Saturday, October 12, 2019

Guilt Trips, Carbon Offsets and how to really prevent Global Warming

In answer to my friend’s question “What am I doing about Climate Change?” 
No, I haven’t been protesting in the streets this time or gluing myself to the pavement, but I have just contributed to the Timor-Leste Community Forestry Programme via Gold Standard’s verified Offset Program.  I know full well that many Offset Programs are flawed  and a bit like the indulgences which used to be sold by the Catholic Church as someone put it. They also distract us from the other things which really need to be done or rather not done - to reduce actual emissions. However, retaining and restoring tropical forests remains an important one, along with helping our neighbours, so I am sticking with this one for now, especially as Timor-Leste was a place I wanted to go and help.

If you want to know why restoring tropical forests still ranks highly when properly done, watch the excellent Ted Talk by Chad Frischmann from Project Drawdown

You could also do their excellent quiz, the results of which may surprise you as much as they did me.
Until now nearly all the focus has been on individuals – as with recycling it's much easier to point the finger at consumers, yet major issues such as mass transit, large scale renewable energy production or the infrastructure to support say, electric cars or switching to non –fossil fuels are largely beyond the capacity of individuals. I’m sure by now we have all changed our light bulbs, set the washing machine on Eco -wash and turned off our appliances when we aren’t using them, so protest we must if our governments aren’t listening.

Population, Proximity and Distribution

It’s easy to say that of course, and it may well work in small, largely homogenous and densely populated countries like those in Europe or Asia, but without wishing to make excuses for my own country or state, it becomes very difficult when you have a small population, are long way from anywhere and spread thinly over very large distances. At present, few people here have a choice as to how they get to work, how their children get to school, or where they buy their food. Those who could afford it got solar panels long ago, while the rest of the population has been stuck with higher charges as electricity providers have scrambled to make up the shortfall in their accounts.  

The Displaced Footprint

There is also another aspect which troubles me. In  Australia's case, Agriculture and Mining are the biggest contributors to our greenhouse emissions, yet we are producing these things for export to other countries to whom that carbon footprint - including the fossil fuels and power generation which enable it to happen, rightfully belongs.  The same applies to countries which manufacture bulk goods for export. I suspect that our per capita emissions are already inflated by our relatively small population, but add to that the huge distances over which these goods are transported and the fact that most of these industries operate in remote locations, their impact will be disproportionately large. It’s all very well to say that Denmark for example, which I admire greatly in most  respects –it really has public transport and cycling nailed, only has a per capita footprint of 6.5, but where for instance are its clothes, footwear and appliances made? Or its electronics and cars?  In China? In South Korea? In India? And is that counted towards its footprint or theirs? And where have the raw materials come from? Australia perhaps, Brazil or maybe Canada, whose emissions are also high on a per capita basis, but which may be a little closer to the action. I'd be very happy for someone to tell me I am wrong about this.

Given that shipping and transport are primary factors in CO2 production, it is a good argument for a return to regional self –sufficiency which would also help our unemployment situation.This too is an issue which requires government intervention, well beyond the purview of the individual. While we are at it, could someone also please ask why all our public buildings and schools do not yet have solar panels? That is something which we as a nation could do easily to reduce our carbon footprint and it would create employment  as well. Having said that, I know there is room for improvement at all levels, including here at home.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Roadtrip - Day 6 Sheffield and Minnow Falls

Birdsong in the campground

I am more or less on the way home now, but there’s one more place I want to see, a place that eluded me last year. As I drive over what is essentially the state’s vegetable basket, I am plagued by ethical dilemmas. Apart from the climate change issue, which seems to have passed our leaders by, even as they visit drought -stricken farmers and towns whose water supply has run out, should I post the big pictures or not? Is it a spoiler like giving away the end of a movie? I console myself with the thought that most of my readers are overseas and will probably never get to see the real thing and the fact that the image is not the object.  For a start, you rarely get an idea of the scale, much less the colour or the fragrance, and everyone’s experience will be unique. Places change too – look at the fires on the Plateau or the around the Huon – one minute they are there in all their glory and the next moment they are gone. I just want to somehow capture them as they looked at this moment in time. Who knows how long I/we can do this at all? Perhaps one day we will look at them in museums as we do the images of the ghost towns and wonder how we could have lost them.

Breakfast at Devil's Gate Dam which lies in the valley below
I also wonder about exposing fragile places to a wider audience. Do we want them trampled to death as is happening with parts of Cradle Mountain? Or will it take the pressure off other sensitive places?  I also feel that people need to see that there is more to Tasmania than just Hobart, Launceston, Freycinet, Strahan and Cradle Mountain, especially if they have been here before. That brings me back to the original question. How long is the tourism on which our state depends so heavily, going to be sustainable on a warming planet? People do need to see or at least know what it is they stand to lose.

Approach to Sheffield with Mt. Roland in the background

Sheffield, the town of murals and the service centre for the surrounding farming community, is as friendly as ever.  I shop here, have a lovely shower and get lots of helpful information from the Tourist Information Centre.  There is a tick warning out at the moment. Apparently their numbers have increased in recent years and these aren’t  necessarily the usual bracken ticks that sometimes gave dogs a form of paralysis. To prevent bites, tie your hair back and cover your head, avoid bare skin and/ or use insect repellent, avoid long grass and overhanging bushes, check yourself and especially children and pets after an outing. Forget all the stuff grandma or grandpa told you about removing ticks if you get one, just get a special pair of tick tweezers to take them out cleanly and report any symptoms to a doctor immediately. That's it in brief. The main website of this group is down at the moment, but for more detail see the Karl McManus Foundation Page.
This is possibly the most photographed signpost in Tasmania and yes, these places actually exist.

After that sobering interlude, I take the road towards Paradise which brings me to the eastern slopes of Mt. Roland, the imposing mountain in the background.  The contrast between the well -tended farmland to the north and these wild rugged ridges couldn’t be starker.

Unlike the last time I came looking for Minnow Falls, I am now armed with the track notes from the Visitor Centre and I find them easily. The route is also well signed and flagged. Interestingly, you can glimpse another fall along the way named only “Not the Minnow Falls.” After a somewhat challenging river crossing and a long uphill climb, I arrive at the base of the actual Minnow Falls - a stupendous drop in three parts, which I am unable to capture adequately with my phone.  Clouds have come and gone all morning, along with a few spots of rain, but now dark clouds seem to have settled in and I am resigned to going home.

Tiny Fungi and mosses

The real Minnow Falls, at least the top portion...

Pool and a part of the lower fall. Afterwards I found out that there is a rope ladder here to enable you to see more

You may get more of an idea from this or from Sheffield's FB page

As I reach the carpark I run into a couple, Basil and Maria, from Sheffield. Both are in their seventies but you would never know it. They are the good fairies who have been putting up the signs and markers and keeping the tracks clear of fallen timber. Today they are putting up new triangle track markers from New Zealand, because they think the orange tape ‘looks untidy.”  Their selfless devotion astounds me and makes me think that there’s still some hope for the planet. Take that, you economists who think everyone is obsessed with maximising their profits! It also seems to be a very good formula for staying youthful and fit. They tell me about a number of other walks in the Sheffield area, which I will definitely investigate the next time I am up this way. 

Maria and Basil - tending nature's gardens
With some misgivings – is it still covered in ice? Will it wreck my van? – I decide to take the Lakes Highway home, rather than the much longer route through the Midlands. Bracing myself for the juddering of forty Km of unmade road, I was very surprised that apart from a couple of nasty cattle grids, it is now sealed all the way. I am home in just over two hours. Weather permitting, this will be a huge boon to anyone wanting to travel between Hobart and the North West Coast or looking for an alternative to the much travelled Midlands route.  Please be aware though that there are no services, no shops or petrol stations on this road and you would be hard pressed to find anyone to help you in the event of a breakdown.

Souvenir - a bunch of wild daffodils from the roadside - sorry I couldn't help myself

Leven Canyon – Day 5 One for the birds

It's early morning in the bush again

The main view of Leven Canyon, only a short distance from the carpark, was as spectacular as ever. The second at a lower level, was a bonus and the 697 steps in between them through fern forest were an amazing achievement, though I was glad I was going down and not up. I particularly liked the regular seating, which had encouraging signs like “Nearly there” or “Only 450 to go.” I detected a sense of humour there which is sometimes lacking in the serious pursuit of conservation. 

There’s quite a bit on the history of the area and the struggles for its conservation.  I had no idea  that it wasn’t officially made a state reserve until 2001 -after 25 years of lobbying. George Cruikshank after whom the top lookout is named, did start the ball rolling in the 1960’s when he donated a part of his land, but then it came under threat from the Hydro Electric Commission, who thought  the Leven would make another  fine dam along the lines of those on the Mersey. The reason you can see  these beautiful places today is because people who knew them and cared about them, fought for them.

Again, I’m conscious of that other odd thing in Tasmania. How, because the geography has traditionally segregated each region, you know little about what is going on anywhere else. In more analogue times, there were three separate phone books – one for the south, one for the north and one for the northwest, slim volumes all, as well as three separate newspapers for what is essentially a very small population. Historic patterns of travel have also played a role. On the map, it may have seemed that Queenstown with its larger population, would have been a logical service centre for the west of the state, but no matter how hard bureaucrats in distant Hobart tried to make it so, it never worked as people were used to travelling to Burnie for major purchases, dental appointments and the like. That is the way the trains ran before the roads came and each region was a law unto itself and very competitive. It’s why I knew nothing about the Dial Range or Ben Lomond until I actually went there.  

                                                       Stephen McTurk's Masterpiece

The Forest Stairs are the creation of one Stephen McTurk, a track specialist with the Central Coast Council, who, in the 1970’s carried up all the posts, 550 litres of water and tonnes of cement to make them.  As with Ferndene, the tree ferns in the valley are magnificent, but it’s the birds that I notice most. In the valley I can’t so much see them as hear them, but when I come back out to the picnic area, they are there in all their glory – pink robins, cheeky scarlet robins, parrots, willy wagtails, honey eaters and kookaburras, though kookaburras are in fact imports from the mainland. I am glad that the birds still have a refuge here. There is still so much clearing going on in these parts and having just read  about the huge decline in North American birds -three billion lost, since the 1970’s, it makes me anxious for ours.  A brochure I picked up about nearby Mt. Roland says that with clearing of rough pasture, blackberries and wetlands and the conversion to monoculture tree farms, several species have become rare or locally extinct. 

Certainly there don’t seem to be as many of these pretty little birds about as there used to be – they were one of the things which made me want to live in Tasmania. The wildlife makes an appearance too, in the form of a shy pademelon that sidles up while I am having breakfast. Don’t feed them, whatever  you do – white bread etc. makes them sick and/ or blind.  If you really want to do some feeding, go to one of the wildlife parks and get some pellets to feed the ones that can no longer survive in the wild. Don’t make the animals here dependent on humans.

Elizabeth Latham's gorgeous picture of a Scarlet Robin - they are such bold little guys - I'm not being sexist - the females are brown. Thank you for letting me use this

                    View from the Edge Lookout - you can hear the roar of the river (see below) from here!

Afterwards I tackle the Forest Floor Walk, about 1 Km further down the Leven Canyon Road. This too is part of the Penguin to Cradle Trail mentioned earlier. It’s also  very pretty with tree ferns and mosses all around and interspersed by giant boulders. The geology is a subject unto itself. The River roars as I descend to the Splits – I can see why the Hydro might be interested, but then it turns abruptly westwards to the Devil’s Elbow, where it’s like looking inside a washing machine and the noise gets even louder. 

The grandeur of the gorge aside, I really love the little ferns and mosses too

Mosses and Liverworts

The first part is very easy and only takes about 30 minutes if you don’t mind the walk back up the hill. Going further entails more balance and dexterity. The rock formations are spectacular and you even get a glimpse of the Devil’s Face. I would be decidedly nervous about bringing younger children here as there are too many cliff faces and drop offs.  I didn’t venture further than this myself. I am under strict instructions that if I want to keep travelling by myself, there will be no rescue missions, though the family has saved up and bought me an EPIRB.  So far the only injury I have experienced on this trip is a leech bite - quite painless, which I didn’t discover until I took off my socks. Some people are allergic though, so check yourself frequently if that’s the case. This walk officially takes about an hour and half, though it may have taken me a little longer.

                                                 Looking down on the Devil's Elbow from one of the cliffs

 Hard to believe this is the same river as the one I saw on Day 3

 NB:   Our own Aussie Backyard Bird Count  runs from
 October 21- 27 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Still in the Dial Range - Day 4 Mt. Gnomon and Mt. Dial

Up before the sun
The sun hadn’t come up yet when I started on the track to the Gnomon lookout - 1 hour return, before breakfast. It was still misty too, but the clouds lifted by the time I reached the summit and allowed me some splendid views over Mt.Duncan, the Western Tiers and some lush looking farmland to the west.  

I start with the easiest one, though both go straight uphill

The mists begin to clear as I reach the first lookout point which overlooks Mt. Duncan

Better and better
At the top the sun finally comes up with perfect timing

On top of  Old Gnomon
After a hearty breakfast, I set off again to Mt. Dial. This was a pleasant walk with a few greenhood orchids along the way and lots of birds. Although it was very early, I encountered a clutch of young men who had walked from Mt. Montgomery four hours away. At the base of the last uphill before the summit, I came upon what was the other end of the Gnomon Trail which I had seen at Ferndene, but again there was no indication of its length. I could also have saved myself another trip uphill, if I had seen the Mt. Dial track from the top of the Gnomon as it passed underneath, but although I could see a bit of a scrambly way down, you couldn’t actually see that track from there.
 I was a bit worried that if I slid down the rock face for a look, I wouldn’t be able to get back up if it didn’t lead anywhere.  It was very windy at the top of both peaks so I didn’t linger long. From Mt. Dial being further north, you could see the sea as well as the Western Tiers. Note that there are no barriers here to stop you falling a long way down, so do watch children carefully if you bring them here.  Apart from the tracks and that bit of signage, there are no facilities here either, though there are some at the Ferndene Picnic Area.

Back up the hill

Looking up at Mt. Gnomon from the Dial track - wish I'd known there was a way to it as I would have saved myself a second slog up the hill

A little family of Greenhood orchids cheers me on
Wow, two summits before lunch! I’ll have to watch out or my reputation as slothbagger will be in tatters. I also saw one raptor – possibly a brown falcon, near the top - another bonus.  Then, as I was walking back down, the clouds suddenly dumped a light hail storm on me -not long – ten minutes perhaps, with tiny hailstones. It was about the last thing I expected. True, throughout this trip the weather bureau had been promising dire things – winds and storms, snow to 700m, but so far I had been extremely lucky – cold yes, and with loud but dry thunder the night before, but with fair weather for most walks except for a few moments at the Ferndene Picnic Area.  

View to the east from the top of Mt. Dial , with the Western Tiers in the background

Looking north east you can see the sea
(Alas, only phone pics from now on)

Just as well I had worn a light raincoat and also brought sunblock, water and a hat. You need all four on any given day. The UV is quite intense in that clear air and especially so on the West Coast. On a lighter note,  I tried to charge the camera batteries with the inverter while I was walking because it makes such a horrible loud screeching noise. There were quite a few cars in the carpark when I got back, but none, absolutely none, anywhere near my car. I think I may have found the perfect anti -theft device. Too bad the battery charging didn't work.

I tootled around a bit after that, staying in the same place at Riana that I did last year, enjoying the drive over Gunn’s Plains with its lovely rustic scenery, its waterfall and wild daffodils all around. Then, on the basis of a brochure I had found, decided that I should take another look at Leven Canyon which, being a little off the beaten track as well, I hadn’t seen for many years either. There had certainly been some changes – better facilities, a lovely barbecue area, more walks, a second lookout and the most amazing stairs.

You know you are in the country when this happens. It must have taken a full 20 minutes for this long line of cows to cross

This was pretty much the first time I had had a good signal since Queenstown and a German friend had texted me about the international climate change protests which had been on that day. It made me feel really guilty. Here I was contributing to the problem and using loads of fuel, driving up and down over all those mountains. However, at this stage there didn't seem to be much point in simply turning around and going home. I may as well finish what I planned to do in this area so I wouldn’t need to drive all this way again. Still it puts a bit of a damper on things and gnaws at me all the way home.

The Dial Range – Day 3

Fern forest in the valley on the Leven River Walk, Dial Range

The Dial Range lies about 13 Km south of the quaint coastal town of Penguin. Overshadowed by the scenic splendours of Cradle Mountain, the Dial Range is easily overlooked by tourists and visitors like me who are hurrying on to somewhere else, but it seems well known to locals who pass me on most of the tracks. Only around 500 metres above sea level, it stretches in a southerly direction for about 14 Km and gets its name from one of the peaks, Mt. Gnomon, which apparently looks like an ancient sundial from the air.

noun: gnomon; plural noun: gnomons
1. The projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow.

A quiet walk by the Leven River. It's tame here, unlike at Leven Canyon a day or two later

I was hoping to get a few interesting fungi snaps here, but like the summits of the mountains in the West, they all seemed rather dry and there were very few fungi to be seen.  The last part of this road is unsealed and rather rough. In fact, until I saw the signs, I wasn’t sure I was going to get anywhere at all, except lost on some nameless forestry road. My first walk took me down to the Leven River  (officially 45 minutes return) where it straggled along the bank for an indeterminate distance, but through some pleasant tree fern gullies and tall blackwood trees, very different to the dry scrubby sclerophyll forest on top.  I’m intrigued by the sign about the Penguin to Cradle Trail. Apparently this 6-7 multiday walk promises to be as scenic as the much too popular Overland Track. While no doubt less regimented, it requires you to pack everything in and have navigation skills. To find out more about it, contact the North West Walking Club.

The Penguin to Cradle Mountain Trail has me intrigued

 I then went to the western side of the forest via a very pretty picnic spot at Ferdene which has a 30 minute walk to two old mine shafts and the option of walking from here to Mt. Gnomon. Unfortunately there wasn’t any indication of how long this would take and being unfamiliar with the area and only geared up for a short walk, I didn’t want to take the chance. My GPS disagreed with the location of the picnic spot, showing Ferndene Reserve as being further on, so I turned south again to see what lay ahead further down the Ironcliffe Road. Until then I was on a narrow and windy sealed road, but for the last part, this too was unsealed, but in much better condition than the previous one.

Ferndene Picnic Area
There's a very pretty 30 minute walking track here with lots of tree ferns and some old mine shafts
Thorsby's Tunnel
Browning's Tunnel

A bit of Sassafrass in flower - the leaves give off a delightful spearmint scent when crushed. The flowers are more aromatic, almost pungent and nutmeg -like
 There was in fact quite a big three way junction there, though two branches looked more like four –wheel drive tracks. It also had directions to several walks. As it was now fairly late I opted for the one hour return Tall Trees Walk which went downhill for what seemed like an eternity, though tall trees and tree ferns, even a couple of small fungi, were definitely in evidence. At the bottom of the hill, as at Ferndene, there was another option - that is, going on to Mt. Duncan. The sign at the top had said Mt. Duncan (654m) was four hours return and I knew I just didn’t have that much daylight left. The evening birds had already started their slightly mournful call and the valley was getting dark quickly. Had I come to the end of the Tall Trees Track? I really didn’t know. I pressed on for a while in a northerly direction alongside a gurgling creek, but when it came to crossing this creek and starting on the uphill climb to Mt. Duncan, I thought I should quit while I was ahead and start the long climb back to the carpark.  Stars twinkled overhead as I climbed into my Doona sandwich bed – one on top, one on the bottom and my down sleeping bag on top of that. Tonight was going to be another cold one. 

Spring foliage on a myrtle