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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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Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. 🙂

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My Water Notice: Crazy or Awesome?

I got a water notice in the mail today. It’s like a bill, except there’s nothing to pay. They just tell you how much water you’re using. Normally, we are well under the local average and the Brisbane average, but for some reason (and this is where the crazy comes in), we are averaging 594L per day!!

piece of paper with two graphs; the first comparing water usage in the household (no data for same period last year, approx 150L per day for previous period and 594L per day for current period); the second comparing water usage in this period with the local average (about 400L per day) and the Brisbane average (about 420L per day).

The utilities company is new and I don't think their data is correct for last period either, much as I'd love to say we are that fantastic at water conservation. It makes me doubt the 594L, but then I wonder if I want to doubt it, so am I being unfair?

Now, this is still within the 200L per person per day limit that Brisbane has going on (remember, we have three people in our family); less than 200L each if you consider we have two cats and a very big dog (who, for medical reasons, needs a bath once a week). During the drought, the limit was 140L per person per day, which we met pretty easily, and we’ve never had trouble with the current limit, even though it’s under the typical water allowance for most western cities. Say what you will about Australia’s carbon emissions; when it comes to water-saving measures, we’ve got it a lot better than most. Years and years of drought will do that to you. Of course, now we have more water than we need, but that’s another story…

My point is, what the heck are we doing with that kind of water usage on our water notice? I’ve quizzed Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop and none of us can figure out where we might have been using extra water. Maybe a little bit extra per day – it’s summer, we might take more showers or wash our clothes more maybe… but we’re reaching here; we don’t really think that’s it. The last two weeks the toilet has been running a bit sometimes after a flush, but the sound is like fingernails down a chalkboard to me and I stop it as soon as I hear it, so I don’t think that’s been happening very much. We seriously cannot figure it out.

Maybe there’s a leak somewhere. More investigation to follow. I’ll keep you updated.

So anyway, on the other side of the coin, regarding the potential awesomeness, check out this little ad/graphic thingy that was on the back of the water notice.

water notice advertisement outlining the benefits of drinking tap water as compared to bottled water and other beverages, highlighting cost (you can get 10 glasses of tap water for one cent).

I like that this ad went out to every Brisbane home. It sends the right message.

How’s that for promoting town water (as opposed to bottled water or other drinks)? I’m really big on tap water and very very rarely buy bottled water – only if I’m out and I cannot find free water anywhere (or I forgot my bottle). I would say this happens maybe 2 per cent of the times I drink water when I’m out of the house. This is a conscious decision on my part. Read more about that in my previous post about bottled water.

Tap water rocks and tastes cool anyway. To me, just like you get different weather when you visit different places, you also get different water. If I drink from taps at certain beaches, it’s like a blast back to my childhood… the flavour memory is crazy.

water gushing out of a simple metal tap attached to a short blue wooden stake, outdoors

This pic is from Cairns.com.au - way up north - but the tap looks very similar to the ones at the beaches I went to growing up.

Even though I was really little, I still remember it every time I have a drink there. Mum, Dad and I (my siblings weren’t born yet) would get in the car and drive to the coast and I’d sit up in my booster seat as we crested the hill and shout ‘I see the water!’, cos I could see the ocean beyond the trees. Mum and Dad would laugh and we’d speed down the hill to get there a little bit quicker (naughty naughty – I do not advocate speeding now in my old age, but I was like a miniature drag racer back then). I’d be wearing my little togs and my yellow terry-towelling shorts and the vinyl car seat of the Torana would make the backs of my legs sweat, so when we got out I’d want to hop straight in, but Mum would slather me in sunscreen beforehand, but she’d let me have a drink of beach water from the tap first.

Hey, it was the 80s, ok? And Dad still teases me by saying ‘I see the water!’ whenever we go over that hill.

You can’t get that kind of hyper-localised memory in any other product really. Food can always be sold elsewhere, like how I can get other beach memories eating a Calippo from the corner shop at the top of my street, or how I can think of childhood trips to the Ekka when I’m eating a Ykillamoocow vegan dagwood dog at the West End markets. (Om nom nom!) That beach water though, it’s special.

So yeah, now that I’m finished with my sentimental trip down memory lane, I’ll back to the topic; do you think my water notice was crazy or awesome?

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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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4

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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The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.

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