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May - Community Wellbeing Measures and overall sustainability, geothermal based electricity generation and more...
At the first Sustainability Group meeting in May we discussed a wide range of items based on news and other media. Neville had found a great video of an 'accidental' bush rehabilitation project which resulted from the illegal dumping of 12,000 tonnes of orange peels in Costa Rica. Informative and amusing.
At our second session we looked at the Australian Government's ongoing development of its community well-being measures which are intended to provide a better way to determine the overall sustainability of our country rather than just relying on the traditional economic or dollar-based measures such as gross domestic product. We also watched a video on the development of geothermal-based electricity generation that can essentially be installed anywhere based on new 'closed-loop' boring technology. A replacement for base-load electricity generators which, in Australia, are reliant on fossil fuels.
At our session on Friday 21 April at 10 am we will take a look at one of the proposed new gas fields; Beetaloo in the NT. With the Government's new 'safeguard' measures in place, any high greenhouse gas emitter will need to reduce their emissions. New projects may find this particularly tough. By coincidence CSIRO has assessed how the Beetaloo project might be able to reach net zero GHG emissions from the start; but it will cost!
This will be our main topic but there's still plenty of other topics to cover. I've attached links to some articles which you may find of interest in an email sent to class members today.
At our first session in March the Sustainability group looked at the review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The EPBC Act is the federal government's primary legislation for protecting matters of national environmental significance. These range from protected species and vegetation communities and places such as World Heritage Areas (such as Melbourne's Exhibition Building and Kakadu), amongst others. The review, which was completed in 2019, found the legislation was not working. The condition of all the things that are meant to be protected are declining and continue to decline, particularly those matters in the natural environment. The federal government has responded proposing new legislation. This is to be based on a series of principles including, specific standards for matters of National Environmental Significance against which all decisions will be judged, First Nations engagement and participation in decision making, community engagement and consultation, regional planning and environmental offsets. The new legislation will be available for consultation purposes around the middle of 2023.
At our second session, group members raised items of interest to them for the group to consider. Len ran a video and went through other material concerning the problem of carp in our waterways - he was keen to recruit us to the 'carp haters' collective! Other issues discussed included the importance of trees in cooling urban areas and a wacky idea of blowing dust of the moon to provide a 'sunshade' for the earth to limit atmospheric heating.
The Sustainability group kicked off the year on 3 February with a quick review of the issues we covered last year including reminding ourselves of what true sustainability means, being where we achieve sustainability across the three intersecting areas of the economy, society and the environment. We then discussed an article written by Valclav Smil who suggested nine things that would make the world a better place. It was quite a diverse list from a universal vaccine precursor, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, self cleaning photo-voltaic paint through to a global sunshade.
In our second session on 17 February we had the first of our new look sessions where group members bring along issues or articles and lead discussions about the issues raised. Among the issues discussed was a recent article demonstrating how far we actually have come in reducing carbon dioxide emissions globally and that the dire predictions of climate change of the early 2010s are no longer feasible. Additionally we discussed the review of the Federal government's carbon offsets scheme and the report on it by a former Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, who found that not all was rosy in the offsets garden. The government is currently implementing his recommendations.
November - Community Wellbeing Measures; climate change and coastal hazards; the use of biogas/bioenergy
Over several sessions during the year, we had discussed alternative systems of measuring 'progress' beyond the dollar focussed gross domestic product (GDP). We looked at examples of measuring 'progress' across all sustainability sectors, environment, society and economics - often referred to as 'community well-being'. In our first session in November, we briefly returned to the community well-being issue as the federal Treasurer had promised community well-being measures in his budget. There wasn't much except a budget statement discussing the concept and a promise that government would release a community well-being framework in 2023.
We spent most of this session looking at projected impacts of climate change with regard to coastal hazards and what some councils have been doing to prepare their communities for the possible long-term impacts. In doing so, we looked at what constitute coastal hazards and how warming sea temperatures and sea level rise will increase these hazards.
At our second November session, we took a look at the use of biogas/bioenergy, the processes to produce it (methane) and why, unlike fossil fuel sourced gas (also methane), it is considered a renewable source of energy. The Federal govt released a 'roadmap' in late 2021 to ramp up this industry. While biogas is still methane and therefore produces CO2 and water when burnt, its recognition as renewable energy means it is considered a good transition fuel, compared to fossil fuel gas, and possibly has a long-term future in areas where it is difficult to replace gas/liquid fuel, such as in aviation.
No meeting this week, but I see CSIRO's most recent ECOS magazine features 'resilience'. You might like some/all the articles. You can access the magazine at:
We will be meeting again this coming Friday 4 November at 10:00 am. I propose we briefly return to the community well-being issue to see what was in the budget (briefly because there is not much!).
Then I'd like to take you through the projected impacts of climate change with regard to coastal hazards and what some councils have been doing to prepare their communities for the possible long-term impacts.
PS: you might like the attached articles on extreme weather from a recent New Scientist journal.
Cr Danny Claridge "environment & climate plans need substan-tial review", plus Community Wellbeing Frameworks & budgets
At the first Sustainability group meeting in October, we heard from Cr Danny Claridge about the upcoming review of Council's environment and climate change adaptation plans. These plans were first prepared around 2013 and Danny suggested they were in need of substantial review. He indicated that staff working on the review would be keen to hear directly from people as the redrafting was proceeding.
At our second meeting we talked about the concept of 'community wellbeing' which has been in the news of late as the Federal Treasurer has mentioned that some principles and measures were to be included in the Australian budget. We noted that Community well-being is essentially the same as the sustainability concept. We looked at the ACT's community well-being framework and how it linked to their budget and noted some other places (NZ, Scotland and Bhutan) had already gone down this path.
Next Tuesday, the Federal Government will bring down it's first budget since being elected. The Treasurer has announced that the budget will include some community well-being measures in addition to the using gross domestic product as the measure of our country's 'progress'. We don't know yet what community well-being measures will be included or what funding will be directed at programs to achieve these measures.
Now we have talked generally about this before, but at this session I'd like to pose the question, has the concept of community well-being killed of sustainability as a concept? The following link to an article from The Conversation provides a little background.
Looking forward to seeing you on Friday, 21 October at 10:00 am.
Cr Danny Claridge on Benalla Rural City's Climate Change Adaptation Plan & Environment Plan
Cr Danny Claridge met with the group at our session on 7 October 2022 to discuss changes to the Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Environment Plan.
Key points he made were:
A number of other issues were raised in a Q&A session. These included;
A reminder that we'll have Cr Danny Claridge join us on Friday 7 October to talk about the planned review of Benalla's Climate Change Adaptation and Environment plans.
For your pre-reading, here are the links to the action tables from each plan:
Benalla Climate Change Adaptation Plan - Action Table
Benalla Environment Plan - Action Table
I hope you can find your areas of interest and that you have your questions and comments ready.
Looking forward to seeing everyone on Friday.
September - A look at energy saving standards for new houses and the Federal Government's Emissions Reduction Fund
At our first meeting in September, the Sustainability group looked to the 'stars'. Did you know that the minimum sustainability/energy saving standards for new houses and some renovations in most of Australia is 6 Stars (out of 10). In Victoria this is soon to rise to 7. At the session we had a look at the rules and recommendations for achieving housing sustainability across a number of issues from climate, lot size & orientation, house orientation, passive house design, energy and water use and long-term liveability and adaptability. We also looked at some examples of houses that have achieved 8 and even nearly 10 stars.
At our second session in September, we looked at the Federal Government Emissions Reduction Fund, the current primary policy the government uses to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from various sectors/industries. In particular, we looked at several of the prescribed 'methods' the government allows to achieve GHG abatement (such as increasing soil carbon).
At our next session on Friday 7th of October at 10 am, we will have Cr Danny Claridge talking to us about the council's upcoming review of Benalla's Environment and Climate Change Adaptation plans.
At this Friday's session at 10 am we will look at the Federal Government Emissions Reduction Fund, the current primary policy instrument the government uses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from various sectors/industries.
In particular I thought we could have a look at several of the prescribed 'methods' the government allows to achieve GHG abatement (such as increasing soil carbon). If you want to do some preliminary reading I suggest you check out the relevant website (https://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/ERF/About-the-Emissions-Reduction-Fund)
Also, as this is the last session before we have Cr Danny Claridge join us to discuss the council's revision of their (our) environment and climate change adaptation plans, I thought we could have a look at the primary targets/actions of the current plans. Here again are the links to these:
Climate change adaptation plan: https://www.benalla.vic.gov.au/Your-Council/Council-Documents/Other-Plans-Strategies/Climate-Change-Adaptation-plan#:~:text=How%20does%20the%20adaptation%20action,after%20eight%20years%20(2021).
Environment plan: https://www.benalla.vic.gov.au/Your-Council/Council-Documents/Other-Plans-Strategies/Environment-Strategy
As some will know, Cr Danny Claridge will be attending our session on 7 October to talk about the upcoming review of Council's environment and climate adaptation plans. Following are links to the current versions of the plan. Don't be put off by the words, I suggest you find the table of actions and focus on these.
Attached is a template that council has asked to be completed so that Cr Claridge has more of an idea of what we will want him to talk about. Could I ask that you have a look at the current plans and add your suggestions to the template. I need to get this away to council so could I please put a deadline on this of next Monday.
Benalla City’s Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan: https://www.benalla.vic.gov.au/Your-Council/Council-Documents/Other-Plans-Strategies/Climate-Change-Adaptation-plan
Benalla City’s environment plan: https://www.benalla.vic.gov.au/Your-Council/Council-Documents/Other-Plans-Strategies/Environment-Strategy
PS: these links take you to the relevant council web pages where you can download PDF files of the plans.
How do heat pumps work?
We've had several questions over time about how heat pumps work; these are used for more efficient heating/cooling (split system air conditioners), hot water systems and refrigerators. I've just come across an article from ABC news online which provides an explanation:
Alan Pears "Heat pumps can cut your energy costs by up to 90 per cent. It's not magic, just a smart use of the laws of physics" ABC News, September 8, 2022. The article first appeared on The Conversation.
Alan Pears is a senior industry fellow at RMIT University and advises the Australian alliance for Productivity and Energy Efficiency Council and others on heat pumps. =
Did you know that the minimum sustainability/energy saving standards for new houses and some renovations in most of Australia is 6 Star (out of 10).
But what does this mean?
At this session we will have a look at the rules and recommendations for achieving housing sustainability across a number of issues from climate, lot size & orientation, house orientation, passive house design, energy and water use and long-term livability and adaptability.
I’ve also previously mentioned that Benalla Council has budgeted for an update of its environment and climate change adaptation plans. I’ve contacted council to see if I can get someone to talk to us about these pieces of work at some future date, but in the meantime we can have a look at the existing plans and perhaps identify changes we think might be worthwhile.
I’ve also included below a link to a recent ABC online news article about the next Commonwealth budget including some non-economic (wellness) indicators.
Sustainable house design case studies (Aust Govt): https://www.yourhome.gov.au/case-studies
Benalla City’s Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan: file:///C:/Users/lane_/Downloads/INFORMATION-Final-Climate-Chanage-Adaptation-Action-Plan-FINAL-15112012%20(1).pdf
Benalla City’s environment plan: file:///C:/Users/lane_/Downloads/document-Environment_Strategy_2016_20.pdf
ABC News 29 Aug 22 – GDP v Wellness: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-29/can-you-tax-tears-gdp-on-the-way-out-wellbeing-budgets/101380286
At the Sustainability Group's first session in August, we discussed the findings of two recently released Australian government periodic reports which provide updates on issues we have previously discussed. These are the CSIRO ‘mega-trends’ report, which was first published in 2012, and the Environment department's 2021 edition of its State of the Environment report (generally published every five years). In the CSIRO's view there are two key new mega-trends that did not feature in its 2012 report; the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change and significant changes to the geo-political environment in the Indo-Pacific region. With the state of the environment report there was a general trend downwards in almost all categories which include 12 issues such as Antarctica and air quality through to marine and urban environments.
At our second session we took a dive into options to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is predicated on the expectation that achieving 'net zero' greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 only deals with emissions being produced today. But if we want to return atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to levels to that which existed around the beginning of the industrial revolution, then we need to come up with techniques that remove large volumes of carbon dioxide from the air. We looked at a variety of nature-based and 'mechanical' means of removing carbon dioxide from the air and either turning the carbon component into long-lived products (such as concrete), burying the gas in stable geological structures or improving the environment (such as increasing soil carbon).
Pre-reading for class on 19 August
This Friday we have another Sustainability Group Session.
I thought that this week we could consider in more depth an issue that has briefly been part of previous discussions; carbon capture from the atmosphere.
We know that while the transition to renewable electrical power generation, together with the 'electrification of everything', is the main game, particularly in the short to medium term, there will be still some types of carbon emissions that won't be able to be 'electrified'. In addition, with the slower than needed reduction in emissions globally, removing carbon from the atmosphere is likely to be required in the medium to long term to eventually bring atmospheric carbon levels back to near pre-industrial times or some other satisfactory level. The need for carbon removal as part of the package of actions has been acknowledged in the recent IPCC working group 3 report.
Here's an information sheet on carbon capture generally for pre class reading, but at our session I'd like to discuss the pros and cons of the variety of carbon capture methods. These include:
Look forward to seeing you all on Friday.
Web reference: https://www.american.edu/sis/centers/carbon-removal/fact-sheets.cfm
Reading for class on 9 August
We have another sustainability session this Friday commencing at 10: am.
Two Australian government periodic reports have been released since we last met which update issues we have previously discussed. For this session I thought it might be of interest to look at changes since these reports were previously published.
These reports can be found at the following links:
Also recommended - recent articles which relate to topics we've covered:
ACF article - Matilda Bowra 'Nature is Everyone's Business'
Country News article - 'Quantifying Natural Capital' on farms https://www.countrynews.com.au/livestock/quantifying-natural-capital/
In our first July session, the Sustainability group began the preparation of an integrated sustainability index that attempts to integrate the social, environmental and economic elements of sustainability; a replacement for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is currently used in Australia which focuses only on economic indicators. The New Zealand government is preparing a draft Wellbeing Index. Our index is based on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the primary organising system. We had a go at drafting 'targets, measures, indexes and scores for these goals. We discovered it's not an easy task.
In our second session we looked at what was needed to achieve a net zero carbon energy system for Australia. We compared two approaches from advocates to 'electrify everything' on the understanding we will eventually achieve carbon-neutral electricity production. The first was a bottom up (household up) approach proposed by Rewiring Australia and the second was a top-down approach proposed by the Clean Energy Council. We then considered these pathways with the Federal government's policy it took to the last election. We found that the new government's policy generally matched the primary the steps each of the advocates propose.
Session 11 - Towards a renewable electricity based energy system - considering current policy and proposals
It’s timely with the sudden rise in energy costs overall, including electricity, to have a closer look at how we move to an energy system based on renewable electricity.
The transition has already begun with all levels; government, industry and household. But it doesn’t seem to be well coordinated.
We will focus on how two independent research/advocacy organisations propose the transition can occur; ‘Rewiring Australia’ considers the transformation from the bottom (household level) up, while the Clean Energy Council outlines steps needed from the top down.
We will then have a look at the new federal government’s policy (from its pre-election manifesto) called ‘Rewiring the nation’ to see how this lines up with the proposals by the two advocacy groups.
We will also spend a little more time working through the Sustainability Index that we worked on last session. Incidentally, there was some news recently that the federal government is to introduce a number of community well being indicators alongside the gross domestic (GDP) indicators.
I’ve also included links to two recent CSIRO/ECOS articles of relevance
Rewiring Australia Organisation: https://www.rewiringaustralia.org/
Clean Energy Council – Energy Transformation: https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/advocacy-initiatives/energy-transformation/
ALP’s Energy transition policy: https://keystone-alp.s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/prod/61a9693a3f3c53001f975017-PoweringAustralia.pdf/
CSIRO ECOS magazine
15 July 2022
June - 'Environmental economic' accounting, Megatrends, Land use planning and the protection of good quality agricultural land
The Sustainability Group met on the 4th and 18th of June. At our first session we looked at various attempts to value biodiversity. In Australia we generally measure our 'wealth' in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is a purely a measure of economic performance of various industry and service sectors within our economy. Many people are concerned that this measure takes little or no account of environmental or social aspects of our society. Some countries have begun moving away from GDP to a more comprehensive and inclusive measure of social wellbeing. In our session we looked at some attempts at establishing systems for valuing environmental attributes. Two we considered were the Wentworth Group system of environmental accounting and the United Nations 'system of environmental-economic accounting', the latter being worked on by the governments of Australia.
In our second session we had two topics to discuss. The first dealt with the megatrends that the world is facing. Megatrends are macroeconomic and geostrategic forces that are shaping the world. Presently most pundits see the key issues we face in the long term as being clearly in the sustainability basket; climate change, natural resource scarcity, population growth, pollution, waste and a circular economy amongst others. Our second topic concerned the land use planning and development system, in particular how, and whether, it can protect good quality agricultural land from being converted to non-agricultural forms of land use.
Theme: Valuing nature and biodiversity - Session Outline and Links
United Nations – System of environmental – economic accounting: https://seea.un.org/
DAWE (Aust) – Environment – Economic Accounts: https://eea.environment.gov.au/
Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists – the ‘Econd’: https://wentworthgroup.org/programs/environmental-accounts/
Wikipedia - Ecological economics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_economics
European Forests Institute - Valuing Biological Diversity of Forests: https://efi.int/sites/default/files/files/publication-bank/2018/ir_04.pdf
OECD – Choice Modelling: https://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?doclanguage=en&cote=env/epoc/geei/bio(2001)3/final
Ecosystem Valuation Group – contingent valuation: https://www.ecosystemvaluation.org/contingent_valuation.htm#over
Oregon State University – Intrinsic value of biodiversity: https://today.oregonstate.edu/archives/2015/feb/conservation-needs-recognize-nature%E2%80%99s-intrinsic-value-researchers-say
Healthy Parks Healthy People (Victoria):
Ecology Centre (USA) – Measuring the value of biodiversity: https://www.ecologycenter.us/natural-history-2/measuring-the-value-of-biodiversity.html
'Sustainability' sessions in May
The Sustainability group met on 6 May and 20 May. Based on several articles, our 6 May session continued discussions on how best to achieve net zero carbon gasses emissions from landscapes, both urban and rural. We also considered whether disruptions and social disturbances, such as the war in the Ukraine, will create long-term impediments to meeting global emissions goals by 2050. At a local level, we considered the achievement of a local farmer at Warrenbayne who has been awarded carbon neutrality status under a Meat and Livestock Australia scheme. We also examined which sectors are the biggest carbon emitters in Australia and how these emissions have been tracking over time.
At out 20 May session we discussed the relatively new science that aims to determine how much human emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) can be attributed to severe weather events and our future climate. Attribution science in this scenario makes extensive use of large-scale climate models called general circulation models that assess whether events are made more severe as a result of the presence of human generated GHG emissions. This is still a developing area of science and cannot be reliably used for all types of weather events. We also briefly considered the headline statements from the latest report from the Climate Mitigation working group of the Independent Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which confirmed that without immediate (by 2030) and deep cuts to global GHG emissions, keeping global warming within the 1.5c to 2.0c range is unlikely to be achieved.
Editor's note - If you would like to find out more about the content covered in May, the session agendas and links to reading are included in the previous posts.
True sustainability is only achieved when our society achieves this in three spheres of our activity: Social, Economic and Environmental. Sustainability in each of these three spheres is far from being achieved. This has become the concern of governments and ordinary people world-wide and has resulted in many questions about the sustainability of our present lifestyle. This course aims to explore topics such as global warming and climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, clean energy options, the challenge of population growth, sustainable agricultural practices, water use, sustainable use of resources, sustainable and energy efficient building design and various economic and lifestyle issues. Our sessions during the year will examine different aspects of these major topics with a focus on looking towards a sustainable future. No prior knowledge of these topics is required just a general interest in the issues around climate change and sustainability. With discussion of these topics throughout the year you will find that you become better informed about these issues.
1st and 3rd Friday
10 am to 12 midday
U3A Meeting Room 1
Convenors and contact details
0474 936 460
Renewable Energy Benalla - website
Economists for Equity and the Environment
The Future Economy
Population Matters-For A Sustainable Future
Strathbogie Voices Seminars on Climate Change in Euroa (YouTube)
Frank Dunin's paper 'Fire reduces water harvest from Melbourne's water supply catchments'.
Frank Dunin's response 'Chemistry Lesson for Scott Morrison'
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