Gippsland News & Views

East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) meets

Stall at Paynesville Market

The second meeting of EGCAN (or the third if the Jane Morton lecture is counted) went off smoothly and was well supported with 17 attending and 4 apologies. The group now has two Facebook pages – an open one for the public and a closed page called ‘EGCAN What’s Next’ accessible only to group members. Some members held a market stall at Paynesville and a “number of t-shirts and bags have been screen printed with an experimental logo.”

On membership “It has been decided that anyone who agrees with our principles and values can join the group. That is we are: not for profit, not affiliated with any political party, accepts the science of human induced climate change” and that “We work under the following principles:  respectful listening, respectful behaviour, non-violent, inclusive, kind.”

East Gippsland Shire Sustainability Officer Bec Lamble spoke to the meeting at some length outlining what the shire has been doing on the renewable energy front including some encouraging news on electric vehicles and the continuing expansion of the rooftop solar program on Shire buildings including the Bairnsdale Library. Some discussion followed on whether we should ask the shire to declare a ‘climate emergency’.

There was discussion about a wide range of future activities of the group including participating with the ‘Extinction Rebellion’, support for any local striking students, various aspects of climate education and practical aspects such as banner making and letter writing. One idea that was popular was having “climate coffee mornings” of which the first will be held this week. Also the film ‘2040’ will be screening at the local cinema. Members and supporters are encouraged to attend at the Bairnsdale Cinema at 4.30pm on Saturday 8th. The film explores what the earth could be like if we address the climate emergency with the tools that are available now.

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 18th June 7pm at the Butter Factory. Please note the change of venue.

A Children’s Climate Text Review

Peter Turner’s Climate Change (Redback Publ. 2019)* is a colourful, informative and fairly accurate 32 page book aimed at “Upper Primary – Lower Secondary’ students. It is part of a series on ‘Australia’s Environmental Issues’ and the book description states “Climate change is one of Australia’s biggest environmental problems. Why is climate change occurring and how does it affect Australia? Climate Change explores the problem, as well as explaining the steps that need to be taken to combat it.” I would agree with most of this except perhaps the understatement that it is only ‘one’ rather than by far the biggest problem.

Generally the book is very good but has a few minor factual blemishes such as having 2 pages on nuclear energy (pp26-7) which is now probably priced out of consideration in any future energy mix. The exception to this is that existing plants have only small amount of emissions – all from the mining and processing of the ore. Some statements such as “Solar energy is currently more expensive than standard fossil fuel electricity” (p.21) are already outdated and no longer the case. But perhaps the major defect of the book is that the recent advances in battery storage are absent, although they get a brief mention under ‘Cars of the Future’. Nor is there any mention of pumped hydro as energy storage. This however remains a problem with any work dealing with the ‘cutting edge’ of solutions.

Normally I would not review a children’s book. But it is important because of the burgeoning youth movement across the globe and their need to be well informed and know that their cause is right. I have no doubt that those student strikers are already better informed than many adults. For the young activists this would only be a primer but works like these can be very helpful in the process of persuading friends and relations of the need for urgent action. Also often the clarity of works such as this can sometimes better inform adults as I have found from experience in my own family. It is a pity that some of our ill-informed or uninformed politicians cannot grasp the basics that are presented in this book. At most it would take them, or their minders, an hour or two.

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

A Bairnsdale Weather Report

(image Tony Peck)

The 27th of May was the first really cold day of the year. Prior to that the year, and autumn, has seemed warmer than usual. And through May Bairnsdale has had a couple of runs of 20 degree plus days to reinforce this perception. Outside the plants seem in agreement as the autumn leaves of plane trees are only about half gone and the leaves of oak trees are still mostly green with some leaves barely turned and a few others scattered on the ground. It remains to be seen whether the region has notched up another warming record.

With regards rainfall we still appear to be in a deficit and the irrigation ban on the Mitchell River at Lindenow remains. I have not had any other river reports recently. In the hinterland following one or two nice falls of an inch or more much of the grazing land is now in a green drought. One farmer told me there is enough feed to ‘run a lawn mower over the place without cutting any grass’ – in other words not very much. Another mentioned there was enough ‘green pick’ for his lambs whilst still feeding out for his sheep.

But the most astounding thing about my weather report is that in my garden I have for the first time ever ripe tomatoes on the vine in winter. Like the winter bushfire we had near Cape Conran less than 2 years ago this is just another indicator that the warming we so often think of as happening in some indeterminate future is with us now and has been for some time. It is a reminder that much of this warming will be gradual and barely discernible – in the milder seasons, as well as at night.

And in case you are wondering if I am the only person observing these minor variations around me some agile individual recently painted the above graffiti on the old Bairnsdale railway bridge. He or she no doubt is not so concerned with the ‘barely discernible’ warming, but with the increase in extreme weather events – floods, droughts and related bushfires. Increasingly it looks as though the current green drought will only be broken by one or more of these floods.

Our First of Many Climate Elections?

Some of my friends perceive the climate election as a failure. But this is not necessarily so. There have been faults with both the major parties – both are clearly divided over climate change and energy. Further a number of strategic errors were made by the Greens who have the best climate policies and the various NGOs supporting the climate election.

A majority of the members of parliament of the major parties at both State and Federal level have yet to understand, let alone come to grips with, the climate emergency we are facing. This is clearly indicated by the lack of policies (or their hostility to them) by the LNP and the conflict and contradictions within ALP policies. The Greens made a number of tactical blunders including listing the only party in the Senate to accept the best science and the climate emergency well down their preferences. NGOs of various organisations failed to co-operate and co-ordinate their activities and except in one or two cases these were poorly targeted.

There are critical gaps in the education of voters on this issue. In particular large segments of the population still accept the myth that the global warming is all, or partly, natural and that therefore they cannot do anything about it. A further larger group accept climate change is happening but choose to ignore the implications. These were findings from a CSIRO survey of some 4 years ago but I suspect little has changed in this regard and the results are similar to a survey done 2 years ago by Sustainability Victoria.

The election highlights a general failure of the previous Labour government to educate and inform the voters on climate change. And spruiking the enormous opportunities for Australia as a renewable energy superpower was an opportunity in this campaign Labour also missed. I have been calling for such a just transition in Gippsland for many years. Full employment is an essential prior requirement in localities about to be affected by dramatic changes such as mine or power station closures. At the moment this foresight and planning is seldom to be found. And this election has shown the less educated and uninformed voting with conservative parties where jobs are the immediate concern.

Both major parties are clearly split on the climate crisis and renewable energy. In the election the ALP leader Shorten mentioned the climate emergency on one hand and then supported a massive CSG project in the Northern Territory. Within the LNP moderates like Senator Sinidinos are now calling for an expansion of renewables whilst Queenslander members are pushing Adani and calling for government to fund new coal powered stations.

This suggests that Federal government activity on climate will be token at best with a dying coal industry still promoted by the hard core denialists in the LNP ranks. The way forward in climate politics is widespread public education on the issue and adopting sound grass roots action along the Haines/McGowan (Indi) and Steggalls models. As the climate emergency deepens every election will be a climate election.

Inverloch Coast Retreats

Storm surges at Inverloch are actively eroding the coast. Roads and lifesaving towers have been threatened and some severely undermined. Friends of the Earth Act on Climate campaigner Lee Ewebank recently visited the area with Victorian Minister for Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio and saw “an emerging frontline of the crisis—to survey dramatic coastal erosion from intensifying storm surges and rising sea levels.” He wrote of his trip here and the following quotes are from Lee’s article.

The visit followed closely on an ABC News Report with local citizen scientist Aileen Vening. She noted that “It’s a relief that what I’ve been recording and talking about for several years is now finding a wider audience,” and “Unfortunately it has taken the loss of such huge amounts of sand, which means infrastructure is under threat, to make authorities act…This delay has made it so much more difficult and costly to make action effective.” Since 2012 Vening has “documented 36 metres of erosion” – presumably horizontal coastal retreat.

There is a need to elaborate on certain aspects of this. Storm surge as opposed to a gradual but evenly increasing sea level rise is almost certainly the way humans will experience this phenomenon. Further the sand the storm surges remove may be deposited offshore or possibly at other places along the coast leading to an accretion of sand elsewhere.

The natural sea level rise that occurred in Bass Strait from the end of the last ice age till about 6000 years ago saw the sea level rise on average a metre every 100 years for over 12,000 years. Now with human caused warming the sea level rise may be even more rapid than this though at the moment it is still only 3-4 mm per annum. The predictions of sea level rise vary widely and range from about 30cm to approaching 2 metres by 2100.

Another aspect concerning coastal retreat is the not well known and controversial. Bruun’s rule predicts that coastlines will retreat by about 50 times each unit of sea level rise. That would indicate with a sea level rise of about a metre the coast would retreat 50 metres. The current rapid retreat of the coast reinforces this and if it proceeded at the same pace for next 70 – 80 years the coastline would at least be a further 200m inland.

Which leads us to another aspect of this complex situation. The last time greenhouse gases were this high was 3 million years ago. Then the sea level was approximately 25 metres higher than it is now. Unless there is a rapid drawdown of these gases sea levels will rise inexorably until they reach this level perhaps in a thousand years, or with catastrophic change far less. Amongst the large list of urgently needed actions is a long term, planned, orderly retreat from the vulnerable coast.

Single Issue Climate Parties and ICAN

Senate Candidate visits Bairnsdale

I wish to offer my congratulations to the outstanding election campaign run by Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN) of which I am a member and supporter. In their brief life so far – only as old as the formal election campaign itself – ICAN has managed to stage a quite credible election campaign. In the short time available they have put up excellent Senate candidates in three states – all highly qualified and local – and in each managed to run prominent, if unco-ordinated campaigns. Their presence on social media has been boosted by having Anglican priest Fr. Rod Bower as lead NSW candidate. Rod is an accomplished and outspoken twitter user with a large following. The other candidates quickly adapted to using twitter though I am not sure how they fared on facebook. It remains to be seen whether this translates into primary votes.

Comparing ICAN with previous ‘climate’ party efforts this seems to be, hopefully, third time lucky. ICAN’s organisation and efforts appear to be much more closely aligned with the Climate Change Coalition (CCC) of 2007 than that of the Renewable Energy Party (REP)* of 2016. The CCC were swamped in the Ruddslide and although they had excellent candidates with a polarised election they found it difficult to get any publicity in the mainstream media. Whilst ICAN’s situation is similar the burgeoning social media has helped them immensely. As well they have gained TV slots by both science and stunt, in all of the eastern states except Tassie. The REP’s campaign was, aside from a few online articles, ignored and they had little traction in the media. Possibly working to ICAN’s advantage has been the promotion of the election by NGOs as the ‘climate election’ – notably by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

As I noted last week the chances of ICAN getting a candidate up are very small indeed and even getting funding and deposits returned (4% of primary votes) may be hard to achieve. But the next steps for ICAN may be the most difficult of all especially if their electoral performance is below expectations. Both the CCC and the REP failed to survive their one election disappointments. So the need is for ICAN to now step up, whatever the election results, and to build, organise and capitalise on their energetic, welcome and necessary introduction to our electoral politics.

*by the time I attempted to join the CCC in 2008 it was already defunct, a demise brought on by conflict over previous bizarre preference deals. I was a member, candidate and eventually secretary of the REP before it was deregistered in 2018.

The Climate Election – Prospects in Gippsland

Coastal Erosion at Inverloch (Bunurong Coast)

The seat of Gippsland held by Darren Chester is one of the safest in Victoria and the opposition candidates have a difficult task making any inroads into his majority. It will be interesting to see whether the severe drought, clearly influenced by climate change, has any impact on the vote. More importantly the Greens Deb Foskey has run on a ‘Climate Election’ platform and has made three short videos on this subject – with a winemaker, an organic farmer and on the Toora windfarm. As far as I am aware she is also the only candidate in Gippsland or Monash to actually sign the climate emergency declaration.

Deb also agreed to the question ‘Do you accept the scientific consensus on human caused global warming?’ as did ALP candidate Antoinette Holm. Surprisingly, sitting member Darren Chester has also agreed, though this conflicts with his previous (and continuing?) promotion of coal. I was recently quite severe on his position with regards the promotion of electric vehicles and commented on his, and his government’s, failure to act. But his agreement to the question must be considered a positive step.

If any electorate changes hands it will be the newly named Monash. Catherine Watson of the Bass Coast Post has interviewed a number of the candidates and points out that the boundaries have been redrawn – adding Bass coast and Phillip Island and removing a strong labour area in Pakenham. Another unknown is the youth vote. The margin for current incumbent Russell Broadbent is about 6% making him vulnerable to any swing against the LNP. This is about the same margin as in the state seat of Bass* that changed hands last year.

Of the candidates interviewed all seemed concerned with the severe coastal erosion at Inverloch, though only one of them took the extra step to link this with climate change. The Greens candidate Will Hornstra emphasised renewable energy projects whilst Independent Michael Fozard was the only one to actually mention climate change. He said “At our end of the electorate one of the most pressing issues is beach erosion. It’s urgent, we need now to be taking action now.  It’s part of climate change and rising sea levels. Whether climate change is cyclical or man-made, we need to take action. We can’t just put our heads in the sand.” This otherwise good comment was somewhat spoilt by his ambivalence on the warming being man-made. If Monash changes hands it will almost certainly go to ALP candidate Jessica O’Donnell.

Unless there is a very large swing against the government the Victorian Senators will remain the same except perhaps for the last seat held by Derryn Hinch. There is a very small possibility of this going to a climate party independent**. Whichever way the vote goes the outcome in the Senate will probably take several weeks to be finalised. And May 18 will be the first in a long series of climate elections to come.

*I was one of the few commentators to suggest the State Electorate of Bass could change hands in the State Election. See here.

** I am a member of Independents for Climate Action Now.

Gippsland as Renewable Energy Superpower

Sea Electric Garbage truck (City of Casey)

I have written at length on the many opportunities that the region of Gippsland has of becoming a renewable energy superpower. An ideal opportunity exists to rapidly transform Gippsland* away from the old fossil fuel industries of oil and gas and take full advantage of the renewables revolution – especially in areas of power generation and manufacturing.

Rather than repeat myself readers are referred by link to the more detailed posts on each of these proposals. First are the large wind farm projects of Delburn near Morwell and the offshore Star of the South. Both these projects are large and will employ a large workforce during erection as well as permanent employment on care and maintenance afterwards. Both of these projects link in to the valley infrastructure and between them could easily replace the next coal fired generator to be retired – probably Yallourn. As well there are other smaller wind projects at various stages of development.

Also there are a number of solar projects planned – all much smaller than wind – but combined with the uptake of rooftop solar by homes and businesses, beginning to make a significant contribution to energy supply. See here and here. But the large scale floating solar projects outlined by retired engineer Chris Barfoot are by far the most interesting.

On energy storage the pumped hydro proposal of Paul Treasure was posed as an alternative to Snowy 2 and sited to take advantage of local infrastructure including the Thompson Dam. There are a number of other smaller pumped hydro projects including one proposed by Barfoot using the Yallourn open cut. The widespread adoption of lithium ion batteries both domestic and on a commercial scale is yet to come. Perhaps there is a manufacturing opportunity here too.

With regards manufacturing heat pumps are currently being produced by the small Earthworker Co-op in Morwell and the much larger electric vehicle manufacturer Sea Electric is to set up next year in the same town. The floating solar project of Chris Barfoot (above) was designed to make use of local manufactured components and turning the fly ash waste to cement was proposed by think tank Beyond Zero Emissions. Both have so far failed to attract interest though each would benefit the Latrobe Valley and the environment. I believe there is also some exploration for lithium minerals adjacent to old tin workings in the district.

On the downside missing will be the coal to hydrogen project which is unlikely to proceed beyond the next few years and is another example of governments backing the wrong horse. Likewise it is unlikely that the proposals to burn rubbish to generate power will proceed except perhaps on a small decentralised scale burning carbon based rubbish in pyrolysis agrichar generators.

This is merely a brief outline of possible, and in many cases necessary, action to be carried out in the climate emergency. What is missing – money, co-ordination and urgency – can be provided by well-informed governments and based on the necessity to move to carbon neutrality as quickly as possible.

*For information on Australia as a Renewable Energy Superpower go here.

The Tree Vandals Again

The blue gum tree recently removed at Phillip Island was estimated to be at least 150 years old. Photo: Lisa Schonberg

It has come to my notice that the tree vandals are at it again. Last December my most read post was on the removal of a very old yellow box tree on the Great Alpine Road. Now in an article in the Bass Coast Post John Eddy has documented the removal of a number of trees by the local shire, including a 150 year old blue gum, for a ‘transit hub’(bus station?) in Cowes. In the article entitled ‘How much is a tree worth?’ John wrote: “Last month 15 trees were removed to make way for the new transit hub in the centre of Cowes. They included a magnificent southern blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) that was probably in the order of 150 years old, perhaps older”.

John noted this particular tree was 1.3 metres in diameter (storing approximately 50 tons of CO2) and commented on its environmental and cultural significance. On their general removal he stated that “However, the value placed on individual trees by shire engineers and planners may be quite different from the value placed on them by many in the community, and the planners have limits in how far they are prepared to compromise their projects” and that “We need to work together towards a better outcome for our significant trees and our native vegetation in the face of future development. We must nurture a continuing change in culture to see the true value of trees and their fundamental part in our lives.”

Also currently in the news is the Vic Roads plan to remove 260 trees for road duplication between Ballarat and Stawell. A spirited defence has been made of these trees by Aboriginal groups and their supporters as some of the trees have Aboriginal heritage significance and may be as old as 800 years – four times as old as the European occupation of the continent. I support them in their quest and if the project is so important why don’t Vic Roads realign the road? And we should never forget that loggers are still rampaging through our forests on a daily basis.

The tree vandals are everywhere, chain-sawing and bulldozing, and they seem to have no respect for life. The tree is seen as an obstruction in the way of some project or as a source of income that has to be exploited or removed. Not as something that is precious to all life. Amongst a tree’s many attributes is the oxygen it makes through transpiration helping provide the vital part of the air we all breathe. Another increasingly important attribute is the carbon that it stores.

It is essential that we preserve as many trees as possible and embark on a massive program of reafforestation to start drawing down the CO2 from the atmosphere. As many have pointed out trees are the only method of carbon capture and storage that actually works.  The real monetary value of a tree as a carbon store has never been truly quantified but if it were done properly it would be forbidden to remove any tree except under exceptional circumstances. In every exceptional case each tree removed should be replaced by at least 100 tree seedlings. And these must be nurtured until mature.

Why I am not a Candidate in this Election

At the moment the most frequent question I am asked is whether I am running for parliament again and when I reply in the negative am usually asked why. The short answer is that in terms of attracting attention and thus votes my attempts have all been failures. The best result in all seven election I contested was just over 3% and in consequence forfeiting my deposit of between $400 and $1000 each time.

For all but one of these elections I ran as a climate independent. This meant support from friends both physically and financially but otherwise it was a ‘one-man’ show – working long hours, striving for media appearances and speaking at meetings sometimes travelling long distances to do so. The exception was standing in the last Federal Election as a candidate for the Renewable Energy Party (REP). This conferred two small advantages – the stress of collecting more than 100 signatures when nominating as an independent was avoided and the party name and logo appeared on the ballot paper. But basically I still ran as an independent and shouldered most of the stress with no support from the party. Failing to garner any media attention all the REP candidates lost their deposits and after a period of inactivity was deregistered by the Australian Electoral Commission.

But failure doesn’t enter the personal equation. Despite all the setbacks I remain as determined as ever to continue my climate change activism. Also there are many ways of looking at the cumulative effect of the campaigns. Whilst I could only garner 1 vote in every 50 voters regularly the publicity I received locally on each occasion was substantial – in an otherwise ultra-conservative media which was (and is) most reluctant to mention the words climate change, global warming or climate emergency.

So now in the political field I have adopted different tactics. My blog continues, explaining, expanding, polemicizing and repeating all things climate and with various solutions. The blog now attracts about 700 visitors per month and with one or two popular posts over 1000. My home page has not changed since 2012 and it repeats the simple slogan – vote climate vote solar – I adopted around 2008 for electioneering purposes.

My efforts now in the political arena are twofold. First encouraging local political candidates to accept the consensus on climate science and the need for urgent action. Second supporting the newly formed Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN). The chance of ICAN getting a candidate up in the Senate in the three states they have put up candidates is very slim indeed. But it is vital that the party continues to function beyond the election to grow and become more widely known. And it is vital that all elections from now on are climate elections as we rapidly move towards the climate emergency.