Saturday, April 25, 2009

General Motors, going, going, nearly gone

I haven't yet written about the enormous changes we have seen over the last year or so - when the capitalist system and imploded into a chaotic mess of greed, dishonesty and confusion.

I am talking about the 2008 crash, when the world's financial system and economies unravelled in a very conspicuous manner. More on that later.

I have been watching the demise of General Motors with some interests. The company has been manufacturing mostly large an inefficient cars and trucks over a quite a long period. They have remained seemingly oblivious to the previous oil shocks and more recently, the arrival peak oil.

The crash and subsequent recession in the United States has hit GM hard. Nobody is buying their cars (mostly gas guzzlers) any more. However, GM employs a lot of people in the US and across the globe, including Australia.

So the Obama administration's automotive task force has overseen a massive bailout to try and keep them afloat.

Since late 2008, GM has received $US15.4 billion from the US Treasury to keep it afloat.

On April 22 2009, GM received an additional $US2 billion ($2.8 billion) in federal assistance.

So far, the best they can do is to "ditch the Pontiac brand", while keeping the GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick brands.

Who would have thought the United States government (and hence taxpayer) would give a failing corporation over $US 18 billion in bailout payments?

It is clear that to survive, GM needs to reinvent itself and start making cars or other products that people actually want to buy.

They should retool to make electric vehicles and think about getting into transport manufacturing for a low carbon economy future - perhaps very fast trains?

The latest deadline for GM is the threat of a bankruptcy filing if it can't meet a June 1 US deadline. Time will tell if the $18 billion of taxpayers money to keep them afloat is good money after bad.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brown Mountain logging finished in this seasons first coupe

The first 20 hectare “coupe” of this season’s logging allocation in Brown Mountain was completed on 22 April 2009. The destruction includes the felling of more trees 600 to 800 years old.

The tree that was radiocarbon dated was 10 metres in girth. Some trees logged have a 12 metre girth - by extrapolation they would be 800 years old.

Here are some photos of the catastrophic effects of this logging.

The stump of another tree over 600 years old

There are two more 20 hectare coupes remaining. The officer of Environment Minister Gavin Jennings apparently now has the DSE report about threatened species and is considering what to do. It is not clear whether this document will be released to the public, or whether the remaining areas of Brown Mountain forest will be protected.

More photos and more information: Brown Mountain old growth forest, Greenlivingpedia

If you have the time, write a letter or email to:
Ask them to protect Brown Mountain and the remainder of Victoria's old growth forests still allocated and available for logging.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Extreme weather was the main cause of Black Saturday bushfires

I attended a seminar on April 21, 2009 about the catastrophic bushfires in Victoria on Black Saturday. The seminar was organised by the Melbourne School of Land and Environment at Melbourne University.

The speakers and topics were:

Professor David Karoly - Is this climate change?
School of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science

Dr Kevin Tolhurst - Bushfire behavior under extreme climate
Department of Forest & Ecosystem Science, Melbourne School of Land and Environment

Dr Patrick Lane - Implications for subsequent catchment water yield
Department of Forest & Ecosystem Science, Melbourne School of Land and Environment

These talks shed some light on the scientific observations about recent bushfires on February 7 2009 in Victoria and the reasons why they were so severe.

Professor David Karoly stressed that the extreme weather parameters on and leading up to February 7 were the most important factor, including:
  • Record low rainfall - 35 days of no rain up to February 7
  • Record low relatively humidity on February 7th of 5%
  • The hottest recorded temperature of 46.7 on February 7
The strong north winds and the southerly wind change on February 7th were not unusual in themselves, but combined with the above factors, and ignition of the fires, the results were catastrophic.

Bushfire index ratings compared between extreme fires are:
  • 100: Black Friday in 1939
  • 120: Ash Wednesday in 1983
  • 140 to 190: Black Saturday. These figures have never been seen before and are regarded as in the "catastrophic" range.
Professor Karoly also pointed out that CSIRO scientific predictions are that the current rate of climate change were are experiencing will result in 4 times as many extreme fire dangers days like Black Saturday each year by 2050.

He concluded with these observations:
  • A tragedy occurred with the bushfires in SE Australia on 7 February 2009
  • It is difficult to separate the influences of climate variability, climate change, and changes in fire management strategies on observed increases in fire activity
  • Climate change is increasing the likelihood of environmental conditions associated with extreme fire danger in south-east Australia
  • Observed increases in forest fire activity have been linked to climate change in the western US, in Canada, in Spain and in Greece.
Dr Kevin Tolhurst provided some scientific research results on the spread and intensity of fires. The scale of these fires has not been modelled to date, and factors such as extreme convection columns have not been studied or modelled to date.

In summary, Kevin stated that:
  • Dominant factors affecting fire behaviour change with the scale of the fire
  • Fire size and atmospheric instabilty are important to blowup fire behaviour - they enable feedback which increases the fire intensity
  • Drought is an important precursor to high intensity fires - previously "wet" forests, gullies and moist slopes burn
  • The fire footprint (the overall size of the area burnt) is determined by only a few hours of extreme weather
  • Fire behaviour is a dynamic process and therefore needs dynamic modelling.
The forum concluded with a moderated general discussion of the science of bushfires.

I pointed out that many fires active on Black Saturday such as the Bunyip fire burnt large areas of farmland as well as forest areas (two thirds of the Bunyip fire was cleared farmland), and asked whether recent commentary in the media about fuel loads being the major cause of the fires, particularly in forest areas, was correct.

Kevin stated that the extreme weather dominated the fire behaviour rather than fuel loads which played a lesser role. As an example, he mentioned the Lara bushfire on grass paddocks on 8 January 1969 along the Geelong Road that killed 17 people trapped in their cars. In total, 280 fires broke out on the 8th of January 1969. Of these, 12 grass fires reached major proportions and burnt 250,000 hectares. The fires also destroyed 230 houses, 21 other buildings and more than 12,000 stock.

For also stated that less extreme fires, fuel loads can play a greater role in contributing to the extent and heat of the fire.

There was also a question from a member of the "Stretton Group" as to why fuel reduction burning similar to that conducted in Western Australia is not done in Victoria.

Kevin responded that the weather systems, forest types, and flora and fauna impacts are different between WA and Victoria, so the WA burning regime is not directly comparable or relevant to conditions in Victoria.

Around 100,000 hectares of forest has now been burnt twice in succession in 2003 and 2006/7, which has killed the large areas of Mountain Ash forest and the seed for these trees, which cannot now regenerate.

So climate change is contributing to the frequency and severity of bushfires, which are now destroying wet forest that would previously have acted as a natural fire breaks. As theses wetter forests are not adapted for burining, they will now largely replaced with dry schlerophyl forest which is more prone to burning in the future. Increased fuel reduction burning, as advocated by some sectors of the forest industy and associated lobby groups, would further exacerbate this situation.

It is clear that we need to make decisions about land and forest management and bushfire management based on firm scientific evidence rather than pressure from ill informed lobby groups.

Armstrong Creek catchment

Lake Mountain toboggan run

Regenerating tree - Acheron Way

Burnt forest and regenerating tree ferns - Acheron Way


Friday, April 17, 2009

Down the drain

This was published as a letter to the editor in The Age, 17/4/09

OUR use of mains water has been close to zero litres since 2001, when we installed water tanks. Despite record low dam levels our tanks are still half full.

If more homes were provided with rainwater storage of about 5000 litres per bedroom, the rivers of water that go down the drain every time it rains would instead be captured.

Tanks are a cheaper and better option than energy intensive engineering projects such as the desalination plant and the north-south pipeline. Using tanks, a daily target of mains water usage of less than 20 litres per person is achievable now.

Peter Campbell, Surrey Hills
Source: The Age

More information

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Seeking preselection as the Greens Lead Senate Candidate for the 2010 federal election

This is my supporting statement as a candidate for preselection as the Greens Lead Senate Candidate for the 2010 Federal election.

I am asking you to support me as the Greens lead senate candidate for the next federal election because I believe that I have the skills, experience and knowledge to campaign well and to be a very strong Greens Senator for Victoria.

I believe this is crucial time in history. We are in a climate emergency, experiencing peak oil, and the global financial system crisis is causing much distress throughout our society and across the globe. I have the skills and experience to articulate these challenges and work collaboratively within both the Greens and the community to develop effective solutions that the Australian public is looking for.

We need to leave behind the petty partisan politics of the old parties and forge a new engagement with the Australian people to revitalise democracy and proactively transition our country to a sustainable future.

I will proactively support and promote Greens policies and values for peace, democracy, care for the environment and social justice. I believe these are vitally important for our shared sustainable future and for social cohesion.

I have developed a prominent profile in the community on green issues and advocacy, including water conservation, energy policy, climate change, forest protection, public transport and conservation of our natural environment. I have been a regular participant on talkback radio, and have had several letters to the editor published in local, state and national newspapers.

I have been a strong advocate for improved and safer recreational and commuter cycling through my membership and activities with the Boroondara Bicycle User Group.

I have worked extensively with a local climate change action groups and networks. Most recently, I attended the inspiring Climate Change Summit and Day of Action in Canberra and the Australian Climate and Forest Alliance conference preceding it. I am also mindful that policy measures and legislation to address climate change must be carefully designed to avoid disproportionate and unjust impacts on low income households.

I am a self employed independent IT consultant currently working in the energy industry. My work includes providing consulting, management and IT advice on climate change and emissions trading.

I initiated the project in 2007 to provide information, campaign resources and collaboration on green living, green building and green community action in Australia and globally. I am very keen to promote the wider use of information technologies such as wikis, blogs and social networking within the Greens and government to strengthen our democracy and increase grass roots participation.

Our sustainable house renovation, featured on Greenlivingpedia, has been open on several occasions to promote sustainable design, building and energy practices within the community. We have established a permaculture garden as our most recent project.

Many people hoped that the new Federal government would embrace real action on climate change, repeal Work Choices and reverse the racist Northern Territory Intervention inflicted on indigenous Australians. On these issues and others we have been disappointed. It seems the two old parties occupy different sides of the same coin.

The Greens provide a new paradigm and a new politics. We must break the shackles that industry lobby groups have on government. Through power sharing arrangements in the Senate, I and the other Green senators would hold the government of the day to account, as Bob Brown, Rachel Siewert, Christine Milne, Scott Ludlum and Sarah Hanson-Young have been doing so well.

In the longer term, we need to aim to form Australia’s first Green government. This means we need to win lower house seats in addition to electing Senators. A well planned and executed campaign will do both.

I have a thorough knowledge of and commitment to the Australian Greens’ Charter, policies and processes. Running as the Greens candidate for Kooyong in 2001, 2004 and 2007 has provided me with experience and confidence in campaigning, initiating and participating in debates on both local and national issues such as climate change, social policy, energy policy and environmental issues. Our vote increased in each of these elections.

I have also run as a Greens candidate for State Government in two elections. Running for the old upper house seat of East Yarra in 2002, where I achieved 15% vote, provided me with experience similar to a Senate campaign. Our Green Team in this campaign achieved record results in the lower house seats of Hawthorn, Box Hill, Kew and Burwood.

Over these campaigns I have developed the ability to speak in pubic and articulate Greens policies on topics ranging from the Iraq War, to climate change and providing more local kindergarten places for our children.

I have been a Greens member for over 10 years, during which I have gained extensive experience in party processes and mechanisms as a Victorian State Councillor, a member of Eastern Suburbs Regional Council and the local Boroondara and Whitehorse branches and a member and convenor of the Victorian Election Campaign Committee.

I have actively participated in policy development as a long term member of the Forest Working Group. I led the preparation of our revised forest policy statement during the 2006 Victorian State election., during which I ran as the Greens candidate for Box Hill.

I have represented Victoria at national level at the 2005 and 2008 Greens National Conferences as part of our delegate teams, and worked intensively on the National Election Campaign Committee during the 2004 Federal election.

I have developed time management and negotiation skills and good interpersonal skills through both my experience with the Greens, my professional employment, and my work with several volunteer and community groups.

I have a passion for the outdoors, including bushwalking, cross country skiing, volunteer Search and Rescue for over 25 years, recreational and racing cycling, kitesurfing and revegetating our local South Surrey Park with indigenous plant species.

In summary, I believe I will provide leadership on the issues that really matter for the future of Victoria, Australia and the planet. We now have an urgent imperative for this.

I seek your support to be the lead senate candidate for the Greens in Victoria, and after the election, to hopefully be Victoria’s first Greens Senator.

Preselection timeline
9/4/09 Nominations closed
23/4/09 Candidates finalised and declared
24/4/09 Ballot packs posted to Australian Greens Victoria members
22/5/09 Ballots returned to Returning Office, care of State Office
25/5/09 Preselection Result announced to party members

See also

Friday, April 10, 2009

Electric vehicle on show in Melbourne

I took some photos of the Mitsubishi iMiEV electric vehicle that was on display in Melbourne on 9 April 2009. The car has 30% of the carbon emissions of a comparable petrol car. There is no availability to date for Australia however.

More information and photos:

Unfortunately the best that General Motors Holden has come up with so far in Australia is to commit to building another four cylinder petrol car - with generous government handouts. They don't seem to realise we are running out of petrol and the age of the electric vehicle has arrived.

Like dinosaurs, these industries will go extinct if they don't adapt. General Motors in the United States is very nearly bankrupt and about to go into receivership.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Victorian Government's water strategy is all at sea

This is a letter to the editor from Brian Wilson of Doncaster East published on April 5, 2009 [link]

I think it describes concerns about the Victorian Government's obsession with large scale water projects, and the overlooking of more sensible, sustainable water options such as water tanks and recycling. It highlights to me too that many in the community want more focus on sustainable water options, and the government that is supposed to represent us is not listening or consulting, and that the government's agenda is driven by the "big end of town".

Recycling washes best

"Water projects 'not needed' " (29/3) included reference to the consultants' (ignored) recommendation that recycled water for drinking should get "serious consideration", but that this would require a large public education campaign. Unfortunately, the only "education" campaign by this government to date has been to reinforce the public misconception that water recycling is somehow unsafe; the reality is that the reverse is true.

Water recycling is being used with complete safety in many parts of the world, and Queensland is also well down that path (an initiative that, it could be argued, the voters in that state have recently endorsed).

And just think of the advantages that recycling, rather than desalination, would achieve. The waste water treatment plant (or plants) would be located at or near existing treatment facilities. So no need for the Wonthaggi site and connecting pipes and power lines.

And waste water would no longer contaminate the ocean at Gunnamatta as it would be recycled. And the end result would be exactly the same — pure water!

Recycling uses the same reverse-osmosis process as desalination, so much of the current design would be retained. But because it is far less energy intensive, running costs (and therefore the impact on the environment) would also be less.

And as for the north-south pipeline, its only possible redeeming feature, given it now appears to have passed the point of no return, is that one day it may be used to pipe north some surplus recycled water to help relieve the stressed Murray-Darling system.

Check out this video about the desalination plant, and visit

Letter to local MP on Feed in Tariff

To: Richard Dalla-Riva, MLC Eastern Metropolitan Region.

Dear Richard

I am writing you as a resident with Eastern Metropolitan Region to express my concerns about the proposed Feed-in Tariff legislation under consideration in the Victorian Parliament.

The proposed Feed-in Tariff (FIT) structure does not provide sufficient incentives for people, schools and business to install solar power (due to net metering and the 3.2kW array size cap)

This will compromise creating a vibrant jobs-rich solar sector - as they have in Germany where they have a good FIT.

Consumers who export electricity will only be paid "credits", not cash. This effectively removes incentives for energy efficiency appliances. It will also encourage people to "use their credit" by consuming more electricity, since it will not be redeemable as cash.

The Tariff should be amended to a gross tariff with a 10kW cap, as they have legislated for in WA and ACT.

A gross feed-in tariff (as the same for a ‘net’ feed-in tariff) will result in a small increase in household electricity bills – approximately $6-12 per year. Concession card holders should be exempted from this extra cost.

There is wide community support for an effective Feed-in Tariff.

Can you please represent my views on this to the Parliament and within your party?

Yours faithfully,

Peter Campbell
Home address supplied.

See also:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Logged Brown Mountain tree dated at over 500 years

The results from radiocarbon dating of a sample of one of the old growth forest giants logged recently in Brown Mountain in East Gippsland are in. The tree is between 500 and 600 years old.

A photo of the logged tree stump that was radio carbon dated.

This tree, and the forest it used to be part of, pre dates white settlement in Australa by 279 years. Logging these irreplaceable forests is an abomination sanctioned by the Brumby Government.

Logging has been temporarily halted when threatened species of possum and freshwater crayfish were found in Brown Mountain's forests.

The Brumby government should immediately protect all remaining old growth forest available for logging, as they promised the would do in 2006.