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Eco-friendly Wet Weather Gear

In case you have missed it (and if you don’t live in South East Queensland, then it’s entirely likely you have), Brisbane has been experiencing some seriously wet weather. My shed has flooded for the first time ever. On Tuesday, we had the wettest day in 23 years. It’s been pretty crazy.

And I have a broken umbrella.

Fortunately, Yankee Elv had a spare unbroken umbrella, so I’ve been using that, but it did get me thinking about the broken state of my umbrella. One of the metal spines (arms? prongs? what do you call them?) is snapped in half and the nylon fabric has become detached from another metal bit. It was a pretty cheap umbrella to start with. The plastic handle was really uncomfortable and it was super flimsy. As one blogger, Sharon Russell, said:

Many people have adopted the belief that buying several cheap umbrellas is less costly than buying one umbrella of good quality that will last a few years. Instead, they simply plan to replace broken umbrellas whenever they need to.”

I must say, I have fallen prey to this attitude. What’s worse, when I stopped to think about, it occurred to me that pretty much every bit of an umbrella is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. Also, considering the cheapness, I’m pretty sure it’s not made from recycled materials. A bummer all around.

So this led me to thinking… what kind of environmentally sustainable wet weather gear might there be available? The answer: not much.

Treehugger has a nice list of umbrellas, but everything is American (except one, which is British). I found a Dutch raincoat (but seriously, brown and yellow? what possessed them?), however it looks a bit thick for our climate. It mostly rains in summer here. Ecouterre has a list of raincoats but they are all so expensive! There are some good, inexpensive, Australian umbrellas made from recycled umbrellas available at Positive Impact, but they only sell them in sets of 1000 or more for corporate clients. I think that might be a couple too many. Even ebay can’t help me. 😦

I guess I could go for the Urban Dictionary definition.

Does anyone know where I could get some eco-friendly wet weather gear?

Short of making my own raincoat out of the one Ikea bag I happen to have available and would rather like to keep?

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Whittaker’s Dark Chocolate: Vegan!

I w0uld like to thank New Zealand for bringing Whittaker’s chocolate into my life. Well, into the lives of everyone. You see, Whittaker’s is a recognisable (read: non-specialty vegan) brand here in the Australian market. And all their dark chocolate is vegan. Plus, their chocolate (the family blocks at least) is wrapped in paper and foil – all recyclable.

I’ve known this for a while. I’ve been eating their plain and nutty chocolates for a while (peanut slab OMG!). Recently I discovered the one with little pieces of orange zest. But nothing prepared me for finding gooey peppermint chocolate the other day in Big W.

whittaker's ghana peppermint chocolate 250g

Whittaker's Ghana Peppermint family chocolate block (250g).

I love gooey peppermint chocolate! Always have!

It tastes like peppermint patties.

It tastes like the Cadbury’s family chocolate block I used to choose when it was my week to pick which chocolate we bought for the family. (Dad didn’t like my weeks, because he dislikes peppermint. Everyone else loved my week. More chocolate for them!)

It tastes like yumminess.

Thank you Whittaker’s!!!

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Rising Sea Levels on the Sunshine Coast

This article popped up on my Facebook page today. It outlines the results of a predictive sea level modelling project undertaken by researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast. In 90 years time, what with rising sea levels, vast tracts of my home region are going to be underwater.

Map showing inundation of parts of Maroochydore, Alexandra Headlands, Cotton Tree, Twin Waters, Bli Bli, Pacific Paradise, Mudjimba and Mooloolaba, due to sea level rises. Links to pdf map.

Click the map to view the full PDF version.

Looking at the maps, it seems that my parent’s place will be ok, thanks in no small part to my father’s post 1974-flood obsession with living on a hill. (Seriously, I’m not kidding when I say obsessed – we’re aiming to buy a house soon and the first thing my dad asks about any place we look at is whether or not it’s flood-prone.) My folks probably won’t be living there in 90 years anyway, but that’s not really the point.

However, parts of my high school and one of the primary schools I attended are going to get wet. The main retail/entertainment district is going to get very wet (makes sense – it’s built over a creek). The waterfront area all along the beach, places my friends lived, where my mum worked, where my sister’s boyfriend currently lives, where I got my first job (a bakery across from the surf club)… they’re all going to be underwater.

It makes it seem almost funny, how worried people have been for the last 15-odd years (or more) about a bit of beach erosion. There have been sandbags along some parts of the beaches for years now. Beach is so important where I grew up – it attracts the tourists, which of course brings in the money – but it now seems laughable to be trying to keep an extra few metres of sand on the shore when the whole place is going to be underwater as far back as the local library. That’s the library I spent countless hours in as a kid and a teen. I still have a library card.

I know I shouldn’t be as upset about this as I am. I mean, I’ve known for some time that whole island nations will be lost to the sea unless climate change can be completely stalled right now (and for some of them, not even then). I grew up on the coastline. According to the original article, 85% of Queenslanders live on the coast. Why does this news come as a surprise? What was I thinking? That somehow because it’s my home it would come through unscathed? Am I really that delusional and self-absorbed?

I don’t think it’s any of those things really. I think this news story just brought it home in a more personal, immediate way. That article is in the newspaper my parents had delivered to the house everyday. Just our little old local paper. Not a sensationalist rag that would hype up a story like this (they’d certainly hype other stories, but not this).  Not an earnest, environmental publication that is identifying these issues ahead of the mainstream news. No… if this story is in this paper, then it is mainstream news. And a lot more people are going to sit up and take notice. Myself included.

Plus, this is home. Up until now, when this whole climate change debacle wasn’t so personal, I’ve been able to do my little old bit to reduce climate change and feel like I’m doing ok. I’m contributing. After all, what more can I do? I’ve got other more important stuff going on, and it’s not like I don’t contribute. But in the same way this year’s Queensland floods hit home at all of us locals far more than similar events in Pakistan or Haiti, finding out my home town is going to be irreversibly impacted by rising sea levels affects me on a deeper, more personal level than hearing about how Australia is helping people from Kiribati prepare for life after their country becomes uninhabitable.

That’s not to say I don’t care about other people; I do. But it’s a different kind of caring; a distant kind of caring. I know we’re luckier in Australia than lots of the rest of the world. We do have the option of moving further inland. But still…

Maybe it’s selfish, but the feelings are there. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.

But what more can I do? Is it inevitable?

Maybe all that’s left is to accept that it’s happening, but to keep trying to change, keep influencing other people to change… in the hope that we can stop this inundation in its tracks. To put it more personally, maybe I need to accept that while my high school might be lost, if I try a bit harder and help other people to try harder, we can halt the water before my parents’ house goes under too. Just in case my great-great-grandkids want to see where they come from, someday.

So in the pursuit of influencing others, I ask you to ask yourself: what will my home town look like in 90 years? Will it still be there?

FYI: You can try to use this tool to help you find out, but I’m buggered if I’ve been able to make it work. Let me know if you’ve figured it out or if you know of another one.

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Christmas Ham: Just Say No

I’ve just had a mini perfect storm of incidents that have gotten me thinking about factory farming again.

Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague about being vegan. He’d just found out that I am vegan and was telling me he sometimes thinks about it. Sometimes he’ll be eating a steak and he’ll stop and think: ‘This used to be a cow’. Then he’s sickened and can’t continue eating it. But the next day he’ll be back to eating meat – except any goat products. He had a pet goat as a kid and can’t stomach anything from goats; meat, cheese, milk… nothing. I wondered aloud if Mr Teeny-bop would go the same way once we move to our own house (we’re looking at the market at the moment) and get some backyard chickens. Would he stop eating chicken altogether? (Even if he doesn’t, at least I will know his eggs are cruelty-free.) I told my colleague that my son is old enough to make up his own mind. I also was careful not to denigrate my colleagues choices about eating meat. I’m always careful that way. Sometimes it annoys me that I’m so non-boat-rocky (this has been a challenge for me before). I want to tell everyone off and try to convince them what bad choices they are making but then I remember I have to work with them.

Anyway, the second thing in my perfect storm is that a friend of mine sent me a link to the Slow Food Sunshine Coast Hinterland group (I grew up on the Sunny Coast), and I was looking around on their Facebook page and found a link to the Factory Farm Map. A quick look at the site really appalled* me but as always, I thought: that’s in the USA. I know we don’t farm our cattle like that in Australia (almost all beef cattle are grazed), and I know we do factory farm chicken but that’s getting an increasing amount of attention (particularly cage eggs; Coles has recently agreed to reduce prices on free range eggs and phase out cage eggs, and Woolworths and MacDonald’s have pledged to increase the use of free-range eggs in their stores since last year). Not that that’s an excuse, but I guess I already had knowledge about those industries, so it didn’t get me thinking in the same way.

What the site did get me wondering about was the other kinds of animals ‘produced’ in Australia. A ex-colleague of mine had dairy-farming family in the Darling Downs and insisted that the cows weren’t factory farmed, and that the family farm was typical of the industry. She claimed that many of the horror stories came from the US and didn’t apply in Australia. I know from previous research that even the friendliest dairy farms still routinely impregnate cows and remove the babies from their mothers. And what about the pigs? I love pigs! So I thought I’d put my google-fu to work.

The sheer amount of information out there is so phenomenal that today I just limited myself to pig research. (That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other animals; I just started with pigs and got a bit overwhelmed.) I found that nearly 400,000 pigs are factory farmed in Queensland alone (5.7 million Australia-wide). The conditions in which they live are so horrible it’s hard to believe that people actually put them into those situations^.

Look at this video from Animals Australia Unleashed to learn more about the conditions in Australian piggeries.

pig in sow stall from unleashsed.com.au

Pigs get so stressed in their little stalls they begin obsessively biting the bars.

It’s well documented that many sociopaths first start out by being cruel to animals. A look at the pictures from piggeries makes me wonder if many Australians are supporting a ghetto of violent offenders (aka factory farm workers) with their pork, ham and bacon purchases… because there’s no way to look at those pictures and not see animal cruelty. Those pigs didn’t put themselves into tiny cages sow stalls. People put them there. How anyone could do that is beyond me. It made me cry (and I’m not one of those people who bursts into tears at the drop of a hat).

Then I listened to the latest radio ad from SaveBabe.com, aimed at getting people to think about factory farmed pigs right before the peak meat season (aka Christmas). It’s predicated on the fact that pigs have the intelligence of a 3-year old. The ad is from the perspective of a mother pig in a sow stall, describing how she feels… spoken by a little (presumably 3-year old) girl. It’s a very emotionally evocative ad. I had another little cry and then decided to do something about it.

So as a result of my perfect storm (thinking about factory farms + feeling disgruntled that I am so moderate in expressing my views to other people) I decided to take my new-found knowledge and share a little of it with my friends via Facebook, talk about it with people at work in a non-threatening (but firm and decisive) way, maybe mention it to my family at Christmas. The vast majority of the people I know are omnivorous, although generally open-minded about alternative dietary options… but I think after looking at some of those pictures, floating along with their open-mindedness is not enough. I need to try to do something. So I shall share here and elsewhere and commit to being more vocal, and see what comes of it. Do I think people will give up their Christmas ham because of my actions? I don’t know. It feels like such a small thing to do to help those poor pigs and other animals, but when I think that the average vegetarian saves approximately 100 animal lives per year, it gives me the hope that raising awareness can really make an impact. All I can do is try.

I hope videos like this one will help some of my friends and family think about the choices they are making with their food. Why harm other creatures if you can live without doing that, right? I hope they think that too.

Go here to watch a longer version of the video.

*I’ve written before about why factory farms are bad. Alternatively, click each part of the ‘Find out how factory farms affect all of us’ section at the top of the Factory Farms Map page or look at the Factory Farming – The Facts page from Brightside Farm Sanctuary.

^If you’re concerned that some of the sites included in this post may present a biased view since they are animal welfare sites, try looking into intensive pig farming on Wikipedia (I know it’s not necessarily unbiased either, but I think it’s closer to a middle ground).

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Spotlight: Sustainable Cork

Do you remember a time when all wine and champagne bottles had a cork stopper? I barely do – I was only just old enough to start drinking alcohol when plastic corks were introduced. Not long later, screw top lids came in. I thought these were both great ideas. I’m not great with a corkscrew. Inevitably, small bits of cork would end up in my wine. It’s not so hard to pick them out, but you know… it’s a pain. Especially if you’re on your third bottle. Not that I would drink that much…

So anyway, I tended to choose bottles with plastic corks, or better yet, screw-top lids.

I won’t be doing that anymore. Now it will be cork every time for me.

Why the sudden turnaround? Well, I was reading some Fake Plastic Fish articles yesterday, and found an old piece on cork. I followed the links and found a link to the Cork Oak Landscapes section of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) site. It includes an article and a beautiful video outlining why the cork industry is important. (There’s no spoken audio so it’s accessible for Deaf folks.)

This WWF news clip on Youtube paints a more detailed picture (sorry, no captions).

Essentially, plastic stoppers and screw-tops have reduced the demand for cork. As a result, some cork farmers are leaving the forests behind (moving to the cities to find work) or replacing them with non-indigenous tree plantations (like pine or eucalypt). This action is increasing susceptibility to desertification, fires and the extinction of native species (like the endangerd Iberian Lynx). Note that cork production in Mediterranean areas has been going on for millennia, so this is a pretty major change.

What amazes me the most about cork production though, is that it’s extremely sustainable. The trees don’t get cut down – which contradicted my (admittedly hazy) ideas about cork manufacture – but are in fact carefully looked after so they can continue to act as the livelihood for generations of the same family. To make cork, the bark is harvested. This bark then regrows and is harvested again. This is done with specially designed axes that don’t harm the trees. Cattle graze in the forest, keeping the grass low and reducing the risk of fire. Overall, it’s a natural, environmentally friendly way of life that we should be looking to preserve.

Instead, I’ve been unknowingly destroying it by choosing lids that are marginally easier to remove. Bad hippy. I know I didn’t do it on purpose, but I feel kind of guilty; I want to go buy copious amounts of corked wine to make up for it, but I won’t, because I just don’t drink that much. Instead, I’m posting here, in the hope of spreading the word.

So guys, listen up! Buy wine with real corks! Save the cork forests and the animals and this gentle way of life!

P.S. If you need a reason to buy cork that is closer to home than Portugal, how about not poisoning yourself with the petro-chemicals plastic stoppers are made of and screw-top lids are lined with? Give it a try.

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Animal Testing: Meet the Public

I saw this short film preview today. The film is called Hole in the Paper Sky, and Jessica Biel produced it. She’s in it too.

It’s only a trailer, but wow – it’s heavy-hitting! I agree with ecorazzi – it should be made into a feature film. And I haven’t even seen the short yet.

I wonder, if this was made into a feature film, would animal testing decrease? With enough public pressure, could it be outlawed?

P.S. Deafies, there’s not much talking in this – it’s very visual, so you’ll be able to follow it fine.

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Growing Veges is Not My Forte

I think the title of this post says it all. If you don’t believe the title, have a look at the pictures.

itty bitty veges

These vegetables are itty bitty.

Clearly, not my forte.

I’m very good at starting gardens. I’m just not so great at finishing them. Well, actually, the finishing isn’t really a problem either. I guess you could say it’s the middle bit – the maintenance – that defies my abilities.

I created my vege garden in the one spot available in my little yard that didn’t already have an established garden. I prepared it beautifully, planted seeds, added fertiliser and watered diligently.

garden - new

My freshly prepared garden, all ready for me to plant in.

I was very excited to find seedlings coming up.

butternut pumpkin seedling

Butternut pumpkin seedling.

I especially liked the pumpkin plants – they grew so fast! I’m very much an instant gratification kind of girl, so rapidly-growing plants really appeal to me.

young butternut pumpkin plants

Young butternut pumpkin plants.

The problem with gardens is you can’t just spend a few weeks taking care of them and then leave them. Which is inevitably what happens with me. It’s what happened this time. I watered and weeded very well until work went crazy and I started working stupid hours (like until 2am sometimes). Then sleep came ahead of weeding and watering, so the plants had to fend for themselves.

This happens to me every time I start a garden. Without fail. I knew this going in, so I purposely planted them in a place where they would get rain and sunshine so they could technically be a bit self-sufficient, and clearly the weeds had no problem growing, so they would be ok.

In fact, for a while, my veges were ok.

Then the pumpkin vines started to get white splotches on them (which one of my colleagues tells me was likely mould – apparently this is a common issue Queensland pumpkin-growers face). All the little pumpkins (except one) rotted. Something started eating the sweet potato leaves. The carrots and spring onions got lost amongst the weeds. The only thing that seemed to be hanging on was the nasturtiums.

Overgrown garden.

Overgrown garden, with the butternut pumpkin vines in the foreground, as they begin their descent into death...

I pretty much gave it up as a bad job.

But several months after planting, I came across the little notations I’d optimistically made in my diary: ‘Carrot Harvest!’ and things like that. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to dig the little suckers up and see what was under the ground.

When I got down to the garden, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. The carrot tops were long and green and lovely. Pity about the carrots underneath.

stunted carrots

My stunted carrots - lovely long green tops, miniature roots.

Diva politely sat by the veges to give you a better idea of scale.

diva and veges

Diva showing the vegetables to scale.

Yes, the carrots are about 3cm (just over an inch) long.

Tiny carrots and pumpkin.

Tiny carrots and pumpkin.

The lone butternut pumpkin – looking gargantuan beside the carrots – was about 12cm (nearly 5 inches) long.

pumpkin

My tiny pumpkin.

I also planted about 20 spring onions. They all died, except for one that grew to about the size of a chive.

spring onion

No, it's not a chive. It's a spring onion. Yeah.

I didn’t pick it.

The sweet potatos are still going, but they are very chewed up. The nasturtiums are battling on (like Xena).

The thing about my gardening is that every time I do it, although I suck at it, I always suck a little bit less. I learn something every time. I will know, next time, to plant my pumpkins in a much airier place, so they don’t get too damp. I will know that green tops on the carrots doesn’t mean the roots are making much headway. I will know that spring onions hate me: they don’t grow in pots on the verandah for me, they don’t grow in the garden for me… but I am going to find a place where they do grow. Maybe in pots out in the open.

I’d be interested in anyone’s opinion on how to stop whatever it is eating my sweet potato vine. I think I can still salvage it. I saw a shiny, flea-sized bug on a leaf once, but otherwise I haven’t seen any bugs or caterpillars or anything on the leaves at all.

On the bright side, even though my vege gardening this time around was a fail, I still got to eat the pumpkin.

El pumpkino

Tasty little pumpkin.

Yankee Elv cut it open and it looked just like a normal butternut pumpkin, just tiny.

cut open pumpkin

The pumpkin looked normal inside, just miniscule.

So she made me butternut pumpkin chips. They were a delicious little snack!

chips

Tiny little chips from a tiny little pumpkin. (Roasted and sprinkled with salt.)

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