Spotlight: Apocalypse Soon

I read this article called ‘Why Wait Till 2012? 8 Quasi-Serious Ways to Ward Off the Apocalypse Now‘ on Planet Green the other day, and it really got me thinking. It’s about, essentially, the end of the world, due to peak oil, peak coal, peak dirt, war and climate change.

Are we facing the apocalypse? More to the point, is the apocalypse inevitable? This might sound pessimistic, but is all this fighting for climate change going to make much difference? Even though we might stop massive tracts of land from being swamped by the ocean, and huge numbers of people from being displaced or killed, people will still starve or freeze/overheat and subsequently die due to the aftermath of peak oil/peak coal. Read more about the impact of peak oil – it’s very sobering.

I don’t think it really clicked to me, before I read these articles, just how dependent on oil we are. I figured that as long as I mostly ate local, used green electricty and didn’t drive much, it wouldn’t affect me dramatically. It seems though, that even local food production will falter and electricity generally will become scarce. From a purely personal perspective, my current location probably does put me in a good position. I don’t heat or cool my house, so temperature fluctuations aren’t going to kill me. Even if the sea rises, it won’t cover Brisbane (according to the Sea Level Rise Explorer, we are about 4m above seal level, so safe in the near future). I do live in a location with a reasonable number of local food producers and in a climate where I can grow a significant proportion of my own food. I have plans within the next five to ten years to move to a more sustainable way of life (hard to do in a rental house), that will ensure my family is more self-sufficient. Heck, just the fact that I have an awareness of the issue puts me a step ahead. I’m less likely to panic when the time comes.

Will we have to harvest at home like this in the future?

Even so, I’ve been asking myself so many questions.

  • Is looking five to ten years ahead too long to wait to go really sustainable? (Will the economy and life as we know it collapse before then?) If so, how am I supposed to do it earlier than that if my finances won’t allow it?
  • What are we going to do for water? How will the dams run without coal-based electricity?
  • How will the food stretch to all the people we have to feed? Even though we are in a good location, we’re going to struggle to feed the millions of people living in South East Queensland in a local and sustainable way, without access to oil or coal.
  • Will I have to start eating meat again? I know how to fish, even if I don’t like to do it. Keeping backyard chickens for eggs is easy enough.
  • How will we manage from an electrical perspective? Even if I have green power now, most people don’t and there’s not enough for everyone (we don’t have the facilities). Will energy providers and governments work fast to get green energy up and running for all? How will they do that without oil and coal? The solar panels and wind turbines have to be produced and transported somehow.
  • What will happen to the internet? Everyone’s computers will become obsolete and there will be no replacements. Giant server farms won’t be sustainable due to the lack of energy to power them. People will have less time to contribute to the internet anyway cos we’ll all be out trying to grow food. How will we learn how to survive without the internet? Does the local community already have that knowledge, if we can band together to share it? How will we organise this knowledge sharing? How will we know who knows what?
  • What about money? Will I be employed? Will Yankee Elv be employed? My job is dependent on energy and telecommunications. If I am employed, how will I have time to do the things I need to to survive (like grow food and travel places on food/bike)?
  • Will hospitals still run? Will medicines be available? Some people in my family are dependent on medication. Will sperm banks still exist? I don’t know how they could with no energy to keep things frozen. How will Yankee Elv and I have more children if we want them? (The old-fashioned way really doesn’t appeal to me!)
  • If we’re struggling to find enough food to feed ourselves, how will we feed our pets? Will they have to hunt for themselves? How will this affect the local indigenous animal populations?
  • Will schools continue to exist as we know them? Will kids still get to go to university, or will the be expected to drop out and work to help keep their families alive?
  • Will we ever see our families again without oil to fuel the transport? Mine live close enough that I could travel there under my own steam (although it would take a while), but Yankee Elv’s family are on a whole ‘nother continent.
  • Will there be overcrowding as we take in refugees, or will there be no refugees after all because they will die from starvation? Maybe the refugees won’t be able to get to Australia because there will be no international transport anymore.
  • Will the world powers be upended? Current first world countries could become third world countries who can’t sustain themselves. Third world countries (already full of subsistence farmers who already live without oil/coal) would become first world countries, experts in how to survive. How will that work for Australia though? How will we be able to communicate with other countries if electricity and telecommunications go bust? We’re a giant island in the middle of nowhere. Will world travel still exist?
  • Will there be wars? How significantly will crime increase? Are we going to end up in a Mad Max/Waterworld style society?
  • How will we all cope?

Part of me thinks I’m completely insane for considering these things – they seem so far-fetched, like they’re some weird kind of alternate reality. Having read more about peak oil though, I’m starting to get the impression that these things are more and more likely. I wonder if I’m spending too much effort thinking about climate change and not enough on survival, on learning skills now so I know how to live later. At the same time, I think the things we can do to combat climate change and the after-effects of peak oil are very similar. I do think I’m going to start focusing more on:

  • Learning how to make my own clothes and other non-disposable cloth items (hankies, blankets, napkins etc)
  • Growing my own food
  • Preserving food
  • Cooking with unusual items that can be grown locally – things like quinoa and tropical fruits
  • Foraging for wild and/or native food
  • Capturing water to use to water plants
  • Creating compost to fertilise plants
  • Investigating homemade pet food.

As much as I’d love to live in a strawbale house with a rainwater tank, solar panels and an orchard, complete with vege patch, chickens for eggs and some pet sheep for wool (they’d be ever so grateful for a shear in summer – we already shave the dog in summer to keep him cool), it’s simply not achievable right now. I think Yankee Elv and I need to look into making it achievable sooner than I originally planned though. If peak oil and climate change get worse very rapidly, what I consider financially stable now may not apply in the future. Land grabs may occur, banks mightn’t lend money anymore, and there may be no more rainwater tanks or solar panels to be had. I also think I need to try to find some kind of community, something outside of the internet, where I can connect with skilled people to learn things that may be necessary to survival. For example, maybe I can help out if someone is constructing a strawbale house so I know how to do it, even if I can’t afford to do it myself yet. There are some Transition Towns located not too far from me – I’d be interested in seeing how I can get involved.

Finally, when I start getting into that disbelieving place where I feel like I’m on a sensationalist trip, reading this article kinda put it all into perspective. Maybe it’s not apocolypse now, but it very likely will be soon*.

*OMG I can’t believe I just said that, but OMG I think it’s true. Shit.



Newsflash: UK Goes Electric

Awesome news! Treehugger has announced that the UK government is funding new Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations across the country. This is a fantastic step forward! I hope we get these in Australia soon, but of course the Europeans are first.

The UK government are funding EV charging stations around the country.

The UK government are funding EV charging stations around the country.

It makes so much sense to introduce EV charging stations in this way. Electric cars rock – check out my review of the movie ‘Who Killed the Electric Car‘ to find out more about why they’re superior to cars powered by other fuels (including biofuel). However, I’m wary about getting one because I wouldn’t be able to travel too far – there’d be nowhere to charge it except my own house. Considering how large Australia is and the kinds of distances you have to travel if you want to go somewhere, charging stations are important.

As the Treehugger article says, it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg – which comes first? People want to buy electric cars, but won’t because there’s nowhere to charge them. Conversely, no-one will build charging stations because no-one owns electric cars. But no-one will buy electric cars because there are no charging stations. No-one will build… yeah, I think you get my point. The only way around this is for the government to step up and fund either or both of these options, to sort of kick start the industry. Kudos to the UK government for figuring that out and taking that big step forward.

Sometimes I think it would be cool to live in Europe and benefit from all these cool kinds of laws and politics. Then I remember how cold it is… nah. I like living in a place where, when it’s not even summer yet, there’s more of my skin exposed than covered. Sunshiny warm goodness. Perfect for the solar energy I would buy to charge my electric car with. If I had one.



Audi Ad Ticks Greenies Off

Check out this Audi ad for their new diesel-powered car (thanks to ecorazzi for posting and bringing this to my attention!).

30% fewer emissions than what… a bike? The bus? The vege oil car? Even the annoying guy on the footpath? (He really shouldn’t be riding there, and I would get serious pedestrian rage if he was telling me to get out of the way, but that’s beside the point.)

The point? I don’t think the new Audi has 30% fewer emissions than any of those. Maybe it has 30% fewer emissions than a regular petrol car.

Audi, is your target audience the greenies, or just the light-green greenies who wanna look like they’re doing the right thing without having to actually go to any effort?* Or maybe it’s the people who are sick of paying huge petrol prices. What are you really going for?

Cos I think you just pissed a lot of people off.

*I probably just pissed a bunch of people off too, cos that was pretty cynical. Oops, I’m sick, my brain-mouth/typing fingers filter is gone.



Reduce: Tool Replacement. Grr.

Ok, I’m a bit ticked off.

We have a push mower – my parents gave it to Yankee Elv and I as a Christmas present in 2007. We were really happy to have it. Our yard is quite small, so it was great to have an eco-friendly (no fuel required!) way of keeping it in shape. It’s very achievable to mow it by hand and it’s a good work-out. I prefer it – I’m always paranoid that pebbles will fly from under a regular mower and hit me in the leg.

push mower

Ozito push mower, with blades no-one will sharpen or replace.

Anyway, the blades on the push mower are dull. We have been trying for more than 6 months to find someone to sharpen or replace the blades and no-one will do it. Bunnings used to (that’s where my parents bought it originally), but apparently it’s too cost-prohibitive for them to continue anymore. Everyone else has the same excuse. We’ve called mower places, hardware stores and tool shops. We even reached out on Freecycle and had someone agree to do it for us, but then he backed out. I emailed the mower company and got no reply. I’m very frustrated!

The mower is not usable, and we can’t continue whipper snipping the lawn, small though it may be. The day before yesterday, Yankee Elv went to Bunnings – one of those shops that won’t sharpen my current mower’s blades! – and bought a new mower. The fact that she needed to do that really pisses me off!! We got an electric mower, so at least we can use green power rather than gasoline… but that’s really not the point. The push mower we have is just fine.

It annoys me that people feel it’s not worth keeping up a perfectly good product because of their impact on their bank account. What about the impact on the environment? It’s not like the damned mower is recyclable even.




Spotlight on Zoos: Good or Bad?

Last week, I was looking at some photos my mother-in-law took when she was in Australia several months ago. One of the things she really wanted to do was hold a koala, so we went to Lone Pine Sanctuary (it’s local!) and she and Mr Teeny-bop held koalas and had their photos taken. Lots of other photos were also taken, such as the following one.

Mr Teeny-bop feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

Mr Teeny-bop feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

There were heaps of other animals there too – birds of prey, kangaroos, wombats, cassowaries, dingoes, tasmanian devils, parrots, cockatoos, galahs, lorikeets, bats, wallabies and farm animals (not sure what the farm animals were about, but anyway…), and Yankee Elv’s mom even took photos of the ugly wild scrub turkeys scratching around outside.

Yankee Elv feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

Yankee Elv feeding a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary

It was nice to go to a place where it’s not overly tourist-y (like Australia Zoo is these days), but still get to interact with all the animals. It did get me wondering though – are zoos, sanctuaries and other places like that good for the environment? I’m not going to argue about whether or not they’re good for the animals – some will say keeping animals in captivity are never good, others will say places like this provide a service to all the animals hurt on roads or displaced by deforestation. Regardless, I’m not going to debate that. What I’m interested in today is: are these places good for the environment?

With a motto like, ‘The Earth is not only for humans’, you’d think Lone Pine would be into all that eco-stuff.  The Lone Pine Sanctuary website does encourage people to do environmentally friendly things like drive safely and be aware of wildlife crossing the roads, plant eucalypts as food trees for koalas and avoiding disturbing vegetation generally (but especially in National Parks). Although all of these are aimed at wildlife conservation, they are also good for the environment generally. There is no statement on the Lone Pine Sanctuary website, however, that indicates they are working towards reducing their environmental impact.

People and animals can live together!

People and animals can live together!

Ultimately, it seems like zoos are under the same environmental pressures as any other big business, such as:

  • Water use
  • Energy consumption
  • Waste disposal and recycling.

Taronga Zoo has a comprehensive page on their site that explains it all quite clearly.

As well as Taronga Zoo, some other places, like Australia Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo, are making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and potentially become carbon neutral. Chester Zoo was the first UK zoo to be awarded ISO14001s status. Other zoos are following in their footsteps. Some new campaigns that service both the environment and animals are cropping up too. Answer the Call, for example, is a mobile phone recycling program that helps save gorilla habitat.

Granted, my research has been pretty minimal, but what I’ve read seems to indicate that zoos are no worse than many big businesses, and the larger zoos are taking measures to counteract their environmental impact. Considering most zoos get visitors thinking about conservation, I think the good these zoos do likely outweighs any negative impact.

Your thoughts?



Spotlight: Green Jobs

I’m on the job hunt at the moment, so I thought I’d check out green jobs. Not that my job is ‘un-green’ now… I’m just a boring old office worker. I don’t work in a particularly destructive industry (although lots of metal is used, and metal mining is bad). I would like to actively contribute to making the world a better place environmentally though, rather than just maintaining the status quo.

I want a green job too!

I want a green job too!

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much I’m either qualified for or that’s available in Brisbane. I’m not really entrepreneurial so I don’t want to create my own start-up solar power company. I just want something basic I can do. Surely someone needs some workplace training created for all those new folks who are building wind turbines and solar panels, right? Currently… not so much.

I did find some interesting articles in my search though, including:

Ten Best Green Jobs for the Next Decade
This article lists the kinds of industries that will be in high demand as climate change affects us even more. It’s US-centric but the basics are there. The top ten green jobs are: farmer, forester, solar power installer, energy efficiency builder, wind turbine fabricator, conservation biologist, green MBA and entrepreneur, recycler, sustainability systems developer and an urban planner. I have friends with some of those jobs! But not me.

Green Gigs
This is really a blog, not an article. There are lots of posts about looking for sustainable jobs, many of them telecommuting jobs. Telecommuting is often overlooked as a way to make a job sustainable. It’s something I could do in my current line of work quite easily, and something I keep in mind when looking for jobs. It’s not really getting out and actively making a difference though.

Ten Green Jobs to Stimulate Your Career, the Economy and the Planet
This blog post is related to the first one I mentioned, but instead of focusing on the those ten jobs, it reasons why they’re important. Better yet, it lists the top ten green jobs that will earn you over $100,000 per year. Hey, I don’t want to be greedy, but I would like to own a house on a decent plot of land one day, with animals and children and one of us as a stay-at-home mother. If only one of either myself or Yankee Elv is working, then that person better be making a decent salary!

Green Gold Rush
This article, on the Australian Conservation Foundation‘s site, talks at a high-level about how green-collar jobs can stimulate a fading economy, and how Australia can be a leader in the green industry. It makes sense the way public works made sense in the depression of the 1930s. You’ve got to get people out there earning, so they can be spending, so the economy will thrive. A booming green economy will achieve this, while at the same time encouraging sustainability. You want to be earning and spending, but on the right things. And maybe we don’t need to spend quite as much as we do now… or rather, maybe we need to re-evaluate what we spend our money on.

I know I also saw a site where you can search for green jobs, globally (as opposed to the green section on CareerOne, an Australian job site I hate… it never gives results matching my search strings in an effective way, no matter what I do). Can I find that site now though? I think not. If anyone comes across it, could you please send me the link?

What kinds of green jobs do you recommend?



Spotlight: Wind Power

So often when we think of renewable energy, we think of solar. But what about wind?

Wind turbines.

Wind turbines.

There are plenty of advantages, such as:

  • Wind is free and doesn’t create pollution. Any greenhouses gases created in the production of the wind turbines is negated within the first few months of energy production.
  • Wind turbines take up much less land thank solar panels, so the surrounding land can be used for things like agriculture.
  • Some people think the turbines are unsightly. I think they’re pretty! They’re like a symbol of the climate revolution for me.

There are some potential set-backs when considering wind power though.

  • Wind turbines do create noise pollution. Commercial wind turbines sound like a small jet engine, so they can only be installed in remote areas, away from towns. Considering Australia’s small population as compared to land area, I don’t think this would be a problem though.
  • Sometimes birds and bats are found dead around the base of the turbines. That’s a big one for me – I don’t like the idea of hurting the wildlife. I’m not sure how to get around this.
  • You need to locate the wind turbines in areas where you get a lot of wind, otherwise the energy produced is too sporadic. Again, this isn’t a problem for Australia. We have plenty of big, open, windy spaces. You can even locate the turbines in the ocean! (I wonder what impact that would have on the ocean-life though.)

Wind is becoming more and more popular, and more commercially viable. Recently, in north-western America, over 2000 megawatts of energy were created by wind in just one hour!

For home production though, I think solar is better, since it’s silent, cheaper, easily installed on rooves and produced energy more reliably in most areas. For commercial energy, however, I think wind is a great way to go… except for the impact on wildlife. Any ideas on how to combat that?