This is The ChangeUnderground for the 21st of November 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
Errors Were Made
Apparently the last episodes failed to load through the interwebs, as I discovered this morning when I sat down to prepare today’s script. An error in the RSS feed, I think. So I’m combining the last few episodes into one, just for this episode. On top of that, COVID is bouncing around the community again, naturally the cruise ships are arriving again, mandates are gone and I’m RAT testing daily because of where I work. Five cases in our tiny part of the organisation in the last week and Mrs ChangeUnderground is three days into her third infection. Happy times indeed.
As I’ve mentioned before, we are currently caught between Indian Ocean Dipole and La Nina events. We have been in a wet cycle for our third Spring in a row. Each of these seasons has been different. Major floods on the mainland, especially the eastern half have wreaked havoc on townships and cities. Some places, like Lismore in NSW had five major, one in a hundred year type events, in three years.
This Spring the system seems to have set up a pattern we can almost set our watch by.
The week starts with a cold change hitting Tasmania in the wake of a front that’s stretched from the North West of the mainland down to the Great Australian Bite which rolls across the continent, dropping large amounts of rain on the eastern states. A month back we had severe floods in our part of the world that lasted a few days. Lismore on the Mainland has been spared, so far but towns like Forbes have been flooded a few times. A fair way down the river systems any rain in the ranges eventually finds its way to Forbes. Further north in the Central Tablelands of NSW rain on Wednesday night hit so hard and quick that people had 15 minutes to realise it was raining that heavily at 2 in the morning and then get to their roofs to avoid drowning.
The soils across the eastern half of this wide brown land are well soaked to the point of ruined cereal crops in some places and what’s known as a green drought. There’s plenty of stock feed growing but it’s basically green coloured water until the plants start to mature.
So much of the vegetable growing areas have been flooded that potatoes are not available in the supermarkets. Frozen oven chips are available but that’s not the same thing, obviously. We went through a lettuce shortage earlier this year because of flood damages.
Interesting times, indeed.
So waves of rain, a cool to cold spell a warm day or two and back to rain. Rain in the 20-40mm range here in the North West of Tasmania, up to 200mm on the mainland where the catchments are already sodden.
Add onto this the beginning of the fourth wave of COVID here is OZ and things are getting interestinger. I know that’s not a real word but it fits.
The intensity of these weather patterns appear to be a matter of climate change and following the black summer of 2019-2020 things in general have been increasingly tough. Clearly not Ukraine tough but not golden either.
Some good news. With the change in government earlier this year from a god bothering, pocket lining amateur kleptocracy, we have some climate science certainty in the halls of leadership. To that end a new green hydrogen project is set to start building this year with the first fuel coming out of the plant next year. Now green hydrogen is the only zero emission type. The energy required to split the molecules of hydrogen from the single oxygen in water is being provided by renewables. Solar PV and wind turbines. The site is a few hours north of Perth in Western Australia where sunshine and wind abound. Equally other nations cannot turn these on or off as the Russians have with natural gas and the Saudis with their reduced oil production. Whilst hydrogen is a mature industry meaning the containment, transport and burning thereof is established, it seems batteries will be the main form of personal transport fuel. Hydrogen is much better suited to ships, trucks, tractors and maybe even aircraft, the Hindenburg disaster notwithstanding.
As I say, it’s a well established fuel source. Useful for nitrogen fertiliser production if we are going to keep using that for the interim until regenerative processes percolate through the ag systems of the world.
The less comforting news from the past few weeks has been the raising of the idea of geoengineering, again. I’m in two minds about this. We have buggered up the climate by not paying attention to what we were doing. Using geoengineering, spraying water droplets into the atmosphere to reflect light and so reduce temperatures is an option, as is the dumping of iron filings into the ocean to achieve a greater carbon dioxide drawdown effect. Another idea floated a few years ago was the spraying of sulphurous particles into the atmosphere to counter rising temperatures. The well known side effect of which is acid rain. Nothing happens without a side effect, it seems. Sometimes an unknown side effect until we’re in the middle of it.
The gut says no but the mind is more open. Thinking about other attempts to modify ecosystems, a salient point becomes obvious. The science needs to be followed. A few examples. By the early 1920s some 60 million acres of Queensland and New South Wales agricultural land had been taken out of production by the Prickly Pear, Opuntia monacantha. A form of cactus cultivated in the mediterranean and across the Americas. It had no native predators nor diseases and reproduced by putting down roots wherever it touched the ground. They were introduced by Captain Arthur Phillip, first governor of NSW to feed cochineal beetles for a dye trade in the colony. In the late 1800s different species were introduced and carried west of the Great Dividing Range for use as hedges and drought fodder in the rangelands of Queensland and NSW. They took off expanding to the 60 million acres mentioned above. In 1886 and again in 1901 and 1924 NSW passed laws making landholders responsible for its eradication on land they held. This did not work.
In 1913 the Queensland government set up a scheme where biologists travelled to origin sites around the world to identify biological options for eradication. These were identified but the whole process was put on hold because of WW1. In 1920 a joint Commonwealth, NSW and Queensland effort decided on using the Cactoblastis cactorum moth a native of a small area in Argentina. It turns out the larvae, caterpillar stage, lives on nothing but prickly pear thus dying out when their feed source did and not breeding like rabbits. Yet they did breed like rabbits but only on the pear after they were released in 1926 with full scientific testing and peer review. By 1933, 80% of the infestation had been eradicated. Some pockets still exist to this day. I had some on a property at Mudgee on the Central Tablelands of NSW. I can confirm they root wherever they touch the ground. I can also confirm they are gutted by the cactoblastis which lives on wherever the plant survives. It was just the one plant on our place and once the cactoblastis had done their worst/best I dug up what was left and dried it our on a concrete pad where its demise was cheerfully observed.
Now that’s a long winded explanation to say when backed by the science, imbalances caused by humans can, in some cases, be reversed. But the science must be rigorous and free from political interference.
The example of when this isn’t the case is just as instructive.
From The cane toad (Bufo marinus) – fact sheet
Cane toads are native to South and Central America. They are extremely hardy animals and voracious predators of insects and other small prey. These qualities led to their introduction into Australia as a means of controlling pest beetles in the sugar cane industry in 1935, before the use of agricultural chemicals became widespread.
Introduced, I might add against the advice of the biologists but in time for an election. You can imagine the thinking. We beat the prickly pear, we can beat the cane beetle. Those scientists are just being over cautious. Well, they weren’t and now the cane toad has infested country across Queensland, is heading towards Newcastle north of Sydney and threatening Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.
The introduction may have won an election in the bush electorates but the damages have been enormous.
Act With Caution
The point being that geoengineering may be a necessary evil in our need to mitigate global warming and its inherent climate change effects but we should be doing all we can to reduce GHG output and restore the carbon in the soils of the world. A move above 1.5 degrees C in ambient temperatures will probably require some form of geoengineering but we really need to be cautious. The cane toad is bad enough in parts of a continent but a planetary scale error could be an existential threat to us all.
So plant a garden, do what you can and read as widely as possible, especially peer reviewed material. I know it can be a little, well let’s face it, horrendously dense and full of jargon but we must make the effort to be informed. It is only through knowledge and its application we can work our way out of this mess.
The ChangeUnderground Academy no-dig gardening course is still available. Link in the show notes. Please tell your friends!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.
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Prickly pear eradication
The cane toad (Bufo marinus) – fact sheet