FoE Australia News

Chain Reaction #120, March 2013, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/editions/120

Bright spark goes against the current

Friends of the Earth (FoE) member and energy market critic Michael Gunter appeared on ABC TV's Four Corners program late last year, in a program on the unresolved dangers of power lines igniting deadly fires. Michael has recently gone off-grid in the Melbourne suburbs with a small solar photovoltaic set-up (SAPS − Stand Alone Power System). He sees it as an effective 'direct action' weapon that any home owner can use against bushfire risk, skyrocketing power bills, fossil fuel emissions, nuclear power, and smart meters. He believes that, with world's best practice energy conservation, it is now possible for small efficient SAPS households to be cost-competitive with mains electricity supply.

More information:

Galilee Road Trip 2014

The Galilee Coal Basin, in the middle of Queensland, is one of the world's largest, untouched coal reserves, and mining barons such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer are desperate to dig it up. In fact, coal companies plan to build nine new mega-mines in the Galilee Coal Basin, five of which would each be larger than any coal mine currently operating in Australia. If the Galilee was unlocked, it would more than double Australia's coal exports, trash the Great Barrier Reef and unleash catastrophic climate change. That's why, in April 2014, we're packing our swags and hitting the road for a 7-day tour of the Basin. We'll visit and stay with local communities to learn and document what's at stake and we'd love you to join us.

More information is posted at:

http://joinsummerheat.org/galilee-road-trip-2014/

Contact: Shani Tager shani.tager@foe.org.au

From little things, big things glow

The vast majority of the biological diversity on earth is invisible to the human eye. Tiny, microscopic life forms overwhelmingly build and control every ecosystem on earth, from our oceans and soils, down to our own digestive ecosystem. To overcome the widespread negative misconceptions about microbes, I decided to explore ways to educate and inspire children and adults to better understand and maybe even love our under-appreciated microscopic friends.

Working together with visual artists in the art-science collaborative Scale Free Network (www.scalefreenetwork.com.au), we began to create workshops in which children and families could learn about and explore this hidden world – initially by combining observation through microscopes and drawing. However, after nearly eight years of running workshops and creating interactive installations, we have now begun to use stories to talk about the role of microbes such as bacteria, fungi and viruses and the amazing symbiotic relationships they form with each other, and larger forms of life.

The first storybook to emerge from the Microbial Symbiosis Storytelling Project is titled The Squid, the Vibrio & the Moon. The book is about the lifelong symbiosis between the Hawaiian Bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, and the bioluminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri. These two very different organisms work together to survive, with the bacteria helping the squid to glow and hunt in the moonlight, receiving food and protection in return. The storybook is a kind of symbiosis in itself – a collaboration between a visual artist (Aviva Reed), a writer (Ailsa Wild), and a microbiologist (Dr. Gregory Crocetti), who all have connections to Friends of the Earth.

Symbiotic relationships such as the one described in our book are very often cooperative, not competitive. Indeed, another ambition of this storytelling project is to help shift the dominant, attitude of competition (survival of the fittest individuals), towards one of symbiosis (living and working together to their mutual benefit). This is a message that resonates well beyond the microscopic scale.

The book appeals to a younger reader level, but we are certain the story will be enjoyed by children and adults alike. It is available for sale from the Friends of the Earth Melbourne Food Co-Op and Café (312 Smith St, Collingwood), and online at www.pozible.com/project/174419.

− Gregory Crocetti is a member of FoE Australia's Nanotechnology Project.

CounterAct

It is looking like a big year for FoE affiliate CounterAct and our activist training work. The interest in climate campaigner training continues and we recently partnered with 350.org and Quit Coal for another nonviolent direct action training in Melbourne by popular demand. We have been supporting the Maules Creek Leard Forest blockade in NSW, coordinating a comprehensive legal guide for climate activists and are supporting the small community of Seaspray in Gippsland who have just pledged civil disobedience action to defend their farmland from unconventional gas mining.

And we only just turned one year old! In the last year we have trained hundreds of people and worked with a huge range of organisations including Lock the Gate, Quit Coal, The Wilderness Society, the Broome community against the gas hub, grassroots forest activists, the campaign against the East West tunnel, and McDonald's in Tecoma, as well as many more. Our recent crowd-funder successfully raised more than $14,000 to fund our community work, so thanks if you were one of our supporters! To stay up to date with new resources, and training opportunities check out www.counteract.org.au

− Nicola Paris

John Fenton tour

Friends of the Earth supported the recent tour of Wyoming farmer John Fenton. The tour was organised by NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham and the Lock the Gate Alliance.

John is a farmer from Pavillion, Wyoming who has been living with pollution of ground water and air pollution, land use and other effects of the gas industry. John and his wife Catherine have 24 gas wells on their farm. John featured in the 'Gasland' film (now on youtube, and see www.gaslandthemovie.com).

John's Australian tour was a huge success with lots of media interviews, and public meetings in Sydney, Brisbane, Bangalow, Casino, Narrabri, Gloucester, Taree/Wingham, Illawarra, Bowral, Melbourne, and Gippsland. To give an example of the public interest, 600 people showed up in the small NSW town of Narrabri to hear John speak.

In a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece responding to execrable propaganda from Peter Reith, John wrote: "In Wyoming, we have a saying: don't piss on my head and tell me it's raining. ... Well, Mr Reith, come smell and drink the water on my farm, because it has been contaminated by fracking. In 2008, we noticed the water from our wells had turned bad. It changed colour and smelt of diesel. We asked the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate. They drilled monitoring bores and, in 2011, released a report that found the shallow and deep aquifers had been contaminated with chemicals linked to fracking and gas extraction. Benzene was present at 50 times the level that is considered safe for consumption. Phenols − another dangerous carcinogen − acetone toluene, naphthalene, methane and 13 different compounds associated with hydro-fracking were found in the water. Our community was warned not to drink water from our wells and to shower with the windows open, to prevent a build up of explosive gas. My neighbour's water well exploded because of high-pressure gas."

More information, photos and videos are posted at: http://fentontour.com

Dirt Radio − FoE's 3RC radio program

It's hard to know where to start ... so many disturbing developments at all levels – local, regional, national, global − that deserve comment and critique. But, we decided to begin Dirt Radio this year with the local.

Most pressing and perhaps most damaging for activists and protesters of all stripes in the state of Victoria – the Napthine government's amendments to the Summary Offences and Sentencing Acts which give heightened police powers to arrest or move on protesters, increase fines and even pose a two year jail term. Our first show of the year was a discussion of the legal and social justice implications of such laws for FoE campaigns and the environmental movement more generally. This was followed by a show devoted to one group who may be most immediately affected by these new laws – the East-West Link tunnel picket, who have been at test drill sites every day since last September.

There's a state election in November this year, an opportunity to make the political parties accountable and to register that need for transformation. Our third show offered a summary of the crucial issues from a FoE perspective, and this is a theme we will return to regularly throughout the year.

To keep up to date with FoE campaign news, and broader environmental issues, tune in or download:

Mondays 10:30am, 3CR, 855 AM

Podcast: www.3cr.org.au/dirtradio

Facebook: www.facebook.com/DirtRadio

Our program is run by FoE folk, all of whom are busy working on various campaigns. We're looking for new members to contribute to the Dirt Radio collective and its work in Melbourne − please contact John Langer for more details: johnstan09@gmail.com

Victorian state election

The Victorian election will be held on November 29, 2014. There is a pressing need to make environmental concerns an issue at this election. FoE is not aligned with any political party. Our mission is to gain protection for the environment, and elections present a great opportunity to promote a policy agenda which will help gain these protections.

What are the issues we are working on? FoE Melbourne is lobbying all political parties to get key environmental issues on the agenda:

  • a permanent ban on any new coal and gas mining operations in key areas in Victoria;
  • ruling out any further coal allocations or development of coal infrastructure;
  • we call on the Parties to commit to re-write the Baillieu government's anti-wind-power laws; and
  • we believe that a commitment to developing a state-based Renewable Energy Target (VRET) would drive regional employment and investment, and help Victoria start to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

We are also focusing on the need to get strong, science-based emissions reduction targets back into the Climate Change Act; and the need to re-start negotiations for the phased shut-down of the Hazelwood power station, replacing its capacity with jobs-rich renewable energy.

For further details see the FoE website: www.melbourne.foe.org.au/?q=node/1308

Phillip Island drinking water

In January, FoE published a report focusing on chlorine disinfection by-products in drinking water in the Phillip Island region of Victoria, supplied by Westernport Water. FoE found that several thousand residents on the island had been exposed to the Trihalomethane, Bromodichloromethane (BDCM) in their drinking water, in some cases for up to seven years, above World Health Organisation Guidelines from 2006−2012.

BDCM has been linked with a number of cancers including bladder cancer. People are not only exposed to BDCM in drinking water, but are also exposed when showering or swimming. Australian guidelines, set by the National Health and Medical Research Council, do not factor in these other exposure routes.

It is likely that millions of Australians could be exposing themselves to high levels of BDCM and are unaware of the consequences. Many of these people would be located in smaller communities whose water supplies can be seriously impacted by low rainfall events. BDCM and other Trihalomethanes increase when water becomes more salty, particularly in times of low reservoir levels. The BDCM levels on Phillip Island appear to have been resolved by Westernport Water using the chloramination water treatment process, where ammonia is added during chlorination. Chloramination however creates a range of other disinfection by-products.

The report, 'Bromodichloromethane Levels in Drinking Water 2005 to 2012', written by Anthony Amis, is posted at:

www.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/WesternportWaterDBP.pdf

Tattoo inks

ABC Radio National's Background Briefing program aired a program focusing on tattoo inks. The broadcast was initiated by Friends of the Earth based on work done by South Australian researcher Warren Godson. Tattoo inks can be contaminated with a range of carcinogenic compounds, yet the inks are not properly regulated so people are largely unaware of the potential health consequences.

More information:

Natural disasters costing Victoria

FoE's report, 'Natural Disasters and a Warming Climate; Understanding the Cumulative Financial Impacts on Victoria', is the first compilation of loss statistics from weather related Victorian disaster events − fires, floods, storms and heatwaves. The research shows a total of $6.8 billion million in public costs and $13.2 billion in private costs from 2003 to 2013. Climate change science clearly tells us that, without concerted global action to reduce emissions, Victoria will face hotter summers and extended heatwaves, more erratic rainfall patterns, and longer bushfire seasons.

There are already considerable economic impacts of climate change that are being felt across the state. These costs are directly competing with other demands, such as education and health budgets. What this report seeks to highlight is the fact that the government is 'flying blind' when it comes to tracking the economic and social costs of natural disasters on our state.

The report is posted at:  www.melbourne.foe.org.au/?q=node/1301

Westpac urged to quit fossil fuels

FoE affiliate Market Forces and 350.org dropped two banners at the Westpac AGM in Melbourne on December 13, bearing the names of the 3,000+ plus people who have so far signed our open letter, calling on the bank to divest from fossil fuels. We were joined by one of the letters' original signatories, Felix Riebl from The Cat Empire. Several people stayed around to ask questions of the Westpac board. Consistent work has put the issue of fossil fuel investment squarely on the bank's agenda, and the Chairman addressed the issue before any questions were even asked from the floor.

Sign the open letter at http://openletter.marketforces.org.au

More information:

www.marketforces.org.au/banks

www.marketforces.org.au/earth-to-westpac-divest

− Julien Vincent, Market Forces