Tag Archives: environment

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 [http://www.claxtonspeakers.com.au/speakers_profile/752 and https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/contributors/tim-flannery]

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: https://www.ted.com/talks/mark_pagel_how_language_transformed_humanity]. 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: https://www.ted.com/talks/keith_chen_could_your_language_affect_your_ability_to_save_money/]


13. …and the heat goes on

The IPCC (Inter-govermental Panel on Climate Change) released its latest report this week and it ain’t looking good. The summary can be found here (see: http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf)

Here is a lift from a feed that came via FaceBook from the Sydney Morning Herald, written by Fiona Johnson, lecturer at the University of New South Wales. It outlines how the average person would personally notice the effects of climate change. It’s an interesting, and sadly familiar list (i.e. I am noticing many of these things already):

  1. Rising power bills from using your airconditioner: With temperatures set to rise between 0.6 and 1.5 degrees by 2030, your airconditioner use will become a significant expense. On the plus side your heating costs will most likely go down. Heating and cooling account for 15 to 25 per cent of a typical Sydney household’s electricity use.
  2. Warmer temperatures overnight: Pack away your doona as evening temperatures are also predicted to increase in the future. Since 2001, extreme heat records at night have outnumbered extreme cold records by 5 to 1, which may make sleeping more difficult for some.
  3. Crowded beaches: Rising sea levels will put extra pressure on our beaches. Storm surges will continue to cause erosion, adding to the reduced shoreline from higher sea levels. Where will you put your towel?
  4. High-speed windscreen wipers: Rainfalls are likely to increase in intensity. This will mean more flash flooding and need for the high-speed setting on your windscreen wipers as short, sharp downpours become part of life.
  5. Infrastructure chaos: City infrastructure struggles at the best of times but you can expect more rail outages due to extreme heat, water shortages due to failures in treatment plants from bushfires or floods and airport delays due to storms.
  6. Going on a holiday? You better visit some of your favourite local attractions soon because many  won’t stay the same for long. Ocean acidification and rising temperatures are expected to have a significant effect on the Great Barrier Reef. The Gold Coast has been identified as a hotspot of vulnerability due to the concentration of coastal development. The Kakadu wetlands may be subject to increased saltwater intrusion from higher sea levels, affecting the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
  7. Increases in food prices: If the driest future scenarios eventuate, there will be increased pressure on the Murray Darling Basin – where one-third of our food supply is produced.
  8. How does your garden grow? If you’re a green thumb, you’ve probably noticed changes to the flowering time of some plants. Warmer temperatures mean some species will bloom earlier and for longer, while other plants will wither and die in the heat. Last year in Sydney, the magnolias came into bloom about four weeks earlier than usual due to the mild weather.
  9. High fire danger: The number of days with very high and extreme fire weather is expected to increase. In Sydney the extreme values of the fire danger index have increased by about 2 per cent per decade over the past 30 years. Implications include increased building costs in bushfire risk zones and more pressure on already stretched firefighting services.
  10.  Staying out of the heat: An increase in heatwaves will most likely result in more admission to hospital and deaths from heat-related illnesses. In the 2009 Victorian heatwave in the week before the Black Saturday bushfires, the number of emergency call-outs to ambulances in Melbourne increased by almost 50 per cent over the three hottest days.

The whole article can be found here (see: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/ten-ways-you-personally-will-notice-the-effects-of-climate-change-20140331-35ta1.html#ixzz2xa6Mcpx9)

And Australia is the only country I know, where climate change has been made into ‘a political football’. We are in the process of rescinding the main tool of carbon abatement—’axing the tax’—the carbon tax—as established with the previous federal Labor government. The new federal LNP prefers a market based solution, where it seems like we will buy the polluting habits from the worst polluters—AKA direct action. It’s a farce and realising what is our rather meagre CO2 abatement target of 5% is indeed questionable.

And on the question of adaptation—AKA let’s stop focussing on the main problem and ready ourselves with a stack of bandaids? I am a bit lost for words. Yes we should engage with what may very well be the fallout of climate change—rising sea levels, food insecurity, readiness for severe weather events, and so on, but to make this the focus instead of addressing the main issue is just lunacy.

The following is an interesting interchange between two members from the opposite sides of Parliament (see: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/ipcc-report-finds-world-might-be-irreversibly-changed-20140331-35sth.html?rand=1396235161199)

This in a week where we are still looking in the oceans south west of Perth for Malaysian Flight MH370—where from the air we are spotting significant objects that keep on turning out to be huge (and not so huge) chunks of floating rubbish. Yes people, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—or gyre—has a growing cousin in the  Indian Ocean.

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: http://www.trueactivist.com/the-man-who-lives-without-money/)

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”.


9. NASA … now there’s a credible source!

I get so tired of some of the people in my circle of friends who deny that the climate is changing because of anthropogenic (human) input. They say that the science is not in, and that even though 97% of climate scientists say they are certain of the effects of humans and that there has been a significant increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, that is still not enough evidence. And then the go on to cite some totally un-credible site.

The science is not in?I am sure that if 97% of specialists had diagnosed them with a particular medical condition they would be accepting of it … and doing something about it … like maybe modifying their behaviour or working like hell to find a cure. I would.

I really like the comment I picked up when researching for my first assignment (Coal Seam Gas—a very ‘wicked problem’) that ‘the sky is pink’ by a the leader of Pittsburg City Council—a man named Doug Shields who managed to pass a ban on fracking (for gas) across his city. His criticism of the media is summarised thus:

Most of the journalism out there is not investigative journalism … it’s called ‘He said, she said’ journalism. So if someone is in the room with the media and they say: ‘The sky is blue,’ they report that the sky is blue. But if someone comes in at the last minute and says: ‘No, wait, wait, wait, the sky is actually pink!’ well, then the media report that day is going to be that: ‘The facts are going to be debated!’ (see: http://vimeo.com/44367635)

‘Debated’ … hmmmm…

For the longer (over an hour), and well-worth-a-watch documentary by Josh Fox, please spend some time to be gob-smacked by Gasland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96AEzQYangE

Oh, and the link back to NASA? I received an alert in my email today from Fora.TV. In a small video snippet under the not-so-cheery banner of We’re Doomed: NASA Predicts Collapse of Industrial Civilization two NASA researchers discuss where we are up to, and name two important features that seem to be common across a number of societies that have collapsed throughout human history: ‘The stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity and the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses.’

I like their comment about ‘growth’, and that even at 2% (which is a small and easily criticised growth level by anyone in opposition) this is still exponential growth!

No system or organism on this planet grows without limits, except cancer.

Hmmmm … humans as cancer. 😦

Here is the link (only 5–6 minutes): http://blog.fora.tv/2014/03/nasa-predicts-collapse-of-industrial-civilization/?utm_source=ForaSiteMaster&utm_campaign=7c582c1beb-Newsletter_3_26_14&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_de23702f3b-7c582c1beb-296027717


7. Climate Change recharge

So today, dear readers, I watched and completed the first module on Climate Change through Open2Study, as hosted by Dr Tim Flannery and Prof Lesley Hughes. Really, really informative and well presented. See: https://www.open2study.com/courses/climate-change

I encourage anyone who has even the vaguest interest in the concept that humans may be impacting on our climate to give this a bit of a go. It is totally free! And it won’t bite you!

I have also started collaborating with those in my group on the second task in my course. It’s a bit of a mind spin—I have never been keen on group projects: instinctively I like to run my own show, and having been in groups and having assessed group assignments I know that inevitably there are stronger and weaker contributors—although I think our group is pretty solid. We only have two weeks to come up with the report (on poor diets of Uni students in the context of sustainability), and using the tools, including a group think-tank area called the Wiki, is a new thing for this old dog.

Other interesting developments of today:

  • the interchange happening between me and my partner is amazing. He is a big Lean Thinking advocate and there are really lovely synergies in what I am studying and how he thinks about processes. In a lead-up to starting my study I did a bit of research to decide if this was going to be ‘it’ for me…and in the process I discovered aquaponics. Being the ‘can do’ kinda man he is, it was literally a matter of a week from talking about it, until we had our system up and cycling. 6–7 weeks into the experiment we are harvesting vegetables and watching with wonder how the fish (mostly Jade Perch) have grown from 1cm to 7cm and put on considerable bulk. He has now taken over my white board with ideas of a community based sustainability group, and this loops back to one of our original discussions about local, community-based aquaponic installations as a feature of future communities.
  • I read on the FootprintNetwork blog that Earth Overshoot Day was on my birthday last year 😦 Translated, that means that as I was celebrating my 52nd birthday, on the same day (approximately) humanity’s ecological resource consumption exceeded what Earth can renew. See more at:  http://footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/blog/#sthash.HOTQlC7i.dpuf
  • I have more books to read (thanks Lisa), including:
    • Lindsay Tanner’s Dumbing Down of Democracy;
    • Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees;
    • Jared Diamond’s Collapse; and
    • Juliet Shor’s The Overworked American

I think I need many more hours in a day!


6. Population and consumption

I had a big win yesterday as I managed to find two of the three books I wanted in the library:

  • Confronting Consumption, Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates & Ken Conca [Eds]
  • The New Economics of Sustainable Consumption: Seeds of Change, Gill Seyfang

I was looking for, but did not find, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which is the seminal work on environment and human impact on it written in 1962. It’s probably something I should buy anyways.

My head is in a bit of a spin, and comically, only after three weeks of doing this course I feel like I can and should try to change the world. I have NEVER felt like this before.

The lecture yesterday covered two main areas of concern: population and consumption. As a species we have been thinking about limits and population since the late 1700s and it seems from then until now, we still seem to apportion the ‘blame’ for ‘overpopulation’ on the unwashed masses—in the 18th century the church firmly blamed the unbelievers and today we do the same with ‘the Third World’ or developing nations. How crass.

As of this week, world population sits at around 7 billion souls. The projections for population growth are on a J-curve, are exponential so we will, as a planet, continue to grow and grow at an alarming rate. But what is the carrying capacity of the planet? There are many studies into this with a wide variation in opinion, but most scholars have agreed on a range of of 8–16 billion. But of those, let’s say we top out at 8 billion souls (and that is conservative), at what level can this population be sustained? The simple answer is that we cannot all be a Gina Rinehart 😦

I completed the Footprint Calculator exercise (see: http://footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/) and to sustain my lifestyle, it would take 2.1 Earths. This is a shock, as I have what I consider to be a smallish footprint—I work from home so I don’t use the car a lot (in fact going to uni to participate in this course is my biggest journey creating a bit of personal cognitive dissonance), we grow a lot of our own food, we keep chickens for eggs and recycling, have a substantial solar panel array (we feed into the grid), 4,000 litre capacity rainwater tanks for the soil garden, and a small but viable aquaponics system). Indeed it IS a smallish footprint, as most Western consumers would need 5–7 Earths to sustain their consumptive lifestyle.

So peeps…what the hell are we going to do about this?

It’s a tricky subject as we are so entrenched in this, our consumer society. I am a big consumer, and in the past, was an even bigger consumer. My reading this week is of the above books and probably other things I will inevitably find on the Net. So much of who we believe we are is invested in the possessions we have—and most of this is driven by corporations wanting to derive a profit through sales via the very persuasive advertising and marketing industries.

My interest in human behaviour—what motivates and drives us, and something which I could have spent more time on in my undergrad Psych degree, is being reignited in me.

As a closing note, two contrasting costs presented in the lecture:

  • cost for establishing clean water and sanitation for everyone on the planet = $9billion
    vs the money spent on ice-cream in Europe in one year = $11billion
  • cost for basic education for the whole planet $6billion
    vs the money spent on cosmetics in the US in one year $8billion

Oh, and in Australia, we spend more on our pets in one year (excluding purchase and vet bills—so focussing on food and toys and such) than we do on foreign aid.



5. Lights…I see lights!

I seem to be reading so much more these days. Reading has always been a bit of a chore for me: I am a slow reader and because of my background as a publication designer and sometimes-editor, I tend to pick fault with bad grammar and spelling mistakes—I guess I am easily distracted.

But I am giving myself permission to be who I am, accept the slow reading pace, maybe look at ways of improving it, but derive the positives from perhaps having to read things two or three times.

But it seems these days, at every turn, I am adding another book to the list I need to read. Just now I read an article shared on FaceBook and it really resonated with me—it is like a shining light of sense and hope!

It is by Dr Nafeez Ahmed (executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development ) and the article can be found at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/18/transition-tipping-point-revolution-doom

He ends this splendid piece with:

“We do not have the option of pessimism and fatalism. There’s enough of that to go around. Our task is to work together to co-create viable visions for what could be, and to start building those visions now, from the ground up.”

I am adding his book to my must read list (which is growing by the moment). I do hope it is avaibale as an eBook so I can get it sooner rather than later!

Part of my list as at 22 March 🙂