‘New Bradfield’: rerouting rivers to recapture a pioneering spirit


Waters from the Herbert River, which runs toward one of northern Australia’s richest agricultural districts, could be redirected under a Bradfield scheme.
Patrick White, Author provided

Patrick White, James Cook University and Russell McGregor, James Cook University

The “New Bradfield” scheme is more than an attempt to transcend environmental reality. It seeks to revive a pioneering spirit and a nation-building ethos supposedly stifled by the bureaucratic inertia of modern Australia.

This is not a new lament. Frustrated by bureaucracy, politicians in North Queensland have long criticised the slow pace of northern development.




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You can’t boost Australia’s north to 5 million people without a proper plan


In 1950, northern local governments blamed urban lethargy. One prominent mayor complained:

… these young people lack the pioneering spirit of their forebears, preferring leisure and pleasure to hardships and hard work.

These sentiments were inspired by an agrarian nostalgia that extolled toil and toughness. Stoic responses to the challenges of life on the land are part of the Australian legend.

With drought devastating rural and urban communities and a state election looming in Queensland in 2020, both sides of politics have proposed a “New Bradfield” scheme.

An idea with 19th-century origins

Civil engineer John Bradfield devised the original scheme in 1938. His plan would swamp inland Australia by reversing the flow of North Queensland’s rivers. Similar proposals go back to at least 1887, when geographer E.A. Leonard recommended the Herbert, Tully, Johnstone and Barron rivers be turned around to irrigate Australia’s “dead heart”.

Blencoe Falls, on a tributary of the Herbert River, North Queensland, during the dry season.
Patrick White, Author provided

As the “dead heart” became the “Red Centre” in the 1930s, populist writers revived the dreams of big irrigation schemes.

These schemes have always been contested on both environmental and economic grounds. A compelling history of Bradfield’s proposal reveals many errors and miscalculations. But what the scheme lacked in substance it made up for in grandiose vision.

Water dreaming has been a powerful theme in Australian history. The desire to transform desert into farmland retains appeal and discredited schemes like Bradfield keep reappearing.




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Contempt for nature and country

While less ambitious than the original plan, the “New Bradfield” scheme still engineers against the gradient of both history and nature. It would have irreversible consequences for Queensland’s environment, society and culture.

What’s more, the new scheme manifests much the same mindset as the old.

It’s an attitude that privileges the conquest of nature: in this case literally up-ending geography by turning east-flowing rivers westward. Its celebration of the human struggle against defiant nature reprises the pioneering ethos.

Like many pioneers, “New Bradfield” proposals disregard the interests and land-management practices of Indigenous people. The bushfires ravaging the eastern states show the folly of ignoring traditional ways of caring for country .

Overlooking native title realities can also cost governments and communities.




Read more:
Remote Indigenous Australia’s ecological economies give us something to build on


Polarising debate neglects more viable projects

“New Bradfield” is promoted as “an asset owned by all Queenslanders for all Queenslanders”. But environmental destruction and disputes over water sales in the Murray-Darling Basin sound a warning.

The Queensland Farmers Federation has cautiously welcomed the new scheme. Others have dismissed it as a “pipe dream”.

Thus, northern Australia again sits amid a polarised debate about its utility to the nation. Such polarising contests diminish the likelihood of more viable projects being implemented.

Extravagant expectations of “untapped” northern resources have been proffered for nearly two centuries. Distant governments have fantasised the Australian tropics as a land of near-limitless potential. Northern communities have many times been disappointed by the results.

Today’s promises to “drought-proof” large areas of Queensland rely on similar images. “Drought-proofing” aims to keep people on the land but often defies economic and social reality.




Read more:
We can’t drought-proof Australia, and trying is a fool’s errand


Dam developments have an underwhelming record

The “New Bradfield” rhetoric echoes the inflated expectations of myriad disappointing northern development plans in the past. The Ord River project was touted as an agricultural wonder that would put hundreds of thousands of farmers into the Kimberley. Its success lies forever just over the horizon.

Much closer to the present proposal is the Burdekin Falls Dam. It sits in the lower reaches of the same river earmarked for the Hells Gates Dam that would feed the “New Bradfield” scheme. Damming Hells Gates has been advocated since at least the 1930s and has new supporters.

The proposed site for Hells Gates Dam is on Gugu Badhun country on the Burdekin River.
Dr Theresa Petray, Author provided

Back in the 1950s, damming the Burdekin was expected to generate hydro-electric power and irrigate vast swathes of farmland. After decades of political squabbling, the dam was completed in 1988. It does not generate hydro power. Although it irrigates some land downstream, the anticipated huge agricultural expansion never happened.

The Burdekin Falls Dam has helped the regional economy and could help to overcome the water shortages of the nearby city of Townsville. But it has not met the inflated expectations widely proffered decades earlier. The benefits that would flow from another dam further upstream are likely to be even more meagre.




Read more:
Damming northern Australia: we need to learn hard lessons from the south


Grandiose visions of northern development have a habit of failing. A “New Bradfield” scheme, animated by an old pioneering ethos, is unlikely to be different.

Drought-affected communities would derive more benefit from sober proposals that acknowledge the past, integrate Indigenous knowledge and incorporate agricultural innovation.The Conversation

Patrick White, PhD Candidate in History and Politics, James Cook University and Russell McGregor, Adjunct Professor of History, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains


Adrienne Nicotra, Australian National University; David Freudenberger, Australian National University; Geoff Cary, Australian National University; Geoffrey Hope, Australian National University; Graeme Worboys, Australian National University; Sam Banks, Australian National University, and Susanna Venn, Australian National University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for a A$2 billion upgrade and expansion of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, announced last week, will be an impressive engineering achievement. Snowy Hydro 2.0 will increase the scheme’s capacity by 50%. The Conversation

Meeting this extra capacity will depend entirely on the natural water supply available in the Snowy Mountains. But the current environmental conditions of these mountains, and the Australian Alps where they are located, are compromising both water delivery and water quality.

The only way to maintain water flow is to control the threats that are actively degrading the high country catchments. These include introduced animals, wetland loss, and climate change.

Restoration and management

The remarkable Snowy Hydro Scheme was developed over 25 years from the 1940s. During this period the NSW Soil Conservation Service and later NSW National Parks effectively managed soil and restored areas damaged by grazing.

Conservation efforts focused on looking after topsoil, stabilising wetlands, and restoring vegetation after decades of grazing. This ensured good amounts of high-quality water for both hydro power and irrigation downstream.

More recent efforts have focused on the impacts of building the original Snowy scheme. This includes restoring areas cleared for roads and construction sites, and areas where rock and soil from blasting and cutting were dumped.

Before and after revegetation works in the 1970s, following the removal of cattle. Current ecological change is likely to be far more significant and could require new types of intervention.
Image courtesy of Roger Good

Threats to mountain catchments

The Australian Alps are the nation’s water towers. They provide water for growing food and hydroelectricity, but face several threats.

Across the Alps, despite well-informed and committed control programs, feral horses, pigs and deer are destroying wetlands, degrading streamside vegetation, and causing moisture-holding peat soils and stream channels to erode. This leads to more evaporation, more rapid runoff and erosion, less water flow, and lower water quality.

There is currently no effective response to this damage. We estimate that more than 35% of the high mountains’ wetlands have been affected, and the problem is getting worse.

The Alps are also recognised as extremely vulnerable to climate change. Climate models suggest that alpine areas that currently receive at least 60 days of snow cover will shrink by 18-60% by 2020.

Temperatures in the alps are already increasing by 0.4℃ per decade, an increase of 1.79℃ since records began. Climate change projections for the Australian Alps indicate the hottest summer days will be around 5°C warmer in 2100, minimum temperatures will rise by 3-6℃, and precipitation (rain and snow) will decrease by up to 20%, with less falling as snow. These changes are already putting pressure on iconic mountain ecosystems including the peatlands, snowgum woodlands and alpine ash forests.

The Australian Alps are also likely to experience more extreme events such as heatwaves, storms, fires and severe frosts. All of these affect high mountain ecosystems, making the environment more vulnerable to disturbances such as more fires, weeds and disease outbreaks.

For example, the root-rot fungus, Phytophora cambivora, recently appeared in the alps. The fungus killed large areas of shrubs following unusually warm springtime soil temperatures.

New weeds are an additional concern for the alps as these may compromise the existing plant communities and their ability to deliver services such as water. Alpine peat soils, which build up over thousands of years, can also burn in drought.

Reliable water depends on functioning ecosystems

A stable water supply from the Alps is crucial for energy and food production. This relies on intact vegetation.

Back in the 1950s, it became clear to the researchers at the Soil Conservation Service that hard-hooved animals, in this case domestic cattle, were severely damaging the alpine catchments.

The success of the original Snowy scheme depended on removing cattle from alpine areas, controlling soil erosion that resulted from prior grazing and hydro works, and carrying out extensive revegetation works across the whole of the nearby mountain ranges.

However, land managers to this day are still controlling a legacy of disturbance and weed invasions from both the Snowy scheme itself and years of previous grazing. Snowy 2.0 must consider these lessons from the past, and work to improve mountain catchments.

Alpine plants and animals often live close to their environmental tolerances, meaning they are not necessarily able to cope with change. For some species, climate change is likely to exceed these thresholds. Vegetation communities will change as current populations decline and colonisers from different species move in to occupy the gaps, including invasive species.

Feral horses make it even more difficult for native species to respond to a changing climate, by exacerbating environmental degradation and impacts on water.

Part of the solution is restoring and re-vegetating degraded high country landscapes. For example, restoring snowgum communities, which were severely affected by burning and grazing, may lead to increases in the amount of water trapped as drifting fog.

But climate change will demand new research and management partnerships to find species that will survive well into the future and to develop adaptation pathways to respond to uncertain conditions.

This will be a new and different world. We are currently ill-prepared to maintain high-quality water yield in the future, to predict the impacts of climate change, or to effectively protect our alps for future generations.

But we are confident these questions can be answered with adequate investment in the environmental infrastructure needed to underpin the engineering. We estimate that between A$5 million and A$7 million per year is needed to research and develop new management structures. You could see this investment as royalties returned to the system that provides the water and power.

Turnbull’s plan may deliver more power, but only if the environment is carefully managed. Otherwise Snowy Hydro 2.0 may be left high and dry.

Adrienne Nicotra, Professor Research School of Biology, the Australian National University, Australian National University; David Freudenberger, Senior Lecturer Environmental Management, Australian National University; Geoff Cary, Associate Professor, Bushfire Science, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Geoffrey Hope, Emeritus Professor, Department of Archaeology and Natural History; Visiting Fellow, Fenner Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Graeme Worboys, Associate professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Sam Banks, ARC Future Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, and Susanna Venn, ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia’s new cap on emissions is a trading scheme in all but name


Gujji Muthuswamy, Monash University

The Australian government has released its final draft for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The “safeguard mechanism” will form part of the government’s central climate policy, and will fine large businesses for exceeding emissions baselines.

Businesses that produce over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year will have their emissions capped. The scheme makes some allowances for power generators and landfill (which produces greenhouse gases as rubbish breaks down), as well as those that expand production while improving their emissions efficiency.

The annual cap for the future will be based on the annual greenhouse gases emitted between 2010 and 2014. A final decision on the scheme will be made in late 2015 before starting in July 2016.

In effect, Australia’s climate policy armoury will include aspects of a “baseline and credit” emissions trading scheme.

Lower cost to business

An emissions trading scheme is a way of making businesses pay for the greenhouse gas emissions released from their business operations.

In a “baseline and credit” scheme each company must keep its emissions below a government-mandated level, for example, below the average of its previous five years’ emissions.

Let’s assume that the company’s “baseline emissions” had been set at 28,000 tonnes for a year. Also assume that the business emitted 30,000 tonnes of greenhouse in a year.

The company then has to pay for emissions that exceed the baseline, in this case 2,000 tonnes. They can pay for it by buying carbon credits locally or on the international market. Assuming a carbon price of A$10, the company’s cash outflow will be a modest A$20,000.

In contrast, under Labor’s “cap and trade” scheme, the government would release a number of permits into the market, based on national emissions reduction targets, such as Australia’s current 2020 5% less than 2000 levels by 2020. There is no limit imposed on individual companies’ emissions as long as they buy (pay for) enough permits, each permit giving them a right (but not an obligation) to emit 1 tonne of greenhouse gas. Assuming a permit price of A$10, then the same business will be paying A$300,000 under a “cap and trade”.

Thus the cost impost on businesses, and on the economy, is much less under the coalition’s safeguard mechanism compared to a cap and trade scheme.

Baseline and credit or cap and trade?

The two types of emissions trading schemes were debated in depth in the early 2000s, before the European Union favoured the cap-and-trade design in 2005 and it became the blueprint for Labor’s emissions trading scheme, introduced (albeit with a fixed initial price) in 2012. California and the Canadian province of Quebec have also adopted cap-and-trade schemes.

The case against the “baseline and credit” schemes back in 2005 included the fact that governments had insufficient information to set credible “baseline emissions” at individual business levels and that it involved more intrusive regulation than cap and trade schemes.

However, Australia has now detailed annual, company-level greenhouse gas emissions data for the large to medium-sized businesses, thanks to the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme introduced from 2008. Setting “baseline emissions” for each business need not be onerous, particularly if they are linked to individual companies past greenhouse gas emissions and their future plans.

The “baseline and credit” principle has already been used in the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement program in the last decade delivering low permit prices. That now-defunct scheme has been reviewed and presumably the lessons learnt would have informed the details the safeguard mechanism.

The actual performance of the European Union’s “cap and trade” scheme over the last 10 years shows its key weakness, namely governments’ inability to release the right number of carbon permits into the market, say for five future years at a time, based on various forecasts.

Random shocks such as the global financial crisis in 2008 impacted EU’s economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. Demand for permits plummeted and the supply glut resulted in the permit price nose-diving from above 20 to around 5 Euros. So, the EU is now postponing the release of new permits to stabilise the supply demand balance.

Complementing other climate policies

The safeguard mechanism is complementary to the voluntary Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), where the government pays businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for specific projects.

The government will select only the low-cost emissions reduction projects using a tendering process. Those who get funding will reduce their emissions, but what about those who choose not to apply or do not get the funds? Will they continue to emit as before or more?

The safeguard mechanism is designed to ensure that there are mandatory obligations on greenhouse reductions from large businesses to not exceed their baseline emissions. Without a safeguard in the ERF design, emissions reductions by participants in the ERF could be nullified by emissions increases in other areas and businesses not participating in the ERF.

The safeguard mechanism – a baseline and credit emissions trading scheme – involves a fair degree of regulatory intrusion into the operations of liable businesses by mandating their individual baseline emissions.

While such high-handed regulation may be unwelcome, businesses would appreciate the lower cost of compliance to a baseline and credit scheme and the flexibilities built into the baseline setting process.

On the other hand, a “cap and trade” scheme is more market-based while imposing a higher cost of compliance on liable business.

This article is based on a post published on the Monash University website.

The Conversation

Gujji Muthuswamy is Industry Fellow, Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China: Seeks Australia’s Help Building Emissions Trading Scheme


The link below is to an article reporting on China seeking Australia’s assistance in building an emissions trading scheme.

For more visit:
http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/china-seeks-australias-help-building-emissions-trading-scheme-20130711-2prjh.html

Australia: Carbon Price Needed Now


Thirteen of Australia’s leading economists have signed and published an open letter calling for a speedy introduction of a carbon price for carbon polluters. They prefer to have a carbon emissions trading scheme institututed as soon as possible.

The introduction of carbon pricing is designed to accelerate a move to more environmentally friendly production methods, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, etc.

For more visit:
http://theconversation.edu.au/economists-open-letter-calls-for-carbon-price-1639

View the actual letter.

 

Renewable Energy: Massive Wind Power Project in Texas


The following link is to an article on a major wind power project in Texas, USA. The technology being developed as part of this scheme could be of major importance for energy production and storage around the world. Being able to store electricity generated by wind power in massive batteries is an interesting development.

For more visit:
http://www.grist.org/wind-power/2011-04-15-no-trees-big-battery-texas-to-install-worlds-largest-wind