Gippsland Climate News

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

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

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

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

• Retain party political solidarity,

• Satisfy powerful lobby groups,

• Maximise political donations and

• Win the next election.

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and then not proceeded with and we have seen perfectly reasonable climate initiatives introduced by one government repealed by the next government.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

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

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

Book Review

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

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

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

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

Our Bushfires Anniversary

Fires at 4 February

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

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

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

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

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

Acting on Climate by Madelaine Moore

Republished from Just Community No 10

While it may seem like we are banging our head against the wall trying to get the Federal Government to take action on climate, the State Government has been more receptive. They are required by law to release a climate strategy within ten sitting days of October 31 this year, a date that may be pushed back owing to the pandemic. However, even with delay this means we as Victorians have the chance to have our voices heard on what we want this climate strategy to look like.

Luckily for us, Friends of the Earth have launched a campaign that builds on their years of hard work both establishing relationships with communities on the frontline of climate change (their support was critical to the ban on unconventional gas in Victoria) and relationships with people in government, as well as key public servants. The

Friends of the Earth initiative Act on Climate aims to make sure that this strategy is as comprehensive as possible, and understands that it must also include sustainable jobs and strong community engagement. “These responses will be the basis for the Act on Climate People’s Climate Strategy…”

As the State Government is busy with other things at the moment there is a great opportunity for us to do their work for them. Act on Climate aims to develop a draft strategy from the bottom up. The plan is to make this as collective and inclusive as possible – the more voices involved from across Victoria the more likely the government will be willing to take it on. The campaign has a few steps along the way. A survey asking Victorians to document changes to climate in their local area has already wrapped up, but a second survey looking at what initiatives people would like to see to deal with those effects in their local areas is still open.

These responses will be the basis for the Act on Climate People’s Climate Strategy, which will be communicated to the State Government for inclusion in their draft strategy. As well as the survey, you can send your ideas for climate action, share this poster in your community, and once the survey results are in, meet with your local state reps to demand they support the strategy.

Running alongside this campaign is an online petition to demand that the Victorian Government set up a climate change action fund of $100 million to help fund projects that can tackle these issues. This could be some of the local solutions you come up with in the survey. It could also be used to upgrade existing community facilities such as sporting clubs, libraries, community centres or schools to be climate refuge centres connected with solar, batteries, heating and cooling, emergency communication equipment and water tanks. Or it could be used to help local governments reach net zero emissions in the wider economy.

*The author is from Fish Creek. The Just Community website is here.

Good News with First Local Climate Election

The good news is that three members of East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) have been elected to the East Gippsland Shire Council (EGSC). Congratulations to Mendy Urie, Jane Greacen and Tom Crook. All are active in EGCAN. They were fortunate enough to gain the top three positions on the ballot paper, advertised on the same ticket and obviously kept their preferences tight

In the run up to the council elections I wrote two commentaries (here and here) urging electors to ‘Vote Climate’ and making a rough appraisal of the possibilities. I gave the ‘green light’ to six of the twenty-one candidates. Commenting on the EGCAN member chances of being elected I wrote: “Statistically, with about a third of the candidates in East Gippsland as climate emergency supporters, they should win three seats. However winning one seat will be an achievement, two a bonus and a third bordering on a miracle.”

Five of the candidates mentioned ‘climate’ in their 200 word statements – the top 3 on the ballot paper Mendy, Jane and Tom – as well as animal rights activist Kim Dutton and Dick Ellis. All but the latter (whom I placed in the ‘orange light’ group) are EGCAN members. A number of other candidates used the more general term ‘environment’ perhaps unaware that the climate crisis is an ‘existential’ crisis.

An analysis of first preferences on Friday (6.11) showed that Mendy Urie was just a few votes short of a quota and as anticipated had polled well. Both Jane and Tom Crook each received about half a quota. Of the six candidates recommended by this blog they received in total 28% of the primary vote or roughly 3 quotas. Also two of the three ‘red light’ candidates I identified polled poorly.

My message to the newly elected council is to use every opportunity to speak out on climate science. Educating the council is a low cost action and persuading councillors and council employees to accept the science and the need for climate action should be one of the first jobs, then extend this to the wider community, acting where possible in a bipartisan, apolitical manner. Joining the Climate Council’s ‘Cities Power Partnership’ should be an early step. Reconsidering the ‘Climate Emergency’ declaration should also be on the agenda.*

And my advice to Mendy, Jane and Tom is to act as if the next four years is your only opportunity – the chances of a poll draw similar to this are very long indeed. In this critical decade of the climate emergency we need to ‘vote climate’ and ‘act on climate’ at every opportunity.

*Some dated suggestions (2015) for climate action I have made to the EGSC are here.

A Just Transition Narrative by Michael Borgas

Image Act on Climate Melbourne

Excerpts from an article in Just Community No 9*

“Never waste a crisis, so they say. On the back of record bushfires, drought and heatwaves, even in Siberia, it seems that the whole world is aching to deal with climate change. On the back of a pandemic, most recognise that ‘business as usual’ has gone the way of the dinosaurs whose fossils we burn. Many lines of thinking and catchwords have emerged.

“A Just Transition is an accepted principle promoted by the trade unions and adopted by the Paris Climate Accord to create fair if not better employment standards and opportunities when transitioning industry away from fossil fuels and creating new climate-friendly industries… In Australia, peak union bodies like the ACTU also have Just Transition aspirations focused on decently paid and secure work. At its core, a Just Transition is concerned with the restructuring of the economy by moving away from precarious high carbon jobs to secure and decent low carbon ones.

“The story of a Just Transition in Australia is epitomised in the Repower Port Augusta campaign, which emerged following the abrupt closure of the Playford coal-fired power station…

“In response to the prospect of a cascade of lost jobs and fossil-fuel stranded assets and business failures, unions in Australia are campaigning for Just Transitions, and the Star of the South project in Gippsland might be the vanguard. This offshore wind project is being developed with Danish investors to create jobs and profit whilst supplying 18 percent of Melbourne’s power, together with the promise of better employment outcomes than in Port Augusta.

“The lessons, though, are that electricity generation and construction alone is not sufficient to create good long-term employment, and that using some electricity locally to create jobs and profits is essential too. Green power for production of bio-fertiliser from brown coal as an exportable value-added commodity is an excellent example of sustainable innovations capable of growing good jobs in Gippsland. Importantly, this means creating jobs not just in the clean energy sector, but in low carbon industries such as education and health, along with other care work. The point is that partnerships with working people and their union representatives are also vital to get the best outcomes in our broken and unfair society…

“A group of us are also thinking about a Just Transition, with three immediate goals: to inform and influence the community, to democratically influence local council, and to help develop a socially fair and sustainable economic plan for a prosperous South Gippsland that’s centred around low-carbon economic activity.

“My personal interest in a Just Transition for the area stems from my having moved to South Gippsland as a self-defined climate-change refugee, my background in science as a former CSIRO environmental scientist and trade unionist, and as an observer of major climate change induced industrial transformation in my old hometown of Port Augusta. The opportunities for a South Gippsland Just Transition are very promising but won’t come easily…

“Projects like bio-fertiliser production being developed in the Latrobe Valley depend on partnering with Monash University. Other potential innovations will require even more skilled workers not less…

*Full article is here. The Just Community website is here.

South Gippslanders for a Just Transition

Media Release South Gippsland Just Transition*

The actions needed to address climate change and its impacts are well known. A move towards a low-emissions economy and society is unavoidable. That a democratic society like our own is struggling to make the right decisions and implement proper policies is cause for serious concern. Waiting for governments to decide on policies to address the problems we face is proving exhausting and stressful. There is another way.

We can begin to act ourselves. We can choose to bring together the diverse perspectives and experience of South Gippslanders to plan a response that best suits our region. Southern Gippslanders are invited to an online assembly from 3 pm to 5 pm on Saturday November 21 for an initial discussion about planning South Gippsland’s future together**.

Spokesperson for the group, Madelaine Moore, said climate change impacts households, communities, industries and regions. “In 20 years from now, the economy will look very different than it does today. We’ll see new technologies, industries, jobs and ways of working and learning, new ways of growing our food, powering our lives and transporting ourselves and the things we love”.

“What if, instead of leaving the changes to come for others to determine, we band together as a region and in our various communities to develop a transition to a low-carbon economy ourselves? We have the opportunity to set the agenda and begin framing our own future,” Ms Moore said.

The group says South Gippslanders are already working together for the changes they know that are needed. In October, more than 2,000 people petitioned South Gippsland Shire Council to immediately declare a climate emergency and take the lead within the South Gippsland community in implementing urgent action on climate change. In the same month, people gathered in more than 40 communities to show Federal representatives Darren Chester and Russell Broadbent that they want urgent action to address the escalating risks of bushfires, coastal erosion, and drought.

“This is our chance to bring together local people from all walks of life and begin developing a roadmap for a just transition to a future that provides a strong economy, jobs, and a safe environment for generations to come,” Ms Moore said.

Ms Moore said the group is planning a series of workshops and discussions, so if those interested can’t make the first meeting, there will be further opportunities and other ways people can show enthusiasm for the project. Just Transition for South Gippsland represents South Gippslanders looking to develop community interest in working on the principles and strategies needed for a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

*visit their website here

** See here

Socially Responsible Investing by Tom Moore and Hugh Hunter

Extract from an article on the Metung Science Forum*

The Federal Government is currently promoting a “gas fired recovery” for our economy and the NSW government has just approved the Narrabri Gas Project. The recent Federal Budget does nothing to promote renewable energy. Rather than considering gas as part of a transition to net zero emissions (ie. firming the grid) it appears that Australia is poised to embark on another wave of fossil fuel use while continuing to also support the coal industry.

At the same time, all over the world, banks, superannuation funds and private investors are decarbonizing their investment portfolios by getting out of fossil fuels. This is all part of a move to invest in companies who have undertaken to act in a Socially Responsible Manner. Socially Responsible Investments (SRI) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investments were not so long ago, oddities in global investment markets.

However, there has been a significant paradigm shift in the investment world, which has seen an ever-increasing tendency of investors to question whether their investments are used to fund companies who have exposure to practices such as modern slavery, tobacco, plastics pollution, gambling, animal cruelty, etc and indeed whether they contribute to climate change.

There are numerous examples of organisations and individuals who are moving very quickly in the direction of SRI or ESG investing. These include the largest fund manager in the world, Blackrock, who is decarbonizing its portfolios to companies such as BHP who are divesting from thermal coal. And to individuals such as British Filmmaker, Richard Curtis (think Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill etc.) who is currently campaigning to shift 3 trillion pounds of UK pensions away from fossil fuels, arms, and meat production over to clean energy, healthcare, and human rights. Richard believes that the most powerful thing any of us can do to support the climate change initiatives we must adopt, is to clean up our investment portfolios – let our money do the talking…

*Request the full article from Tom Moore [ ] The Metung Science Forum (MSF) is a forum for progressive science and evidence-based discussion of climate change and related issues for the people of Metung and surrounds. As a group we are not politically aligned with any particular party, but have come together to support each other in understanding and respecting science. We promote evidence-based solutions to problems faced by our community, Australia and globally, and we will support selected organisations and individuals who actively engage with local, state and federal governments. (Our current membership stands at 53 local residents).

The Climate Emergency, our Carbon Footprint and Gippsland

‘Your Carbon Footprint, your Responsibility’ by Ray Dahlstrom

Many of the recent critics of the Baw Baw Pumped Hydro (PHES) proposal posted on this blog seem to have little or no comprehension of the immensity of the task we are facing in the climate emergency. Above all, we have to exit the use of fossil fuels as rapidly as we can. Gippsland has been central to the state’s fossil fuel economy for over a century and is still providing about 70% of all electricity from its brown coal generators. In terms of the greenhouse gases produced these are the dirtiest coal fired plants in Australia and logically, should have been the first retired, but because of the cheapness of brown coal production they linger on.

The three remaining generators in the Valley have a capacity of just under five gigawatts. To replace this with renewables would require 15 million 300w solar panels or 15,000 3mw wind generators. This is only half the problem for something probably approaching 200% of capacity is needed for a renewables based power grid, as well as different types of energy storage. The Beyond Zero Emissions stationary energy plan of 2010 is now outdated as it favoured solar thermal systems as its major energy provider. The rapid lowering of costs of solar pv has changed this aspect of the plan. But one thing solar thermal does provide is medium storage of up to 24 hours or more.

Another way of looking at the climate emergency is our personal CO2 footprint. John Hermans in an article in RENEW 148 noted “The amount of CO2 released during the generation of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of energy in Victoria is close to one tonne…In Melbourne, a 1 kW PV array may produce up to 1.3 MWh of electricity in one year (depending on orientation, angle and shading). To offset one person’s 20 tonnes of CO2 by producing 20 MWh of clean electricity in a year, each person needs to install 15 kW of PV. An average home with four people would need 60 kW of PV (currently 180 panels) to offset the carbon footprint that sustains their lifestyle as they enjoy the pleasures of living in Australia.”

Here John is looking at all the CO2 an individual produces – including that produced in food consumption and transportation. John and his family are rarities in Gippsland with a zero carbon footprint. But unlike the Hermans’ household our grid needs large scale energy storage to provide power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. The extra renewables above capacity required (double?) can be stored – as lithium batteries, pumped hydro and perhaps solar thermal – the latter two both providing medium storage. One benefit of the Baw Baw PHES not trumpeted is that it could provide construction employment at a crucial time in the just transition in the Latrobe Valley. Thus helping avert a political reaction of the type we are seeing in the coal areas of NSW and Queensland.

Baw Baw Pumped Hydro Energy Storage 4

View of reservoirs looking south

How to progress*

In three previous posts we have revisited the possibility of a Pumped Hydroelectric Energy Storage (PHES) scheme near Baw Baw in Gippsland; the projected and growing need for deeper storage in Australia’s electricity market; some refinements to the design; and context to projected environmental impacts. Here we consider how it might happen.

The first thing to note is that, if it were to go ahead, the Baw Baw PHES could not (and would not) happen overnight. Unlike lithium batteries (which Elon Musk famously installed in South Australia within 100 days), several years of feasibility, planning, design, and of course environmental studies and approvals would be required. Such long lead-times, and associated risks, would test the patience of the private sector. Approval periods spanning years – even up to a decade, for the CSG project previously considered- are not unheard of for mining and resource projects: the payback for these, however, is generally short-term and often lucrative.

A large-scale electricity storage project is also one that, to a certain extent, ‘cannibalises’ its own market. The underlying business case relies on buying power when it is plentiful and cheap, and selling it back when it is scarce. Making Gigawatts of additional power supply available will, however, significantly reduce the size and duration of price spikes – leading to lower project revenues. Likewise, buying power on such a scale would put a floor under prices in times of high supply, increasing project running costs. The former is good for power consumers and industry, and the latter a must for the ongoing deployment of new renewable projects delivering cheap, but variable, energy. The project itself, however, may not reap these ‘externalised’ benefits under current market settings.

There may therefore, be a role for Government in initiating, developing, and possibly even building, the Baw Baw PHES scheme. The federal government is doing this for the Snowy 2.0 PHES project, and the state has launched initiatives such as its Renewable Energy Target and virtual transmission reverse auctions, encouraging short-duration batteries. Whilst likely to stack up in the long term on its own financial merits, the benefits would stretch beyond the financial returns of the project itself: confidence and price stability for power consumers; lowered risk and boosted returns for proponents of new wind and solar farms; energy security; lower long-term emissions; and economic activity and jobs in the Latrobe region.

If we are to accelerate the retirement of coal generators in Victoria, and try to meet the emission reductions required to avert the worst-case climate change scenarios, we need to have as many options on the table as we can. Gas has a role to play, but it is increasingly difficult to see how the cost and emissions associated with this can be sustainable in the medium to long term. The Baw Baw Pumped Hydro scheme could have significant long-term benefits for the state, and indeed Australia.

* Our guest contributor is a Gippsland-bred engineer, working in the power industry. Links to previous posts are (1) the growing need for deep and medium storage (2) further engineering insights and refinements and (3) environmental impacts