Petition to Mitchell Shire Council: Declare a Climate Emergency!

We acted on the fires.
We are acting on Covid-19.
We must act on the Climate Emergency!

We have just 10 years to keep Global Warming below 1.5 degrees.

Current local plans of zero emissions by 2050 will fall far short of this.   Globally, 1500 local and other governments, representing 820 million citizens in 30 countries have declared a Climate Emergency. In Australia, 84 local councils have declared a Climate Emergency. A Climate Emergency Plan will generate strategic local actions to reduce our emissions.

We call on Mitchell Shire Council to declare a Climate Emergency and plan to take bold actions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.

Sign the petition NOW
  SIGN  HERE

BEAM’s response to the EPBC Act Review

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is the key Federal legislation for the protection of the environment by the Federal Government. It is regularly reviewed, and the latest review is underway now (although this review may be pre-empted by the Government who want to reduce “green tape” likely to put business interests ahead of sound evidence-based conservation).

Peter Mitchell wrote on behalf of BEAM:

I am a retired ecologist still very busy working with Landcare, other environment groups and landholders in central Victoria. Many people in regional Victoria are caring for the natural environment on their land and in local reserves, using their own time and money with occasional funding from government.  Despite all the good work and intentions, we are seeing a huge decline in the natural environment.  Locally, trees are dying or culled and birds and insects are becoming less common.  In the past 50 year we have gone from The Great Extermination of the past described by Professor Jock Marshall to The Extinction Crisis announced and described in 2019.  Clearly the EPBC Act, along with other government programs, have failed us. 

Climate change has severely reduced the resilience of our natural world, with heat, droughts and bushfires over the past year pushing many species closer to extinction.  But we continue to wilfully destroy the environment.  Despite species decline and bushfires, Victoria has recently signed a 10 year modified Regional Forest Agreement with the Commonwealth;  other states have signed up for 20 years with little modification of agreements.  And, against the advice of scientists, post-fire logging is reducing the ability of our forests to recover from the severe bushfires.  Land clearing and chemical pest control for agriculture also continues, both on broad scales in Queensland and NSW, and through the extension of cropping and “death by a thousand cuts” in Victoria.  This is destroying the mosaics of farmlands with large old trees, bushlands and wetlands that have been helping to slow the “extinction debt” since the Great Extermination.  Massive urban growth around cities and regional towns is adding to the destruction. 

These are all Threatening Processes, and we need a strong EPBC Act to help reverse the current rapid decline of our biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

The Safe Climate Declaration

The National Climate Emergency Summit held in Melbourne Feb 14-15 2020 painted a dark picture on where our climate trajectory is taking us if we fail to address out carbon emissions and our relationships with mother Earth. The Summit produced a positive action-based declaration “The Safe Climate Declaration” at its conclusion. Former Australian Coal Association president Ian Dunlop read the declaration, flanked by Carmen Lawrence. What was reassuring at the conference was the diversity of skills and leadership on climate action from very different political backgrounds….Peter Garrett and John Hewson, for example. The Safe Climate Declaration is a straight shooting document for action, a positive document of policy above policy. As the bipartisan parliamentary action on Covid-19 demonstrates, we are not beyond responding to an emergency despite our different politics.

Gardening for Wildlife in a Time of Isolation

Hello to all BEAM members and friends,

We hope you are all keeping well and well occupied in your new lives.  We have been spending a lot of time in the garden during our lovely Autumn days.

Judging by the conversations with friends – and the sale of seedlings in the local shops – many people are also sitting outside with a cup or glass or getting down and dirty in the garden.  The time now available to many of us at home has created lots of opportunities to enjoy, enhance our gardens and record the wildlife in our backyards.   Read on…..

Creating a Garden for Wildlife

Now is a great time to working in your gardens.  We have been re-organising our vegetable garden and planting lots of vegetables.  But we have also re-designed our garden to accommodate more native plants.  We are now seeing a few more birds and a wide variety of insects, spiders and more in our backyard.  Recently we were surprised and very pleased to see a female Red-capped Robin in our yard.  Apart from the pleasure of watching native wildlife in your garden, you will be helping the survival of our local fauna and your garden will benefit from attracting all the pollinators and predators needed to create a healthy garden and a joyous place to be. 

In addition to planting a diversity of native plants for birds and insects, you can also:  set up a bird bath or 2, make and install insect hotels for native bees, set up a frog pond (I have seen clips on using PVC pipe scraps to create shelter for frogs), set up rock piles for shelter and basking areas and much more!

Here are some useful sites on providing information and ideas for helping you make a garden that is wildlife friendly. 

Gardens for Wildlifehttps://gardensforwildlifevictoria.com/.  Local Group at   http://www.apsmitchell.org.au/gardens-for-wildlife/ or @g4wmitchell on Facebook

Habitat Stepping Stoneshttp://www.habitatsteppingstones.org.au/

Sustainable Gardening Australiahttps://www.sgaonline.org.au/.  Great site for resources and advice on setting your gardens up sustainably – useful for productive and non productive gardens as well as tips for wildlife friendly gardening

Citizen science in your backyard

You can get even more involved by recording and talking about the species you see in your backyard.  Several citizen science projects are running now and they are great family activities.

Birdlife Australia:  Birding at Home activities:  https://www.networkbirdlife.org/birding-at-home.  Enjoy a cuppa with the birds – 10 min bird survey during your morning cuppa.  Site has information, video clips of birds and resources

Wild Pollinator Count – open now:  https://wildpollinatorcount.com/blog/.  This is a simple survey run twice yearly – get involved.  The site has great resources and guides on how to contribute

Happy gardening

Peter and Barbara

Climate Change Bill

Dear BEAM members

People power can make change happen. In 2008, the UK voted in favour of a Climate Change Act that was introduced by an Independent member of parliament.

As you know, on the 23rd of March, Zali Steggall will introduce the Climate Change Bill to Parliament and demand a conscience vote on the Bill.

To support Zali’s Bill, join the 74,000+ people who have already signed a petition that you will find on https://www.climateactnow.com.au/

In Nicholls, you also have a chance to influence change by writing to Damian Drum. As your representative, he has a duty to respond to his constituents’ demands to vote in support of Zali’s Bill.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider writing, emailing and/or phoning Damian Drum and demand that he vote in favour of this Bill. Let’s flood his office.

Use the text of this BEAM email and use it for your letter to Damian Drum 
Please forward this email to friends who vote in Nicholls.
You can contact him by:

Peter Lockyer
President
BEAM Mitchell Environment Group

The fires – humanity and science

This season’s bush fires have affected most people – some directly and many indirectly through personal connections or broader concerns for people, animals and the environment.  Reading Annemaree Docking’s article on her personal experiences with fire raised some memories of my past experiences with fires.  The risk of fire is escalating with the climate crisis, and we all – personally and collectively – need to decide how to respond.  And our responses, as Annemaree says, should be based on the best available evidence in these extra-ordinary times.

Our personal responses to the direct threat of fire will depend on the circumstances.  After 2009, I visited many fire-affected properties to support the recovery efforts of the landholders.  And heard many awful and amazing stories.  Before that fire, I had not fully realised how massive and overpowering such a fire could be.  After the fire, we decided that, in similar extreme conditions of ferocious hot winds blasting across the dry landscape, we would leave that morning (or night before) based on the forecast and not the imminent threat of fire.  Even though we only lived on the edge of a town, not in the forest, we did not want to take the risk. 

The Mickleham fire in 2014 may not have been as big and ferocious as the Black Saturday fire but it was big enough to spread widely across farmlands in the district and take a huge effort by fire crews and several days to quell.  18 houses were lost and – significantly – 16,000 livestock were killed.  Annemaree stayed and successfully saved her animals.  But could all the animals have been saved?  In 1978, a hot, fast-moving grass fire near Bairnsdale killed two people who were trying to save their livestock, and  I spent the following week assisting in the shooting of hundreds of badly burnt survivors of the more than 6000 sheep and cattle killed in that fire.  It is often impossible – and very risky – to stay and try to protect or move livestock in front of a fire.  But what an awful decision to have to make.

How do we – collectively – protect people and animals and assets from fire.  This is already being hotly debated with some simplistic solutions around the reduction of fuel in the forests.  To some extent, this is a problem of our own making – more and more people are moving out of cities into forested areas – very attractive places to live but also very dangerous in summer.

So do we burn – and graze and mulch and trample – the forests to reduce fuel loads?  From my readings on this, the evidence is very confusing.  Are controlled burns effective in moderating fires and making them easier to control?  Hard to imagine in extreme crown fires in forests.  But also, how much does the regular burning of forests affects the biodiversity and ecological functions of forests and even possibly increase fire risks with the regrowth? 

The Royal Commission after the 2009 Black Saturday fires recommended that 5% of crown land be burnt every year.  This 5% rule resulted in inappropriate burns in sensitive and remote country, at least in part because it was more possible to get to 5% within the verynarrow window for controllable burns in Spring and Autumn and with the limited resources available to do the burns. 

But a real concern from ecologists was about the impact of regular burns on forest environments.  Regular fire is good in some ecosystems such as grasslands and heathlands), but is disastrous in others.  For example, three fires from 2003-2013 near Mt Feathertop has wiped out a lot of species including Alpine Ash that didn’t have time to recover between burns.  And fuel reduction burns are often very hot.  There was a lot of damage in Tallarook Flora Reserve and the Cobaws (including big loss of old trees) after “controlled” burns and it will take a long time if ever for full recovery.  In some forests, there is a period of higher fuel loads as trees and shrubs come back more densely in the first phase of recovery. 

But other scientists – and popular demand from some sectors – are saying that we need to burn even more.  So lots of different opinions from people coming from different directions and in different situations.  No one rule will work in all bushland environments.  And what is the purpose of fuel reduction burns – to reduce fire intensity and spread (but with climate change and extreme weathers, how much can we really do?) or protect people and assets with more strategic burns?

One of my favorite parts of Victoria are the alpine areas.  And alpine grazing is one of those issues that come up after fires.  Annemaree deferred to “greater minds” on this topic, but I want to state my position more strongly.  As with climate change denial, inconvenient science is easily dismissed by many people with opposing interests.  Grazing has caused a lot of damage to fragile ecosystems in the alps, particularly the wonderful bogs and waterways.  From 1939, exclusion plots on the High Plains were studied to assess the long-term impacts of grazing.  Despite the evidence, it took until after fires in 2003 and a lot of polarised debate to halt alpine grazing – and there have been efforts to reintroduce grazing since then. 

“Alpine grazing reduces blazing” was a popular car sticker but where was the evidence?  In December 2002, I walked through mobs of cattle, cow dung and polluted streams around the Tawonga Huts on the High Plains.  One month later, it was all burnt.  Dick Williams and others looked at the wider evidence, and found that grazing did not stop blazing.  (Williams, R. J., Wahren, C., Bradstock, R. A., & Müller, W. J. (2006). Does alpine grazing reduce blazing? A landscape test of a widely-held hypothesis. Austral Ecology, 31(8), 925-936. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2006.01655.x.).  So fuel reduction (if any) from grazing had little effect, and I think the catchment and biodiversity values of the alpine areas are a far more important consideration, especially with the serious impacts predicted for climate change on alpine ecosystems and species.  I wouldn’t want to go back to that grazing debate again in this world of populist politics rather than earlier evidence-based decision making that finally excluded grazing in the alps.

One final concern.  After 2009, many areas of the central highland forests were logged before “dead” or damaged trees were no longer useful as timber.  Instead of allowing natural recovery from the surviving plants and the seed bank released after the fire, the ground was disturbed by machinery and by the removal of a significant component of the habitat – the large trees.  Work by David Lindenmayer and others have shown that there are many losses after two successive major disturbances, with increased runoff from disturbed ground, loss of soil nutrients, and impacts on the recovery of plants and animals (including some significant threatened species).  Conservation groups are trying to persuade the government to halt logging in forests burnt this season.  But on March 1st …. Logging is due to start in fire-ravaged forests this week. It’s the last thing our wildlife needs

I am very thankful that this summer has ended with a whimper, but we need to be alert and support all efforts to protect our bushland environments against hasty, ill-informed and populist policies.

Peter Mitchell

4th March 2020

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