Gippsland News & Views

Launch of the Tesla Charge Station in Traralgon

Yours truly and Greens Ian Onley (photoDave Hollis)
Yours truly and Greens Ian Onley (photoDave Hollis)

I, along with half a dozen other candidates in both Gippsland and the Senate, attended the launch of Gippsland Solars’ public electric car charging station on Thursday 9th. It was basically a media event with Matt from Win TV doing the rounds and interviewing all candidates and all of us in turn going for a trundle in one of the two Tesla vehicles present. Quite impressive and with photo ops galore.

The local member Darren Chester, who I have described elsewhere in this blog as a ‘climate dinosaur’, was of course present. It takes a fairly thick skin to stand with a smile on your face next to a revolutionary new transport mode and yet have extolled the benefits of coal and the fact that the valley has enough coal to last 500 years. And, as well, still be grouped with those parliamentarians politely described as ‘climate sceptics’.

Andy McCarthy of Gippsland Solar spoke of the marvellous opportunities for electric car tourism in Gippsland, that the energy for the charging was from solar panels and the use of the facility was free. He anticipates the number of electric vehicles in Gippsland will undergo massive growth. Andy noted that “Many of our solar customers are choosing to add a Tesla Powerwall or equivalent battery to maximise their solar power savings. It gives them control over the power they produce and consume, any time of day, completely independent from the power grid’s inequitable feed in tariffs.”

He added: “Solar battery and storage is becoming a complete solution for all power needs in our modern lives, and we want to take the lead in educating Gippslanders where this market is heading. The jobs and investment that this can unlock has no limit, and I would love to see the Gippsland region benefit from the jobs that this shift in the energy market will create.”

Here! Here! And a few kilometres away to the south the chimney stacks of Loy Yang are smoking – yesterday’s technology awaiting the ‘just transition’.

‘No CSG’ Photo Shoot in Howitt Park

Howitt Park Bairnsdale
Howitt Park Bairnsdale

About 30 of us gathered for photos in Howitt Park Bairnsdale (including former Mayor and Independent Senate candidate Mendy Urie) hoping to celebrate an announcement from the Premier Daniel Andrews that Victoria was to be the first state to ban unconventional gas mining outright. It was not to be. The statement instead said the decision had been deferred to August and that there would be more community consultation (sigh! for most of us the two year process has been long enough) and that the Premier would visit Bairnsdale.

Labor continues to disappoint – in Victoria where they have power approaching 2 years and federally where they aspire to it. If we cannot rein in our use of fossil fuels quickly and drastically, say by 2030 achieving 100% renewables, then any hope of keeping the warming of the planet to 1.5 or 2 degrees will become impossible. There are two steps that have to be done at all levels of government. The first and easiest is to stop any new fossil fuel development – coal, oil or gas – and the easiest of these is to just ban CSG outright. The second and far more difficult part is to convert to 100% renewable energy.

Perhaps because of the federal election with labor cautious and wary of putting so much as a foot out of line, any even mildly controversial decision by the state government is delayed. With the benign, mild campaigns of the major parties in this election we are left with a choice someone described as “between Tweedledum and tweedledummer”. (When will climate change become the continuous front page headline it deserves to be?) The announcement after considerable build up was another ‘fizzer’. Consequently the mood at the photoshoot was sombre and our Premier given the thumbs down.

Picketing the Pollies

picketing 2

Global warming or climate change is the ultimate issue now and will remain so for many years – definitely the rest of my life and almost certainly the rest of yours. The worst case scenarios threaten the existence of humanity itself. It therefore follows that we should adopt as many strategies as possible to expand the general awareness of the problem to the general population and seek to identify the more successful of these amongst them. One political tactic underused is picketing. In all the elections I have contested since 2008 (6) I have never had a TV interview and as far as I am aware appeared only once on local TV news which used old footage. The aim of picketing must be to increase exposure via the media. Primarily this is to spread the message of the need for decisive action on climate change. TV exposure is probably the best way to do this.

When Bronwyn Bishop spoke at the Bairnsdale RSL to a national party gathering in July 2013 a small group of us picketed the event with climate signs and a few lock the gate signs. We covered both entrances to the Club so that anyone entering had to go past us. The event was billed as a ‘Forum for Seniors’ and other local politicians were present including the member for Gippsland. I carried a two sided poster that read on one side “Carbon Budget, End of Coal Your Super in a Hole” and on the other “Climate Change, More Heat Stress, More Elderly Fatalities” which deliberately targeted the audience.

The presence of a number of politicians is a sure attraction for the media. Eventually the TV crews turned up and interviewed one of our number. Also this venue is highly visible on the main (Princes) highway and we garnered occasional support from those passing by tooting their horns. Election time is probably the best time to picket as this increases your exposure to both the public and the media. Over the years I have spoken at meetings that have been a complete waste of time and I wonder whether I would have been far better outside picketing the entrance.

On 19 May members of – including local Greens Gippsland candidate Ian Onley – picketed Darren Chester’s Traralgon office. It appears that the media presence at this event was minimal with a journalist from the Latrobe Valley Express in attendance. The local member was away with his leader in Heyfield and Lindenow doling out funds (bribes?), soaking up media opportunities and followed by almost all the local media. Thus where possible it is best to follow the politician or the media attraction rather than the place. Even a single, gutsy, picketer with a strong message and a poster or pamphlets may do the job.

La Nina and the next big flood?

Mitchell River Bairnsdale 2007 (The Age)

Mitchell River Bairnsdale 2007 (The Age)

Predicting the next big flood in Gippsland is almost impossible. But the El Nino and the La Nina both seem to bring us major, and extreme, weather events. The El Ninos are usually associated with severe droughts. The 1982/3 El Nino was a very strong drought followed by the Ash Wednesday bushfires which fortunately did not affect Gippsland. I remember the Tambo River being dry for miles without as much as a pool or puddle.

The 1997/98 El Nino brought on a short sharp drought in the Omeo district where small sand dunes formed in the lee of the foothills in the Little River Valley around Easter – a heartbreaking sight. In June the drought broke on an early Queen’s birthday weekend and was followed at the end of the month by torrential floods when half our annual rainfall – about 325mm – fell in one week. The rain washed the soil from the bare paddocks into drains, creeks and culverts. Houses were isolated and a small number inundated. There was classic TV footage of Crisps low level bridge floating down Swifts Creek and there were substantial losses in drought weakened stock. This was the last time a severe El Nino was followed by a La Nina.

The two events are not necessarily associated and we have had La Ninas in 1989, 1998, 2007, 2010-12. They are generally associated with heavier rainfall than usual and frequently associated with flooding in Gippsland and elsewhere in Victoria. Thus we have had floods in 1989, 1998, 2007, 2011 and 2012. There was widespread flooding across north central and north western Victoria with the last La Nina. So much water fell on Australia in this last event that the world average sea level actually dropped by a millimetre or two. These natural weather events are compounded by global warming – each succeeding El Nino appears to be getting warmer and drier. Each La Nina appears wetter – with the warming atmosphere holding more moisture.

Now in 2016 we are just coming out of the latest and most severe El Nino. Most of Gippsland and especially the east has escaped the severe drought usually associated with this event although as you travelled west from Sale the rainfall dropped off and some parts of South Gippsland were dry. In many parts of the western district the drought has been severe. Now the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting we have a 50/50 chance of a La Nina. So far much of Gippsland has escaped the severe effects of the El Nino but the La Nina may be yet to come. Are we to expect a flood of 1998 proportions or bigger? And if so, where and when will it fall? Is it too late to put our money on June or July?

Letter re Glenaladale & other local mining projects (publ. 13/5)

Mine free Glenaladale
Mine free Glenaladale

Thanks for your letters (Advertiser 6.5) on the proposed mineral sands mines at Glenaladale and Mossiface, the tenor of which I wholeheartedly support. In a submission to the East Gippsland Shire ‘Economic Growth Strategy’ early last year I wrote: “It should be recognized that … there is a conflict between the (Shire’s) directions outlined in the(ir) Sustainability and Economic Growth Strategies. In particular both forestry and mining activities as currently practiced are both unsustainable and are major offenders in terms of carbon emissions. They are the industries likely to suffer most with some form of carbon emissions pricing introduced by a state or federal government. It is therefore wise to direct growth elsewhere where possible.”

I concluded that the mining “industry is carbon intensive. To be sustainable mining projects should be carbon neutral…The energy used to truck the product to the shipping terminal should be considered when calculating their carbon budget… All mining projects should demonstrate their sustainability by being carbon neutral before receiving any support from the Shire.” As well as the energy consumed in mining and transporting the mineral any tree removal should also be considered an integral part of a company’s carbon budget and should be offset. (Although as one Glenaladale farmer recently remarked ‘you don’t get much shade from 200 seedlings!’)

Perhaps enhanced by a strong El Nino, the planet has been warming at an extraordinary rate. The last 4 months around the globe have been, in turn, the hottest ever recorded. The Arctic and parts of the tropics have been experiencing record temperatures and bushfires have forced the evacuation of, and partly destroyed, a large city in Alberta. Somewhat ironically, this city is closely connected with that major greenhouse gas polluter, tar sands mining. (So far this event has generally been ignored in Australia and the media – like our Minister for the Environment – are yet to connect the dots.)

All the major mining projects proposed in East Gippsland over the last decade, at Benambra, Nowa Nowa and now at Glenaladale and Mossiface, appear to be large emitters of Greenhouse gases. Like the Coal Seam Gas projects threatening the Lakes hinterland and much of South Gippsland none of these projects are sustainable. All have other major defects. No wonder our farmers want to ‘Lock their Gates’ to them. The people of East Gippsland should demand thorough and independent Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) be required for each of these projects. Each EIS should also include a Carbon Emissions budget and any mining project that is not carbon neutral should not even be considered.

My Blog and the Election

Election 1

I have just been nominated as the endorsed candidate for the Renewable Energy Party in the Federal seat of Gippsland. It is my intention to keep the campaign over the next month separate from this blog. I will post my press releases and other information on my election campaign here.  What follows is a general appraisal of the election so far and some specific comments on parties and policies.

It goes without saying that of the major parties the Greens have by far and away the best policies on climate and renewable energy. The ALP have some fair policies but appear reluctant to push the issue because of ‘wedge’ politics – being caught between the Lib/Nats just waiting to launch a scare campaign on the new ‘great big tax’ and the Greens pushing for much more action on the matter. The Lib/Nats have no effective climate or renewables policies and their record over the last 3 years on these matters has been shameful. Their current Direct Action program was previously described by Malcolm Turnbull as a ‘fig leaf’ to cover for ‘no action’. There have been numerous other criticisms of Direct Action including that it is both expensive and ineffective. The Lib/Nats also have a strong rump of ‘climate deniers’ in their midst who appear to have tied the Prime Minister’s hands on implementing any useful policies.

Thus we have a situation where neither of the major parities want climate change or renewable energy to be major campaign issues. Though trying much harder to make climate change an issue there are also problems with the Greens. Farmers often, perhaps unthinkingly, associate this party with the Animal Liberation movement as I have been reliably informed by a farmer in our local ‘Lock the Gate’ movement. Again, rightly or wrongly, they are considered to be on the ‘left’ of politics and therefore with limited appeal in rural electorates. Furthermore their policies on climate and renewables are often lost or submerged in the everyday political process when they should have top priority at all times. I have often been called a ‘closet’ green and a ‘green independent’ in previous elections but reject these attempts at ‘pigeonholing’ as I have always been aiming to get votes from across the political spectrum. Farmers and country people have the most to lose from harsh climate change and, somewhat paradoxically, much to gain from serious mitigation policies.

Climate change is a paramount problem for us all, regardless of race, gender, age, religion or economic status. It affects us all now and is getting progressively worse. It follows that we should, as soon as possible, have a bipartisan and very serious approach from all our elected officials on climate and renewables. The regressive factors of the adversarial system, of a near monopoly in the mainstream media (combined with scientific illiteracy) and big money from vested interests in politics must be overcome. Perhaps on July 2 we will make a small step in the right direction.

Climate Change and the Media in Gippsland

Cape Grim Keeling Curve

Recently ABC TV’s Media Watch canned the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) for running a front page story on the CSIRO Cape Grim station carbon dioxide levels reaching 400ppm in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. I thought the TV presentation neither ‘fair’ nor ‘factual’ as it claimed. The distortion was enough to persuade me to write a comment on ABC’s website which I have never done before – for any website. (see here). With regards the overwhelming threat of global warming my ‘two bobs worth’ on the ABC webpage was a condemnation of the media response (basically negligible) and the actions, or no action, of the Murdoch media (bordering on criminal negligence) on this issue. Peter Hannam responded (18.5) to the Media Watch critique with the rhetorical headline ‘When should we care about Climate Change?’ and leading with the answer ‘about 30 years ago.’ Hannam’s reply set me to thinking about local media.

Due to being isolated in the foothills for most of my life I am only familiar with the printed media of East Gippsland News (EGN) and to a much lesser extend ABC radio. Occasionally now I see the Gippsland Times in our library, rarely the Latrobe Valley Express and never the Yarram Standard. I have never possessed a TV so am reliant on information from friends, and more recently, in the case of the ABC TV iview, watch some programs (such as Media Watch) on my computer.

In terms of reporting on climate change generally the ABC and Fairfax media are the best of a bad bunch – in the case of the Murdoch media terribly bad. Apart from election time, the EGN – East Gippsland News, Bairnsdale Advertiser, Lakes Post and Snowy River Mail- have never had a front page news story on climate change or its effects with one notable exception. (They have missed a number of opportunities including the recent catches of Black Marlin off Lakes Entrance associated with our warming oceans) The exception was a report on a presentation by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki where the reporter misinterpreted Dr Karl’s attempt at dark humour.

The media and the two major parties dictate the issues on the agenda in the elections (more on this soon) and it is only the presence of the minor parties and independents that bring climate change and its related issues such as renewable energy to any prominence. To give EGN their due they have almost always published my press releases on this subject – once or twice on the front page. At the last election as an Independent I made several radio interviews and as far as I am aware had one fleeting appearance on TV news. But it remains that, global warming, the most pressing and potentially disastrous threat to us all, is hardly ever found in our local media except at election times. That alone is justification for those such as myself to stand for office. And do so as often as one can.

Voting Below the Line in the Senate

Senate Voting ticket (Morey)

Voting below the line in the Senate has become a whole lot easier. Simply voting 1 to 12 is enough to cast a valid vote. There are many advantages of the new system. You can vote for members of the party you favour rather than in the order dictated by party organisations. You no longer have to cast a vote for parties you don’t like. Stephen Morey (who created the amusing ballot paper image above) noted “Suppose you are a Liberal voter but don’t like the order of candidates as shown on the ballot paper. You may number the squares of the six Liberal candidates in any order – provided the numbers are sequential and each is different.”

This important change may enable a ‘rusted on’ Liberal supporter concerned about climate change still to vote for their party but put the climate deniers last on their preferences or omit them altogether. For example in Tasmania they could target Senator Abetz and the 3rd candidate on their list – also a climate change denier whose name I’ve forgotten – and put them 5 and 6 on the ‘conservative’ ballot, or leave them off altogether. Likewise in SA Senator Benardi could be left off altogether with the conservative preferences perhaps going to the Xenothon team. In Victoria I am not certain how the ‘conservative climate’ voter should go, but generally the Nationals – mostly climate change deniers – can be left off.

In 2013 when voting in the last Federal Election I opted to Vote below the Line in the Senate. I wished to give my first preference to the No Coal Seam Gas party as I considered this a very important local issue. But I did not trust the way the parties allocated their preferences. So I began the laborious task of numbering my preferences from 1 to (I think) 97. After about 15 minute of numbering starting with the candidates I preferred and then numbering backwards from the candidates I distinctly disliked (Climate Skeptics) I found that I had made a mistake when the form was almost completed. The electoral officer laughed when I apologetically asked for another ballot paper “One old gentleman” she replied “came back three times”. The changes to the Electoral Act mean that this time I, and many others, will be able to vote below the line in the Senate with ease.

A Cataclysmic Storm and Lakes Entrance

Burchardi Flood (Wikipedia)
Burchardi Flood (Wikipedia)

Recently I blogged that the Lakes Entrance foreshore could disappear overnight with a cataclysmic storm related to sea level rise and climate change. Naturally these events probably occurred only 1 in 500 or 1 in a 1000 years. One such event was known as the Burchardi flood which demolished the island of Strand (or Nordstrand) in the North Friesian Islands in 1634. The island was overwhelmed and pulverised by a cataclysmic storm that reduced the land area from over 500 sq. Ks to about 50 sq. Ks in three small islands, and 6000 people were drowned. I am aware of this event because I am descended from one of the survivors.

Modern storms such as Hurricane Sandy are similar but these are now definitely, and probably heavily, influenced by man-made global warming. Wikipedia noted that: “According to NCAR senior climatologist Kevin E. Trenberth, “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be” and that “the storm was caused by “natural variability” but adds that it was “enhanced by global warming””. It remains a challenge for science to identify how much influence global warming has on these events.

What we do know is that climate change increases the frequency of these superstorms so that, for instance, a 1 in 100 year event may become 1 in 10. We also know that the intensity of these storms is increased dramatically, possibly exponentially. Also the geographical dimensions of these extreme weather events – the area over which they occur – is becoming progressively larger. To the slowly increasing sea level rise extra hazards such as heavy rainfall, wave size and storm surge can be added. If these events were to coincide with a King tide and if Bruuns Rule (where the coast retreats 100 times more than the sea level rise) is anywhere near accurate then the fate of Lakes Entrance and many similar coastal towns may quite possibly be similar to the Strand.

As the frequency of these storm events increases over time then the chances of these various factors coinciding also increases. When the superstorm comes the foreshore dunes between the Ocean and Cunningham Arm will possibly disappear overnight with enormous damage inflicted on downtown Lakes Entrance – if not demolishing it altogether. All the buildings on the foreshore will disappear, the Esplanade become the new coast and the modern Meyer St footbridge be the bridge to nowhere. It is not a matter of if, but when. The longer term message is that Lakes Entrance will, sooner or later, definitely be going under.

My Failed TV Advert?

During the 2013 Federal Election campaign I stood as a ‘climate emergency’ independent in the seat of Gippsland. My campaign manager and I had big hopes that a 15 second TV advertisement would alert the voting public of Gippsland to the dangers of climate change and the offer of renewable energy as a partial, but attractive, solution to the ‘climate emergency’. It was to be the key part of my ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ campaign. But the campaign was stressed from day one with having to collect 100 nominator’s signatures (doubled from the previous election) and putting up a $1000 bond (also doubled). My finances were strictly limited as I had recently retired and was in the process of downsizing from my place in Ensay to a unit in Bairnsdale.

The plan was to collect substantial donations from a dozen or so solar installation businesses and, in anticipation of reasonable funding, we went ahead to have the advert made. For this there was little change out of another $1000. Our fundraising hit a ‘brick wall’ when we received only one donation from our intended sources. With the advertisement made there was no choice but to scrape together as many funds as possible to run the ad. The reality was that for another $1000 the only part of the viewing day we could get any decent amount of air time was to run the ad in the ‘off-peak’ (middle of the day) with a small number in ‘shoulder’ (early morning, late evening) and none in ‘peak’ viewing time. Had we chosen to run the ad in the ‘peak’ we would have had less than 4 minutes of viewing time in total spread over 3 weeks. This was all on one channel only. (Hardly comparable with the millions poured into the campaign by Clive Palmer. The Palmer party advertising blitz must be considered a success. By doing so he ‘bought’ his own seat in the lower house and 3 seats in the senate. In Gippsland the PUP candidate from the Gold Coast achieved the magical 4%)

So basically the ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ ad appeared to be a failure. However an analysis of my voting results booth by booth indicated otherwise. Apart from 2 local booths, where I was well known, my best performances were with hospitals and retirement villages – all but one returning above the 4% needed for Electoral Office funding. I concluded that these were the booths where the advert would most likely have been seen. Unfortunately my overall performance was just 2.25% still a long way from the 4% and much further still from the target needed to make the sitting member sit up and take notice – at least 10%. One wonders if we had been able to run the advert for at least 4 minutes in peak viewing time and as a luxury, some time on the other 2 local channels, how different the result would have been. Just a tiny sniff of the funds that Clive had at his disposal might have done the trick.