August 21, 2016

If you go down to the woods…

Lamington National Park lies on the Lamington Plateau, part of the McPherson Range on the Queensland-New South Wales border. There are two sections: the Green Mountains Section, centred on O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat; and Binna Burra Section, where we had stayed once before, in Binna Burra Mountain Lodge. Their Sky Lodges are well-designed, built of slate, stone and wood, and nicely furnished, with stunning views. They're cosy, with efficient heating if the wind is whipping up the valley.

We escaped Brisbane for a night and a day on the city's Ekka public holiday. Everyone should experience the Ekka, but once is probably enough (see The Ekka, August 2011). These days, I would get upset about the innumerable plastic show-bags all over the showground and beyond, as well as wild birds in small cages.  

We left town late Tuesday afternoon. It should take about an hour and a half to Binna Burra, either via the Pacific Motorway or the Ipswich and Beaudesert roads and Mt Lindesay Highway as far as Jimboomba. We chose the latter, but many sets of traffic lights in the rush hour and then winding roads up the mountain in the dark extended the journey beyond two hours.

The early morning light created blue landscapes from the balcony of our beautiful Sky Lodge. And the Gold Coast was lapped by a burnished ocean.
After breakfast and a quick visit to the Ranger station to check the walk we'd chosen (from many in Lamington), we started out from the trailhead along the Border Track at about 10, heading ultimately for Dave's Creek Circuit: 13 kilometres return; walking time 4-5 hours; Class 4. This is regarded as one of the more interesting walks in terms of variety of vegetation. Along the Border Track there is warm and cool subtropical rainforest, where the trees are descendants of the rainforests of Gondwana. There are fine examples of buttress roots, Strangler Figs, epiphytes and, in damper patches, Picabeen Palms.
After you turn off for the Circuit, 2-3 km down the Border Track, there is a small area of Antarctic Beech, believed to survive here in a cool pocket. There are increasing tracts of dryer, more open eucaplypt and casuarina woodland until eventually, on the top of Dave's Creek ridge, there is mallee woodland and then heath. As ever, backlit greens and filigree ferns were irresistible.
Beyond the woods were lookouts – to border country, ocean and valley. There was Molongolee Cave and the aptly named Surprise Rock, a volcanic dyke made of erosion-resistant trachyte.
Not far from the Rock was another lookout, over a beautiful variation of montane (above the tree line) heathland, where we had lunch and spent time with a bold Grey Shrike-thrush. He relished muesli-bar crumbs that fell by chance.
There's nothing quite like gazing to the sky via the trunk and spreading crown of an ancient forest dweller. There's something perspective-providing and calming about it. Brisbanites are fortunate to have such forests close at hand in which to lose themselves for a few hours. I found myself wondering, however, how well these giants will adapt to a more challenging climate. And I worried about the fate of millions of trees not park protected from clearing and awaiting the success or failure of imminent vegetation management legislation in the Queensland Parliament.

August 15, 2016

A security nightmare

And I'm not talking about disaffected youth with grudges, religious mania or a right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.

I'd had the same email address for donkey's years, provided by a British telco company. I kept it when I moved to Australia so that old work contacts would still be able to find me to offer employment. (In fact, that's only happened twice in more than six years.) Long after I no longer had a telephone line or internet with the telco, they began to charge for my email, but only about £1.20 a month, which was acceptable. A few months ago however, without warning or explanation, they increased that charge by more than 300%. I thought that was a bit rude. The Direct Debit Guarantee (UK) stipulates that you must be notified in advance of any changes to the amount, date or frequency your of direct debit. I never received such a notification, but that doesn't mean it wasn't sent.

When I was in the UK a few weeks ago, I phoned them. I had to hang on for 15 minutes before I got through to a real person. There was no apology; nor an explanation of the size of the increase; only that I wasn't on a contract so I had to pay more. A contract for an email? Were they serious?  I could be on a contract for £1.80 – still a 30 per cent increase – or non-contract for little short of £6.

Then we got cut off. So I was cross as well as outraged. I went online banking and cancelled the  direct debit immediately.

Before I returned to Australia, I called them again. I'd decided it was time to start using my other, dormant email. I offered to pay the telco for three months, to give me time to let everyone know of my 'new' address, and asked if I could then close the account online. No, I would only be able to cancel by phone. Call from Oz with the hang-on waits the company is famous for? I don't think so. The woman said she would transfer me to billing, but I couldn't face another lengthy wait.

I returned with the intention of getting the new address up and running right away, but there were distractions and more urgent jobs to do. Two weeks later my email stopped working. Of course, I assumed it was because I hadn't paid them. I frantically sent out notifications of the alternative address to my contacts, and started working my way through a long list of organisations who either email me or use my email as ID.

All went smoothly at first. Some updating processes were more straightforward than others.

Recently, I have observed increased sensitivity – some would say over-sensitivity – to perceived security breaches. Twitter, for example, frequently sends an email telling me they've 'noticed a recent login attempt from an unusual device or location'. This usually follows me accessing Twitter on my mobile rather than my computer! They recommend a change of password, which I ignore.

Then one day, they locked my account (see top). I had to change my password to 'secure' my account before I could access Twitter again. You can probably guess what's coming. Once you start the process they have to send you an interim password, to the email address they have on file, the one I could no longer use. Believing there must be a way to solve the problem, I spent hours going round in circles but always coming back to the dead end, my unusable email. I sent Twitter 'Support' three, increasingly desperate, messages. I explained that I do not use my account for frippery; to follow celebrities, friends or sporting idols; but to further my environmental research for the blog or my volunteering. I explained that my email address had been terminated for me, not by me, and that contacting the provider was unlikely to achieve a result for a number of reasons.

Twitter don't care to use discretion, however; to consider a plea for reinstatement on its merits. This was their final over-and-out, you're on your own, mate, response, after which they went deathly quiet. (Click to enlarge.)
Having built up a number of followers, starting up a new account wasn't an option. My followers' details were locked away in my current account. I didn't believe that phoning the UK telco would get me anywhere if they'd terminated me.

I beat my head against a brick wall for a few more days. I was stumped. I missed tweeting, and checking the latest enviromental news via trusted followees.

There was no alternative: I had to phone the telco; throw myself at their mercy; throw money at them; plead my case for reconnection; anything, to get Twitter back.

There was such a narrow window, at the beginning of the UK working day, 5pm in Oz, to avoid hanging on to the point of financial ruination. The first time, I spoke to a helpful chap, but he was puzzled because my account had not been 'restricted'. He concluded that I would have to speak with the email team. I had already seen in online chat rooms that the email team waits were particularly lengthy and problematical. So, I tried a couple of times to 'chat' online with an advisor. They confirmed what the first man had said.

I summoned up all my strength and wherewithal and rang the number they gave me. I was convinced, even if I reached a real person, that all attempts to reconnect my old email would be thwarted. But, surprise, I got through quickly, and discovered they hadn't annihilated me. Without further ado, the lady gave me a temporary password and talked me through restoration.

So, a result, and easier than anticipated. But I could have so easily been condemned to Twitter silence forever more. I have yet to tackle the same problem with LinkedIn, which I am living without much more easily.

The most pertinent issue remains, however. According to Twitter's so-called support, these almost insurmountable hurdles, aka account verification requirements, are in place to protect accounts and private user data. But if the measures lock out the account holder to the extent they prohibit any course of action, then data protection is a secondary issue. Security hoops are held ever higher and they're flaming: it is time to introduce flexibility and discretion into the madness. An end to faceless 'support' would also be helpful.

One lesson here is clear. If your email is 'compromised', act quickly, otherwise problems will quickly escalate and your stress levels head off the scale.

August 6, 2016

Adani in court again

An environmental authority (EA) was granted for Adani's Carmichael mine on 2 February 2016. This followed a recommendation by the Land Court of Queensland, on 15 December 2015, that it be granted. The decision, by Member Carmel MacDonald, had conditions attached relating to the monitoring of the impacts of the mine on the by-now notorious Black-Throated Finch (BTF), whose core population, the case had evidenced, lives on the proposed mine site.

The Land Court case had been brought by conservation group Land Services of Coast and Country, who objected to the Carmichael mine on the grounds of its potential impact on groundwater and groundwater-dependent ecosystems, and on biodiversity; the contribution of the mine's vast output to global carbon emissions and subsequent harm to the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change; and the dubious economic viability of the mine. Evidence was presented between March and May, 2015: see several blog posts during that time, starting with Another Little Bird, from 1 April, 2015.

Member MacDonald did not address any of the above issues, therefore, except one aspect of the biodiversity.

The case revealed the same concerns expressed during previous cases brought against other proposed mega mines in the Galilee Basin: that not enough is known about the hydrogeology of this arid region  to be able to guarantee no impact on precious artesian water supplies to farmers and communities. And that the economic modelling required by an environmental impact statement is inadequate for a realistic assessment of the costs to and benefits for communities (local and wider) of such a huge mine.

Coast and Country went to the Supreme Court in Brisbane yesterday for a judicial review of the granting of Adani's EA on the grounds it was unlawful under the state's Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EPA). In particular, it failed under Section 5 of the EPA which places a duty on decision makers such as Member MacDonald 'to exercise their power in the way that best achieves the ecologically sustainable development object [objective] of the Act'. Coast and Country were represented by the Environmental Defenders Office Queensland. The picture at the top shows EDO CEO Jo-Anne Bragg and Derec Davies of Coast and Country walking into the Supreme Court.

The whole day's evidence revolved around sections 3 and 5 of the EPA, and what the legislature intended when they worded the Act as they did. Section 3 says:
The object of the Act is to protect Queensland's environment while allowing for development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends (ecologically sustainable development).
EDO's QC argued that Section 5 was specifically created so that a decision maker would consider whether their decision furthered the object of the Act. The section's purpose is not aspirational: the language is unambiguous. It has work to do with regard to a decision maker's function and power.
If, under this Act, a function or power is conferred on a person, the person must [my italics] perform the function or exercise the power in the way that best achieves the object of this Act.
Furthermore, she argued, Member MacDonald had not engaged with the question begged by the object of the Act when she recommended approval of Adani's EA. She had not fulfilled her obligation under Section 5 and asked herself the ultimate question: would the Adani project be ecologically sustainable?

Damian Clothier QC, for Adani, defended Member MacDonald's reasoning for recommending the EA be granted. In order to achieve the best possible of outcomes, she attached additional conditions (for BTF monitoring) to the draft EA before her, but otherwise considered it consistent with her findings in the Land Court, which is what she considered to be her obligation. She did not regard any other considerations to be significant.

I have sat in a number of Land Court and higher court cases, and conservationists winning against big coal are as rare as hen's teeth. That doesn't stop me hoping, however. No indication was given of when a judgment will be handed down, but it is highly unlikely that the Queensland government will in the end have to rescind Adani's EA. They may not believe that the Carmichael coal mine will ever become a reality, but they're relying on the market making sure it doesn't happen rather than rising to the challenge of rescuing Queensland's biodiversity and investing in renewables for jobs.