Gippsland News & Views

A Plea for a government of National Unity on Climate Change 28.10

parliament house Canberra

With the current business as usual scenario the planet is still heading for a warming of far greater than 2 degrees. There is mounting evidence that even a 2 degrees rise will be disastrous for most of the planet. Even now with a warming so far of about .8 of one degree the human occupied planet is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and bushfires. Climate Change has been a major factor in the current Syrian crisis and the refugees flooding Europe are the just the first of the climate refugees. Refugees from a number of Pacific Islands that are regularly flooded by storms and high tides may be next.

It follows that it is high time that the overwhelming issue of climate change took priority over party. A government of National Unity on Climate Change will probably be the precursor to an Emergency (war-time style) government. Major changes in direction, policy, finances will be required across all levels of government where measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change become paramount. It may be necessary at least to name and shame, and possibly make illegal, resistance to the required changes.

The immediate aim of climate activists across Australia should be to use the system to cleanse denialists from both houses of parliament. The preferential system makes this possible. Preference trading should be ignored by all people and parties of goodwill and be replaced with preferences for strong climate candidates and against the climate deniers. This tactic is especially needed in the Senate to help the major parties dispose of some of their ‘albatrosses’ like Senator Benardi.

At the moment a government of national unity would be comprised of about half the Liberals, most of Labor, all the Greens, some Independents and even perhaps one or two Nationals. It would have an overwhelming majority in both houses. It could even be led by Malcolm Turnbull who, of the leaders of both major parties, has been most outspoken on climate change in the past.


Planning for a Just Transition in the Valley – from Coal to Renewables (25.10)



The term ‘just transition’ has been bandied about by all and sundry recently but we need to ask “What does a Just Transition mean?” It certainly involves a substantial amount of planning but both the previous State government and the current one seem to have little idea of the processes involved. The Greens are correct in their recent call for an overseeing or co-ordinating body on this matter. I have suggested a number of times that perhaps the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) can be revived from its current hollow shell to co-ordinate and direct proceedings so that the changeover from coal based to renewable energy is gradual, smooth and seamless but done as quickly as possible.

The planner’s (SECV or otherwise) first task should be the elimination of unemployment in the Valley whilst looking for a complete shutdown of the Hazelwood Power Station within 12 months as the first major steps in the transition. This closure of the nation’s most carbon intensive power station should be a priority and follow full employment. Considerable finances and co-ordination will be required. The ample funds should be directed towards providing both renewable energy and local employment. Basic employment programs such as tree planting or a new greatly expanded apprenticeship program in the various renewable energy areas should be considered as possible means to help soak up the local pool of unemployed.

The planners should also be looking at means of utilising the current infrastructure as much as possible including closely examining possible power sources as pumped hydro and geothermal energy. Study programs on these matters should be implemented at Churchill’s Federation University – perhaps in conjunction with the Melbourne University Energy Institute – and used to assist and direct planning.

One thing the ‘just transition’ will not mean is that workers and miners will transfer out of their current jobs into 6 figure salaries doing unskilled labour. There will be still be highly paid jobs but they will be in different areas. One possibly is the technical and physical aspects of asbestos removal during power station rehabilitation. The power station owners, and in particular GDF/Suez, should be gradually downsizing now, retiring employees and generators at appropriate times and with proper payments. They should also be carefully examining ways in which they can utilise their resources beyond coal. A transition of this sort will not only benefit the workers and residents of the valley – it will benefit us all.



Living with (and beside) a Wind Generator 21.10

Windmill and solar panels

In 1982 a reconditioned wind generator was installed at our newly built ‘mudbrick mansions’. It was to be our main power source for 16 years along with a small backup petrol generator and 200 amp hours of lead acid battery storage. The generator was rated at 300 watts. The total cost of the whole system including tower, reconditioned generator and blade, a small back-up petrol generator, battery bank, inverter, dual power wiring and installation was less than one third the cost of getting the mains power brought to the house. The genius behind it all was my good friend (and ex-student) James Poynton. This, along with a swap of an old trail bike for the tower, and lots of help from friends and neighbours, got everything up and running over one hot summer.

To minimise power lost through resistance the tower was situated close to the house. And the power system went through a number of upgrades over the years. The problem with the wind generator was matching supply with demand. For a lot of the time the generator was physically turned off with the blade feathered to the wind. For the windy months of winter, it was turned off frequently whilst there were also still periods, sometimes lengthy, in autumn. One experiment was to use a rotary inverter to run a dishwasher (with the heater disconnected) usually during windy periods. Another improvement was to double the battery storage.

Until the end of its life mechanical problems were few, and aside from once losing the magnetism of the outer casing and annual maintenance, the system required a daily battery check-up and sometimes turning the generator on or off according to the level of power storage. It was definitely a ‘hands on’ operation. The back-up petrol generator, when brought into use to charge the batteries during still periods, also pumped water and was sometimes used for the rare times clothes needed ironing. One quickly got used to the sounds and rhythms of the wind generator and it was easy to detect when electricity was being generated or if there was a problem with the system.

On the downside the generator blade did kill birds. When charging the blade was like an aeroplane propeller – invisible. The total kill was about one a year – exclusively magpies which was the most common species in the area. By comparison about twice that number of birds – and of a wider variety of species – were killed annually by flying into our house windows.

Excluding one’s labour and depreciation costs we operated with free power. With the help of amazing advances in solar PVs and energy efficiency we continue to do so. And it goes without saying that I am a strong supporter of wind power. It is the modern wind generator that is challenging the dominance of coal in our electrical supply system. Without a rapid phase out of coal and other fossil fuels mankind will be condemned to the most diabolical scenarios of global warming.


Gippsland Climate Change Network Meeting & Forum at Warragul (18.10)

gccn_logo small

The Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) held their AGM in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria at the Federation Training Conference Room at the Warragul Railway Station on the 14th. A few of the more adventurous participants used the train to commute there. The GCCN meeting was ably and quickly conducted by President Cr. Darren McCubbin of Wellington Shire – although the acoustics of the room left a bit to be desired. Board members elected include Beth Ripper of Stratford and Ian Southall of Mirboo North. One position on the board of management is still vacant.

Luke Wilkinson Gippsland representative of Sustainability Victoria conducted the Forum on “State Government Community Conversations on Climate Change Action in Gippsland”. Local organisation the Baw Baw Sustainability Network were well represented and member Natasha Brown spoke to the meeting on the wide range of her group’s activities. Rebecca Lamble, Environment Officer with the East Gippsland Shire Council, spoke at some length on the Shire’s achievements so far, including converting street lighting in the township of Bairnsdale to LED lighting. Several short videos were shown.

It is unfortunate that the segmented nature of our State administration severely hampers Sustainability Victoria’s efforts. Whilst they are working very hard on climate change another department is still issuing brown coal exploration licences. But it is certainly a positive to have a State Government in power that recognises that there is much work to be done on climate change. It is even more important that we support the GCCN and Sustainability Victoria and let all the politicians know of the immense challenges before us.

Sustainability Victoria are conducting these forums or “community conversations” across Victoria. Unfortunately they have received minimal publicity. They will be conducting another “Community Conversations on Climate Change” on Monday 26 October from 11am-2pm at the Segue Community Hub & Arts Café Stratford. If you are interested in attending contact Beth Ripper at



Why Not Grow Industrial Hemp in Gippsland? (15.10)

Ind. Hemp

The recently announced ‘medicinal marijuana’ trials appear to be a first for Victoria. Harriet Shing MLC has been touting Gippsland as the ideal place to grow this crop -which it certainly is. Industrial Hemp should also be considered and promoted. Industrial hemp, with only trace elements of the drug component, should be seriously considered as a major crop across the region for two immediate benefits with regards climate change.

Firstly this crop may be able to partially or completely replace wood pulp obtained from logging our native forests. It is becoming increasingly clear that these forests must be preserved and protected as carbon stores and carbon sinks. To make sure that paper manufacturers don’t turn to destroying other native forests a practical and economic source of fibre should be found. Industrial hemp may be the perfect substitute. As well hemp may be used as bio-energy crop to produce either electricity or liquid fuel and biochar. Is it possible that hemp can be cultivated as “carbon negative” product – that it can actually draw down more carbon than is used to produce it and sequester it as ‘biochar’? There are a wide range of other uses of this plant including food, clothing, building materials and products used in the car industry. It would appear that almost every part of the plant can be utilised. 

Industrial hemp as a crop is not catholic in its tastes and can be grown on a wide range of soils with minimal inputs of fertilisers etc. But at present there are too many barriers to its cultivation including a restrictive licencing system and a status quo that treats all hemp varieties as a harmful drug. Perhaps the new Victorian trials will change this. What is needed is some information on the economics of Industrial Hemp cultivation and whether it can actually provide any of the claimed climate benefits.

Historically, in the late Nineteenth Century the flats of the Mitchell and Tambo Rivers grew hops, hemp and opium poppies. These crops were probably cultivated in many other places in Gippsland. Perhaps it is time that industrial hemp is given a decent trial free from all the encumbrances of bureaucracy.


Ruminant Methane, Fossil Fuels and Climate Change (11.10)

Source GHGs Oz

There has been a lot of ‘noise’ on the social media recently stating that the methane produced by beef cattle and other ruminants is the main cause of climate change and the answer to it is to stop eating beef. The source for this has been incorrectly attributed to the most recent study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publication. It is true that methane is one of the main greenhouse gases, that in its early stages it is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, that it eventually degrades to CO2 in the atmosphere, and it is produced in the digestive systems of ruminants. However it is not by any measurement anywhere near the main source of greenhouse gas.

Tim Flannery in his recent publication Atmosphere of Hope noted that “three fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – lie at the heart of the climate problem” and that the “burning of coal to generate electricity remains the world’s single largest source of carbon pollution.” The World Wildlife Fund noted that in 2008 72% of Australia’s greenhouse gases came from stationary and transport energy related uses compared with 15.9% from agriculture – mainly cattle and fertilisers. Of that part of energy use 51% came from the stationary generation of power – mainly Flannery’s coal fired power stations. One can assume that these figures are roughly the same today in Australia and similar throughout developed nations.

The stories appear to have originated from vegan organisations. It may be a sad example of an otherwise legitimate cause pushing its own barrow and promoting that cause to the detriment of the whole. As the above information on methane indicates much of what they are saying about greenhouse gases and climate is true but the final extrapolation from IPCC information is not. Unfortunately this is a tactic similar to that used by climate change deniers. The end result is often general confusion and the diversion of energy away from the obvious target – closing down the use of coal as a source of energy.

We should try to reduce all aspects of human greenhouse gas sources by as many different means as possible – this is the “silver shotgun” approach advocated by Washington & Cook in their Climate Change Denial (2011). Some things are far easier for individuals to adopt – the lifestyle choices – and we should all do everything we can to try to avert the ‘climate emergency’. But it is essential that we keep our eye on the main game – coal and coal generated electricity – and are not diverted from it.

Tim Flannery and Extreme Weather Events (7.10)


Bell-curve CC

In the first chapter of his new book Atmosphere of Hope: searching for solutions to the climate crisis Tim Flannery spends some time examining extreme weather events. He noted that:  “The contemporary world is changing fast; few changes have been as profound or disturbing as the increases in extreme weather right across the planet…When in late 2013, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and environment minister Greg Hunt argued that there was no link between the warming trend and extreme bushfires, they were arguing not only against science, but also contrary to common sense” and “the link between extreme weather and climate change is a critical area for public understanding because it is the devastating extremes, rather than a shift in averages, that have the greatest impact.”

Flannery cites the example of the 374 “excess deaths” that occurred in the heatwave leading up to Black Saturday 2009 – excess deaths caused by an extreme event influenced by climate change. On the Australian Open Tennis tournament he wrote: “that it is Melbourne’s moment in the sun… during the 2014 Open, a heatwave of unprecedented ferocity struck Melbourne… [and] the stadium built to host the event turned into a furnace. Finally the health risks to both players and spectators became too much, and the multi-million dollar tournament was suspended. Australia’s growing heatwave crises rarely make global news, but the suspension of the Australian Open made page one in newspapers around the world”.

Flannery uses a diagram of a normal or bell curve (see above) to illustrate how a small shift in the average temperatures means a substantial increase in extreme weather. The reality may be even worse than the diagram depicts for if the curve becomes a little flatter then the increase in extreme events (including the odd cold one) will be greater.

This is the most important book on climate change from an Australian perspective to be released in a long time. Flannery remains a beacon of light in an otherwise dull Aussie political panorama. I had originally hoped to be able use the library copy for a review of this book for my blog but since I have yet to pass the first chapter it is obviously a required purchase for my reference collection – and for later blogs.


Confusing Weather & Climate – A Cold Gippsland Winter? (4.10)

Oz Winter 1

Pub talk often says: “I’m ‘x’ amount of years old and haven’t noticed it getting warmer. Climate change is a load of bull.” Or words to that effect. But this is an anecdotal account of which there are literally billions – not all the same – and limited to the one small place on the earth an individual occupies. It is thus a perception of weather over time. But even that is an imperfect one as it refers only to our waking hours. Climate measures temperatures over 24 hours with accurate records now going back more than 100 years.

Climate also refers to space – so we can talk of a Gippsland climate, or a Victorian climate, an Australian climate or an Earth climate. An article in the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) outlines some of the confusion that arises between weather and climate. Many locals, including some in the media, have been speaking of Gippsland’s cold winter. But it turns out that statistically the eastern half of our region had an ‘average’ winter whilst the west and south was slightly colder. But the big surprise is that this winter turns out to have been Australia’s eight warmest (out of 105) on record. (see map)

The BOM report noted: “Some of the headlines this winter -‘Bitter cold snap’, ‘Icy cold front to hit much of Australia’, ‘Australia’s sunshine state covered in snow’, etc.- may have implied that Australia just survived one of its coldest winters on record…But the station recordings actually show a quite different story. They also highlight a number of challenges that…can be easily lost in personal experiences and local news reporting. These challenges include: considering local conditions within the national picture; how we calculate and characterise a ‘record’; and how recent experiences influence our long-term understanding of climate.”

“It is hardly surprising that people may extrapolate cool conditions in southeast Australia or snowy photos on their television to imagine cold conditions across the whole of the country…As our perceptions can be skewed towards recent experience, we need access to good, long-term data to assist our decision making.”

To the Australian landmass we can add the continents of the earth and the oceans to get a clear picture of how our earth is warming with the enhanced greenhouse effect. It is calculated the oceans absorb more than 90% of the extra heat the earth is retaining. With such a complicated and threatening problem governing bodies should be making their decisions based on ‘best science’. And all those who have ‘an opinion’ on climate change that confuses climate and weather – be they in the media, politics, or your local pub – are very foolish.

Risk, Action and Climate Change (1.10)

Croston Cover

Glen Croston in his book The Real Story of Risk argues that evolution has programmed man to respond to immediate risks and ignore long term ones. He wrote that evolution: “does a good job at giving us good responses to immediate threats, but it does a much poorer job at providing effective responses to risks that develop slowly, are far away, or are spread out over a large area. The evolutionary impact of immediate threats is greatest because of the direct link between responding and surviving.”

Croston makes the point that some of these learned responses are obsolete such as our fear of snakes or sharks. He speculates that we may need to experience the effects of climate change before we are forced to act. Whilst such an experience may be the ‘best teacher’ it is also most likely that by the time enough people experience these changes to act decisively it will probably be too late. Fatalism and inaction may also be a response to this situation. 

He continues: “There was probably a time in human prehistory when taking a short-term perspective on life made sense. Life was short, and the threats against it were constant and immediate… The times have changed though, while we haven’t. We’re still on the lookout for immediate risks acting directly on us, and we’re blind to long-term risks, like climate change with far greater long term costs.” (p.59)

Parts of the ‘learning experience’ Croston talks about are with us now – the increasingly severe and more frequent extreme weather events. It is now a matter of identifying how much of this flood or that drought or this bushfire was caused/influenced by climate change. And if our responses have little or no effect then eventually we will be forced into some form of emergency war-time style government – even, horror of horrors, an international one. One can only hope that those then in power are more gifted that the incompetents (with some exceptions) we have managed to elect to parliament for the last few decades.


A brief history of fire in the Valley Open Cuts (27.9)

Old Brown Coal Mine fire 1929 (SLV)

1929 fire in the OldBrown Coal Mine (SLV)

The current Royal Commission into the health effects of last year’s Morwell Open Cut fire is a current reminder of this disastrous event. But fires in the open cuts have by no means been uncommon. There have been fires in the open cuts in 1895, 1902-10, 1926, 1929, 1944, 1977, 1983, 2006 and 2014. There have also been near misses or fires burning adjacent to mines or on land later mined on many occasions including 1898, 1915(?), 1923, at numerous times during the 1930s, 1962 and in 2009.

The fires were most common in the uncontrolled burning period prior to Black Friday in 1939. After the 1944 Yallourn open cut fire with the strict fire controls and vigilance adopted by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) and the newly formed Country Fire Authority there followed fifty years almost free from fire in the open cuts. The exception was in 1977 when an immediate, rapid and energetic SECV response controlled the fire after 4 days. There were also some small spot fires during Ash Wednesday in 1983. Aside from widespread fires in 1966 and 1983 these were mild and benign bushfire years.

Since privatisation the new owners have not been so lucky. Climate change has definitely affected the valley with summer weather patterns this century being generally warmer, longer and dryer. We have had extremely large fires (1 in 100 year) burning in Gippsland in 2003 and 2006-7 with a fire in the Hazelwood open cut occurring during the latter event in 2006. In 2009 during Black Saturday Loy Yang Power Station was threatened but it is not clear whether there were any spot fires in the open cut. Finally we have the disastrous Hazelwood fire and much smaller spot fires in the Yallourn open cut in February March of 2014. As the hashtag goes it is certainly time to act on climate. 

Climate change predictions makes the future of all the open cut mines precarious. Aside from the fact that they are Australia’s most carbon intensive mines and should therefore be the first to close to meet our carbon reduction responsibilities the threat of fires remains ominous. If the status quo prevails we are likely to see events similar to Hazelwood in 2014 repeated on a regular basis, perhaps even every five to ten years with fire seasons gradually becoming worse – longer, more frequent and severe.

In news just to hand the Minister for Resources Lily D’Ambrosio  announced that the “Latrobe Valley will be better protected from the risk of coal mine fires, with the Andrews Labor Government establishing a dedicated fire safety team in the area.” She said the “positions for six mine fire safety experts will be advertised tomorrow, with most of the roles to be based in the Latrobe Valley region.” This is a very small step in the right direction – in reality a token change. It clearly shows that at least some in our State government do not understand how severe the threat of climate change is or the role that our brown coal generators play in it.