A grim future?

Climate change is already affecting the Central Coast, particularly through increased temperatures, destruction of our forests and coal mining. The environmental, economic and cultural values are just some aspects of the region that have been identified as being highly vulnerable to climate change.

Climate change is making ocean waves more powerful.

13 December 2023

ALAN HAYES

 

THE Central Coast includes unique natural environments such as ocean foreshore, coastal lakes, rivers, estuaries, lagoons, valleys and mountains. These features have created corridors that have shaped the region’s development. National parks, State forests, bushland, beaches and waterways occupy over half the region.

 

The region is projected to continue to warm during the near future (up until 2039) and far future (2060–2079), compared to recent years (1990–2009). The warming is projected to be on average about 0.7°C in the near future, increasing to about 1.9°C in the far future. The number of hot days is projected to increase, and there are projected to be fewer cold nights. The impacts of this can be seen through the widespread bushfires of 2019–2020.

 

The warming trend projected for the region is large compared to natural variability in temperature, and is similar to the rate of warming projected for other regions of NSW. Yet the continual destruction of our forests is allowed, destroying much needed and unique habitat and licence extensions are granted to our Regions coal mines, despite their ongoing contribution to global warming and climate change.

 

Since the Black Summer fires of 2019–20, 62% of the State's vegetation in the fire zone is under pressure from too much burning. NSW's major inland river systems continue to be affected by water extraction, altered river flows, loss of connectivity and catchment changes such as altered land use and vegetation clearing.

 

While changes will vary in each region, in general we will see higher temperatures, changes to rainfall patterns, and increases in fire weather and the risk of bushfire. All of these changes will affect the Central Coast and other NSW communities and industry, especially agriculture.

 

On the Central Coast the effect of climatic change will be dramatic - a rise in sea levels, warming ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, changes to rainfall and runoff, and more extreme weather events such as severe east coast lows. These changes will affect our coastal landforms and ecosystems, including oceans, beaches, estuaries, lagoons and rivers.

 

So, exactly how is climate change likely to affect our coastal paradise?

 

Sea level rise could erode and inundate coastal ecosystems and eliminate wetlands. Warmer and more acidic oceans, from absorbing more CO2 from the atmosphere, while concurrently suffering decreasing oxygen levels, are likely to disrupt coastal and marine ecosystems and coastal development, such as we are now witnessing, will reduce the ability of natural systems to respond to climate changes.

 

There is little doubt that climate change is already having a negative and destructive impact on the Central Coast - late last Saturday afternoon a mini cyclone ripped off the roofs of homes and cut power supplies at Long Jetty.

 

Wyong SES commander Matt Le Clercq said "It was just the severity, the ferocity of this storm that left havoc in its wake."

 

Steven Malliaros, who had the roof of a local mechanic business land on his home, said it was the "scariest moment of my life".

 

The storm cell did not discriminate, whoever was in the way of the storm was impacted. The intensity and frequency of these types of weather events will only increase on the Central Coast.

 

Disregard for human health

 

To add to the impact of nature,  poor government regulation and management have exacerbated the problem. As previously reported by the Grapevine, coal ash dumps near power stations on the NSW Central Coast have contaminated groundwater, rivers, lakes and aquatic ecosystems and have caused toxic air pollution.

 

A report, produced by Environmental Justice Australia, cites research and water sampling done by the Hunter Community Environment Centre, found the creek that takes overflow from the Eraring ash dump had a selenium concentration of 110 parts per million, more than 55 times the level recommended to protect fish and birds.

 

In August of this year, UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, Marcos Orellana, visited the Central Coast as part of their investigation into human rights and the harms of toxic coal pollution on people and the planet. This led to meeting at Chain Valley Bay last Thursday, 7 December, between the community and Tony Chappel, CEO of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA)  had to offer with regard to the health and environmental problems facing residents from coal-fired power stations like Vales Point and Eraring.

 

The Hunter Community Environment Centre and Future Sooner presented their health and pollution evidence.

 

Future Sooner spokesperson Gary Blaschke OAM said “It was great to see Tony Chappel on the Central Coast to listen to what residents had to say.”

 

“The good news, he promised to action all the recommendations from the coal-ash inquiry that the EPA is responsible for.

 

“Even better he made powerful commitments: that coal-fired power stations will close. Apparently though, it depends on how quickly the EPA can get the zero-carbon generation and the infrastructure in place.

 

“He said the EPA was pleased that Vales Point performance and compliance had improved and they were now finalising its exemption. The expectation was this would be early next year.

 

“We infer this means that Vales Point Exemption Order, up for renewal in April 2024, will not be extended.

 

“We were told the EPA has installed 20 top-of-the-range air monitors around power stations and their ash dams. We’ve received the link to the mapping of the locations of the Purple Air data . What we’ve now asked for is that suburb names be attached to each number on the map.

 

“When asked about including Climate pollution targets into licences, Tony Chappel said the Federal government had already done this.

 

“That’s good. Now that all NSW coal-fired power station licences are up for renewal,  this gives the NSW EPA the opportunity to include climate into power station licence conditions.

 

“Tony Chappel’s visit was a positive one. Future Sooner looks forward to working closely with him and the EPA and to ensuring that all the promises he made are fulfilled.”

 

Yet will the EPA’s promises be fulfilled? It’s all about the EPA putting in place zero-carbon generation and while our governments talk-the-talk, they are not walking-the-walk - green electricity, 24/7, produced by ‘concentrated solar thermal power plants’ (CSTP) isn’t even in the discussion. There Power plants have a life expectancy of fifty years plus and are cheaper to build with a comparable life expectancy, if not greater, of coal-fired power generation. Many countries around the world have adopted this technology and are producing green base-load power into their electricity grids - California is powered entirely from CSTP.

 

Gas-fired power stations and huge solar arrays and battery banks are not the answer for a truly green outcome!

 

Gill Boehringer, Dean (retired) and Honorary Professor, Macquarie University Law School and a member of Future Sooner, said that as an environmental and human rights defender, and resident of the Central Coast, he was most concerned about the serious negative impact that the coal-fired power stations have had, and continue to have, on the people, communities and ecosystems of our region.

 

"My subjective and experiential understanding of the dire nature of the situation that has been allowed to exist for decades is backed by scientific and medical research made available to me in recent years from a variety of sources," he said.

 

"I am appalled by the dangerous conditions we face as a result of the coal-fired power stations with their enormous, and enormously dangerous, coal ash dams; and by the poor performance of the government in protecting our beautiful Coast.

 

"Members of Future Sooner have produced comprehensive data, indeed, alarming data on the health impacts from the pollution associated with coal-fired power stations, Vales Point specifically. The government agencies that have seen the data have shown little interest in the research data we have provided and our recommendations."

 

The data establishes without question the harm caused by a combination of the Vales Point plant and a regulatory regime that would be a joke if it had not produced serious harm to the people, communities and environment on the Coast. It is a tragic reminder of the kind of regulatory system we live under - unjust, discriminatory, and homicidal.

 

Sociological analysis has suggested that it is nothing less than an informal alliance against the people and the environment.

 

While successive governments have passed a rash of “environmental laws” and established agencies such as the EPA to oversee their effects, it cannot be said that such laws/agencies are intended to or likely to protect the environment in a way that the community expects.

 

"Such laws are intended to allow a significant degree of environmental destruction and consequential harm to humans and ecosystems," Mr Boehringer said.

 

"The environment and its people have been left by successive governments to the mercy of the power station owners and a lacklustre EPA.

 

"It is clear that the interests of the owners and operators of the stations have been prioritised over the interests of the people and environment - profits before people, communities and the environment.

 

"In the two years and a half years since the Coal Ash Inquiry reported, none of the 16 Recommendations have been fully implemented - most just disappeared into thin air."

 

Coal has fuelled Australia’s energy sector for decades. But the environmental health costs have often been externalised on communities, who have paid the price with premature deaths, terminal illnesses, asthma and other serious health problems. Certain air quality standards in Australia are less protective than the World Health Organization’s standards. And coal-fired power plants, such as Vales Point, have been granted exemptions from existing air pollution standards.

 

What about our policy makers?

 

On the 8 November 2023 the Grapevine reported that there was still "an appropriate level of cynicism" towards Australia and its climate efforts. Its new 2030 target was not enough to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C. And surprisingly, Treasurer Jim Chalmers conceded that Australia was behind in its efforts to meet climate targets, signalling a need for more public and private investment to catch up.

 

While the Government has adopted a net zero emissions target by 2050, critics are still concerned that it has refused to outlaw new coal, oil and gas projects, casting doubt on the country’s pathway to 82% renewable sustainability by 2030.

 

Despite accelerating global pledges to reduce fossil fuel consumption and help avert catastrophic climate change, the world’s coal use reached a record high last year, while Australian gas exporters, including Santos and Woodside, made more money than in any year in their history.

 

Even though in Australia and around the world, banks and insurers are increasingly abandoning the thermal coal sector because of the financial and ethical risks of contributing to global warming, pushing the cost of capital for coal miners higher, the insanity of approving new coal mines continues.

 

Not surprisingly, New South Wales is a leading contributor to the climate crisis. As the 4th largest exporter of coal globally, NSW has a key role to play in tackling the climate crisis by phasing out fossil fuels and reducing global emissions – but are they doing enough?

 

The NSW State Government passed its Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023 on 30 November 2023, and it is now awaiting assent, but according to Richard Weller of Climate Change, Central Coast, the emission targets in the Bill are inadequate to protect the people of NSW from the impacts of extreme changes in climate.

 

It cannot be doubted that as the world warms there will be escalating damage to the climate that will require increasing determination to cut emissions and to adapt to impacts. There will be rising damage to precious and important habitat and eco systems, yet still the madness and greed of mining, the destruction of our forests and the insanity of ‘here for the moment’ politicians continues to allow the annihilation of our only home – there is no Planet B in the short-term future.

 

THE  MADNESS OF HUMAN GREED AND AVARICE!

 

Our forests are dead or dying. Our rivers are poisoned. Where there used to be mountains we’re left with corroded pits – scars in the Earth. This is what mining has done to our land. What would happen if we unleashed such a horror that is now being proposed to mine our ocean floor?

The twisted next generation of mining companies wants to send machines the size of buildings to rip up the seabed in search of minerals to sell – decimating all life wherever they go. And Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Støre is urging his Parliament to be the first to authorise this insanity. There's still hope: the vote is in four weeks and a massive global outcry could tip the balance and save our oceans! SAY NO to this insanity and deliver your voice directly to the Norwegian Parliament.

 

Experts say the sea floor at mining sites will be wiped clean of life. Whole ecosystems will disappear, with consequences we can’t even calculate.

 

Imagine if we’d had the chance to stop chasing fossil fuels before we mined, fracked, drilled, and dredged our planet to the brink of catastrophe.

 

If this madness to mine our ocean floor is not stopped, these sick and twisted mining companies will soon be knocking on the door of every world government! The world is deciding whether to start destroying the ocean floor like we have our mountains, rivers, and forests on land - your vote will help to stop this insanity.

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