Wednesday, February 26, 2020

New Shoots and a Walk down South

Prescient -This lovely pen and ink drawing by Professor Alice Roberts foreshadows what I saw one year after the fires which devasted the Southern Forests
(Many thanks for letting me use this!)

I went for a walk at the weekend. What’s so remarkable about that you ask? Well, it’s the first real walk I’ve done since before I went to New Zealand.  In fact, one of the main reasons I went, was that I was afraid that if I didn’t go then, I might never be able to do it at all. At the time I could barely make it to the local shop, even with my trusty trekking pole. Luckily, I got a specialist's appointment the day after I got back.  “Hmm," he said, "There's a blood clot in your femoral artery," and without much ado, he whipped it out. Now, thanks to this miracle of modern medicine, I’m walking normally again even though I didn’t quite make it to my destination.

The Southern Forests a year after the fire

It was nigh on dusk when I reached Geeveston. It all looked a bit gloomy. Blackened Eucalypts reached for the skies from what looked like charred earth.   It’s been a year since the fires here and there wasn’t an animal to be seen, though they are usually abundant at this time of day. Fortunately, things didn’t look quite so grim in the morning. A few birds sang, fat crows strutted about and both the trees and ferns were showing some signs of life. The Tahune Airwalk reopens next weekend, not as previously stated, but I couldn’t get in to see how it looked because there is now a big yellow gate at the entrance to that road.

What it used to look like - this is a part of a side road which hasn't been burnt

A Close up, so you can see the much greater diversity of species

Instead I headed South to the Hartz National Park. It was drier than when I last saw it, but at least it had been spared. As I walked among its dense and varied vegetation I marvelled at its persistence and apparent permanence. This however, belies its fragility.This type of alpine heathland does not recover the way Eucalypts do. There is much talk now about Aboriginal burning  - frequent low intensity burns, with mixed results from studies in different states, yet it must be remembered that the purpose of this burning was to promote and flush out game for hunting, not to preserve species, and is one of the reasons for the predominance of Eucalyptus forests in Australia now. Furthermore, apart from the state government cutting funding for controlled burns in NSW forests, forest scientists note that even controlled burns would not have stopped the intensity or spread of the recent fires, since the underlying factor was the preceding dryness coupled with prolonged and unprecedented high temperatures and ignition by dry lightning. What we should emulate from Aboriginal culture is the idea of Sacred Sites where no hunting or burning was permitted, thereby providing a refuge for animals and other species to breed and build up their numbers again. That is in effect what our National Parks are, though we should probably also get rid of the dry bark and fallen timber which builds up under gum trees in drier sclerophyll forests.  

Montane Vegetation inside Hartz National Park - white flowers mostly today, though there are a few small splashes of  red as berries or seed pods
Possibly Revolute Orites or a variation of  Lomatia (below) though these were taller than my plant book says they are supposed to be
Mountain Guitar Plant - Lomatia polymorpha
Sweet scented Leatherwood - Eucryphia lucida

 Our National Parks only exist at all because in more public -spirited times, visionary leaders understood that the frontiers were closing in the New World and that the Industrial Revolution was rapidly obliterating what was left of the wild lands in the Old. We should be eternally grateful for their foresight, particularly as new threats such as climate change emerge. The landscape here is already hotter and drier. The UV is more intense. Can primeval vegetation such the slow growing King Billy Pines and Huon Pines which don't exist outside Tasmania, make the transition in time to adapt? Where could these ancient species grow beyond these few mountain reaches in the far south?

Densley packed shrubs of MountainTeatree - Leptosperum repestre

The Mountain Pink Berry - Leptecophylla parvifolia

The fruit of the Mounatin Rocket - Belledena Montana also adds a touch of red. Mostly though it's as if the bush is in a state of suspended animation, between seasons as it were

I took this picture of a typical Hartz mountain tarn in 2017

The other reason why such places still exist at all, is because people have fought long and hard for them. Everywhere wilderness is under threat. In the Congo it’s because of logging, mining and slash and burn agriculture, in the Amazon both ranching and wildfires have caused record rates of deforestation. In the USA, a general dismantling of National Parks protections is underway with some national monuments in Utah possibly being opened to mining and drilling.

This is a different one, slightly lower down which I took on this walk and you can see how dry the surrounding countryside still is, despite last week's rain

Closer to home, Tasmania's State Government has rushed through draconian anti - protest laws, which, if the Upper House agrees, will mean that forest protesters could face fines up $500,000* and up to 18 months gaol, if they are deemed to be interfering with work. This will become more critical in coming months as the Moratorium on logging which has kept relative peace in our forests since 2016, ends in April this year.  Other threats come from some 30 or so development proposals for National Parks currently being considered by the state. Nor is there yet any real attempt to halt climate change, rather the opposite with the federal government contemplating new coal and gas ventures, despite this summer’s devastating fires. What a shame this comes at a time when the world needs all the trees it can get. As I pause for a moment to admire the view, I wonder how long and how much will be left for future generations. There’s a sign here which is meant to protect the cushion plants. It says, “Grows by inches, killed by feet” but perhaps it should read, “Grows by inches, killed by a thousand cuts.”

*Postscript:  PM ABC Evening News: A pending case against the Bob Brown Foundation's forest protest in the Tarkine under the above law has just been overturned on constitutional grounds

Even the cushion plants - among my favourites, are showing signs of stress

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Valentine's Day Thoughts - Share the love

While I was waiting at the bus stop yesterday there was a young man promoting Dolly's Dream and  the  'Be Kind' Postcard (below) caught my eye. It was a lovely thought and something we might be in great need of over the coming months as people come to grips with their losses and try to rebuild shattered homes, businesses and lives. Tempers are already fraying because of the slowness of relief efforts and lack of decisive government action.

Expecting it to be about someone's lifelong ambition to attend the Olympics or something, I took a closer look, but it turned out that Dolly's Dream was an organisation dedicated to preventing youth suicide and the memory of a 14 year -old girl, Dolly Everett, who committed suicide after sustained bullying and cyber -bullying.

Dolly's Dream seeks to end the bullying and the cyber bullying which cost Dolly Everett her life

So far, with the help of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation the group has taken their fight to the NSW government which has now made it a criminal offence to send threatening or abusive messages, repeated unwanted emails or posting offensive photographs or messages, with penalties of up to five years in prison. Victims also have recourse to apprehended violence orders if the behaviour persists.
The group also raises awareness in the community and schools about suicide prevention and provides support for parents.

Why it matters

In Australia more than 2,500 people die by their own hand each year and around 65,000 try to kill themselves. Globally (2017) the number is around 800,000 per year and it remains the leading cause of death of young people especially in Australia, more than road accidents and homicides combined. Even worse, while other figures have remained more or less stable, the figures for young women, both here and overseas are generally on the rise, though other subgroups are also at higher risk. Veterans for example, are currently in the news as family and friends are calling for a Royal Commission because of their higher than average suicide rate, 18% higher in the 35 -54 year old age group which is already higher than most other age and gender cohorts.

Unfortunately the petition regarding a Royal Commission into Suicide by Veterans closed yesterday, but it may not be too late to write to your member of parliament.

Though veterans and young people are currently in the spotlight, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are also overrepresented, having a youth suicide rate four times greater than the general population. For  all groups, especially older men unemployment is thought by WHO to be a major factor, along with social welfare and judicial issues. I hope to discuss those more fully on RUOK Day (Short for Are you Ok?) which falls on September 10 this year to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day. Their website also has some excellent tips on how you can help if you think a friend or workmate might be having difficulties.The Government's National Centre Against Bullying also has an excellent website dedicated to prevention  of bullying and suicide. Interestingly it also has a section on the economic costs to the community estimated at around $2.3 billion over the thirteen years of compulsory schooling, not to mention lost potential, metal health issues and so on, for the victims. 

If you specifically want to help children, you may want to run a fund raiser for Dolly's Dream, these usally happen on May 10, but see their website for details.

If you are in need yourself, below are some sites which may help:  

Suicide Prevention

In the meantime.........

By all means, buy the love of your life a rose or bake them some cupcakes, but let’s share the love to others too – to co –workers, to friends, to shopkeepers and anyone else in your life, not just once a year on RUOK Day,  and really, really listen to what they are telling you, even if they say "All good, mate" and do let's try to be kind

Monday, February 10, 2020

Time for some Good News

Climate Change on Wall Street?
-Photo by Chris Li on Unsplash

Things are looking a bit bleak in Australia at the moment and it’s not just about the landscape or the economy, so today I want to focus on some of the positive things which are happening around the world. Here are a few bits and pieces which have been in the news.  

In the first instance, did you know that there are in fact some wealthy people in the world with a conscience who are not opposed to paying their fair share. The group of 121 millionaires who signed their letter to the Davos Economic Forum “Millionaires against Pitchforks” called on world leaders to close the international loopholes which enable the super rich to avoid paying their taxes.

It reminds me of a man I met in Sweden many years ago when Swedes were among the most highly taxed. I asked him if he minded paying so much tax.
 “Oh we grumble about it of course,“ he said, “But in the end I am lucky to be in a position to contribute.  We have good schools with free education, good health care and low crime rates and so on. We wouldn’t have such a good society without those and my own life wouldn’t be better if I paid less tax. In fact, it could be considerably worse. Sweden wouldn’t be where it is today, without those things either and we all want to use the roads and be able to walk down our streets without fear.”

  •  In other good news electric car manufacturer Tesla's shares have gone up 36% in four days and may get state subsidies to set up a factory in Germany because the country is keen to encourage electrical vehicle and battery manufacture. Others can also apply. 

The latest Tesla - Electric cars are coming into their own
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

  • With respect to power generation Iceland already has 100% renewable energy, and Scotland is on target to reach 100% this year.  It closed its last coal fired power station in 2016 and aggressively pursued the building of wind generators.  It hopes to be completely Carbon Neutral by 2045.
  • Not that the rest of the UK isn’t trying with wind power already providing energy for as much as 45% of households
  • Even more astounding is that India is getting out of coal and into renewable energy. It has already doubled its capacity in three years and plans to increase it a further fivefold.  As well as helping to solve its energy problems, the shift will help to reduce its massive air pollution and allow its economy to keep expanding without increasing emissions. It will also create more employment. Renewables have also put pressure on electricity prices reducing the cost per Kilowatt to approximately 3 US cents.  
  • Even  stock markets are starting to care about Climate Change with Deutsche Bank reporting that companies with positive environmental news were up several percentage points.

From the above, it's evident that many countries far larger and far smaller than Australia are planning ahead and looking at ways to meet the coming challenges. They surely would not bother if they didn't believe that climate change existed, or that cutting emissions would not make any difference. Alas, in Australia climate change denialism still runs rife through much of our  media, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Today it's cyclones in the North West flooding in NSW and Queensland  and more fires in the South West. [Please note that this fire was also started by lightning!]. Instead of planning for the future, our government insists on investing in and subsidising more coal and gas developments.

Since my faith in human nature has been sorely tested of late, let's finish with something nice. I have tried to embed this a couple of times without success, so you will have to click here  and check it out for yourself. It will put a smile on your face.  

Monday, February 03, 2020

A bit about Wetlands and a lot about why we need to give logging the chop, at least for now

Today is World Wetland Day, but since I have written about the importance of wetlands several times and am in the middle of an online stoush with a gentleman who thinks trees won’t help to reduce global warming and that what we really need is more cattle, I won’t go into it too deeply today. I will say that if our wetlands were intact we would be less likely to be having such severe fish kills or flooding, because wetlands slow down water flow when it rains thus helping to prevent erosion and the release of sediment into rivers. This is especially important following any kind of land clearing and particularly in the wake of the terrible bushfires we have been having.  Of course wetlands also provide a niche for a great variety of birds and wildlife and act as filters to trap pollutants before they reach our waterways.

For similar reasons, we should not be rushing to log what is left of our burnt out bushland either as this too will increase erosion and remove any protection from harsh winds. Otherwise we will continue to see more dust storms like those which have engulfed parts of New South Wales.

Secondly, in the case of Eucalyptus forest, many of these trees will regenerate by themselves, thereby saving not only a great deal of carbon release, but greatly reducing growing time. If the ground remains undisturbed by the kind of broad scale mechanised logging and clear –felling which is practised here, the seeds (many of which require fire to germinate, will quickly recreate ground cover, protect new growth and seedlings and will provide shade and feed for stock and displaced animals far more quickly and without months and years of  hand -planting or aerial seeding. All these things will become more not less important as temperatures become hotter, the land becomes drier and the weather in general becomes more erratic.
Lastly, because of the huge toll on our wildlife and our forests there should be a moratorium on all logging until a thorough assessment has been done, because while the timber industry may be hurting at present and unable to meet pre -bushfire obligations, the net worth of our unique wildlife and forests intrinsically and to tourism etc.not to mention the environment in general and their usefulness in reducing emissions, will exceed whatever pittance we can get for remnant timber sold for wood pellets to Japan.  [The only exception I would make is for the removal of unstable trees in danger of falling on our roads, dwellings or power lines].  

What we never, ever want to see again is what happened in Portland (Victoria) recently where live Koalas were killed in the course of clear felling.  This was plantation timber on private property, but even then, the owners are legally obliged to properly take account of the animals thereon and ensure their protection. Do not watch this video if you are squeamish. If you do, make sure you let the companies concerned know what a travesty this is, especially at the present time.They should never be allowed to log here again and their contracts should not only be rescinded, but they should make immediate restitution e.g. such as immediately establishing a Koala plantation on that clear fell in the background and turning any unlogged parts into a Koala Sanctuary.