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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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Moving the BP Oil Disaster

I got some serious news about my health recently. I’m still waiting on a definite diagnosis, but I probably have a degenerative disease with a likely outcome of paralysis or blindness. Fun stuff. Imagine Yankee Elv with her hearing dog and me with a guide and/or assistance dog. Won’t we make a pair? I’m hoping I’m one of the lucky ones who misses out on those symptoms, but there’s no way to know, there’s no cure and I haven’t responded well to treatment so far.

As you may imagine, this has had me a bit distracted. That’s partly why recently there have been lots of posts about happy, achievable things, like saving chickens and eating vegan food – I haven’t felt up to delving into the serious stuff. Plus, aside from eating healthily, exercising regularly and avoiding illness and tiredness, the best way to look after myself is to reduce stress. Just for a little while, reducing stress has included not keeping up with the really nasty environmental crap – like the disaster of the BP oil spill. It just didn’t seem like something I should stress about. So that’s why you haven’t seen anything from me about arguably the greatest single event of human-created ecological catastrophe in memory.

However, a friend of mine posted about this site on Facebook, and I thought it was too good not to share. It’s called IfItWasMyHome.com and it allows you to digitally move the oil spill around on a map. You think it’s bad in the Gulf of Mexico? Well, of course it is. But is it better or worse if it’s in a major city? What about if it was where you live? On this site, you can try it out.

I found it interesting because I lived on the Gulf Coast in Texas for a while. In reality, it’s getting close to places I’ve been, so I can picture what it’s doing.

BP oil spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The little red circle shows where I used to live.

I also moved the oil spill to Brisbane. It helps me understand, more tangibly, how big it actually is. It covers up the entire south east of Queensland region, including where I live now, where I grew up, where I go camping… everything. It’s huge.

oil spill if it was moved to brisbane

Here's what the oil spill would look like if it had happened in Brisbane.

Here it is in New York. The place where Yankee Elv grew up is covered in oil.

oil spill if it was moved to new york

Here's what the oil spill would look like if it had happened in New York.

Possibly the most shocking and frightening image came up when I moved the spill to Rome.

oil spill covering rome

Here's what the oil spill would look like if it had happened in Rome.

The width of the spill is greater than the width of the entire country of Italy. The BP oil disaster is bigger – significantly bigger – than a number of European countries. You can see them right there on the map. Get that in your head…

…then think about how the oil has been gushing out unchecked for well over a month. So far, BP has not done much. What kind of company doesn’t have a contingency plan for a disaster like this? Did they really think nothing like this would ever happen? Why didn’t they have plans in place, just in case? So far, the most help has come from Kevin Costner. Good on him, his brother and their company – but why on earth is a movie star better qualified to clean this up than the enormous company who got the world into this position? And if he’s so much better qualified, why didn’t they get him on board before this happened?

See why I have been trying not to think about this? I get into a stressy, rant-y place. But really, even if BP can’t figure out how to stop the tragedy, why aren’t they at least paying people to get out and clean it up? That’s something achievable that, sadly, people have experience with.

oily pelicans

Why isn't BP paying people to clean up the affected areas and wildlife, like these poor pelicans in Louisiana?*

*Photos by Charlie Riedel for The Big Picture.

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Eco Sex Ed

I read about issues outside of concerns for the environment (I know, gasp!), and one of the things I’ve been reading about lately is the efficacy of school sex ed programs. Mr Teeny-bop is right around the age where, although he’s so young it scares me, you gotta seriously think about it. Australia is pretty open-minded about sex (legal age is 16, the kids start learning about condoms and stuff in primary school). In America, however, lots of places rely on abstinence-until-marriage type of advice, which is about as effective as paper parasol in a monsoon. Yeah, I just made that analogy (metaphor?) up.

There’s been some discussion recently, on some blogs I read, about moving towards an abstinence-until-ready style message instead, which is in keeping with growing acceptance of de facto families. (Read Alex DiBranco’s post, Could Abstinence-Until-Ready Programs Work? for more detail.) Adding to the confusion is the way the messages can be interpreted for different cultural groups. For example, Whitney Teal’s post on Abstinence Education, Minority Teens and Religion on the Women’s Rights blog indicates that even in areas where safe sex (condoms, birth control pill etc) is advocated, there is still reasonably high numbers of teen pregnancies among Black and Hispanic populations, likely due to the higher importance these groups (typically) place on religion. Safe sex is pre-meditated sex (you have to plan to get a condom or the pill), which means you willfully had sex outside of marriage, and didn’t just get caught up in the heat of the moment. The latter is considered more acceptable.

So when I saw this post on Endangered Species condoms on ecorazzi, it occurred to me that the environment might just be the one thing that crosses cultural, religious and socio-economic divides. I wonder if anyone has thought about using eco-consciousness as a motivator for safe sex?

The crux of the argument is that condoms reduce unplanned pregnancy, which in turn reduces overpopulation. I talked more about why overpopulation is bad here, but the Centre for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona is specifically making a point about how overpopulation is affecting plants and animals, particularly endangered species. Think of the images of the polar bears on shrinking ice caps and all the stories we’ve heard lately of the demise of wild tigers. Think of the orangutans in Indonesia, dying as their forests are cleared to plant palm trees for palm oil. All of these animals, and many more, are dying due to human influence – influence that would be dramatically reduced if we simply had fewer people living on the Earth.

So their solution is to start their own little safe sex ed campaign, complete with pretty pictures and the opportunity to win a lifetime supply of condoms. I think it’s pretty genius.

Artwork promoting the use of condoms to save endangered animals - sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

Artwork promoting the use of condoms to save endangered animals - sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

I also think schools everywhere, but particularly in those places with a lot of cultural and religious resistance to the use of condoms, could jump on the bandwagon. The choice of whether or not to have sex before marriage and how you’ll do that is a personal one, but the choice of whether or not to damage the environment is one that everyone has a stake in. Maybe this could be another tool to help kids who struggle with the idea of pre-meditated sex, to justify making the decision to stay safe.

Or you could do what I do. Lesbianism* is a great form of birth control.

*There are condoms and dams same-sex couples can and should use too; there are other reasons to have safe sex outside of preventing pregnancy. You know it, I know it, but I gotta say it…

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Reduce: Pig Poo Pollution

Treehugger reported today that a Taiwanese farmer has successfully trained his pigs to use litter trays rather than defecating all over their pen. He’s reduced his water usage by 50%, reduced pollution and is easily able to capture the manure for use in fertilisers. The Taiwanese government is advocating other farmers follow in his footsteps. Apparently pigs are easy to train due to their intelligence and the fact that they like to live in a clean environment anyway. (Yes, you often see them covered in mud, but this is only to cool down. Contrary to popular belief, pigs don’t sweat.)

Pigs are clean, intelligent animals... that can use their own toilet.

Pigs are clean, intelligent animals... that can use their own toilet.*

This development is, in a way, great. Surely it’s a more humane way to farm pigs, not to have them living in their own excrement. Also, the cleaner the environment, the fewer diseases there’ll be and thus the fewer anti-biotics are required – which is great for the pigs, the humans and the environment.

However, what I wanna know is – if you get friendly enough with piglets to toilet train them, how can you then raise them for slaughter? How can you have that kind of relationship with an animal – as smart as a dog, as smart as a 3 year old child – and then kill and eat it, and sell whatever you don’t eat?

I don’t understand.

While this advancement is definitely great news, wouldn’t it be so much greater (from a humanity and an environmental perspective) if people just stopped eating pigs?

*Pig picture from My Crazy Fat Piggy Site.

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In Vitro Meat

In Vitro Meat (IVM): bring it on.

Check out this article from H+ magazine (ok, number 6 is gross and sensationalist, but otherwise…).

It’s cheaper, healthier, better for the animals, better for the planet… I think we should go for it. I also think governments of nations highly dependent on agriculture (like Australia) need to start diversifying, stat. Build an IVM factory, start farming hemp, build some solar or wind farms, something… cos those huge cattle stations are going to dry up with the drought.

Yikes. Creepy but cool.

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