Gippsland News & Views

East Gippy Shire Council Climate Actions

The East Gippsland Shire Councils’ (EGSC) online newsletter Environment Connect has a number of items relevant to climate and climate action. The Newsletter noted a “collaborative LED street light replacement” with South Gippsland and Wellington Shire Councils to upgrade “LED street lighting…across the three Council areas in the first half of 2022. The use of LED globes [is predicted to] save $3,665,000 over 20 years in East Gippsland…” and presumably there will be an equally significant saving in greenhouse gas emissions. The LED replacement is also part of the EGSC’s Cities Partnership with the Climate Council.

Environment Connect also noted “Our draft Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2022-2032 has closed for comment.  We received 472 hits to the website, 184 downloads of the strategy and 53 survey responses.  Feedback was positive with a sense of urgency to just get on with it.” The three top key findings were “Conservation of the natural environment and biodiversity (this was ranked as the highest priority with an average ranking of 2.3 out of 7), Sustainable management of natural resources (includes climate mitigation) (3.2 out of 7) [and] Community participation in the climate response (4.1 out of 7)”. Also “Growth in the circular economy” and “Community resilience to respond to increasing climate risk and natural disasters” were in the key findings.

Environment Connect added that “Community feedback, recommendations and suggested priorities will now be reviewed and taken on board. A final version will be presented to Council in the coming months. If endorsed, the final strategy will then be released with a four-year action plan.” It is significant that although the survey was headed 10 year strategy the final response will be a four year plan. My submission to the survey here and here.

Finally the newsletter looked at the “role of street trees” in particular looking at the ‘heat island effect’. “The importance of these trees in the future should not be underestimated. As more and more developments are being built, the heat bank from the roads and concrete need to be addressed. The Parks and Gardens unit would love to see avenues of trees along our urban roadsides that will reduce the urban heat banks…Choosing the best tree for the right location is vital, whether it be native or exotic. An interesting point from using deciduous trees is in winter is they reduce the wind speeds by 50-90% and in summer trees and gardens can reduce surface temperatures by up to 40%.”

The EGSC is to be encouraged in these and other similar endeavours. Perhaps one new avenue they can pursue with vigour is the publicising, supporting and promoting the offshore wind program recently announced by the Andrews government.

Hazelwood Rehabilitation, Water and other options

Hazelwood open cut fire 2014

An article by Michelle Slater in the Latrobe Valley Express on Engie’s proposal to flood the Hazelwood open cut noted that “the Victorian government has called an Environmental Effects Statement into the Hazelwood Rehabilitation Project. Planning Minister Richard Wynne signed-off on the EES looking into the effects of using 637 gigalitres of water over 10 to 35 years to form a pit lake in the Hazelwood open cut.”

As the mines and power stations close, there can little doubt the preferred option of all the operators is the flooding of the pits, for the simple reason that it is the cheapest. As Slater noted the Engie proposal requires a huge amount of water, and considering our warming climate and the increased propensity to drought, likely to take closer to the longer-term estimate to fill. If other operators like Yallourn adopted this, or a similar, proposal, it can readily be seen that it is unviable.

Even in relatively wet Gippsland water is a scarce resource. Before the closure of Hazelwood the four power stations used more that 20% of Victoria’s annual water consumption. Competing assets like downstream irrigation are already closely looking at the power station’s water allocations. Also stronger river flows would help alleviate the Gippsland Lakes environment that is currently being strangled by increased salinity.

Other options should also be closely considered. The fly ash deposited at bottom of the Hazelwood pit can be used in cement making. At the moment the fly ash with its concentration of heavy metals is seen as a polluter of the water. However, the fly ash may also contain rare earth metals. As far as I am aware, no analysis has been made of fly ash in the valley and it is still considered a waste product. Others have suggested lining the walls of the pit with solar panels and there is also the pumped hydro option.

Dan Caffrey wrote in this blog that for the “Hazelwood brown coal power station in the Latrobe Valley, the required cooling is provided by water from the Hazelwood Pondage. This is 840 ha of water of an average depth of at least a metre. This could be the upper dam of a pumped hydro scheme after the power station closes in the near future. The lower dam could of course be scooped out of the existing Morwell open cut, which lies about 100 m lower than the Pondage. The Melbourne Energy Institute has estimated that a 1000 MW system could be built. This is 1000 MW of instantly dispatchable electricity, available at the flick of a switch.”

Hopefully the EES will consider the details of all this and reject the proposal of turning the Hazelwood pit into a lake. Then consider a range of more climate, and environment, friendly options.

Our Library and Climate Books

The East Gippsland Shire Council library is a good resource for books on climate change. I have blogged on recent library acquisitions on a number of occasions (see here and here). As I have been working on global warming and renewable energy for many years and am familiar with most of the issues, doing reviews can become a bit tedious and the writing is often delayed. One solution has been to have guest bloggers write reviews (see here and here).

Occasionally the number of pertinent titles can be overwhelming, as is currently the case, as I have three climate books on loan. Two are new acquisitions – Devi Lockwood’s 1001 Voices on Climate Change: everyday stories of flood, fire, drought and displacement from around the world (Tiller Press 2021) and Chris Funk’s Drought, Flood, Fire: how climate change contributes to catastrophes (Cambridge University Press 2021). The third Dave Ritter’s The Coal Truth: the fight to stop Adani, defeat the big polluters, and reclaim our democracy (UWA Publ. 2018) I have previously missed as it has been in our library for some time. 

The full titles are self-explanatory and each has praise from well-known commentators and authorities, consecutively Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, and our own Peter Doherty. The Ritter book is specifically Australian and has highly qualified contributing authors in the second part, including Steffen and Hughes from the Climate Council. Lockwood has chapters on Australia and New Zealand and Funk, whose work is about the attribution of extreme weather events to climate change, has a couple of references to our Bureau of Meteorology.

Having praised our library’s resources on climate change readers are warned that the occasional copy of a climate denier’s work sneaks onto the catalogue. The prime example of this is Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth which has been refuted by former CSIRO Scientist and mathematician Ian Enting.

With an unofficial and probably long election campaign already in full swing, proper reviews of these books will have to wait.

Early End to Coal fired Power Inevitable

An article by Latrobe Valley power worker Tony Wolfe appeared recently in the New Daily. Tony is on the board of the Gippsland Climate Action Network and a community adviser to the large offshore wind development the Star of the South. He is also a member of the Voices for Monash group who have chosen an Independent candidate, Deb Leonard, to contest the upcoming election.

Tony’s article was prompted by AGLs token forwarding date of closure for Loy Yang A from 2048 to 2045 and ran with the header “why an early end to coal-fired electricity is inevitable”. The coal-fired power stations have yet to grasp why they are part of the problem. On the inevitability of closure of the valley coal generators he noted “If [private operators] can’t make money from burning coal – they aren’t going to be producing it. Cheaper renewable energy will continue to force the phasing out of coal and gas, and we will see it happening sooner rather than later.”

He then makes an impassioned call for a just transition for the local community. “We need governments to support and accelerate the training and skill development of our existing workforce and accelerate the training and transition of skills to the new industries. The Latrobe Valley has an immense opportunity to be a renewable energy powerhouse, with good grid connections and major projects planned, like the Star of the South offshore wind farm I’m involved in.” And the “Latrobe Valley has got large, pre-existing connections to the electricity grid that can be used to put power in or draw power out for energy intensive industries. We also have a large skilled workforce which is very adaptable and we have the social license for heavy industry.”

This blog has been making appeals for a just transition, primarily in the valley but also in the forestry industry (see here and here) for many years. We support the efforts of Tony to bring on a just transition and think his estimate of generator closures much closer to the mark. His article is well worth a read and for those in the Monash electorate a primary vote for your Voices candidate may be a step in the right direction.

Climate and the anti-vax Member for Monash

The long serving Member for Monash is in the news with his anti-vax views and covid misinformation. The ABC noted that Russell Broadbent “has refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19” and “has used parliament to promote a drug not approved for treating the virus”. It appears the member for Monash prefers the medical advice of a ratbag politician from the USA or, more locally, the Member for Manilla.

Lakes health worker Mark Kilpatrick wrote about this in a blog called ‘climate change and vaccinations’. He noted: “Anti-vaxxers deny the science of immunology based on pseudo-science they read on the internet and their own prejudices, not on any understanding of how the immune system works or of medical science in general”. And similarly: “with climate change, the people who choose not to believe the science are doing so because it does not fit their world view… For the last 60 years or so, that consensus has been that the world is warming due to increased C02 from the burning of fossil fuels…Yet still, people refuse to believe the science. Denialists, like anti-vaxxers do not understand the science or the scientific method that underpins these discoveries.” It is of note that Mark wrote this before we had any notice of the coronavirus.

Obviously disgusted with the MPs stance, Gippsland doctor Rob Fair noted on twitter: “It’s profoundly disappointing – and unacceptable – to see Gippsland federal politicians promoting harmful medical misinformation. Be sure to vote this coming election!” Former Baw Baw Shire Council mayor and author of Get Elected Ruth McGowan tweeted about the “concerning statement from my local MP. Curious how he can physically sit in Parliament a[t] t[he] m[oment]? Let alone ethically when the vast majority of his electorate is doing the right thing to protect each other and vulnerable citizens.”

As with his anti-science approach to medicine, Russell Broadbent has never spoken out about climate change. If he has, it is of little importance as he remains within a party that has done nothing on climate except greenwashing, absurdly promoted gas, and harbours a number of climate change deniers. The good news is that there is a climate independent and voices candidate, Deb Leonard, standing in Monash. You may not think climate change a top priority, but for most of us, our personal health and well-being is. It is time to follow our local doctor’s advice.

Hello CoPower, Goodbye Powershop

One of our early acts after shifting to Bairnsdale was to change our energy retailer from Energy Australia to Powershop. Powershop was then one of the few retailers offering green energy from renewables. Even though they were far from the cheapest, when combined with our 4 kw solar array and a 30 cent per kilowatt hour solar tariff our account was always in the black. When the tariff dropped down to 7 cents kwh we stayed with Powershop because of their strong green credentials. As well Powershop ran, for over a year, a demand response program where customers were rewarded for curtailing their power usage at short notice, in which we participated.

In November last year, fossil fuel multinational Shell purchased Powershop, and by midway through December the ABC noted “thousands of Australians are cutting ties with an energy retailer that sold itself on its clean and green credentials after it announced it was being bought by Shell”. The “ABC has since gathered data from Powershop’s competitors that indicates it has likely lost at least 6,000 customers following the announcement.” We were part of that exodus joining non-profit retailer CoPower (abbreviated from Co-operative Power).

Formerly ranked top in the Green Electricity Guide Sophie Vorath in One Step Off the Grid wrote the “latest national ranking of the green credentials of Australia’s electricity retailers has sent Powershop tumbling down the order” to number 10, even though the only change was in ownership, and they continued their same services. This is still a high ranking compared with AGL at forty-eight or Energy Australia at forty-five. CoPower is ranked eighth, working through Energy Locals who are ranked sixth.

The CoPower website states that it is a non-profit retailer with a number of member organisations including unions and environmental groups, sells the power at wholesale prices, and has a monthly membership charge. Our account is currently in the black but that is beside the point, as after twelve years of climate activism we could never tolerate working with Shell.

Independent spices up Monash election by Catherine Watson

(edited article in the Bass Coast Post*)

The selection of a credible independent candidate has added an element of uncertainty to the federal election for voters in the very safe Liberal seat of Monash. Voices for Monash, a citizen-led community group, has selected Deb Leonard, a Phillip Island small business owner and lawyer, as their candidate. Ms Leonard will be looking to unsettle veteran Liberal MP Russell Broadbent who has held the seat for 23 of the past 32 years.

Aged 71, Mr Broadbent surprised many when he announced he wanted another term despite never attaining high or even middling office. His anti-vax stance could hurt him in an electorate that is 95 per cent vaccinated. Since announcing last October that he was uncomfortable with aspects of Australia’s vaccination program, and suspicious of the vaccines themselves, he has kept a low profile. He has not responded to questions on his Facebook page about whether he has been vaccinated.

It’s not the first time Mr Broadbent has marched to a different beat. As his party went hard on “boat people”, he crossed the floor several times in support of a more humane refugee policy. He also voted against marriage equality in 2019 despite more than 70 per cent of Monash electors voting yes in the plebiscite. Neither stance hurt him at the 2019 election, with daylight between him and the ALP contender Jessica O’Donnell. Mr Broadbent recorded 46.3 per cent of the primary vote, almost enough to take it on his own, and ended up with 57.4 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. Ms O’Donnell, a former Baw Baw Shire councillor, has returned for another go but it seems unlikely an ALP candidate can win such a safe Liberal seat.

The Monash electorate (formerly McMillan) consists of Bass Coast, Baw Baw and South Gippsland shires, Moe-Newborough in the City of Latrobe, and very small parts of Cardinia and Yarra Ranges Shires. It has traditionally been a very safe Liberal seat. Koo Wee Rup and Lang Lang (both of which recorded a strong Liberal vote in 2019) were removed from electorate in last year’s redistribution, making the seat slightly more marginal. 

However, the huge gap between the two major parties gives an independent with a profile and a good campaign a chance to slip through. Disaffected Liberal and ALP voters may feel comfortable enough to vote for an independent. If Ms Leonard gets ahead of the Greens and the other minor parties, she would probably pick up most of the preferences from the Greens…It gives her an outside chance of knocking off the ALP, which scored just 29.5 per cent of the primary vote in 2019. And if she does that, she would probably win the election. The Greens have selected Mat Morgan, a Foster student, musician and climate activist who stood for South Gippsland Shire Council at last year’s election.

*full article here. Other commentary on Climate Independents here and here.

Finally a Federal (Climate) Election?

There has been a mushrooming of community based ‘voices’ groups around the country, most of whom have climate action as a priority platform. These include the ‘Voices for Monash’ group that recently advertised for a candidate and now has one. Many of these candidates – mostly, but not all, women – are being financially supported by Climate 200 * helping to overcome many of the disadvantages that all independent candidates face. Most of these candidates have strong platforms on climate change and/or renewable energy.

ABC journalist Rio Davis noted, “Voices for Monash has picked a candidate to run in this year’s Federal election. Phillip Island lawyer Deb Leonard will run in the seat of Monash on a platform of climate change action, establishing an independent corruption agency and promoting inclusive governance.”

For a number of reasons there has been a collapse in support for the LNP in the polls and the election will be called within three months. The Omicron strain of the Covid pandemic has certainly ‘thrown a spanner in the (political) works’ with a rapid spike in infections, an increasing death toll, overwhelmed testing facilities and health workers, and shortages in chemists and supermarkets. Until now, the nation has been sympathetic to our politician’s attempts to follow ‘best science’ but the decision in NSW, with Federal government support; to ‘let it rip’ has lost much of that.

The Climate 200 organisation is only supporting independent candidates in coalition held seats. Besides climate, other issues of concern include integrity of parliament and women’s issues. Many of their candidates also have strong ‘liberal’ credentials (in the true sense of the word) and have support from the centre and conservative side of politics. The support from Climate 200 is mainly financial, but includes legal and political advice.

There are a number of ‘wild cards’ in this election including how influential the Murdoch factor will be, and the effect of Clive Palmer’s advertising campaign. I suspect that they lose as many votes as they gain, especially in their association with the anti-vaxxers. Also a disastrous performance by the Liberal Party may lead to a long awaited split, if two or more of their safe seats fall to the climate independents or voices candidates.

In Monash it is difficult to predict at this early stage how Deb Leonard will go. The burgeoning publicity associated with the high profile candidates popping up across the country, and the good work of independent MPs Helen Haines and Zali Steggall, must be in her favour. Further the current sitting member’s stance on vaccination is controversial and probably disadvantageous. Also at the last State election the seat of Bass, part of Monash, returned an ALP member, making for a very interesting ballot. Perhaps this will be the climate election we have been waiting for?

*I am a financial supporter of this organisation.

Dirty Hydrogen by Chas Rose

(excerpts from an essay*)

The Carboniferous Period 359 – 299 million years ago (mya):  For over sixty million years the Earth was covered with tropical forests where the first land lizards crawled from the seas and the air teemed with flying insects. From these forests the air was enriched with oxygen and coal laid down.

Gippsland brown coal …was laid down between 50 to 15 mya. The land was covered with tropical rain forest until about 20 mya when a cooler drier climate occurred effecting the distribution of tree species.

During the 1700s the industrial age was born with the mining and burning of coal predominantly used to manufacture iron and steel. Later in the 1800s oil and gas were mined, initially for lighting and heating and later for motor vehicles and transport.

Over the past half million years CO2 levels have fluctuated between 150 ppm and 300 ppm in a fairly regular cycle, ascertained by ice core samples. More recently however we see that CO2 concentration has exceeded 400 ppm and steadily rising. Scientists attribute this to the burning of fossil fuels. We see a rise in mean ocean temperature, receding polar and glacial ice, rising sea levels and more extreme weather (floods and forest fires). Marine plankton and forests are the natural removers of CO2 from the atmosphere. Increased world human population, industrialization, wars and deforestation further aggravate the situation.

This presents chemists and engineers with a huge problem: what to do with the emitted carbon dioxide? The solutions are (i) Let it enter the atmosphere to be dealt with naturally (ii) Store it deep underground in stable rock formations. Neither of these solutions is satisfactory. Firstly, we have committed ourselves to zero emissions by mid-century via the ‘Paris Agreement’ and the follow up ‘Glasgow Accord’. So option (i) is out of the window.

Option (ii) seems plausible at first until we examine it closer. Is there such a thing as ‘stable rock formation? True, we have mined water, oil and natural gas that was held deep underground for millions of years but can we risk a situation of a sudden outpouring of millions of tons of CO2 at some future date? This might be caused by earth tremor or fracking or some other human activity long into the future when this storage has been forgotten.

The only clean hydrogen is that procured by simple electrolysis of water using solar electricity, producing both hydrogen and oxygen. As described earlier in this piece, coal, oil and natural gas were laid down over hundreds of millions of years. To return carbon to our atmosphere in just a couple of hundred years does indeed spell catastrophe for the biosphere. But it is of no use to blame past generations when Eco-science was in its infancy or poorly understood. With our current knowledge we must forge new ways to solve these environmental problems to preserve life on this planet as we know it.

*this is from a long article – an extension of an earlier blog on the same subject. The author noted that the dual thrust of his article included the danger of reducing oxygen in the atmosphere as well as increased carbon dioxide and asked that the full article be provided on request. Make the request here.

Rally Round the Dunes by Catherine Watson

First Published in the Bass Coast Post

MORE than 250 people braved strong easterly winds on the Inverloch surf beach on Wednesday January 12 to call for urgent action* to save the disappearing sand dunes. 

​They formed a line marking out where the dune face was in 2012 – now 70 metres out to sea – providing a graphic illustration of the rapid retreat of the dunes over the past 10 years.​

Philip Heath from the South Gippsland Conservation Society (SGCS) said Rally Round the Dunes was a chance for locals and supporters to show much they valued their beach.

While a long-term costal hazard adaptation plan is being developed, SGCS is calling for interim measures – sand renourishment and an extension of the existing wet sand fence – to protect the beach before predicted heavy swells wreak more havoc in autumn.

Bass Coast Mayor Michael Whelan told the rally the Inverloch beach was the “canary in the mine” for coastal erosion caused by climate change.

Calling for urgent action from the state and federal governments, he said the issue had to be tackled in a bipartisan manner.

SGCS and Friends of the Earth will present a petition to the Victorian Parliament in February.

*an earlier blog discussed the merits of short term versus long term action. See here.