2019 in Review – Climate Protests and You

2019 has been a bleak year with the worsening climate crisis and proof that we are also facing a major extinction crisis comparable with the great extinction episodes of the distant past.  And we have already begun a very frightening fire season.

“Climate change is super-charging our natural disaster risks. I wish we were wrong, but we’re not.” – former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, Greg Mullins.

It has also been a bleak year due to the failure of politicians in Australia and around the world to even acknowledge the crisis we are in.  The federal election set the worst agenda we could have had. 

But it has also been a great year for people – particularly young people – strongly voicing their concerns about the future.  On Friday 20th September more than 100,000 people joined the Climate Strike in Melbourne and hundreds of thousands around the world. 

The wonderful thing about the Strike is that it was led by young students – with flair and enthusiasm.  Just look at the photos here. As several signs pointed out, they were too young to vote for their future (some of the kids led chants with voices that hadn’t broken).  But the decisions made by todays failing leaders will have awful consequences for them, not the lucky generations of parents and grandparents.  BEAM was there.  But, as a grandparent and after seeing all those great young people, I had mixed feelings of exhilaration and deep grief for them all.  We in Australia have been the luckiest generation there ever has been – and probably ever will be.  We owe them something – and not just spend the inheritance as we have been doing.

Photos:  Melbourne September 20 #ClimateStrike photos_credit: Julian Meehan

Since then, Extinction Rebellion has been a strong voice for action on climate, run by young people – and many older supporters – across the world  The protesters are demanding governments tell the truth about the climate and ecological crises we are now in, act now and listen to their citizens on climate and ecological justice. 

Sadly – and predictably given the current political climate among both major parties – the response to all this has been abuse and threats.  Can’t they see that they are the extremists trying to shut down democracy rather than listening to the voices of science and the voices of people around the world.  

Many people feel very strongly about this.  500 people went on hunger strikes around the world on 19th November, including Daniel Bleakley in Melbourne – see articles on ABC and The Age.  On Saturday 29th, I dropped by;  Daniel was at the doctors and not well after 11 days.  He finished his strike that day, along with 500 other hunger strikers around the world – although at least one person in USA is continuing their strike (see here).   We applaud their heroic actions – but hope their health is not affected as we need young people with their strength of purpose.  Whether they have an impact on politicians is far from certain.

Many other groups are also calling on government to act now, set out emissions targets and strengthen not weaken environmental laws, and provide the resources that this crisis needs to reverse the current trajectories of two degrees plus warming and massive extinctions.  Rallies were held at Parliament House for biodiversity on 28th November with a follow-up student strike for climate action on 29th November.

What can we do?  BEAM’s mailbox is full of warnings and requests from the many groups we are directly linked to or indirectly through our shared philosophies and concern.  In the last couple of weeks, for example:  

  • Victorian National Parks Association and Environment Victoria sent us the notices of Nature for Life Rally and the Student Strike for Climate Action that happened last week (sadly we missed getting this newsletter out in time).
  • Wilderness Society is asking “Are we eating deforestation” and seeking support to put pressure on where the supermarkets obtain their meat – see here.
  • Environment Victoria is asking us to spread the word on how  Energy Australia (as owners of the very polluting Yallourn Power Station) is undermining climate action in Victoria – see here.
  • Environment Victoria is also asking for action from us to persuade the Victorian State Government to set strong climate targets.  They are due to decide on targets by March.  See here and here.
  • The Climate Council is calling for everyone to sign a petition NOW calling on the Australian Government to acknowledge the link between climate change and the catastrophic fire conditions – see here.
  • Environmental Justice Australia is asking for everyone to contact their State and Federal ministers about their actions (or inaction) on national air pollution standards – see here.
  • GetUp and the Greens also regularly seek support for their initiatives around climate and extinction – check out their websites.

If you want to help but don’t have time to act, you can still keep informed through these groups, support them financially, and add your voice to the growing swell of concerned voices across the world.

Peter Mitchell

Seymour Show and the Myths of Recycling

11th to 17th November was National Recycling Week.  You could be excused for missing this one among all the emails – thanks to Cr David Atkinson for the prompt. 

As part of the week, Planet Ark explored the myths around recycling.  It is worth reading – here – about what is and what is not recycled. 

It’s not simple, as we found at the Seymour Show:

Results from surveys of the recycling bins at Seymour Show confirmed that Seymour people do use recycling bins if they are available.

Local group BEAM Mitchell Environment Group took on the challenge for increasing recycling at the show and divert re-usable materials from landfill. 

The group worked with the A&P Society, Mitchell Shire’s Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Education Officer, Grace Davis-Williams, and Cleanaway.  Ten recycling bins and one skip were provided for the show, with recycling “caps” and signs on the bins.

Sorted rubbish in the recycling skip. Just having the skip available to stall-holders diverted a lot of waste from landfill.

To encourage show visitors to recycle their waste correctly, BEAM volunteers then very publicly sorted the contents of the recycling bins. 

Most of the waste in the bins was cans, plastic and glass bottles, and cardboard, all fine for recycling.  There was clearly confusion about what else can be recycled.  In particular, BEAM volunteers found lots of coffee cups and straws – these are not recyclable. 

Small amounts of carelessly discarded food scraps and soggy tissues were put in the waste bins – they  are good for compost worms but contaminate recycling bins and affect recycling processes.

In comparison, waste bins without a nearby recycling bin did contain a lot of recyclable material.

At the end of the day, a full skip bin of recyclables was collected – that’s a lot of waste that didn’t get sent to landfill.

Based on waste volumes generated at last year’s show, this great initiative by BEAM achieved roughly 50% diversion of waste from landfill!

BEAM had several other themes at the stall in the green shed – and has even bigger plans for the Show in 2020.

BEAM at the Seymour Show, October 2019

Bonza bush dance to celebrate 30 years!

A great time was had by all at the 30th anniversary of both BEAM and Landcare. It was fantastic to catch up with some long time supporters and welcome new ones. While bookings were low until the very last minute, 40-50 people turned up to share food and dance. It was the perfect number of people for the space, as we all needed some room to move on the dance floor.

The Guinness Bros bush band was brilliant! If you didn’t make it to this event, make sure you do for the next one. We will be sure to organise another before too long.

Bulk Food Scheme news- online ordering system now live!

We have been busy finishing our new BEAM Bulk Foods Scheme Online Store, including testing the ordering system and updating the catalogue. There will be a number of changes with this new system.

To access the store will first need to become a site member of the food eXchange, which is a one off request. You sign in by going to www.exchangefood.org/shop. You will be asked to provide your email address and a password. Please ensure you familiarise yourself with the new BFS TERMS OF USE & INSTRUCTIONS

The main change is that all BFS members will need to place their own individual order online and pay for their items via direct deposit to BEAM. If you are part of a Pod you will need to invite all your POD participants to become site members as well by forwarding this email. You will be given your own Pod Code at checkout to access the discount. There will be a combined pod order sheet created which can be provided to the pod administrator to know who is involved. 

The other change is that prices will appear higher as there is no longer a levy or freight to add at the end. They have been incorporated into the item price. There will however be a discount at checkout, depending on whether you’re a Divvy Day Helper (10%) or part of a Pod (15%). Those who don’t help won’t receive a discount.

Please bear with us during the initial trial period to see how things work, there could be a few hiccups which we can’t predict until we make a start. We might have to refine the pricing too. If you notice anomalies please let us know. 

The collection end will remain the same and assistance by members to deliver empty containers or collect filled containers from the Bulk Foods HQ is still very much appreciated.

If you have any queries or have know of others who should be informed of this change please get in touch. Next order closes on 23 October and the next divvy up day will be held on 13 November 2019.

Seymour Show a success!

BEAM again had an impressive display at the Seymour Show this year, in the back end of the Green Shed (a point of some contention) shared with Landcare, Mitchell Shire’s Recycling unit and the Catchment Management Authority publications (nothing contentious with all of that).

The design for our display was around “the paddock tree”, and we had a couple of fairly large dead trees as a focal point. This worked well and we plan to do this again- big and bold.

Our live garden display and natives display (for sale) gave us a green edge. The Bulk Foods display turned out well (see the photo).

BEAM took our recycling message out into the public arena. This was the first Show that has had recycling bins, and we were keen to see how diligent Seymour showgoers were at recycling. So….we upended bins around the place on a blue tarp, and with a aloud hailer and some sorters….we found a lot of coffee cups (not able to be recycled because of the plastic inner film) and little contamination. Grace the Waste Management officer from MSC was impressed.

WE think recycling has some distance to travel, but it was a good start. And we had some fun into the bargain.

Sustainable House Day – Seymour walking tour

10am – Sunday 15th September 2019

Bookings via Eventbrite here

Come and join us for a fantastic morning learning first hand how several houses in the Seymour area have retrofitted their properties to make them more comfortable and more sustainable.

This a casual walk around Seymour looking at 4 older Houses and various energy efficient upgrade options explored.

Start at 10.00am    at 20 Heywood Crescent Seymour.   Allow a 3 hour walk in all.

House 1.

A 3 bedroom timber dwelling with poor orientation, but a good opportunity. The Living Room was re-located to gain winter solar access, and a Trombe Wall added for a passive boost. The existing roof, walls and part of the floor were insulated. Water tank, solar water heating, and a rooftop PV was added.

20 Heywood Crescent at the front gate

 

House 2.

A 2 bedroom timber dwelling with the back facing north. A north-facing Living Room on a mass floor was added, with provision for underfloor solar air heating. Water tanks, good low water native garden with intermixed vegetables.

House 3.

No work has commenced on this newly purchased timber dwelling with some orientation challenges. This property invites an on-the-spot design workshop…what is possible?

House 4.

12 months on from last year when only a rooftop PV system with battery storage was installed. A Victorian timber cottage with recent Upgrade works to the Kitchen + Dining + Bathroom have since been completed.  

 

We will be invited for soup and toast after House 4 inspection and discussion.

Hand-out summary notes will be provided.

BEAM continues its opposition to the Seymour Flood Levee

The location of the levee on Robert Street

Since the Council decision to go ahead with the Levee in 2010, there has been very little public discussion or consultation about the levee.  We raised concerns in our submission to the Council’s budget in 2015 and continued to express concerns during the period set aside for public information sessions a few years ago.  Although they did not ask for it, they would have received unsolicited feedback anyhow.  At that time, BEAM sent a  letter to Council with our concerns and background information.  Many others in the community have also raised concerns over that past few years.  So the decision by the current Council to consult with the community before going ahead – and committing $20million to the project – is very welcome.

In 2015, the budget papers indicated funding for “Stage 2 of the project which involves strategic planning for the acquisition of land and construction of the Levee.  What was not clear was the total cost of the levee.  It was at least $6 million in one report in 2009 (Preliminary Design Report 2009) but, in this report, the cost- benefit analysis only compared flood damage to property and infrastructure against the costs associated with construction of the levee.  It omitted many of the environmental, social and financial costs as well as benefits of the levee – and it also omitted any mention of the costs and benefits of any alternatives to the levee.

We have several concerns about the Flood Levee, and these have become stronger during the development of the Seymour Structure Plan (including release of Whiteheads Creek flood maps) and meetings of the Seymour Revitalisation Working Group.  Our specific concerns are: 

1. Hydrology:  The proposed levee will become a significant choke on the river during a major flood, and will increase and focus the force of a flood.  What will be the impact upstream and downstream?  With the current trajectory of the river, a flood is likely to remove the end of Robert Street and take out the private land and Hanna Street downstream.  Yet this is where the levee will be sitting.  And how far downstream – and upstream – will be affected by this increased velocity?  One of the strategies for floodplains (24.01-2) in the Local Planning Policy Framework of the Mitchell Shire Plan states:  Discourage raised earthworks that reduce natural flood storage, obstruct and/or redistribute flood flows, and increase flow velocities and levels.

2. Natural values:  as well as being an intrinsic part of Seymour’s heritage, these trees and the remnants of riverine forest along New Crossing Place Park (including Lions and Apex Parks) have very high conservation values and are covered by environmental overlays in the Planning Scheme  In particular, the big old Red Gums in New Crossing Place Park Old are an important resource for a wide diversity of wildlife including possums and gliders.  Tthe gradual loss of the trees in the region is pushing many animals to the point of extinction.  Construction of the levee will cause disturbance of the parks and bushlands. Several of the old Red Gums on the floodplain (particularly along Tierney Street) will be removed.

Seymour waterfront, with large Red Gums which are home to many wildlife.

3. Heritage values:  the proposed levee will have a major impact on the New Crossing Place and Old Town Historic Precinct listed as heritage sites in the Planning Scheme – including the backdrop provided by the big old Red Gums on the floodplain.  .  The levee will place a visual as well as physical barrier between the town and the river bank – it will be an eyesore.

The view from the Seymour Old Town Heritage Precinct including the Royal Hotel looking towards the river.  The levee will be a wall across this view.

4. Economic issues:  One of the visions for Seymour is for the town – and tourism and hospitality businesses in particular – to engage more with the river as a real drawcard for Seymour.  It is a great asset and more and more people are using the river bank and the great walking trails through the natural and historical areas along New Crossing Place Park.  For more tourism, we need to promote the river and the park, and have businesses turning to look at the river rather than Emily Street.  The barrier caused by a levee will be a big setback to these ideas.

5. Whiteheads Creek:  The proposed levee does not address one of the major threats to the town caused by the floods in Whiteheads Creek.  Whiteheads Creek has a small steep catchment and – as shown in 1973 – heavy rain can cause serious flash flooding.  Climate change modelling suggests that such local intense storms may become more likely.  This has been exacerbated by the choking of Whitehead’s Creek at the railway and Oak Street bridges and embankments.  These floods far more dangerous to lives than the Goulburn flood that arrive slowly enough for everyone to be warned and actions taken to protect people and assets. The levee will not resolve all the flood issues in Seymour. In fact, there is cause for concern that a Whiteheads Creek flood could get into the areas of town enclosed by the levee via subways and cause a much worse situation.  These are very big concerns among people we have spoken to.

6. Flood warnings:  The need for the levee is less than it was ten years ago.  We recognise that a major flood will cause economic distress to many businesses in Seymour.  But we also point out that we have had plenty of warnings over the past 180 years of European settlement.  

7. Alternatives to the levee:  Many business places and residences have heeded these warnings and built to minimise the impact of flooding to a few days of inconvenience caused by flooded roads.  Many of the older buildings have been replaced by buildings on pads or stilts above flood level – including fast food outlets in Emily Street, Aldi, TAFE College, accountants offices – and possible the Seymour Club.  Some newer businesses have built on stilts that allow shaded parking underneath – a good response in a hot climate and one that could be copied by the retailers in town.  The lack of a levee is clearly not deterring businesses in Seymour.  

8. Be prepared:  People and businesses could be provided with information and support to be prepared physically, financially and emotionally for floods.  In other words, prepare for floods as we prepare for fires. In particular, we through the Council should  ensure that vulnerable people in the flood zone are assisted to prepare and withstand the impacts of the floods from the Goulburn River or Whiteheads Creek.

9. Cost of the levee:  The cost of the levee is very high but the benefits of the levee will only affect a small section of the town.  A Goulburn flood would be only a minor inconvenience to most people in Seymour.  Other people in the flood zone are prepared to take the risk – or, as mentioned earlier, are already prepared to minimise the impact of a flood.  Council is asking beneficiaries of the levy about payment through some form of levy, but there are many people and businesses in the flood zones that have already taken action and would not want to pay for the levee.

10.  Catchment management:  Whitehead’s Creek catchment has many steep hills and bare slopes that allow fast runoff of rainwater.  And Whitehead’s Creek is an incised gully that encourages fast drainage rather than allowing water to spread across floodplains.  There is a lot of work needed to rehabilitate the catchment to moderate flows and encourage seepage into the groundwater aquifers.  This will have benefits for farmlands and bushlands.  It will encourage wildlife habitat and provide a sink for carbon sink.

11.  Other ways to spend $20 million?  Floods are not frequent – it is a long time since the last flood came into the town in 1974 .  Another flood is inevitable – we just don’t know when. But $20 million is a big investment for the Shire – plus the continuing cost of maintenance of all the barriers and pumps levee.  That money could be better used for all the other projects that will make life better in Mitchell Shire – the Council and community have plenty of plans ready to go

So we call on the Council to reverse that decision made in 2010 – to abandon plans for the levee and look at the alternatives that will make Seymour flood-ready and a great place to live.

We would like your feedback on these points and any additional points you would like to make – please add them below.

Victorian Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management

BEAM Mitchell Environment Group laments the distinct lack of progress in advancing a widespread government-supported recycling and waste management industry in Victoria. We made a submission to this enquiry:

China’s decision to refuse to take Australia’s dirty and unsorted waste is a wake up call for Australia, and should encourage us as a society to travel the road we could have been on for decades already.

Victorian householders give strong support to recyclables collected at the roadside. Local Government has been active in promoting this scheme as a responsible action to minimise waste being lost to landfill, and for recyclables to be recycled. But industry skill and support in recycling has faltered. Clearly, we have a toxic problem that deserves a serious effort to change how we do business in packaging, and our public expectations of packaging.

BEAM is of the view that

  • We need to promote alternatives to plastics across the full ranges of packaging and manufactured goods. Single use plastic bag banning is just a start.
  • Packaging must be manufactured to be re-usable. Difficult to re-use packaging should be banned. Recycling for re-usable packaging must be efficiently developed, and the State Government should play a leading role in this.
  • We need to REDUCE waste, with public education, industry action and government support for practices that only use recyclable packaging, and less packaging.
  • our collection system needs to be reviewed to educate householders to become more engaged in sorting their recyclables at source. Programs in schools, public places and events are a good place to start.
  • manufacturers of packaging material and retailers of packaged goods should have more obligation to take responsibility for the downstream re-use of their packaging;
  • Minimum levels of recycled material to be introduced into packaging feedstock mandated by Government;
  • Manufacturers should be supported to develop products using recycled materials.
  • Government to be a leader in the purchase of the products of this minimum mandated recycled material content;
  • All beverage containers attract a container deposit like most of Australia. Victoria has a pathetic record in this successful initiative pioneered by South Australia;
  • Single use packaging should be outlawed (fits with packaging must be recyclable, and industry established to efficiently DO the recycling, as above), in conjunction with a Statewide education initiative to encourage shoppers to bring their cloth bags with their wallets, always.

Further, the timber industry needs to recognise the higher value uses of timber (for buildings, furniture, craft) rather than downgrading to meet outdated pulp and paper targets. This has particular significance in how we view and conserve native forest areas. Regional Forest Agreements must give way to smarter practices in valuable native forests.

Drinking water fountains and refill facilities should become widely available, like in public places.

The Victorian Government must also work in partnership with other States and with the Federal Government to design and structure a national recycling industry.

Resource recovery should be at the forefront of how we treat our recyclable and waste material. BEAM sees that waste material generation suggests an incomplete manufacturing process. Getting material back into the user stream must become our goal, and with a level of urgency.

Landfill is expensive and not a modern response to recyclable and waste material. The time for a smarter and more resource efficient solution to packaging beyond its first life is now.

BEAM welcomes this inquiry and challenges the State Government to give the inquiry the substance to create a change in our way of doing things that sees recyclables back into the packaging stream, that a packaging stream has only recyclables, and the very generation of waste material is challenged. Such a changed attitude and practice will be of great benefit to our society, to our economy and to our efforts to address Climate Change. This is the challenge for the 21st century- being smarter and more efficient, and more appreciative of a quality of life that is built on better education being greater commitment to efficiency.

Peter Lockyer, President, BEAM Mitchell Environment Group Inc.