Image for Climate change and the Kingston Bypass

No credible science supports inaction on climate change yet Kingston Bypass Action Group leader Julie Taylor doesn’t get it.  She is more concerned that someone who is not a resident of Kingborough (me) could get in the way of the Kingston Bypass, which is of such great significance to the community (Kingborough & Huon Times supplement, Sunday Tasmanian 10 January 2010).

By appealing the Kingston Bypass project in the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal (RMPAT) last year, I set out to raise awareness that the Kingston Bypass project is a significant climate change issue for Kingborough. 

Is the Kingston Bypass - highways and unrestrained development - really Kingborough’s future?  The Kingborough Council position with regard to climate change impact is little different to that of the Chinese Government, namely ‘Business As Usual (BAU)’.  Let’s not allow a perfectly clear and unambiguous environmental imperative get in the way of good old fashioned progress!

However BAU means historic traffic growth which means historic emissions growth.  This means that there will be no future.

The disappointing outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Conference suggests that humanity may not cope with the future.  The climate crisis is actually happening NOW.  What we do NOW determines quality of life in the future.  The developed and ‘developing’ world seems unable to deal with atmospheric CO2.  The word out of Copenhagen is that we have to ‘adapt’ to a temperature rise of 2 degrees C.  Just how do the residents of Bangladesh, the Maldives or Tuvalu ‘adapt’, is an open question.

A regional plan for Hobart is long overdue.  Southern Tasmania is likely to be under immense development pressure for the foreseeable future.  How Kingborough responds to development pressure in a low-carbon world paradigm has significant implications for today’s Kingborough youth.  At best, the Kingston Bypass is premature and, at worst, it may not be needed at all if the cost of petrol escalates as is widely predicted during the next decade.

Some people argue that the Kingston Bypass would not generate emissions.  In a similar sense, houses, cars and bulldozers do not generate emissions. This is a silly argument.  If all this stuff does not generate emissions, what is the cause of the climate crisis?  Clearly, the climate crisis is due to unsustainable human activity.  I withdrew from the appeal because there was no prospect that I could beat the silly argument in RMPAT.

Politically motivated climate change scepticism is exploitation for personal advantage.  The harm in this instance is committing to a major infrastructure project which is likely to be of negligible sustainable value.  Projects such as the Kingston Bypass, the Brighton Bypass or the four-lane Midlands Highway, a favourite of the Liberals, are not ‘Nation Building’ and do not future-proof the communities that they serve.  They achieve the exact opposite by diverting scarce funds from sustainable infrastructure.  I sincerely hope that the Mercury and other commentators make an effort to challenge politically-motivated climate change scepticism in the run-up to the Tasmanian State Election.

In the absence of a concerted effort to take climate change seriously, Kingborough might as well build its Kingston Bypass, convert its remnant agricultural land, such as Huntingfield, to low density housing and wait for the End.  Is there any alternative?

Credible science can be found anywhere you look.  Here is an introduction to eminent climate scientist Dr James E Hansen: 
http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2009/s2774551.htm
Here is a link to Dr Hansen’s work, including specific communications with the Australian Government:
http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/

I distributed this essay as an email to those who have a public role in some way in connection with planning, climate, sustainability, transport or the Kingston Bypass that I have communicated with at some stage, plus a few extras.  I offered the attached article to the Mercury late last year.  You be the judge as to whether it is newsworthy.  I invite the Mercury or Sunday Tasmanian to publish or make a story of it. 

Essay originally offered to the Mercury in December 2009:

I recently appealed the granting of a Planning Permit for the Kingston Bypass in the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal in Tasmania (RMPAT).

If the appeal had been successful, there would have been some embarrassment caused by failure to consider climate change impact. As it was, the parties to the appeal agreed not to proceed to a hearing and RMPAT ordered that each party bear its own costs.

I hope that the endeavour was worthwhile and that the decision-makers do consider climate change in the future.

Australia should be planning for and investing in infrastructure that will be required for a low carbon future, even if the means by which this is achieved has not been worked out. So, what does this mean for the Kingston Bypass? In other words, what is the climate change impact of the project?

Strange as it may seem, this simple question eluded the decision making process for this $42million dollar project, the biggest single project that Kingborough Council is ever likely to consider.

Climate change has just two main causes: the clearing of forests and rangelands; and the burning of fossil fuels like petrol and diesel. New infrastructure like the Kingston Bypass can only lead to more cars on the road, more urban sprawl, more clearing of land and more greenhouse gas emissions. If we continue on the same old path that has led us to this point by building roads as if there were no tomorrow, then perhaps there won’t be.

Are we ready to inflict the burden of climate change on the world’s children?

The justification of the Kingston Bypass project is projected traffic growth. It was sold to the public on the grounds of the alarming projection of traffic growth derived from historical trends which have never been questioned.

The Kingston Bypass project had its formation in 2004 with the establishment of the Kingston and Environs Transport Study (KETS). That was a time when we had forgotten about peak oil (the exhaustion of the world’s oil reserves), climate change and the Kyoto Protocol.

As recently as 8 September 2009, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Public Works consisting of Messrs Harriss, Hall, Green, Best and Mrs Napier reported to Parliament; “The traffic volumes within the existing KETS model were factored up to reflect the 2007 traffic volumes based on historic traffic volume growth rates” The report did not mention climate change impact at all, even though a Climate Change Impact Statement was required for all submissions to Cabinet after 1 July 2009 and all infrastructure procurement decisions after 1 January 2009.

‘Historic traffic volume growth rates’ means ‘business as usual’. What is the consequence of business as usual? Surely, business as usual means historic growth of atmospheric CO2.

How sustainable is that?

In less than 60 years, atmospheric CO2 has risen by more than 25% under business as usual. By 2020, atmospheric CO2 will have risen by 33% since 1950. At present,
atmospheric CO2 is just under 390ppm and rising by about 2ppm per year. It is currently more that 100 ppm higher than for any time in the past 420,000 years.

I find it truly amazing that the $42million Kingston Bypass could have slipped through Mr Rudd’s Nation Building spending spree, DIER, the Council planners, Kingborough Council, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Public Works and State Parliament without one documented word anywhere about climate change impact.

The paradigm shift question is; “Will the Kingston Bypass be needed by 2020 for journeys to work and school?

Historic traffic growth will continue if political courage and leadership does not rise to meet the challenge of climate change. At its November 2009 meeting, Kingborough Council reaffirmed the green light for the Kingston Bypass when a motion raised by Councillor Peter Lindsay that “further stages of the Kingston Bypass be delayed until Council has prepared a strategy for the implementation of an integrated public transport system” was lost.

As a response to my appeal, DIER’s principle consultant provided a comprehensive Proof of Evidence for Climate Change considerations for the Kingston Bypass. However, the Proof explicitly excluded “possible population or other demographic changes consequent upon climate change, … such as increased public transport, park and ride, uptake of cycling etc”.

The Proof goes on; “The Australian Government has broadly accepted the IPCC findings and acknowledged that (climate) changes have the potential to have a major impact on human and natural systems throughout the world including Australia”.

Spot on!

Neither Kingborough Council nor DIER exercised due diligence with regard to traffic growth projections in a world undergoing a paradigm shift. They failed a duty of public care by ignoring the climate change impacts of the Bypass. By the time that DIER submitted the Development Application for the Kingston Bypass, even the cautions in KETS regarding the computer modeling assumptions had been lost.

Daily traffic is a key indicator by which we will measure the success of the political process to tackle climate change. At present, traffic in Hobart and environs is as climate-nasty as it could possibly be. With Hobart City Council adopting its Sustainable Transport Strategy 2009 – 2014 on 14 December 2009, Kingborough Council efforts seem tame by comparison.

The Kingston Bypass promises to be a white elephant in the sustainability stakes.

If the Government and Kingborough Council reconsidered their position on the Kingston Bypass in light of climate change science it could put $42million towards a sustainable future for Kingborough residents and put Kingborough in the forefront of Australia’s efforts to combat climate change.

If the global community, with Kingborough playing its part, can’t find a way to limit and then reduce atmospheric CO2, it is goodbye future and goodbye world.

Greg Clausen
The detailed submission that I prepared for the RMPAT appeal can be found at the following link for anyone who is interested;
HERE