Category Archives: Environment

Joe – The Gardener ~ Green Renaissance

I just wanted to share this clip packed with wisdom with you 🙂

Just watch:

My Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening Talk: ‘3 Priorities’

I had a ball tonight delivering this little speech at Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening (invite only). Was honoured to present alongside MzRizk, Katrina Sedgwick, Aseel Tayah, Inez Martorell, and Heather Horrocks. We were each asked to respond to this in 5 minutes: “As a woman of the world what are your top 3 priorities?” And end with “as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is…”. I love how different our responses were from each other! And that in delivering my own, I actually found a whole new group of comrades who vibed with what I said 🙂

Much thanks to Tammy Anderson for being our charismatic MC for the evening, Karen Jackson for a beautiful Acknowledgement of Country, the West Papuan Black Sistaz for bringing the music, and to Producer Alia Gabres for inviting me to share my thoughts!

 

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SO. When I received the brief for this talk today, it sounded pretty simple … until I remembered how HUGE and complex the world is, how MANY women there are in it, and how diverse our world views and lived experiences are.

Because of this, I feel the need to preface my 3 priorities by stating clearly that I am a Black Pacific Islander, immigrant citizen of a white settler colony. THAT IS THE LENS through which I see the world.

When I think of diversity feminism, because of the hugeness of the world, I tend to focus on what I know and what I can shape – and that is the societies of white settler colonies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States.

These nation-states have similar histories in terms of genocidal settler violence against indigenous peoples, slavery or coerced labour, waves of white migration, waves of persistent opposition to NON-white migration, and internal histories of struggle to extend civil and human rights to various groups within them – struggles that continue today.

Bearing this in mind, here are my 3 priorities as a woman of the world.

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Priority Number One. Think Globally.

I had the good fortune this year of meeting my hero, scholar, activist and feminist Angela Davis. One of many things I admire about Angela, is her ability to see the connections between social justice and environmental struggles in different parts of the globe; and how they ALL connect to the global economic system, and the decadence of the industrialised world. Corporatism. The profit motive.

Fundamentally, I know that this is CRUCIAL to understand. So my NUMBER ONE lifelong priority is to educate myself, and then others, on these global interconnections. That understanding enables cross border solidarity, strategizing, and collective action, for the liberation of humankind including womankind.

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Priority Number Two. Act intersectionally, locally.

This one is actually a little bit easier for me to get than most; mainly because my own lived experience is extremely intersectional. I’m Black. I’m a Black Woman. I’m a Black disabled woman who lives with a mental illness. And I am on a very low income.

On a weekly basis, I come up against the intersections of various types of marginalization I experience because of structural discrimination against me.

There are a range of structural -isms and phobias built into our colonies’ foundations that INTERSECT to make some people’s lives much harder than they should be. Whilst most women will face sexism and misogyny, focusing only on those issues fails to take into account those other systemic barriers that people who are not part of the power structure, also face: racism, colorism, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, classism, ageism, to name a few.

Then there is the fact that indigenous Australians – like indigenous peoples in other white settler colonies whose sovereignty has never been ceded – contend with pervasive and deep rooted racism, the intergenerational effects of genocidal actions taken by colonisers over centuries, and present day settler violence against indigenous communities and bodies.

Add to that the plight of the truly vulnerable stateless people, asylum seekers and refugees, who are dealt appalling carceral punishments for committing the supposed crime of seeking asylum and a future on our imperfect but safer shores.

For any woman of the world truly concerned with social justice and liberation, prioritizing the ability to think INTERSECTIONALLY and align our social justice organizing with that vision, is essential.

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Priority Number Three. Make ethical consumer and political choices.

We live in a country that is one of the beneficiaries of the global capitalist system, which relies on the exploitation of whole countries and regions, people, natural resources and animals to create products that all of us who have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature, choose to consume. Those choices maintain demand for products. None of us, therefore, are untainted by the injustice built into the system that we are born into. My phone, for example, was created in part with elements exploitatively mined from the Congo and made by workers under indefensible conditions in China.

I am a writer and also a person with a disability; I need technology to work and live, so giving up the phone is not a choice I can make anytime soon. But there are myriad choices we as consumers living in the West make all the time, particularly if you have disposable income.

So my priority going forward is to make sure that my choices, as much as possible, are made consciously. By that I mean, I want to know where my stuff was made, who made it and under what conditions, and what it was made out of. As much as possible, I want to make ethical and educated choices.

And speaking of that, I haven’t yet mentioned the democratic system. Here again, choices must be made, not only at elections, but at all times between them. I want to choose to stay engaged with what is happening in politics on all levels, to remain ACTIVE and support the people and political collectives who champion the values I hold dear, and policies I know to be best for the implementation of those values. If Trump’s ascension to the presidency has taught us anything, it is to stay awake, engaged, and ACTIVE — over 90 million people eligible to vote did not do so, in the recent U.S election.

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To conclude, as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is that we start recognising that DIVERSITY IS REALITY, globally and locally. And that we work hard together to create a world where diverse peoples, diverse women, can live free of structural exploitation, oppression and marginalization.

Thank you.

RETRO POST: “A FORCE OF NATURE: David Suzuki”

Hiya 🙂 I first posted this blog post in 2011 – it was my 63rd post. David Suzuki was on the ABC program ‘Q & A’ a few weeks back, but I only just remembered this – thought it might be a good time to put it out there again. New post soonish!

“The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.”

David Suzuki


It was a chilly but wonderfully moonlight night on Sunday evening when a friend and I attended the Australian premier of the David Suzuki documentary, A Force of Nature, at the Moonlight Cinema in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. David Suzuki is a Japanese Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist, who has hosted the award-winning CBC science program The Nature of Things since 1979. Having grown up watching his television specials (broadcast in Australia on the ABC), I was excited to see him giving an introduction before the screening. If you’re familiar with his work as a science communicator, you’ll be surprised by the very personal nature of this film, made by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson.

This is the trailer:

THE FILM PREMISE.

David is in the final act of his life and academic career, and is about to deliver his last lecture. Not shown in its entirety, the brilliant lecture forms the spine of the film – it is visited in specific segments, to introduce themes and ideas that are then explored biographically through David. We are taken to various locations of significance to him, and broader significance in terms of our collective history (Hiroshima, for example. David marvels at the resilience of nature after the devastation of the atomic bomb). As he visits these places and reflects on the impact of these events on his life, we understand the evolution of his activism/career and the motivation behind the message – of the interconnectedness of all life, and respect for the natural world. The result is a more emotionally powerful argument for science. Gunnarsson seamlessly moves us between these personal scenes and the lecture, as the essential theme of the film unfolds: what LEGACY are we leaving behind?

INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE LEGACY.

Not only the central theme of the film, Legacy is also the title of David’s new book (read about it here). A Force of Nature and Legacy are part of The David Suzuki Legacy Project. When one becomes an elder, a status that 74 year-old David embraces in the documentary, leaving a legacy becomes the most important thing you can turn your mind too. In A Force of Nature, he reflects not only on his personal legacy but, more importantly, our collective legacy.

WHAT WE DO WE REALLY VALUE?

According to David, this is the greatest threat to that collective legacy: the industrialised/first world obsession with economic growth. It seems that to this society, or at least to political and business leaders, growth/expansion is not merely a means to an end; growth is progress. But David argues we need to reassess what kind of growth is good, and what progress actually means to us. The great benefit of being an elder, of being wise, is that it enables you to do just that. What do we really value? And how do we structure our lives, lifestyles, and economies to ensure that the important things are preserved, and that future generations can also enjoy them? We see that responsible public policies come after that, when we make sure we elect leaders and reward businesses who ambitiously pursue practical policies that reflect those values – as ambitiously as the United States pursued a space program after Sputnik (a determined program that, unintentionally, gave us GPS and mobile phones). In order to get the right leadership in place, though, the majority needs to come to really understand the direction our personal choices are taking us in, collectively. This is why David moved into television and media educating – to influence public consciousness on a broader scale.

BECAUSE THE SOLUTION LIES IN OUR HEADS.

David says that the 2kg organ that enabled our undistinguished ancestors to take over the world – our BRAIN – is the organ we must now use to save ourselves from the self-destruction we are creating.  Our brains are endowed with memory, curiosity, and inventiveness that enabled us to successfully populate the planet (despite our sensory and physical handicaps). And that brainpower did something incredible, which has set our species apart from others: it invented the idea of THE FUTURE. The future doesn’t exist (yet) – only the present, the now, is real. But our brains have the ability to perceive that we can affect the future by what we do today. This is CREATIVE POWER – the power to create the future. It is the power to imagine, and to see ahead where the dangers and opportunities lie. To recall experience and knowledge in order to plan and inform our behaviours, and understand how those behaviours (thoughts and actions) will affect the future reality. Deliberate cause and effect. David believes it is this foresight that enabled our species to rise to supremacy as it has.

PRICING LIFE ON EARTH? CARBON TAX vs BIG INDUSTRY

Yet business interests, emission intensive industries and their political allies are encouraging us now to ignore this ability of foresight, for one oft cited (bullshit) reason in particular:

“we can’t afford it”.

This is nonsense, David argues, as environmental concerns should always be primary… after all, it is the natural world that sustains human life in the long term – not jobs! He also argues that the notion that we can’t afford to reduce our carbon emissions is a complete fallacy. Business interests in his country of Canada, as in Australia, have opposed the imposition of a carbon tax, arguably one of the best market mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions, saying it would cripple the economy. Here in Australia, Prime Minister Gillard’s recent announcement of plans to introduce a carbon tax from July 1st next year has been met with fierce opposition by the usual suspects: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, right wing politicians, their media geisha and the money-focused voters that support them.  In the State of NSW, the right-wing opposition leader has wasted no time in using the issue, warning voters about how the tax will add to their annual power bills, and vowing to “fight the carbon tax” (wow, what a hero). Yet Sweden has had a carbon tax since 1991, and charges $150 a tonne – not applied to fuels used for electricity generation. Because fuels from renewable sources (such as ethanol and biofuels) are exempted, the tax has led to a large increase in the use of biomass for heating and industry. Since the imposition of the tax to the year 2006, they reduced carbon emissions by 9%, which exceeded the Kyoto target so much that they were told they could actually increase their emission by 4% (something they declined to do, because it wasn’t considered ambitious enough!). Moreover, their economy grew by 44% during that time.

Like David said, that old “we can’t afford it” line? Lie.

THE BRAIN, THE SOLUTION.

Our abilities of foresight are greater today than they have ever been, thanks to science, the body of knowledge across disciplines, and the freedom of access we have to that knowledge facilitated by communication technology. Ironically though, it is the advent of too much information that is in some ways impeding environmentalists’ efforts. People, having a bias towards a particular viewpoint (regardless of whether that viewpoint is true or not) can easily find sources of “information” that justifiy their bias. What is needed are people who can sift through the information we are bombarded with everyday, and identify what is valid and what is not. Moreover, we need people and sources of information that will take the time to look at an issue in depth AND in its broader historical and social context – how it relates to other news stories and ongoing developments, giving us a more complete understanding of the issues. Why is this important? Because of one simple, powerful fact: everything is interconnected.

THE WISDOM OF INDIGENOUS CULTURES, THE KNOWLEDGE OF DEVELOPED COUNTRIES, AND THE GENIUS OF NATURE.

Something I’ve always admired about David is his genuine respect for indigenous cultures’ relationship with the natural world. It is an affinity that has deepened with the birth of his grandson, whose father is a First Nation’s man of Canada (we get to see the little dude in the movie). The values of many aboriginal cultures in relation to the environment stand in complete contrast with the values that underpin the economic system of the West, Asia… the industrialised world. Many indigenous cultures place an emphasis on having humility and reverence in the face of nature. The idea that certain areas, certain places in nature, for example, are sacred and not to be exploited, is regarded as silly by growth/money-minded, myopic thinkers. That particular value though, of reverence for nature and seeking to work with it, or like it, (as opposed to conquering and using it), is one we will need to embrace en masse for our own survival. That doesn’t mean turning our backs on cities, or technology – far from it. In fact, the convergence of this value and technology – as in biomimicry – has already given birth to some ingenious designs, inventions, and architecture. Have a look at this awesome bit of biomimicry modern architecture in Zimbabwe (of all places):

Green Building in Zimbabwe Modeled After Termite Mounds

Another idea that is embodied in many indigenous cultures, and ancient spiritual traditions, that David has articulated scientifically throughout his career, is the interconnectedness, and hence, interdependence, of all life – of everything within the biosphere. Every living thing is bound together by scientific laws and the elements. We are, fundamentally, all the same.

In this short clip from the film, he articulates this interconnectedness beautifully in relation to air:

The problem we face as a species is that we tend to look at everything in a segmented, fragmented way. We see parts, not the whole.  This is reflected in public policy – we treat energy, health, the environment, immigration and economics like they are separate issues. But they aren’t – they are, as we are, all interconnected.

David believes this is the most crucial message we need to get out today… our very survival now depends upon it. Until enough of us let this fact permeate our thinking and consciousness, and govern our behaviour and choices, we will continue to head in the wrong direction.

Civilization can be a dirty word.

In my dreams, I am one of the kids:

uncivilised

Treat the earth well.

It was not given to you by your parents,

it was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,

We borrow it from our Children.

~ Native American Proverb ~

Making GREEN music festivals.

I’ve attended a lot of art events, and seen a lot of plays, this year, for educational purposes. Everything from Aidan Fennessy’s The National Interest to Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Motherfucker with the Hat. Not so much live music, though. But the weekend before last, I attended The Harvest Music Festival, in the manicured grounds of the Werribee Mansion. And for the second year of the festival’s existence, it was a very enjoyable day – minus all the teething problems of last year.

Back in 2011 when I blogged about Harvest [in this post HERE] I said I would write about environmentally friendly music festivals “some time in 2012”. So here it is: a post about a few things I have learned about making music festivals green.

Energy explosions: Glastonbury, Bonnaroo, Coachella, et cetera.

There is no doubt – music festivals expend a lot of energy, and produce a lot of waste. Many festivals, however, have been trying to reduce the environmental impact of us indulgent, spoilt music fans in the West, in various ways. The location and season inevitably dictate the nature of the measures. I’ll discuss one festival that has introduced fairly obvious ones. Despite being massive and well established, I think it’s still interesting to compare these measures to ones you have possibly witnessed and encountered at Australian festivals. Or, perhaps, to think about their absence.

The Glastonbury Festival in the UK, one of the largest music festivals in the world, has long championed environmental issues. Today all festival programmes come in 100% organic unbleached cotton bags, printed with vegetable dyes, and official tees are printed using water-based (non-pvc) inks. Only compostable or re-useable plates and cutlery are permitted. Cleaners use eco-friendly cleaning products (i.e. non-petroleum based) for toilets, and all traders are encouraged to use eco-friendly cleaning products in their kitchens.

A lot of the waste generated by the festival is recycled: cans, glass, paper, electrical and electronic equipment, wood and organic waste are separated and recycled “as locally as possible” (the Fuji Rock Festival outdoes all in the recycling department, though). 1,300 recycling volunteers make Glastonbury’s initiative viable – 1,200 of them work for a ticket, and the others for a nominated charity like WaterAid, Kiota, or Bhopal Medical Appeal.

And the festival is turning to the sun to meet energy needs (as we all should). So far solar power and green technology is being used for three stage areas, and all cafes, stages and stalls above the old railway line in the Green Fields are run on wind or solar power, as are the showers. They have expanded their solar capacity, too – Michael Eavis, Glastonbury Festival organiser, installed 200 new solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of a shed at his Worthy Farm this year (a smaller installation than the 1,100 panels that were installed in autumn 2010).

Other initiatives have included the introduction of biodegradable tent pegs to offer festival campers, as an alternative to metal pegs many festival goers had been using that endangered local cows. Only Fairtrade tea, coffee, sugar and hot chocolate are on sale (expect a future post on what Fairtrade means, in practice). In an effort to reduce road deliveries, reservoirs have been built to store water and food (all of the festival water will apparently come from the mains in future, and the water is heavily monitored and quality tested twice a day).

Being enormously successful, Glastonbury have been able to invest money into local sewage plants, so that Festival sewage waste can now be processed within a 12.8km radius of the site, and gives to green organisations – Glastonbury claim to be the world’s biggest single regular donor to Greenpeace. Finally for this post, they PLANT TREES – over 10,000 native trees and hedge plants in the local environment, with other initiatives to maintain a high level of bio-diversity in the area. Overachiever.

There you have it – just some initiatives to think about. I’m certainly going to make myself more aware now about the festivals I attend, and the measures they are taking to lighten the environmental impact of our emptying of wallets and fleeting enjoyment. Certainly there are things we can all do as individuals to not leave behind a bloody mess. My disability may be fuel inefficient (taxi rides, yo) but I can at the very least car-pool, re-use bottles, and put waste products in their appropriate place.

That is, if I can access the festivals in the first place – expect another post comparing festivals on that issue.

Back to Harvest.

This year Harvest featured U.S. acts like Mike Patton, Beck, Santigold and the U.K’s Crazy P  – I was mostly excited about Beck, having never seen him live before (last year it was the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Mercury Rev and Portishead who drew me in/sent me away satisfied). Unlike last year, where I was awkwardly “danced with” by a lady in a kaftan and asked if I had drugs by some fellow who had clearly already taken some, I had a heart-to-heart with a lady in a kaftan who was high. It’s like the two previous “WTF” moments morphed into one this year. Something new though – a “What the HEY! Is that okay?” moment – I spotted a young man proudly carrying a Papua New Guinean bilum. I thought that was cool, though. Not so cool… man wearing Native American headgear. Reminded me of THIS & THIS.

GREEN-wise, there is room for improvement – although carpooling was advocated, standard recycling bins available, and free water stations (patrons were encouraged to bring an empty reusable bottle). Harvest will likely turn into an annual tradition for me – such an easy weekend of tunes, art performances, and (so far) “civilised” crowds, in one of the most elegant places in Melbourne.  The second last act I caught for the night was Icelandic band Sigur Rós – I had never seen them live before, but they left many as moved as Portishead had the year prior. I was also impressed by their fans, who parted like the Red Sea to let me roll right up in front of the stage, centre (wheelchair perks!)

The ‘Great Lawn’ stage where they (and Beck) performed was enormous, situated in front of the Werribee Mansion. It was used cinematically by the Icelanders – massive, filmic projections cued to the music, with complementary lighting effects, and a mini-orchestra. The experience was… moving, ethereal, and majestic, of course (it’s Sigur Rós). I’ll put it this way – the guy next to me said “…I’m gonna cry”. I think that pretty much sums up the experience ;P

Finished off the night with Santigold. Special thanks to the security staff, who were angels to me, and to Mzrizk for pushing my tired ass across the Big Lawn so I could see Beck, then went away, and came back, squeezing through the tight crowd to deliver to me a spiced rum and some swag. TOP lady.

I’m sure I will be going again next year – how could I not when it’s so near my ‘hood? Even though I am utterly broke now, and life is a glorious mess. At this point in the journey I don’t care 🙂 I feel so present. Am enormously proud of myself for coming so far in one year, in terms of stopping all the negative mind-chatter – that voice in my head sounds mostly like a really great, supportive friend these days, and my understanding of (and faith in) life, in the universe, is stronger than ever. Focusing now on the work I have to do and enjoying Victoria on a budget with my whole family, and friends, these holidays. Next festival to attend will be in January, interstate… more on that when the time comes.

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Just managed to have the first genuinely relaxing & angst-free weekend in a long time (I needed it). Got some Christmas shopping done, caught up with family, chilled with my Sistas, Mama and Sister-in-law at the once-a-month Weaving Circle, & visited a new artist run space I will write about very soon. Also leisurely attended to some household/life to-do items I’ve tenaciously ignored for months. I can see my desk now!!!

Climate Change: no comprende (continued)

MEASURING CO2 LEVELS.

There are hundreds of monitoring stations worldwide that measure and monitor atmospheric CO2 levels. The Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) program, of the World Meteorological Organisation(WMO), is a partnership involving 80 countries.  It provides reliable scientific data and information on the atmosphere, and the natural and man-made changes that occur within it.

For periods before 1958, air bubbles trapped in polar ice cores are used to determine CO2 levels. Over the last 10,000 years, before the Industrial Revolution, the levels of CO2 were pretty stable – 275 to 285 parts per million. But since the industrial revolution, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 100 parts per million. At the moment, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing by around 15 gigatonnes every year.

Of course, nature reduces our impact on climate by absorbing more that half of our CO2 emissions (thankyou, nature). The amount left over is called the “airborne fraction”. Since 1958 it’s been sitting at around 45%. Deforrestation, however, reduces the planet’s ability to naturally absorb CO2 – as such, deforrestation is another human activity which contributes to increased CO2 volume in the atmosphere. Thank goodness trees are a renewable resource (for now, anyway).

CO2 & THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT.

Scientists expectation that increased atmospheric CO2 will absorb more infrared radiation as it escapes back out to space is based on decades of lab experiments and radiative physics. A study of data collected by two satellites (NASA’s 1970 IRIS satellite and Japan’s 1996 IMG satellite) found that CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs more infrared radiation as it escapes back out to space, i.e. it does indeed have a greenhouse effect.

OUR CARBON EMISSIONS – some stats.

Using publications containing historical energy statistics from 1751 onward, The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) has estimated that about 337 billion tons of carbon have been released to the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels and cement production. Half of these emissions have occurred since the mid 1970s.

The 2007 global fossil-fuel carbon emission estimate is 8365 million metric tons of carbon. It represents an all-time high, and a 1.7% increase from 2006.

Liquid and solid fuels accounted for 76.3% of the global emissions from fossil-fuel burning and cement production in 2007. Combustion of gas fuels (e.g., natural gas) accounted for 18.5% (1551 million metric tons of carbon) of the total global emissions from fossil fuels in 2007.

Since the 1970s, emissions from cement production (377 million metric tons of carbon in 2007) have more than doubled. They now represent 4.5% of global CO2 releases from fossil-fuel burning and cement production.

These were the top 10 Total Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions emitting countries in 2007:

(1) People’s Republic of China (Mainland) (1899-2007)

(2) United States of America (1800-2007)

(3) India (1858-2007)

(4) Russian Federation (1992-2007)

(5) Japan (1868-2007)

(6) Germany (1792-2007)

(7) Canada (1785-2007)

(8) United Kingdom (1751-2007)

(9) South Korea (1945-2007)

(10) Islamic Republic of Iran (1902-2007)

Australia came in at #16 (1860-2007).

In terms of Per Capital emissions, Australia is ranked #12. China was #70, The US was #11 and India was #142.

3. HOW DO WE KNOW OUR CARBON EMISSIONS ARE CAUSING OR CONTRIBUTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE?

Ok, this is where my understanding really wanes.

I have read that scientists measuring the type of carbon accumulating in the atmosphere observe that the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels is more numerous. I don’t, however, know how they observe this.

I’ve also heard that these observations have been backed up by measurements of the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere (falling oxygen levels). And that carbon found in coral records several centuries old shows that there has been a steep rise in the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels. But I don’t know who has conducted these studies. Yet.

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So, that’s it. That’s all I know about the science. Not much, but it’s a start.

I’ll endeavour to find out and improve my knowledge on the evidence of human-induced climate change in the months & years to come. It seems to me that it is becoming increasingly important for average citizens to understand the scientific evidence and let that guide their political and lifestyle decisions, as the forces opposed to climate change action (particularly action of the economic variety) ramp up their efforts to kill this as a political and moral issue, in order to preserve the status quo.

I’ll leave you with a clip of David Attenborough and Professor Peter Cox from his documentary The Truth About Climate Change. Here they explain a graph similar to the one that convinced David of the reality of climate change:

Climate Change: no comprende

A few times during the past two weeks, I have both heard and read about people who, having fully accepted that human-activity-induced climate change is real, are embarrassed about their inability to explain it. Considering I am significantly less educated than pretty much all of those people, with no scientific credentials whatsoever, I can safely say I understand. Though continually endeavouring to increase my knowledge of the economic, sociological, political and philosophical dimensions of this issue, in regards to the science, my understanding is still… woefully rudimentary.  

So. Here is, in plain terms, my understanding of:

  1.     What climate change is;
  2.     How scientists know it is happening;
  3.     How we know our carbon emissions are contributing to it.

Hopefully in the months and years to come my understanding of the science will become more comprehensive, and I’ll be able to write about it without trepidation.  But this is essentially where I’m starting from.

Like most people I defer to reputable scientific sources and the advice of those in the know to inform my decisions. The following is a “brain dump” of my consequent knowledge on this topic. I’ve gone back to the original websites/articles for specific numbers, but the rest is essentially my laymen understanding.

1. WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE?

The greenhouse effect.

The earth has a naturally occurring greenhouse effect. The Earth’s atmosphere contains ‘greenhouse gases’ – water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases that a naturally present in it. These gases in a way ‘trap’ infra-red radiation from the Sun on the planet, which raises the temperature of the Earth’s surface and the lower atmosphere. This naturally occurring greenhouse effect is what has made the Earth so habitable for mankind.

The earth’s orbit around the Sun has had variations throughout history, which in turn has affected the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface and affected warm and cold periods naturally.

The unnatural greenhouse effect – human-induced climate change.

For some 200 years, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, humans (increasingly numerous and eager to consume) have been lofting unprecedented amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has intensified the greenhouse effect, and global temperatures have risen significantly in a relatively short period of time. In the past five years, an authoritative assessment of climate change undertaken by the world’s scientists concluded that this recent rise in global temperatures has been affected by human activities.  This is what we call human-induced CLIMATE CHANGE (previously ‘global warming’).

CO2 levels in the atmosphere are now higher than they have been in the last 650,000 years, which is the period for which reliable data has been extracted from ice cores.  Levels are expected to increase due to continuing burning of fossil fuels and human activity. Ten of the hottest years ever recorded were in the last 14 years.

The planet can handle increasingly higher surface and atmospheric temperatures… but increasingly higher temperatures and ensuing weird and intensifying weather patterns pose a threat to human survival on Earth – affecting already where we live, where we can live, our food and water supply, etc. The spread of tropical diseases to places previously too cold for such diseases is also a possible development. Another likely development: climate change refugees.  Many islands are set to disappear under rising sea levels (caused by melting polar ice caps), including the islands of our neighbours in the Pacific. Given the low impact and humble lifestyles of such islanders, this would be yet another appalling injustice of indigenous people’s lives and livelihoods being adversely affected by the obese lifestyles of first world peoples.

But, I digress. That’s another post. Back to the science.

2. HOW DO SCIENTISTS KNOW IT’S HAPPENING?

Ok, this is what I know.

In 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published the State of the Climate 2009 report. The reports contributors included over 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries.

Drawing from comprehensive data from multiple and diverse sources (eg. satellites, weather balloons, weather stations, ships, buoys and field surveys, etc) the report sets out 10 measurable global indicators of changing temperatures. The changes in those indicators are consistent with a warming world.

Seven of those indicators are rising:

  1. Air temperature over land.
  2. Sea surface temperature.
  3. Air temperature over oceans.
  4. Sea level.
  5. Ocean heat.
  6. Humidity.
  7. Tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface.

And three of those indicators are declining:

  1. Arctic sea ice.
  2. Glaciers.
  3. Spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.

Looking at air temperature and other climate indicators, variations year to year can be seen due to natural variability (eg. natural climatic variations such as El Niño/La Niña events). In order to understand climate change, the longer-term record had to be studied – the average temperatures decade-to-decade. And the long-term study points to increasing global temperatures. Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade that preceded it. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. Similarly, the 2000s were warmer too.

This posts continues in Climate Change: no comprende (continued) here.

Vanishing of the Bees.

I’m too busy to blog this week (no seriously, I am).

But here’s a good clip – Ellen Page (Hard Candy, Juno) on Real Time (25/3), discussing permaculture, documentary “The Vanishing of the Bees”, and the INTERCONNECTEDNESS of life (ha! I’m not the only one banging on about it, yo ;P).

And this is the trailer for that documentary, The Vanishing of the Bees (which she narrated):

And this is either Julian Assange or Draco Malfoy’s older brother dancing in a club in Reykjavik:

And this is the song currently accompanying my morning cup of tea:

 

Posting this weekend.

Busy b……………….

 

demo.prothemedesign.com

 

 

 

A FORCE OF NATURE: David Suzuki

“The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.”

David Suzuki


It was a chilly but wonderfully moonlight night on Sunday evening when a friend and I attended the Australian premier of the David Suzuki documentary, A Force of Nature, at the Moonlight Cinema in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. David Suzuki is a Japanese Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist, who has hosted the award-winning CBC science program The Nature of Things since 1979. Having grown up watching his television specials (broadcast in Australia on the ABC), I was excited to see him giving an introduction before the screening. If you’re familiar with his work as a science communicator, you’ll be surprised by the very personal nature of this film, made by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson.

This is the trailer:

THE FILM PREMISE.

David is in the final act of his life and academic career, and is about to deliver his last lecture. Not shown in its entirety, the brilliant lecture forms the spine of the film – it is visited in specific segments, to introduce themes and ideas that are then explored biographically through David. We are taken to various locations of significance to him, and broader significance in terms of our collective history (Hiroshima, for example. David marvels at the resilience of nature after the devastation of the atomic bomb). As he visits these places and reflects on the impact of these events on his life, we understand the evolution of his activism/career and the motivation behind the message – of the interconnectedness of all life, and respect for the natural world. The result is a more emotionally powerful argument for science. Gunnarsson seamlessly moves us between these personal scenes and the lecture, as the essential theme of the film unfolds: what LEGACY are we leaving behind?

INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE LEGACY.

Not only the central theme of the film, Legacy is also the title of David’s new book (read about it here). A Force of Nature and Legacy are part of The David Suzuki Legacy Project. When one becomes an elder, a status that 74 year-old David embraces in the documentary, leaving a legacy becomes the most important thing you can turn your mind too. In A Force of Nature, he reflects not only on his personal legacy but, more importantly, our collective legacy.

WHAT WE DO WE REALLY VALUE?

According to David, this is the greatest threat to that collective legacy: the industrialised/first world obsession with economic growth. It seems that to this society, or at least to political and business leaders, growth/expansion is not merely a means to an end; growth is progress. But David argues we need to reassess what kind of growth is good, and what progress actually means to us. The great benefit of being an elder, of being wise, is that it enables you to do just that. What do we really value? And how do we structure our lives, lifestyles, and economies to ensure that the important things are preserved, and that future generations can also enjoy them? We see that responsible public policies come after that, when we make sure we elect leaders and reward businesses who ambitiously pursue practical policies that reflect those values – as ambitiously as the United States pursued a space program after Sputnik (a determined program that, unintentionally, gave us GPS and mobile phones). In order to get the right leadership in place, though, the majority needs to come to really understand the direction our personal choices are taking us in, collectively. This is why David moved into television and media educating – to influence public consciousness on a broader scale.

BECAUSE THE SOLUTION LIES IN OUR HEADS.

David says that the 2kg organ that enabled our undistinguished ancestors to take over the world – our BRAIN – is the organ we must now use to save ourselves from the self-destruction we are creating.  Our brains are endowed with memory, curiosity, and inventiveness that enabled us to successfully populate the planet (despite our sensory and physical handicaps). And that brainpower did something incredible, which has set our species apart from others: it invented the idea of THE FUTURE. The future doesn’t exist (yet) – only the present, the now, is real. But our brains have the ability to perceive that we can affect the future by what we do today. This is CREATIVE POWER – the power to create the future. It is the power to imagine, and to see ahead where the dangers and opportunities lie. To recall experience and knowledge in order to plan and inform our behaviours, and understand how those behaviours (thoughts and actions) will affect the future reality. Deliberate cause and effect. David believes it is this foresight that enabled our species to rise to supremacy as it has.

PRICING LIFE ON EARTH? CARBON TAX vs BIG INDUSTRY

Yet business interests, emission intensive industries and their political allies are encouraging us now to ignore this ability of foresight, for one oft cited (bullshit) reason in particular:

“we can’t afford it”.

This is nonsense, David argues, as environmental concerns should always be primary… after all, it is the natural world that sustains human life in the long term – not jobs! He also argues that the notion that we can’t afford to reduce our carbon emissions is a complete fallacy. Business interests in his country of Canada, as in Australia, have opposed the imposition of a carbon tax, arguably one of the best market mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions, saying it would cripple the economy. Here in Australia, Prime Minister Gillard’s recent announcement of plans to introduce a carbon tax from July 1st next year has been met with fierce opposition by the usual suspects: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, right wing politicians, their media geisha and the money-focused voters that support them.  In the State of NSW, the right-wing opposition leader has wasted no time in using the issue, warning voters about how the tax will add to their annual power bills, and vowing to “fight the carbon tax” (wow, what a hero). Yet Sweden has had a carbon tax since 1991, and charges $150 a tonne – not applied to fuels used for electricity generation. Because fuels from renewable sources (such as ethanol and biofuels) are exempted, the tax has led to a large increase in the use of biomass for heating and industry. Since the imposition of the tax to the year 2006, they reduced carbon emissions by 9%, which exceeded the Kyoto target so much that they were told they could actually increase their emission by 4% (something they declined to do, because it wasn’t considered ambitious enough!). Moreover, their economy grew by 44% during that time.

Like David said, that old “we can’t afford it” line? Lie.

THE BRAIN, THE SOLUTION.

Our abilities of foresight are greater today than they have ever been, thanks to science, the body of knowledge across disciplines, and the freedom of access we have to that knowledge facilitated by communication technology. Ironically though, it is the advent of too much information that is in some ways impeding environmentalists’ efforts. People, having a bias towards a particular viewpoint (regardless of whether that viewpoint is true or not) can easily find sources of “information” that justifiy their bias. What is needed are people who can sift through the information we are bombarded with everyday, and identify what is valid and what is not. Moreover, we need people and sources of information that will take the time to look at an issue in depth AND in its broader historical and social context – how it relates to other news stories and ongoing developments, giving us a more complete understanding of the issues. Why is this important? Because of one simple, powerful fact: everything is interconnected.

THE WISDOM OF INDIGENOUS CULTURES, THE KNOWLEDGE OF DEVELOPED COUNTRIES, AND THE GENIUS OF NATURE.

Something I’ve always admired about David is his genuine respect for indigenous cultures’ relationship with the natural world. It is an affinity that has deepened with the birth of his grandson, whose father is a First Nation’s man of Canada (we get to see the little dude in the movie). The values of many aboriginal cultures in relation to the environment stand in complete contrast with the values that underpin the economic system of the West, Asia… the industrialised world. Many indigenous cultures place an emphasis on having humility and reverence in the face of nature. The idea that certain areas, certain places in nature, for example, are sacred and not to be exploited, is regarded as silly by growth/money-minded, myopic thinkers. That particular value though, of reverence for nature and seeking to work with it, or like it, (as opposed to conquering and using it), is one we will need to embrace en masse for our own survival. That doesn’t mean turning our backs on cities, or technology – far from it. In fact, the convergence of this value and technology – as in biomimicry – has already given birth to some ingenious designs, inventions, and architecture. Have a look at this awesome bit of biomimicry modern architecture in Zimbabwe (of all places):

Green Building in Zimbabwe Modeled After Termite Mounds

Another idea that is embodied in many indigenous cultures, and ancient spiritual traditions, that David has articulated scientifically throughout his career, is the interconnectedness, and hence, interdependence, of all life – of everything within the biosphere. Every living thing is bound together by scientific laws and the elements. We are, fundamentally, all the same.

In this short clip from the film, he articulates this interconnectedness beautifully in relation to air:

The problem we face as a species is that we tend to look at everything in a segmented, fragmented way. We see parts, not the whole.  This is reflected in public policy – we treat energy, health, the environment, immigration and economics like they are separate issues. But they aren’t – they are, as we are, all interconnected.

David believes this is the most crucial message we need to get out today… our very survival now depends upon it. Until enough of us let this fact permeate our thinking and consciousness, and govern our behaviour and choices, we will continue to head in the wrong direction.

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