Gippsland Climate News

Building our Sustainable House in Metung by Ray McNamara

When the opportunity came up to build a new house from scratch we* decided to implement our passion and build a “Solar Passive” style of house. Lots of big windows facing north for light and winter heat. Cross flow ventilation to cool it down in summer and big verandas to shade the big windows. Plus, a concrete slab to soak up the winter sun and keep it cosy. We did not have a specific plan, but knew it would be a simple pavilion style of layout. And, compact, and, we want to be able to live in it for as long into our older age as possible. We reckoned we should be able to get an 8 Star house that delivered those outcomes.

But, we also knew that we needed a builder who thought along the same lines. And we found him doing a job just around the corner. We could see from inspecting his work that he was a stickler for detail. We liked that. So, we engaged him to be our builder before we had the house plans drawn up, and he agreed to work with us (and a yet to be appointed designer) to design a comfy and compact 2 bedroom home.

Then the surprise came! He told us about the added benefits of adding a “Passive House” overlay to our basic solar passive ideals. And, we agreed. Not only because he is an accredited Passive House (PH) constructor, but we could see the long term benefits of a really low energy house. The PH add-ons are essentially super insulation to the external skin of the house (floors, walls and ceilings), creating an airtight interior (no draughts) and supplying filtered clean air into the building at times when all the windows and doors are closed. This was great during the bushfires and the recent cool burns – we could live inside and not smell smoke. We know how much these add-ons costed. Not a lot really.

We also know what we did not have to spend. No open fireplace or wood heater. No large reverse cycle air con – the first retailer we spoke to in Bairnsdale wanted to sell us an 8kW system. We only needed 3kW. He would not sell that one to us because he feared we would claim damages against him when it did not work.

Going down the PH path added about 10% to the building cost. But without spending that bit extra, we would not be getting an annual refund from our electricity supplier of $500. And, no firewood to buy. Overall, we achieved a super low energy house (it is all electric) powered by solar PV and a grid connection. It performs better than we expected. And it did not break the budget.

*The author, and his partner Fran Carroll. They are members of the Metung Science Forum

The New Climate War – a brief review

Michael Mann is the most prominent and popular climate scientist since James Hansen. His book The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet (Scribe, 2021)* tells in detail how vested interests retard meaningful progress on climate change. The science is in. And climate deniers have been replaced by climate ‘inactivists’. The forces of inaction now employ a range of more subtle tactics than the deniers. They are “downplayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers and doomers” (p.45) and each of Mann’s categories is examined in detail in the book. All climate activists should be able to recognise them and counter them where possible.  

Resident in Australia during the black summer Mann is conversant with the climate denialism of the current Canberra incumbents. He noted “there is no will in the current Australian government to do anything about it [climate change] other than promoting ‘adaption and ‘resilience’. Such framing has been front and centre in the messaging of Australia’s fossil-fuel-industry-coddling prime minister, Scott Morrison.” (p.175)

Mann describes in detail how the fossil fuel industry uses social media bots and trolls to manipulate public opinion and sow division and cause polarisation. “A favoured approach is to seed a prospective online discussion with trolls or bots aggressively advocating opposite positions and acrimoniously attacking each other. Pretty soon a melee unfolds. This has, of course, been specifically done in the climate arena.” (p.71)

The question of individual actions verses those of governments is a theme throughout the book. Of course, individual action is to a certain extent important as teaching by example and leading the way. But the guts of the matter is that we will never make headway in the climate emergency without concerted government actions across the globe. Mann details the ‘crying Indian’ campaign as a subtle but persuasive example of deflection. The Morrison government promotion of technological cures and a ‘gas led’ recovery are good examples of deflection, ignoring the need to get to zero emissions as soon as possible.

In the introduction Mann lists a four point ‘battle plan’ to counter the ‘inactivists’: 1) “disregard the doomsayers” 2) “a child shall lead them” 3) “educate, educate, educate” and 4) “Changing the system requires systemic change”. (p.6) I like them all but especially the ‘educate’ advice. To find out more please read the book and act as best you can for systemic change.

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

Voices for Monash

A voices group has been organised in the electorate of Monash covering west and south Gippsland. It is currently operating a twitter page and has 100 followers. Following the success of Cathy McGowan and the Voices for Indi (V4I), voices groups have been ‘mushrooming’ around Australia, forming in every state except Tasmania, which of course, already has the strong independent Andrew Wilkie, MHR for Denison.

The history of the V4I and the election of Independent Cathy McGowan, and now Dr Helen Haines, is an intriguing political story. I asked good friend and regular Gippsland holidaymaker, Andrew Kimber of Wangaratta, who has been active in the V4I movement, especially in the early years, about this. Andy noted that “the situation in Indi in 2013 was quite unique and so our example doesn’t readily apply to other electorates where the standing member is popular/seen as doing a reasonable job” referring to the previous, unpopular sitting member.

Andrew emphasized the importance of strong local connections for any candidate, as well as possible connections with the conservative side of politics. This applied to Cathy McGowan but also to the only Independent to represent Gippsland East in state parliament, Craig Ingram. Then in “late 2012 a small group… got together at the Wang library to initiate things… – local leaders with excellent skills eg Cathy herself and people like friend Tony Lane – local health professional who works with all levels of government. They initially were planning to “just” talk to S[ophy]M[irabella] about their/our issues…” She gave them 10 minutes and the V4I was born. Current representative Helen Haines is particularly strong on the transition to renewable energy and, preferably, that it is locally owned and regionally located.

As anger rises about climate change denial, support for the fossil fuel industry, inactivity or opposition to sensible policies promoting renewable energy and electric vehicles, or the so-called ‘gas led recovery’, the hold on Federal government by the coalition is tenuous. When we add other issues to the long list of climate policy failures, including the treatment of women and the coronavirus vaccine stuff-ups, no coalition seat is safe. Thanks are due in part, to those V4I pioneers. Thanks also for the entry of Voices for Monash into the fray.

A best case for climate action and Australia is for more ‘Voices’ and independent candidates to get elected and that a sensible minority government, along the lines of Julia Gillard’s administration, and with a strong and enlarged crossbench, is installed in Canberra.

My Art on Ocean Acidification by Ray Dahlstrom

Our Carbon Footprint

Since coming to the Bass Coast 12 years ago I have used art as a means to develop awareness of the increased amount of CO2 in our oceans. As water acidifies by absorbing carbon dioxide, organisms with carbonate shells and skeletons are threatened. When carbon dioxide levels are high enough, the structure will break down, leaving only invertebrates, which then proliferate.

Many jellyfish (medusazoa), are present in my current paintings, as for me, jellyfish symbolise what will be left of marine life if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates. The ocean will not only heat up, but the ecology of marine life will change forever. Ocean heating and acidification are already causing many problems for marine life, for example, dramatic change is apparent in the Antarctic, where the warming waters release carbon dioxide causing shelled creatures to dissolve in the corrosive conditions. This affects food sources for fish, birds, and marine mammals. The science is clear and the arts need to support the science.

I have created a ‘tongue in cheek’ t-shirt series with the text, ‘CO2 – Jellyfish and Chips’ (for more on this see here and here. Ed.). When it first became available it was seen by many as a very obscure message, but in recent times, it is becoming more understood. If we continue to change the structure of the ocean, the Friday night take-away won’t be fish and chips, but something a little different. Recently I have read an article that states that cooked jellyfish doesn’t taste too bad, but I don’t know whether I am ready to try it. Hopefully, if we change our lifestyles and attitude to fossil fuels, I won’t need to, and can start working on some other themes.

*the Author is an Inverloch artist who has worked on a number of climate related themes including Black Saturday, Our Carbon Footprint and January 2020.

Beyond Climate Grief – a brief review by Angela Crunden

Beyond Climate Grief by Jonica Newby (NewSouth Publishing, 2021)

Dr Jonica Newby is an author, director and science reporter of 20 years. She is best known for her role on the ABC TV science program Catalyst. She lives in New South Wales with her partner, ABC Science Show presenter Robyn Williams.

Her most recent work, Beyond Climate Grief is a book of deep emotions laid bare with rare honesty and personal exposure. It is a memoir driven by fear, love and a powerful affection for snow that, for Newby, was met with overwhelming sorrow at the realisation she was witnessing a rapidly diminishing alpine beauty.

In writing this very readable, chatty and touching book, no one can complain that Newby has skimped on the research. Amongst many others she has sought the wisdom of comedians, social scientists, farmers, musicians and fire victims in her quest to unlock answers to dealing with climate grief. She shares wonderful stories and revelations with humour and grace.

Faced, as we are, with denial, dithering and ineffectual policies at the highest levels of government, the chapter on leadership gives special reason for hope. She talks of the proliferation of climate groups large and small; Protect Our Winters, a lobby group with 100,000 members worldwide, Vets, Parents, Surfers, and even Athletes for Climate Action through to the Victorian school in Castlemaine that spawned a worldwide student protest.

For those of us needing some wind in our sails, this is an ultimately positive and helpful book that doesn’t shy away from even the darkest corners of climate science. It leaves us with hope and the equipment to maintain or even join the fight for a better future.

Useful pamphlets produced by the Australian Psychological Society and mentioned in the book:

– How to talk to kids about climate change

– How to raise kids in a climate altered world

*the Author is a member of EGCAN and Bairnsdale XR

Our Household Battery Storage Part 2 by John Hermans

Abridged version of article first published in RENEW No 155

As 2020 came around so did the strong demand and desire for Lithium batteries. This changing demand in battery chemistry (lead to Lithium) created a slump in the value of any used LAB technology, to the point that I can now obtain these batteries free. I am expecting to own a set of Lithium batteries in the near future, that perhaps come from an upgraded battery out of an EV, quite possibly our own Nissan Leaf EV when it gets to a point of range reduction that requires its replacement.

The installing of used EV Lithium batteries into household energy banks has been suggested for some time. At the Tesla battery day announcement late last year, Elon Musk…described the new 4680 cell design that was both more energy dense and less costly…Its packaging which will be changed in such a way that the new ‘battery box’ will double up as part of the vehicles chassis, leading to a lighter weight vehicle and more cost reductions.

The downside is, these new energy dense lithium ion batteries (designed to last beyond the mechanics of the car), will not be able to be removed as either smaller units or as a whole battery, as they will be welded into place along with the entire body shell. Such an outcome will no doubt put a reduced value on these vehicles once the body/ battery becomes unrepairable from collisions.

Herein lies my future battery bank, far be it that they ever make it to the scrap yard. These modern but road dead EV supercars could be permanently parked alongside off-grid and even on-grid homes, with DC supply wires going to readily available hybrid inverters, giving any household the opportunity to have a massive energy store at an exceptionally low cost, with a Mad Max look in our future power demanding world.

*the author is a regular contributor to Renew and occasional contributor to this blog. He is a member of East Gippsland Climate Action Network.

Our Household Battery Storage Part 1 by John Hermans

Abridged version of article first published in RENEW No 155

In 1981, Robyn and I moved onto our newly purchased 40 Ha bush block, and within 3 weeks had constructed a simple tin shed as our temporary bush dwelling. The energy required to run lights at night was easily provided by attaching a pair of jumper leads to our car’s battery. This means of storing energy in a Lead Acid Battery (LAB) was the start of a long history of using this technology, with each change in battery set resulting in both an increase in system size and an improvement in its technology. We only ever purchased used batteries and then did our best to stretch their usable life.

Our first set of a 12 ex Telecom, 2-volt small format, flooded cell lead acids, were sourced from a local scrap yard. Often used commercial batteries are found in reasonable condition, but private households that have scrapped their batteries are inevitably well and truly dead…

After 20 years of cost minimizing by using a variety of flooded cell LAB, (their charge-discharge cycle efficiency drops to unacceptable levels eventually), I came across a set of 12 – used 2 volt cells @ 2000AHrs at a good price. The main reason for their better price was that they weighed 250KG each! By 2015, this heavy LAB set started showing signs of low charge-discharge efficiency, so I was on the hunt for their replacement. Although I was now living in the age of Lithium, their cost was beyond our earnings ability.

As I maintained my preference for used hardware, (reuse is one-step more environmentally friendly than recycling) I did my best to acquire a set of LAB of the Absorptive Glass Mat type (AGM). I soon found an independent telco maintenance company that was prepared to sell me their swapped out 12v 100AHr AGM batteries for scrap value. This was a real win as some day when they are worn out I expect to get ‘scrap value’ back for them! On this occasion, I got 50 KW Hours of usable AGM LAB for less than $3000. (part 2 to follow)

*the author is a regular contributor to Renew and occasional contributor to this blog. He is a member of East Gippsland Climate Action Network.

Scott Hamilton and Sea Level Rise

Former Gippslander Scott Hamilton* recently gave a brief interview on Tickernews about two of Antarctica’s melting glaciers – Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers – and gave a worst case sea level rise of “about 3 metres”. These glaciers alone are currently contributing about 10% of the global sea level rise. According to science, approaching tipping points would greatly increase their melting and lead to the 3m rise.

Scott stated that both ‘tipping points’ and ‘feedback loops’ were important in the Pine Island melting – the latter part of a more general warming as ice sheets retreat and exposed water absorbs more heat leading to more warming. See more on feedback lops here. But it is the tipping point that is the crucial point in the ‘worst case scenario. There are many analogies about tipping points – such as the ‘humpty dumpty’ nursery rhyme and the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. Retired CSIRO scientist Barrie Pittock likened tipping points to slowly pushing a light switch – which in this case is the gradual melting – and then the switch jumps to a completely new state. Then the glaciers melt rapidly at an increasing rate and, unlike the light switch, there is no return.

I have written frequently about sea level rise and its effects on Gippsland (see here and here for examples) in the last ten years. Other related aspects make the problem more complex and severe. Such factors include coastal erosion and deposition, Bruun’s rule and coastal retreat, and importantly storm surge, wave heights and tidal influences.

We are already witnessing both massive coastal erosion and deposition at Inverloch. There are a number of other coastal towns in Gippsland where a one metre rise, let alone three metres, will be disastrous including Lakes Entrance and Paynesville with the spring high tides flooding and undermining shops and houses, roads and other infrastructure. With a three metre rise there will be massive erosion, and coastal retreat along the Ninety-mile and the Gippsland Lakes will almost certainly disappear.

Unfortunately, humanity has left it far too late to stop the predicted sea level rises. Inertia in the climate systems means that sea will continue rising for many, possibly hundreds of, years. The current rock barrage installed at Inverloch to protect the coastal road is a temporary solution. We should be planning for an orderly retreat from all vulnerable areas of the coast. We should also be electing emergency governments whose primary goal is to stop emitting greenhouse gases and reduce them as rapidly as possible if we are to restrict global warming to two degrees.

* Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne

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.