On Monday, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a speech to the 'High level meeting on forests and climate change':
"Deforestation is the second greatest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, after energy use, accounting for 20 per cent of all emissions... A global challenge demands a global response; just as climate change threatens the whole world, only the whole world, working together effectively can meet it...attacking the problem of deforestation is one of the most important steps we can take to reduce CO2 concentrations in the here and now. The economics of climate change demand it...
"Maintaining the sustainability of the world's forests also pays an enormous environmental dividend by protecting 70 per cent of terrestrial biodiversity which finds its home there.
"As the world continues to develop and deploy the low emissions energy technologies need to achieve the deep cuts in emissions needed in the future that I referred to earlier, reducing deforestation, combined with planting new forests and encouraging sustainable forest management is one of the most cost effective ways to reduce global emissions now.
"This initiative spearheads efforts to breathe new life into the lungs of the earth. And by doing so, give the world the breathing space it needs until the technologies of the future are able to deliver us abundant zero, or near zero emissions energy.
"Our $200 million global initiatives on forest and climate will be committed to working with developing countries to build technical capacity, to assess and monitor forest resources, and to develop national forest management plans. To establish effective regulatory and law enforcement arrangements to protect forests, including through preventing illegal logging. To promote the sustainable use of forest resources, and diversify the economic base of forest dependent communities. And to support practical research into the drivers of deforestation, and encourage reforestation of degraded forests areas..."
(By the way, Malcolm presents his media releases as news articles - see here.)
Right. Got it. So why is Australia continuing to log old growth forests? Especially in Tasmania?
Mark Latham saw the problem, and at the last election proposed an $800 million n package tio stop such logging in Tassie and help logging communities through the transition. Yet yesterday, Kevin Rudd dumped all that, and backed Howard's 2004 policy to keep knocking down the big old trees:
"TASMANIA'S old growth forests will receive no greater protection
under a Labor Government than they do from the Coalition.
"On a visit to Tasmania yesterday, the Opposition Leader, Kevin
Rudd, vanquished the ghost of the former leader Mark Latham's
disastrous forestry policy by promising to honour existing
agreements but dashed the hopes of environmentalists who wanted
more of the state's ancient forests protected."
(By the way, I could find no mention of the announcement on the front page of the ALP's website, or any statement any where there. Can someone find something?)
OK, so neither major party actually gives a shit. But both would like other countries to.
I stayed in Elands last week with my friend Susie Russell, a Webdiarist who is standing for The Greens against Deputy PM Mark Vaile in the safe National Party seat of Lyne. Believe it or not, Wingham's Rotary Club asked her to speak about the National Party's policy of diverting the area's Manning River in Lyne over the range to Tamworth, once strong Nats country, but held by an independent. Federally, Tamworth is in New England, also held by an independent, Tony Windsor. You'll recall that after the last election he accused the Nats of trying to buy him off so they could get the seat back. And regional rorts were exposed all over the place.
I went along to the event as a guest, so I won't report it except to say I had a great time and there was a lively Q and A after Susie's speech. I'm publishing the written speech she spoke to give you a bottom up view of the problems water is causing the Nats in the regions, and because I never understood until I read it that old growth forests are not only good for climate change but also for our water supply. That's two very PRACTICAL reasons to save them, besides leaving them to future generations and protecting what's left of our native flora and fauna. Enjoy!
I Acknowledge the traditional owners the Biripai, and pay respect to their elders past and present.
In march this year I was the Greens candidate for the seat of Port Macquarie in the state election. While the property I live on drains into the Hastings, half of Elands, where I live drains into the Manning and my social catchment is the Manning, that is, I do most of my shopping and socialising in the Manning.
I was horrified when I heard that at the launch of the National Party’s election campaign, in Tamworth on February 18, a key promise was the diversion of 50 billion litres of water annually (also known as 50GigaLitres) from the Barnard River, a tributary of the Manning, to Chaffey Dam and from there to Tamworth and beyond.
Among the guests applauding this plan was of course the Federal member, Mark Vaile and then leader of the Liberal Party in NSW Peter Debnam.
In a written response to questions from the Australian Council of Built Environments Design Professions, Peter Debnam promised that if elected the Coalition Government (that is a State National-Liberal Party government) would , and I quote
“commit $20 million in our first term of government to commence construction of a dam on the Barnard River and divert the water to Chaffey Dam.”
This of course was a popular promise in Tamworth, where Peel Valley irrigators, like most of the other irrigators dependent on the waters of the Murray Darling Basin, were looking at significantly smaller water allocations.
The issue of river diversions didn’t go away with the defeat of the coalition at a state level, because no sooner was that election out of the way, than a proposal was put forward by the Howard Government to divert water from the Clarence River. That proposal is still on the table, and depending on who is spruiking it whether or not the water is going to go to south-east Queensland or to western NSW.
One interesting coincidence about the proposals to take water from coastal NSW rivers is that the recipients are in marginal seats. The seat of Tamworth at a state level, and all the electorates of south-east Queensland nationally are up for grabs and may be won over by promises of more water.
While reading about this issue I discovered that already there are 22 billion litres or 22,000ML of water allocated from the Barnard River to Macquarie Generation in the Hunter Valley. It seems they need more water in their coal-fired power plants than is available from the Hunter. So water can be diverted via Orham Creek. I also found out that this allocation of 22GL can be increased to 70GL and that not only that, Macquarie Generation can on-sell the water it doesn’t use.
I mentioned earlier the need to respect the traditional owners of the land. One of the things that many westerners have lost is the ability to see the land as a living entity. We think about what we can get out of it, what we can get off it, how we can divide it up and sell it off and get more, but we don’t think about it from the point of view of what we can do for the land to make it healthier. The Australian landscape is not very healthy at the moment. It’s the result of the cumulative impact of many activities. Let me run through a few that are relevant to the topic.
Since European settlement more than 50% of our forests and woodlands have been cleared and of those that remain, more than 90% have been logged or damaged and fragmented in some way. The issue of forest is particularly important because there is plenty of research that has been done both here in Australia and around the world that demonstrates the link between forests and water.
Put simply it’s like this. Old forests usually have deeper more complex root systems. They capture rain and transport it deep into the soil and store it, they are not putting on a huge amount of bulk, they have done most of their growing, so they store more water than they use. The soil in such a forest is less compacted there is an increase in humic acid and as a result the soil holds more water. In dryer times when there is less rain, the old tree root systems are able to move the water up through the soil. But what is truly remarkable is that this water actually makes its way into creeks and streams and flows on down the rivers. So one of the main functions of an old forest is that it maintains water supply in dry times.
It amazes me that the Government agencies still haven’t worked out that there is a connection between the groundwater and the surface water. Many of you will own land where there are places, known as springs, where the water comes out of the ground. Much of the base flow in our rivers and streams comes from springs.
Young forests, grow rapidly and use all the available water. They need to get to about 50years of age before they are starting to use less water than what is available and begin the process described above.
So as we have cleared the old forests and replaced them with younger ones, we have decreased the amount of water that will be available to us in drier times. This process is continuing. Of course in many areas there is little vegetation and the rain either runs straight off or it doesn’t take long for the soil to be saturated and then the rain runs off, often carrying topsoil as sediment. So you get floods and high flows when it actually rains, but that’s not much good to you when it hasn’t rained for months.
Of course one of the arguments for dams is that they capture these high flows. Of course they often come with enormous amounts of soil, because the greatest runoff is coming from the cleared country where there is less vegetation holding the soil together. So over time dams hold less water and more mud, and the process of removing that mud is probably more expensive than the dam construction in the first place (think about where and how you are going to put the mud). Another problem with dams is that they capture all the small flows. So month in, month out, most of the water is kept behind the dam wall, starving the river downstream. Other problems with dams are the temperatures of the water releases. Water is usually released from below, where is it extremely cold. This can have a negative effect on fish as they are hit by a wave of icy water.
And speaking of fish, a lot of people have the view that water that flows out to sea is wasted. One industry that doesn’t see it that way is the fishing industry. They depend on good flows of water coming down our major rivers. It’s not for nothing that the Manning and the Clarence have good fishing. It is because they have good volumes of water as well as wide deltas which allow young fish to grow and survive before heading out to sea. The drought has lead to a decline in the water flowing down the Clarence and the fishermen up there said it has had a significant effect on fish stocks.
Another activity that is creating problems globally are increasing temperatures. Some people still don’t believe this is so, although again, there is so much research to show that this is the case that it’s a bit like those who continued to believe the earth was flat because they wanted too, or that the earth was the centre of the universe, or that there is no link between smoking and lung cancer.
With the hottest years since human record keeping began being experienced in the last decade, it is clear that temperatures are going off the chart. What is more alarming is that the temperature of the oceans is now clearly rising. The Indian ocean has warmed by 2o. It is the temperature of the ocean that drives much of our weather. Increasing temperatures will mean more wild weather events such as cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons. As well as increased intensity of rainfall. Our average rainfall mightn’t appear to change much. But instead of summer and spring rains it may come is only one or two wild events that do more harm than good.
So back to the Manning.
The issue of water security, drought-proofing the future etc are simple phrases, easy to promise, hard to deliver.
You can build enormous dams but that of course doesn’t mean that you’ll get the rain to fill them.
We are increasingly being made dependent on large-scale infrastructure. The national electricity grid is an example. Connect everyone together and thus in the private world, you can sell electricity generated in the Hunter Valley, to the aluminium industry in western Victoria. A very profitable venture for the middle men and futures traders. But look at the experience of Transgrid and Basslink. Huge dam and powerline projects built to provide greater electric efficiency. But low rainfalls in the Snowy and Tasmania mean that there is no power coming from these stations. A better solution would have been local renewable energy generation stations.
The future for the Manning is currently being touted as growth, growth, growth. There is a projected population increase for the mid-north coast of 90,000 people. At least 10,000 of those will probably end up in the Manning if not more. That means more land clearing, more sewage works, more water needed for everything. Robbing Peter to Pay Paul is not good planning for the future.
Now don’t for one moment think that the plan to divert more water from the Manning has been dropped. Earlier this month, Andrew Stoner, leader of the Nationals at a State level called for “new dams and weirs on the Mole River near Tenterfield and the Barnard River near Tamworth”. Be assured any water dammed on the Barnard will almost certainly end up in a catchment other than the Manning.