Friday 29 April 2011

10 things I've learned

I can’t believe it. The no-impact month is officially over, as of a couple of days ago. Of course, it’s just another beginning, not just because I'm not yet living with zero impact, but because I want to make this an ongoing project. For now, though, here are 10 things I’ve learned so far...

1. You can start wherever you are. No matter how big or small your carbon footprint, you can start, right now, reducing your impact on the environment, and that’s kinda empowering. My favourite quote of the month is: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, we are all crew” (Marshall McLuhan).

2. It can be hard. Going completely “no impact” is a tall order. I didn’t realise how challenging it would be, mostly in terms of there being a lot to learn, before you make the right choices. Quite a few times I felt overwhelmed by information and possibilities. But at least there are possibilities, right? That’s a good thing.

3. It's fun. Yes, it is. There’s a perception that going “green” means wearing hair-shirts and never washing your hair, or at least not enjoying life in all its glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, there are inconvenient truths – we've watched Food IncThe End of the LineHomeThe Cove and Sharkwater – but I’ve found all these docos motivating rather than despairing; most end with the conviction that human beings are clever, creative creatures (on our good days) more than capable of solving the problems around us.

4. It takes commitment. This waxes and wanes like the moon. Some things are easier than others. Writing it all down kept me going, if only because it reminded me that it’s about the process, not the end-point. Having Craig as my eco-partner also helped. It’s definitely more do-able if you have company.
5. Everything’s connected. And we’re part of the natural world. Sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but it’s easy to forget. As Cam Walker at Friends of the Earth once told me: “We’re embedded in the ecological system every time we breathe, every time we drink water or turn on a light switch. Everything you do has impact, but that also means that you have a relationship with the ecological systems of the planet. Once you realise that, it broadens your sense of self and your sense of human community and beyond that it places the human community within the natural community.”

6. It makes you pay attention. Trying to live with less impact is an exercise in living mindfully. The more we notice what we’re doing, and attend to the seemingly inconsequential acts that make up every day, the more we're able to do what needs to be done, instead of just buying, switching on, tuning out unconsciously, out of habit.

7. Electricity-free nights rock! Having one “unplugged” candlelit night a week was one of the highlights of the whole project. It was mid-week time-out. Like camping, with home comforts. And I’m getting better at Scrabble…

8. We live in energy-hungry times. I’m not advocating going back to washing clothes by throwing them against rocks in a stream, or using two tin cans joined by string to "phone" your friends, but we do use more energy now than our parents did. That’s a call to action in itself.

9. People are supportive. I didn’t expect this but whenever we mentioned that we were going low-impact or trying to reduce packaging or something else that went against the grain, people were curious and interested. That inspired me to keep going.

10. Colin Beavan is a legend. I admire him now more than ever after this month – not only did he go extreme (no public transport, no electricity, no flying, no tv, and he solar-powered his laptop), he did it with a small child, in New York, for a year. Many times throughout the project I thought: what would Colin do? And it would inspire me to dig deeper and try harder to relinquish comfort or convenience for the sake of the no-impact mission. If you haven't seen it yet, watch the No Impact Man DVD, get it screened at your local cinema, buy the book and do whatever you can do live no-impact.

Lastly, there’s no going back. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the (non-recyclable plastic) tube. Making changes, big or small, changes you. So it’s onward from here. Now to write next month’s to-do list.

Have the ripples spread to your pond? Any no-impact experiences to share? Let's all inspire each other. 

Saturday 23 April 2011

Camping close to home

This week’s electricity-free night (which we now call EFN in the hope of making it a permanent thing, beyond this no-impact month), we decided to do more than stay home and play Scrabble by candlelight. And because it was the start of the Easter break, we decided to do a low-impact camping trip. 

I'm lucky to live in a part of Sydney that is super-natural, so to speak. It’s a five-minute walk to Fairlight Beach, where you can swim or snorkel for much of the year; it's less than five minutes by bike to Manly – yesterday morning, in fact, we rode down, parked the bikes and swam to Shelly Beach (about 1km); lots of fish (a blue grouper even nibbled Craig's toe) and the water's still 23 degrees (that's Celsius, in late autumn!). I can also walk out my door and be in Sydney Harbour National Park within 30 minutes, where there are tiny beaches you can have all to yourself on weekday mornings, and some holiday weekends too...  

So, yesterday afternoon, Craig and I packed our backpacks with dinner supplies (organic pasta and vegetarian sausages, home-made pesto from the neighbour’s basil plantation, organic cranberries, chocolate), sleeping bags and mats, and some of the beeswax tealights we’d made last weekend, as well as a wind-up torch (our head-torches were off-limits because they need electricity to recharge the batteries) and Craig’s solar-light hat (it charged itself as we walked!).

We set off from the house after lunch and were at our favourite beach by 3.30pm. It was a still, warm evening. We boiled up some water (on my Trangia camping stove, which runs on methylated spirits, a relatively eco-friendly, ethanol-based fuel made by fermenting plants such as sugar cane) and we had tea and chocolate on a flat rock by the water, watching yachts motoring to neighbouring bays for the night, the lights coming on in Manly, the evening sun-show (with apologies to Joni Mitchell's  "sun-show every second” in Chelsea Morning). 

Then we, well Craig, made dinner under a rock overhang; our candles flickered on the sandstone walls beside and above us. It’s one of the loveliest meals I’ve ever had.

It was still light enough to see when we made "camp" (minus a tent) on the sand, as the stars came out and the tide crept in, and in. Lightning lit up the clouds in explosive bursts. Mozzies buzzed. After playing word games from the cosiness of our sleeping bags, we realised we'd soon be underwater if we stayed there, so we relocated to a higher part of the beach. Then the moon came up, bright as a light. 

I didn't actually sleep much  what with the moon-light, the mozzies, the rustling sounds in the grass near our heads (water dragons on the prowl?). But it felt like a little adventure. Especially when the rain started  so softly at first we thought it might stay away...until the heavens opened. There was nothing for it but to stuff everything in our packs - "fast!" as Bear Grylls might say - and head for home.

That was the second-best bit of our "camping expedition": walking along bush paths in the pre-dawn darkness and the pouring rain, soaked to the skin (I'd brought a raincoat and we had pack-covers but the rain trickled in everywhere), no one else around. A creek under a footbridge we crossed had already become a noisy waterfall. Just after 6am, we got back to the house, warmed up with tea, then fell into bed and a deep sleep. When I woke up almost three hours later, I wondered if it had all been a dream. But we've got the pictures, and the mozzie bites, to prove otherwise...

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Tea with Keelah

The other day I had afternoon tea with a very inspirational, yet humble person: Manly-based environmentalist Keelah Lam. Known as a pioneer of sustainable living, she’s been rocking the consumerism boat for almost 20 years now, and isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

As luck would have it, Keelah lives just down the street from me, so I strolled over to her house for a chat. Before we could sit down at her kitchen table, however, I asked her to show me around her rambling property...

There’s a bathtub in the front yard (not for bathing but for frogs and fish) and the seemingly bottomless back yard is a cornucopia of fruit trees (Tahitian lime, guava, nectarine, lemon, papaya), veggie patches, a chicken coop (with three resident hens), a compost heap, a reed-bed greywater filtration set-up, a homestead-sized 22,000-litre rainwater tank, a "banana circle" (young banana plants growing according to permaculture principles, one of Keelah's interests). 

There are solar panels on the roof that, in summer, allow Keelah and her husband to export more electricity than they import (from the national grid). Inside the house they have two waterless composting toilets. They don't own a car. And she’s passionate about “zero waste”. 

When she’s not at home, incidentally, Keelah is a community representative on three Manly Council committees – Waste, Environment and Sustainability, and Climate Change – campaigns for the Greens in Manly and Warringah electorates, and is a founding member of Manly Food Co-op. She even won Manly Environment Centre’s Eco Award in 2008.

What happened to start you thinking of living with less environmental impact?
1993 was a turning point: I went to an Earthworks course on “waste minimisation” (as it was called) and it just triggered this innate feeling about what we’re doing to the planet.

Why is it important to live more sustainably in our cities?
Well, a lot of people want to leave the city and live an idyllic life in the country [for a sea-change or tree-change] but do we really want to damage more environments with our McMansions out there? If we do get good public transport and start to adapt our homes, and live lifestyles that are more sustainable, it’s going to be better living in cities than in country areas. There are facilities we need here like hospitals and theatres, and economies of scale: food distribution and energy use can be more sustainable in cities than on a one-off basis.

Since you started on this path almost 20 years ago, how have people’s attitudes changed?
When we started the Food Co-op in 1997, there was awareness that we were in a waste crisis. Over the years, interest in waste has waned. Now it’s more about me, me, me – it’s all about ‘my’ health – and there's less thinking about the health of the planet. People have become confused about the difference between a want and a need. And words have changed their meanings. ‘Home economics’ used to mean not wasting anything, conserving our resources. Now, ‘economics’ means ‘get rich quick’, and ‘waste’ means whatever you don’t want. It’s consumerism gone mad. But there is an awakening, change is happening. Not fast enough, but it is happening.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
I’m an optimist, otherwise I wouldn’t still be doing what I do. I don’t think it’s too late. There are things that won’t be reversed, but things won’t be as bad if we put a halt to further damage. I see the future being about people and communities working together, and sharing.

What are the most important things people can do, to live more sustainably?
There are so many tips about what you can do – just pick five things you think are important. And take them on, one at a time. Then move onto the next thing. The little things add up, and they are often the cheapest things to do too.

I was into high-jumping as a kid and I remember that feeling of doing a jump then moving the peg up and trying a higher jump; it was a fabulous feeling. It’s not a competition; you’re competing against yourself if anything, just to see what you can achieve. It’s a game, finding new things you can do to live more efficiently.

It’s important to think about where things come from, and where they go. Whenever you buy something, just stop and think: how was it made, what was it made from, where will it go when I’m finished with it? Whether it’s food, water, an electrical appliance, even a backpack. And if it is something that will end up in the landfill, what can I do to extend its life and postpone it going to landfill? If the zip breaks, can I sew on some Velcro so I can still use it?

Lobbying is also important – not just the government, and organisations, but friends. I get into trouble with my family for being so outspoken but I’ve noticed people have changed because of things I’ve said. People think I’m radical, but it’s extreme to not think about what’s happening.

I'm reading Gandhi's biography at the moment and I've been thinking about two things he said: "If you see something is wrong, you must speak out” and "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.

Last words?
Living more sustainably can be fun, people forget that. I have more fun figuring out how to live more efficiently and sustainably than rushing around in my car. And there are simple pleasures. Growing up in the 1940s, we used to have a lot of blackouts and one of my greatest joys was, and still is, having a shower in the dark.

Monday 18 April 2011

I can make candles

A short one tonight, because of deadlines and assorted other commitments today, but I couldn’t let Monday slide by without mentioning that, on the weekend, we made beeswax candles. I'm sorry, a teensy bit of pride crept in there because, well, I’ve always wanted to make candles.

And all it took was a rainy Saturday afternoon, a candle-making kit from QueenB (containing blocks of wax, wicks and 50 little tin cups, theoretically reusable because beeswax burns away clean, total cost $49.95), a Corningware jug from Vinnies ($6) and a candy thermometer from a kitchenwares shop (the first new thing we’ve bought this month), for about $10. Then it was as easy as 1, 2, 3…

1. Melt wax in jug (wax has to be between 70 and 75°C)

2. Pour wax (now clear) into little tin cups

3. Insert wicks when wax starts to go cloudy

Now we have 50 beeswax tealights, each of which will burn for 4 hours. 
That's a lot of candles...

Sure, they’re not as cheap as the 30-for-$3 petrochemical-based paraffin tealights you can pick up at the local bargain shop. But in terms of air quality, you might as well set fire to a piece of plastic, that's how harmful they are to the atmosphere and to you. Not these honey-coloured candles; they're sustainable (thanks, bees), natural ionisers (they purify the air) and carbon-neutral. My inner hippie is happy now. 

Have you ever made candles? How did it go? 

Friday 15 April 2011

Candle power

Last night we went electricity-free again – it’s becoming a weekly habit, and I like it. No electricity, just to recap, doesn’t just mean no lights and no tv but no laptops, no phone calls (our cordless phone base station feeds on electricity), no mobile phones, no appliances like toasters. When we decided to have toast with our organic omelettes last night, we made French toast in the frypan (we're using gas for cooking, so it’s not a wholly emissions-free night). We could have used the gas stove to boil water for a cuppa (no kettle) but that seemed excessive and we forgot to fill the thermos with hot water earlier in the day, so we went without.

But it didn't feel like deprivation; it felt like quiet-time, together-time. Without lights, we stepped outside to notice the moon, creeping into fullness.

I folded the laundry by the glow of a tall beeswax candle, then lay down on the floor to relax after a long day at my desk. Without the incessant pull of a tv program or the over-stimulation of ads or the endless possibilities of calling or skyping a friend, blogging, finishing some work, looking at photos on my laptop, or any of the other million-and-one things that lure me away from the here and the now, my nervous system relaxed with relief.

I showered by candlelight and, I’m almost embarrassed to say it (but I will anyway), I was in my PJs before 7pm. It felt deliciously cosy. Craig cooked up some mussels and I made the omelette and we ate at our little table by the window, looking out on other people’s lights (thank you to them for the spectacle). Then we played scrabble by candlelight again.

Darkness slows you down; you have to be tidy – the last thing you want when you’re walking from room to room with a candle (like some 18th century heroine investigating a noise in another part of the castle she inhabits with a strange, dark and handsome man) is an obstacle like a wet towel or a pile of discarded clothes.

It also reminds you that electricity is a privilege for many in the world – about 1.4 billion people, 20 per cent of the world’s population, live without electricity, full-time.

But it’s not just for a warm glow that I’m doing this. Electricity is one of the main ways we contribute daily to climate change, especially in Australia.

In a single year, from September 2009 to September 2010, Australia generated an estimated 547 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide, up 1.2% on the previous year. Almost half of that, 201 Mt, came from electricity – that’s coal-fired power stations to you and me. (Source: Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency’s National Greenhouse Accounts.)

The Greens have a plan to close down the seven coal-fired power stations in NSW, and I just found out that my energy biller AGL, invested $2 billion in renewable energy over the last four years. But until we get all our electricity from sunlight and wind-power, the biggest single thing we, as individuals, can do to reduce our environmental impact is to use less of it.

A lot of people I know said they thought Earth Hour was a waste of time, that turning off the lights for an hour wouldn't change anything. They were wrong. What started in Sydney in 2007 with 2.2 million people and 2000 businesses turning off their lights for an hour has become a global movement: this year 5000 cities in 135 countries did the Earth Hour thing.

And the Beyond the Hour campaign is showing that a single, simple act like switching off a light sends ripples out in all directions as people all over the globe pledge to do more acts great and small, like not riding in elevators and not buying bottled water. Millions of tiny steps, one giant leap for humankind. Go Earth.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

The no-waste week, maybe

The deeper I get into this project, the bigger it seems. Just trying to read what others have done to live simpler, eco-friendly lives is a full-time job (or would be if I didn't already have a job). What's more, everything environmental overlaps and is interconnected. And is connected to other stuff: kindness, awareness, community-mindedness, economics...

So, while I'd intended this week to be about reducing waste, even going zero-waste,  in reality there are several issues going on concurrently and I’ve been thinking about packaging, rubbish and recycling for two and a half weeks already. One of the things I love about having a project like this, though, is that it makes you see things – the way you live, the things you do, the products you buy, where to shop, how to spend your time – through a different lens, which has the side-effect of making you pay attention to what you’re doing.

Last night, for example, it was my turn to cook and I found myself deciding between having noodles (in plastic packaging, bought before this experiment) and rice (no packaging because bought from food co-op but uses electricity for the rice cooker) – I chose rice because we’re focusing on waste this week. 

To get down to the nitty gritty, Suzuki’s Green Guide, by Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki and David Boyd, suggests a few ways to achieve zero waste:
  1. Reduce your consumption: buy fewer things and whenever you do buy something, make sure it has minimal packaging. Annie Leonard makes some thought-provoking observations in her animated videos on her website The Story of Stuff. Such as: 99 per cent of the stuff people buy in the US is trashed within six months, and every American citizen makes about 2kg of rubbish a day.
  2. Re-use stuff: like the glass jars I found in the cupboard and now fill with rice, oats and muesli at the food co-op or market. The cloth shopping bags – I’ve got one by Apple Green Duck that stays rolled up in my backpack ready for impromptu shopping excursions (not that I believe in having to buy stuff to save the planet, but it really is a good bag and holds a lot). The clear plastic wrap on my delivered weekend newspapers (before I cancelled my subscription) now keeps leftovers fresh in the fridge.
  3. Repairing stuff: The only thing I’ve repaired lately is a skirt that was losing a button.
  4. Recycling stuff: More on this below.
  5. Composting kitchen and garden waste: We have two compost bins in the kitchen – one for food scraps for our “pet” worms (in a worm farm in the backyard), one for food scraps the worms won’t like (onions, citrus peels, etc).  

Back to recycling. My local council, Manly, began a Zero Waste strategy in 2005, with the intention of having zero waste by 2015 so they have lots of measures in place. There's a regular e-waste collection for computers, televisions, etc - so they are recycled and their parts re-used. The council picks up old fridges. Plastic recycling is now more efficient than ever: apparently any plastic that holds its shape is recyclable (so the external packaging on a packet of Mint Slices are trash-bound, but the little trays inside are recyclable, joy). And recycling can be fun – have a look at this clip a friend sent me about recycling, flashmob-style

The not-so-good news is that a lot of things we think are being recycled are really being "downcycled": so plastic bottles get made into lower-grade plastic bottles and other things, again and again, until eventually the plastic is so low grade it can’t be made into anything else and must be thrown away. And then it keeps deteriorating until it breaks into bits that eventually find their way into the oceans to create such monstrosities as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch so small that marine animals and birds end up eating it

Last week in just two days, the two people in this household created a shopping bag full of recycled plastic, (organic) milk cartons and glass bottles. To be fair, we were cleaning out the cupboards (when I say we, I mean Craig) and getting the house ship-shape, but still, it's quite a lot. 

So this week, we're going to try to go zero waste (minus compost and recycling). And make positive impacts such as picking up rubbish wherever we go (without being flashmobbed, hopefully). Of course much of what we're using today will be thrown out months or years from now, but for now, let's see what we can do. I'll keep you posted (with this paperless postal service we call the internet)...

Monday 11 April 2011

Gum trees and poetry in sunny Melbourne

I'm back from a brief trip to Melbourne (yes, I know, see my "Not so No Impact" post) and feel quite refreshed. Melbournians are good at living no-impact. They ride bikes (there's even a bike share scheme, Melbourne Bike Share, started up in May 2010, a la many European cities) and catch trams - which, I know, run on electricity, but apparently one crowded tram takes 140 cars off the road (and not in the dramatic way that sounds, thankfully). 

At the hotel I stayed in and had an all-day meeting in, The Lyall, we were given jugs of iced water instead of bottled water - it's the little things...

That night, I caught a tram to a Melbourne Comedy Festival gig and probably exhaled a bit more carbon dioxide than usual by laughing at the stand-up comics. But made up for it on Saturday morning by having a lovely, sunny breakfast with my friend Kim at a riverside, gum-shaded cafe called Kanteen, which doesn’t overtly serve organic or free-range or fair-trade fare but the staff seemed kind and patient, the food was deliciously fresh and wholesome, and they do breakfast until 3pm. Yay. Plus it was my first outdoor dining experience in Melbourne that didn’t include a side-order of traffic sounds. 

The most environmentally friendly thing I did in Melbourne, however, was a poetry walk. This new venture, started in Sept 2010, gives you maps to lose your way and, as its home page says, "navigate only by memory and heartache, history and nostalgia, lyricism and rhyme". This is the idea: a group of performance poets each wrote a poem about a Melbourne landmark; then they recorded the poems, in a shipping container studio (recycling in action), and the Melbourne Poetry Map was born. You download maps and audio files onto your ipod or smartphone, then stroll non-pollutingly around the city listening to poets tell you, in their own voices, stories about the State Library lawn (Nathan Curnow), City Square (Eleanor Jackson), Chinatown (Josephine Rowe), Collected Works poetry bookshop (Maurice McNamara)...

Collected Works is a calmer, kinder Black Books, without a Bernard or a Manny but with all the same love of writing and humour and Joan Baez singing, through a dusty CD player, The House of the Rising Sun. It's a perfect poem in four, book-lined walls. Next door is every poet's dress-up box, a Lion, a Witch and a Wardrobe-like vintage clothing store (the largest in Australia in fact) called Retrostar with whole racks of flanno shirts, tables of hats, hangers of velvet jackets rubbing shoulders. Alas, I had a carbon-neutral Skybus to catch (to the airport, though I like how it makes me sound like a no-impact Jetson), but I vowed to return. Maybe by hot-air balloon next time...

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Not so No Impact

I’ve realised something: unless I feel slightly deprived, or aware of what I’m doing, I feel as if I’m not doing enough to live a “no impact” lifestyle. And, something else, there are a few ways, ok lots of ways, I’m not changing my high-impact ways. I still work at a laptop all day (laptops use less power than desktops though, I think), I still watch a bit of tv at night (if there's something worth watching, like Black Books), I still use products that come in plastic bottles (even though they can be "recycled" but are actually just "downcycled" into different plastics which eventually break down into ever-smaller pieces that might even end up in the Pacific Garbage Patch).

And here’s a big one: I’m flying to Melbourne on Friday, which will create 0.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide. I have already offset my flight ($9.42 with Climate Friendly) and booked the Skybus, which offsets its emissions with Greenfleet to take me from the airport to the Melbourne city centre. I even considered taking the train, even one way – which, incidentally, costs about the same as flying but takes 11 hours instead of 1.5 hours, and made me realise that I’m less committed to being No Impact than I’d thought I was – if I was really committed, I reasoned, I’d find a way to not fly. But I guess part of this whole project is being aware of where we can make changes and where we can’t. At least not right now. It’s a process, right? 

Another way I’m being “not really No Impact” is that I’ve been using the car the last few days: to drive to the mechanic (for a pink slip inspection because my registration is due this month), to Palm Beach on Sunday (a pleasure drive of 30km each way, though we resisted buying non-organic bread and take-away coffee, and when we did stop for ice-cream we made sure it came in a cone, not a wrapper with a wooden stick inside it).

And, just this morning, we drove to the beach for a surf. I forgot to say this early on but I decided before the start of the project that I’d allow myself to drive the 3km return to my local surf beach because it’s too far to walk with a surfboard, wetsuits, etc. Then, happily, I broke a toe on my left foot, which meant no surfing for a few weeks, which fitted in with the No Impact plan, even though not-surfing isn't part of my normal life. So today I started surfing again, and drove there and back. I offset my car’s annual emissions with Greenfleet, don't drive much, don't commute (because I work from home) but still, the guilt wanders in, uninvited. Can I make it welcome?

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor..."
- from The Guest House by Rumi

Monday 4 April 2011

Organics and the crowd factor

Well, dear readers, we made it to the end of week one of the No Impact Project. It's too soon to really say how it feels but it is changing the way I think and do things. On Saturday, for instance, my boyfriend and I went to the organic market down the road, for the first time ever. After the Food Co-op experience of last week, I was hoping we'd find an easier way to buy organic and local. And we did, sort of. 

Saturday morning, we rode our bikes to the local public school where the market is held every Saturday morning, gathered organic produce (broccoli, beans, cranberries, muesli, lettuce, tomatoes, nuts, and a beautiful loaf of organic walnut sourdough bread), took it all to a man behind a set of scales, who weighed each item and tapped the costs into a calculator then gave us a total: $66.50. For a week’s worth of organic veges, yay! We didn’t have enough cash and they don’t do eftpos but no worries: they said we could pay next Saturday, or pay by direct deposit (another guy wrote down their bank details on the back of a brown paper bag). So friendly, so easy. And because we were on our bikes, they delivered the veggies to our house while we were out that day…

All the produce comes from up and down the east coast of Australia, so it's not technically "local" (as in the 100-mile diet) but it's not imported from other countries either. The other benefit is that there's no packaging. 

One thing I'm finding about the No Impact Project is that you can't focus on one issue for a week, then move on to the next issue. Because, as I’m discovering, all the “no impact” issues overlap and are entangled with each other. Buy organic produce from a market and hey presto, you’ve reduced your packaging too (because things aren’t pre-packaged). Ride your bike to the market and there’s emissions-reduction going on as well. Don’t pass any other shops on the way to the market (because there are none, only houses, the market being in the grounds of a local public school) and you’re reducing consumption too.

Later that day, we caught the ferry to the city: emissions generated but shared between 1100 passengers, so I figure that was ok, and anyway we were going to a rally near Central Station organized by GetUp!, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace and Australian Youth Climate Coalition in support of a carbon tax, as a start in the move towards Australia having a greener economy based on renewable energy. There were more than 8000 people there, a heartening sign.
The reason for the rally, and the reason it was organised in only a week, was that there was another rally on the other side of Sydney, organised by people opposing the carbon tax, doubting the reality of climate change. 

To those people, I’d like to repeat here what Professor Andy Pitman, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, said in response to Cardinal George Pell, who questioned the reality of climate change:

“It’s odd,” said Professor Pitman. “Legally, I need a licensed electrician to change a light switch. I need a licensed plumber to do my plumbing. My solicitor needs a law degree. A Qantas pilot needs a licence. If I see a doctor, they have to have a qualification and if I see a surgeon, I want one that has loads of on-the-job experience, not one that has merely written a website.

“Yet in climate science, which is about as complex as any area of science, you can apparently be qualified if you have read some blogs. My question to Pell would be: ‘Which papers in Nature, Science, Journal of Climate, Journal of Atmospheric Science, International Journal of Climatology – say in the last decade – does he find contrary to the consensus that humans are primarily responsible for global warming over the last three score years and 10?’ There are none, by the way. Proving humans have not caused the warming over the last half-century would win you a Nobel Prize. The reason there are no papers proving global warming wrong is because there is simply not the vaguest hint that it is.”

Well said, professor. Now can all just get on with figuring out what to do about this global issue? As Marshall McLuhan once said, "There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew." 

Friday 1 April 2011

Scrabble by candlelight

Last night's electricity-free experiment turned out to be fun. It was like camping, with comforts and your own bed.

After going around the house turning off everything at the wall: laptop, printer, lamps, wireless router, television and DVD player, even the phone (I’m thinking of re-instating our old analog phone, if I can find it; it doesn’t take messages but it doesn’t use electricity either), we cooked by candlelight, watching the blue gas flames flicker. The house was silent – except for the fridge, which droned on. 

Whenever I went into a room that wasn’t lit, I had to find things by feel. I carried a candelabra with me when I went to the bathroom. Because things were shadowy, I walked more slowly than I usually would. I felt my body sighing, relaxing into this. 

In No Impact Man’s book, Colin’s wife Michelle said having no electricity felt like a vacation, and I agree. Without electric lights or the television, the night seemed long. My boyfriend and I played scrabble, then read books for a couple of hours by the glow of the candle flames until sleepiness (instead of the end of the TV program like on other nights) told us it was time for bed.