Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dick Smith's Wilberforce Award

Dick Smith's documentary, and his subsequent announcement of his Wilburforce Award, has made population an issue in its own right. Like his daughter said, we have been looking at solutions to human-induced global warming, but very few of us have looked at solving population growth as part of that solution.

In primary school, I remember learning about renewable resources and finite resources, but very little was taught about the results of running out of those finite resources. In high school chemistry, I learnt all about the millions of products that come from crude oil. Yet I still didn't 'join the dots', as Dick Smith would say.

I wasn't until I was introduced to the phenomenon of Peak Oil a couple of years ago that the dots connected for me. The future, if we do not revert to more sustainable lifestyles, is very bleak without oil. We need to keep what remains of the oil for the important medicines that a produced from it, rather than wasting all the oil on plastic packaging for our food, and replacing our electronic devices every 6 months (without recycling the old ones).

Whilst I was reading up on Peak Oil, I read about a permaculturalist who said that the solution to the world's overpopulation for that everyone in the world should eat someone else - instantly halving the population and solving some of the food shortage problems while we're at it! I actually bought the book 'Overloading Australia' around the same time, but it's sat on my bookshelf until now.

Now Dick Smith has brought population growth to my attention, as an issue in itself.

On another tack now ... I recently studied micro-economics. The subject focused on our use of finite resources and balancing that against human demand (which is infinite). It talked about the efficient use of resources (including human resources), improving technology to improve efficiency, and sustainability.

So, I'm going to develop a policy. I'm in the process of doing more research, especially in relation to economics. Here's some beginning:
- zero net immigration, focusing mainly on refugees
- get rid of generally baby bonus, and pay a higher baby bonus to working couples for their first child
- capping the rate of the family tax benefit a two children (so if a family has more than 2 children, they don't get any more financial assistance than if they only had 2)
- a focus on educating our own population, filling the gaps in our 'skill shortage'
- establishing a federal urban and rural planning department, and taking those decisions away from local government, to prevent urban sprawl
- further encouragement for individual sustainability, like growing our own food, and perhaps setting aside small plots of land for community gardens

So watch this space ...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Black Saturday to be repeated

I’m going to just ramble and ‘think out loud’ for this blog, for a bit of a change.

I read Living in the Hothouse by Ian Lowe a couple of years ago. It was a depressing forecast when I read it. I already knew I was living in a rain shadow, and that Victoria had been in drought for about 10 years, but after reading it, I considered moving to Tasmania.

Well, today, on the front page of the Melbourne Age, the headline was State faces ‘worst-ever’ fire season. The article by Peter Ker was about a leaked report from the Department of Sustainability and Environment about the coming fire season in Victoria, and its predicted intensity.

Victoria’ rainfall has been its lowest on record for the first six months of 2009. Even if we get above average rainfall (which we won’t) for the rest of winter and spring, we’re still looking at extremely dry conditions in the heavily populated areas in the regions with 250km from Melbourne. The report predicts drier conditions than last fire season, which produced Black Saturday, with the fire season starting as early as November.

Although Peter Ker’s article didn’t refer to climate change, I was instantly reminded of Living in the Hothouse when I read the predictions. Ian Lowe forecasted longer dry periods, more intense heat, and horrible fire seasons, for south eastern Australia. The book was only published in 2005, and we’re already seeing the results.

I am lucky the the wind on Black Saturday was blowing slightly from the west, otherwise the fire would have roared straight into the valley in which I live. As it was, it stayed on the other side of the Tallarook ranges, and burnt into Strath Creek. But this summer, the Tallarook ranges will have to burn. It’s tinder dry and full of undergrowth and fallen trees. If a fire started in there, there’s no stopping it, and all the homes nearby will fall victim to the embers.

Do things have to be personally brought home to people ... do we have to think of our own livelihoods before we realise how dire climate change really is? I was already an advocate for carbon trading, for sustainability, and for simple living. But, even if we all do the right thing, we have already raised the global temperature by about 1 degree. And it’s enough to produce Black Saturday.

What will the Black Saturdays of the future look like? Will insurance companies continue to insure people in the country? Will insurance companies survive? How high will our policies be? Do we leave or do we stay to fight, if we know the insurance companies will forsake us? How much hotter and drier will it get in a world where the temperature is another 2 degrees higher, as our Government suggests it will get?

I wish we had a leader that would take a stand. We have to take responsibility for our emissions and our wasteful actions now.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Carbon Trading

Global warming is the rapid and continued increase of the Earth's surface temperature. During the last century the earth warmed by 0.8°C. Now the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is projecting that global surface temperatures are likely to increase by 1.1 to 6.4 °C this century. Already nineteen of the hottest 20 years on record have occurred since 1980 with 2005 being the hottest year in recorded history while the east coast of Australia had its warmest May on record in 2007.

If the Earth’s surface temperature heats up by as much as 4˚C, the oceans could rise by 65 metres! Most of the world’s major cities are based on the coast, but what insurance company is going to be able to afford the submergence of entire cities? Relocating people will become too expensive for our current governments, who by then, will be competing for oil and water resources.

The current concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere are now substantially higher than any time in the last 650,000 years. The increase of GHGs in our atmosphere was kick-started with the industrial revolution, which since the 1850s has largely increased the output of the key GHGs, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. At present, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased by over 30% and methane by over 150% above pre-industrial levels and are projected to rise by over 10% every 20 years.

GHGs come from a variety of sources, the burning of fossil fuels from industry and transportation, methane from livestock and paddy rice farming, construction of buildings, the making of cement and deforestation. Three quarters of GHG emissions in the last 20 years have come from fossil fuel burning with the remainder coming largely from deforestation. Aviation is responsible for an estimated 3% of global GHG emissions but is expected to increase in the future.

In today's society, every item we consume is created by an industrial process, and hence has greenhouse gas emissions associated with it. The only way to avoid Greenhouse emissions would be to go live in a cave without power or heat (no little camp fires allowed!) and make everything (I mean everything!) by hand; You can't have any livestock either as one tonne of methane contributes to the greenhouse effect as much as 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide!

Living in a cave, while an adventure perhaps, is not exactly plausible. The alternative is to remove the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in the short term while trusting that, globally, people are working to develop new, more Earth-friendly technologies in the mid to long term.

To avert the worst effects of global warming we must make changes to our habits and lifestyle. Little things when done by millions of people can make a big difference. While some carbon emissions are unavoidable many can be significantly reduced with a minimum of effort and cost. Then we can offset the rest of our emissions by purchasing and retiring carbon credits. Carbon credits empower anyone to take ownership of their personal greenhouse emissions.

Carbon offsetting means balancing or compensating for carbon emissions in one place with a reduction in emissions in another. Since it doesn’t matter where Green House Gases (GHGs) are emitted, as their effect on climate change is the same, reducing GHG emissions in Brazil or Italy is as effective as doing so locally. And while we need to reduce our personal carbon emissions, some emissions are currently unavoidable, so carbon offsetting is the way to compensate for those emissions we cannot stop.

Carbon reduction projects throughout the world create a tradable 'carbon credit' for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (C02-e) that is stopped from entering our atmosphere. This credit is bought on your behalf and then 'retired' so it can't be sold again, meaning that you have stopped one tonne of C02-e that otherwise would have entered the atmosphere.

This ability to generate and trade carbon credits was an implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. It enabled countries that weren't going to meet their reduction targets to buy credits from countries that had surpassed theirs. Meaning that overall Kyoto targets were met and there was an economic incentive built into the equation to encourage companies and countries to emit less and create a demand for clean energy technologies.

Offsetting means paying someone to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere on your behalf. In that way we can pay for the damage we are causing and the money stimulates the technologies we desperately need to fund transition to a lower-carbon world.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Peak Oil: What The?

So, I’ve always been aware that oil is not a renewable fuel - the same with coal and natural gas. So, in the back of my mind, I always knew that something had to be found to replace the finite resources that we’re using. That’s where wind power, wave power and solar power come in, isn’t it?

Well, this week, I had a wake up call. I lady I work with brought in a book for me that she had just finished. It’s called ‘Choosing Eden’ and it’s by an Australian called Adrienne Langman. I’m halfway through, and I’m already looking at the world differently. I’m thankful that I’ve been trying to achieve sustainability, because of climate change - now I’ve got another reason. Peak oil.

Peak oil is apparently a concept that is as old as my parents - it was first coined by someone working for Shell in 1956. And like Choosing Eden says, as soon as you find out about it, you need to know more. I’m in the process of learning more.

Most of us are aware that petrol prices have doubled in the last 6 years or so (unless you have a company car and petrol card, and then why should you notice?). Well, guess what: they are going to double again, and again ... and again. So we’ll have $3 per litre for petrol in maybe 3 to 6 years. Then $6 per litre in another 3 to 6 years. It will keep going up as demand increases and supply decreases.

Guess what happens when fuel prices go up? Good and every other consumer item goes up, because it costs more to transport things from A to B.

There’s more. Apparently, there’s 300,000 products that are made from crude oil. Look at all the plastic items around you - your computer, for starters. When crude oil runs out, or becomes too expensive to purchase, most people won’t be able to afford computers and the cheap electronic gadgets that we all can’t live without at the moment. Then think about the food packaging, the cosmetics, the household cleaning products, the building materials ... just about everything!

So, everything becomes too expensive. We have a huge recession. Most of us can’t afford anything. Money is not worth what it used to be. Perhaps travelling becomes too expensive for most people. Air travel collapses, because no one can afford it. Airlines go out of business. It’s too expensive to fill the car, because it costs $50 to buy bread, and train tickets have quadrupled. Then truck companies go broke, and food has to be conveyed around the country on rail. There’s so many trains needed to move food, that there’s no more room for trains moving people.

In the recession, it’s conceivable that more than 25% of the country is unemployed, because so many of the former services that were performed are no longer needed. People are just concerned with feeding their families. Whole shelves in the supermarkets are empty, because processed foods can no longer be made. People who have survived on processed foods, and can’t cook from scratch, will starve.

When people are starving, and their families are starving, it creates anarchy. And looting. And murder. Who wants to live anywhere near a major city when the suburbs completely collapse?

So, this is what’s running through my head whilst I’m reading about peak oil for the first time. And I’m thankful that I’ve moved to the country and am growing my own fruit and veggies.

This is a fairly extreme picture that I’ve just pasted ... or is it?

Check out:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Last Stand of the Polar Bear

I’m reading ‘Six Degrees’ at the moment, by Mark Lynas, and I agree with the Sunday Times who has described it as ‘terrifying’.

Clearly, I’m already a believer that our climate is changing, for the worse, because of the activities of humans. I’m also sure that it’s equally as clear that I think we should all take responsibility for our own lifestyles by reducing our footprints and buying carbon credits to offset our emissions. But occasionally I pick up a book on the subject, and am just terrified, for the lack of another word. ‘Six Degrees’ is one of those books.

Why am I terrified? Because there is so much t

o lose, and I just don’t see anyone really doing anything significant about it. Because people are waiting for the world’s governments to take responsibility for us, and the governments are all being paid off by oil and industrial companies. And because all it would take is a little bit of effort by everyone, but people think that it’s too big of an issue. Well, it will be a huge issue if we don’t do anything soon. Now is the time to act, and the questions it: Why aren’t we doing something now?!?

Here’s part of ‘Six Degrees’ that really got to me recently. It only starts on page 54 and talks about how our oceans are becoming more acidic, because a substantial amount of our carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed into the sea:

“The most important life-forms to be affected are those that form the bedrock of the oceanic food chain: plankton. Although individually tiny, photosynthesising plankton ... are perhaps the most important plant resource on Earth. They comprise at least half the biosphere’s entire primary production - that’s equivalent to all the land plants put together ... [A]ll higher species from mackerel to humpbacked whales ultimately depend on them.

“Phytoplankton are also crucial to the global carbon cycle. Collectively ... removing billions of tonnes of carbon from circulation ... But as the oceans turn more and more acidic, this crucial component of the planetary carbon cycle could slowly grind to a halt. With fewer plankton to fix and remove it, more carbon will remain in the oceans and atmosphere, worsening the problem still further.”

It’s another exponentially wo

rsening situation, exactly the same as the decreasing Arctic Ice - which leads me to the polar bears. Being white, ice is highly reflective; whilst the ocean absorbs the heat of the sun, the ice reflects it back into the atmosphere. However, as our oceans warm and the ice melts, there is therefore less ice to reflect the heat. More heat is absorbed, so the oceans warm quicker, and ice melts quicker. Like I said, an exponentially worsening situation.

What lives on the Arctic ice? Lots of species, in fact, including some humans. But our most iconic and lovable Arctic animal is t

he polar bear, who is becoming the face of climate change. There numbers are decreasing as the ice decreases. There are less baby polar bears, there are less yearling polar bears, and there are more starving polar bears who miss the retracting ice flows


Isn’t this enough to turn off your lights when you leave a room, taking up a more sustainable lifestyle, reduce your emissions, and even buy some carbon credits. Ca

rbon credits are produced when sustainable companies do things to help the environment. Pay someone else to plant trees to offset your lifestyle, but know that you are taking responsibility for your contribution to helping the environment.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Carbon Trading For You And Me

What is Carbon Trading?

We all have a way of life, and while some of us can afford to put solar panels on our houses, there are still emissions produced from everything we do every day, from the production of the clothes you wear, to the furniture you sit on, and from the food you eat, to the services you consume. Besides, we don’t all want to drive a hybrid car and become vegetarians. 

Carbon trading, or carbon offsetting, is a way to balance or compensate for carbon emissions in one geographical place, with a reduction in emissions in another. Since it doesn’t matter where Greenhouse Gases (GHG) are emitted, as their effect on climate change is global, reducing emissions in Brazil or Italy is as effective as doing so locally. ‘Carbon emissions’ refers to carbon dioxide (CO²), and are a form of GHG, as is methane and nitrous oxide, but for most of us it is easier to think in terms of carbon emissions.

It’s completely voluntary, but in 2011 it will become compulsory for some industries. While we do need to reduce our personal carbon emissions and stop being wasteful, some emissions are currently unavoidable, so carbon offsetting is the way to compensate for those emissions we cannot stop. 

Little things, when done by millions of people, can make a big difference, and carbon offsetting reduces emissions with a minimum of effort and cost. Offsetting means paying someone else to reduce CO² in the atmosphere on your behalf. In that way we pay for the damage we are causing and the money stimulates the development of green technologies that we desperately. 

What is a Carbon Credit?

Carbon reduction projects throughout the world create a tradable ‘carbon credit’ for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO²-e) that is stopped from entering our atmosphere. When you buy a credit, it is then ‘retired’ so it can’t be sold again - the credit will be recorded against your name, meaning that you have stopped one tonne of CO²-e that otherwise would have entered the atmosphere.

There are many different kinds of carbon credits. Certified carbon credits are created by government approved abatement projects. These include projects such as harnessing landfill gas, reforestation and sequestration, and electricity consumption reduction.

Beware: because there are plenty of people claiming to produce carbon credits, but they are in fact not accredited, nor are they even measured properly. You might be paying someone for nothing.

And how much does it cost? Generally, a carbon credit is $20, though this will probably rise. The Government will be setting a cap on its carbon credits at $40. So, currently, if an average Australian household emitting 20 tonnes of CO² wants to go ‘carbon neutral’, it would cost $400 per annum. The equivalent would be to plant about 80 trees.

What is a Footprint?

A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact that our activities have on the environment, and in particular, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day activities through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation, etc.

An alternative definition of the carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide attributable to the actions of an individual or an entity (which includes emissions through their own energy use, but also from unforeseen emissions as well) over a period of one year.

So the aim is to work out your footprint, reduce your footprint, and then offset the remaining emissions. It’s much cheaper than buying solar panels, which still won’t eliminate your emissions, though it helps.

What does Carbon Neutral mean?

Being ‘carbon neutral’ means that you have calculated your carbon footprint, and then eliminated the Greenhouse Gas you produce by purchasing carbon credits to offset your emissions.

But being ‘carbon neutral’ takes a little more responsibility than just offsetting. To become carbon neutral, especially for businesses, you need to reduce your carbon footprint first, and commit to continue reducing your emissions.

Beware of businesses claiming to be carbon neutral. Check their accreditation, where they get their carbon credits from, and whether they truly are ‘green’.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Homemade Cleaning Products

Once upon a time, not that very long ago, every householder was an amateur chemist, making his or her own cleansers, polishes, glues and other domestic items out of commonly available substances. Some concoctions were products of experimentation; more often they were recipes handed down in the family for generations.

   Making your own household recipes is an excellent way to save money and at the same time to learn traditional lore that was once common knowledge. Furthermore, when you prepare a cleansing liquid or a polish for yourself, you have the satisfaction and reassurance of knowing that your product contains only natural substances. Always stick to recommended amounts when preparing recipes and remember that no recipe or remedy should replace the advice and services of a doctor; and since an allergic reaction is always a possibility, be cautious when first using any recipe.

General Household Cleaning

Bicarbonate of soda, soap, washing soda, ammonia, vinegar and borax will clean just about anything in various concentrations and combinations. Try the following recipes for an all-purpose cleaner for baths, basins, bench-tops and other surfaces.

All-purpose liquid cleanser: Combine 2 litres of hot water, 2 tablespoons of cloudy ammonia, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, and half cup of bicarbonate of soda. Shake until the bicarbonate of soda is dissolved, then store for future use.

All-purpose powder cleanser: Bicarbonate of soda used alone is a highly effective, non-scratching abrasive cleaner, as well as an essential ingredient in many other household formulas. Store it in a clearly labelled flour or icing sugar shaker, and apply to stubborn stains on baths, basins, sinks, bench-tops and other surfaces, just as you would a commercial powder cleaner.

Timber furniture cleaner: Combine equal parts of linseed oil, turpentine, vinegar (preferably brown) and methylated spirits. Use sparingly on a lint-free cloth. Add a few drops of lemon essence, eucalyptus oil or lavender oil for a pleasing fragrance.

All-purpose deodoriser and disinfectant: Add a few drops of tea-tree oil to the toilet, rubbish bin and other germ-prone containers after you have cleaned them.

Air fresheners and deodorisers: Place dried lavender, potpourri or other naturally fragrant materials in bowls throughout the house to act as a natural air freshener. After cleaning floors, add a pleasant fragrance by using scented oils, like lemon or lavender, eucalyptus or tea tree, in a final wipeover. Charcoal left to stand in an open bowl absorbs most household odours; it can also be wrapped in muslin and placed in the fridge or in the bathroom.

Carpet cleaner and deodoriser: Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over carpets and rugs an hour or so before vacuuming for a cleaning, deodorising action. For general stains removal and cleaning, use a mixture of 1 litre of warm water with quarter of a cup of cloudy ammonia. Apply this to the carpet on a clean, pale-coloured cloth that has been wrung out in the solution. Use a firm blotting motion rather than a scrubbing motion.

Mirror demister: Prevent bathroom mirrors from misting up on cold mornings by rubbing them over with a cloth moistened with glycerine, and then allowing the mirror to dry.

Special household cleaning

Apart from daily or weekly washing chores there are a number of other household cleaning jobs that have to be done periodically.

Oven cleaner 1: Combine 1 cup of household ammonia with 4 cups of water in a large, shallow baking dish. Place in the oven and heat on low for two hours allowing the steam and vapour from the ammonia to penetrate every corner of the oven. Leave overnight, then wipe oven vigorously with an abrasive cloth.

Over cleaner 2: If baked-on stains remain after the treatment above, mix two parts bicarbonate of soda, one part table salt, and enough fresh lemon juice to make a thick paste. Apply to problem areas, especially inside the over door and the glass viewing window. Allow to dry, then rub off the paste with a scouring cloth. Repeat if necessary.

Silver and brass cleaner: Rub the object to be cleaned with a lemon cut in half and dipped in cooking salt. Rinse with soapy water and buff to a high sheen. Silver responds well to liquids or substances containing aluminium - store washing water in an aluminium saucepan or boil up some aluminium foil in the water used for rinsing. Sprinkle silver items with talcum powder before putting them away to help prevent tarnishing.

Window and mirror cleaner: Apply methylated spirits to absorbent kitchen paper or newspaper and rub the paper vigorously across your windows. This is a most effective glass cleaner and the treatment also works well on chrome taps and other glossy or shiny fittings.

Wooden floor cleaner: Bring up the natural timber tones of wooden floors by straining the leaves from a large pot of tea and adding it to a bucket of warm water containing half a cup of cloudy ammonia, then mopping as usual.

Refrigerator cleaner: Dilute one part all-purpose liquid cleanser (above) with 3 parts water and wipe over the interior of the refrigerator. Add a teaspoon of vanilla essence to the rinse water for a pleasant smell. Use a saucer of bicarbonate of soda in the fridge for continuing deodorising action.

Essential knowledge: how to remove stains

Ballpoint ink and felt-tip pens: Sponge with methylated spirits, spray with hairspray or blot with nail polish remover.

Grass stains: Test fabric for colour-fastness first. Sponge with eucalyptus oil.

Lipstick and cosmetic stains: Soak the stain in glycerine for several hours, then wash as usual.

Oil and grease stains: Grease spots on clothing, carpets and soft furnishings can be removed by rubbing the affected area with talcum powder, placing absorbent kitchen paper under and over the stain, and then ironing. The paper will lift and absorb the stain. Renew the powder and paper as it becomes oily. If possible, wash or sponge the item in one tablespoon borax added to one cup water, once the major stain has been removed.

Making laundry detergents

   Before you switch from commercial detergents to home-made washing mixtures, it is important to rinse your machine and wash your clothes in washing soda. Otherwise, leftover traces of the commercial detergents may cause yellowing. Dissolve one cup of washing soda in 2 litres of water and put your machine through a clothes-free cycle using 2 cups of this mix. Thereafter, use 2 cups per load.

Basic laundry liquid: 2 litres of hot water, 1 bar of pure soap grated or 100 grams of pure soap flakes, and either a quarter cup of borax or quarter cup of washing soda. Dissolve the soap and the borax or the washing soda in the water and store in a bottle or jar. If using bar soap, place the water in an old saucepan, add the soap and heat over a low flame, stirring constantly until the soap is dissolved. Do not boil. Use approximately half a cup of laundry liquid for each load. For heavily soiled loads, add a teaspoon of ammonia to the wash. The ammonia also works as a fabric softener and conditioner. In hard-water areas, add an extra teaspoon of borax to the mixture.

To soften fabrics: Add a teaspoon of white vinegar or teaspoon of glycerine to the final rinse.

For woolens: Mix one cup of soap flakes to a quarter of a bar of grated soap with one cup of hot water. Add one desert-spoon each of eucalyptus oil and methylated spirits to this mixture. Use sparingly - about one tablespoon for a large jumper or several smaller items.

To brighten and remove stains: Soak clothing overnight in a bucket of water containing half a cup of cloudy ammonia. Always test for colour-fastness before soaking any clothing. If ammonia is too strong, soak clothing in a bucket of water with half a cup of white vinegar.