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.



Climate Change is Old News

Treehugger shared an interesting video yesterday that really shows how long concerns about climate change have been around. This film called The Unchained Goddess was made by Frank Capra (you might recognise him as the producer of It’s a Wonderful Life). It provides the same message (nearly word-for-word!) that we hear so often today.

Have a look at this excerpt:

I love the doom-inspiring music when the ice caps start melting, and the Hanna Barbera-style animated version of Miami. The numbers are frightening though – they were nervous about climate change in the late ’50s, when about 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were being emitted globally. Today, China alone emits more than that, not to mention the rest of the world. And look where we are, still doing nothing.

The fact that some Hollywood bigwig produced the film suggests that the ideas about climate change were not just the stuff of science, but everyday popular culture, like now. So what happened in the 70s and 80s to make us forget that? Think where we might be now if we hadn’t had to spend so much time learning the same lesson all over again.



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.



Reuse: Denim Insulation

Ever thought of using denim jeans for building insulation? These folks have.

Typically, insulation is made from fibreglass. Fibreglass is exactly what is sounds like – tiny glass fibres. In an earlier post I discussed (at a high level) manfacture of glass. It’s not fabulous for the environment (although better than plastic in my opinion). I would definitely say blue jeans are better. They’re better for people and the environment. I like that the jeans are either old ones that would otherwise be discarded, or denim off-cuts from denim manufacturers. Considering cotton (which denim is made of) is such a water-intensive crop, however, is the best choice for the environment though?

If it was up to me, I’d go strawbale. The straw is just leftovers from grain crops, cheap, easy to construct and very effective.

An exterior truth window on a strawbale house, showing the straw inside. Photo from Paso Straw Bale Construction Blog.

An exterior truth window on a strawbale house, showing the straw inside. Photo from Paso Straw Bale Construction Blog.

Besides, strawbale* is pretty. I like it.

I wonder if the federal government would provide a rebate on building a strawbale house, under their insualtion scheme? Somehow, I doubt it. Hmm.

*Photo from Paso Straw Bale Construction Blog.



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.


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.



The Elves in Melbourne!

I had to go to Melbourne for work on Monday, so I booked a flight for Yankee Elv and we went down a day early to take in the city. It was a good way to amalgamate travel costs and reduce emissions. We flew carbon neutral, which was surprisingly cheap, only $3.08 per flight, which is about a third of a tonne of emissions. It’s the first time Yankee Elv has been there, so it was fun!

So what kind of ELV-esque stuff did we see?

The Queen Victoria markets have a really big open-air section for fruit and veg, and one whole big aisle of it is for organic food. It was huge and pretty cool. If we lived in Melbourne we’d definitely shop there. In contrast, the West End markets up here have only a few organic stalls and they all cost a fortune. The ones in the Queen Victoria markets were fairly reasonably priced. Yankee Elv bought an orange for breakfast the next day.

The organics aisle at the Queen Victoria markets.

The organics aisle at the Queen Victoria markets.

Melbourne is known for it’s cafe culture, so we tried out a place I’d never seen before – Hudsons Coffee. It looked like a one-off sort of place, but once I got inside and started ordering, I realised it was some kind of franchise, not dissimilar to Starbucks (with better atmosphere), which was a bit disappointing. It was cosy and warm in there though, and we’d already paid for drinks, so we stayed. I couldn’t figure out why they served our drinks in paper cups and our food in paper bags, rather than using crockery since we were eating in the cafe. Weird – and wasteful.

Disposable junk at Hudsons.

Disposable junk at Hudsons.

Speaking of cosy and warm, Melbourne is cold, and apparently even the locals agree. Why else would you see restaurants with signs advertising heated couches? I wonder how much energy that wastes…

Heated couches!

Heated couches!

Public transport is pretty good in Melbourne, and a fair number of people ride bikes… probably about the same as Brisbane.

Trams and cycling and horses, oh my!

Trams and cycling and horses, oh my!

I’m not sure how I feel about the use of electric trams. I think they’re better than diesel or even natural gas buses (are they? fossil fuels still go towards the production of electricity), but the wires look ugly and they make the road rules weird! Plus, they scare the horses.

The trams scared the poor horses. Horses shouldn't be in the city anyway!

The trams scared the poor horses. Horses shouldn't be in the city anyway!

When I was working on Monday, Yankee Elv checked out this little veg*n fast food place called Lord of the Fries, right on the corner of Flinders St and Elizabeth St. She loved it – apparently the nuggets were particularly awesome. I like that there’s a veg*n food venue in such a populated place. It always seemed to have plenty of customers. I wonder if that’s because they don’t seem to advertise too much that they’re veg. When I was first in Melbourne and looking for a place to eat, I didn’t realise they were veg and I asked if they had any vege burgers. Needless to say, they looked at me a bit weirdly. At the time I felt like Indian though, so I didn’t get anything from there. I will next time though!

Veg*n fast food, Lord of the Fries.

Veg*n fast food, Lord of the Fries.

And of course, no trip to Melbourne is complete with a stop at Taco Bill for dinner. Be warned though – although they make the most awesome chocolate mousse ever in the entire universe (that I’ve tasted), it’s not vegan (just vegetarian). I’m not an official convert yet.

Taco Bill and me.

Taco Bill and me.

Tell me about your favourite ELV-ish place in Melbourne!



Reduce: Winter Heating

Ok, onward to this  getting-back-in-the-swing-of-things thing.

Today I want to talk about staying warm in winter… because it’s winter here and I’m bloody cold! Apparently it’s going to get down to 3°C (37.5°F) in the next few days, there is sleet falling already – this is unheard of in Brisbane! What’s an eco-lesbo to do?

We don’t have central heating here in Queensland, and I really don’t like using the reverse cycle air conditioner to heat the house. It’s inefficient. I purposely didn’t tell Mr Teeny-bop how to use it when we first moved in here, because it’s not good for the environment and also because we were dead broke a couple of years ago and couldn’t afford the electricity bill spike that would have ensued, had we used it. These days we’re just broke to the point of being severely injured (as opposed to dead broke… that was a pun, get it? no?), so I still don’t really want to use it, plus, you know the eco thing. Unfortunately Mr Teeny-bop is old enough to figure out things for himself these days, so we’ve had to have a chat recently about not using the air conditioner to heat (or cool) unless we REALLY need to (which in my opinion is never, in our climate).

Beanie, favourite ugly cardigan, blanket and Diva Princess the kitty hot water bottle. Toasty warm!

Beanie, favourite ugly cardigan, blanket and Diva Princess the kitty hot water bottle. I'm toasty warm!

So anyway, here’s a list of the top ten things the Elv family do instead (and what I recommend you all try)  to keep warm.

1. Wear more clothing. Layers are my friend. I especially like my old woolen cardigan that Grandma gave me. It used to be hers from years and years ago and it’s my favourite jumper ever even if it is a weird beige/camel/sand/mustard colour. (Some uncharitable people call it baby-poo brown, but they’re just jealous.) It fits perfectly and I’m very sad it’s now getting thin at the left elbow. Note to self: figure out how to make one just like it. If anyone can help with that, it would be much appreciated.

2. Wear beanies. Keeping your head warm is important. Home-made beanies are especially good because they fit your head just right, which keeps the heat in even better. Plus, they’re fair trade and you know where they came from. Yankee Elv makes some awesome ones with tassles in the corners. They looks better than they sound – I’ll add a picture when I can find one.

3. Keep your feet warm. I’m a big fan of keeping your extremities warm, and for me this definitely means feet. Even in summer I can have cold feet. No, there’s nothing wrong with my circulation. I wear thongs or shoes around the place so my feet don’t get cold on the tiles or polished floor. My favourite thing to put on my feet is my heatie wheatie feeties (they’re heat wheat pack slippers – I seriously don’t know how I lived without them). I wear them watching tv, on the computer, when working from home, in bed…

4. Invest in heat wheat packs. It’s amazing how much a little pack, warmed up in the microwave once or twice an hour for two minutes, can keep you toasty. You can get all different sizes and shapes. They are also great to take to bed, to get you warm when you first get in. There’s nothing worse than getting into a cold bed with cold sheets in winter.

5. Put flannelette sheets on your bed. Add lots of blankets too. I really like to be warm when I’m sleeping. I will actually wake up and be unable to get back to sleep if I’m too cold when sleeping, so adding an extra blanket can really make a difference.

6. Have a lounge room blanket. We have a couple of older quilts that live on the backs of our lounge chairs when they’re not in use, and they make sitting down together of an evening much more comfortable.

7. Combine body heat. Don’t sit on separate couches. Sit together and share the warmth. Let the dog cuddle up with you. Cats have a higher body temperature than humans, and they do love to snuggle. Why not have a mutually beneficial cuddle? I worked from home today and spent the last hour with the cat on my lap while I typed. Very cosy.

8. Use the heat of the sun. In the morning, I get up and open all the windows on the eastern(ish) side of the house, to get the sun in. I leave the insulating blinds on the other side of the house closed up. Then as the sun starts to move to the west, I open other windows to get the warmth in, and remember to shut everything up just as it starts to cool off, so I don’t lose that heat. I also love to sit in the hammock-swing on the sunny back verandah around midday on the weekend.

9. Warm up from the inside. Have a hot milo or a cup of tea. Some people like hot cereal in the morning (I don’t, but you know). Eat hot food. Bake more too (you’ve got to eat anyway, right?) – the oven will help warm up the house.

10. Shut doors to rooms you’re not using, to keep the heat in the main areas of the house. I’m not very good at this last one, but when I do remember, it definitely makes a difference.

What else can you do to stay warm in winter? I’m going to need all the advice I can get to make it through this cold snap…

For those of you in the northern hemisphere looking for ways to keep cool, check out my Reduce: Summer Cooling Costs post from the last southern summer.