market forces operating in the climate emergency and the renewable energy revolution. It is something that as will be destructive with industries and jobs disappearing and new ones appearing and booming – but not necessarily in the same place. This is close to the heart of problem of the ‘just transition’, which, like the climate emergency, our governments are yet to comprehend. Without evidence of any understanding to date, Gilding’s climate contagion in the markets will probably become a grand political crisis as well.

If anything the thesis perhaps underestimates the power of the fossil fuel industry and of governments to prop them up – acting to thwart the market forces by promoting a gas led recovery or investing in the coal to hydrogen project in the Latrobe Valley. The status quo means that governments are already in this business with numerous subsidies, still attempting to bolster and promote the old. Eventually all the fossil fuel companies will become ‘stranded assets’. Whether they can survive and weather the transition will depend on their financial resources and other accounting factors such as being able to write off assets completely. The question remains how long the transition will take and whether it is managed competently or even managed at all.

History, Politics, Aboriginal Burns and Climate Change

The response to my last blog on asking whether, and where, there were Aboriginal burns in Gippsland has been overwhelming. Normally I get between 20 to 80 readers per blog and average about 1000 readers a month, but in this instance the readership for the last 24 hours has approached 800 (see above). I suspect that most of this readership has come through my normal promotion of the blog through the social media.

This has been especially the response on various facebook (fb) pages to which I am unable to respond to, and thank all those positive comments and likes. As usual there were critics as well, a number of whom I don’t think bothered to read the blog and others who complained that it was ‘political’. Of course the blog is ‘political’ but not in a ‘party’ sense – hopefully influencing the acceptance of climate science by the Gippsland public, persuading them of the urgency for action and offering a range of solutions including the end of logging and burning.

It is ‘political’ because the issue has been politicised by powerful interest groups and reinforced by the status quo. The current approach by our governments to use best science in the Coronavirus epidemic when compared with their inaction on the best science on climate clearly illustrates the problem.

In case you haven’t read the blog (see below) it questioned the current dominant theme – that Aboriginal burning in Gippsland in the pre European era is substantiated and therefore the large-scale controlled burns carried out by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are historically justified. It then briefly examined the conclusions of Alfred Howitt and called for more research. As a number of fb ‘friends’ have pointed out Aboriginal burns elsewhere in Australia have been generally small, and fit a geographically ‘mosaic’ pattern over time.

Of the first three European parties in Gippsland in 1840 – McMillan, Strzelecki and Brodribb – all have made small contributions to the burning question. Both the latter observed large, treeless plains in central Gippsland and, in Brodribb’s case attributed this phenomenon to Aboriginal burning, although he did not witness any such activity. Further, all parties at some stage experienced large tracts of scrubby, impassable country, which obviously had not been burned for many years – between Ensay and Bruthen for McMillan and in west and south Gippsland for the others. However, only McMillan actually saw the Kurnai set fire to the bush when they used it as a form of defence – creating smoke and confusion as the people in a camp fled the invaders.

There is a tendency for history, and much less politics, to adhere to the status quo. But it is to the science and the evidence that we should be looking. John Timmer, an American journalist, recently wrote “Science isn’t a body of facts that should be treated as the final word; it’s a collection of conclusions in which we have varying degrees of confidence.” History is the same.

Aboriginal Burns in Gippsland?

As I have outlined previously the evidence for Aboriginal burns in pre European times in Gippsland is slim. Unfortunately practices from other parts of Australia and the influence of some popularisers of the ‘firestick farming’ thesis (Gammage and Pascoe) has led to it being promoted as a necessary part of forestry operations in Gippsland. Many such generalisations from the particular to the whole are fallacious. Aside from the fact that we cannot turn the clock back 200 years the following should be considered.

Early Europeans did not understand the role of fire in our environment and were thus more likely to attribute the smoke from all fires as ‘Aboriginal burns’ – the origins of fire in the British environment were all man made. Many of these fires must have been from ‘natural causes’. Also once a fire had started – whatever the cause – the Kurnai would let it burn as they had little property to defend or protect.

The population of the Kurnai was much denser in favourable habitats around lakes, swamps, rivers and the coast. It follows that their use of fire was confined to the areas that they most commonly frequented, areas that are now mostly farmed and closely settled, rather than our mountain regions where forests are dominant.

The popularisers of Aboriginal burning are heavily dependent on the observations of that great Gippslander, Alfred Howitt. On this I have previously stated that “much of Gammage’s work strongly relies on a few pages of Alfred Howitt’s Eucalypts of Gippsland, yet a closer examination of his works can give you facts opposing, as well as supporting, the Gammage thesis. None of the claims Howitt made applied to East Gippsland, much of which he thought a ‘jungle’.”

Howitt is by far the best source on the pre European Kurnai and, as a rule, I follow his work – for the most part uncritically. However his notes in Eucalypts of Gippsland on burning require further in depth analysis as they are in part anecdotal, use Aboriginal information and depend on his long term observations of changing vegetation under different fire regimes. Further studies are necessary – both historical and scientific – to ascertain more details about the when, if and where of Kurnai burns. Did the Kurnai and Europeans burn different areas, and in the case of the latter, protect other areas?

Foremost in our minds should be the climate emergency and that logging and associated practices, including burning, must be ended as quickly as possible. What will be left will be small ecological burns, some local burns for protection of assets, and a massive effort to prevent and restrict bushfires wherever possible.

My Three Wheeler Electric Bike by Pamela Jacka

Abridged version first published in the Bass Coast Post.

On Monday, February 24, 2020, I received a letter from Honda saying that my 22-year-old car was in need of airbag replacement. However, because of her age, the parts were no longer available for that model airbag, so she was being recalled. I was offered market value, which coincided roughly with the insurance value of $2700…It was time to look at my options.

I looked on the internet for local bicycle shops and found one in Wonthaggi that offered an electric three-wheeler…I made my decision and ordered an XDS E-SCAPE 24″ 7-Speed E-Trike Black from the shop in McBride Avenue.

While all this was going on, a thing called COVID appeared on the horizon and the subsequent lockdowns caused havoc with the expected delivery…It was ready for collection on Friday, March 20, which sounds like a reasonable timeframe to me now but was frustrating at the time. I bought a fancy new fluoro green/yellow helmet and swapped the bell and light from my existing two-wheeler “exercise” bike in the spare room.

For those who aren’t familiar with this type of bike, it has seven manual gears and five “electric” speeds. The battery sits under the seat and is removable for recharging or it can be charged in situ if you have electricity nearby. My shed doesn’t, so every now and then (the monitor shows me when), I remove it for recharging. It takes about four hours to fully recharge. The definition of the power is “pedal assist” which means that the pedals need to be rotated even when the battery is engaged but there is no resistance.

Naturally, when the power isn’t engaged, it’s the same as riding a manual bike but the three-wheeler is quite a bit heavier. If you get up a good speed with the battery on and you are on level ground, you don’t have to pedal until it starts slowing down. I think there’s a correlation between the manual gears and power speed. For example, if I had the bike in 7th gear and the power in 5th, I reckon I’d be going pretty fast. The top speed is 25km/h but I’ve gone over that by a couple of k’s when the wind was behind me. I broke the speed limit when I visited the State Coal Mine a while ago. It was quite thrilling!

My budget got a nice boost after I cancelled all my car-related expenses. The bike cost $2500 and the $200 balance from the car compensation was invested in a dozen red. There are no real costs with the bike except for a regular service at the local bike shop. I was given a free (labour) five-year service deal with the purchase and the first one cost $60 for parts. The rail trail gravel plays havoc with the chain which is what was replaced…When everything settles down a bit more, the plan is to head off to the general store at Dalyston, via the rail trail, for fish `n` chips. I’ve heard that the store is for sale again, so I’d better get a move on.

The full article is here.

Campaigning in the Climate Emergency

Signing the Climate Emergency Petition

Negative responses to my recent Marinus article on facebook made me think about this form of campaigning and the climate emergency. Many of these objections came from those who appear to support some form of climate action, but are opposed to all forms of pumped hydro. One critic appeared to have not read the article but asserted that pumped hydro was a ‘scam’. Is this a case of ‘tunnel vision’ or just missing the big picture?

It is obvious that some negative campaigns are good and have been successful – for example the anti-nuke campaign and the more recent lock the gate campaign in Victoria. Others are ‘good’ but yet to succeed such as stopping logging and reducing burning. ‘Bad’ campaigns are easily defined climate wise as those that are against any improvements in greenhouse gas reduction. This is especially so of wind generation and to a lesser extent pumped hydro. The ‘not in my back yard’ syndrome is apparent with the opposition to the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell. The ‘nay sayers’ clearly do not understand the climate emergency or perceive any additional benefits such as using the pine plantations for generator location or of cleaner air in the Valley as a result of this renewable energy project.

It is the significant parts of the ‘green’ movement’s ‘bad’ negative campaigns that I find a trifle annoying. The ‘Stop Adani’ ride during the last election was a positive, if, with hindsight, politically flawed, campaign which I supported. However I definitely do not support their opposition to some wind farms and other renewable energy projects designed to reduce emissions. To me these ‘bad’ campaigns signify that those making the decisions do not understand the ‘climate emergency’ much as our state government can have strong renewable policies and yet keep logging or pushing a clean air tax on electric vehicles.

The answer then is to keep as many options open as possible. It is becoming increasingly likely that the renewables solution of solar, wind and batteries is the path that will be the most successful. But it is far too early to be ruling out pumped hydro. The simple answer is, at this stage, we should be working on both.

Gippsland Microgrids: Heyfield and Mallacoota

A recent surprise announcement was that the township of Heyfield has been selected for a microgrid trial. Surprise because there are a number of other seemingly more important locations in Gippsland where a properly functioning microgrid is essential – Mallacoota* springs immediately to mind. There are a number of other remote localities more suitable, even preferable, than Heyfield for a microgrid location. However, Heyfield was selected as the uptake on rooftop solar in the town is about 30% and the project has strong local support.

The three-year feasibility study is to be conducted by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and is federally funded. Writing in Reneweconomy James Fernyhough quoted UTS representative Scott Dwyer that: “the network…could reduce the maintenance cost of keeping long, inefficient feeder lines connecting the town to the central grid. Studies have shown that many towns it is cheaper to take them off grid in the longer term than it is to maintain the lines connecting them to the main grid. However, there are regulatory hurdles to cutting whole communities off the grid.” Being centrally located “it was unlikely that Heyfield would be cut off from it [the grid] altogether.”

This highlights some of the problems with a study of this kind. It will certainly help the township of Heyfield move towards zero emissions and generally is a positive move but far too slow. The climate emergency dictates that the remote towns should receive priority and that period – a three-year study – is already obsolete. Some Mallacoota residents have been calling for a microgid for years. Such a microgrid easily could be financed by the funds going to the UTS study and local capital, and it need not immediately disconnect from the grid. As Fernyhough noted “$1.8 million [came] from the federal government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, which [has] put aside just over $50 million to fund microgrid trials around Australia.”

During the bushfires of both 2003 and 2006/7 the Omeo region was cut off from the grid and functioned successfully for short periods on these occasions with diesel powered portable generators. It is worth remembering that the grid did not extend to the Omeo district until about 1965. Until then townships such as Swifts Creek operated as microgrids (if somewhat primitive) and in this case powered by a generator from the timber mill.

With cheap solar, lithium ion batteries and smart meters microgids offer a win/win opportunity for remote communities. They are cheap and provide reliable energy for residents and energy providers are no longer required to supply costly power to them. In parts of Western Australia the energy supplier is replacing remote grid extensions with stand-alone power.

What then is the objection to working studies of micro-grids in action so that they can be improved and perfected? Mallacoota, still recovering from the devastating bushfires of last year, is the perfect place for such a project – not as an alternative to Heyfield but an additional one.

*A member of the Mallacoota Sustainable Energy Group has informed me that they already “have a micro grid, a 1MW battery and a 1MW generator almost ready for commissioning! It’s gone through final testing and is waiting for delivery, COVID-time, of a single part” which is good news. The thrust of the article remains that there are many deserving localities ahead of Heyfield including Omeo and Dargo. Licola may also have a partially functioning microgrid about which I have no recent information.

Electric Vehicle Expo in Warragul

EV Expo

From the Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) Newsletter

The BBSN held their Electric Vehicle Expo on Thursday 25th February. There was a range of electric vehicles (EVs) on display at the Warragul Goods Shed and the Expo was part of the BBSN’s program of monthly events. Pictured above is the latest model Nissan Leaf from Traralgon Nissan. Also on display were an earlier model Leaf, Hyundai Kona, Tesla Model 3 and Model S, Renault Zoe, BMW i3, Mitsubishi Outlander, and some electric bikes from Drouin Cycles.

Visitors were able to chat to the various owners of the cars as well as attend talks from Shane Clayton from RACV Solar and Paul Paton from the Australian Electric Vehicle Association. Shane spoke about charging options, how EVs will fit into the grid and our lifestyles, and Paul on how you can purchase an EV.

The evening wrapped up with a panel Q+A on what it’s like to own an EV. The EV owners highlighted the benefits of charging from your home solar system, the impressive performance, and enjoyment in driving an EV. There is much less range anxiety now that the newer cars have bigger batteries and the charging network is steadily expanding. None of these owners would go back to an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle now.

Unfortunately, the visitor numbers had to be restricted due to COVID so we may hold another EV expo later this year so stay tuned!

The CARE Exhibition Opens

(Lisa Roberts)

About 120 people attended the opening of the Concerned Artists Resisting Extinction (CARE) exhibition entitled “Emergency: Species Loss” at the Art Gallery in Bairnsdale on Friday. Due to covid restrictions the opening was held in the open space between the gallery and the Court House. Officially opened by Mayor Mendy Urie, three of the artists, including Pat Waters from Briagolong, gave short speeches and other East Gippsland Shire councillors attended.

CARE is the brainchild of Munro wildlife artist Dawn Stubbs and, after a month in Bairnsdale, the exhibition will travel to Sale, Orbost, Maffra and other locations. 50 artists from across the region exhibited their paintings, sculptures and installations. Dawn noted: “Concerned Artists Resisting Extinction held its first meeting around 18 months ago with the idea that through visual and performing arts in all mediums, we would respond to Australia’s shocking record of species loss. We are not politicians so we aim to tell these tragic stories through holding exhibitions that challenge and bring awareness and attention to the public.”

Some works concentrated on specific threatened species such as the mountain pygmy possum, the greater glider, and the baw baw frog. One artist was concerned about the decline of fish species –the blackfish and a local galaxia. Others concentrated on our recent bushfires and the effects of logging on our native species, where the connections to our warming planet are clear. A few pieces directly connected species loss to climate change.

We have artworks by three of these artists on the walls of our unit – Deirdre Jack, Ray Dahlstrom and Penny Carruthers – and I know a number of the others. One piece missing from the exhibition was something on the grey-headed flying fox* – a threatened species, a colony of which is on the Mitchell River a 10 minute walk from the gallery. This colony suffers drastically in our increasingly frequent heatwaves and if it cannot re-locate will be a certain casualty of global warming. Perhaps one of our budding photographers can put together something on this theme for the next exhibition?

The famous quote from poet John Donne “Hark not for whom the bell tolls” (used by Hemingway as the title for his novel on the Spanish Civil war) is pertinent here for the threatened species for whom the bells are tolling are telling us “it tolls for thee.” Extinction is forever and humankind is not exempt from the laws of nature.

*Correction. There is a display of the flying fox in the Exhibition by photographer Lisa Roberts that I missed, though not in the heatwave context I had imagined.

The Marinus Link and Gippsland

The proposed Marinus Link and the Tasmanian Battery of the Nation (BOTN) plan have been getting a fair amount of publicity. The new cables presumably will either duplicate the Basslink cable or go to another location in South Gippsland. Marinus will increase the capacity from the current 600 megawatts to two gigawatts or more than the size of two of our remaining coal fired generators. An article by Emily Jarvie in Renew (No 154) examined the project in some detail.

Her article looked at the divide between lithium battery energy storage (shallow) and pumped hydro storage (deep) – a divide which is, unfortunately, becoming politicised with green groups supporting the former and Liberal governments the latter. A paper from the Bob Brown Foundation is quite critical of BOTN (and other pumped hydro plans) from a financial viewpoint, whilst for some conservative governments, help solving global warming issues can be put off until tomorrow.

But the climate crisis dictates that we need both and as the handling of the coronavirus has indicated finance is not a problem in an emergency. The Baw Baw Pumped Hydro proposals published in this blog last year copped some ‘green’ ire in the social media where the advantages of assisting the renewables revolution, water savings and helping a ‘just transition’ by providing jobs in the Valley were ignored.

There are other advantages for the Marinus link for Gippsland. Renewable energy from Tassie could completely replace Yallourn or Loy Yang B. Likewise the Star of the South offshore wind project can replace another and hook directly in to Basslink. As the Valley generators close (probably sooner than later) more capacity becomes available on the mains transmission lines to Melbourne and there will be plenty of room for further projects in the State governments’ Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone.

Projects such as Marinus are advantageous to the whole National Energy Market as is any strengthening of the network. It is not a matter of either/or but both, and States should not to try to pick winners as with local ‘picks’ – like coal to hydrogen and carbon capture and storage – they are often wrong. The climate crisis is above party loyalties. A fast-forwarded Marinus link will easily replace Yallourn, now to close in 2028.