Gippsland News & Views

We are in a Climate Emergency Part 1 by Tony Peck

This table indicates the different impact of 1.5ºC of warming compared to 2ºC. With current actions we cannot stay below 1.5ºC but 2ºC is possible if we treat the threat as an emergency and act now.

We have reached the point where even conservative journals such as Scientific American have come out with the statement ‘Given the circumstances, Scientific American has agreed with major news outlets worldwide to start using the term “climate emergency” in its coverage of climate change.’ (April 2021)

Since the industrial revolution carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have increased as a direct result of burning oil, gas and coal. With an increase in CO2 from 280ppm to the current 420ppm the global average temperature has already risen by more than 1ºC. These greenhouse gases are effectively creating a blanket around the planet that retains heat that would otherwise dissipate into space. As a consequence there is a rapid increase in global land, air and ocean temperatures. There have been previous warming events that have taken place over many thousands or even millions of years. The warming we are now experiencing is different. It has been triggered by human actions and is happening many times more quickly than ever in the planet’s history.

There has been an amazing amount of research done over many decades and scientists are now in agreement that we are clearly causing this warming. They are also in agreement that we can stop it and eventually may even be able to reverse some of the warming. The consensus on what is happening and why is overwhelming with more than 97% of climate scientists agreeing on the cause and key actions to halt more dangerous warming. The scientific consensus on what will happen if we do nothing is also overwhelming. The predictions include a planet with regions that are uninhabitable, rising severity of storms and floods and more severe heat events with longer, deeper droughts and regular major fire events.

An emergency? Decisive and dramatic actions in response to any life threatening situation is the best option – experts are giving the clear message that avoiding climate change’s most catastrophic impacts is essential and urgent. Time to take heed!

During the terrible, unprecedented fires that ravaged Australia’s East Coast and most of East Gippsland in 2019-20, 33 lives were lost directly from the fires. During this disaster smoke caused a further 417 deaths (MJA Vol 213 Issue 6) due to smoke from the fires. Projections suggest hundreds more died from these heat events across Australia over this same period. Extreme heat events and extreme fires will be more frequent and more severe with even a 2ºC increase in temperatures.

During the COVID pandemic we have seen countries that used the best available science were able avoid the worst outcomes. Australia and New Zealand are in this successful group. Countries where action was not immediately based on science have had a very different trajectory. America, Brazil, India are some examples among the many where best scientific advice was ignored and hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths have resulted.

We can see a glimmer of light on the horizon with some recent attention to global warming. Biden’s election in the US has added a sense of urgency and increase in global ambition. The USA, Japan, England, most European and many other countries are committing to far more realistic targets than originally proposed in Paris. (to be continued)

*The Author is a member of EGCAN, Bairnsdale XR and a contributor to this blog.

The Nationals, Gippsland and Climate Change

The recent change in leadership in the National Party replacing Michael McCormack with the climate change denier Barnaby Joyce has brought the question of climate change action to the fore. With the demotion by Joyce of Darren Chester from the ministry, the split in the Nationals has become public. The public perception of the Nationals has long been the ‘big coal’ party. Six years ago, even Darren Chester was part of this faction and I wrote a blog calling him a climate change dinosaur. Since then he has modified his views as his electorate has experienced severe drought, heat waves and bushfires – all made more extreme under a warming globe.

In the middle of our ‘black summer’ an EGCAN delegation visited Darren to discuss climate change and he told them he did “not share [their] same level of concern”. The delegation “left seriously disappointed” and wondered if they “should have been harder and more critical. With all that has happened since and indeed with major fires set to burn until they run out of fuel… a dramatically more effective response is required from our regional politicians.” Darren accepts the science of climate change but until now has made no statement about it. Following his sacking Darren labelled his new leader ‘incoherent’ and wrote in the Herald Sun (2.7) that the “Nationals fight isn’t Joyce v Chester, but 1950 v 2050” and the “hard line Nationals” are locked “into a climate denial agenda”.

An article by Richard Willingham of the ABC noted that the “Nationals’ decision to replace Mr McCormack with Barnaby Joyce prompted Victorian leader Peter Walsh to move a disaffiliation motion at a recent Victorian Nationals board meeting. It was not passed, but it highlighted the deep anger among Victorian MPs about the behaviour of their federal colleagues” and “Deputy leader Steph Ryan… is adamant that voters in rural seats want to see action on climate. ‘I actually think this is an extraordinary opportunity for our party to argue for a strong investment in research and development, for agriculture, but also for different sectors across our communities,’ she told the ABC. ‘We know this week; we’ve seen a huge heatwave across places like Siberia and Canada. If we were to have similar conditions replicated here, we will have farmers who lose crops, we will have infrastructure that fails, and the health of our communities will be put at risk. So, the stakes are high. And I think our voters are asking us to do more.’”

Willingham also noted that the “first motion passed at this year’s Victorian Nationals conference welcomed moves by agricultural industries to achieve zero net emissions and put in place policies to support farmers to achieve this goal.’” The conference was in Wonthaggi and members of the Bass Coast CAN demonstrated outside. Both Peter Walsh and Steph Ryan spoke to the demonstrators. One participant concluded: “by speaking with us…they got to 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…”

I have thought for a long time that the Liberal Party was a split waiting to happen over the climate issue and it appears that the same applies to the Nationals. Perhaps the hard work of the climate activists across the region is now starting to tell.

Carbon Farming at Ventnor by Catherine Watson

Bob Davie, left, with fellow researchers Roy and Mark Roberts at Bimbadeen

Excerpts from an article in the Bass Coast Post

Twenty years ago when Bob Davie talked about carbon farming he was regarded as a bit of a nutter.  For the past decade he’s been preaching to the converted, people like him who understand the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide, and offsets and insets. But with a recent double-page spread in the Herald Sun, the Phillip Island farmer has now entered the mainstream. As a pioneer of carbon farming, Bob couldn’t be happier. He thinks people – including many people in power – have suddenly “got it”. “It’s going to happen… I didn’t think I’d live to see the day.”

Now into his 80s, Bob is helping to lead a revolution in farming. In August he’ll address 250 farmers at a beef farmers conference in Bairnsdale. Where once the farmers might have listened reluctantly – or even skipped a session related to climate change – this time he can expect a captive audience. Bob’s message will be that farmers have nothing to fear from zero emissions targets. In fact they have everything to gain. He echoes climate academic Ross Garnaut, who believes carbon credits could be as valuable a commodity on the world market as wool.

They are a counter to the National Party, which argues that farmers should be exempt from meeting emissions targets. The tide has turned, says Bob. Meat and Livestock Australia is already committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. Farmers want to know how to transition and how to make it work. “I believe most farmers can become carbon neutral fairly easily. I believe a lot of farmers are already carbon neutral and don’t know it.”

“I’m really pleased it’s finally taking off. There are more and more inquiries and articles in the papers. It feels good. I’ve always felt I’ve been on the right track.   Bob says he’s been carbon farming for 65 years – “45 years without knowing I was doing it.” Bob’s carbon farming experiments have been carried out at Bimbadeen, the Davie family’s 140-hectare beef property at Ventnor…

For the full article go here

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.