Friday, September 17, 2021

Australian farmers get nod to clear land for bushfire protection. Greenies howl

Environmental groups say a new code allowing land clearing 25 metres out from fences will do little to aid protection against bushfires in NSW but could have devastating impacts on wildlife.

The state government over the weekend released its long-awaited code for landholders "to reduce the potential for the spread" of fires from or into properties. "This should be undertaken with consideration of environmental impacts," the code states.

The 25-metre distance on either side of the fence, though, was not among the 76 specific recommendations of the state's bushfire inquiry after the 2019-20 fires.

Instead, the review called for a simplification of the vegetation clearing policies to ensure they were "clear and easy to navigate for the community, and that they enable appropriate bush fire risk management by individual landowners without undue cost or complexity".

Independent upper house MP Justin Field said the 25-metre measure "was totally plucked from the air" without scientific basis.

"These rules will be a disaster for regional communities," Mr Field said. "We're going to see vegetation bulldozed, chopped down, piled up and likely burnt across the state as a result of this decision with almost no regard to the environmental impact.

"This is going to pit neighbour against neighbour and will create massive fragmentation of bushland, leading to a further drying out of the landscape that may increase bushfire risks."

Proponents for the clearing had sought even wider clearing and for them to be applied to national parks before the cabinet compromised on the 25-metre zone that avoided the national park estate, according to one official who asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.

An uproar from some local councils, though, led to the Sydney metropolitan region being excluded from the clearing code. Areas close to rivers and other sensitive regions including core koala habitat are also excluded.

"There was quite a lot of thought that went into that [25-metre] distance," Kyle Stewart, an RFS Deputy Commissioner, said, adding it provided "an operational distance" that balanced firefighting effectiveness and other factors such as conservation.

The RFS would work with partner state agencies to help enforce the code's provisions, he said.

Martin Tebbutt, a resident near the Blue Mountains town of Bilpin, said Mr Elliott had "done a snow job" because nothing had changed for his land as it was within the Greater Sydney region.

"We won't be able to protect ourselves along our boundary," Mr Tebbutt said, adding that even 10 metres from the fence line would have been sufficient. Getting approval through the Hawkesbury Council for any clearing would continue to be "quite onerous", he said.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said councils within the Sydney Metropolitan areas "would be given the opportunity to opt-in to ensure the Code is applicable to any pockets of rural zoned land within their Local Government Area".

"The onus is on the landowner to ensure that they comply with the applicable regulations," he said.

The Herald also sought comment from Environment Minister Matt Kean and Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

Chris Gambian, head of the Nature Conservation Council, said thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat would be destroyed without requiring an independent assessment of the environmental impacts.

"Neither the NSW Bushfire Inquiry nor the royal commission recommend land clearing on property boundaries as a valid response to the Black Summer fires, but politicians in the government think they know better," Mr Gambian said.

"If these codes stand, it will be a black mark on the record of Matt Kean, who in many respects has been a good minister for the environment."

According to the self-assessed clearing, "it is the responsibility of the owner of the land to maintain a copy of the Rural Boundary Clearing online tool search results from the day that the clearing is undertaken. Landowners are required to provide evidence of the online search tool results in the circumstance that a relevant regulatory authority seeks such evidence".


Australia plugs for a land carbon sink

Endorsed by the Australian government in a widely unnoticed dot-point in May’s federal Budget and even given faint praise in modest mentions by the IPCC itself, a campaign to enhance the significant capacity of the soil to act as a carbon sink has a particular relevance to Australia.

Although there may be scope for some reservations about the entirety of claims by Mulloon Institute chair (and my former political colleague and friend) Gary Nairn that ‘it is possible to absorb the world’s annual anthropogenic emissions in our soils’, there is no doubt about the science that soil plays a role (understated in the latest catastrophe-oriented IPCC report) in reducing the impact of climate change through the natural cycle of soil carbon sequestration – and in particular by the land rehydration techniques employed by Mulloon in the NSW Southern Tablelands in conjunction with the government’s National Landcare Program and as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Critical of IPCC’s reliance on cutting emissions as the only recommended way to deal with climate change, Nairn points to other, simpler solutions: ‘soil contains two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere…. The long-term removal, capture or sequestration in soil of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helps slow or reverses atmospheric CO2 pollution’. With the IPCC forecasting a future of less rain overall but more intensive events, risking flooding and erosion, Nairn’s view that ‘the least expensive and most practical action that will quickly get results, including a return on investment, is fixing and rehydrating our degraded landscapes’, has the backing of Prime Minister Morrison.

When Energy Minister Angus Taylor announced the May budget’s $37 million funding of National Soil Innovation (included in the budget’s $233 million towards improving farming productivity, profitability and participation in the Emissions Reduction Fund), Taylor said the fund would support the development of technologies to reduce the measurement costs involved in ‘unlocking the untapped potential of our soils in line with our approach to reducing emissions by innovation not elimination’.

This cause was taken up earlier this year by the Menzies Research Centre’s James Mathias in the Daily Telegraph with the claim that ‘Increasing soil organic carbon is the single most useful step we can take to remove excessive carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By improving the way we farm, agriculture can become a net consumer of atmospheric carbon. Since Australian farming soils in aggregate are low by world standards, the potential to absorb carbon and turn it into productive use is huge. The benefits of soil carbon, however, go further than sequestration. Even without the imperative to restore the carbon balance, richer soils are more productive and require fewer inputs.

Australia is not alone in looking to better ways of dealing with CO2. In the US, the ultra-green Union of Concerned Scientists last month described the management of soil carbon as ‘an important tool in battling the climate crisis. By adopting healthy soil practices that keep carbon in soil and sequester carbon for the long term, farmers can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Such practices can boost resilience to increasingly extreme droughts and floods, reduce air and water pollution, and help farmers and their communities to thrive’.

While still focussing overwhelmingly on the negative impact on the land (floods, fire and famine) of its forecast human-emissions-caused global warming than on the positive prospects of land-use changes to assist the removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, the IPCC has nevertheless become more aware of the potential of land carbon sinks – and acknowledges that biological methods of increasing land carbon storage also enhance primary productivity.

But in the IPCC’s current ‘Advice to Policymakers’ there are no policy proposals, no urgent campaign to turn land sinks into a positive weapon, even though it accepts that there is a potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and durably store it in reservoirs. It projects that higher CO2 emissions will result in natural land carbon sinks taking up, in absolute terms, progressively larger amounts of CO2. However, the share of emissions absorbed by land is projected to decline with increasing cumulative CO2 emissions, resulting in a higher proportion of emitted CO2 remaining in the atmosphere.

The IPCC reckons that two-thirds of the estimated carbon lost from the soil as a result of human agriculture over 12,000 years is recoverable with best management practices. ‘These may be applied to the restoration of marginal or degraded land but may also be used in traditional agricultural lands’. But while restoration of degraded forests and non-forest ecosystems can play a large role in carbon sequestration, the IPCC warns against afforestation of native grasslands, savannas, and open-canopy woodlands that lead to the undesirable loss of unique natural ecosystems with rich biodiversity, carbon storage and other ecosystem benefits.

All this endorses much of the Mulloon approach, with its rehydration focus being reinforced by the IPCC’s satellite observation that links lower global-scale terrestrial water storage with a lower global net land CO2 sink.

But there remains a gap between many of the IPCC’s conclusions and hard evidence to support them. As the American Enterprise Institute conservative think-tank opined last month, ‘it is important to recognise that the assumption of many politicians, environmental groups, and no small number of scientist-activists — that humans are the single most significant cause of climate change — is simply unsupported by the available science….

Public discussion of the climate crisis consistently ignores the very real possibility that the small amount of warming that will likely occur might yield noteworthy benefits….[such as] a substantial (CO2-induced) greening of the earth over the past 35 years. Though there will likely be some negative consequences of a warming planet, there will likely be positive effects as well’.

So why no public IPCC campaign for world leaders to prioritise land carbon sinks, with their immediate and diverse benefits, as a less economically-destructive alternative? The suspicion is that the catastrophists at the IPCC won’t abide anything that reduces the alleged urgency of their emissions reduction mantra. As the AEI says, ‘Instead of merely dismissing the faux science that lends support to climate alarmism as a “hoax,” conservatives must do more to engage with and reclaim the growing body of scientific evidence that supports their climate-change realism’.


UK: Green protesters bring highway traffic to a halt for second time this week

Dozens of environmental protesters have blocked traffic on Britain’s busiest motorway for the second time in three days.

Activists from Insulate Britain staged the demonstration at several sections of the M25 in London during the morning rush-hour on Wednesday, causing long delays.

The group, which is calling on the government to insulate the country’s social housing by 2025, said 89 of its members had blocked traffic for the second time this week.

Surrey police said there had been 25 arrests as of 10am, about two hours after the protests began.

The air ambulance and firefighters were called to the scene of a multi-vehicle collision at junction nine of the M25, near one of the demonstration sites.

The action came two days after 92 protesters were arrested for obstructing vehicles on some of the busiest routes in south-east England on Monday.

Motorists could be seen pleading with the activists to clear the road near junction 23, where two vital road networks meet.

In a statement, Insulate Britain said drivers were right to be angry but they would continue the direct action until the government pledged greater action on the climate emergency.

It said: “We will keep going until the government responds. Until it overcomes its complacency and cowardice and fulfils its first and most sacred duty: to protect the people of this country from harm.

“All we ask is that it makes a public statement that we can trust – that commits to the first step, to start the insulation of our homes. As soon as this happens we will leave the roads.”

The group previously said its demands were delivered by hand to 10 Downing Street on 21 August 2021 but so far the government had not responded.

Some of the activists involved in Wednesday’s protest were the same people arrested after Monday’s action, LBC reported.

Footage showed protesters in hi-vis jackets sat on the motorway with signs saying “sorry for the disruption” and “please turn off your engines”, while some motorists shouted abuse at them.

One driver told reporters she was on the way to collect her grandchild because her daughter was in labour, while another shouted that the protesters “should be shot”.

In a demonstration by the same group on Monday, five junctions of the M25 were blocked, leading to tens of thousands of drivers being stuck in huge queues of traffic.


PepsiCo to slash plastic use in sustainability push

Soda giant PepsiCo will cut back on the use of virgin plastic and expand its SodaStream sparkling-water business to more markets amid growing calls from consumers, clients and climate change advocates to combat plastic waste.

As part of a new initiative called "pep+", the Lays chips and Pepsi maker said on Wednesday it aims to reduce virgin plastic use per serving by half across all brands by 2030, and use 50% recycled content in all its plastic packaging.

Its standard of measurement will be the amount of plastic used to serve 12 oz (ounces) of beverages and 1 oz of food, helping the company easily gauge its plastic footprint across a diverse portfolio that includes chips and snacks to sodas and oatmeal.

Rival Coca-Cola also plans to sell bottles made from fully recycled plastic in the United States, as the company and PepsiCo emerge as new targets for global activism because of the amount of single-use plastic waste they generate.

According to a Greenpeace report, Coca-Cola generates over 100 billion bottles of single-use plastic annually, while PepsiCo uses 2.3 million metric tonnes of plastic over the same period.

PepsiCo's ambitious plan to scale its SodaStream sparkling-water business globally could, if successful, help reduce the usage of more than 200 billion plastic bottles by 2030, Chief Executive Ramon Laguarta told Reuters in an interview.

SodaStream, acquired by PepsiCo in 2018, makes machines and refillable cylinders that let users make their own soda or carbonated water drinks at home.

The brand, currently in 40 countries, will bring new flavors into 23 more markets, and will also introduce its new SodaStream Professional platform aimed at businesses in 10 additional markets by 2022, the company said in a statement

"While recycled plastic is part of the solution, we are creating a whole new model with SodaStream, which is essential to our growth strategy in beverages," Laguarta said.




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