Saturday, 13 July 2019

TRANSITION TO A CIRCULAR ECONOMY


Governments in Australia and elsewhere are moving away from a linear to a circular economy.  The first country to move along this path was Finland in 2016.

Australian states, starting with South Australia, are also moving towards a circular economy. 


So what are these two different economies?  The linear economy is based on the “take, make and dispose” model.  This results in wasteful use of natural resources with increasing amounts of material ending up in landfill.


A circular economy “aims to keep resources circulating in our economy to maximise value, generate local jobs and minimise waste. It can open up new markets and business models and lead to innovative resource and waste management solutions.“ (Too Good to Waste, NSW EPA discussion paper Oct. 2018)


According to this discussion paper NSW could obtain material cost savings of up to $9 billion per year.

The environmental benefits would also be significant. In a world where it is becoming increasingly obvious that natural resources are finite, it makes good environmental as well as economic sense to replace raw materials with recovered and recycled products.  Such re-use also minimises potential environmental impacts from the extraction and processing of these materials.


NSW, which started moving towards a circular economy at the end of last year, published its “Circular Economy Policy Statement” in February.  The policy states:  “This transition will generate jobs, increase the robustness of the economy, increase the accessibility of goods, maximise the value of resources, and reduce waste.”


The policy lists eight focus areas as the priority for government action.

One of these is government and business procurement practices which will drive demand for recovered materials and reusable products.


Another relates to avoiding wasting organic resources by encouraging recovery and re-use.   An example given is that donating unused food is preferable to composting, energy recovery or disposal.  And another deals with responsible packaging. The aim is to reduce packaging as well as increasing its recycled content and recyclability which will drive local demand for recycled materials.


Successful transition to a circular economy will have enormous economic as well as environmental benefits. 

            - Leonie Blain

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 1, 2019

Thursday, 4 July 2019

THE BLUEBERRY INDUSTRY IN THE CLARENCE VALLEY AND WATER USE


The Daily Examiner's headline (on June 10 this year) “Regulator begins new water works”, with the responsible regional director, admitting his team has a big job ahead, certainly attracted attention.

Compliance monitoring of the local intensive horticulture industry has been virtually non-existent to date, so closer scrutiny, particularly of its water usage, is welcomed. However, why wasn't action taken sooner, and why were earlier reported problems ignored?

The Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) first raised concerns about the industry's activities in 2011, in response to reports of illegal land clearing near Halfway Creek. That offender was reportedly fined $150,000, a penalty we later learned is often regarded by the industry as “a cost of doing business” (Inter-agency Blueberry Working Group minutes, February 15, 2017).

In ensuing years, the CEC fought several irrigation proposals, including one to pump water from State Significant wetlands.

In 2015, an industry push to be allowed to dam larger streams and harvest more water, saw the government undertake a review into water regulation and invite public input.  The CEC put in a submission to this review.

In March 2016, Clarence Valley Council announced the development of Australia's largest blueberry farm alongside the Orara River (a tributary of the Clarence River). A subsequent application to pump 60 megalitres (ML) a year, from the Orara was opposed by CEC, who argued that it, and their 90 ML harvestable rights, was only sufficient water for 70 ha of blueberries. Given the Lower Orara has only 800 ML available for irrigation under licence', the question was, where would the remaining 2,000 ML come from.

That matter went before a Tribunal hearing in early 2017 where, incredibly, Water NSW used a tax-payer funded lawyer, to successfully argue that the CEC's evidence not be heard.

The licence approval was subsequently granted and approximately 400 ha prepared for planting, complete with buried drip irrigation pipe and plastic covering. Then, in late 2018, all work stopped and the entire operation was advertised for sale.

With rumours that the operation cannot proceed because there's insufficient water, it will be interesting to see what the promised compliance blitz uncovers.

            - John Edwards

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on June 24, 2019

Sunday, 16 June 2019

BAMBOO AND CARBON SEQUESTRATION


Cultivated by humans for centuries, bamboo is a grass which grows very quickly, reaching its full height in one growing season.  It can then be harvested for pulp or other purposes or allowed to grow to maturity. After harvesting it will re-sprout and continue growing.

Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming (edited by Paul Hawken) is  a book which discusses 80 ways of reversing global warming  and a further 20 possibilities as "coming attractions". According to an article in this book, bamboo can play an important role. ( For more information about these solutions check  Project Drawdown )


“Bamboo rapidly sequesters carbon in biomass and soil, taking it out of the air faster than almost any other plant, and can thrive on inhospitable degraded lands.”

Added to these impressive qualities is the fact that it has the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile strength of steel.   It has a wide range of uses.  In building   it is utilised for frames, flooring and shingles.  It is also used for scaffolding in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.

 Furniture is made from it as are utensils such as chopping boards, chopsticks, and wooden stirring spoons.   It is also used to make baskets and other containers, as food for both humans and animals, and for biofuels, charcoal and increasingly for fabric for clothing such as t-shirts and socks. It can also be used for paper, producing six times as much pulp as a conventional pine plantation.

As a grass, bamboo contains minute silica structures – phytoliths.  These resist degradation longer than other plant material, remaining in the soil for at least hundreds of years. 

According to Drawdown “The combination of phytoliths and bamboo’s rapid growth make it a prolific means to sequester carbon.”

An added benefit is its ability to replace high emissions products such as cotton, plastics, aluminium, steel and concrete - meaning its carbon reduction impact is even greater.

A proviso to its use is its capacity to be an invasive species damaging existing natural ecosystems. This means any expansion beyond its current approximately 80 million acres worldwide should be in appropriate locations such as already degraded lands.

       
     -Leonie Blain

This is an amended version of the  article that was published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on June 3rd.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

THE ELECTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE


For environmentalists across Australia, particularly those who campaigned for climate change action, saying the election result was a disappointment would be a massive understatement. 

That disappointment is all the more poignant because while a vast majority of Australians rated climate change as their greatest concern, it seems that most are more interested in immediate threats to their personal well-being.

While I was handing out how to vote leaflets, one lady informed me she firmly believed climate change predictions were nonsense, and the changes that are occurring were simply a 20 year weather cycle. That is the level of denial we are facing, because our feuding political class refuses to be up-front with the Australian people, and acknowledge the threats facing the planet, and what needs to be done to limit their impact on our children and grandchildren.

In the lead up to the election, neither major party had any ambitious plan for action on climate change, beyond a few grandiose uncosted statements from Labor. Those were negated by a series of conciliatory promises to the mining industry that appeared to support an expansion of coal mining and 'fracking' for unconventional gas, actions guaranteed to further drive global warming.

Regrettably, mining industry backed scare campaigns, and political stunts like waving lumps of coal around in parliament, have made the whole climate change debate so toxic, that no-one in government is game to act.
The consensus of scientific opinion agrees there is now no way to save our iconic Great Barrier Reef, and the immediate extinction of tens of thousands of the earth's species is now inevitable. The only hope for the remainder, they say, is immediate and drastic action, something now put on hold, in Australia at least, for another 3 years.

Only this week, research results by the respected Pottsdam Institute were released showing that polar melting of ice caps is accelerating at a much faster rate than expected, something that cannot be reversed for thousands of years. 

These are just some of the challenges the new government faces. For our grand-children's sake, let us hope they are up to that challenge.

            - John Edwards

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on May 27, 2019

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

IS THIS FEDERAL ELECTION THE CLIMATE ELECTION?


Australia faces some serious environmental problems, many having been highlighted in the current election campaign.  But the environmental problem receiving the most attention is climate change.

This is not surprising as it has become increasingly obvious to a growing number in the community that climate change is fuelling extreme weather events such as prolonged drought and heatwaves as well as reef bleaching, bushfires and many other dramatic changes to natural systems. 

More electors are demanding effective action to curb the emissions causing these changes.  Of particular significance are the growing calls for action from the young – those who will be forced to deal with catastrophic impacts if effective action is not taken urgently.

So what is on offer from the major parties in the election campaign?

The Coalition parties are promising more of the same – a continuation of the direct action policy in which taxpayers pay polluters to curb their emissions.  There are no plans to lift energy from renewable sources above 23% and there is clear support for the continued burning of coal and building of coal power stations instead of any plan to phase out this energy source.

The division on climate policy within the Coalition has made it impossible for it to develop and implement an effective policy. This was clearly shown with the failure of the NEG (National Energy Guarantee) last year and the coup against Prime Minister Turnbull.   Despite this division and the continuing rise in carbon emissions, the current Prime Minister and others in the Coalition have unrealistically claimed that the nation will meet its Paris commitments “in a canter”. 

The Coalition is failing future generations as well as ignoring the long term national interest.
The Labor Party wants much greater cuts to emissions – 45% by 2030 - and the move to 50% renewable energy by 2030.  While this is a distinct improvement on the Coalition’s position, there are significant weaknesses in its policy including its support for fracking gas in the NT’s Beetaloo Basin.

A climate emergency has recently been declared in the UK.  What chance is there of that happening in Australia?

            - Leonie Blain

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on May 6, 2019