Gippsland News & Views

Three Possible Climate Futures

RethinkX Clean Disruption graph

Following on from a U3A lecture on the ‘carbon bomb’ threat posed in future world plans for the development of oil and gas it occurred to me that there are a number of other future ‘possibilities’ and to a large extent these were mutually exclusive. Needless to say the ‘carbon bomb’ future is thoroughly depressing. Two others that I have in mind are the renewables superpower revolution as outlined by Tony Seba (many of his videos on youtube worth a watch) and Paul Gilding’s climate contagion.

Gilding’s ‘climate contagion’ is where economic collapse occurs when the “climate emergency meets financial contagion’ and he is convinced it will occur before 2025. The four preconditions he lists for the contagion to occur 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”. The recent ‘climate election’ in Australia is a good example of turning ‘public engagement and political momentum’, as is the board turmoil in AGL our largest coal generator. If ‘climate contagion’ eventuates the ‘carbon bomb’ will have been avoided, but will probably usher in political instability and reaction in its wake.

Tony Seba concentrates on Gilding’s point one – the clean technology revolution and argues that this will take place solely by market forces and have occurred by 2030. Seba (and his think tank RethinkX) adds that with government assistance the transformation will happen more quickly and is essentially a message of hope though it too involves the complete disruption of the fossil fuel industry.  Based on a number of factors that converge to encourage exponential growth in solar and wind energy and batteries the clean technology disruption is inevitable. I hope to present the Seba solution in more detail in a later blog.

Essentially we must change rapidly to 400% wind and solar and batteries to cover our stillest, cloudiest, shortest winter days. But for most of the year there will be superabundant energy at very low cost. Whilst there may be delays (and disruptions) to the clean technology future it is what the earth needs, and most of those fossil fuel proposals in the development pipeline – the carbon bomb – will be stranded assets.

Climate Change as a Moral Imperative Part 2

2014 HTVC (design Deirdre Jack)

2014 Speech to Candidate’s Forum at the Riviera Christian Centre, Bairnsdale

The 2013 heatwave has been calculated as 2000 times more likely to have occurred because of climate change. The heatwave of January 2014 caused an extra 167 fatalities. Now we can say that these events have been heavily influenced by climate change and that therefore some of these fatalities have been caused by the warming. We don’t know how many but eventually sophisticated science and statistics will be able to put an exact number on each event. We can safely assume that in the last 15 years some hundreds of our fellow countrymen have been killed by the effects of climate change. Compare this with terrorism in Australia. The last terrorist attack in our country was in 1915, nearly 100 years ago, when there were 4 fatalities.

Which leads me to the role of the media. Sometimes we could get the impression from our papers, radio and TV that the whole of Australia is under constant terrorist attack, or that the Essendon Football Club is the most important thing on earth, whereas the real threat of climate change is barely mentioned, or worse, often scandalously attacked. The role of the media in many aspects is a betrayal of us all. They have been persuaded by their 40 pieces of silver and many of our politicians have also taken their share. The role of vested interests in persuading the public and influencing the political process and the highest politicians in the land is also a betrayal. Perhaps it is time, figuratively speaking, that these ‘moneylenders were cast from the temple.”

Sometime in the 15th or 16th century the English divine Thomas Norton coined the maxim “Hope for the best but plan for the worst”. This is what we do in many aspects of our life. In 2003 and 2006/7 we had two massive Alpine bushfires – both heavily influenced by climate change. In each of these events my family house at Ensay was directly threatened and I worked hard each day preparing for the possible bushfire attack. I was planning and preparing for the worst. That essentially is what everyone must do with regards climate change – “Hope for the best but plan for the worst”.

I will briefly touch on a few of the possible solutions to this enormous problem. Firstly if your church saves energy and money it is heading in the right direction. I note the many solar panels on the Uniting Church on the Great Alpine Road. Second it is your moral imperative to make sure that your church funds are not invested in coal. Some churches are already part of the so-called divestment movement. Finally we have to persuade our politicians that this is an urgent problem, above party politics, needing immediate and appropriate attention. You can do this by casting your first vote for me before marking the rest of your ballot paper and send a direct message to the major parties in Spring St.

Climate Change as a Moral Imperative Part 1

2014 Speech to Candidate’s Forum at the Riviera Christian Centre, Bairnsdale

By way of introduction I must say that I am not a particularly religious person, but I hope a moral one. I am concerned solely with climate change which is certainly a moral issue. I was once asked by a retired minister at Bairnsdale U3A what motivated me and I replied that it was a “moral imperative’. By this I meant that I could see that climate change was having an effect on society and could have disastrous effects on society and humanity as a whole. I was therefore obliged to do what I could to alert people to this problem and to try to offer some solutions.

To this end I have transformed myself from a bookseller and local historian to a climate activist. The political part of my activity is to contest elections at every available opportunity to try to persuade the public and the politicians that this is the most important problem facing us all. Hence the “Vote Climate” part of my slogan. The other part is to offer hope and solutions which are inadequately summarized by “Vote Solar”. Why do I spend my time doing this – many would say a fruitless task – when I could be doing the things I enjoy more. Why have I committed, and continue to commit, a substantial proportion of my life savings to this task? My answer is the moral imperative.

Climate Change is not a matter of belief or opinion. It is a matter of science. Climate science is one of the most complicated subjects on earth. Aside from the greenhouse effect there are a number of factors that govern our changing climate but most of these changes occur very slowly – over thousands of years.

The greenhouse effect is a matter of physics, a natural law or, if you like, God’s law. It is like gravity or the shape of the earth – and is hardly something to have an opinion about. It was discovered in 1827 and it keeps the earth warm. Without the greenhouse effect the earth would be 30 degrees cooler – a ball of ice and snow. Methane and carbon dioxide are the main greenhouse gases. They are in effect the earth’s thermostat – increase them and the temperature rises and vice versa. Since the industrial revolution we have been turning up the earth’s thermostat – mainly by burning coal – raising carbon dioxide from about 280ppm to 400ppm and the earth is measurably getting warmer.

When you are considering climate change I urge you to trust the scientists rather than the politicians in this matter. In a highly specialised society much of what we do is based on trust. We trust the pilot when we fly. We trust our doctors when we consult them. So unless you are curious about all the detail that’s all you need to know.

The results of this warming are measurable and observable everywhere – retreating ice mass in the Antarctic, drastic retreating ice sheets in the Arctic, and closer to home more frequent and longer heatwaves, bushfires and droughts. These are directly affecting life but we cannot calculate yet with certainty how many people have been killed by this or that event which has been heavily influenced by climate change.  For instance the heatwave of 2009 that preceded the Black Saturday bushfires killed 372 individuals – mostly the elderly, sick and very young. (to be continued)

The Climate Election

I went to bed early on election night without looking at the vote count on TV, hoping fervently that the former government had been ‘binned’. My wife called from the lounge that the ALP had 72 seats, guaranteeing them a victory – albeit in a minority government or a hung parliament. But it was not until this morning that I realised the extent of the changes that had occurred, with the fantastic performance of the so-called ‘teal’ independents and the greens. This was especially pleasing for a very small financial supporter (see above) of the “climate independents” through the climate 200 organisation.

My ‘wish list’ for the election has come true with a few exceptions. Locally the Greens candidate increased the vote by about one third. In Monash the Voices candidate Deb Leonard polled well, but nowhere near enough to be a threat to the incumbent. This is understandable as the Voices for Monash is a very young organisation and Deb appears to have had nowhere near the groundswell support of candidates in other Voices groups.

In Victoria virtually everything I wished for has happened – the return of Helen Haines and ‘climate independents’ in Goldstein and Kooyong. In the seat of Higgins it appears Labor has pipped the Greens. Australia wide the Greens have polled very strongly in Brisbane and may yet form a minority government with the ALP. In Sydney the ‘climate independents have also performed well and the size of the cross bench may well double.

It’s a relief we no longer have climate deniers and delayers in power and we no longer have to witness the media catching antics of coal waving troglodytes. The power of the Murdoch media and Palmer billions has mostly been illusory. Hopefully the failure of the main political parties and the mainstream media to call the climate election has also been binned.

An ex CSIRO scientist has called for the economic opportunities of climate change to be taken up as well action on disaster preparedness. He added that “International agreement” was also important “since what Australia actually does makes little difference except as part of global action.” This climate election is just a very small step forward in fighting the climate emergency. The power of the fossil fuel lobby remains, as does that of the Murdoch media and a number of reactionary politicians in the Libs, Nats and other minor parties.

Perhaps the Liberals eventually will split, as my wish list hoped for, and it will be a week or two before we can the full results in both houses.

My Election Wish List

In the seat of Gippsland I wish for a substantial swing against the National Party incumbent, and that a large part of it goes to the Greens – the only party and candidate with a strong climate action platform. Doubling the Green vote to 12% may be too much to hope for and 10% of primaries would be very nice. It would also be nice if the  three reactionary parties cancelled each other out and all lost their deposits.

In Monash there are two strong climate candidates. Unfortunately, the Greens have made a preference deal with the ALP placing their candidate ahead of the Voices independent Deb Leonard. Hopefully she will poll well despite this, and finish second or third in the primaries and give the incumbent a run for his money.

Elsewhere in Victoria, I would like the member for Indi Helen Haines to expand her primary vote and for LNP seats to fall to climate independents in Goldstein and Kooyong. In country Victoria, the seats of Casey, Wannon, and Nicholls may give the LNP a worry although the independent in the latter seat has not campaigned on climate. A long shot would be for the Greens to take the seat of Higgins as well.

Across Australia, the wish list includes retaining current climate aware independents like Zali Steggall and Andrew Wilkie. It would be nice for the Voices candidates to take a further three to five LNP seats in Sydney and in Perth with some strong performances, perhaps even upsets, in the regions and the bush. An extra Green or two would be icing on the cake making for a greatly expanded crossbench holding the balance of power.

Failing this, I hope the LNP are evicted from the portals of power by the ALP and that the defeat will be disastrous enough for both the Libs and Nats to split on climate. Then they can reform into a true Liberal party that accepts the science and an ultra-conservative or reactionary party that doesn’t, with the latter rightfully destined for the political wilderness.

The Vote in Monash

In a series of articles in the Bass Coast Post Catherine Watson gave detailed biogs of the eight candidates and their policies in the seat of Monash. As readers of this blog will be aware, I have been a strong supporter of climate independents and Voices candidates. In this electorate, which covers west Gippsland and a substantial part of south Gippsland, this means support for the Voices for Monash candidate Deb Leonard. (see here and here)

In Monash Deb Leonard and the Greens Mat Morgan are the only candidates treating climate change as the most important election issue. Both also consider a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) as an important issue. But on the matter of preferences these candidates differ with the party decisions, swaps and deals being made from head office. In this there is no accounting for local issues, strategies or the importance of an issue, in this case the need to get as many climate activists elected to the next Federal Parliament as possible. For the Greens a win in Monash is impossible, whereas the Independent has a slight chance – now made much more difficult with the preference deal.

Whilst Deb Leonard (and most of the Climate Independents) has adopted the policy of not issuing preferences the Greens have given their second preference to the ALP ahead of the Voices Independent. This ‘head office’ deal between the two parties elevates the party above the issue. The ALP in this instance is not the best second preference for climate voters in Monash whereas in Gippsland climate voters have little choice.

Likewise the Lib-Nats have done a preference deal with the billionaire’s coal party, or in some cases One Nation. The preference deals of the major parties, including the Greens, are anathema to making any progress on the climate crisis in Australia. The Greens have made a number of mistakes over the last 20 years including the failure to support the Rudd Emissions trading scheme, and the failure in Kooyong in 2019, when they put their best candidate, Julian Burnside, up against the best climate independent in Victoria. This is another.

The preference deals have made it so much harder for Deb Leonard in Monash. Not only does she have to be in the top two in primary votes, she has to be ahead of a combined Greens/ALP primaries total, or close to it, to have any chance of winning.

The Greens ALP preference deal in Monash has persuaded me not to give them my primary vote in the Senate, although eventually they will get my preference. In Monash I would urge any Greens voter for whom the climate emergency is the most important issue to consider giving Deb Leonard your first vote and, failing that, to preference her before the ALP.

Gippsland Lakes Algal Bloom and Climate Change Again

Newlands Arm (image Alister Mailer)

Currently there is a large algal bloom in the Gippsland Lakes – a natural event according to some. A long article in the Bairnsdale Advertiser (4.5) looked at the various causes of the bloom. In a letter to the editor I noted that the blooms are being caused by a number of factors including the increased salinity of the Lakes due to a deepened entrance and the run-off of nutrients from farms into the river systems. In particular East Gippsland Water’s discharge from the Paynesville sewage plant into Forge Creek and then Newlands Arm was mentioned.

As to whether the blooms are naturally occurring we have witnessed a number since the early 1980s but the earth has been gradually warming all that time. It seems more likely that they are an indication that something is clearly wrong. The USA EPA noted that “warmer temperatures prevent water from mixing, allowing algae to grow thicker and faster. Warmer water is easier for small organisms to move through and allows algae to float to the surface faster. Algal blooms absorb sunlight, making water even warmer and promoting more blooms.”

In a blog on a bloom in the Gippsland Lakes in the summer of 2016 I wrote that they “are a direct and immediate threat to the [local] economy and are directly related to climate change and other changes to the Lakes system.” And that they “can flourish with a number of factors one of which is warmer waters, which in turn is a direct response to our warming planet. The shallow waters of the Lakes are warming faster than our oceans which in turn are already warming faster than our land.”

A scientific audit is needed. It should be continuing, include literature searches, and monitor a wide variety of data including salinity, nutrients, heavy metals and temperatures. On the bigger question of global warming and the Gippsland Lakes, the future does not look promising. By the time the climate emergency is adopted across the country and the earth, much of the damage inflicted on the lakes system may be irreparable. But that is not a cause for inaction and we must work hard to save what we can.

Castrating the CSIRO: a climate crime

The CSIRO were world leaders in climate science for many years. From the 1975 Monash conference on climate change in which a number of the CSIRO’s scientists participated, through the 1987 GreenHouse conference and into the era of IPCC reports these scientists were prominent. I have blogged about them a number of times and two years ago I wrote “The real heroes of Australia are the climate scientists once found in the CSIRO’s division of Atmospheric Research. As well as Barrie (Pittock) and (Graeme) Pearman, they include Roger Francey, Tom Beer and Ian Enting amongst many others.” The advent of the climate change denying Liberal National Party (LNP) coalition government in 2013 changed all that.

A recent Climate Council report ‘The Lost Decade’ noted that science “is essential for the well-being of Australians, underpinning our economic and social success and informing our responses to profound societal challenges like COVID-19. Climate science is no exception, and over a number of decades Australia developed a world-class climate science capability. However, this capability has been seriously eroded by an almost decade-long Liberal-National Government attack on science. These attacks have been diverse and debilitating, ranging from funding cuts to the CSIRO, which seriously stunted its climate research capability…”

The attack on science included drastic budget cuts that “played a large part in the loss of almost one-third of CSIRO jobs (from 5,000 to 3,500 total staff) in the two years up to June 2015. This, combined with the CSIRO CEO’s decision in 2015 to significantly diminish the organisation’s climate research capacity, put in jeopardy Australia’s ability to understand, respond to and plan for the escalating climate crisis.” And then in 2016 “54 full time researchers were cut from the Oceans and Atmosphere Division, most of those from the Earth Assessment and Oceans and Climate Dynamics units”.

Recently ex-CSIRO scientist Dr Michael Borgas noted “CSIRO advice on climate science has famously been ignored in Canberra and many State capitals — repeatedly, year after year, it seems. For all of Australia, what we need is leadership from our elected representatives, leadership which relies on the best scientific advice. We also need responsibility from all citizens to assess, and to learn to assess, the scientific advice that impacts on how we are going to live our lives: from lockdowns, hygiene, energy use, climate adaptation, pollution mitigation; this advice is crucial to the future economy and the creation of jobs.”

A handy start to all this will be to remove the LNP from the portals of power. It is probably the worst punishment that they will receive for their crimes.

The Vote in Gippsland

The East Gippsland and Wellington Climate Action Networks* (EGCAN and WELCAN) have just released a climate scorecard for the Gippsland electorate. The scorecard noted that it “has been made clear by the United Nations and the latest IPCC report there is still a chance to keep global heating under 1.5°C. The troubling message is that many countries, with Australia a named offender, are just not doing enough” and that “climate action is clearly in the minds of residents in Gippsland – 61% of people in Gippsland believe greater action on climate change will strengthen the Australian economy.”

“Our Climate Scorecard shows where the candidates’ parties stand on key questions in this election. We included integrity issues because of the clear link between failures in governance and failures in climate policy. Scores are based on Party policies from their websites and information from Lighter Footprints. The scorecard rates candidates on five key climate policy areas and two policies related to government integrity. Each policy has been scored as GOOD, FAIR or POOR based on the candidates’ published policies.”

The scorecard also notes that the “groups do not endorse any party or candidate.” However a brief look at the scorecard (above) shows that those wanting to vote climate in Gippsland have very little choice. The Greens candidate is outstanding and the ALP ticks a few boxes but the other four candidates are either tied to coal, in climate change denying parties, or both. Darren Chester, the sitting member, is a moderate within the Nationals – a party like the Liberals and is also a ‘split waiting to happen’. Chatting recently to some Labour voters they repeated the fairly strong gossip that Darren would make a great Independent. At the other end of the spectrum is the “a vote for Darren is a vote for Barnaby” school with which I have strong sympathies.

The scorecard also has an explanation of how preferences work but in this electorate for climate voters once your preference reaches the ALP it will stop there. Recently I told someone my conundrum was not who to vote for, but who to put last – whether the party of the coal billionaire or one of the climate deniers. This means I will probably end up putting the incumbent number 3. I still hope for a strong swing against him and for the Greens to poll close to 10%. But it is in Monash and elsewhere that the chance for major change lies.

*contact EGCAN here and WELCAN here

Speaking Truth to Power by Dr Michael Borgas

Michael speaks at the Inverloch rally (image Andrew McEwan)

Thank you for the invitation to speak to the Inverloch Climate Rally today. First of all, I want to thank you as citizens participating in the democratic process to change our damaging human climate footprint. You are vital for the planet and us!

I have long involvement in the science of climate and atmosphere and the never-ending task of ‘speaking truth to power.’ Scientists see the problems first and my CSIRO colleagues spoke truth to power for decades. Then they came for us. Our society gifts power to elected politicians, government bureaucracies and corporations. In the past when Australia strove to better its version of society, it was necessary to listen to truths, whether scientific, economic or social.

But popularism has increasingly empowered manipulative vested interests to ignore truths on climate and our social responsibilities. We are driven away from a sustainable future, or even a safe climate to enable most humans to aspire beyond survival.

The truth to power is now based on popular opinions and fantasies. Scientists are told to influence opinion in a fractious and ignorant political, media and fake-news landscape.

This is why you are vital citizens. You listen, make judgements on evidence, and influence your friends and neighbours in the community. In this modern world you are as important as the greatest scientist, most strident activist, or even peak forums like the IPCC. Your local politician will listen to you more than any of these authorities. You are more likely to have read and made judgements on the key messages from the science and experts than your representative in government. Your message to the powerful has never been more important.

There are exceptions, like Bass Coast Shire and the local Mayor who is here today. But the powerful in Australia are not leading the way, and we are recognized internationally as extremists and climate action laggards.

But do not despair, because truth cannot be denied in the long run. Have anger, because the denial and delay by the powerful is doing more damage to our climate and environment than necessary. Have hope, because we have pathways to a decarbonized economy with projects like Star of the South offshore wind and many community-based renewable energy developments. Have compassion to find a just world for the many people that will suffer climate emergencies and the wildlife and environment we plunder until we learn and act.

By protesting today, by standing up for climate action, you are taking responsible and just actions. The truth to power now means those messages reaching more and more citizens and our power finally cowering our insipid political leaders. Surveys clearly show more and more people want climate action and a sustainable future. There are even begrudging and fawning commitments to net zero by 2050 by most politicians.

Thank you again for demanding a more sustainable and just community. Our votes must change the current pathway to catastrophe and we must hold the powerful to account.

*The Author was in CSIRO 1987-2017 Atmospheric Research, Aspendale and President of their Staff Association 2002-2017. Yanakie, South Gippsland (Just Transition South Gippsland Inc)