March 29, 2013

Did you read that...?

Blog posts are a bit like buses: you wait for ages for big news, taking advantage of a lull to write about topics on your non-urgent list of subjects, when all of a sudden there's a rush of noteworthy events over a matter of days that you have to leap on. Apologies for the brevity.

Climate change nonsense
Recently, silly UK Education Minister Michael Gove – and I'm sorry but you can't expect a man with such a funny little face to be taken seriously in the classroom or on the news desk – proposed taking climate change and sustainable development out of the National Curriculum geography syllabus for the under-14s. There followed much debate about whether the topic belongs in geography or chemistry. But shouldn't this critically important subject also be included in Life/Philosophy/Society/Morality discussion groups, whatever that lesson is called these days.

Meanwhile, back in Oz, pity the receptionist at Greg Combet's newly reshuffled department who has to answer the phone with, 'Good afternoon, Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, this is Noleen'. Mr Combet used to be in charge of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. (Energy Efficiency now merges with Resources, Energy and Tourism. Tourism? Am I missing a link?) These two seem like obvious bedfellows to me, since reducing carbon emissions should be the most urgent task of all governments. And I do wonder about the potential for conflict of interest if the Minister is being lobbied by mining and energy industry leaders while wearing his Industry hat and then has to turn his attention to limiting their growth in order to achieve a sustainable economy framework, hence reducing those emissions.

Recycling trouble in the Territory
Australians consume 14 billion drinks in cans or bottles a year, yet recycle fewer than half of the containers. South Australia has dealt with this problem for years by adding a 10c/container 'deposit' that's refunded if the container is recycled. Recycling rates in the state are double what they are in the rest of the country as a result. The Northern Territory recently tried to introduce a similar scheme but incurred the wrath of Coca Cola who took them to court, and won, regrettably.

I won't go into the minutiae of the legal ruling, (you can read all about it at, but the case emphasises the need for a national container deposit scheme. We cannot continue to protect the profits of massive multinationals, however unintentionally, or the right to govern of individual states for that matter, if a national or global issue needs tackling firmly and urgently.
Getting away from it all – a can on Whitehaven Beach
No green tape in Queensland, then
This week Arrow Energy was granted approval by the Queensland Government for it's nearly-600 km pipeline to transport coal seam gas from the Bowen Basin to Curtis Island for processing into liquified natural gas prior to export. Tony Knight of Arrow Energy was coy on ABC 612 Brisbane about exactly how much the project would generate for Arrow or the Government, because he is Vice President of Exploration, you see? Construction will cost $1 billion and provide 700 jobs, although very few people will be required once the pipeline is in operation.

Since we're talking figures, the Great Barrier Reef brings in $6 billion a year in tourism for the nation. Once all the proposed coal- and gas-exporting projects go ahead for Curtis Island, however, one wonders if that figure will be in jeopardy as the risks of ships damaging the Reef and spilling into the ocean increases proportionately. Not to mention the further messing up of Gladstone Harbour.

Arrow Energy is owned jointly by Shell and PetroChina. In 2003 Shell made a commitment not to develop oil and gas in World Heritage Areas. Changing their name to Arrow doesn't obscure the fact that they are breaking that promise in Australia.

Seeing red
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dead prawns have been washed up on the coast of Chile south of Santiago. Something must surely be amiss, right? Right. 'Allegedly', heated water was released by two nearby power plants. Has an environmental crime been committed? This being South America, will the culprits be brought to a level of justice commensurate with the effects of their actions? Will we, in fact, ever hear any more about this story? Is justice ever done in such instances? BP in the Gulf springs to mind.

And bankers across the globe. Some legal eagles will argue that they committed no crime as such. But ask millions of people whose lives have been compromised or even destroyed by bankers' greed what they think. I once suggested that if communities wanted to stop large-scale mining development they should ensure that their government representatives change the law. As all nations have to grapple with the massive global issues that are climate change, population growth and food production, expedient methods of changing laws, nationally and internationally, will have to come about. Many old systems are redundant, and the sooner more citizens recognise this the better. Have a listen to Bob Geldof...

Keeping trees
Since the LNP was elected in Queensland a year ago, it's been steadily undoing a decade of Labor environmental law, as it promised it would. You would think the folly of land clearance throughout Australian history – and I'm including Aboriginal 'land management' in that indictment – would be understood by now. But no. The State Government have lifted restrictions on land clearance on leasehold and freehold properties that were originally imposed as part of protective Natural Vegetation legislation.

Farmers have long complained about being prevented from 'developing their assets', principally by tearing down trees in order to put the land under the plough. I have just read a book called Back from the brink: how Australia's landscape can be saved, by Peter Andrews. He has worked the land all his life; travelled around this continent observing landforms; studied farming and livestock practices in other countries; and, through trial and error, worked out for himself the best ways of maintaining the fertility of the Australian landscape and conserving its precious water. Trees, in fact any vegetation, including the worst weeds, are vitally important to both of these in a hugely interrelated system of biodiversity.

I know practically nothing about farming this land, but I know this book should be read by all those who do. I thought the book would be dry and difficult to read; in fact, it was fascinating, enlightening and well written. If you are a farmer and confident of your methods, you may be surprised by this book; if you are a farmer struggling with salinity, irrigation, increasing production costs and decreasing yields, you may learn a a lot from Peter Andrews. Then you can tell the relevant departments in the Queensland and Federal governments.

March 26, 2013

Whitsundays: snapshots

Sunset from One Tree Hill, Hamilton Island
There were very many photo ops in the Whitsundays. Two occasions provided the greatest opportunities. 

The first was our day trip to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island (see also Whitsundays: Whitehaven hype) and Daydream Island. We started off in cloud but it was a perfect day in the Tropics before midday.
Whitehaven Beach near Hill Inlet
Sandstone formations in Nara Inlet, Hook Island
Molle Group of islands with the mainland behind
By the time we were Daydreaming, it was very hot and sunny. The resort has a Living Reef waterway winding through it that includes varieties of rays, sharks, tropical fish and corals. After lunch, we walked the Rainforest Walk from Lover's Cove and back via the Boardwalk to the Marina.
Not surprisingly, Mermaids Beach
Brain coral
Black-tip Reef Shark
A pile of rays, including Shovel-nosed, on top
Lovers Cove
Storm brewing over Whitsunday and South Molle – but not Daydream
After the rain
Loving the blues on the way back to Hamilton
One day, on Hamilton, we walked to the aptly named Escape Beach in the island's southeast*. It was another hot day and beautifully blue. It was a nature walk. At one point we saw three Unadorned Rock Wallabies but they wouldn't pose for long enough.

A small frog
A large flutter-by
The beach was deserted and the Reef View Hotel seemed a long way away. There was a big shady tree with hooks and shelves. We had a picnic lunch. The water was deliciously warm and no amount of stinger warnings were going to stop me paddling. Only diminishing water supplies drove us away.
It doesn't get much better than this.
* Pick up a free Walking Trails pamphlet from shops carrying tourist information in the Marina. It includes a schematic map, distances, walking times and lookout points. We started out from behind the Reef View Hotel Conference Centre on the Scenic Trail

March 24, 2013

Head in the clouds

On the way back from a trip last weekend, we spotted this amazing cloud. The lower frill resembled cascading water. I had to veer off the Bruce Highway and dash to Deception Bay to get a better look. Ever in search of a roll cloud (see below), I dared to hope this might be the moment. I think, in fact, this was a shelf cloud, but I'm not a hundred per cent sure, and would love some advice from a seasoned cloud gazer.

I love clouds, even grey ones. Huge billowing thunder clouds, while they may be deeply disconcerting, are at the same time irresistible. Benign grey skies can provide a wonderful respite from burning hot blue. But not formless Tupperware, thanks. That's as oppressive as ever it was.
Tonight, we have had the most extraordinary storm: no fork lightning, thankfully, but almost continuous sheet lightning, which appeared green as the storm approached. There was another shelf cloud. It went dark an hour early thanks to this mother.
Clouds represent meteorological drama: they are portents; prophets. In the UK, we used to look up with dismay at a mackerel sky approaching towards the end of a summer's day: it meant the end of warm sunshine for a while. I love advancing frontal lines that herald weather that may be still back over the horizon but is inexorably on its way.
The photograph immediately above is one of my favourites: it's Brisbane-on-sea.

There are all sorts of creatures among the clouds. There might be a crocodile lurking in the CBD; a tropical sea monster guarding South Molle in the Whitsundays; or a polar bear-Chewbacca cross giving chase. Even Abe Lincoln came to watch the cloud show one day. Oh, c'mon: use your imagination.
Layering produces great colours.
Sometimes there are light shows...
Or interesting lines...
And then there's plain old drama. Once I saw a cloud drowning.
I have great cloud ambitions – mammatus, lenticular, barrel. And the most famous roll cloud of all – Morning Glory. A roll cloud is a low, horizontal cloud like a tube. It differs from a shelf cloud by not being attached to another cloud or associated with storm clouds. Morning Glory is the only roll cloud that can be predicted, roughly. Its formation depends upon frontal systems over central Australia, high pressure over northern Australia, and high humidity and strong sea breezes over the Gulf of Carpentaria and Queensland's Pointy Bit. It occurs between late September and early November: there may be one cloud or a series, each up to 1,000 kilometres long. Sometimes it occurs over land, but your best bet is from over the sea. I wish I could say I'd taken this image. Maybe one day...