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September Already?!

Whoa, so it has been ages since I’ve been here… I’ve been keeping an eye on things, but haven’t had a chance to post. It’s been a crazy year so far. Some major highs, like…

  • Buying (mortgaging) our first house, just 5 mins up the road from my good friend Jho’s place
  • Getting a new kitten (rescued off the road at 5wks old, poor wee thing, just in time for my birthday)

I hereby christen this kitten Fruit Tingle.

  • Ending a lease for the last time ever (no more renting!!)
  • Everyone going great guns at work and school
  • My health hitting a plateau (and since the only other way it could go was down, I’m taking plateau as a major win)
  • Yankee Elv getting dreadlocks, which she loves, and which killed my hands for the 50-odd hours it took me to do them for her

Yankee Elv loving her dreads (they were less than a week old at this point)

Yankee Elv's new hairdo gave me the perfect opportunity to rock a dreadstache.

  • Mr Teeny-bop getting taller than me and is starting to act less like an irritating teenager and more like a sensible verging-on-grown-up boy
  • Our old mate The Dyke Mike coming back down under… maybe for good again
  • My vegan-ness continues unabated
  • …and did I mention our new house? Quarter of an acre, baby!

Yankee Elv running around the lounge room on the day we got the keys.

But there have been some heavy lows too. The biggest and hardest hitting was Loodle and Old Man Fatso leaving us for greener pastures/another turn at the wheel. They were both very old and it was time… but it still sucked. It’s been since January for Fatso and since May for Loodle, but we still miss them and catch ourselves looking for them. That’s probably partly why I haven’t been here too much. I didn’t feel like I could write about it. Time helps, a bit.

Fatso and Loodle in times gone by.

Otherwise… Yankee Elv’s health has gone down as mine has improved plateaued and we’re not sure what’s going on with her yet. The car has been a never-ending money pit, but we have found an awesome mechanic and our new place is closer to Yankee Elv’s work, so there’s less driving (better for us and the planet!) and everything seems to be on track now. There’s an enormous possum in our ceiling who refuses to leave and is probably peeing all over everything up there as I type. I think his little minion possums come bring him food and water. He sounds like an overgrown wombat wandering around over our heads.

But in the grand scheme of things, life hasn’t been treating us too badly. Some days are diamonds, some… no, I’m not going to go there John Denver. Especially since I only realised the lyrics were ‘stones’ when I looked them up just now. I always thought he said ‘dogs’. Why did I think that?

Sorry, sidetracked.

So anyway, basically, I’m here to say I’m here. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I still read your comments and I still think of things to write here all the time. I just haven’t been able to get here to write anything. Mortgages involve a lot of paperwork. Paperwork = time-consuming.

I hope to get here more often from now on, I’ve got lots I want to say, but I’m going to be honest. No promises. There’s lots we want to do with the new house to get it just how we want it and the rest of my family are planning on applying for Aussie citizenship shortly, now they’re eligible. More paperwork; more time. But I’ll pop back again at least periodically, if not regularly… maybe I’ll do some shorter posts. Somewhere between the microblogging of Twitter and the super-epic-macroblogging I tend to do here.

So on that note, I leave you with one of the awesome surprises we found it our backyard (it was a stick when we moved in and suddenly, rapidly, ended up like this):

Mulberries

More mulberries (there are tonnes of them)

Peaches! I think it's a dwarf peach tree.

More to come…

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Spotlight: Population Growth

Population growth is such a dilemma for me… I know that if I have more kids I want to have more than one. I have had the experience of raising an only child and wouldn’t want to do it again – siblings are so important to a child’s social growth. But is it worth giving a kid a sibling if doing so could damage the planet they will have to live on after I’m gone? This is especially relevant if everyone thinks the same way and wants lots of kids too. I’m so unsure about how to move forward with that.

I found the most awesome simulation of population growth/decline, relative to CO2 emissions. Check it out at breathingearth.net.

Screenshot of the Breathing Earth simulation.

Screenshot of the Breathing Earth simulation.

Basically, it shows how many people are dying and being born, and how much CO2 is being emitted – by country, as you watch. You can hover your mouse pointer over different countries to get statistics at the bottom left. The key at the bottom is pretty easy to follow, and there’s an explanation of where the data came from below the simulator.

This is a stupendous way to really see the impact of population growth and CO2 emissions and how they’re linked. I was surprised to find that even small, apparently eco-friendly countries (like New Zealand, for example) often have something like a birth rate double that of their death rate. And I really thought Australia was at Zero Population Growth (ZPG), but maybe stupid Costello’s 2006 census speech, imploring Australians to have more children – ‘one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country’ – has reversed that. What a twit. Alternatively, maybe I confused ZPG with a downward trending birth rate percentage – it’s still higher than the death rate, but not by as much as it was some years ago.

In fact though, I’ve been hovering over lots of countries in the simulation and Sweden is the only one I’ve found with a ZPG. I’ve found none with a negative growth. It doesn’t seem to matter if the country is rich, poor, at peace or experiencing war, which continent it’s on…

CO2 emissions are consistently high across the board as well, but of course they are higher for larger countries, and particularly larger countries in the west. Although Australia’s seems quite low, when you compare it to the population, it’s actually pretty significant.

This brings me back to the question of what to do about having more children.

  • Do greenies (and ultimately everyone) have to be altruistic and give up their dreams of multi-child families? We’ve seen how that works in China, with the One-child policy. Now there are significantly more boys than girls and impacts such as decreased marriage prospects, increased crime and social difficulties are becoming obvious. I don’t think this is the best choice.
  • Perhaps international adoption needs to be made easier and more socially acceptable. For example, I would love to adopt, but in Queensland, you need to have been married for at least two years to even be eligible, and since gay marriage is illegal, that’s not going to happen for me. Plus, Australia has limited adoption arrangements with other countries, and many of the countries with an abundance of orphans (such as war-torn countries) are also very conservative and against sending children home with same-sex parents. Even so, in an ideal world there would be no war, no illness and thus much fewer orphans, so ideally, this wouldn’t be a long-term solution.
  • Do we need to revisit the idea of a kibbutz, so children get to grow up with ‘siblings’ without the corresponding population increase? I’m not the biggest fan of the way the ‘Children’s Societies’ were managed, but some kind of communal living and financial/social equality appeals to me. A lot of eco-villages work similarly, but based on the experiences of similar living situations in the past, it seems that many of these places work well in theory but not so well in practice.

It’s not an urgent issue for me, but dudes, if you have any ideas, I’m open to suggestions.

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Reuse: Meat for Heat

Tesco, a UK grocery chain, is not producing any waste. They’re recycling or reusing any excess stuff they use, don’t sell or otherwise produce. That’s pretty super awesome, especially since they’re not even required to do this by law.

Potentially overshadowing this very cool fact, howerver, is the fact that one way they’re achieving this is by turning meat that is too old to sell into electricity. Apparently enough electricity is produced per year to heat about 600 homes – from about 5000 tonnes of manky meat.

Gross.

Tesco - the UK supermarket that reuses or recycles all waste.

Tesco - the UK supermarket that reuses or recycles all waste.

Veg*ns across the UK (and angry sympathisers worldwide) are all up in arms, and I can’t say I totally blame them. It would be pretty nasty to find out that, as a vegan, your good deeds were essentially cancelled out by the fuel used to light and heat your home. Of course, one would hope you’d be purchasing green energy… but who knows how this meat-power is marketed? Technically, some people might call it green – it’s not oil- or coal-based.

I do think it’s good the meat isn’t just going to the dump. That would be worse than using it for electricity, in my opinion. At least it’s getting used – waste is the worst thing. I gotta ask though… why is so much meat being produced (aka, animals being raised, slaughtered and transported in an environmentally unfriendly manner) that there’s such a large amount of leftovers that don’t sell? 5000 tonnes of meat per year is a lot of animals. It’s a lot of pain and suffering for them. It’s a lot of crops used to feed these animals, that could have been used to feed humans. Alternatively, the land used to grow the crops and house the animals could have been left wild. It’s a lot of methane produced. It’s a lot of carbon emitted to transport the animals (both alive and dead). It’s a lot of antibiotics and hormones and offal and waste and pollution and manure. Ew.

I don’t eat meat, but I don’t automatically write off all people who do. I do have a lot more respect for people who eat meat ethically and consciously though; really knowing where their meat comes from and how it got to their plate. Typically these people tend to eat organic meat. Folks who just mindlessly grab the mass-produced stuff off a shelf in the supermarket are not making an informed choice. This ‘meat for heat’ practice is encouraging that – basically suggesting that there’s no impact. There is an impact, a big one, and people ought to be encouraged to think about that.

So good on you Tesco, for going so far with your environmental efforts. I’m not even being sarcastic. However – take it a step further. Ask the energy companies to clearly identify who is buying electricity sourced from meat. Reduce the amount of meat you purchase, since not all of it is selling. Help the environment just that little bit more.

Cos seriously Tesco. Meat as electricty = gross symptom of climate change. Really gross.

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Mental Health Moment #1

It’s been a long weekend and a long day and my eyes are sore and it’s hot and my head is stuffy and I’m sick of dealing with teenage angst and playing politics at work sucks.

My own issues seem petty when you consider that the death toll from the Victorian bushfires is at 130. It’s likely to rise. One of my Melbourne colleagues lives in Marysville – her house was only 8km from the fires. The fires in New South Wales (some only 70km from my friend’s place – fortunately southerly winds seem to have turned the fires back from her property) would normally be national news, but they’re lost amidst the devastation of Victoria. Ditto the massive floods in Far North Queensland.

I had lunch with a friend today who told me she was crying all weekend, the sight of the burnt out cars was too much for her. 12 people have died in the town she lived in as a little girl.

On Friday, I was in a phone conference with a guy in Melbourne who was casually mentioning he could see bushfires coming up alongside his building. We were asking if he needed to evacuate. ‘She’ll be right,’ he said. ‘We’re not in danger here.’ I bet he wouldn’t be so complacent today.

Super shit long weekend.

I’m going to get to a post – my Spotlight was meant to be on bottled water today, and I’ll get to it, but it might be later in the week. I’ll have to backdate it. I’m too mentally tired tonight to worry about it. Sorry guys.

I saw this today and it made me laugh. I think the fact that people from western countries tend to look at things top to bottom, left to right makes this even funnier. Funny is important when you need a mental health moment.

Mental Health Monday - LOLCats FTW

Mental Health Monday - LOLCats FTW

Tonight I feel lucky to be a Brisbanite, no matter how tired I am. Stay safe everyone.

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Spotlight: Green Funerals

The discussion of funerals may seem a morbid or macabre place to start this blog, but it’s something that has been on my mind recently. My grandmother died in the early hours of Christmas morning, less than two weeks ago and I attended her funeral on Friday. Death typically gets me thinking about spirituality and what death means to people. While spiritually I am looking a little deeper into the beliefs of Zen Buddhism, what’s more appropriate to this blog is what I’ve been learning about funerals.

Nanna’s funeral was fairly typical. She was cremated in a wooden coffin, painted white with gold-coloured metal handles and trim. Her coffin was covered with flowers – some will be burned with her and others will go back to the nursing home where she spent her last few months. The service was short but poignant. There were photos; people spoke about her life. I know she was dressed in new clothes and shoes, but I don’t know if she was embalmed – I presume so, since the funeral was over a week after her death. Several weeks after the cremation, her ashes will be interred in the same plot as my uncle and grandfather, with her rosary beads and a photo of her parents. My family was very happy with the funeral. Everything was done to suit Nanna and it provided a sense of closure for the family.

The whole thing got me thinking though. What did I want for my funeral? While that funeral was indeed perfect for Nan, it didn’t appeal to me at all. A greenie at heart, I started wondering – which was better for the environment, burial or cremation? What about all those flowers? What about the trees that were cut down to provide the coffin? What was the impact of the metal trim and handles, and what of the embalming fluid?

Around the same time, someone in the naturalliving community on Livejournal wrote a post called Green Living: Green Death, basically asking the same questions. So I read through the comments there, and I researched.

According to the Australian Funeral Directors Association, cremations now outnumber burials in Australia, most likely due to a shortage of cemetery space in populated areas. Based on an episode of PBS’s Frontline called ‘The Undertaking’, I get the impression this is not the case in the US. (Only watch that episode if you’re ok with seeing dead people, including embalming. It’s very interesting. Captions available for the d/Deaf folks – click the CC on the bottom right.)

As it turns out, cremation is better environmentally than traditional burial. Research conducted by Adelaide’s Centennial Park found that while up to 160kg of carbon dioxide is released into the air when a person is cremated (at least 50kg from the person themselves), the upkeep required to maintain graveyards over the years eventually outstrips the carbon dioxide produced by a cremation. Cremation also saves on physical space. There is a third option, however, which is the eco-friendly winner: green funerals.

Green funerals involve burial is specially designated cemeteries. Instead of grass and headstones, however, the cemetery is natural bushland, each grave with a tree planted above. The tree is not just a symbol and a way for that person to live on, but a way of extending your eco-friendly lifestyle beyond the grave as the tree removes carbon from the air throughout its life. If a grave marker is desired, an inscription in natural rock or a wooden headstone is added. Coffins are made from biodegradable materials; recycled cardboard, bamboo or cane. Some places even bury people in simple shrouds, using a reusable coffin with a hinged bottom to transport and lower the dead into the grave. There is no embalming, due to the impact of the chemicals on the atmosphere and groundwater. Some places bury the bodies more shallowly than the traditional six feet to ensure quicker and more complete decomposition than is possible in the anaerobic conditions of a generic grave. Some places are or will be carbon neutral (carbon offsetting the impact of transportation and so on).

There is more emphasis on family involvement – families can pick where in the bushland cemetery the would like the burial to occur; some families help dig the grave. Ceremonies often occur at the gravesite. I think this type of funeral would provide me with lots of closure and feeling of satisfaction that the person will still go on in some way.

Currently, there are not many green cemeteries in Australia; one just outside Hobart, another in Lismore, and one is planned for Adelaide. Lismore is the closest one to where I live, and it’s in a protected koala santuary, which appeals to me. There will be more though. There are Australian green funeral homes and Australian manufacturers of eco-friendly coffins. In Britain over the last 10 years, natural burial grounds have increased in number from less than 10 to almost 230. I foresee the same happening here, there is surely a market for it – especially because in addition to being eco-friendly, green funerals are also typically cheaper. There are some natural burial grounds cropping up in the US too.

Strangely enough, Mr Pre-teen told me years ago that he wants to either be buried or cremated and then have his ashes buried, at the base of a tree so he’ll continue to live through the life of the tree. Very deep and meaningful for a young kid, at the time. Turns out his idea isn’t terribly unusual. So if he still feels the same, he and I will be buried in a bushland burial. Yankee Elv is cool with that, which is the important thing, as funerals are more for the people left behind than the person moving on. Yankee Elv hasn’t yet decided if she wants to do the same though, or if she’ll donate her body to science. From an environmental perspective, donating your body isn’t the best as it gets pumped full of chemicals and cremated later. We’re both down for organ donation though.

For more information about green funerals, see:
LifeArt Coffins an eco-friendly coffin company in Sydney
Use GPS to Find Your Dead – blog post about using GPS to find graves in natural burial grounds
Saying a Green Goodbye – Brisbane Times article which includes specific information about cremations
OnEarth Cardboard Funeral Caskets – an eco-friendly coffin company in Adelaide
Natural Death Centre – an association in Byron Bay empowering a natural approach to death
Eternal Reefs – an alternative to green funerals, includes cremation though
Greensprings Natural Cemetery – a green burial ground in the US
Grave Matters – a book I’d love to read

Not that I’m planning on dying anytime soon, but I’m glad that my death won’t negate any environmental good I do while I’m alive. It’s definitely a green burial for me, I think the kind with just a shroud, in with the koalas.

What will you choose?

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