Impact of climate change on Hydro Tasmania’s Dams

20 08 2019

This is a guest post by Chris Harries, a consumate reader and follower of this blog. To my way of thinking, this shows yet again that renewables will not be able to power the future as we currently take for granted.


Water inflows into Tasmania’s western river systems has been inexorably declining in recent decades. Furthermore, runoff is predicted to continue to decline in these catchments to the end of this century. This climate change trend has quite profound negative implications for Hydro Tasmania’s future business performance. A summary of these findings is attached – as extracted from Climate Futures for Tasmania CRC research document. It should be noted that the lowered water inflows are only partly caused by reduced rainfall. A bigger factor is soil dryness, caused by increased ambient temperatures. This factor reduces run-off more markedly, especially in the shoulder seasons (Autumn and Spring) Reduced runoff into the hydro-electric system can be notionally apportioned thus: 30% resulting from reduced rainfall as compared to 70% as a result of the soil dryness factor.

As a consequence of declining water runoff Hydro Tasmania officially downgraded the Long Term Average Energy Yield of its hydro system by over 10 percent in 2008. To graphically appreciate the scale of this, this equates to an equivalent loss of 130 MW of power generation capacity. To
replace that loss with new dam infrastructure would cost the business upward of $500 million. This downgrade was based on retrospective evidence from the previous 20 years performance data, showing that the performance of its whole system had been in decline, as shown in the

chart below. That time period was long enough for the business to accept the reality that this was an impact of climate change, not a temporal weather fluctuation issue.

Hydro Tasmania is fully aware that this trend in gradually lowered water inflows, is predicted to continue for the rest of this century.

This chart, showing electricity yield of the Tasmanian system, clearly shows the trend described above. Look at the horizontal bars. This information resulted in a downgrade of the system’s rated output by a factor of 10 percent.

Why soil dryness matters

Just as increasing soil dryness is causing dramatic changes to wildfire incidences in Tasmania, the very same condition is having dramatic impact on the state’s hydro-electric system. To understand this it is informative to compare Tasmania’s monthly rainfall with its river flows. From this chart we can see that Tasmania receives fairly even distribution of rainfall throughout the year.

By contrast the runoff into our river systems markedly peaks in winter months. The chart below shows a fairly typical pattern in this regard. Why is this so?

This phenomenon is almost entirely explained by the effect of soil dryness (temperature related). When soils become saturated, as they do in Winter, any rains that fall will instantly run off into streams and rivers. However, in warmer months when soils are dry a frontal shower may wet the soil surface temporarily and then evaporate without running off at all.

This hyper sensitivity – between soil dryness and water runoff – is resulting in rather dramatic consequences as climate change increases ambient temperatures, shrinking the mid-year band, above, where water flows are relied upon to replenish storages.

This drying trend is continuing

This year the Bureau of Meteorology published further clear data showing that these trends are continuing right to the present. The two charts below record a high level of deviation from historic conditions from the early 1970s to the present.

This data applies to the whole of Tasmania. The negative trend would be magnified further in the state’s western river catchments. It is perhaps a sobering thought that had the Franklin Dam being built it would have served no purpose at all other than to shore up declining system output.

Looking into the future

As we look to the future now, this double whammy (less precipitation + higher temperatures) has serious consequences for the bottom line of hydro-electric production and profitability.

Hydro Tasmania’s currently estimates that Tasmania is 90% self sufficient in electricity supply (from hydro + wind energy capacity). This estimate may indeed be a generous, top end figure since longer term climate trends become statistically valid only over considerable time. A few drought years can be seen as an aberration, accepting that weather fluctuates from year to year anyway. Longer term trends tend to be accepted only after following a good many years of data collection.

Continued modeling is being undertaken to further refine analysis of these climate change trends for Tasmania.

Why this may be the main driver behind the Battery of Nation project. It is worth putting these regressive energy losses into a practical context. The hard reality for Tasmania is that climate change induced energy losses from the Hydro system mean that 9,154 new 5kW rooftop solar systems would need to be added each year, just to compensate for climate change losses alone. This is three times the current installation rate of solar in Tasmania.

Alternatively, this would be equivalent to adding 6 new wind turbines (of typical capacity) each year to compensate for loss of hydro-electric output. That is, a major new wind farm, comprising sixty wind turbines, would have to be built each ten years just to stop us slipping backwards.

It should be noted here that the predicted decline in Long Term Average Yield of our power system affects base load supply. Hydro Tasmania can only supply energy to meet base load demand according to how much water goes into its dams.

From this we can see why the corporation is so keen to pursue its much vaunted Battery of the Nation project. Pumped-hydro technology is much less rainfall dependent because it stores energy by cycling the same water (generating electricity then pumping the same water back up). Hydro Tasmania’s ultimate expressed aim is to switch its entire hydro-electric system from base load energy production to peak load supply for the national market, seeing this in the interest of optimising its business bottom line.

Cooperative Research Centre: Water and catchments summary
‘Climate Futures’ reports for Tasmania
State government website
Hydro Tasmania Annual Report 2009
Entura website reference (mainly focuses on managing drought)

Adding balance to the meat debate

18 02 2019

Of late, I have seen article after article, video after video, exposing ‘meat eating’ as a culprit for the exploding greenhouse emissions we are experiencing. And when I point out it’s all rubbish, I’m attacked as a climate denier….. ME!  A climate denier…?!

There’s so much to say about this topic, it’s hard to know where to start, but I will just say this; meat consumption is not the issue, the predicament is industrial agriculture, pure and simple…… so instead of blaming animal farming, commentators should be attacking the entrenched conventional farming system that needs to be destroyed.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, the consumption of your diet is just as harmful as the consumption of unsustainable meat. Are you listening George Monbiot? George is one of those classic deniers of the truth. He recently wrote “76% of farmland is wasted on farming animals”. And what does George know about farming?  Zilch I’ll bet…… because farms that grow meat are incapable of growing anything else, otherwise meat would not be produced there.

When soil incapable of growing edible vegetable matter for people is converted to this use, it’s only possible because of the addition of untold chemicals which, since the beginning of the ‘green revolution’, a completely wrong use of the term ‘green’ by the way…..

This opinion piece by Richard Young was originally published by Triodos Bank here

Grazing animals have shaped the quintessentially pastoral British countryside for thousands of years and play a vital role in sustainable food systems. However, over the last decade or so we’ve been told by a succession of high-profile reports that we have to make drastic cuts in our consumption of meat in order to help limit global warming, biodiversity loss and other agriculture-related problems. This has left many people confused about what they should eat to be healthy and have a sustainable lifestyle.

The authors of these reports, such as the recent EAT-Lancet report, all correctly highlight the problems for humanity caused by a rapidly growing global population, high meat consumption in developed countries and an increasing appetite – or in some cases nutritional need – for meat in many developing countries. However, the focus is always put on cutting out red meat, rather than poultry, and no distinction is made in the way the meat is produced.

The basic reason for this is that all cattle, sheep and other ruminants emit the greenhouse gas methane, while chickens do not. They also convert grain to protein less efficiently than poultry or pigs.

It is predicted that by 2050 another billion tonnes of grain will be needed every year to produce enough meat to feed the global population, something which is clearly unsustainable, since continuous grain production is one of the biggest causes of soil degradation and loss. Indeed, globally, cropland soils continue to degrade as carbon is lost to the atmosphere – 24 billion tonnes of soil is lost annually, over three tonnes for every person on the planet.

However, what the researchers invariably overlook is that this is only an issue in relation to grain-fed cattle, such as those in US feedlots, whose rations consist of maize, soya meal and chopped straw.

In contrast, two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass, in most cases because the land is not suitable for growing crops. The only practical way to get food from this land without causing an environmental disaster is to graze it with livestock. Almost all cattle and sheep in the UK are predominantly fed on grass, grazed in the fields during summer and fed as hay or silage over winter – and the UK has one of the best climates in the world for growing grass. Some of these animals do also get grain, but in many cases this is waste grain, like Brewer’s grain (what’s left after beer making), which humans cannot eat.

Tragically, a high proportion of the UK’s most species-rich grasslands have in the past been ploughed for cropping or resown with ryegrass monocultures. However, all organic and most pasture-fed meat producers include legumes, multiple grass species and herbs in their grazing mixtures. Even many intensive farmers have now been persuaded by agri-environment schemes to restore grassland diversity, with wild flowers and delicate species getting a chance to recover once the use of synthetic fertilisers ceases. This in turn helps to revive the intricate web of life, which begins with microbes, soil spiders and other insects, embraces farmland birds and small mammals, and ultimately sustains us humans.

While over-grazing was encouraged by farm subsidies prior to the early 1990s, some grassland is now under-grazed due to falling demand for lamb. This is a problem because many bird and butterfly species have evolved in tandem with grazing livestock. In fact, both the RSPB and Natural England recognise that grazing animals are essential for sustaining healthy wildlife populations.

But what about methane? The high methane levels in the atmosphere are a significant cause of global warming, yet ruminants are responsible for only 5% of UK anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, all the carbon in ruminant methane is recycled carbon – grazing animals can’t add more carbon to the atmosphere than the plants they eat take out by photosynthesis. In fact, fossil fuels are not only the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, they are also responsible for a third more methane than ruminants and all the methane from fossil fuels contains additional, ‘fossil’ carbon.

So what meat should we choose to help sustain the planet? It’s not a red versus white issue. The simple answer is that we should eat far less grain-fed meat, be it beef, pork or chicken, instead we should actively seek grass-fed meat and meat from animals supplemented with only small amounts of otherwise waste grain.

While few people yet realise it, we actually need to encourage increased production of grass-fed meat, since the most effective way to restore our degraded arable soils and wild pollinators is to re-introduce grass and grazing animals into cropland rotations.

It’s even worse than we are officially told….

12 10 2018

This is a guest post from my Scottish friend Jacqueline Fletcher who has taught in universities all over Europe, and even sent me a wwoofer from Finland some years ago….. she’s a permie and environmental activist beyond the call of duty. 

jacquelineYesterday evening I attended a meeting with a couple of researchers involved with IPCC reports. Dr Katarzyna Tokarska from the GeoSciences Institute at Edinburgh University and psychologist (and Scottish government advisor on mental health) Dr Nadine Andrews from Lancaster University. Tokarska explained the science, how much CO2 the atmosphere can take if we are to stay within the 1.5 degrees warming (X), how much is already in the atmosphere Y, and therefore X minus Y will tell us how much we can still emit before we lock ourselves ino the 1.5 degrees warming point (Z) and upwards towards 2 degrees.

The bad news is that in a BAU scenario, given the amount of CO2 emitted annually, globally, we will emit that amount (Z) in just three years.

We have to do something NOW. So what is on offer by way of suggestions about what to do?

A digression: In 2015 I was living in Paris and a member of the ‘social movement’ and degrowth group ATTAC. Because ATTAC was also one of the 130 or so groups that constituted CoalitionClimate21, I joined up with that too, to organise protests around the COP21 but also to collectively present a document to which all the global NGOs subscribed to the COP with our own suggestions for the transition to a low carbon society. Of course, there was a good deal more than protest; there were workshops, conferences, tribunals, a march was banned and became a human chain, smaller creative interventions and debates around energy etc and 2 colourful demos on the final day.

From the COP21 I took away a depressingly deep sense of the insurmountability of the crisis, not only were governments still trying to provide solutions that would best suit their corporations and chums in the banks, not only were the scientists watering down their reports to get governments on board, but equally the NGOs were so obsessed with fossil fuels that the Extinction Event which is wiping out the life that maintains Earth’s Biosphere was being ignored. Why is this?

I was well aware nothing significant would come out of the Paris Agreement. It was heralded as a triumph but it was a really only a triumph of PR.

Yesterday, I went to the evening organised by Transition Edinburgh feeling a bit more upbeat. This new IPCC report is very clear about how close to the edge we are. Surely, I thought, now the urgency is so obvious, something would be done, we’d get mobilsed, pressurise our government, take personal measures to change our lifestyles. But after the first speaker already, I felt severely depressed by the type of solutions on offer.

The first speaker was seemingly a proponent of BECCS (Biofuel Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage, which Pr Kevin Anderson literally claims is BS) or maybe these were the only statistics she had because the IPCC focuses on technological solutions. For the uninitiated, this entails growing more cash crop forests, burning them for ‘biofuels’, capturing the CO2 and storing it in holes in the ground, like old mines and oil reservoirs, and compressed into rock with technology that is not yet in existence (at scale) In other words yet another linear system, in which a resource is used, waste is produced, the waste is hidden out of sight…a bit like plastic (irony intended). She showed that this was more efficient for storing carbon than afforestation (basically, just not chopping down existing trees). Already this comparison carried a signicant slant.

No mention of the statistics for carbon sequestration through regenerative agriculture using biochar, no dig/till and continuous groundcover and/or holistic grazing. There are plenty of statistics out there, even reports from the UN Rapporteurs on the Right to Food, Food Security etc, and the FAO, the IPES-Food, UNCTAD on agroecology as well as statistics that can be gleaned from the growing number of small farmers doing Regen Ag. Why does agriculture never get into the mindset of people, scientists, governments etc dealing with the CO2 crisis?

I’m going to make my own comparison between BECCS and Regen Ag.

BECCS is a linear system with a waste product that is not organically disposable or recyclable. Is its use of resources really sustainable? It uses land then becomes unavailable for any other purpose and is eroded by the monoculture forestry, and which is also irreparably damaging for ecosystems.

Reg Ag on the other hand uses CO2 to grow soil, to replace the eroded soil that is yet another of our pressing crises (about 40% of the planet’s soil is already eroded). By sequestering CO2 in the living soil, the soil not only grows, but it produces healthy food (without pesticides) by maintaining a healthy soil microbiome. It is the microbial life in the soil that releases nutrients from the minerals to pass to plants and therefore creates nutrient-rich food (as opposed to the crap that comes from an agricultural system that kills the soil microbiome). It produces biomass in the soil that stores water to combat droughts and to allow water to filter naturally through to replenish the aquifers. Regen agroforestry and edible food forests also maintain healthy habitats and forage for wildlife with perennials, trees that also sequester carbon etc. It is a solution that also nurtures the ecosystems that are necessary too for our human survival. There is no waste product, everything is naturally and productively recyclable; biomass can even produce energy through biodigesting and still be returned to the soil. There is no wasteful use of land. BECCS takes land away from agriculture, carbon sequestration through regen ag integrates it.

Of course, the BECCS solution proposed isn’t about farming, it’s about energy. And what governments and corporations want to hear is something that produces energy, to continue to fuel an industrial, consumer-capitalist society at any cost for the sake of growth and profit. And if this remains the current thinking in political, commercial and financial spheres of influence, the old paradigm, the old mentality, then frankly, we really are f***ed.

Most of the 278 people who signed up for the speakers and discussion yesterday evening were young, students from Edinburgh University, from all over the world, and in reality we need to act NOW to save the world for them, and not to save a system of industrial production predicated on a mentality that is fundamentally antagonistic to all life on this planet, human and non-human.


If the latest warnings contained in Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which included pronouncements that the world has less than twelve years to drastically alter course to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused global warming and that nothing less than keeping all fossil fuels in the ground is the solution to avoid future calamities—have you at all frightened or despondent, experts responding to the report have a potentially unwelcome message for your already over-burdened heart and mind: It’s very likely even worse than you’re being told.

“The IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system.” 
—Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate

After the report’s publication there were headlines like: “We have 12 years to act on climate change before the world as we know it is lost. How much more urgent can it get?” and “Science pronounces its verdict: World to be doomed at 2°C, less dangerous at 1.5°C” and “A major new climate report slams the door on wishful thinking.”


Just two years ago, amid global fanfare, the Paris climate accords were signed — initiating what seemed, for a brief moment, like the beginning of a planet-saving movement. But almost immediately, the international goal it established of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius began to seem, to many of the world’s most vulnerable, dramatically inadequate; the Marshall Islands’ representative gave it a blunter name, calling two degrees of warming “genocide.”

The alarming new report you may have read about this week from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which examines just how much better 1.5 degrees of warming would be than 2 — echoes the charge. “Amplifies” may be the better term. Hundreds of millions of lives are at stake, the report declares, should the world warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which it will do as soon as 2040, if current trends continue. Nearly all coral reefs would die out, wildfires and heat waves would sweep across the planet annually, and the interplay between drought and flooding and temperature would mean that the world’s food supply would become dramatically less secure. Avoiding that scale of suffering, the report says, requires such a thorough transformation of the world’s economy, agriculture, and culture that “there is no documented historical precedent.” The New York Times declared that the report showed a “strong risk” of climate crisis in the coming decades; in Grist, Eric Holthaus wrote that“civilization is at stake.”

If you are alarmed by those sentences, you should be — they are horrifying. But it is, actually, worse than that — considerably worse. That is because the new report’s worst-case scenario is, actually, a best case. In fact, it is a beyond-best-case scenario. What has been called a genocidal level of warming is already our inevitable future. The question is how much worse than that it will get.

The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction

8 08 2018

Here’s a thoroughly modern riddle: what links the battery in your smartphone with a dead yak floating down a Tibetan river? The answer is lithium – the reactive alkali metal that powers our phones, tablets, laptops and electric cars.

In May 2016, hundreds of protestors threw dead fish onto the streets of Tagong, a town on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. They had plucked them from the waters of the Liqi river, where a toxic chemical leak from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine had wreaked havoc with the local ecosystem.

There are pictures of masses of dead fish on the surface of the stream. Some eyewitnesses reported seeing cow and yak carcasses floating downstream, dead from drinking contaminated water. It was the third such incident in the space of seven years in an area which has seen a sharp rise in mining activity, including operations run by BYD, the world’ biggest supplier of lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric cars. After the second incident, in 2013, officials closed the mine, but when it reopened in April 2016, the fish started dying again.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Workers drill though the crust of the world’s biggest salt flat with large rigs. They are aiming for the brine underneath swathes of magnesium and potassium in the hope of finding lithium-rich spots. Since the 2000s, most of the world’s lithium has been extracted this way, rather than using mineral ore sources such as spodumene, petalite and lepidolite

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

Lithium-ion batteries are a crucial component of efforts to clean up the planet. The battery of a Tesla Model S has about 12 kilograms of lithium in it, while grid storage solutions that will help balance renewable energy would need much more.

Demand for lithium is increasing exponentially, and it doubled in price between 2016 and 2018. According to consultancy Cairn Energy Research Advisors, the lithium ion industry is expected to grow from 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of annual production in 2017, to almost 800 GWhs in 2027.

William Adams, head of research at Metal Bulletin, says the current spike in demand can be traced back to 2015, when the Chinese government announced a huge push towards electric vehicles in its 13th Five Year Plan. That has led to a massive rise in the number of projects to extract lithium, and there are “hundreds more in the pipeline,” says Adams.

But there’s a problem. As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required to enable that transformation could become a serious issue in its own right. “One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,” says Christina Valimaki an analyst at Elsevier.

Tahua, Bolivia. Salt miners load a truck with lithium-rich salt. The ground beneath Bolivia’s salt flats are thought to contain the world’s largest reserves of the metal. (The Bolivian Andes may contain 70 per cent of the planet’s lithium.) Many analysts argue that extracting lithium from brine is more environmentally friendly than from rock. However, as demand increases, companies might resort to removing lithium from the brine by heating it up, which is more energy intensive.

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

In South America, the biggest problem is water. The continent’s Lithium Triangle, which covers parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, holds more than half the world’s supply of the metal beneath its otherworldly salt flats. It’s also one of the driest places on earth. That’s a real issue, because to extract lithium, miners start by drilling a hole in the salt flats and pumping salty, mineral-rich brine to the surface.

Then they leave it to evaporate for months at a time, first creating a mixture of manganese, potassium, borax and lithium salts which is then filtered and placed into another evaporation pool, and so on. After between 12 and 18 months, the mixture has been filtered enough that lithium carbonate – white gold – can be extracted.

It’s a relatively cheap and effective process, but it uses a lot of water – approximately 500,000 gallons per tonne of lithium. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed 65 per cent of the region’s water. That is having a big impact on local farmers – who grow quinoa and herd llamas – in an area where some communities already have to get water driven in from elsewhere.

There’s also the potential – as occurred in Tibet – for toxic chemicals to leak from the evaporation pools into the water supply. These include chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, which are used in the processing of lithium into a form that can be sold, as well as those waste products that are filtered out of the brine at each stage. In Australia and North America, lithium is mined from rock using more traditional methods, but still requires the use of chemicals in order to extract it in a useful form. Research in Nevada found impacts on fish as far as 150 miles downstream from a lithium processing operation.

Rio Grande, Bolivia. An aerial view of the mineral formations along the Rio Grande delta, at the edges of the salt flats. The delta is mostly dry due to the effects of lithium mining, which is heavily reliant on water for its shallow artificial salt-pans, or solar evaporation ponds, in which saline solutions are left to dry out over a period of months, leaving the minerals behind. This drying out of the delta has led to a lack of stability in water levels, both on top of and below the surface. The river is home to a wide variety of freshwater fish, many originating in the Amazon basin

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

According to a report by Friends of the Earth, lithium extraction inevitably harms the soil and causes air contamination. In Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto, locals claim that lithium operations have contaminated streams used by humans and livestock, and for crop irrigation. In Chile, there have been clashes between mining companies and local communities, who say that lithium mining is leaving the landscape marred by mountains of discarded salt and canals filled with contaminated water with an unnatural blue hue.

“Like any mining process, it is invasive, it scars the landscape, it destroys the water table and it pollutes the earth and the local wells,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, a lithium battery expert from the University of Chile, in a 2009 interview. “This isn’t a green solution – it’s not a solution at all.”

But lithium may not be the most problematic ingredient of modern rechargeable batteries. It is relatively abundant, and could in theory be generated from seawater in future, albeit through a very energy-intensive process.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Lino Fita, head of potassium extraction for mining company Comibol, looks out over his factory. The brine in this region is rich with potassium and magnesium, which makes it harder and more expensive to extract lithium. The brine is put in large ponds for many months to evaporate excess water and separate its salts. The remaining compound is then purified and processed. Very few lithium-processing experts work in the factory, as there is a nationwide shortage of staff. In the past, as few as three people have run the factory’s entire production line

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

Two other key ingredients, cobalt and nickel, are more in danger of creating a bottleneck in the move towards electric vehicles, and at a potentially huge environmental cost. Cobalt is found in huge quantities right across the Democratic Republic of Congo and central Africa, and hardly anywhere else. The price has quadrupled in the last two years.

Unlike most metals, which are not toxic when they’re pulled from the ground as metal ores, cobalt is “uniquely terrible,” according to Gleb Yushin, chief technical officer and founder of battery materials company Sila Nanotechnologies.

“One of the biggest challenges with cobalt is that it’s located in one country,” he adds. You can literally just dig up the land and find cobalt, so there’s a very strong motivation to dig it up and sell it, and a a result there’s a lot of motivation for unsafe and unethical behaviour.” The Congo is home to ‘artisanal mines’, where cobalt is extracted from the ground by hand, often using child labour, without protective equipment.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Brine is pumped out of a nearby lake into a series of evaporation ponds and left for 12 to 18 months. Various salts crystallise at different times as the solution becomes more concentrated. It is also treated with lime to remove traces of magnesium. When the minerals are ready for processing, they are taken to the nearby Planta Li lithium factory to produce the ions that will go into batteries. In 2017, the factory produced 20 tonnes of lithium carbonate

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

There’s also a political angle to be considered. When Bolivia started to exploit its lithium supplies from about 2010, it was argued that its huge mineral wealth could give the impoverished country the economic and political heft that the oil-rich nations of the Middle East. “They don’t want to pay a new OPEC,” says Lisbeth Dahllöf, of the IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, who co-authored a report last year on the environmental footprint of electric car battery production.

In a recent paper in the journal Nature, Yushin and his co-authors argued that new battery technology needs to be developed that uses more common, and environmentally friendly materials to make batteries. Researchers are working on new battery chemistries that replace cobalt and lithium with more common and less toxic materials.

But, if new batteries are less energy dense or more expensive than lithium, they could end up having a negative effect on the environment overall. “Assessing and reducing the environmental cost is a more complex issue than it initially appears,” says Valimaki. “For example, a less durable, yet more sustainable device could entail a larger carbon footprint once your factor in transportation and the extra packaging required.”

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Graves such as this one are a common sight on the salt flats. The area has experienced very little rainfall over the last two years, which has affected the lives of local quinoa farmers. The lithium plants, which use vast amounts of water, have exacerbated shortages: in locations such as Pastos Chicas, near the Argentina/Chile border, additional water had to be shipped in from elsewhere to meet demand

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

At the University of Birmingham, research funded by the government’s £246m Faraday Challenge for battery research is trying to find new ways of recycling lithium-ion. Research in Australia found that only two per cent of the country’s 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion waste was recycled. Unwanted MP3 players and laptops can end up in landfill, where metals from the electrodes and ionic fluids from the electrolyte can leak into the environment.

A consortium of researchers, led by the Birmingham Energy Institute are using robotics technology developed for nuclear power plants to find ways to safely remove and dismantle potentially explosive lithium-ion cells from electric vehicles. There have been a number of fires at recycling plants where lithium-ion batteries have been stored improperly, or disguised as lead-acid batteries and put through a crusher.

Xiangtan, China. Workers on the production line at Soundon New Energy, a huge lithium-ion battery company in eastern China. Most electric vehicles in use today are yet to reach the end of their cycle. The first all-electric car to be powered by lithium-ion batteries, the Tesla Roadster, made its market debut in 2008. This means the first generation of electric vehicle batteries have yet to reach the recycling stage

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

Because lithium cathodes degrade over time, they can’t simply be placed into new batteries (although some efforts are underway to use old vehicle batteries for energy storage applications where energy density is less critical). “That’s the problem with recycling any form of battery that has electrochemistry – you don’t know what point it is at in its life,” says Stephen Voller, CEO and founder of ZapGo. “That’s why recycling most mobile phones is not cost effective. You get this sort of soup.”

Another barrier, says Dr Gavin Harper of the Faraday Institution’s lithium recycling project, is that manufacturers are understandably secretive about what actually goes into their batteries, which makes it harder to recycle them properly. At the moment recovered cells are usually shredded, creating a mixture of metal that can then be separated using pyrometallurgical techniques – burning. But, this method wastes a lot of the lithium.

Linyi County, China. A production line at Chinese electric-car company ZD, in Linyi County. The company’s small, urban electric two-seaters are made exclusively for the Italian market, where ZD has a joint-venture company Share’ngo, a car-sharing startup in Milan. China is the world’s largest electric car manufacturer, and over the past few years, the country has been looking to increase the number of countries it exports to

Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

UK researchers are investigating alternative techniques, including biological recycling where bacteria are used to process the materials, and hydrometallurgical techniques which use solutions of chemicals in a similar way to how lithium is extracted from brine to begin with.

For Harper, it’s about creating a process to shepherd lithium-ion batteries safely through their whole lifecycle, and making sure that we’re not extracting more from the ground unnecessarily, or allowing chemicals from old batteries to do damage. “Considering that all of the materials in these batteries have already had an environmental and social impact in their extraction, we should be mindful of ensuring good custody,” he says.

Call of the Reed Warbler – Charles Massy in conversation with Costa Georgiadis

6 08 2018

I have a new hero……. forget renewable energy, the next revolution will be, must be, regenerative farming…..  or we are truly stuffed.

Charles Massy OAM Author and radical farmer’s new book ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’ explores transformative and regenerative agriculture and the vital connection between our soil and our health. According to Massy, we need a revolution — he believes that human health, our communities, and the very survival of the planet depend on it. Charles is coming to the Library to talk about how he believes a grassroots revolution can save the planet, help turn climate change around, and build healthy people and healthy communities, pivoting significantly on our relationship with growing and consuming food.

Charles is in conversation with Costa Georgiadis, nature lover and host of ABC’s Gardening Australia. Filmed: State Library of New South Wales, Sat 9 Dec 2017 Supported by: The Saturday Paper, Friendly Farms

The best way to save the planet?

18 06 2018

This amazing piece of information just came across my newsfeed, and it encapsulates everything I believe in and want to practice on the Fanny Farm….  There are great embedded videos in this, and it will take you some time to get through it, but it’s really worth the effort… the Roots of Nature site is fantastic, and I will go through it once the building phase here is over….


The best way to save the planet? Stop listening to George Monbiot!

We can’t and shouldn’t try to calculate the value of living systems by only using reductionist science that is centuries behind explaining the true wonder of mother nature and her balanced systems.


In his last article and in the other regenerative agriculture and holistic management hate mail currently spewing from George Monbiot – is an unrelenting desire to reduce our food production systems down to simple numbers. Numbers which conveniently support his idea of a vegan utopia.

This sort of mechanistic analysis only makes sense for de-natured food systems where all-natural processes have been ‘knocked out’ and what’s left is a lifeless medium in which a plant can put down roots. In our modern ‘Frankenstein’ agriculture N + P + K = a food plant, which will survive if you exterminate all pests (also known as wildlife) with pesticides, all fungi (one of the most important organisms for carbon sequestration) with fungicides, and all weeds (also known as wildflowers) with herbicides.

George Monbiot Meat
This ‘efficient’ yet highly vulnerable chemical agriculture system is what mostly produces the plant foods that George insists is all we should eat. A lot of the plants are also fed to our Frankenstein livestock fattened in sheds in horrible and unethical conditions. I’m with George 100% that this practice is completely unacceptable and totally inefficient, but the WHOLE of this chain of production is utterly anti-nature, regardless if it’s animals or humans eating the product.

Let’s not overlook that in any food production system – especially those run by large profit-driven corporations like the companies who will be making those yummy fake meat burgers  – there’s a lot of waste crop that doesn’t make the grade for human consumption which makes up a significant part of what is fed to livestock. This isn’t factored into his number crunching.

We can all cherry pick reductionist science to back up our most closely held viewpoints. George accuses free range steak of being ‘more damaging’ than even conventional meat based on the land required to produce a KG of grass-fed steak. These accusations are based on the ridiculous idea that a living animal on a living system should be quantified using this calculation;

Total methane emissions = number of animals x lifetime of animal x methane emissions per head per day.


Thinking of a cow as a ‘meat machine’ highlights the extent of the issue of using reductionist science for making decisions about food. But as explained in this great piece and its relevant links  much of the methane emitted by cattle as part of a properly managed grazing system is oxidised and countered by the processes in the healthy living soils that the animals themselves enhance.

George Monbiot seems to think of a cow as a machine that belches unacceptable levels of methane into the atmosphere, yet overlooks the huge increase in methane that would be generated by the introduction of beavers into rewilded landscapes. As we can see in this systematic review of the literature, wetlands, which are promoted by beavers making dams, may sequester some carbon but the methane they release could overall make their GHG contribution more than if the land were to be left as grazing land.

Luckily as holistic managers, we understand that it would be ridiculous to judge the beaver based on science that is taken out of context and will probably soon be out of date anyway. I’m all for regenerating a fully functional habitat and would love to see beavers introduced back into our Wilderculture sites to improve overall ecosystem function; especially the water cycle. But if you applied the same thinking that claims cows cause global warming to beavers, they could be considered a bad idea along with any other wild herbivores that inevitably burp methane.


regenerative agriculture


George seems to understand nothing of the very serious health concerns associated with eating a vegan diet. Please watch the video below for a better understanding of why animal food are so important for fighting disease.



I think the reason why George Monbiot very obviously doesn’t ‘get’ regenerative agriculture and seems to have no grasp at all of what is involved in holistic management, is that he sees nature on one side of the fence and agriculture on the other.

By segregating and exploiting agriculture to feed humans so we can ‘give back’ land to nature, we further alienate ourselves from ‘the’ environment. Shouldn’t it be ‘our’ environment? Eventually, nobody will care; we’ll end up eating factory made products and forget any responsibility we have for our food systems and how they impact nature and people.

George Monbiot thinks of rewilded land in terms of ecosystems, yet doesn’t apply any of the same logic to farmed land and the food systems he recommends. He’s missing the point totally – probably because he repeatedly shuns any offer to learn more about it – that holistic management is based on a framework that helps us increase the effectiveness of the ecosystem processes.

In holistic management, we use tools – that sometimes include livestock – to build a healthier ecosystem that supports the greatest range of species possible, including predators. For us Holistic Managers, we consider predators, and diversity as a barometer of how well we managing our land.



Conservation organisations have highlighted that one of the biggest threats to species and habitats is the fragmentation and isolation of species in reserves; they’re like islands in a sea of degraded farmland. My dream, through our Wilderculture work, is to have farms that are even better than our current nature reserves for wildlife and provision of ecosystem services. These farms will also produce highly nutritious meat and other plants, in greater volume than the current low baseline, as a ‘by-product’ from the use of livestock to improve habitat. I would LOVE to have the problem of trying to protect my livestock from wolves and lynx one day, this would mean our environment is enormously productive and resilient to climate fluctuations.

George assumes that all holistic managers use fences and exclude predators from grazing land, which is simply not true. We learn and fully understand that we can’t have a healthy ecosystem without creating the functions of the predator-prey relationship – it’s a ‘key insight’ of holistic management!



In many of the dry-land ranches holistic planned grazing (a procedure we sometimes use in holistic management) the livestock are herded and fences aren’t used at all. When we do use fences, it is simply to mimic the function of a bunched and moving herd of wild herbivores where herding is impractical. Cattle in our Wilderculture work and in many of the African holistic management systems encourage the regeneration of a kind of wood pasture/savannah landscape – exactly that most likely to have prevailed before man had such a significant influence on the landscape.



For those who want to understand more about Holistic Management and see some of the farmers managing over 40 million hectares using this tried and tested framework, this short documentary explains it well. Or you can join me on an hour-long webinar explaining more.



We assess our land through four windows; the water cycle, the mineral cycle, the energy flow and community dynamics. Increasing function in these can increase productivity dramatically; good for the farmer, good for wildlife.

Those who judge everything based on reductionist empirical evidence will assume this is too simplistic a metric to use. Don’t be fooled. The more I learn about the most updated soil and climate science from globally respected experts such as Jason Rowntree,  Walter JehneChristine JonesElaine InghamDavid JohnsonRichard Teague – who, unlike some more ‘confused’ grazing researchersare on the right side of the now-called ‘soil revolution’ – the more I appreciate the simple elegance of this method of assessment. Reading ecosystem processes at the soil surface encapsulates the incredible and complex natural balancing system at play, in a way that science can’t yet fully accommodate.

But some of the better newer science also suggests we shouldn’t look at food systems through a single ‘window’. This article is a great and full explanation of why carbon sequestration and methane oxidation cannot be separated out from the – sometimes more important – climate change mitigating functions of a food production system.


The four ecosystem processes.


The water cycle – we assess and improve how well the water passes into and is retained within the soil and utilised by plants avoiding drought and flood. A poor water cycle reduces the ability of our planet to cool itself, drastically reduces productivity in all growing systems and reduces the ability of soil to sequester carbon.

The mineral cycle – can your plants access minerals and recycle through a living soil food web then back to the soil quickly so more plants can grow? If it does then, we can drop all the fertilisers, chemicals and medicines from agriculture – the biggest contributor to the agricultural Carbon footprint AND the biggest cost drain on farmers.

Energy flow – How effectively are you using sunlight energy and passing it through the ecosystem system for the benefit of all organisms including those that will eventually feed humans. By getting more plants photosynthesizing per every Metre squared we are making more food; for microbes in the soil, for livestock, for wildlife and eventually us. If solar energy flow is not effective you will be using fossil fuel energy; that’s expensive and destructive.

Community dynamics – How effectively are you harnessing the highest successional state within the land you manage to balance our and reduce pests, maximise nutrient uptake, seed rainfall and make all land (agricultural or ‘wild) more resilient to climate change and wild fire?



In George’s articles, he refers to one of the conclusions of this report; ‘It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.’

In Richard Young’s (Sustainable food trust) superb response he highlights the many problems with using global averages to back up a highly Westernised viewpoint. The above figures neglect to understand that when farmers pioneer land they will assess the production capabilities of a given area and cultivate the lower, flatter and most accessible for crop (plant food) production and use the higher more inaccessible or less productive areas for grazing animals. it’s just common sense.


Of course, you’re going to get fewer calories and protein from these vast areas of uncultivated land, they wouldn’t sustain effective plant food production anyway!


Why do you think there are no vegan traditional cultures on the 2/3 rds of the planets habitable land that have long dry seasons? You simply don’t find large numbers of vegans anywhere in the world where there aren’t fancy-pants health food stores! All the traditional peoples of dry-land cultures have to rely on the milk, eggs, meat and blood of animals to survive.

Let’s imagine a modern-day land pioneer deciding what to grow on his land, it will illustrate why simply selecting an ‘efficient’ grain crop may not be the brightest of ideas!

You stumble across a hundred acres of wild and diverse savannah grassland and ‘grab it.’ You’ve got two choices;

1) You decide to grow just soya beans; it’s the most efficient source of food you can grow in terms of protein production and yield. Somehow you find the money to buy the seed.You need to plough the land to minimise competition and establish the crop; this kills most of the creatures that live here. Because you’re fighting nature to grow a monoculture (nature abhors bare ground and monoculture) you must use chemicals to suppress the weeds, disease, and bugs that are making a ‘bee’ line for the easy target you have provided them.

The soil has degraded releasing its valuable Carbon into the atmosphere reducing the capacity to absorb and retain precious water, and the soil micro-organisms so vital for oxidising methane and cycling nutrients have been destroyed.

The soil structure is damaged, and the liquid carbon pathway no longer functions so the plants will need inorganic fertilisers to grow – the most energy-intensive element of agriculture. 60% of those fertilisers will be lost to the rivers and streams causing havoc in water ways and oceans.

You will need to irrigate the land because, bare soil (what you have created) gets hotter and loses water through evaporation very quickly and is prone to drought and flood damage.

You could eat all this soya bean product and possibly survive – for a while at least, but there are serious health concerns about eating copious amounts of soy, or plant foods – especially the modern processed types. (see the note at the foot of the article)

Between 40 – 70 nutrients are known to be needed for health and disease resistance, not only will we get pretty bored of eating soy products, it would inevitably lead to disease and malnutrition.

The land will eventually become so degraded that no amount of chemical helps will allow a successful crop to grow – it’s not a good long-term plan – you’ll end up with a desert.



2) Alternatively, you could maintain the diverse, living savannah and allow all the wildlife to co-exist.Within your 100 acres, you can run a herd of twenty or more cattle by bunching them and moving them to mimic the natural large herds of grazers that pass through the land. You’re going to team up with your neighbours to make bigger groups, so you can allow areas of land to rest for longer.

You can milk the cows which produce a healthy and nourishing protein source all year round along with an amazing array of health benefits and you can kill a cow or a wild animal occasionally for meat.

You can use the wild herbs and roots for food and grow small areas of crops in mixed rotation to avoid pest burdens and soil degradation, the manure from the animals replenished the fertility of this land.

The entire system provides all the nutrients you need to thrive and requires NO agricultural fertilisers, chemicals or livestock medications.

This system is flood and drought resistant and can go on forever supporting the families who choose to live there.

So, in a fuller context, Georges soy-based scenario isn’t sounding quite so attractive! One of the best examples of scenario two operating at a significant food production scale is regenerative agricultural hero Gabe Brown who, in this great video below, shows an photograph of some soil before and after a woodland was cleared and then cropped with soy for 17 years – it’s scary!



George Monbiot is using the current unsustainable agricultural model – which I completely agree must change – to justify a move to a plant-based model with some vague notion that we will get better at producing plants organically without the need for livestock.

As Mark Palmer, an experienced organic agricultural advisor explains in his excellent article, producing food from an animal-free cropping system is not as simple as George would like it to sound.

My colleague Georgia and I have written a whole series of articles on how to eat in ways that regenerate land and recover human health whilst still producing enough food to nourish a growing population; we cover them fully in our ‘Wilderove approach’ the eco-omnivore approach to saving the planet.


Dumbing down the complexity of the discussion to a statement like ‘eating vegan is less harmful to the planet’ is absurd!


As I have highlighted in my article ‘I run a meat business but I’m glad more people are becoming vegan’ I would be happy to leave George alone to enthusiastically convert more people to veganism. I admire anyone who’s willing to make a change for the sake of the planet, even, if in my view, it’s misguided. At least it’s a move away from some of the cruel agricultural practices that are the current norm.

But sadly, George Monbiot seems to have made it his life’s greatest mission to undermine the efforts of regenerative agriculture practitioners like myself who farm alongside wildlife, help mitigate climate change and produce healthy food for all humans (not just middle-class ones with access to a whole foods store!) And, in particular, he seems hell-bent on destroying the reputation of a man; Allan Savory, whom I feel will one day be remembered as one of the greatest positive change-makers of our time.

We holistic managers and regenerative farmers are a small but growing movement of empowered, skilled, experienced and passionate individuals who WILL keep trying to save this beautiful planet regardless of the unrelenting application of limited thinking and significant influence against our cause.



So, in my humble and un-scientific opinion, one of the most damaging practices in land management today is the widespread promotion of GM.

I mean George Monbiot!

Caroline Grindrod


Taken from Weston Price Web site; • High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children. • Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth. • Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. • Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease. • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12. • Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D. Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein. Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines. Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods. Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.


Making Biochar

4 02 2018

Having attended a biochar workshop last year, and literally having tons of left over wood from cutting all those trees for the house build to burn, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to arrive to make some biochar as an additional improvement to the market garden. Now I have three able bodied youngsters, keen to learn this technique, we finally got stuck in……

Last thursday at the Geeveston Feast, I again ran into Clayton who visited me and my building project many moons ago, a designer and draftsman in the concepts of eco houses himself; Geeveston is full of interesting people…. He too is a great fan of biochar, and was in fact at the abovementioned workshop….  we got talking, and he said he’d got hold of a an old hopper that he’s been using as a kiln, but because it’s made of much thinner steel than the kilns Frank Strie showed us in Huonville, he told me it wouldn’t last long, and was therefore experimenting with making it in situ. After all, the Amazonian Indians who invented the stuff never had steel, and they managed OK, so I decided to have a go….


Digging the trench, unloading wood from the ute


As the ground in the second half of the market garden was well worked, having had the rotary hoe over it three times to mix the compost, sheep poo, crusher dust and dolomite, the lads had no difficulty digging. We started with a cone shaped hole in which wood scraps left over from the moving of the chicken house were burned. I had watering cans full of overstrength Seasol at the ready to quench the embers and charcoal. Once quenched, the fire was buried with the soil dug out of the hole. It all went smoothly, with charcoal taking maybe 45 minutes to be created. The rest of the wood though were larger and longer branches, and Facundo from Argentina suggested digging a trench next rather than a hole.



I thought it was a good idea, so we filled up the back of the 4WD with branches and moved them the 100 metres to the chosen area.





Quenching with fertiliser

Everyone likes a fire, and this lot was no different…! The trench was easily six times bigger, and the flames were too, but the wood being so dry, it burned very cleanly and soon enough we had a trench full of charcoal. The rest, as you can see was soon enough achieved, and my valiant band of charcoal makers are keen to get stuck in and finish off the big pile of trash I have to get rid of.

Will it work? Watch this space is all I can say…..


By day three, we were getting bolder and bolder, and decided to start digging trenches that went the whole width of the market garden, improving on the amount of time rquired to move all the sticks etc…. the weather has been mightily good to us, so we made the most  of it, and the pile of wood that was in the way of building a new fence to finally allow a new zone for a few heads of cattle has been cleared up. All that’s left to do for that particular project is to somehow convince Pete to come back and finish the sawmilling! The machine’s only been here for almost two years after all…