Category Archives: consumption

23. Some interesting quotes

Just a few of the really interesting quotes from the materials I have read over the last few weeks:

“Since 1950 alone, the world’s people have consumed more goods and services than the combined total of all humans who have ever walked the planet” (Tilford 2000)

“Sustainability isn’t hard; it’s just not simple” Jedička 2010

“Nobody wakes up in the morning calculating how to trash the planet. Instead our daily lives are a series of choices, each minuscule in its daily impact. But when multiplied billions of times, day after day, year after year, the impact is enormous” Jedička 2010

“Human wellbeing does not require high levels of consumption” Jedička 2010

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little” Edmund Burke

One of my other really favourite quotes is rather longer and comes from a paper I read by Bob Doppelt in Semester 1, but it sticks with me as I think about what comes next, and what is really important to us all…

It comes from a paper entitled From me to we: The five transformational commitments required to rescue the planet, your organisation and your life [Systems Thinker Vol 23 No 8 Oct 2012]. It goes like this:

Imagine, for a moment, that a genie suddenly whisks you away from your everyday life and makes you the world’s most powerful decision maker. At your fingertips is the most up-to-date information about the planet’s economic, social and environmental conditions. You can use that data to make any type of decision you want about how resources and wealth should be allocated and how things should function.

But there is a catch. The genie has also given you amnesia. You cannot remember your social status, nationality, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, how much money you have, or even who your parents are. Consequently, you don’t know what the effects of your decisions will be on your loved ones because you don’t know who you are or where you live.

Under these conditions, what decisions would you make? Would you use as much energy, consume as many resources, or generate as much solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions as you do today? Would you seek to to accumulate as much personal wealth or power?

We need to shift the focus of ME to WE: to treat others as you would want to be treated—to stop focussing on personal wants and needs and choose to see things through the eyes of others.

22. Letter to the Editor—getting my cranky on o_O

Week 4 and we have to submit a Letter to the Editor.

At 250 words it’s not a big task but it has to be engaging, pithy and talk about a sustainability issue.

No surprises that I wrote two. Both reproduced below, but the one I ended up submitting was the one on food—just because the consensus in our workshop was that it was probably more interesting.

Dear Mainstream Media

How do you disappoint me? Let me count the ways!

You disappoint in the way you ignore the environment and yet promote the economy. Were you out of the room when we all worked out that without a suitable, equitable environment you can’t have a society, and without a society there is no need for an economy?

I did a review of online news sites, both newspaper- and TV-based—mostly Australian, but some international—and out of twenty, only three of you have a dedicated tab for the environment on your main page! So, brick bats for most of you, including The Age, The Australian and the Daily Telegraph[1] PLUS Aunty ABC (now that’s disappointing), SBS and all the other Australian TV-channel websites. Bouquets for Deutsche Welle, The Conversation and The Guardian.

I am interested in which came first: do you choose to present what you think readers want; or does your content drive public interest? Whatever the case, you are kidding yourself if you think that what is happening with the DOW is more important than rising CO2 emissions.

It’s clear from the IPCC, NASA and other scientific bodies that environmental issues including climate change, species loss and over consumption (to name but a few) should be part of our daily dialog. In my opinion you have a duty of care to all of your readers to inform and promote debate.

It’s time for you to step up and create a space for the environment on your main sites and not bury such vital content on some sub-directory, out of sight and out of mind.

[1] According to these are the three most accessed Australian online newspapers.

Full-frontal on food

Here are a few ‘fun facts’ first up.

According to Foodwise, Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase —that’s one in every five bags of groceries—gone…in the bin!

An estimated 20–40% of all fruit and vegetables are rejected before they reach the shops because they are ‘not pretty enough’ aka they did not reach consumer or supermarket cosmetic standards.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-third of the global food supply doesn’t even get to people.

Sadly, the environmental implications of such waste are bigger than you think.

Just to produce this food requires great volumes of water, energy and other inputs. Try to imagine in your mind’s eye the progression from paddock to plate, and account for the fertilisers, the pesticides, the storage, the packaging and the transportation. All. Wasted.

And when the discarded food is dumped—mostly as landfill—it decomposes anaerobically to produce methane, one of the most potent of all greenhouse gasses. In the USA, the EPA estimates that nearly a quarter of all methane produced is from uneaten food.

Since the industrialisation of food we seem to have been overtaken by an overwhelming attitude of super-sized profligacy.

Right now we need to strip things back—become more ‘food aware’ and show some respect for what sustains us. Here are seven simple ways we can all reduce our food waste: buy local produce; choose fresh over processed; cook less food; use up any leftovers; shop for only what you need; understand the use-by/best before labelling system and resist the temptation of take-away.

21. Communicating sustainability…in the beginning

OK Dear Reader, I am back to the blog! And yes, I know it has been a while, but this semester I hope to keep on top of things a bit better on a weekly basis, as a journal of stuff that is my passion: sustainability.

Since my last post I have had three amazing experiences. The first was to do a small presentation to the Innovation and Sustainability Centre at USC on our backyard veggie garden and aquaponics system. It was a bit nerve-racking but the PowerPoint held together and people asked questions at the end, so all good. As part of the presentation I developed a systems diagram of the inputs, outputs, throughputs and loops that happen in the backyard of our small suburban block. It looks messy (you should see the actual garden!) but it shows how we blend and interface, where we can, all component parts.

Backyard sys diagram_4

The second amazing thing was that I was asked to help critique the first semester course I had just completed: SUS101. What a privilege! The course was such an eye opener  in so many ways and has encouraged me to pursue some of my bigger (sustainability) passions, which include food and consumption. But being asked to feed back into that course (which had just been reworked and rewritten) allowed me an opportunity to ‘play it forward’: to contribute so that, I hope, the next cohort gets even more out of the course than I did.

The third, but certainly not the least, was the opportunity to attend a lecture by Tim Flannery at USC. Tim is an amazing man who is so knowledgable and so generous with his time. His half hour lecture was followed by a one-hour Q&A! For a bit more on Tim Flannery check out these links [ and]

So onto this semester and what it holds!

SUS202 is Communicating Sustainability. It’s a big area and I am hoping to find some answers. Why are we still having the global warming ‘debate’? Why, when Rachel Carson wrote and published Silent Spring in 1962 are we still poisoning our planet (in more ways than I can even conceive) 50 years down the track? Does the allure of money make us mute to speaking for our environment: that which will sustain us? Is there a silver bullet, a way that what should be heard, will be heard above the almighty din of disinformation?

In this first week we have been set reading tasks and also invited to watch a TEDTalk: Mark Pagel, a biologist whose topic is ‘How language transformed humanity’ [20 minutes: see:]. It is indeed interesting stuff, but I get it, that we have language and have been able to cooperate and communicate and refine ideas is peculiar to our species. That language divides and unites us at the same time is confounding. That language can be used to subvert and empower us is equally perplexing. Would one language solve everything? I go with no, but will let you be the judge.

Another TEDTalk I found (stumbled upon) is by Keith Chen, a Behavioural Economist from Yale. His talk is well worth the watch, but I ask you to substitute the idea of ‘saving money’ with ‘saving the environment’…now there’s an interesting area for study: that the language you speak has an impact on your ability to project: to live sustainably now to have a better future [12 minutes: see:]


16. Resources and all that stuff …

Right at the very start of this journey of sustainability learning and understanding I went looking for information and came across this amazing graphic … (original source is


Do I need to mention, at this point, that the endless pack of TimTams in that iconic ad is a fiction?

If we use up all of the above resources, yes, some of them can be recovered and recycled, but in doing so there will be losses in both the original element and because of the amount of energy needed in the recovery process. We must question the need for the latest gadget/purchase, and start demanding longevity in the things we buy. With technology and hope, we may be able to recover the materials already used, with minimal residual pollution.

The reading I had to do for class this week was entitled Economics in a full world, by Herman E. Daly. It was published in Scientific America in 2005. It has helped me to start on my journey of understanding the economics side of things—definitely a space in which I am not particularly comfortable. The abstract of the paper simply states:

“The global economy is now so large that society can no longer safely pretend it operates within a limitless ecosystem. Developing an economy that can be sustained within the finite biosphere requires new ways of thinking.”

But probably my favourite snippet from the reading is:

“Because establishing and maintaining a sustainable economy entails an enormous change of mind and heart by economists, politicians and voters, one might well be tempted to declare that such a project would be impossible. But the alternative to a sustainable economy, an ever growing economy, is biophysically impossible. In choosing between tackling a political impossibility and a biophysical impossibility, I would judge the latter to be the more impossible and take my chances with the former.


12. Manfred Max-Neef on barefoot economics


Posted in 2010 on YouTube…(I wonder how big that rock was that I have evidently been sleeping under…)

Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist is interviewed…here is a small transcribed snippet:

The crisis is the product of greed. Greed is the dominant value in the world today.

What are the principles to teach about how economics should be … based on five postulates and one fundamental value are:

1. the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy

2. development is about people and not about objects

3. growth is not the same as development and development does not necessarily require growth

4. no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystems services

5. the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible

and the fundamental: no economic interests, under no circumstances can be about the irrelevance of life—nothing can be more important than life


Love this stuff…must learn more


11. Stuff on the fly

Busy, busy, busy trying to read and keep up with things, but two items that came across my desk today that are worth adding (read: I need to get back to these/distribute to others):

… an excerpt (as supplied online):

What is your personal carrying capacity for grief, rage, despair? We are living in a period of mass extinction. The numbers stand at 200 species a day.[3] That’s 73,000 a year. This culture is oblivious to their passing, feels entitled to their every last niche, and there is no roll call on the nightly news.

There is a name for the tsunami wave of extermination: the Holocene extinction event. There’s no asteroid this time, only human behavior, behavior that we could choose to stop. Adolph Eichman’s excuse was that no one told him that the concentration camps were wrong. We’ve all seen the pictures of the drowning polar bears. Are we so ethically numb that we need to be told this is wrong?

There are voices raised in concern, even anguish, at the plight of the earth, the rending of its species. “Only zero emissions can prevent a warmer planet,” one pair of climatologists declare.[4] James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, states bluntly that global warming has passed the tipping point, carbon offsetting is a joke, and “individual lifestyle adjustments” are “a deluded fantasy.”[5] It’s all true, and self-evi­dent. “Simple living” should start with simple observation: if burning fossil fuels will kill the planet, then stop burning them.

And something on the positive end of the scale: something that could well make an immediate difference for researchers:

  • The rise of citizen science via the Climate Council (see: I had a look at and indeed downloaded the link to BOINC: compute for science to allow the idle power of my computer to be used to run programs by whichever project I choose (Oxford University are running the climate prediction project)There is a stack of projects you can lend your individual computing power to, including astronomy, cryptography, chemistry, epidemiology … the list goes on! (see:

10. Nature and all her glory

I am up late, a bit tired, but pushing through readings and summaries for work on the group assignment. I have headphones in with some rather uplifting strains of Jordi Savall delivering Boccherini straight to my brain (currently listening to my fave track on this album: Boccherini: Quintet In D, Op. 31, G324, “La Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid” – 5. Passa Calle. Allegro Vivo P). Love. It.

Classical music works a treat by blocking out the TV in the other room without itself being too distracting, but between tracks, I can hear the blessed rain pounding on our tin roof. We have not heard that here for a long time.

Our not-so-traditional water tanks (read recovered and repurposed IBCs) are all full to the brim 🙂 Yay—4,000 litres of precious water for the soil garden.

But the rain reminds me of how much we need water: how our life literally depends on it. And we squander it and we pollute it and in so many ways we just don’t seem to be aware of it being finite (as with some many other parts of this system). I remember watching one of those BBC productions with Prof. Brian  Cox, not that long ago, where he was talking about our planet and he came to explaining about water. He was sitting in a rowboat, on a lake, with a bucket of water in front of him. He explained that all of the water in the bucket represented all water on Earth. He cupped his hands and dipped into the bucket and what was held in his hands, he suggested was the amount of available water. He then uncupped his hands and said that the thin film of water clinging to just one hand represented the amount of available fresh water. It was a very salient demonstration.

I went to find it online but couldn’t. In the searchI found some other great explanations about Earth’s water from:

The other piece of information that made me sit up and think how much we truly take this planet and its resources for granted and how we need to be mindful of our consumption, was a magazine article featuring an Irishman called Mark Boyle who decided to live a year without money (see:

My favourite bit, I have to admit, is this:

“If we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it today … If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior décor. If we had to clean our own water, we probably wouldn’t shit in it”.