Gippsland News & Views

Richard Flanagan’s Cli-Fi Novel

Richard Flanagan’s novel The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (Knopf 2020) is about many things – love, loss, death, extinction – and is at times bizarre and verges on a ‘stream of consciousness’ style, but it also fits neatly into the cli-fi genre. The tale is a common one of a family rallying around their dying matriarch. Set in Tasmania with two of the three siblings resident in Australia, it is the background in which the tale is set, from the Tasmanian rainforest fires of 2016 to the black summer or 2019/20, that gives it away as a piece of cli-fi. Flanagan does not stint with many passages such as those following.

“There was something perversely comforting in the mounting horror the sixth extinction rising oceans, the Antarctic just having had its hottest day ever…The forecast for Hobart was 41 degrees, it was Tasmania or God’s sake, the Switzerland of the south, please, no one had ever seen weather like it, it kept on and on even now it was spring or was it autumn or still winter? She thought of the fire smoke smog that lay over Sydney smearing morning into midday into afternoon…” (p.94)

“She would scroll the country would burn she would watch a video shot by firefighters inside a fire truck swallowed by fire to escape tunnelling through a phone screen of pure flame, flame moving like water giant rolling and breaking waves of fire, firefighters dead, a politician in board shorts holidaying in Hawaii, arms around people tossing a shaka, hanging loose. (p.98)

“Incinerated kangaroos in foetal clutches of fencing wire charred koalas burnt bloated cattle on their backs, legs in the air, growing out of dried river beds. She scrolled past medieval tableaux of muted humanity on beaches in the ochre wash of an inferno. Caravaggio Brueghel Bosch it seems to have happened a very long time ago it’s happening today is it the terracotta that lights everything now? You ask people when the fire hit, someone says somewhere, but they can’t remember…” (p.100)

“Dense fire smoke ultra-fine PM2.5 particles, small enough to damage lungs and bloodstream smothering Sydney, anything over 200 hazardous, levels at 2200” (p.102) and similar sentences are liberally sprinkled throughout the book. In the closing pages Flanagan looks at the personal extinction of the matriarch, Francie, and the threatened extinction of the orange bellied parrot at Port Davey in Tasmania’s south-west and then offers hope in the ‘power of woman’.

*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

East Gippsland Shire Solar PV update

Rooftop Solar on Lakes Entrance Aquadome

Environment Connect Winter 2021

The Bairnsdale Aquatic Recreation Centre is to get 99kW of Rooftop Solar. The Council is all set to install its biggest solar photovoltaic system yet.  A 99kW solar system will shortly be installed on the north facing roof of the indoor swimming pool by local installers. The system will save $12,000 annually on electricity bills and generate 133,000 kWh a year of electricity – which will all be consumed onsite.

Council has also seen solar installed on more community managed sports facilities, so volunteers can reap the ongoing cost and environmental benefits too.

Omeo Recreation Reserve – 24kW plus battery

RACV Solar have kindly donated and installed a 23.7kW solar system which includes a 20kW inverter and 22kWh of lithium battery backup. The equipment includes a 4G modem and data sim with 12 months of data, to provide system monitoring back to RACV Solar and the Omeo Recreation Reserve.

Omeo Community Radio Station

The Omeo radio station has received funding to install solar and the aim is to provide a healthy office for volunteers and the equipment. By installing the solar panels, a split system, blinds and awnings it will ensure there are less fluctuations in the room temperature which have resulted in equipment failures. The installation of the solar panels will also reduce the cost of power and will encourage the community that we all need to aim to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. The radio listeners tune in from Benambra, Dinner Plain, Omeo, Hinnomunjie and Swifts Creek.

Lucknow Recreation Reserve – 20kW: A 20kW solar system has now been installed as part of the upgrade of the Lucknow Recreation Reserve Pavilion. This system will generate 27,230 kWh of solar electricity and avoid 29 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year.

Gippsland Climate Change Network by Darren McCubbin

In Gippsland we regularly experience the impact of unstable climates through droughts, bushfires and floods. At Gippsland Climate Change Network, we believe in working together to prepare for climate challenges and to work towards a sustainable future. Founded in 2007, GCCN is a not-for-profit organisation powered by a group of committed volunteers and members. We are driven by the shared vision that Gippsland can be carbon neutral by 2040 and enjoy thriving communities, new industries, a resilient economy, healthy habitats, and sustainably managed resources.

One of our biggest challenges so far has been how to engage our communities about the real and present threat of climate change impacts in ways that understand the science and our local expertise but also promote partnerships and generate hope. Three core initiatives contribute to achieving our vision. These are: Engage Gippsland Energise Gippsland and Regenerate Gippsland

Engage Gippsland focusses on connecting and collaborating with local communities, businesses, and government organisations around climate change awareness and solutions. Through this platform, we would like to generate conversations and opportunities that will inform Gippslanders about local climate change challenges and possibilities.

The Communities Leading Change was one of these valuable programs developed through partnership that we have been excited to see grow and develop. CLC has been connecting with Gippsland communities to spark conversations around climate change and the transition towards a sustainable future. We look forward to reading some of these stories in the soon to be released magazine Transitions: Stories of Gippsland Communities Leading Change.

Energise Gippsland is focused on community energy projects through its flagship Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub program with support from Sustainability Victoria. This delivers practical energy assessments through the scorecard program, supports community energy initiatives with local communities and make available advice that improve access to renewable energy for both households and small businesses. Other projects have included the launch of the Yinnar Solar Footpath, the donation of solar to local community groups, and investigating the repurposing of old solar panels which often end up in landfill.

GCCN leads and supports sustainable agriculture through our growing focus on Regenerate Gippsland. With international students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) initiated the project Storying Perceptions of Climate Change in Wellington Shire, which produced several of the video stories. But we are also excited about leading the Gippsland Biomass Audit with the Latrobe Valley Authority as part of their Gippsland Smart Specialisation Strategy. This includes researching opportunities available for agricultural producers such as transforming waste into a valuable resource.

By building partnerships, collaborations and engaging, energising and regenerating local communities, we intend to support Gippslanders to adapt to climate change impacts while exploring ways of becoming leaders in sustainable practices and renewable energy generation.

We invite you to engage with us via our Facebook page @GCCNVic and new enquiries and memberships are always welcome via our website.

Floods and the Yallourn Power Station

On Monday 14 July following the floods in the Latrobe Valley Wendy Farmer of Voices of the Valley reported that the “Yallourn Mine [was at] risk of further flooding after cracks developed [in the open cut wall]. [There is] 37 Metres of water in Yallourn mine, only 1 unit running. Further water could be devastating and could close the power station and Mine for weeks and weeks if not months according to Lily DAmbrosio MP.” *

In response Professor Erik Eklund of Churchill noted that “I am not an engineer but am worried about these developments in light of long history of diversions of Morwell and Latrobe Rivers and subsequent failures. Mining Warden’s 2006 report argued [the] mine walls [were] inherently unstable and water pressure caused cracking not revealed on [the] surface” to which Wendy replied “It’s not good, water likes to make its own path with the weakest link. We have seen it happen before -Yallourn 2012.”

Extreme Weather is becoming more frequent and more severe with global warming and the recent floods are just one example. The remaining power generators are also vulnerable to other climate extremes including fire, heatwaves and drought, all of which have the ability to stop or curtail power generation. In the last one hundred years, the amount of moisture in the atmosphere has increased by seven per cent. It will continue to do so as the planet warms. This then falls somewhere as rain with predictions of shorter but more intense rainfall ‘events’ commonly known as floods.

There is a certain irony here – the brown coal generators are Australia’s worst greenhouse gas polluters contributing to global warming which in turn heavily influences and causes more of these extreme weather events. There has been the need for many years for our politicians to understand and recognise the science of climate change and to act on it accordingly. This means phasing out our brown coal generators as quickly as possible. The way to do this is as Wendy Farmer says – the “Vic[torian] Gov[ernment] need to get serious about how Latrobe Valley will Transition, don’t leave the Valley behind, fast track renewable energy projects.”

*quotes taken from an exchange on twitter hence the abbreviated delivery.

The Mallacoota Battery

(image supplied)

Media Release AusNet Services 27.5

AusNet Services today announced it has installed Gippsland’s first community battery in Mallacoota, making the town one of the first in Australia to have a grid-connected energy storage system included in its local network. This innovative project plays a key role in improving power reliability by up to 90% for the town of Mallacoota. AusNet has contributed $7.5 million for this project which forms part of the Victorian Government’s program announced today to improve energy services in bushfire prone areas.

Mallacoota is situated at the end of a 240km radial line from Bairnsdale, via Cann River which means the radial power line coming all the way from Bairnsdale is often exposed to storms, vegetation and wildlife as it traverses over remote landscape and up into the town. The elements often contribute to power outages along the radial line which can take time for crews to patrol the remote area to locate and fix the problem before restoring power.

This new large-scale battery, designed as a hybrid system combined with a generator will keep the power running for the town while crews restore problems that occur along the incoming line. Within the past two weeks since the system was completed it has already operated twice, successfully keeping the power on for the Mallacoota community.

Derek Jayasuriya, Principal Engineer, AusNet Services believes the new technology is a solid foundation to build on energy resilience for remote communities, particularly during bushfires. “Improving energy resilience for the communities we serve, while keeping costs down for Victorians is critical in delivering the best experience for our customers. This innovative solution strikes the right balance, and we are very pleased to be here in Mallacoota today with the community who will be among the first to benefit from this new technology,” said Mr Jayasuriya.

The Mallacoota power storage facility includes a lithium ion battery with a total storage capacity of 1MWh. This could power 1,000 average homes for approximately two hours, and up to one day when combined with the generator. The battery will be charged from the grid and will feed power back into the town during local outages, to lessen the impact of these outages on the Mallacoota community.

Significant Trees of East Gippsland

Tulaba Track Redgum

There was an interesting short piece in ‘Environment Connect Winter 2021’, the East Gippsland Shire Council’s environment newsletter entitled “How old is that redgum?” The trees referred to are on the Tulaba Track in Eastwood, a suburb of Bairnsdale – a pleasant Sunday stroll that I have done many times and asked the same question. Following a limb falling from one of these trees the Shire “had an arborist complete an inspection of the tree after the limb fall, which indicated this tree is approximately 450 years old and in sound condition!”

The article further noted that this “magnificent old tree will have an exclusion zone now placed around it with mulch, planting, barriers and signage to highlight what an asset this tree is to our shire. It will be the start of an ongoing project to complete the same treatment around another seven trees in the park that are [of] a similar age. The addition of exclusion zones will increase the health of the trees and prolong their lifespan…” and we “are very fortunate to have many of these trees (Howitt Park is another location where similar treatment has occurred) and have many trees registered through the National Trust. Some of these trees include the Buchan Blue Wattle in Lake Tyers, Mallacoota Gums around Mallacoota (including in the caravan park) and an Indian Bean Tree outside our offices in Orbost.” 

A check with the map of the National Trust tree register gave only three trees for the Bairnsdale area and a couple more for the rest of East Gippsland. I’m assured by the Shire Sustainability Officer Rebecca Lamble that these other trees mentioned in their newsletter are registered and I am grateful for the work the Shire is doing. In replying to Rebecca, I mentioned a large Redwood I had found in the bush many years ago in the old gold mining town of Stirling on the Haunted Stream, but lamented that because there had been three severe bushfires through the location this century it was almost certainly gone.

Against these Shire efforts, we have the ravages of Vic Roads and Vic Forests. I have written previously on the destruction of a mighty Yellow Box on the Great Alpine Road and the wholesale destruction by the tree vandals at Cape Conran to which we can add the continuing scorched earth policy of the loggers in the bush. As well, there are rumours of further planned large-scale tree removal by VicRoads in the Gelantipy-McKillops Bridge area.

At this late stage in the climate emergency (which our governments have known about for thirty years) urgent action is required. All trees are significant, all trees are precious, and all trees are carbon stores. Like the Tulaba Track redgums they should be protected and never removed, except in extreme circumstances.

Power Deal cuts Costs and Emissions by Catherine Watson

Dudonnell Wind Farm

First published in Bass Coast Post 19/5/21*

Bass Coast Council will be powered by 100 per cent renewable power from July 1 in a landmark deal that also cuts the shire’s energy bill. The council is one of 46 to sign on to VECO, the Victorian Energy Collaboration, the largest ever emissions reduction project by local government in Australia.**

The renewable energy will be provided by two wind farms in Victoria – the 80-turbine Dundonnell wind farm near Mortlake, which started exporting power to the grid in March 2020, and the 99-turbine Murra Warra II wind farm near Horsham, which will be fully operational by June 2022. By joining the project, Bass Coast Shire Council will power its entire electricity use – including streetlights, town halls, visitor centres and civic centres – with 100 per cent renewables.

Bass Coast Mayor Brett Tessari said VECO was a great start towards Bass Coast meeting zero net emissions by 2030, as set out in the council’s recently adopted Climate Change Action Plan. “We are dedicated to reducing our environmental impact and signing up to VECO is one way that we are able to demonstrate that. It is incredible to be a part of this Australian first.”

VECO, led by Darebin City Council in Melbourne’s north, will provide 45 per cent of all Victorian councils’ electricity requirements with 100 per cent renewables, reducing greenhouse emissions by 260,000 tonnes of C02-e every year. The ground-breaking project will reduce each of the council’s current energy bills and reduce electricity prices by using clean renewable energy generated in Victoria.

Darebin Mayor Lina Messina said the project was proof of what could be achieved with collaboration. “This is a collective effort formed by staff and councillors from across the state, for the benefit of our communities. By powering councils with affordable renewable energy, we’re making ratepayers’ dollars go further. Every dollar we save on energy bills is a dollar we can put towards improving roads, footpaths, libraries or community programs.”

Provided by Red Energy***, the 240GWh of clean power is equivalent to powering 48,000 homes with renewables or removing the emissions from 90,000 cars every year. Initiated by and facilitated with the Victorian Greenhouse Alliances, VECO recognises the benefits of renewable energy for the environment and the economy. Red Energy will provide 240 GWh of electricity per year to the 46 councils in the VECO purchasing group over a period of 9.5 years, beginning on July 1.

Owned by Snowy Hydro, Red Energy is a 100 per cent Australian owned and operated energy retailer based in Melbourne. Red Energy CEO Iain Graham said the company was delighted to provide a long-term energy contract that would enable councils to buy renewable energy at a competitive price.

*see here

**other local councils in this agreement include South Gippsland, East Gippsland and Wellington.

*** some activists, including Zali Steggall MHR, are urging a consumer boycott of this company due to its association with the Morrison government’s Kurri Kurri gas generator plans.

Bass Coast Climate Action Network meets the Nationals at Wonthaggi

image Jessica Harrison

BCCAN media release

On a sunny autumn Saturday of May 22, forty to fifty locals rallied outside the National Party’s State Conference at the Workmen’s Club in Wonthaggi. A surprise to some, the Nationals were happy to debate with us about their priorities, while Bass Coast CAN members argued for an urgent transition to renewable power generation.

“We talked how hard it is to follow the science, as we do with Covid, when politics gets in the way” said Neil Rankine, who attended the protest. “We also discussed climate change as a challenge but also an opportunity for farming communities.”

Peter Walsh addressed the crowd, and Damian Drum MP talked at length to a group outside. Neil added “Walsh had nothing of substance to say, basically admitting that they will stay in the background other than supposedly supporting farmers. A member I don’t know said we should wait to hear what came out of the meeting as it was being discussed inside. This was a policy setting opportunity but I haven’t heard that there were motions passed that will move toward a future we can be proud of…” 

and

“Damien Drum did spend considerable time with us outside (I wonder whether, being federal, that was more agreeable than being inside). He talked about the toxic nature of politics around the issue and we all agreed it would be best if the science was communicated and relied upon, like is largely the case with COVID. I pointed out that it is his role, and that of the other politicians attending, to find a way through the quagmire to follow the science for all our benefit.”

Dan Caffrey noted “Both Peter Walsh and Steph Ryan (Deputy Nationals leader in Vic) and Damien Drum, claimed that the Nats were taking climate change seriously, but when asked if this was reflected in their policies, they struggled to point to any apart from carbon sequestration in soils, where farmers would be paid for increasing carbon in the soils. Damian had not heard of Soilkee, the only such process that has been able to claim carbon credits for this. So basically it was all hot air. I do respect the fact they did come out to talk to us…”

A Bass Coast CAN member, Jessica Harrison, said “Debating is fine, but when are the Nationals going to realize that the rural people they represent are already bearing the brunt of climate change? Fires, droughts and extreme weather events are more frequent and they are making life on the land hard. Scientific experts are calling for immediate action to reduce our emissions before the CO2 levels rise any more”.

Dan Caffrey concluded that, “by speaking with us, that they got understand that we were educated about climate change and that they were somewhat deficient when it came to scientific facts” and “I think this was a worthwhile exercise. The more that we confront them with facts, the more they realise that that can’t run from us any more…One thing is certain, nothing substantial to fight climate change and stop emissions from rising will happen while the LibNats stay in government in Canberra.”

My Nungurner 2013 Speech Part 3

Crowd on Nungurner Jetty (image Heather Oke)

Action

The good thing about this is that we have multiple targets to apply our actions. For a start there are the people around us – family and friends some of whom must have voted for the current government – with whom we can discuss the government’s actions and its consequences. Then we can direct our actions to the following: 1. politicians – let them know our concerns and do not give up when they say thank you for your words. 2. the power providers. If everyone saves power then their business is reduced.  Use more efficient lights and appliances. If you can afford it go solar. The solar revolution has surprised the providers and the politicians but it is a continuing battle. 3. the mining companies. Join the Lock the Gate movement – stop the mining companies coming on your land 4. the banks. Your bank and mine (and possibly your super fund) are financing the fossil fuel developments. Let them know of your disapproval. Change banks if possible. 5. the media. It is time for us all to give those apologies for newspapers – the Herald Sun and the Australian – the boot. If you must read them use the local library.

What sort of actions can we involve ourselves in? As individuals – we can discuss, persuade, write, keep ourselves informed, operate in the social media, attend meetings and demonstrations such as this, help form and join groups. Jointly we can join groups such as Landcare and the CFA and whilst these are admirable groups – I am a member of both – they don’t rock the boat. They are part of the status quo. Lock the Gate groups on the other hand directly challenge the mining companies. (As an aside CSG – methane is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2). The Lock the Gate meeting in Metung [that] recently was attended by over 120 people [which is] as large as [any of] the rallies and meetings… than any I have previously seen here… There are also climate groups such as the climate action network none of which has been formed in Gippsland. Then there are the more political groups like Get Up and little known political parties like Save the Planet and the Global Warming Action Party…**

For me every day is a climate action day. Each day I spend at least an hour or two online doing emails, reading climate articles, using the social media and writing… If anyone would like further detail on anything I have said I am happy to provide it. Please note that I am willing to speak to any group whatever the size on this mammoth problem. With regards our actions I will leave you with a quote from Gandhi who said “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result”. Thank you.

*Get Up Climate Action Day 17.11.2013. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

**Much of this is dated. The Global Warming Action Party is defunct and Save the Planet is registered with the AEC as the Climate Emergency Action Alliance – Vote Planet. The Lock the Gate fight has been won and there are now half a dozen active climate groups across Gippsland.

My Nungurner 2013 Speech Part 2

Speaking (in blue hat) middle left. Image Heather Oke.

Business as Usual

Digging up and burning or selling every bit of fossil fuel we can find – is a recipe for disaster. Observations around the world indicate that we already are headed that way. Examples include the decline in glaciers and ice sheets around the earth – especially the Arctic – and the increase in number and severity of extreme weather events. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, storms bushfires. The recent fires in NSW were not caused by climate change. However scientists predicted more than twenty years ago that we would get more bushfires and worse ones.

Why were the NSW fire events called unprecedented and unparalleled? Because they occurred in October extending the previous fire season. In Victoria we have had in the last decade 3 bushfires that can be termed one in one hundred year events – 2003, 2006/7 and 2009. It is a foretaste of the future. In all of these events I was living at Ensay. We were directly threatened by both the 2003 and 2006/7 fires. On each of these occasions my family and I assumed the worst – that the fire would come to us – and we worked hard each day preparing for that eventuality. This is what many of us did during these threatening situations. We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

But what are we doing about climate change? At the moment we are going backwards. We have elected governments at all levels whose main priority is business as usual. We have just elected a Federal government intent on dismantling the small advances the previous government made on climate. At best these politicians – including our prime minister – give lip service to the science. At worst they are firmly in the denialist/confusionist camp.

There are formidable forces that are opposed to any action on climate change. They oppose by spreading doubt and confusion and thus the need for action. They spread their influence widely through the media, politicians and the political process. The fossil fuel lobby includes the largest, wealthiest, most influential companies in the world. The largest company on Earth – Exxon – has been funding the denialist camp for more than 20 years. In Australia the world’s richest woman has been vehemently opposed to the so called carbon tax. Why? Perhaps because she is a part owner of a huge coal mine in the Warwick basin in Queensland that plans to export to India. Coal is the main offender in terms of climate change. In the burning process each ton of pure coal is converted into more than 3 tons of carbon dioxide. (To be concluded)

*Get Up Climate Action Day 17.11.2013. Part 1 is here.