Tag Archives: wicked problems

15. Food glorious food?

Our current (group) assignment involves ‘food insecurity’ and sustainability. It is worth 10% … and yet I have read and read and read and I could indeed, just keep reading.

We are almost to the final draft, which I will then go and make pretty (as is my want) but it is safe to say that we have sliced and diced this thing to bits … all puns intended. In all honesty, instead of the 2,000 word essay, what I want to submit is something like the following:

On sustainability:

Just stop buying crap would be a good start. Oh, and listen to our climate scientists.

On food security/insecurity, I would borrow heavily from Michael Pollan of The omnivore’s dilemma (and other books) fame:

‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants’.

but I would add:

Your food should grow or live as close to you as is practicable.

But of course this is far too simple for what is a really complex, multi-dimentional problem, but hey—I think it would be a damned good place to start 😀

As I have said, I have read so much stuff. For the purposes of a university paper, it has involved searching for and finding original research, and combining that with other papers, and segments from books. It is, after all, a piece of academic writing. I do struggle though to set limits as to what and how much I read, as the internet is both a blessing and a curse in the way you can find so much material. Mostly I am compelled to read it.

I cannot complain about my head being full—it is indeed a wonderful state.

What I have found to be truly inspiring is the material in TED Talks. I had known about TED Talks before I started studying, but I do turn to them, on the whole, for much more palatable information—most of the speakers are great entertainers as well as being very knowledgeable. A few gems I have watched recently on the topic of food and would recommend:

and just now, looking for, copying and placing these links I have found even more I think I need to watch (maybe today):

And just for fun, here is the graphic I made for our report—taken from some data (actually taken from two sources and melded). It shows the  results of a survey of university students: the amount of food they consumed from each of the five food groups is shown as a percentage, while the number of recommended daily servings from this group, is the big number at the top.

Food_icons

At the ripe old age of 53, I discovered so much about food groups and serving sizes and serves per population segment. And yes it is, or can be complicated—overly so, as also evidenced by the myriad diets on the market. It makes me think that Michael Pollan actually nailed it!

Advertisements

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: http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/the-rise-of-citizen-science). 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: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/projects.php)

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 🙂