Gippsland News & Views

Labor’s Sea Electric Fiasco

The failure of the current labor government to establish the promised electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Morwell is alarming. Opposition National MP for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien has been sticking the boots in on twitter, when he rightly pointed out that there are just four Gipplanders working at Dandenong Sea Electric and that a site has yet to be found for the Morwell factory. The criticism is valid despite coming from a party that does not appear to have any policies on renewables or climate change or coming from a politician yet to be heard promoting the Star of the South project in his own electorate.

An article in Latrobe Valley Express on 28 October by Kate Withers entitled “Electric vehicle plant promised for Morwell comes to a screeching halt” gives the full disturbing details. She noted that: “In the lead-up to the 2018 election Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled plans to partner with company SEA Electric to create the plant, which was to be built by 2021 and create 500 jobs. At the time, Morwell was heralded as the new “national capital of electric vehicle manufacturing”, where up to 2400 delivery vans and mini buses would roll off the production line each year.”

This great proposal to provide jobs in a new industry and in a location where increased employment has to be part of a just transition is now turning into a public relations disaster. In what should be a safe Labor seat the electorate of Morwell has been held by conservative politicians for 15 years. The privatisation stuff-ups of the 1990s continue. Due to a lack of leadership and commitment from the government Sea Electric has transferred its headquarters to America – a sad, but oft repeated, story.

It is clear that very few in either of the major parties understand the climate emergency, the inertia in global warming, and the political need for a rapid and just transition. Without this transition the unemployed, the dispossessed, proprietors of struggling small businesses and those disappointed by false promises merely join the political reaction as can be seen in some of the coal mining electorates in NSW and Queensland.

The Labor state government is making progress in renewable energy and energy storage but falls down in number of other climate related areas. One example is the continuation of logging – a subsidised, climate damaging, dying industry – and another is in the area of electrified transport. Why tax electric vehicles when the electrification of transport is part of the difficult road to zero emissions, when virtually every advanced economy is doing their best to encourage rapid electric vehicle adoption? One hopes that Labor can somehow resurrect the Morwell Sea Electric plan. They have less than 2 years to do so.

Doing Nothing Risks Everything

Media Release from Bairnsdale XR (17.12)

The 12th of December 2020 was the five year anniversary of the UN Paris Agreement on Climate. We are still not doing enough to keep the world safe for future generations.

Extinction Rebellion members and their distinctive flags with hourglass symbol fluttering in the breeze, gathered on and around the Yarra River in Melbourne last Saturday to advocate urgent action on global warming. The focus of the protests was to gain attention by performing creative colourful acts.

The Red Rebels, with stark white faces and slow deliberate ethereal movements appeared and disappeared as if by magic watching over the various efforts of the protestors. Cyclists pedalled the streets, Greta Thunberg’s words were highlighted by a troupe of whirling figures, and rebels aboard watercraft all showed their commitment to urgent climate action.

Some brave souls ‘locked on’ by gluing themselves to each other and connecting pipes, resulting in arrests. Others spent their time talking to passers by and helping them understand the importance of actions now.

Seven Gippsland Extinction Rebellion members joined the kayak flotilla to deliver the message that global warming must be stopped and our government must take bolder more effective action.

The kayaks made a colorful addition to the river, on a perfect cloudless day. Amongst other boaters celebrating the relative freedoms of post lockdown Melbourne, the flotilla spelled out a clear message on climate change.

Spokesperson Tony Peck explained, “We know that we need to get moving on global warming. Scientists have said for decades that we have limited time to act. The cost of going too slowly will be devastating and massive if we do nothing. The fires that we had in East Gippsland last summer are a horrible warning that we are close to being too late.’

Mass mobilisation is just one of the ways that the climate message is coming across loud and clear. Until big reductions in our carbon emissions are underway, citizens from around the globe will continue their actions.

Our Battery Systems – in bush and town

The old: Deep Cycle Lead Acid Batteries

For most of the last 40 years we have had batteries as a major component in our energy supply. They were the centre of our stand-alone energy system and stored power from our wind generator and solar panels. As far I am aware the current owner still has the same system. The batteries were lead acid deep cycle in series and parallel providing nominally about 800 watts of storage. They required constant (ie daily) checking and to maintain longevity of the storage the batteries had to be maintained above 30% charge. The batteries it seems had a ‘memory’ and ‘remembered’ any deep discharge which shortened their life. On the other hand the two ‘black-outs’ we had in more than 30 years were fixed in a matter of minutes.

When moving to town in 2012 our new unit was chosen partly because of the north facing (and unshaded) aspect of the roof. Four KW of panels (250w each) were installed – more than 4 times that of our bush system – and the system was designed to cover winter usage in our all-electric residence. The battery storage was replaced by feeding the extra power generated into the grid and for most of the year we provided far more electricity than we consumed – more than 4 times on average. And when we were receiving about 30 cents per kw hour (now 11c) the system was a good money earner.

And the new: bottom right corner

Since our move to town the development and economics of lithium ion batteries has been rapid and barely short of miraculous. About two years ago I started considering adding a lithium battery to our system and was waiting for the battery prices to decline. When our postcode was added to the Victoria solar rebate, we got a new quote for a small battery system. After getting the rebate it then took about 6 months to be installed. The new design was for a small 4kw battery (still four times more storage than the old ones) a hybrid inverter and two extra kw of panels on east and west facing roof.

It is not expected to that we will recover our investment in our lifetime and is a form of climate action – ‘putting your money where your mouth is’. One final improvement (if we live long enough) will be incorporating our second-hand Nissan Leaf into the system giving us another very large battery (24 KW) with vehicle to the home capacity and, if the price is right, even vehicle to the grid.

The Carbon Club – a brief review

Marian Wilkinson’s The Carbon Club (Allen & Unwin 2020) tells the sorry history of the fight against any meaningful climate change action in Australia by vested interests, pressure groups, lobbyists, politicians and the media. The endless catalogue of opposition is mostly the domain of the Liberal and National Parties but the trials of Labor are also documented. Included in the mistakes or missteps through the Rudd Gillard years are Rudd’s failure to call a double dissolution after the defeat of the Emissions Trading Bill in the Senate and Gillard’s “no carbon tax” statement – ruthlessly exploited by hostile politicians and the media. One major (and unrecognised) failure of the Labor interregnum was the lack of basic education on climate science to counter the powerful push against any meaningful climate action in the media.

Reading this book has made me very angry. In many ways it reads like a compendium of Australia’s climate criminals. The list is very long and starts with the ‘behind the scene’ movers like Hugh Morgan and Ray Evans. Then there are groups like the IPA and the Lavoissier group, funded by Australia’s wealthiest citizens (and coal owners) like Gina Rinehart and Palmer. With tame academics (usually geologists) like Carter and Plimer hired to muddy the waters of climate science and a host of ignorant and loud journalists including Bolt, Devine, McCrann, and Alan Jones. And the biggest criminal of them all pulling the puppet strings of the politicians from New York – Rupert Murdoch. Then there is the long list of politicians guided by ambition and the quest to get or hold power, cynically ignoring the public ‘good’ including Minchin, Bernardi, Abbott, Corman, Fifield, Morrison, Taylor and Joyce.

The Valley generators featured in the debate over Rudd’s Emissions Trading Bill and denialists like Evans used it to claim that because of high debt levels the Bill would make the generators bankrupt. The generators retained this powerful position during the Gillard ‘carbon tax’ discussions and thus were treated favourably in the ‘carbon tax’ legislation. The fact remains that these brown coal generators are the most polluting and logically should have been the first to close. Whilst Hazelwood is gone, the three remaining companies have given no indication of closing plans.

The blurb on the back cover states: “The Carbon Club reveals the truth behind Australia’s two decades of climate inaction”. This is somewhat of an understatement. The last chapter (The Road Ahead) brings us up to date through the agonising years of Turnbull PM (Hostage) to the bushfires, coronavirus and the ‘gas lead recovery’. Nothing much has changed. Wilkinson warns that “as the climate crisis escalates, the Morrison government and the fossil fuel industries, are in a race against time.”

The Carbon Club is a reminder of the bankruptcy of our current federal political system and the power of vested interests. It is well worth a read if your blood pressure is not too high.

*copy lent to me by Alistair Mailer of Newlands Arm

Visiting our Local MP by Nick Blandford

Earlier last week I was fortunate enough to be a part of a presentation to the Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester with the Farmers for Climate Action* on their ambitious project Regional Horizons.

This is a $1.8 billion dollar project that aims to help regional and rural areas adapt to climate change by building resilient communities and developing strategies and infrastructure to mitigate their effect of greenhouse gas emissions. The four core work areas of the plan are

  • The development and delivery of the National Climate Change and Agriculture Work Plan, which all state and federal Agriculture Ministers have already agreed to. Done well, the plan could play an important role coordinating efforts to promote climate-smart agriculture and build regional resilience to drought, fire and other mounting risks
  • A new Land and Environment Investment Fund (LEIF), working from the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), to support innovation, attract large-scale investment, reward ecosystem services, and promote climate solutions and resilience on the land.
  • A Regional Resilience Hub Network, to strengthen and diversify existing learning networks, encourage innovation, and empower regional communities with choices in a changing climate.
  • A Regional Energy Transition Program, to promote and support community-based, clean energy developments, and modernise and decentralise power grids.

This approach aligns with the policy framework already being develop through the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment which includes the national agriculture work plan, the drought future fund and the development of drought resilience hubs as well as the renewable energy plan for regional Australia developed by independent member for Indi Helen Haines. Mr Chester appeared to take the strategy of this plan with positivity and we look forward to seeing his support for these proposals and particularly in the Gippsland region.

The concerns raised by Mr Chester around the implementation was that in the past such proposals haven’t led to any tangible benefits in the community with reference to job security and creation. It was also pointed out that asking members   of the community to change was often met with resistance when the management of social, economic and environmental resources on the regional level has been poor with the example of forest management before the bushfire as the example.

Where there was agreement was that the ideology of managing climate change needs to be a bipartisan issue and one that was not only the realm of “green” candidates. However even the most ardent of supporters for climate action within the community would struggle to move the pendulum of this issue within the National Party Room as ideology rather than geography dictates their policy decisions. So, while we can pressure politicians to step up to more significant action, until the community makes this an issue at the ballot box to shift the ideology it will remain to be seen if we see significant government support for climate actions in our rural and regional areas.

*the author is a member of EGCAN and Farmers for Climate Action. More information on regional horizons here.

South Gippsland Council fails climate emergency call

Media Release 26.11 Prom Area Climate Action*

South Gippsland Shire Council’s decision to reject a call by over 2,000 petitioners for a climate emergency declaration shows a failure of leadership and a failure to understand the urgency and scale of the climate change threat, according to Dr Jo Wainer of Prom Area Climate Action (PACA). Council administrators decided that a climate emergency declaration should be left to the next elected council. The petition was organised by PACA and presented to Council at its October 21 meeting. It called on Council to take the lead within the South Gippsland community in implementing urgent action on climate change.

Dr Wainer noted that Council acknowledged its responsibility to address the effects of climate change, but wondered why it wouldn’t then make the decision about a climate emergency declaration. “A climate emergency declaration effectively supercharges a council’s climate change actions, driving a transformation to embed climate emergency considerations across all council operations and decisions,” she said.

“If Council is serious about addressing climate change, as it claims, then why not take the strongest actions available? This is what’s needed to properly address the scale of the climate emergency, and it is very disappointing to see that the Council administrators have completely failed to understand the community’s level of concern and desire for action,” Dr Wainer said.

Council’s intention to develop a new Sustainability Strategy, incorporating a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, was welcomed by PACA, but it stressed that it’s a whole-of-council response embodied in a climate emergency declaration that delivers effective full-scale action. Dr Wainer said Council’s belief that a climate emergency declaration would be best made by elected councillors is disingenuous. Council administrators were appointed by the State government in June 2019 to act as the Council in the best interests of ratepayers after the elected council had been dismissed.

“If their role is to act as Council, then why not act? Why choose to refer a climate emergency declaration to the next elected council when immediate action is what ratepayers want and when action is what the State government requires? I’d be interested to know what other issues they have kicked down the road to the next elected council to deal with, and if there aren’t any, then why choose climate change?” Dr Wainer said.

“Given that time is critical in dealing with the climate emergency, and that it’s likely to be 2022 before a newly elected council will have a chance to consider an emergency declaration, this represents a massive leadership failure by Council administrators to the community’s demand for an effective and immediate full-scale response to the climate reality,” she said.

*Prom Area Climate Action is the South Gippsland independent community group of the Australian Conservation Foundation. For further information and comment contact Associate Professor Dr Jo Wainer AM

Boosting Gippsland’s (Climate) Tourism – Flying Foxes

 

There are a number of wildlife resources in East Gippsland that can be developed as tourist attractions to help our economic recovery from the bushfires (and the coronavirus) without environmental harm. This involves careful management and protection of the resource and promotion and organisation of tourist activities. Most of these activities are low cost and involve both government and private enterprise.

At the top of the list is the Grey Headed Flying Fox colony on the Mitchell River in Bairnsdale. Often despised by locals – even seen as a pest – the flying fox is a threatened and protected species. It is extremely vulnerable to heatwaves as I have often commented (see here and here) and protection of the species is vital. As temperatures climb above 42 °C the flying foxes begin to die and prolonged heatwaves decimate the colony. Each bat die-off is a clear ‘canary in the coal mine’ warning for human beings and global warming.

As a means of protection in the last heatwave the Friends of the Bairnsdale Bats group unofficially installed sprinklers along the riverside path beneath the colony. These were removed by the East Gippsland Shire (EGSC) and then put back the following day by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWYP) . Wikipedia notes “evaporative cooling is the conversion of liquid water into vapor using the thermal energy in the air, resulting in a lower air temperature” and that “flash evaporation can reduce the surrounding air temperature by as much as 20 °C in just seconds.”

It is clear that the ‘Friends’ actions were on the right track and more sophisticated, and strategically placed, sprinklers can easily be installed at low cost. This can easily offset the costs currently for cleaning up the bat carcases (and other related expenses after heatwaves) incurred by the EGSC and DELWYP

Now (Nov 20) the colony is large and the bats are in the plain trees in town and are easily accessible for observation by both road and on foot. When the colony is at its minimum it is still easily accessible on Riverine Street. Bus tours with guides expounding on the values and attributes of the flying foxes have the potential to bring tourists here year round. The buses can pick up tourists from the train (perhaps using their free travel vouchers) do the flying foxes and perhaps other Bairnsdale sites – like the cathedral and the Keeping Place museum.

Tourist promotions such as this are win/win actions for the local community at the same time the awareness of climate change and the environment expands. This action requires co-ordination and co-operation between DELWYP and the East Gippsland Shire Council. Perhaps there are also a few budding local entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of this.

Submission on Zali Steggall’s Bill by the Metung Science Forum

The Metung Science Forum (MSF) believes that the Australian Federal Government should develop a clear pathway to net zero emissions by 2050. This pathway should be clearly based on science and should encompass specific strategies to reduce greenhouse  gas emissions and address both mitigation Zali Steggall’s Bill Submission from Metung Science Forum and adaptation. It is important to the Australian economy that the pathway should not incur taking unreasonable risks that may result in Australians being left with “stranded assets” or expensive “white elephants”.

The pathway should be clearly transparent to the Australian people, both in principle and with regards to the success and progress of its strategies. Whereas it should primarily take a long-term perspective, it should nonetheless be capable of amendment if required to achieve its objectives.

Our Forum believes that achieving and managing a plan that satisfies the above criteria is currently an extremely unlikely possibility in our political system where governments put too much weight on the political decisions they feel they must make to:

• Retain party political solidarity,

• Satisfy powerful lobby groups,

• Maximise political donations and

• Win the next election.

The truth of this statement is obvious from the recent history of climate policy in Australia where we see partisan politics given greater consideration than the science which should underpin policy. We have witnessed numerous Climate Change policies introduced and then not proceeded with and we have seen perfectly reasonable climate initiatives introduced by one government repealed by the next government. We are obviously no closer to resolving these problems and MSF believes that the only resolution is to have a clearly identified system of overseeing progress on climate change policy which is independent of partisan politics.

Any such body established to achieve this objective needs to be transparent and to report back to the Australian Parliament and the Australian People at regular intervals. It is the right of the general community to be able to fact check statements and claims made by their representatives in government. For the reasons detailed above MSF supports the Climate Change Bill introduced to the House of Representatives on 9th November 2020 by independent member Zali Steggall.

*The Metung Science Forum is a forum for progressive science and evidence-based discussion of climate change and related issues for the people of Metung and surrounds. As a group we are not politically aligned with any particular party, but have come together to support each other in understanding and respecting science. We promote evidence-based solutions to problems faced by our community, Australia and globally, and we will support selected organisations and individuals who actively engage with local, state and federal governments. Contact with the Forum may be made at metungscienceforum2@gmail.com PO Box 128, Metung, Victoria, 3904 Phone 0419 018 505

Book Review

 It is hard for me to review Rebecca Huntley’s book How to Talk about Climate Change in a Way that Makes a Difference (Murdoch, 2020) as after a dozen years of writing and agitating I have little patience with those who do not accept climate science. Huntley is best known for publicising the Yale Spectrum in Australia, which I have commented on here. The spectrum divides the behavioural response of individuals to climate change into six categories between ‘denialism’ and ‘alarmism’.

The aim of the climate activist should be to move individuals towards the ‘alarmed’ end of the spectrum Huntley wrote: “We need to shift more of the ‘Concerned’ group into the ‘Alarmed’ group. We need to find a way to convince the ‘Cautious’ that urgent action is necessary. This very difficultly, often requires language that isn’t fraught with tones of crisis…we need to drive the Dismissive group out of positions of power in our government, stop the flow of their donations into our political parties, and find smarter ways to engage with them in the media, including social media.”

The book continues in the same vein with appeals for us to use various emotions in this process. Huntley’s chapter headings give an idea of what is required. Early examples include ones such as ‘The Problem of Reason’ and “Start being Emotional or the importance of feelings over facts’. Following comes headings such as ‘Anger or how to turn anger into activism’, and ‘Hope’ and ‘Despair’. I have strong sympathies with much of this and in particular see hope as the antidote to despair. Too much pessimism may lead straight to a ‘why bother’ or ‘I can’t do anything’ syndrome – almost as bad as ‘denialism’. The work of Huntley also helps us understand the ‘tribalism’ in politics, and the recent US elections in particular.

To me the most important chapter in the book is the last, which gives plenty of practical advice. It starts with the sentence “Climate Change is one of the hardest topics to talk about…” and then states that this is exactly what we must do. Huntley then lists eleven principles as guidelines to discussion, the first of which is “focus on local issues” and the last “encourage a form of active hope”. She then elaborates on nine personal rules she follows, starting with “Listen and Understand” and “Talk About It” and concluding with “Vote if you can” and “Find your own Climate Story”. Under her “Vote” advice she adds “don’t forget to tell your local politicians what you’re doing.” There is a copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library.

Our Bushfires Anniversary

Fires at 4 February

On the 21 November 2019, an electrical storm passed over east Gippsland igniting a number of fires in the bone-dry bush. Bushfires were already raging across much of NSW and Queensland. On December 1, I posted the first of many blogs (see here and here) on our bushfires. This blog was a reminder of the CSIRO warnings of 1987 on the increasing threat of bushfires in a warming planet – we should have been more prepared for this bushfire catastrophe. This particular blog attracted more than 7000 readers and remains my most read post. It also contained the first mention of our local fires as a footnote.

A few weeks later, these fires had grown into four major bushfires of more than 10,000 hectares each – in the upper Nicholson, at Ensay, Bruthen and W Tree. On December 19, I suggested that the fires had the potential to join and create a monster bushfire of the size of those in 2003 and 2006/7. This prediction was critiised as ‘alarmist’ on the social media but quickly became a reality when three of these fires joined in a matter of days.

The bushfires advanced rapidly to Mallacoota on New Year’s Eve and images of the fire and evacuations from shore made headlines around the world. On January 2 a bushfire emergency was declared by the Victorian government and evacuation advice was recommended for virtually the whole of East Gippsland except for the Bairnsdale area.

By January 5 the fires had amalgamated and the burning or burnt areas stretched from Clifton Creek near Bairnsdale to Eden in NSW. On 19 February I blogged that the bushfires were burning still, that some of my friends’ houses had been lost, and ABC journalist Kellie Lazzaro reported that there were still 650,000 hectares of active fire. Subdued in parts by some good rains the fires trickled on for the rest of the month making the length of the fires more than 90 days eclipsing the length of the mammoth fires of earlier this century.

As the fires were widely spread across eastern Australia it is hard to quantify some of the statistics but this was definitely the longest and the biggest bushfire our region (and almost certainly Victoria) has ever experienced. And as the CSIRO warned us in 1987 these fires will start earlier, and get longer and bigger as the planet warms. Meanwhile we are still waiting for most of our politicians to connect the ‘warming’ dots.