Gippsland News & Views

Climate Change, Nuclear Winter and Gippsland Politics 2.12

nuclear winter

By nature I am a loner, an outsider, and definitely not a party political animal. However  the publication  of The Cold and the Dark: the World after Nuclear War by Carl Sagan et al (1984) and other material on the ‘nuclear winter’ influenced me to join the Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP) and stand as a candidate on this single issue. In the federal election in 1984 I stood for the NDP in Gippsland, campaigning solely on the threat of the ‘nuclear winter’ and received about 5% of the vote. The following year the party split and I, along with about 30 others, departed.

Over the years it became increasingly obvious that the opposite of ‘nuclear winter’ was global warming. I was aware of this but remained preoccupied with the threat of nuclear war throughout the 80s and into the 90s although once or twice I penned the words “global warming” in a poem, and wrote an occasional brief article on the subject. The early years of the new century were absorbed with the madness and futility of war, principally in Iraq. But in 2007 the striking summer retreat of the Arctic ice sheet required me to drastically rethink my priorities and activities. I started by trying to form a Climate Change party that appealed across the political spectrum called the Global Warming Action Party Australia. The acronym GWAPA amused my daughter who told me the name was a joke and sounded like a frog croaking. She was right and I am still searching for a political party of this kind.

One previously strong argument against climate change was the ‘pause’ in global temperatures between 1950 and 1980 until they resumed their upward trends in the 1990s. It has recently been argued that this ‘pause’ may have been influenced by atmospheric nuclear testing – creating a mini ‘nuclear winter’. Some well qualified friends treated the idea with extreme scepticism and concluded that there was not enough ‘dust’ from the atmospheric tests to have caused the pause. Thus the evidence that a mini ‘nuclear winter’ halted the warming between the 1950s – 1980s, or even contributed to it, is unsubstantiated. Could the atmospheric nuclear tests have contributed to the warming pause? Along with other factors such as particles of lead additives from petrol in the atmosphere? Science hopefully will eventually identify the cause or causes. In the meantime those interested can read the article at



The Melbourne People’s Climate March – a personal account 29.11

Harry Barton 27.11 Harry Barton of Bairnsdale & AYCC photo by Peter Campbell

The late afternoon timing of the Melbourne People’s Climate March allowed me to take the mid-day train from Bairnsdale. But ‘Murphy’s Law’ was in control and following delays in Sale and Rosedale the train ended up 75 minutes late. Being joined by members of the Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group in Traralgon made the journey pleasurable anyway. ‘Lock the Gate’ and ‘Baw Baw Sustainability Group’ people also joined the train along the way.

I left my train friends at Flinders St as I trotted up Swanston to meet another just as the march was about to start, led by some young Kooris. By accident I ended up as a “ring-in” singing with the ‘Trades Hall’ and ‘Home Brew’ choirs. We sang from beside the march between Lonsdale and Bourke as the marchers went past. From start to finish – with a few stops and shuffles – they took about 45 minutes to pass and must have covered 2 to 3 blocks. As there were only 2 songs, printed words (You knew Grandpa you knew Grandpa / Tell me what did you do?) and a leader with squeeze box everything went well, we sang till we were nearly hoarse, the marchers often applauded and we joined at the tail end. Being late to start and on the end we missed most of the speeches.

The media response, with exceptions, was generally poor. This may partly be because of the timing of the event in the case of the visual media but there was no excuse for the sparse coverage in the printed media. As far as I am aware there was nothing much on Television, a page 8 article in the Saturday Age with an abominable estimate of numbers (hard to believe the journo was there for more than a few minutes!) and nothing at all from the climate criminals at the Herald Sun. There were no aerial views to show how big the march was – how many blocks it covered. The Guardian gave a fair online coverage with a crowd estimate of 40,000 which approached the organisers estimate of 60,000 plus. As a veteran of the Vietnam Moratorium Marches of 1970 -72 I estimated the crowd at about 50,000 and comparing favourably with some of the old marches – except the massive first Moratorium in May 1970 – an event I was unable to attend as I was overseas.

The Melbourne March was the first of an estimated 2000 events around the Earth to precede the Paris Conference. As I write this the marches are still happening. Saturday saw marches in Brisbane and Auckland and another 30 places around New Zealand. Sunday will feature marches across the remaining capital cities of Australia and include a local march from Phillip Island to San Remo across the bridge. A wonderful folio of photos of the Melbourne March taken by Peter Campbell of Victorian Climate Action Network can be viewed here


Some Comments on the Melbourne Age & Climate Change (26.11)


Age Masthead jpeg

The Melbourne Age remains by far and away the best of the local printed media (possibly all media except social) in its handling of the huge problem of climate change. On the plus side they have regular features and news items by excellent journalists – in particular Peter Hannam, Tom Arup and Adam Morton. The letters columns are also equally informative sometime more so than the rest of the paper. Also they occasionally editorialise in favour of some action on climate. It should be noted that they have no competition – the Murdoch press is still operating in the Dark Ages.

On the downside we have to tolerate the climate denialist cartoons of Spooner, occasional put downs from the Institute of Public Affairs regular column, and worst of all, giving opinion pieces to outrageous Climate Change deniers in the guise of balanced presentation. A recent example of this was a piece by Christopher Booker attacking the upcoming Paris talks as a waste of time. (The Age 3.11) I found this distressing in the extreme and went so far as to threaten to cancel my subscription.

The problem is that the Age persists with the false dichotomy of balance and debate. There is no debate about anthropogenic climate change. The science is well established, documented, and various indicators including land and sea based temperature rises are occurring exactly as predicted 30 years ago. Since the science is 97.5% sure (perhaps even 99%) the Age should present 98 articles to ‘balance’ each item of scientific illiteracy by Booker and his ilk. To present Climate Change as a ‘debate’ – both for and against – is itself a grand distortion and can be likened to arguing about gravity or the shape of the earth.

Where are the front page headlines informing the public that the October just past was the warmest ever recorded in Victoria, Australia and the Earth? Where are the investigative pieces outlining worst-case scenarios of climate change on security, refugees, health, food production and the life threatening heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and floods? Where are the headlines specifically linking climate change with our gradually expanding bushfire season? Or examining how warming influences El Nino? And many other questions far too numerous to mention.

The Age emphasises the momentary (a murder) the parochial (Essendon Football Club) and false balance. They appear too timid to get too far ahead of their opposition – many of whose journalists are probably criminally negligent – instead of leading public opinion. As a long term reader my subscription remains, but only just.


El Nino, Gippsland and Climate Change; anecdotes & predictions. (22.11)


El Nino 2

There continue to be loud protests from certain sections of the social media confusing weather and climate. Because Gippsland (or most of it) has been experiencing above average to very good rainfall then the predictions of the weather bureau about a super El Nino and a subsequent dry are all ‘rubbish’. Regardless of how adamant these claims are they remain anecdotal.

For what they are worth my own memories (anecdotal accounts) are also of rainfall rather than heat. 1983 and 1997-8 are generally listed as the previous super El Nino years. Both ended in the Omeo district as relatively shorts spells that were very dry. Preceding Ash Wednesday in 83 the Tambo River was completely dry for long distances – sometimes going for kilometres before even a small pool could be found. The Little River, a short and reliable stream, stopped in the town of Ensay for the first and only time in living memory. 1997 does not stand out as being dry but the first 4 months of 98 were again ‘bone dry’. Stock feed disappeared and small sand dunes formed in the lee of the hills following a dust storm in late April. In June the short drought broke when we received half our annual rainfall in one month – most of it in 3 days.

With climate change, which has been gradually happening since the industrial revolution, science predicts an increasing number of extreme weather events. That is what both the drought and the flood in the Omeo district in 1998 were. These events were directly related to El Nino and probably heavily influenced by climate change.

El Ninos also enhance the warming effect and 1998 was the warmest year to that time. It now appears that 2015 will be the same. El Nino events themselves must in turn be enhanced by a warming climate and the connections between these events and climate change are not clear. It is obvious though that climate change must also influence the El Ninos as it does extreme weather events.

For each degree of warming the planet’s atmosphere holds an extra 7% of moisture. This in turn means more rain, probably in heavier rainfall events, and more electrical storms. But the hardest thing of all for the weatherman to predict remains where the rain will fall, and when, and how much rain we will get. For more on the current El Nino go to


Using battery storage in the bush 18.11



My isolated house in East Gippsland functioned very well with a stand-alone power system for 30 years until the property was sold. And as far as I am aware it is still doing so. Integral to this system and its most expensive part were the lead acid deep-cycle batteries. My 12 volt battery bank initially stored 200 amp hours in 6 2v cells in series. The storage was then doubled with another 6 2v cells added in parallel. Finally after changing over from wind to solar as the energy source large 600ah 2v cells were installed with 6 200ah cells in parallel giving us 800 ah storage. The rough formula for this is amps X volts = watts thus 800ah X 12v = 9600 watt hours storage. Enough, in theory, to run a 60w globe continuously for 6 days.

In practice the lead acid batteries seemed to have memories and needed to be ‘mollycoddled’. Through trial and error and the occasional dud cell, it was found that they functioned best and their lifetime was extended when only the top 20% of the power stored was used giving us under 200ah of usable energy. They are called deep cycle batteries but the number of times you could actually deep cycle them was strictly limited. The 800ah bank was still functioning well after 12 years with no problems when the house was sold.

In all the system was quite reliable with only 2 power failures in 30 years. One was a faulty connection between terminals that was fixed in a few minutes. There were teething problems with the system as we learned the hard way of the limitations of the term ‘deep-cycle’. When deep-cycled too frequently the weakest cell would fail and the system’s voltage, usually 13v to 13.5v, would drop to 12v or below. The faulty cell had to be identified and replaced which I did with selected second hand ex-telecom ones. Otherwise it would have been an expensive business.

Now with the Tesla battery (and a number of other competitors) and the lithium technology the battery revolution is upon us. For anyone building beyond 1 km from the grid a stand-alone system is already the best financial option, in particular for large parts of Gippsland remote from the grid. In reality we are now experiencing two revolutions – energy storage is the complementary partner to the solar one. A Battery Information Night is being held at Mirboo North on Thursday 3 December. (See Events page)




Supporting the People’s Climate March 16.11

PCC March Nov 27

It is more than fifty years since I attended my first demonstrations in Melbourne. Then the issue was conscription and the Vietnam war. Those demos were followed in the early 70s by the massive Vietnam moratoriums, and in the 80s by large People for Nuclear Disarmament Rallies. Although residing in the bush by then I attended many of these rallies. This century the madness of the invasion of Iraq again brought the people into the streets in large numbers. Now it is climate change.

In the early 80s scientists were offering us the bleak oblivion of the ‘nuclear winter’. Today it is the reverse of that coin for instead of the cold brought on by nuclear war (global dimming) the evidence overwhelmingly supports a warming planet. The physics of the greenhouse effect, pioneered well over 100 years ago, are being realised. Global warming is not a scientific problem. It is a human and political one. Currently vested interests still dominate the Australian and international political processes. These forces of reaction and self-interest must be opposed at every step.

The politics of change is not only a matter of voting. It requires you to participate in the political process; to speak out as often as you can; to apply pressure to politicians and to people with power and influence; to  act, doing things both large and small; to complete these acts where possible and persevere with them whilst you are able when you can.

Which brings us to next week’s rally. Gandhi once said: “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” Participating in a demonstration such as the People’s Climate March is an admirable action. In action there is hope. On Friday 27 November we will be gathering at the State Library of Victoria at 5.30pm. Please support this event.


Mr Sustainability of Gippsland (11.11)


John-Hermans-hydro-web-300x200 (photo by Stitch)

We have, somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ labelled John Hermans of Clifton Creek, ‘Mr Sustainability’ of Gippsland. John is a man of many parts but he will probably be embarrassed by our label. Above all he is practical having built and lived in his sustainable house for many years. As well as teaching by example John is a great publicist for many of the basic tenets of sustainability.  He is a long term member of the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) and has been a frequent contributor of articles to their publications Soft Technology and Renew.  He has also been the President of the Gippsland Environment Group (link on side bar) for many years and has participated in the ATA’s solar installation project in East Timor.

His owner built home – incorporating a substantial workshop – is a showpiece. It is constructed of earth walls and an earth roof and John has used mostly onsite and second hand materials in its construction. Integral to this was his own small timber mill in which he was able to mill timber for the house from trees that had to be removed from the house site.

John is perhaps best known for his hydro-electric plant on the nearby Nicholson River which has generated renewable energy to the family home for many years. But he also has a large, netted, fruit and veggie garden in front of the house, and has been running his vehicle on biodiesel for many years. The oil is collected from fish and chip shops and processed on site. The vehicle uses either biodiesel (manufactured on site) or straight veggie oil. John is also a great fan of recycling and is often repairing electrical goods, cast off with simple malfunctions like a faulty switch. Recently he has been experimenting with biochar production. Is there anyone in greater Gippsland who can match this record?

A wonderful article, interview and photos was done with John seven years ago by the ABC’s Cath McAloon. It is still relevant, available online and well worth a visit.


The Economics of Rooftop Solar 8.11


solar roofs

My fellow climate activist Andrew Gunner has gone through the financial aspects of installing rooftop solar on his suburban home. His calculations produced some astounding results – that even at the low feed in tariff of 6.4 cents and feeding all the energy back into the grid they were profitable. His calculations went through several upgrades and eventually this proposition was revised downwards to about break even. So unless you are absent from your dwelling during daylight hours every day of the week and use little of your rooftop power you will be ahead. Andrew noted:

“Here is a step by step guide to help you work out whether getting photovoltaic solar panels for your house is good financially.  You can do the calculations with a hand calculator.”

His final calculations take account of all the costs of installation, maintenance, depreciation, current and future electricity prices, inflation and opportunity costs. His conclusion is that if you use 22% of the energy from your rooftop and export the rest at 6.4 cents per Kilowatt hour your return on your investment will be 8.5% and far better than bank interest. Most of us would try to improve on the 22% base by bringing flexible energy tasks, such as washing clothes, into the sunlight hours.

To back up his in-depth calculations Andrew has provided an excel spreadsheet where you can enter your own data and modify his assumptions to suit your own circumstances. He does note that if you are paying off a mortgage – about one third of Australian households – that this repayment may be preferable to installing solar. For further details go to Andrew’s blog a site worth visiting regularly

Climate Change Denialism, mostly the Murdoch Media and Criminal Negligence (4.11)


Murdoch cartoon

Currently calls are being made for Exxon – the long running climate change denier – to face charges and fines for their denial in the same way as the tobacco industry is now being forced to do. I have written previously on criminal negligence and loosely defined it as “the failure to take action against something that causes harm.” This presupposes the offender is aware that their actions may cause harm and does nothing about it. Worse still they may make every effort using all their available resources to present the opposite view, or at the very least to create confusion and doubt. The latter action was the path taken by the tobacco industry and equally so by Exxon.

Writing about the, at best abysmally slow, actions of governments to mitigate climate change Tim Flannery in his Atmosphere of Hope recently noted: “Some companies bear a disproportionate share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. The most important by far in the media is the Murdoch news empire, from Fox News to the Australian newspaper and the many tabloids that help shape public opinion. It’s extraordinary to think that a media empire overseen by Rupert Murdoch, a man whose father was a frontline news reporter in World War I, continues in the twenty-first century to impede progress on this most vitally important issue.” (p.72)

To ‘balance’ the books The Melbourne Age has just published (3.11) an opinion piece by climate change denier Christopher Booker. The lie that there is a ‘debate’ about climate change is still found across the media. But the debate – if there was any – about climate change and its obvious human origins is long past. There is debate about how bad climate change will be and whether there will be abrupt harmful changes that we as a species can do nothing about. Flannery cites the 374 additional deaths caused by the 2009 heatwave in south-east Australia – an event that in turn was influenced by climate change.

Still fighting against the overwhelming evidence supporting basic greenhouse physics we have the bile of the ‘flat earthers’ – Andrew Bolt, sundry ‘shock jocks’ and other supposedly more sophisticated parts of (mainly) the Murdoch media, along with too many of their foolish followers in Canberra. Their monumental ignorance is no longer an excuse. They must now be aware that the misinformation, lies and distortions they have written in the past and continue to peddle is causing harm and may have already contributed to the premature deaths of hundreds of Australian citizens.

That is criminal negligence. The case against the climate criminals is only beginning and the media’s spurious attempts at balance must carry a large part of the blame. As an interesting postscript it has been suggested on the social media recently that all climate change deniers be disbarred from public office.


East Gippsland Shire (EGS) – Energy Efficiency & LEDs (1.11)


bright_futures_roll-out_led_streetlight_1Energy conservation and energy efficiency have long been known as the easiest means of reigning in one’s greenhouse gas output – sometimes categorised as the “low hanging fruit”. Local shires have been at the forefront of these operations from which there should also be considerable financial benefits.

Commenting on the changeover in street lighting in East Gippsland, EGS environmental officer Rebecca Lamble recently stated that  “it’s not just Bairnsdale and Paynesville that have had the LED street lights swapped…it’s all the 80w mercury vapour lights in residential streets across East Gippsland…” Information on the EGS LED program can be found here 

Rebecca noted that “The final street light report is due in May next year…and it will show the emissions avoided and how much money we will be saving…after being installed for 12 months.” The EGS website estimated that their “energy efficient residential street lighting project” would make “energy savings of over 70%.  Replacing these street lights will save 1,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.  This is the single biggest action East Gippsland Shire can take to reduce its carbon emissions.  In fact, streetlights typically represent 30-50% of a metropolitan councils’ carbon footprint.”

The EGS should now be considering some of the harder options. At State and Federal levels Government departments are often pulling in different directions on climate change and thus working against each other. Something of this kind is happening on a smaller scale locally with sustainability and old fashioned economic growth in competition. Action on climate change as a matter of urgency must take priority. It is time for the EGS to break ranks with the rest of Gippsland – including specifically the promotion by the Committee for Gippsland – over coal, to move from promoting the logging industry to protecting our forests and a number of other no cost actions like banning another harmful fossil fuel – CSG or ‘Unconventional Gas”.