Showing posts with label Climate Change. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Climate Change. Show all posts

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Connecting the Dots

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I was looking back through my blog this week, looking for topics that have been neglected for a while. And I realised that I haven't done a "Sustainable Seafood" post for so long. And it is because I haven't had fresh caught fish to experiment with for so long.

My partner is a mad keen fisherman. I think fishing is a kind of meditation for him, with the by-product of food that lets him feel like he is doing something productive. His ultimate relaxation is standing thigh deep in water gazing out into the ocean, waiting, thinking about nothing but whether the bait is right, the weight is right, the cast is right, and how beautiful the ocean is.

He has fished all his life. He hasn't suddenly lost the knack. He hasn't stopped going fishing every chance he gets. He's just not having lucky fishing trips. He catches some, occasionally, but he hasn't caught a dinner party's worth for ages. I suddenly realised this week that he hasn't caught enough to inspire me to create a new recipe for a long time, and before that, for a long time.

There's a lot of luck in fishing. You can get the right tide, the right wind, the right time of day, the right bait, the right rig, even the right attitude and still not catch anything. Then the next time hit a run of tailor and pull them in one after another. And as any statistician will tell you, there's probability mathematics that says that it's not that unusual to get runs of luck. So you can't put the lack of fish on any individual fishing trip down to the collapse of marine ecosystems. You have to step back enough to see the big picture for that, and connect the dots.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Yet The Band Played On....

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

A topical rework of an article I wrote back in 2009.

Who feels like we are all on the RMS Titanic, sailing full steam ahead, not knowing that an iceberg was about to appear on the horizon?  I know I do most of the time.

The passengers and crew of this mighty vessel were unaware of the fate on its maiden voyage, as are most of the 7 billion passengers also unaware of the fate that awaits the Mothership Earth.  This post is not meant to offend the memories of the Titanic tragedy, but to offer a simple comparison against the events of that voyage, and the plight of our current civilisation and vessel that holds and nurtures us.

There is a strong connection to the RMS Titanic story within our family.  My wife Kim's Great Grandfather, William James Major, was a fireman on-board this ship, and luckily happened to be off-watch at the time the great ship struck the iceberg. Had he been at his post and in one of the boiler rooms fulfilling his duty, his chances of survival would have been slim indeed.  He was one of the crewmen allocated to lifeboat #13, and out of the 2,227 passengers and crew members who set sail, only 705 Titanic passengers and crew survived, him being one of them.  That is a 31.6% survival rate.  There were many factors that lead to the sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage, and I shall attempt to compare some of these events to the apparent chosen path of the passengers of Mothership Earth, if we to continue to maintain our current course and speed.

The Titanic was deemed by many to be 'unsinkable' which instilled a false sense of security amongst the passengers and crew.  The captain,  Edward Smith was a capable seaman and this was planned to be his retirement voyage.  Also on-board were Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line.  Mr Ismay had a point to prove, and wanted to be the first trans-atlantic liner to set a new record crossing time.  The bridge crew and the helmsmen were never really in control of this behemoth of a vessel, but mere puppets as you shall read later.  So it was inevitable that the order from Mr Ismay to the Captain upon setting sail from Cherbourg, was to increase power, and therefore speed for the entire voyage.  So with the course set in, and power and speed increased, with no regard of the safety of the vessel. Yet the band played on.

So, imagine the bridge crew as western governments around the world, and liken the Captain, Mr Ismay, and the powerful owner of the White Star line, Mr Ismay's father as some of the greedy corporations of our current time.  We, my friends, are the passengers and crew of this mighty Mothership Earth.  We have increased power for the corporations, relaxation and comfort for all those who choose to sail on her, and everything we would ever need even if we don't know we actually need it yet.

To the unknowing passengers of the Titanic, some of the lifeboats had been removed to make way for a gymnasium for first class passengers.  This left the ship without a full capability of lifeboats should the unthinkable happen to the unsinkable!  I compare this to our current fossil fuel situation.  Very soon or maybe already peak oil and natural gas production will be reached and there will not be enough supply to meet demand.  Many on Mothership Earth will start to miss out, and indeed many already do, and panic will prevail, just as it did on the Titanic.  Yet, the band played on.

Many ice warnings were sent to the ship during the voyage, in fact 21 warnings including 7 on the day of the tragedy.  As ordered, the Titanic steamed onward at top speed towards the reported pack ice that was drifting down from Greenland.  The two radiomen on-board passed the warnings to the bridge officers throughout the day, and these in turn were passed on to Captain Smith who ignored them, due to the insistence of Mr Ismay.  The radiomen were mostly kept busy during the day sending stock market messages from the wealthy on-board and receiving quotes back from the NYSE.  Even when the radiomen received a signal at 11pm from the steamship Californian, who was 10 miles to the Northwest, to inform the Titanic that she had stopped for the night by ice blocking her way.  One of the radiomen on the ill fated ship sent back a snappy reply, "Shut up old man I'm busy."

So to compare the two, the science community have given us all, including governments, many warnings about climate change and so far have done little to prevent its occurrence.  Governments, corporations and economists are infatuated by continued economic growth to the detriment of the resources supplied on loan to us by Mothership Earth.  We are ignoring our own form of ice warnings including melting global ice caps and the most glaciers around the world.  Quite an ironic comparison really.  It was an iceberg that sank the Titanic and it will be melting ice, heated by our thirst for fossil fuels, that sinks and disrupts the climactic patterns of the Mothership Earth!  We are all so busy trying to get to where we think we should be, we are forgetting about the vessel that carries us on our daily voyage.

As the Titanic sailed through the night, the wealthy upper class dined in opulence before retiring for the night, and the steerage class passed time, reassured by the noise of the engines and flow of seawater upon the steel hull.  A new country and life awaited many of them, all hoping for better opportunities.  Little were any of them aware that the ship was not unsinkable and there was a design flaw in the watertight compartments.  If a certain number of the watertight compartments flooded, there was a good chance that the ship would sink.  What does that mean in our current time period?  We drive our cars, thinking that petroleum products will be available at the service station, that there will be food in the supermarket shelves, and water will run when we turn on the tap.  We live in a disposable culture, only recently discovering the value of recycling in the western world.  Opulence in the west, and dreams of a western way of life in developing nations reminds me of the different classes on-board the ship.  The Mothership Earth also has a design flaw of sorts.  A limited carrying capacity and not enough lifeboats!  We have overshot the planets carrying capacity due to the abundance of cheap oil to grow massive amounts of food, and and now are confronted by limited natural resources.  Both issues are similar to the capacity of the ship and the limited lifeboat capacity of the Titanic on that dreadful night.

At 11:40pm in calm weather and on a clear night, the mighty vessel struck an iceberg that ripped a hole in the ships side that was long enough to fill many of the watertight compartments, thus forcing the 'unsinkable' to indeed become sinkable.  The crew of the ship attempted to avoid a head on collision, however due to the vessels speed and a flaw in rudder design, the ship still scraped the side of the massive iceberg.  Yet the band played on.

The passengers and crew were not aware of the impending danger that awaited them, in fact it wasn't until at least 30 minutes later that the crew were aware that she was taking on water.  Many of the passengers slept through the entire incident and had to be woken up to begin abandoning the ship.  From 12:15 am, the radiomen began sending their first distress signal, only to get a reply 10 minutes later from the Carpathia.  Within two hours the Titanic was sinking bow first, with the watertight compartments flooding one after the other, and the radio failing due to lack of power from the flooding engine rooms.  The crew, who were totally unprepared for this type of event struggled to launch what lifeboats they had, and struggled to convince many bewildered passengers that this was necessary for their safety.  Many passengers must have thought that if the ship were so unsinkable, why where they being forced onto the lifeboats.  Many would drown, especially from third class and steerage, simply because there were not enough lifeboats and the ones that were launched were not filled to capacity.  Plus the fact that many were locked behind steel meshed doors preventing them from escaping.

The radio message sent at 1:45 am was the last message and it read, "Come as quickly as possible".  It was sent in hope, as the last of the lifeboats pulled away from the sinking ship.  Still the band played on until the deck was so tilted that they couldn't sit and play.  Those not safely on a lifeboat stood little hope of more than a few minutes of survival due to the freezing temperature of the water.  The Captain went down with the ship, as did the first officer, however Mr Bruce Ismay was one of the first onto a lifeboat. 

So, with all the scientific warnings, and with many dire new discoveries of approaching tipping points regarding climate change, with our population having gone from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7 billion in 2011 due to the abundance of cheap oil, and with our resources dwindling whether they be fossil fuels (stoking climate change and overpopulation) or precious minerals and natural resources including a mass species extinction, are we about to hit the a proverbial iceberg?  It paints a pretty grim picture when compared to a real life event that could have been avoided.

As with the Titanic, instead of steaming ahead at top speed, we need to reassess, and slow to avoid the impending disaster that soon await the fate of all who are passengers on Mothership Earth.  Is our rudder too small, and that we may not be able to turn away soon enough, with the speed of progress, growth at all costs, resource depletion, and increasing carbon emissions hold back our inability to act in time.

As for the bridge crew, who I liken to current day governments, are failing to act decisively, because of the pressure exerted upon them by the corporations like Mr Ismay and the board of the White Star Line.  Will this pressure be too great, with vested interest lobbying our poor, misguided crew at every chance?  What will happen the the passengers of Mothership Earth?  Will there be enough lifeboats, or will there be a mass die-off as in the case of the Titanic with the lower classes bearing the brunt of disaster?  These questions go unanswered as yet, but there are signs that we may be approaching the "iceberg", with the majority of the passengers of Mothership Earth blissfully unaware, and still dressed in their finest clothes dinning, or in this case, consuming until they drop, egged on by governments and corporations.  As with the Titanic, there will be survivors, how many are unknown as yet, but there have been estimates that our carrying capacity may be reduced to as little as 500 million to 1 billion passengers without cheap and abundant energy.  A sobering estimate indeed.

I am not saying that disaster is inevitable, we just need to slow or steer away, by reducing consumption, reducing emissions, and living a more sustainable lifestyle. As the passengers of Mothership Earth are loaded onto what ever form of lifeboat is available, will they still be wondering "Why?  I thought we were unsinkable!"

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Tax Avoidance

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I am going to pay virtually no carbon tax, none directly and so little indirectly that the compensation in the carbon legislation that has just passed through the Australian parliament is going to be quite a windfall for me.

I am not naive enough to believe that the big polluters who will, from next year, have to contribute towards the cost of dealing with the mess they create, will not pass on the price. They'll probably even use it to gouge us, riding the misinformation campaign and counting on the public blaming the government. But they won't get much out of me. I can even see a whole heap of side benefit windfalls.

Our house is built, but even if it wasn't, it's not that big and mostly made from local wood, much of it recycled, and recycled fittings. The only things in it that would have an embedded carbon price are cement, nails, and roofing iron - and the steel industry is one that is going to be compensated so heavily it will not be paying any tax. It's true the carbon price will push up the square metre price for building, but there's no tax on labour or skill. So it makes sense to spend the money on a good architect or designer to get more space, rather than build a bigger house. Which should mean less sprawl, more smart design, and more green in the suburbs.

We live with stand alone solar power. Our solar panels have well and truly paid for themselves in cradle to grave accounting. Our very first pair, now nearly 30 years old, are still in the array. So our household appliances are already chosen for energy efficiency, and whenever there's a free energy choice that's the one we've got. So there's no clothes drier, rather a clothes line outside that makes the clothes smell lovely and sun-fresh, and an undercover one on the verandah on the western side of the house for rainy weather. (Outdoor clothes lines are common in Australia - lucky us - but the carbon tax does mean that any council would have buckley's of trying to outlaw them).

There's no air conditioner, rather some good roof insulation and a lovely big deciduous pecan tree shading the north east side of the house and the breezy east side verandah. There's no space heater, rather a slow combustion stove that keeps the house warm and doubles for cooking and to boost the solar hot water system in winter.

What electrical appliances we have are chosen for energy efficiency and long-life quality. Our fridge was bought second hand twenty years ago, and is due for replacing. The carbon tax will make the (expensive) high quality, very energy efficient one I want to buy more economical to afford. It will have a bit of embedded carbon price, but that will be more than made up for by the fact that producers of high quality, energy efficient goods will get a bigger market share as people factor in the cost of running them.

The TV and the washing machine are also second hand and chosen for energy efficiency. When it comes time to eventually replace them, the same story as the fridge will operate. I get so frustrated with fake goods made to look like the real thing, but actually made to break within hours of unpacking. Any carbon tax in those prices is the least of the worries. More of an issue is whether they actually work, or whether they are on a very short path between the factory and the dump. More incentive for manufactured goods to be made to last a lifetime or two is something I really look forward to, and if they're made to last, they're worth repairing - there's no tax on skill or labour.

I don't buy new clothes, virtually ever. Op shops are fantastic. Even underwear these days I am tending to make. I can make lovely lingerie out of beautiful fabrics for much less than Chinese made knickers with elastic that falls down after half a dozen washes.

Petrol (and diesel for farm equipment) isn't included (though I think it should be), and living rurally we use a bit of it. But we car pool a lot, and the move towards carbon pricing world wide is already bringing the very fuel efficient cars into the mainstream. It's the same story as the fridge. The E-Day electric car (Australian designed, Chinese made - hopefully well) will come on the market next year for $10,000 brand new.

And of course, my own focus is on food that is fresh, very local, in season and unprocessed. There's no carbon tax in anything that comes out of the garden, or that is cooked on my slow combustion stove or wood-burning hibachi. There's a little in the gas for the gas stove we use in summer, but the pressure cooker cuts cooking times right back. There will be a little bit of carbon price embedded in the refrigeration of the kangaroo meat I buy, and the same for dairy products. There will be a little embedded in the electricity for milling the flour and oats I buy to make sourdough, and in things like olive oil. But very little. The main embedded carbon price is in food processing - things like cake mixes and meal bases and breakfast flakes - and the carbon price is again the least of the worries with them. (I pay practically no GST either on food - fresh food is exempt and I buy so little processed food, I almost feel like I should pay supplementary tax).

And I guess it stands to reason. The point of the carbon tax is not to raise money but to change the market, so that those who want to buy stuff with lots of embedded carbon have to pay the real price for it, rather than have the rest of us subsidise them. Fresh, local, unprocessed, handmade, quality made, recycled, cared for, efficient, elegant, crafted, designed, beautiful doesn't have a whole lot of embedded carbon in the first place. That's what I'm going to spend my windfall on!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Down to the Real Essentials

By Linda from The Witches Kitchen

Tuvalu has just a few days supply of fresh water left. They are rationing water below the UN refugee rate, Australia and New Zealand are flying in rehydration packs on Hercules aircraft, every non-essential use of water is shut down. And still, they are just days away from running out of water.

It really brings it home what's important. Cimate change hasn't caused this. It has just made it much more likely. But probability theory is the kind of maths that made most people avoid maths at school.

Tuvalu's water crisis is the result of super big tides and a drought both happening at the same time. The system failed and then the backup failed. Is it rising sea levels? The problem is that the sea doesn't stay still and let you measure it. It goes up and down twice a day, more or less depending on where the earth is in its orbit around the sun, where the moon is in its orbit around the earth, where the sea currents are flowing, where the pressure gradients in the atmosphere are moving, in a pattern so complex and intricate that it's like a million piece symphony orchestra playing Mozart. And climate change has altered the pattern to make the peaks higher and more frequent. That's the abstract. The concrete is that Tuvalu's underground fresh water is all contaminated with king tide salt water. Can't drink it.

And at the same time, there's been a drought caused by an abnormally long La Nina. La Nina's happen naturally. Cimate change just makes them happen more. This time enough more to run a whole country out of water.

We have lived with tank and dam water for nearly 30 years. There were a couple of times in the mid-90's drought when we ran right out of water. But we could buy it in - get a tanker to deliver a thousand litres of chlorinated town water and pump it into our water tank. My garden collapsed, but we could buy food from the supermarket. We lost quite a few fruit trees, some 15 years old, but the kids could take little tins of fruit to school. We all bathed in the same 15 cm of bathwater, washed our underwear in the bath with us, used the bathwater to soak our clothes, and then ran it out onto the surviving fruit trees. We put bowls of the precious bought water down in the creek bed for the wildlife to drink.

 But what do you do if the water delivery needs a Hercules?

 Permaculture theory is to plan for disaster and build in layers of redundancy. So we've added tanks, tapped a spring, lined dams, built a water trailer with a pump for firefighting. We have a composting toilet and we filter the grey water from the shower to use for the bananas. And we have learned to be very, very frugal with water, to turn off the tap while brushing teeth, to mulch the garden heavily, to wash several loads of clothes in a tub of water, sequencing the washing from the clean whites down to the work socks. (Or at least I've learned - my partner has a deficient washing gene - but we shan't mention that publically shall we!)

And we live on a big island nation, one big enough to truck food around the country and keep an economy functioning in a drought. What do you do if your whole nation is out of water? And more importantly what do the rest of us do?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Simplifying Change

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Our local LETS group has been leading a Transtion movement across our region over the past couple of years. At a recent film night event, we had a a discussion forum including a panel of representatives from LETS, Transition FNQ and ASPO, as well as Permaculture Cairns, Food Lovers Club, Seed Savers Up North and BioN Water Synergetics. Representatives from our regional council and local media also attended. We had an Indigenous elder give a Welcome to Country speech on behalf of the Ngadjon-jii people, telling about his childhood in Malanda.

The discussion was focused on transitioning our region through climate change, Peak Oil, food security and financial instability. Resilience and relocalisation were deemed the ideal outcomes.

It doesn't seem to matter how many meetings and events we run, what sort of newsletters we publish or how much media attention we get... People seem to still need to be reminded as to HOW they can make changes.

Where we live, a possible pathway to these outcomes is working with our local council while they develop a community plan for the next 10 years. We can continue building community and making changes by sharing responsibility for the future of our region.

Some of the personal actions we can take to mitigate any effects of possible crises include:

  • supporting our community currency – Tableland LETS
  • growing your own food
  • buying local wherever possible
  • car pooling
  • ensure your house uses as little power as possible
  • talking to all your neighbours and friends about change

These actions will also save us money and create more secure communities. What other simple actions do you suggest, which people can take TODAY?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Being resilient is about being able to withstand a shock to the normal way of life.  Recently there has been a shock in the form of the Global Financial Crisis and the ongoing economic crisis, however I believe that these are tame compared to what is about to come in the next decade.

For me, two big issues come immediately to mind.  Climate Change and Peak Oil.
Me being a concerned citizen at a climate change rally
You have probably heard a lot about the concept of Climate Change, and we are already feeling the effects of extreme weather events all around the world.  Doesn't it seem strange that we are getting more and more '1 in 100 year events' closer together and they are becoming more like 1 in 10 year events?  Not strange, but normal according the climatologists.  Climate change means more extreme weather, not just getting a bit warmer. Of course the climate changes over time and has many times before in Earth's history, but not in a matter of decades as we are now seeing, we are talking hundreds of centuries for these events to occur naturally. You can't take millions of years of trapped sunshine in the form of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil and release it in to the biosphere in the space of fifty years or so without some repercussions.
Attempting to spread the word in our local newspaper about Peak Oil.
This leads me to the other big issue.  Peak Oil is a term that many might not be familiar with. Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. There was a time when Climate Change suffered the same lack of media coverage.

Peak Oil is not about “running out of oil” – we'll never run out of oil. There will always be oil left in the ground because either it's too hard to reach or it takes too much energy and cost to extract. Ponder on a fact that the economists conveniently gloss over – regardless of how much money you can make selling oil, once it takes an oil barrel's worth of energy and cost to extract a barrel of oil, the exploration, the drilling and the pumping will grind to a halt.

Peak Oil is about the end of cheap and plentiful oil, the recognition that the ever increasing volumes of oil being pumped into our economies will peak and then inexorably decline. It’s about understanding how our industrial way of life is absolutely dependent on this ever-increasing supply of cheap oil.  To learn more about Peak Oil please read a this previous post of mine titled "We Are Oil Junkies".

So why did I start out talking about local community resilience?  Well the two big issues have a lot to do about community resilience, because when these two effects start to bite hard, the outside inputs that supply our towns, cities and countries will begin to slow down, and we have to depend upon each and our local communities more and more just to get by.  This is why the Transition Town movement are going a long way to solving this problem of resilience.

Let me pose this question.  Do you know your neighbours, or at least 10 others in your community?  If you don't it might be a good idea to reach out to others where you live, because soon enough we are going to need each other more than over.

Local resilience begins when like minded people actually care and look out for each other.  People work better in communities, and have done so throughout all of history.  So join a local club to build that community spirit and start to talk about the two big issues that I have articulated in this post.  We have the power to change the way we do things, before the change gets forced upon us!

“Because the best protection isn't owning 30 guns; it's having 30 people who care about you. Since those 30 have other people who care about them, you actually have 300 people who are looking out for each other, including you. The second best protection isn't a big stash of stuff others want to steal; it's sharing what you have and owning little of value.”

- Charles Hugh Smith

How are you building resilience into you family and community?

Friday, 4 March 2011

Food Security

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

This is related to my recent post about an impending Food Crisis... Not a new topic by any means, but something that I feel is worth bringing to everyone's attention again right now.

The only two suggestions I offered to this global issue were to eat local (grow your own if you can) and eat less meat. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

Our local LETS group has been running a series of Simply Living Workshops, and last weekend we hosted an afternoon to share methods of growing food. With a group of around 30 people we created salad boxes, no-dig beds and raised beds. These are just three basic styles of food gardens which have been explained here on the Co-op blog as well as numerous other places on the web. All gardening methods can be learned online, through books and magazines, and from your neighbours, family, friends or community organisations. But it's one thing to learn about a garden, and start a garden... Right now is the time to follow through. And after that garden is started, tend it like crazy! I am reminded of a term I first read here in a post by Throwback at Trapper Creek, "Garden like you can't go to the store." Wow! That really hit home to me. Imagine having to eat only from my garden from tomorrow, for a long time! What was once a hobby is looking more and more like a necessity.

Image from technabob

In response to the many comments I received on the Food Crisis post, I'd like to summarise...
  • Identify local sources of food and support these producers now. Don't wait until crisis hits and you need them.
  • Eating less mass-produced meat is one way to make the available food go further. It generally takes more than 10 kilograms of grain to raise 1kg of meat for our consumption. Pasture-fed and wild meat of course have much less impact.
  • Grow nutrient-dense foods, not just what you like to eat. Sure, plant what you like to eat, but make room for foods which I call 'survival foods'. Depending on your location and circumstances these could include, but would not be limited to: sprouts (indoors), high-protein leafy greens, perennial tubers, high-yielding beans to dry and berries. Reconsider edible "weeds" and local wild foods. Get (at least) a couple of chickens, if you can.
  • Stockpile basic food, but don't rely on a stockpile alone. And please invest in stockpiling basic grains/flour, oil, dried legumes etc before you stock up on snacks or any other luxuries. In the event of any emergency, it's pertinent to have non-electric ways to prepare these basic stockpiled ingredients... A manual grain mill, an alternative cooking method and appropriate pot, recipes, salt/herbs/spices, etc.
This is the way we live our lives, except for gardening like there is no store. And that's my mission for this season. We've been tackling a huge To Do List out in the garden after our recent cyclones and torrential rain, and we're looking forward to expanding upon our ever-faithful perennial plants over the coming weeks. For me, this is no longer about saving a few dollars, learning a new skill, getting some mental-health time or exercise...

Are you feeling like it's time for action? What Simple, Green or Frugal changes seem more urgent to you in this current situation? Is this reflected in your local community too?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Reducing Food Waste

by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin

Recently, I read that over 30% of all household garbage is food waste; peel, plate scraps, rotten food, tea bags, etc.  Now this figure does not include food waste from Supermarkets, agriculture and the food industry in general.  In landfill these organic scraps become buried under tonnes of other waste and earth in an oxygen deprived environment.  As they breakdown they produce methane which is 25 time more potent than CO2 as a Green House Gas.  Not to mention the pure arrogance of being able to throw away food when over a billion people across the world don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  It makes me feel sick and sad.

So if this issue is so big, what are some of the solutions?  Well a few that I can thing of that can help you to divert food waste from landfill are really common sense and easy to implement   The most obvious is to reduce food waste at the start of the cycle.  By this, I mean when you go grocery shopping.  Here are a few tips;

  • Take a list.  By using a list you will most probably only buy the food items you really need, and in compiling the list you would have checked upon your existing stores at home and just be topping up.
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach.  From personal experience, you buy more food when you are hungry, and usually it is food that you just don’t need.  It is like impulse buying that kicks in due to hunger pains.
  • Grow your own food.  Plant a vegetable garden and reap the rewards, financially, physically and mentally.  It has been proven that people that grow their own waste very little of their own produce.  Maybe it is pride, or the thought of all that effort you took from seed to table.
So by limiting food waste at the beginning of the cycle reduces waste overall. 
During the storage phase, there are other solutions to minimise waste.  Here are some thoughts that might help
  • Menu planning.  Planning each meal may sound a bit anal, but it helps you to utilise the food you have at hand.  Each item in your fridge (where most food spoils) will be accounted for and will usually be used before going furry.
  • Use the crisper.  Your fridge has different compartment for different types of food.  The crisper is the best place for fruit and vegetables and usually last at least two weeks longer than in other parts of the fridge.
  • Use stuff on hand.  Before you go opening another jar of jam, check to see if you have one already open in the fridge.  No use breaking the seal to find that you still have one that is three quarters full.

Finally, what to do with leftovers?  Leftovers are one of my favourite meals.  They can be put into containers and frozen for lunches during the week.  They can be used in other meals.  Cooked too many vegetables?  Try making a bubble and squeak.  Too much Christmas Ham?  Make a pea and ham soup, or freeze chunks of it for use in a few months time when you crave some hammy goodness.  Cooked too much soup?  Well freeze it so you can enjoy it later.  There are so many things you can do with leftover food. 

If worst comes to worst, at least your pets can enjoy a good feed, or maybe even the chickens can have a nosh up if you keep them.  Nothing goes to waste around here at my house.  If the dog won’t eat it, the chooks, or worms or compost bins probably will.  The only organic things we throw into the landfill bin are small bones, but only after we have used them to make a stock!

In summary, using some of these methods will help you to reduce your organic waste, and save you a few dollars in the process.  Waste not, want not! 

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Beyond Earth Hour in the Office

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

As many westerners work in office blocks and high rises and Earth Hour 2011 is fast approaching us, many companies now turn off their lights in high-rise office building in cities all around the world as a show of their environmental credibility. Great work, but something is usually missing, and simply turning the lights off for one hour a year is not good enough.  This year we need to go beyond Earth Hour and make the good deeds we perform on this event something much more sustainable. 

Which leads me to the subject of today's post.  Office Vampires, in the form of millions of personal computers (PCs) are left on, sucking the grid dry during the long dark nights and are a massive contributor to the carbon emissions of many large companies. These emissions can be avoided by enforcing energy policies and behavioural changes, but only if workers are informed of the consequences of their inaction. When examined individually, PCs may not appear to be the biggest energy hog in the office, but when you consider the sheer volume of PCs in the world, the energy and greenhouse gas implications are enormous.

Picture this: A green minded gent (yours truly) arrives at work at 0700 Monday morning and curiously thinks, “I wonder how many PCs were left turned on over the weekend?”. The curious green minded gent then proceeds to do a basic energy audit and discovers 64 out of a possible 75 PCs still turned on with their monitors in standby mode with no one on the floor but himself! What a surprise to the green gent, who actually thought that his work colleagues cared about the planet they lived on.

So to do the sums, the green gent needed to make a few assumptions. If most people leave work at 5pm Friday and return at 8am Monday, that would be 63 hours that the PCs were sucking power without any worker using them. If the average power usage of each PC including monitor, with decent power management enabled was about 54 watt-hours, multiplied by 64 PCs, then multiplied by 63 hours of idleness. That is a whopping 217.7 kWh of electricity wasted over the weekend which is more than the green gent uses at home in an entire month! In the state of Victoria, Australia, that is the equivalent to 265 kg of CO2-e. 

So assuming that every floor in the building have basically the same layout, that the workers have the same lax behaviours, and the building had 50 floors, that would be 10,885 kWh of electricity or 13.2 tonnes of CO2-e released into the atmosphere each weekend. With 52 weekends in a year, the waste would amount to 556,020 kWh of electricity or 690 tonnes of CO2-e each year! The impact is amplified in this country due to our dirty coal based energy supply.  Assuming that the cost per kilowatt hour is 19 cents, that works out to be a grand total of $105,644 of lost profit.  You simply cannot ignore losses like that!

That is just one large building in one city out of many millions of buildings world wide. The mind boggles at the incredible savings in money and greenhouse gas pollution that could be made simply and easily, by each worker turning their PC off before they go home at night. 

Now you could add all the micorwave ovens left on for the clock in all the kitchens on all the floors, and the electronic air freshener sprays with in each toilet, the phone chargers left plugged in, not to mention all the lights left on, the rapid boil hot water systems, and the air conditioning keeping the building cool for cockroaches.  Maybe every floor of every building needs a big green switch to shut down everything that doesn't need to be left on on a timer.  Now that would be very energy efficient.

According to Gartner, every year the information and telecom technology industry generates 2% of the world’s carbon emissions - the same as a year’s worth of air traffic. Moreover, PCs and monitors account for 39% of these emissions, equivalent to the emissions of approximately 46 million cars.

So next time you put your jacket on to leave for home, take a minute of your time to turn off your PC and again at the wall switch. You will be making a massive contribution to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This simple gesture will be noticed by others, who then in turn will follow your lead, and before you know it the dreaded Vampires will be no longer live in your office, ne'er a garlic bulb in sight!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Power and Importance of Our Lives

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

There is a rift in the sustainable and simple living movement. There are those who believe the most important thing we can do is change the way we live our lives at home. Because it makes our families healthier, our budgets easier, and our lives happier. And then there are those who believe that each of those little changes in our lives do not matter, because the danger of climate change and peak oil and poverty and greed are so huge, that if we don't change things on a massive scale, we won't make it as a people.

I used to believe the latter. I used to believe that while it was important to me to eat healthier and support local farmers, what was important for humanity and the planet were only the big, political - and societal - changes. So I worked for many, many years to learn how to change the world on a massive scale.

But you know what? In a way, I ended back where I started.

I tried art, design, narrative film, and documentary film. I searched for how to tell people the world need saving. And after 20 years, I realized that telling is important, sure. But the real thing that incites change in the world is doing. Doing publicly, sure, but doing - it is the action that makes the difference.

Nobody wants to be told what to do, or what to think. But everyone loves to watch successes happen. Everyone loves to watch people become healthier and happier. Everyone wants to believe that they can live better on less.

Our individual and family changes are powerful. The stories we tell about them are also powerful. And together, our doing and our telling about it is one of the best tools we can use to incite real, solid, movement-based change in the world!

Just in the last 2 years since I began blogging about my own personal changes, I have seen the number of simple, green, and sustainable living blogs increase exponentially - have you? It's amazing, isn't it?

At the same time, I've seen more businesses cater to local and green living. I've seen more organizations working to rebuild greenbelts and replant forests. The amount of socially and environmentally responsible investments has grown considerably. It is now ok to talk about shopping in thrift stores and recycling everything imaginable, and not using plastic, and turning down the heat, and so on and so on. The gardens, oh the gardens - how many more people are planting vegetable gardens!

Societal Change Is Happening. Because we individually are changing our lifestyles, and we are telling others and showing others about it. People see our passion, our health improvements, our enjoyment in going back to the basics. And that passion is catching!

Now this does not give us an excuse not to vote, not to join community efforts to create change. These things are necessary, too - and we should all take part in the stake of our community, national, and planetary laws and goals. But what we do every day at home is equally important. As we learn and grow and redefine how we live our lives at home, we are spreading a movement of change in how the world defines normal.

So don't stop, and don't let yourself get down when it's tougher. Keep moving forward, and changing the world - one day at a time.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Keeping Keen and Green

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Someone asked me the other day how I keep motivated about being green, or in other words, how and why do I keep striving towards a sustainable lifestyle.  I couldn't really answer them without going into why I started living like this in the first place and what the benefits of the lifestyle was.  I sounded like a walking advertisement for Mother Earth or Grass Roots magazines.  I don't think they were bored, just surprised that it took so long for me to finish the answer.  It is hard to list the reasons why I keep keen about sustainable living into a short conversation!

This got me thinking long and hard about how to describe it better to a wider audience.  Long time readers of this blog would know about my green epiphany and how that one day back in October 2006 changed my life forever.  When I think about it, I could have walked out of the cinema and not given the message in the movie a second thought, but I didn't.  But why?  Anyone who has been to a motivational speech would know that listening and being pumped up at the end of the talk is one thing, and taking the first step towards action is another entirely.  As soon as you walk through the auditorium door, you usually fail to act because reality is waiting for you on the other side of it, and most of the time you are rarely given the next piece of the puzzle. That missing piece of the puzzle is what usually stops people dead in their tracks because of the fear of change, or not knowing where to begin.

So, how did I take that next step?  Well, the very same day as my epiphany, I began to seek knowledge.  It was like a thirst that I could not quench.  That is, I felt compelled to find out what simple steps I could take to lower my carbon emissions and in turn, and without realising it, lowering my consumption of resources which I now know is what sustainable living is all about.  So I went headlong into a journey that will probably never end, with a burning fire in my belly, determined to change my behaviours and, again without realising it, influencing those around me by my green actions.  It could have been the guilt for sins past that I felt, but I think it was more.  It was the feeling of wanting to make a difference, no matter what the cost that drove me.

I found that it took continuous baby steps, or mini projects if you like, to stay focused on lowering my carbon/environmental footprint, and it is a method I still use to this day.  Once a project is complete, (I only do one at a time which must be a man thing) and I have learnt the basic skill, I maintain that now embedded behaviour and start looking for the next challenge or project.

All of the above doesn't mean that I am a perfectionist or have found the holy grail of "greenness".  Far from it.  After three and a bit years, I still have an office job, I still commute each day, and I know that I will not be about to grow enough food, generate enough electricity or harvest enough rainwater to be self sufficient.  Self sufficiency is difficult to do alone.  Just look back a few hundred years to see that even a small village had people with many skills living in it, who all helped each other out to survive.  Self sufficiency is more for your Survivalist types (there is nothing wrong with being a Survivalist).  I am convinced that a strong, well skilled and resilient local community is the key to surviving future events, like climate change and peak oil.  A community who can and do grow some or all of their own food will be able to trade amongst each other for a fair price or exchange of labour, and able to survive better than being in isolated out in the sticks.  They will also be able to trade surplus to other towns and communities and suburbs.  Look I know it sounds a bit medieval, but I am afraid that the reality is, that without cheap sources of energy, it will be difficult to maintain the suburban lifestyle that many of us lead, without major changes.  However, I digress and sorry for the rant.

Other things that keep me focused are events like this unwarranted personal attack, whereby people challenge my beliefs in a very nasty and anonymous way.  Narrow and shallow minded people, hell bent on growth at all costs, and not being able to see the bigger picture like you enlightened readers.  This makes me even more determined to prove that it is easy to lead a sustainable lifestyle and in the process, increasing my overall happiness, which is exactly what I have found to happen.

However, the ultimate motivator is the thought that the steps I take will hopefully ensure that we have a habitable planet for my four children, the oldest being 22 and the youngest being 10, and for unborn generations to follow.  As global emissions targets are debated at Copenhagen, it recently struck me that the two important years that keep getting discussed are 2020 and 2050.  In 2020 I will be 55, and in 2050, 85 years old (if I make it to that ripe old age).  If we don't act now to combat the impending climate chaos, I will most probably live to see the tipping points.  I know that my children will definitely see either further deterioration of climate stability, or with my motivation, help and guidance, be integral in being part of the solution for change and its ultimate success.  This is what motivates me on a daily basis.

So, with all of those ways to keep green, keen, and focused on the road ahead, I don't think that my journey will ever end any-time soon.  It's not like I am going to get bored or anything like that!  One thing I have learnt so far on my green travels is that you must take time to saviour the little things along the way.  What I mean by this is simple pleasures like eating your first home-grown tomato that actually taste like the tomatoes you remember when you where a child and to watch your own children enjoy them as you do.  The very first omelette made with eggs from your well cared for chickens.  The joy of a full rainwater tank after a long dry spell, and actually looking forward to energy and water bills because you know that they will be as low as the belly of a tiger snake!

I find that keeping my lifestyle green and keen is easy if you take time to plan every now and then, and by visualising your personal goals foremost in you mind.  Enjoy the journey, as you travel towards your destination, because it is all about the journey, and when you don't think you are doing enough, just pause and reflect upon the path travelled so far.  You will probably find that you have come a very, very long way in a relatively short period of time.  Give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate the journey once in a while.

Go ahead.  You deserve it!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Green Transportation

written by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin.

I don't know if this subject has ever been covered at the Co-op, so I thought that I would list a few methods that I know to help you get around in the greenest way possible in order of lowest to highest emissions produced;

1.  Walking or Aka Shanks' Pony - The most obvious method of green transport but probably the least used in western society.  I say this purely based on observations of my surroundings, because I see so few people walk in the suburbs (more on that later).  I have even seen people who live only 500 metres from the corner shop get in their car and drive there and back.  I could leave home on foot and still beat them there!  This oddity of human nature to take the easy way out is a contributing factor to the increase in medically diagnosed obesity rates.  Certainly another reason to get out there and walk, not only for exercise and to live longer, but to lower your greenhouse gas emissions.  I have read somewhere that we should all walk at least 10,000 steps a day to remain healthy in body and mind, and as it is the greenest form of transport known to mankind, I am all for walking to get from A to B.  Sure, there are GHG emissions created when we add fuel in the form of food and water into our bodies, however this is a lot lower than all other transportation methods.  So if your journey is only a few kilometres, then consider walking to your destination.  Not much fossil fuel burnt in the process and it is very cheap as well.

2.  Cycling - It has been said that the bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transportation ever invented by our species.  You can travel further by bike than you can by walking using the same amount of energy.  Not only that, you can carry heavier loads than when walking.  If you need to transport more items than you could normally carry in a backpack, then I suggest fitting saddle bags on your bike, which help balance the load.  For even bigger items, you can fit a small trailer to tow behind your bike.  It is quite amazing what you can add to your bike these days.  The embedded energy that your bike contains is quite low considering that the average bicycle will probably last a few decades with a bit of tender loving care.  Easier to fix than a car, and much cheaper to run as well.  So for that quick trip to the farmers market, consider taking your bike.  Some cities even let you take your bike on public transport so you ride to the station and then on to your destination at the other end of your journey!  A few cities even have a bicycle sharing scheme.  I believe the one in Paris is very popular.

3.  Animals - Now I realise that this is a bit out there and not everyone has room for a horse, camel, oxen or donkey, but look at it this way.  No embodied energy concerns, they are a very personal means of transport, mostly friendly, and you only have to feed it and have enough land to house the beast.  It has been a long time since I rode a horse, but I do remember that it was a lot of fun.  Who knows what may happen in the future as the age of cheap oil comes to a close.  We may have to rethink how we get around.  I can see one of the benefit for avid gardeners in the form of lots of manure!  The only drawback is the current use of fossil fuels in growing sufficient amounts of feed stock for the transport animals and therefore GHG emissions are produced.

4.  Public Transportation - If your town or city has an accessible and reliable public transport system, then consider this option next time you need to travel further than you would normally on a bike.  Not only is it much cheaper than the average running costs of maintaining a car i.e. fuel, insurance, registration, drivers license etc., it is better for the environment due to the lower emissions per passenger-kilometre.  The following graph is presented from the Public Transport Users Association (2008) and includes emissions from public transport in Victoria, where I live.

Transport mode
Energy use
(MJ per
(g CO2-e per
Petrol Car
Ethanol (E10) Car
Electric Tram
Diesel Bus
Ethanol (E10) Bus
Natural Gas Bus
Electric Train
Diesel Train (V/Line
250cc Motorcycle
1000cc Motorcycle

(It is assumed that the factors identified for Victoria will be similar to that of other states.  This is because the electricity factor for trains and trams in Victoria, Australia is similar to that of most other states and fuel use from buses should not vary much at all.)

So, a very good comparison regarding emissions from different types of public transportation mode and much greener than your average car and motorbike. Trams, Buses and Trains win hands down for green modes of transport per passenger-kilometre.  The more people you can pack into a vehicle and the more fuel efficient it is, the lower the MJ per passenger-kilometre.  It makes sense really!

5.  The motor car - If you must drive, and most of us do, think about the way you drive.  Fast acceleration burns more fuel, as does travelling above 100 km/h (60mph).  I remember reading that the main reason that the speed limit was dropped to 55mph in the US during the 1970's was to save fuel during the oil embargo.  For more ways to save fuel and therefore GHG emissions have a look at this previous Co-op post titled "Hybrid miles from the car you already own".  If you are in the market for a new car, take into consideration the fuel economy of each vehicle.  The less fuel you use, the less emissions (and smog) you are pushing out the exhaust pipe.  Hybrid and Electric cars are hitting the market with increased regularity.

6.  Air travel.  Well, suffice to say, one short haul trip can wipe out all of your emission reduction savings for an entire year.  Even though aviation is a relatively small industry, it has a disproportionately large carbon footprint.  It is estimated that it presently accounts for 4-9% of total global CO2-e man made emissions.  Compared to other modes of transport, such as driving or taking the train, travelling by air has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre, even over longer distances.  So, I choose not to fly at all.  I do not condone air travel completely, but if you do need to travel by this method, consider offsetting your carbon emission for your flight with a reputable carbon offset provider.

In conclusion, throughout the western world, many parts of our newer cities are designed specifically for the motor car, without taking into consideration other forms of greener modes of transport.  Take the suburbs for instance.  A good many suburbs lack easily accessible public transportation systems with many light rail systems being ripped at the start of the 20th century, to make way for the car.  You are now forced by design to travel any distance by car, which again will not bode well with the age of cheap oil well and truly over.  To really reduce emissions in our transportation, either public transport will have to be retrofitted, or the suburbs will need a makeover, big time.  Air travel will also have to become cleaner and produce less emissions if we are to continue to travel long distances quickly.  Things will need to change sooner rather than later, if we are to reduce global emissions with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change.  Read about what I think may happen if we do act in time at my post titled "Path towards Zero Carbon"

So, do yourself, your children, grandchildren and future generations to come a favour by choosing your method of getting around this big blue marble in a more environmentally friendly way.  Please.