Tag Archives: environment

‘Keep rain where it falls’: Michael Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy’

After Council connected Quaama to the Brogo Dam supply in 1984, they sent a truck through the village collecting everyone’s rainwater tanks. ‘You won’t be needing these anymore—let us do you a favour and remove them for you!’ They needed people to pay for household water now—the last thing they wanted was people collecting their own.

But by the time we built our new house in 2008, the NSW Government was offering rebates for every new tank connected to toilets or washing machines. And development approval relied on such environmental features too.

Many Quaama residents collect rainwater from their roofs now. For those who don’t, their share soaks into their garden, or runs off into the channels that Council digs along the roadsides, breeding mosquitoes and frogs until it seeps into the ground or evaporates. But at least the rain ‘stays where it falls’—one of the main tenets of Michael Mobbs’s presentation to the Bermagui Institute in February. Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy‘, has disconnected his inner-Sydney home from mains water and sewer (and electricity) and promotes sustainable living.

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In the line of fire

1.30 am, New Year’s Eve. The FiresNearMe text: Put your plan into action. I hear a vehicle down on the road, coming in from the forest. Then another. Soon, a constant stream.

2 am. We’re backing down the driveway, in two cars. I have the dogs, food for them, water, my walker, and the Mechanic has my scooter, our documents bag and the go-bag, which has been sitting in a corner for weeks.

Down at the Quaama fire shed an RFS guy stops us.
Do you know anyone out at Verona? he says.
Plenty, why?
Lots of homes are threatened. We can’t get out there, not enough of us.
Later, too late, I wondered if he wanted us to ring and warn them.

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Bee crisis? It’s complicated.

Hives imported to pollinate almonds

Every year in late August, convoys of semi-trailers converge on two big almond farms outside Mildura on the Murray River. They have journeyed from Queensland, South Australia and from all over NSW and Victoria. The cargo? Bee hives.

‘Almond growers have built a landscape that’s very good at creating almonds but it doesn’t have the ingredients that these insects have evolved with’. That’s Dr Saul Cunningham speaking, and he means that pollinators need nesting sites and diverse foods. After all, almond trees flower for just two weeks. Monoculture crops like those huge almond orchards cannot sustain natural pollinators, creating a market for beekeepers who subsidise their honey businesses by renting out their bees at a current rate of $70 a hive. It doesn’t sound like much—until you realise that those almond farmers need 180,000 hives every year. That’s an annual road trip for about a third of Australia’s honey bee population.

Saul Cunningham is Director of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University and specialises in the area of maintaining biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. He was speaking at the Bermagui Beach Hotel on 2 May as a guest of the Bermagui Institute. His topic: ‘Is there a bee crisis?’

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Lesley Hughes: hope is her strategy

Lesley Hughes: ‘The balance between optimism and pessimism is a very fine line …’

Australia’s 28th Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his cabinet were sworn in on Monday, 16 September 2013. His first act was to abolish the Climate Commission.

‘We knew it was going to happen and we had a plan,’ said Professor Lesley Hughes, a founding commissioner. ‘We had already registered the name “Climate Council”.’ She was speaking at the Bermagui Institute Public Dinner on 7 February 2019.

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What’s a forest worth?

David Lindenmayer has studied the Victorian Central Highlands flora and fauna for 35 years.

‘Most people in Melbourne know who runs around in tight shorts and kicks goals for Carlton or Collingwood but they have no idea where their water comes from.’ Professor David Lindenmayer

This is a story about science, but it’s also a story about wilful ignorance, a looming catastrophe, and, to run with the football reference, an ‘own goal’ on the part of government. It’s a story about Mountain Ash forests 90 minutes to the northeast of the MCG, but it could just as easily be about our forests here on the Far South Coast of NSW.

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Pumped hydro: this could just be the solution to the energy storage problem

Photo: www.ecogeneration.com.au

One hundred percent renewable energy to power Australia? It sounds like a pipedream—unless you were in the audience at the Bermagui Institute Dinner at Il Passagio on 21 September to hear Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering at the Australian National University, speak about pumped hydro energy storage.

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The EDO’s Sue Higginson: solastalgia, subplots and lawfare

Trials and tribulations: Sue Higginson spoke of her work with the Environmental Defenders Office
Trials and tribulations: Sue Higginson spoke of her work with the Environmental Defenders Office at Il Passaggio in February.

NSW Environmental Defenders Office CEO Sue Higginson paints a picture of EDO lawyers, haggard and caffeinated, racing between their office on Clarence Street and the Land and Environment Court on Macquarie Street, chasing “mining companies with the deepest pockets you can imagine” and “lawyers who lodge Notices of Motion at 1 am”.

It’s comical until you realise the gravity of the work. The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) concentrates its resources on the cases that other lawyers don’t take on. Important public interest cases. Cases where there’ll be a lasting or permanent impact on the environment, where governments haven’t followed the law. Blowing the whistle, holding governments to account.

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On to Plan B: adapting for a radically changing planet

towersIt was pretty clear to scientists in the 1990s that man-made carbon emissions were causing climate change—it had started with the Industrial Revolution. Two plans of action were mooted. Plan A: reduce emissions (mitigation). Plan B: adapt to the changes. But we weren’t going to need Plan B, were we? The fix was clear, and there was plenty of time …

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A clear answer to an unclear question: Helen Caldicott on SA’s nuclear future

helen caldicott1
Dr Helen Caldicott: “Education is key” to curtailing the nuclear industry

Dr Helen Caldicott, anti-nuclear activist, humanist, physician, returned to Bermagui on 10 February during a week when South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was preparing to deliver its “Tentative Findings”. Dr Caldicott was speaking at the Bermagui Institute dinner; her topic was “Nuclear South Australia”.

The speaker shared anecdotes from her forty years of campaigning, detailed the hazards to human health and the environment presented by the nuclear industry, and advanced three main points: one, that the recent search for a site to store radioactive waste from Australia’s only nuclear reactor is premised on a lie; two, that Premier Jay Weatherill’s pursuit of a nuclear industry for SA is unnecessary and dangerous; and three, that public education and the democratic process are the only means by which nuclear expansion can be curtailed.

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Will Steffen: a chilling message about a warming climate

Will Steffen spoke at Il Passagio in September 2015
Will Steffen spoke at Il Passagio in September 2015

Upon hearing that the planet had warmed by one degree Celsius, a conservative politician said that he could get on a plane in Melbourne and get off in Sydney an hour later and find the temperature higher by a comfortable six degrees, so what’s the problem?

In fact, a global rise of one degree has increased the incidence of extremely hot days in southeast Australia by a factor of ten. It’s because temperatures, like most natural phenomena, arrange themselves along Bell curves. And a shift to the right of just one degree has massive ramifications, not at the height of the curve but at that very low, very sensitive-to-change high end. If it seems that bushfires are starting earlier in the season and becoming more frequent lately, that explains why.

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