Ep 22: in which we take a journey around Australia with Naomi from Lock the Gate so we can get an overview of the Government's gas-led shitfuckery - including huge new fracking projects - and things local communities can do to stop it. Plus a special guest!
This is the podcast companion to our latest Honest Government Ad: watch it here
You can also view this podcast on our YouTube channel - which we recommend as it contains lots of visuals to help you follow the conversation.
Thanks to Nathan Hall for transcribing this podcast (click Transcript to view)
Here are the links to all the calls to action mentioned by Naomi.
If you're in Queensland:
Lock the Gate: Stop Origin
Protect the Bush Alliance - Channel Country
If you’re in NSW:
CSG Free: Pilliga Forest
If you’re in the NT:
Seed: Stop Origin fracking the NT
Lock the Gate: Stop Origin
Don't Frack the NT
If you’re in WA:
Kimberley: Ban fracking
Burrtup Hub: Don't sign off on Scarbarough
Burrup Hub: 10 reasons why the Burrup Hub should not go ahead
If you’re in Victoria:
Friends of the Earth: Drill Watch
Wherever you are:
Switch your power away from CSG and fracking
Links to Sandi Keane / Michael West articles about the Bom:
° Aug 2020 Bureau of Meteorology: under pressure to toe the Coalition line on climate change?
° Dec 2020 Undue Influence: oil and gas giants infiltrate Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology
° Jan 2021 Zero Attribution: Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology keeps silent on climate science
You can follow Naomi Hogan here
You can visit Lock the Gate here
You can follow Stephen King here
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Transcribed by Nathan Hall
Hey everyone, this is Giordano from the Juice Media, welcome back to the Juice Media podcast, a companion to the Honest Government Ads series. This episode of the podcast is recorded on Wurundjeri land and it’s the companion to our latest Honest Government Ad about the gas led shitfuckery and how our government makes everything good shit such as our science agency.
This Honest Government Ad has had an incredible response. So many people have commented that they’d never heard of GISERA, the alliance between five or Australia’s biggest fracking companies and the CSIRO, our trusted and beloved science agency, but that’s no longer the case now that about a million people have seen our video across our pages and that’s a good thing because it’s super concerning when governments allow the country’s scientific agencies to be infiltrated and parasitised by companies with a vested interest in playing down the harmful effects of fossil fuels and fracking on the environment, our health and, of course, the climate crisis. The most worrying thing is that many CSIRO scientists are saying they are unable to communicate their research findings to the public or to speak out about this bullshit for fear of losing their funding or even their jobs, so I thought we should lend them a hand because as we head deeper into the climate crisis we absolutely need our scientists to be able to do their job unfettered.
I want to give special thanks to Mark Ogge at the Australia Institute for all the research he’s done on GISERA on which a lot of this video was based as well as to other activists on the front lines of stopping the suicidal expansion of the fossil fuel industry and I’m stoked to welcome as my guest today one of those very activists, Naomi Hogan. Naomi is the co-national coordinator for the Lock the Gate alliance, a national grassroots organisation with hundreds of local groups across Australia including farmers, traditional custodians and conservationists who are concerned about risky coal mining, coal seam gas and fracking. I asked Naomi to take us on a journey around Australia to the key hot spots where the gas industry is planning to mine a frack-for-gas, so if you’re confused about what the gas led recovery looks like this podcast will provide you with the most up-to-date overview.
And whilst it’s important to have an overview of what’s going on it’s really crucial to know what’s happening in your own immediate neighbourhood where communities that stand together can stop further expansion of all fossil fuel extraction, which is why I asked Naomi not just about the shitfuckery happening in each state but also ways that people can help to stop it because here’s the key point to remember while you listen to this podcast: all the gas projects we discuss are in the early stages of unfolding or still awaiting approval so now is the time to speak up and stop these developments, to lock the gate and write to your local MP’s that this is the year that we have to stop further fossil fuel extraction.
Oh, and after my chat with Naomi stick around, we also have a chat with a very special guest, a former weather forecaster from the BOM who left the agency and is now helping to blow the whistle on what’s going on a that agency.I hope you enjoy this podcast and I’ll catch you on the other side.
GN: Welcome to the Juice Media podcast, Naomi Hogan.
NH: Thanks for having me.
GN: It’s really great to have you here as our guest for this podcast and I thought this would be a great opportunity to help bring people up to date on what’s happening with the so-called ‘gas led recovery,’ or the gas led shitfuckery as we call it here, because you’re the national coordinator for Lock the Gate so you’re really at the forefront of what’s happening with this gas push by the Morrison government, so I thought we’d get straight into it and perhaps by way of starting off we could pick some of the hot spots around the country, around Australia, that we’ve identified in the video and perhaps we could start off with Queensland which is at the forefront of this phenomenon. Could you give us a little bit of a sense of what’s happening with the gas led recovery in Queensland and also how that intersects with GISERA, the gas industry body that we spoke about in the video, how that came about and what your own experience has been of dealing with that?
NH: Yeah, so several years ago there was not a big export industry for gas in Australia and some of the big gas companies including Santos and Origin got together with some international conglomerates and basically built three massive gas exporting terminals from Gladstone in Queensland and when they did that they got approval for thousands of coal seam gas wells across Queensland and huge areas of land. This was before anyone had really heard of coal seam gas and the approvals were pushed through really quickly with source and whistle blowers coming out at the time to say, we’re being forced to overnight read thousands of pages in documents, of these assessment documents that they say they want rubber stamped basically. From that saw a massive change in our gas market here in Australia where suddenly we were linked to international gas prices.
We saw gas prices skyrocket up, we saw thousands of gas wells start to spread across Queensland impacting the landholders, farmers, the waterways.There was a huge shift and as part of that also saw GISERA get set up which was a joining of these gas companies to the CSIRO to try and undertake science looking at what was going on with coal seam gas but also really trying to push out these ideas that, you know, it was okay, we were managing the changes and this was something that simply needed to be studied but hey it’s all approved, you’ve all lost your legal rights to object because it was approved years ago and now you’ve suddenly got gas wells, hundreds of gas wells, on your property, pipelines, massive infrastructure. So it was a huge shift there in Queensland and that’s where a lot of the activism from Lock the Gate originated, with people who were really trying to push back against these massive gas companies and now this GISERA body that was pushing out research at the same time.
GN: Could you just give us a sense of what are the harms, why are people, why are farmers and traditional owners pushing back against the gas industry, what are the actual harms that have been identified that the gas industry presents, and this will potentially take us into discussion of GISERA which has been trying to tell us, oh no, it’s all fine, it’s all healthy, we’ve got the studies and the research, but what are the actual concerns?
NH: There are lots of concerns. One of the things that makes unconventional gas – so we’re talking coal seam gas, shale gas or tight gas – different to the gas extraction that people had witnessed before was the scale and the requirement for thousands of wells so one of the things we hear a lot about is the surface infrastructure, it’s a very invasive industry. They say that they can go in and co-exist through national parks, farms, cultural sites but actually they need to spread across the landscape in terms of coal seam gas, you mentioned on your video. In Queensland there are somewhere around the 19,000 wells mark that have been approved. Just at the moment Origin Energy through their export terminal APLNG are looking to get approval for 7,700 new gas wells in Queensland, coal seam gas wells, around the Carnarvon Gorge National Park. That’s a huge concern to people there so the scale is the thing that we hear a lot about, the impact on the landscape. Each one of those wells needs to drill through the water aquifers, the groundwater system, to access the gas that lies below. In Queensland a lot of that gas is trapped in layers of coal seams that also have a lot of water in there, they need to pull up that water and in depleting the groundwater to get at the coal seam gas, they’re lowering the water table.
That has a big impact on farmers whose water bores run dry and they need to go through really difficult negotiations with those coal seam gas companies to try and get a make-good agreement on their groundwater or a new water bore drilled.So far hundreds of wells, water wells, are supposed to run dry in Queensland because of coal seam gas.When you get to shale gas which is what they’re proposing to put across huge areas of the Northern Territory for example that is very difficult to extract from shale rock and they always need to frack that layer of rock to get at the gas and that means that not only are you drilling through the aquifers and the water supplies to get to the rock below but you also need to pump huge amounts of chemicals, sand and water under there, break open the rock, hold it open while you pull up all of that really contaminated waste fluid while trying to get the gas out. There are lots of concerns with migration of chemicals into groundwater, migration of methane – methane is the greenhouse gas that they’re going for – that there are leaks across the gas fields when they’re extracting the stuff that can lead to a huge amount of a very potent greenhouse gas, methane, going straight into the atmosphere as well as the fact that it’s then a greenhouse gas that’s burnt and contributes to climate change there as well so issues around water, issues around the destruction of the landscape and then issues of contributing to really dangerous climate change.
GN: Thanks for mentioning that because as we speak, I mean, it’s always really worth reminding ourselves and everyone that this – we’ve been told – this is the decade that counts and specifically this is the year that counts, that we really have to put an end to further extraction of fossil fuels and our government is just about to go full pelt with the so-called ‘gas led recovery.’ In order to justify all of this or at least in order to, sort of, sanitise it and make it sound like it’s not such a big deal we’ve seen this entity GISERA pop up, which is responsible for a lot of the research that’s coming out through the CSIRO, which is telling us, oh no, the effects of fracking are not that bad, it’s not as bad as in the US, it’s actually pretty good, it’s not – so this is the attempt to promote it and sell it to us. Can you speak a little bit perhaps in the context of Queensland still, your experience of GISERA and how they operate and what are some of the studies that they’ve put out? We’ve mentioned a couple in the video but perhaps you could just give us a sense, expand a little bit on that?
NH: Sure. GISERA, it’s really interesting because a lot of the scientists that work there are really good people trying to do really good research, let’s be fair. The issue is that the money is coming from these massive gas companies and the way that the final reports are put out into the public always seems to come from this angle of spin, that everything’s okay, nothing to see here. GISERA have done some really interesting reports; one study showed that every farm that’s hosting coal seam gas in Queensland is losing about $2,000,000 worth of agriculture productivity due to the roads, the pads, the compaction of the soil, the loss of ability to use that land, but that was a report by GISERA that was basically buried, they didn’t want to talk about it. They did not give that to the government and say, here you go, here you go media, everything’s fine here, so it’s really interesting that while I think there are probably lots of good scientists that work there the way in which that information is put to the public seems to be very much from this lens of, hey, we’re getting all our funding from the gas industry, we’d better make this look good.
And so that’s where we saw that really concerning piece of work that was partially funded by Origin Energy, Origin picked the six gas wells to study, that very small study of very specific parts seemed to come up just fine and therefore that was used to somehow say that all fracking is safe across the country. That is not good practice when it comes to scientific reports. We see really good practice from peer reviewed reports about fracking right around the world, there are thousands of reports and most of those point to very serious issues around health, around water, around impacts on the landscape. That’s the sort of open mind that this study should be done with to really look at it but unfortunately we’re seeing this industry pressure and this industry money and that’s determining how this research is put out to the public.
GN: I just wanted to pop around the country a little bit, what about New South Wales, moving down the coast? We mentioned the Pilliga Forest but also all around the Pilliga there are licences, I think they’re called ‘zombie PELs,’ – we’re getting a bit technical, maybe you can explain – but all these licences are dormant but they can be reactivated at any point so this is why in the video we mentioned, watch out for Santos getting ready to fuck the Pilliga Forest with a high chance they’ll also take a shit on surrounding farmlands. Can you unpack that a little bit, why should farmers around the Pilliga in that region of northern central New South Wales be concerned about what’s happening?
NH: It’s very concerning because for many years Santos has been mapping several gas fields across that area of northwest New South Wales which is a highly productive agricultural region and the Pilliga Forest is very significant to the traditional owners of that place and the groundwater that it’s connected to through the Great Artesian Basin. Santos have licences right across that huge region, they’ve zeroed in on the Pilliga because, I think, they thought it would be easier to get started there with less opposition because it was a state forest and they’d dealt with the government and they’ve basically now been approved to put in 850 coal seam gas wells through that area but they’ve refused to relinquish licences right across the Liverpool Plains and all of the farming regions surrounding that. They have those dormant zombie PELs, or Petroleum Exploration Licences, there.
The government made noises about not allowing those PELs to be activated but they’ve now gone quiet on that and are talking about, oh maybe some of them will be relinquished, some of them will continue. It’s forcing people to live under a cloud of uncertainty. People are also really concerned about the gas pipelines that would be required to go across the region to link up to the Narrabri project in the Pilliga and people are really concerned about coal seam gas in the Pilliga and the precious place that that is for a recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin. Water, rainwater, flows in that area into those creeks that flow beneath the ground in the Pilliga and then recharges the Great Artesian Basin which is a critical water supply. In drought times people are 100% reliant on groundwater out there and no one wants to see that interfered with or polluted.
GN: The Great Artesian Basin, in case anyone is unsure, if you do a Google Image of the Great Artesian Basin you’ll be amazed at how massive it is, it covers an incredible area of almost the whole upper quarter of the Australian continent and so the Adani mine has also been criticised for tapping into that Artesian Basin which really sustains all life really in the eastern and north eastern part of the continent so if people are hearing this from New South Wales, especially in regional New South Wales areas, this concerns you.
NH: Yeah, that’s right and at the moment you can put pressure on the New South Wales government to relinquish those zombie PELs, there’s a live action going at the moment through CSG Free North West to try and get that pushed through and certainly the activism continues to protect the Pilliga and to stop that Santos project. Sure, it’s been approved but there’s a court case on foot that local farmers are running to push back against the climate damages and also the pipeline and there’s also over a hundred conditions that Santos has to reach in order to get the final go-ahead for that project and they have not made a final investment decision for that project either, so there is still absolutely plenty of reason to put pressure on Santos to pull out of that project.
GN: Right, so this is unfolding right now, it’s not a done deal, this is the time to speak up…
GN: …and we’ll put in the show notes for this podcast – and in the video description if you’re watching on YouTube – we’re going to put links, we’re going to have New South Wales, this is what you can do about this in your area, and if possible I’ll get some links from you after the podcast, Naomi?
NH: For sure.
GN: Likewise with Queensland is there something that people can do there locally for what’s happening there?
NH: Absolutely, there’s a big spread of various gas fields in Queensland but certainly one that people are looking to fight really hard is that expansion around Carnarvon Gorge National Park for the 7, 700 wells by Origin so, yep, we’ll include links to that and also some of the work that’s happening with traditional owners and pastoralists to try and protect the Channel Country region of western Queensland there from new gas proposals as well.
GN: Moving on to the Northern Territory where if I understand correctly recently there was a moratorium on fracking. That moratorium has been lifted thanks in part to research by GISERA, some of the findings there, oh no, it’s all good and safe so we’re going to open it up. From what it looks like gas companies are just rearing to go. I was reading that the Morrison government’s resource minister Keith Pitt has already announced $21,000,000 for fracking wells at a project that hasn’t even received NTE environmental approval so they just – for them it’s, like, yep, this is going to happen. And then we’re seeing a new energy company which we’ve really put in the spotlight in the video, Empire Energy, which has already benefited substantially from taxpayer handouts, they’re the sole beneficiary of the Morrison government’s gas-roads $174,000,000 subsidy. These are huge amounts of money that are going into this industry and also Empire Energy is a prolific political donor, they’ve given thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party so can you give us a little bit of a sense of what’s happening in the Northern Territory?
NH: Yeah, that was a good summary for Empire Energy who also were the beneficiaries of that $21,000,000 that Keith Pitt announced yesterday so it’s a business that’s run by a bunch of ex-bankers; honestly they’re out there looking to try and drill and frack as much as they can because they think they’re going to make some money out of it. We’ve also got Santos operating next door, they’re currently pushing ahead with a few frack wells despite huge opposition from landholders and pastoralists there and the traditional owners of that area right across the Beetaloo Basin. That area has been named Beetaloo Basin by gas companies but this is a region just south of Katherine, just south of the Mataranka hot springs, that some people might know if they’ve ever had the ability to get up into the NT, it’s an absolutely beautiful area.
GN: It’s beautiful, yeah, like an oasis.
NH: It’s an absolute oasis and the groundwater from where they want to frack just south of there flows towards those Mataranka hot springs and recharges the Roper River. We’ve seen incredible activism over many years from First Nations people, from Borroloola across to Elliot and up to Katherine, pastoralist community members, there is no doubt that the community across the Northern Territory has said they do not want fracking, they do not want to live in a fracking gas field and people don’t want to put water at risk there, but unfortunately we’ve seen a massive push from the government who are now working with GISERA to do a number of studies that they say will show that it can all go ahead and we’ve seen huge amounts of pressure from Santos, from Origin Energy and now from Empire Energy to go ahead with several exploration fracking wells to try and prove up the resource more.
GN: Thanks Naomi, I know there’s a lot more to say about that but, again, we’ll include a link in the show notes about what if you’re in the Northern Territory and you’re concerned about this, we’ll include a link about where you can do that but just in the interests of really painting a picture of the magnitude of the expansion of the gas industry that we’re seeing right now in Australia I want to jump onto WA because there we are seeing a project which is run again by Chevron but mainly Woodside up in the Burra Peninsula, known as the Burrup Hub. This is a gargantuan project, I think I read six billion cubic tons of emissions over the lifetime of the project, this is game over, this dwarfs the Adani mine. Can you give us a sense of what’s happening up there in WA?
NH: Absolutely and I want to do a real shout-out to the Conservation Council in WA that lead a lot of the campaign work on that Burrup Hub.So Woodside is pushing ahead with a huge project, it’s something like, it would be eleven times Australia’s annual emissions coming out of just that one massive LNG project so it’s up to fifty massive offshore gas extraction wells right through a really significant reef area that would have massive climate implications, huge. We’ve already seen in WA that due to the gas industry their emissions in WA are going up and up and up whereas obviously the message is we need to start keeping our emissions under control. WA is going the absolute opposite direction as will the Northern Territory if they upscale the fracking there.
GN: Is that a done deal also, is it already underway or is it under construction, where are we at?
NH: It’s absolutely not a done deal, it’s never a done deal, so Scarborough & Browse are the two projects out there. The issue that these massive gas companies have is they will need a suite of very difficult approvals because of the massive scale, they will need a heap of money and that money they’re going to be, yes, looking for government handouts but they’re also looking for handouts from all sorts of companies, corporations, banks, financiers globally and these are the companies and institutions that absolutely need to hear pressure from all of us that now is not the time to be giving cash to these sort of projects, these massive carbon bombs, we absolutely can’t keep funding it.This is, as you said, the critical decade, we need to be investing all of that in genuine clean energy. We can absolutely do it, it’s all possible and this is the sort of project that we do not need. The International Energy Agency came out with a report recently that was quite clear, we need to keep all new oil, gas and coal basins in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate commitments and hopefully have a safe climate and this sort of project just can’t go ahead and so, no, it’s never a done deal and it’s absolutely worth ramping up the pressure.
GN: So if I understood correctly, call your bank if you’re with Commonwealth, ANZ, NAB, Westpac, call them up and ask them or tell them that you’re closing your account because you don’t want to fund these kinds of projects because they’ve definitely – they’re the top candidates for bankrolling these kinds of projects. I shifted a long time ago to Bank Australia and my super fund also, that’s something really powerful that we can all do and really encourage people to do that. I also wanted to just throw in there that in case anyone was thinking, but what about the economy, all of these projects will really benefit Australia? These gas companies pay little to sometimes no tax so the royalties from these subsidised projects that we don’t get a benefit back or nothing close to what we put into it so it’s a loss, the gas is exported overseas, it doesn’t help lower our gas prices so it’s not like, oh well, we lose some we win some, no, this is not something that will benefit Australians on almost any level however you want to measure it. While we’re talking about WA, it’s a very big area, we’ve spoken about the Burrup Hub, was there any other area in WA that people need to be concerned about or keeping an eye on?
NH: I think at the moment it’s really critical that we keep supporting communities in the Kimberley region, in that northern area of WA there, the gas companies call it the Canning Basin. There’s a huge amount of unconventional gas and oil up there and we’ve just seen a kick start. They did have a moratorium in place in WA as well, the government there lifted that, they protected most of WA from fracking but they left some areas open including some incredible areas across the Kimberley. We know that there are many traditional owners who are trying to stand up for country and water up there to prevent fracking and I think we’re increasingly going to see community pushback up around Broome and across the Kimberley there. We’ve got companies coming in from Texas that want to frack across the Kimberley and we’ve just seen Origin Energy buy in with Buru Energy to start drilling for oil and putting forward fracking plans, and a company like Origin Energy that go ahead and do a re-branding to call themselves good energy, what they don’t tell people who think they’re helpfully supporting a solar panel company is that they’re actually one of the biggest oil and gas frackers here in Australia and they are currently expanding across the beautiful Kimberley region plus in the Northern Territory and Queensland so I think it’s really important that people know that companies like Origin Energy are absolutely moving in the wrong direction here.
GN: And again we’ll include the show notes for that, as well in the video description and the show notes a link for more information about that, and also a reminder that you don’t only have to change your bank and super but you can also change your energy company and we’ll include a link in there for some options that are better to support than Origin and some of these others. We can help make a decision just by switching our energy provider. Moving down to Victoria, it’s still in the interests of our painting a picture here of the magnitude of what we’re dealing with, can you fill us in? This is the latest development that’s happening now, we’ve just seen the moratorium being lifted on conventional gas, can you explain what that is, what is conventional gas as opposed to fracking and why do we still need to be concerned about what’s happening in Victoria, what can people down here where we are be looking out for?
NH: Yeah, well firstly I just want to do a shout-out to the massive amount of work that communities have put in over many years to get that ban and that moratorium, it’s very disappointing for community members, farmers and anyone concerned about the climate to see that conventional moratorium now lifted. It means that gas companies can start targeting again down in the Gippsland region and also in that south western area of Victoria there more along Great Ocean Road as you mentioned in the video. This is obviously not where people think that we should be moving, Victoria has so many fantastic projects that they’re working on when it comes to renewable energy and when it comes to actually getting off gas, which will work out to be a lot cheaper for consumers and energy users in the long run and, yeah, people feel that it’s really absolutely going in the wrong direction to restart drilling. It means that they can’t undertake hydraulic fracturing so some of the risks are lessened but certainly people are very concerned about having gas rigs on their properties and through their water so I think we’re going to see a lot of pressure continue to mount there and I want to do a shout-out to Friends of the Earth in Victoria who are really leading on that work and have for many years.
GN: We’re going to put a link in the show notes for DrillWatch which – is that the Friends of the Earth initiative that they’ve initiated now…
GN: …so communities can understand, if you’re in Gippsland, if you’re on the Great Ocean Road, all the coast, all the way down to Portland and also inland from there, these are all areas that are under exploration licences and this problem could be coming to your neighbourhood right now so check out DrillWatch.org.au, we’ll put a link in the show notes because Victoria needs to go back on the alert and about the concerns, we’ don’t even need to imagine, we’ve just seen in the Gulf of Mexico what happens when you have drilling for gas. I mean, it looked like a scene out of Pacific Rim or some Hollywood film with the ocean on fire and that story came out the day that we put the video out so I very quickly did a last-minute edit to actually include the little footage there of that firestorm coming out of the ocean just off the Great Ocean Road. I called it an artists rendition but actually that’s exactly what’s happening, it’s not fantasy, it’s not some alarmist kind of thing so I feel like, thank you Naomi, you’ve given us a national snapshot and I know there are other things to watch out for probably in South Australia and Tasmania, that these are not the only things, but these are some of the key spots. Just by way of concluding, internationally where is Australia positioned as this debate is also unfolding in the US now that the Biden administration has come in, it’s also been a massive thing in the UK, the anti-fracking movement. Is Australia on par with these countries in terms of dealing with the gas industry or curtailing its activities or are we on a different trajectory completely?Can you put it just so we put it in an international context, where we stand?
NH: I think internationally we’re a bit of a laughing stock when it comes to action on climate and to see our government at this critical juncture in history come out with a corona virus solution that is a gas led recovery is an absolute joke and very disappointing internationally.We are though seeing incredible pressure from the gas lobbyists around the world to try and push a very desperate argument that we somehow need to expand gas in order to take action on climate, that’s their latest buzz words, to try and get through this period.There’s no grounding for that, we absolutely know that we need to be declining and that we cannot be expanding, that we’ve got enough happening at the moment when it comes to extraction of fossil fuels to phase that out as we go to renewables, we don’t need to grow any of this stuff. We’re currently seeing these desperate attempts from gas industry here in Australia but also internationally to try and get any funding they can get from any government or any corporation to try and keep paying for this stuff and that’s what we need to prevent.
GN: Naomi, I want to thank you for giving us that update on what’s happening, thanks for putting in context locally, internationally.I just want to end off with a slightly more personal question; you’re dealing as are many activists and traditional owners and First Nation communities, what we’re literally fighting for is the continuation of life, human life, non-human life on the planet and it takes a huge emotional toll on people and I think someone like you who is working in this field is constantly being reminded of the loss of our future, of species, of ecosystems, how do you deal with that emotional toll, do you sometimes feel like it’s a lot to deal with, is it overwhelming, what are your strategies for dealing with that, and just before you answer that I just wanted to mention I recently learnt about the term solastalgia, which was coined by Glenn Albrecht, I’ve just been listening to his talk. Solastalgia is similar to nostalgia; nostalgia is a feeling of melancholia that you feel when you leave a place, your home, and you miss your home but solastalgia is the feeling of missing your home when you’re still at home, not because you’ve left but because the things that make home beautiful, the nature or the ecosystems or your community leaves the place and that’s what we’re seeing in a lot of these places ravaged by bushfires, driven by climate change, droughts, mining, those sort of things, how do you deal with solastalgia?
NH: Mm, I’ve seen a lot of solastalgia first hand living in the Hunter Valley and seeing communities and particularly the traditional owners for those places, they’ve had their homes and their whole stories ripped up for massive open cut coal mines and that’s one of the most in-your-face examples of how this is playing out for people and the sadness and loss that comes with that. For me and I think for many people dealing in this space connection is probably the most important thing. It all feels overwhelming and terrifying and maddening if you’re thinking about it alone but where we’ve seen that success and that energy and that pushback is when people join up with those around them. They find connection through fighting for the things that they love together, fighting for their water supply; fighting for their kids’ future is something that brings people together and there’s a beautiful positive energy that comes from that and it gives you that strength to carry on. I feel incredibly lucky to be doing the work that I’m doing, I really feel for people who are in the midst of having to spend their free time arguing with the gas companies or looking out at land and country that has been destroyed and I think those folks have a really hard time of it but I have also seen people really energised and empowered coming through to push back and to know that we’re part of a community at a local level nationally and internationally of amazing people doing really cool stuff to protect country, to fight climate change so, yeah, that’s what keeps a lot of us going, I reckon.
GN: That’s awesome, well, you’re definitely one of those people, Naomi, so thank you so much for the work that you do and thanks for coming on the Juice Media podcast, we really appreciate your time.
NH: No, thank you, good on you.
GN: Before we finish today’s podcast we have a really special additional guest. As you know, our Honest Government Ad spoke about how gas companies have infiltrated our very trusted and dear scientific institution, the CSIRO, but we also talked about the Bureau of Meteorology which again is a very trusted household name in Australia and I’m really stoked to have as our guest today a former employee of the BOM who worked there for sixteen years and he’s here today, his first public interview on the matter of why what happened at the BOM, the reasons that caused him to leave, welcome to the Juice Media podcast, we’re really honoured to have you here today, Stephen King.
SK: Hi Giordano, thanks for having me.
GN: So, as I said, you were a weather forecaster at the BOM for sixteen years but you felt the need to resign two years ago, I believe. Can you tell us what happened at the BOM to make you want to leave and maybe give us an understanding of the circumstances, how you saw things changing and that led to your departure?
SK: Yeah, as I said I worked at the Bureau for sixteen years, ten years of that I was a senior forecaster in Melbourne forecasting Melbourne and Victoria’s weather every day and that included during the Black Saturday fires and during the flood events of 2010, 2011 and then I’d been forecasting up until about 2017, 2018 so I should say right from the outset when I joined the Bureau it was a great place to work, great people to work with and the teamwork was just amazing and there was almost like a sense of family when you would go to work every day and you’d work with these people, you’d get a good forecast out for all of us Australians so that continued on for most of my career and then in about 2016 there was a change of management so the director changed and in comes this guy who is an ex-GISERA guy, who you’ve mentioned in the video, so after that he brings in all these other strategies and restructuring plans and around that time, 2017, 2018 there was this heap of uncertainty around for all the staff and at the same time we had the pay negotiations going on as well so there was an industrial action going on, we were on strike and as a result of all that morale was just down the toilet and from what I hear it’s still that way in the organisation now another three or four years later so around that time, around 2018 everyone’s mental health had begun to decline and then mine began to decline as well.
Even while doing shift work for fifteen, sixteen years I had managed to keep everything under control. There was this incident – which I won’t go into – with my managers and that basically triggered a complete mental breakdown for me. It almost cost me my life and I thought I would be back at work after, like, a couple of weeks or whatever and I basically didn’t return. I should point out also that I’m in an incredibly privileged position, I’ve got enough savings that I can go off and go do some other things and not have to worry about my career too much but unfortunately there’s still plenty of people left at the Bureau like climatologists and meteorologists who don’t have that luxury and they have families to support, mortgages to pay and they’re basically stuck there and so that’s part of the reason I’m speaking out, I guess, so that someone is giving them a voice because in your video when Alan says, please send help, that is almost exactly what’s going on in there. I laugh but it’s kind of sad how accurate that is.
SK: After my breakdown I took some time off and I returned briefly in mid 2019 but it was obvious by that point that I wasn’t wanted anymore in the organisation, I was seen as a troublemaker. I feel that they basically exploited my mental health and made my life so miserable at the organisation that I had no choice but to leave, so late 2019 comes around and everyone remembers it well, half the country is on fire by November, December 2019 and I notice the Bureau puts out this video about the fires and they’re talking about, what are the drivers of these fires and what’s causing them? And they talk for five minutes and they talk about the southern annular mode, they talk about the Indian Ocean dipole, all these other things and in the whole five minutes they just never at once mention climate change at all and I thought to myself, that’s a bit odd and so I didn’t think that much more of it, so by March 2020 fires had all been put out and I think the Bureau had put out a report, it was a special climate statement they put out, about the fires and the Black Summer. It’s 20-30 pages long, I get to the end, I was, like, they didn’t mention climate change, why didn’t they mention… And so I even went back, I did like a Control-F and sorted through the whole document and climate change is nowhere to be seen in the document and so I thought to myself, something’s going on here.
I looked up the current director of the Bureau and also his CCO, his Chief Customer Officer, whatever the hell that means, but their LinkedIn pages say, worked in, for CSIRO and GISERA and all these other links to the gas industry and I just thought to myself, what the hell is going on here?
I had talked to a few people and most people are just, like, oh look, you’re a conspiracy nut, don’t worry about it, you’re just looking for something that doesn’t exist. And so anyway at one point I get in touch with Michael West media and Sandi Keane was the editor at that point, it was literally the last day before the second lockdown in Melbourne and so we were really lucky to have actually met up, and she told me about everything she’d been researching for the last five or ten years and she’d been going all round New South Wales chasing the gas industry, chasing Santos and all this other bullshit that they’ve been getting up to for years and years, so she’s well over it, well all over the topic and she’s, like, oh, well of course they’re in charge of the Bureau, so she puts out her [ ___ ] article in August 2020, it really just goes into these two people, the CEO and the CCO and their histories and what we could find on LinkedIn and published all that on Michael West media and then she’s, like, right, let’s blast them some FOI’s, and I was, like, are you serious, can we do that?And she’s, like, yeah yeah yeah I’ve done all this before, and so me having worked there I knew exactly – well, not exactly but where she should be looking so between the two of us she’s, like, okay, what should I ask for? I’m, like, well, let’s ask for the emails about this video that they did on the fires, right?
So she puts in one request for that, she puts in another one for – we asked for all the emails around – that special climate statement that didn’t mention climate change.We were half expecting, you know, when most of the media does FOI requests and they just get back all these black pages of redacted documents and we didn’t, we got a treasure trove and it only had, like, it had some names redacted which is completely understandable because there’s a lot of people involved that need to have their identities protected in this but it was all just there, pages and pages and pages of these emails and drafts of the documents and so she shot through off to me and she was, like, take a look at these. I’m, like, did you find anything? She’s, like, yeah yeah just take a look. So I’m skimming through, firstly I’m going through the draft of the climate statement and there’s this whole page on climate drivers about what caused the fires or what were the events leading into the fires, and there’s this other section about climate change, global warming and greenhouse gases, there’s even a graph they’ve got in there of the twentieth century temperatures going up like this and that’s just all been crossed out in, like, red …
GN: So we showed some just so people who’ve seen our video – and we’ll put an excerpt here while I’m saying this – we’ve got an excerpt of the video where we actually show one of the pages that’s been redacted, that’s just one of many, many pages in that Freedom of Information request so you can kind of get a sense of the red lines that have been put through, that’s what you’re referring to, yep?
SK: Yeah yeah, so I was so chuffed when that made it onto the video last week, it was just hilarious. We did another follow up about climate attribution science and that then came out January this year.
GN: I just want to zoom in on one thing before we wrap up; you’ve just mentioned climate attribution, this is not something that a lot of people will have heard about but it’s actually really important, could you explain what climate attribution science is, who is using it, are the Bureau of Meteorology, organisations in other countries and why is the BOM not using it?
SK: Yep, right, so attribution science, it’s been around for five, six years or so and as you mentioned pretty much every science agency around the world, science and weather agency, has some sort of climate attribution section, department, agency, whatever and Sandi loves to say, because when she was doing all this research, she was, like, even Swaziland has a department, and I’m, like, yeah yeah Sandi whatever.
Up until 2015, 2016 whenever meteorologists and climatologists, we’d talk to the media and say it was a heatwave in summer or a heavy rain event or something and inevitably the journalist would ask, oh, so is this evidence of climate change? And of course up until that point the answer was always no, you can’t attribute a single event to climate change. We’re in the position now where the science is advanced enough where we can say statements like, climate change has contributed to the severity of an event and we’re even in a position now where we can say by how much.
GN: And that’s what we’re seeing so the British Met, New Zealand’s, the Canadian Bureau of Meteorology, even Swaziland you’re saying?
GN: They’re all starting to talk about this so just so that people understand, when the weather forecasters or there’s a weather report about an extreme weather event they can actually, they do tell people this has a likelihood – because in science you can never say 100% – but this has a very strong likelihood of being caused by climate change so viewers in those countries are starting to hear those things from their weather bureau but here in Australia you won’t hear that on a BOM report, is that what the problem is?
SK: Yeah, so that’s pretty much what’s going on.We still haven’t gotten quite to the bottom of the climate attribution part. The Guardian somehow got hold of it so they have reported on it and they approached the Bureau, they said, oh, can we talk to these researchers about this report that you’ve published and the Bureau said twice, they said no, you can’t talk to them and…
GN: Right, wow.
SK: …so, yeah, now we’re just in the situation where we’re, like, well what the hell is going on? So we asked them directly, we were, like, well why can’t your scientists talk to the media? There still hasn’t been a connection made between the fires and climate change and we asked them when is any of this research that you may or may not be doing, when is it going to be published? And the response we got was, we’ve already answered those questions, and they hadn’t.
GN: Mm, so there’s a real lack of transparency here, I mean, these are publicly funded institutions, we fund the BOM with $260,000,000 of taxpayer funds that go to it, we as citizens should expect transparency from these organisations so fuck that way of approaching this kind of stuff and there needs to be a push. I’m not sure exactly how it happens that we get the BOM straightened out and get these – fossil fuel interests need to be out of here, the people who established GISERA and who have ties to the gas industry shouldn’t have a role of influencing in these organisations. Sorry, I’m just having a rant here, but I think…
SK: Yeah, no, I’ll jump in with a little bit more on that. There are some excellent, hardworking people still at the BOM, all the climatologists, the meteorologists, they’re excellent, they’re world leaders in what they do, many of the climatologists have published, like, IPCC research so that’s how good they are but they’re basically being gagged at the moment.
GN: Yeah, we need to be able to hear from them, not the gas industry people.
SK: Yeah, and we’ve said in the article it’s not those people that need to go, it’s the leadership and the executive team that the leadership have then installed at the Bureau and in God knows what other organisations, that they need to go so that our scientists who we’re paying for can actually do some climate science, that’s all we’re asking for, it’s nothing revolutionary, it’s quite logical.
GN: Yeah, absolutely. Just by way of conclusion I just want to mention one of the deep ironies of the fucked up crazy universe that we live in but you’ve been accused of peddling a conspiracy, it sounds like it’s not at all a conspiracy, there’s a lot of evidence to show that there is a concern about the BOM being influenced and gagged in the ways that you describe but we’ve also seen real conspiracies being peddled on the internet, a little while ago Craig Kelly, a senior coalition MP, accused the BOM of fabricating temperature records to try and manufacture the fact that there were no heat waves in the past so they…
SK: Yeah, that is the irony of the situation, is that everyone thought that the Bureau was hiding everything to hide climate change and it turns out that the exact opposite is true.
GN: Yep, there is a conspiracy, it’s not the one that the bullshit artists are trying to peddle, there’s a real one. Stephen, thank you so much for joining us, I just want to repeat, this is your first time that you’ve spoken publicly about this and I just want to thank you for your courage, that you’ve obviously gone through a really difficult process to process all this, made a decision to leave a job that you obviously are very passionate and did very well for sixteen years and you’ve been in service of the public as a weather forecaster and now you’re in service of the public as an information – you’re trying to lift the lid and shine the light where it needs to go so we here at the Juice Media, we just really want to thank you for that, that takes a lot of courage and we really want to let you know we appreciate it so thank you very much.
SK: All right, thank you Giordano and all the Juice Media team.
GN: Thanks so much, take care.
GN: Well, that brings us to the end of this episode of the Juice Media podcast. I hope it’s helped to bring you up to date with what’s happening with the so-called ‘gas led recovery’ and most importantly what you and your local communities can do to stand in the way of further fossil fuel extraction in Australia.You’ll find links to all the things we’ve mentioned in the podcast in the show notes or in the video description below if you are watching this podcast on YouTube including things you can do to take action in the various states we’ve mentioned. I want to take this opportunity to also thank Ellen who edited this podcast, the first one she’s edited all on her own, and it’s been a huge fucking help for me so thank you Ellen.
And of course a huge thanks to our patrons whose support allows us to produce the Honest Government Ads and podcast companions such as this one, in particular our patron producers who support us at the highest level of a hundred dollars per month, thank you. If you value our money and can afford to please consider supporting us at Patreon.com/thejuicemedia. You’ve been listening to the Juice Media podcast with me, Giordano, I’ll catch you very soon for our next Honest Government Ad. Until then, take care.