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Alex Steffen on has an good post on "The Environmental Spectrum". Basically, he breaks down the different strands of environmentalism into "bright green", "light green", "dark green" and "grey". While some might think of it in terms of needless taxonomy, it's kind of an interesting way to categorise schools of thought with regard to solving environmental issues.

The short definitions are as follows:
  • "[B]right green environmentalism is a belief that sustainable innovation is the best path to lasting prosperity, and that any vision of sustainability which does not offer prosperity and well-being will not succeed. Bright green environmentalism is a call to use innovation, design, urban revitalization and entrepreneurial zeal to transform the systems that support our lives"
  • "Light green environmentalists tend to emphasize lifestyle/behavioral/consumer change as key to sustainability, or at least as the best mechanism for triggering broader changes. Light greens strongly advocate change at the individual level."
  • "Dark greens, in contrast, tend to emphasize the need to pull back from consumerism (sometimes even from industrialization itself) and emphasize local solutions, short supply chains and direct connection to the land. They strongly advocate change at the community level."
  • "Grays ... are those who deny there's a need to do anything at all, whether as individuals or as a society."
Now, this seems to be a kind of handy taxonomy, because very few of us will be entirely one "shade" of green to the exclusion of all others. I personally think of myself as about 50% "bright" green, 30% "dark" and "20%" light.

The reason I'm not entirely "bright" green is due to the hint that is given in the description - I don't think entrepreneurs and capitalism have all (or even most) of the answers. More significantly, I don't think that technology is evolving fast enough to pull us all out of the hot water in time. Sure, it's picking up pace, but since everyone is still spending several times more in building fucking weapons than doing R&D on actual life-enhancing technology, we're about 40 years behind where we might be otherwise. We won't even mention bullshit things like teflon, and, hah, the Internet (although that was well-and-truly repurposed by the academics, that came out of military budgets. What if even half of that spending had been devoted to non-military R&D, rather than government scientific research agencies and universities having their budgets and grants cut again... and again.. and again?  It makes me sick thinking of it. Anyway, the reality is that insufficient resources have been devoted to sustainable technology for decades - I don't think they can catch up, although maybe they will. However, we are going to have to pull something out of our hats technology-wise if we want to keep generating power without dwindling fossil fuels or drowning in the super-high oceans.

Now, the "dark" green philosophy is appealing in many ways, except for the BIG strain of Calvinist puritanism that can be embodied in it, and the anti-technology and anti-urban strains. We cannot all live on patches of ground where we grow sufficient crops to sustain ourselves. There simply isn't enough fertile land to sustain the world's population if that were the case. And while I might sympathise with Malthusian ideas, a lot of the time the people who espouse them are assuming that those other people should be the ones who die off in the epidemics or whatever. Funnily enough, a lot of the time, those other people are consuming the least resources. On a global level, it is more often efficient to grow sheep in countries where there is ample pasture than in countries like England where there is less room (although growing sheep in the Scottish and Welsh highlands where you can't grow much else makes perfect sense). It is more often efficient to grow veges in warm climates and ship them than grow them in heated greenhouses year-round. Of course, eating as much as possible in-season would reduce the need for either of these strategies. However, I would not like to return to the diet of my ancestors, which was turnips (potatoes arrived from the Americas, but I suppose they grow happily in Ireland and most places), cabbage and mutton. In most countries, there is simply not enough wild food to sustain appreciably-sized populations. However, shortening supply chains, buying local wherever possible, and consuming less - consuming less is the most crucial factor here - is just good sense. The capitalist notion of growth at all costs is simply not sustainable.

With the "light" green philosophy, it's the thought that "every little bit helps". However, composting your kitchen scraps makes fuck-all difference if you're constantly consuming dirty coal-fired electricity, both directly and in all the imported consumer goods you acquire. Buying organic meats is a mere drop in the ocean of factory-farmed everything. Read David MacKay's book (free PDF download, and most of it accessible on the website pages) on sustainable energy - in terms of national figures - and you'll see that "every bit makes a difference" can be a dangerously disingenuous way of thinking. He describes the scale of trying to hit current energy consumption targets using sustainable resources. If you keep electing fuckwit politicians who try and reduce their Kyoto targets, don't impose carbon taxes, deny the issue, dodge any meaningful responses (look all the fucking highways that are being built with public funds while mass transport still can't attract proper funding), and encourage the export of waste and energy issues to overseas manufacturers, you are not helping. Even with your compost bucket. Ok, it is good to "do your bit" - but without the larger context, your bit is pretty damn minimal. However, if everyone gets rid of the incandescents (and I am replacing all my bulbs as we speak), that will actually achieve something. And I hope that the tipping point of sustainable farming happens sometime within my lifetime. I don't buy non-organic or non-sustainably-farmed meats any more... except when I'm buying takeaway food (and I'm trying to reduce that). Oh, and sustainably-farmed does not have to be organic. You can have "organic" factory farms that produce unhappy animals (the feed is organic, but they're still crammed into small cages/barns/whatever); you can have sustainably-farmed food that isn't counted as "organic" because the grower doesn't have the appropriate certification, or feeds their totally free-range chickens 95% scraps and forage, but 5% non-organic grain. Sheep in NZ is totally free-range, as are most cows, although I was disgusted to hear recently that there are a few feed lots in NZ. What the hell for? Farmers' markets are handy, if you can talk to the growers about their practices (and even visit their farms if they sell from the farm gate).

So, as you can see, that categorisation has been good food for thought.

In a slightly more practical vein, I've been trying to find out info on sustainable fisheries in Australia. The authoritative body here seems to be the Australian Marine Conservation Society, but unfortunately, they make you pay for their Sustainable Seafood Guide, even the wee pocket version. I personally think this sucks - if you're serious about helping people make sustainable choices, some information needs to be free. However, the ABC has a small guide on sustainable fisheries. It boils down to the only fish you should eat is barramundi, hoki, blue-eye, yellowfin tuna (none of the other tunas), bream, ling (blech), whiting and oily fishes like mullet and mackerel. No orange roughy, trevally, shark, scallops or baby octopus. They have objections to rainbow trout because it's an introduced fish (although if they're fishing existing stocks, I personally don't care) and Pacific oysters (same reason; ditto).

Now, in NZ,  the Forest and Bird Society have produced a comprehensive guide to the "best fish" to buy, which is freely downloadable. However, nothing is perfect yet - as they say on the full guide, "As in previous years, no fishery qualified for green (sustainable) status, but several species (kina, anchovy, pilchards, sprats and blue mackerel) are within 1-2 points of making it on to the green list.  If improvements are made to fisheries management we may see some species being added to the green list in the future." Again, stop buying orange roughy! Hoki doesn't do well in their terms, and nor do the sharks, tunas (albacore and skipjack are less bad, yellowfin is dire) and snappers.

Finally, Appropedia is an interesting wiki about sustainability. Some impractical or self-promoting crap, but some interesting ideas as well.

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The second clip on this page tells you all about it. Yes, LEZilla goes to Victoria's Secret (from 7 minutes in). Thank you, Julie Goldman.

And while we're on the sustainability theme (not so much this post, but in general), [ profile] goatsfoot has a great post on the grants and schemes Australian homeowners have access to for reducing their energy consumption. I do find it slightly strange that you can get quite a heavy grant for solar generation that feeds back into the grid, but not for wind power. C'est la vie. Cheaper insulation, rainwater tanks, solar hot water, etc etc.
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A post by Keith Ng that I agree with 100%. My personal view is that the only potential benefit of Earth Hour is the symbolism. If you haven't swapped out all or most of your incandescents - even one - for CFLs or other alternative lighting, it's fairly pointless. If you're going to burn candles, um, they produce CO2 as well. If you're going to be burning more than a few candles, you're going to emit more carbon than your lightbulb during that time. Especially if you live somewhere (unlike Australia) where your electricity is not predominantly generated by burning coal. Sorry.

Ok, maybe the symbolism will enhance consciousness, but I'm afraid I feel fairly cynical about that. If you're not aware of ecological concerns by now, such as dwindling fossil fuels and climate change, what rock have you been hiding under? Seriously. However, for those morons who are going out of their way to burn more electricity this evening, you can get fucked.

ETA: Actually, I thought of another use for the occasion - peer pressure. Remember how we hardly ever used to recycle (except for glass bottles when someone had a "bottle drive", or we could be bothered taking them back to the shop for 5c), and now pretty much everyone does? Of course, a big driver of that change was kerb-side recycling schemes, but the kerb-side schemes wouldn't have come about without that demand. So I withdraw some of my cynicism about this thing - if it helps people start thinking about their energy consumption, it's a start.

I just wished I saw a bit more publicity of the nature that "you saved so many g of CO2 for an hour - you could save 10x that a day by switching that lightbulb for a CFL". Well, maybe that message will get out there - directly or indirectly - in the media coverage.
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...but perhaps sometimes it's not worth arguing with it.

I'm in the throes of PMT, and while I don't feel grumpy in the slightest, I'm clumsy and vague as all buggery. I managed to injure my girlfriend, not once, but twice yesterday. I have also made the discovery that if one keeps one's phone in one's knee pocket while doing earthworks because one is supposed to be on call, one should ensure that one removes said phone before tossing the grubby combats into the wash. For some reason, phones seem to not work as well - or at all - after being immersed in 20 deg water and a mixture of salts and surfactants for a couple of hours.

Amusingly enough, while I'm busy taking out my vagueness on everyone and everything around me, I've only managed to scratch myself once very slightly. I haven't cut myself with the bread knife while slicing tasty sourdough loaf. I haven't dropped my chopping knife on my toes. I haven't drilled parts of my anatomy while rehanging the shed door. I haven't stood on a rake or a shovel, despite littering the ground with them assiduously yesterday. Oh well.

On the constructive front, [ profile] saluqi and I did a monty shopping run yesterday (farmers' market food, and, er, shelves), and constructed two small garden beds, which are the nucleus of the new garden we're building at their place. V exciting. Once those have "cooked" for a month or so (they're lasagna/no dig beds), we'll be able to plant out the seedlings I'll hopefully have ready by then. After ensuring we have some adequate breeze protection. Herb garden, fruit trees and shrubberies to come.

I have also found that if one is after full-body exercise and enhancement of core strength, nothing is better than filling a wheelbarrow with wet coir and trundling it up a 10-20 deg slope for a 100 metres or so. More than once.
trixtah: (Default) a manner of speaking, I've gone berserk this weekend planting some seeds for the new garden that [personal profile] saluqi and I will be constructing at her and [profile] faxon's new property. The place I'm living at now has a very dinky potting shed, so I'm using that to start things off. I've been updating the MyFolia log - if anyone other than [personal profile] kightp also has a journal there, give me a shout-out. :-)

I've planted peas, tomatoes, leeks, beans, celery and onions. I forgot to get some corn seeds yesterday, so I'll be off to do that now. I also got what bean seeds were available from the health food shop at Belconnen markets, and the beans are all the flat kind, which aren't my favourite. Still, hopefully they'll grow, and I might order some nice round French beans as well.

I'm planting all the seeds into potting mix and growing them on as much as possible. Things like peas and beans can be directly sown, but we had variable results with that last year, due to the depredations of bloody earwigs.

Off for decadent lunch (I suppose it's too late to call it "brunch" now)!
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Seriously, what is the point? I was discussing the proliferation of the horrible things with friends and family in NZ, and the universal consensus is that they're vile and useless. If it's not clear what I'm talking about, it's over-large houses, often featuring ridiculous "porticos" and pillars, stuck out in the outermost suburbs, that fill up an entire land block (maybe a metre or two left around the edges), and in areas where there is no public transport to speak of, necessitating the use of a car for commuting.

I don't actually understand why they keep being built, or why people keep buying them. It makes much more sense to build up rather than cover the entire remaining land area in shoddily-built urban sprawl that requires more energy to maintain (both for commuting and heating/cooling costs of the monstrosity).

Part of the problem is that us colonials seem to have no idea about quality dense housing. Also, if an apartment block was built as a medium-rise, pet-friendly, double-glazed, spacious, conveniently-located, sound-proofed dwelling with some actual green space replacing some of the unused housing footprint, it would undoubtedly cost a bomb (because of course people don't care about double-glazing if they can have a granite workbench and stainless steel appliances for the same amount of money), and people probably still wouldn't want to live in them for the reasons they would prefer to live in the McMansions.

If anyone can explain why the McMs are so compelling, I'd really like to know. Honestly, if I won the lottery, I'd take a punt in developing a desirable high-density dwelling, just to prove it could work. Even in the antipodes.
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This is a photoset of the pics I took at Container City, located at Trinity Buoy Wharf in the London Docklands (which is a fascinating historical part of London). It's basically a bunch of apartments constructed out of revamped old shipping containers, and it's right on the wharf. 10 minutes' walk to East India DLR (and 15 minutes from there to Bank station in the middle of the City). It is the kind of place I'd love to live in (except for tourists like me taking pics - I surprised one guy emerging from a building, oops).

Those buildings are aspirational, and what I really aspire to is a portable house like one of these. Is it not sexy? Alas, it's only a prototype, but there're more pics on Fab Prefab. With some modifications, of course - I'd want more privacy for the ablutions area (don't designers have visitors?) and way more bookshelves. And I don't need a toilet TV (how long do people spend in there?)

Here's another container house constructed in Wellington - definitely check out the flickr set linked from the post. Oh, and the Quik House, which is one of the original container concepts, although a bit pricey for me.
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I has internets now, of the temporary sort. I bethought myself that I should make the most of the mobility support officer at work being my Own Little Friend, so I scrounged a wireless internet card off him (of the type that is normally loaned out to the execs when they go roaming around). Since I'm on call this week, it's even legitimate. No per-site snooping, either. The card just provides 1GB of data a month, no auditing. Because execs never download porn, eh?

On the news front, I have nearly finished my Exchange server migration. It's going to be three weeks behind schedule when all is done, but the last two servers have been held up by a couple of weeks due to a) the thingummies that connect the server to the super-duper storage system were not ordered (duh! and this was after I said the server was exactly like the ones that currently exist and are attached to the SAN at present with their thingummies); b) half a week of one of those remaining two servers and the new one in Brisbane trying to throw a hissy-fit. No email for a couple of hours on Wed night and Thurs morning, and then another few hours without mail the next evening later while I tried to get the databases into a consistent state so backups would run.

On the somewhat-related-to-work front, the v. cute communications-coordinator chick at work has taken to calling me "T-Mac" (based on my name) and "dude" in our day-to-day dealings (in a gently-teasing kind of way). I am not officially out to her, but you know, not that I'd fool anyone with two eyes for more than two seconds either. I am finding these nicknames slightly cringe-making (do I start wearing fedoras and making outré hand gestures?) and yet endearing. Hmmmm. She's straight and is going to be getting married in six months. Then again, I had a cute straight colleague who had just gotten engaged in my last job... but she was a highly experimental young lady, as it turned out. Heh heh heh. Well, it makes the days pass a bit more pleasantly just as is. :-)

I have had my car modified to run on gas as well as petrol (liquid propane+butane mix, for you furriners). It cost $4000, and I'll be getting $2000 back on a government rebate. The conversion is worth about twice as much as the car is, but I'll feel much happier driving my monster on that basis. The particulate emissions are zero, the petrochemical smog-forming emissions are much less (substances like nitrous oxide and general hydrocarbons), and CO2 emissions are below anything except pure ethanol (and electricity, of course). At the same time, I got a dual-bore carb fitted, so it goes bloody excellently now. Extremely smooth acceleration, and I took it up to 90 miles an hour (145 kph) on the flat with oomph to spare. I went for a wee burn around... which was quite a bit more distance than I thought I covered, with flat straights, hills, windy and dirt roads, and it went fabulously and burned a quarter of a tank.

Finally, a meme ganked from [ profile] saluqi and [ profile] micheinnz because it's been ages:

another languagey meme )
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A good article in the Guardian today about the fact that "food miles" is overly simplistic as a method of calculating what environmental impacts a specific food has.

What's best to eat is organic, in season, and local, of course. That's fine at the moment, but I would not be happy to return to the traditional Irish diet of mutton, potatoes, cabbages and maybe the occasional leek in the depths of winter. If I ate mutton. If the cabbages didn't require irrigation here in Oz. Or the potatoes, for that matter. Not to mention the various agricultural machinery used to grow the food.

It'd be nice to have a list of what's in season around the world, how it's farmed (bio-dynamic, organic, natural fertilisers, grass-fed, all chemicals all da time?), whether the farm workers were paid appropriate wages for their location, and whether no forests were clear-felled to provide the growing area. Until that happens (and imagine how hard it would be to collate that information and verify it), we can only do the best we can. As wimpish and imperfect as that seems - nothing is ever going to be perfect in that respect (leaving aside apocalyptic scenarios involving the removal of most of the world's population).
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Here is a list of things I have done, and will be doing shortly, to reduce my load on the environment:

  • I'm using my Sodastream and groovy water filter to make my own sparkling water. The filter has improved my drinking water amazingly, and it's so nice not to be chucking out one or two plastic bottles every week.
  • I'm getting my old Kingswood converted to LPG shortly. I pretty much only drive on weekends or for jaunts to Sydney, but it will make a major difference. Not only does gas have extremely light emissions compared to petrol, and especially diesel, but it's like the fuel has an octane factor of 110, so you use slightly less to achieve the same travelling distance.
  • All my lightbulbs are compact fluorescents. It took a little while to find the "warm" coloured ones that don't make the place look like the office, but I'm happy with the effect. It annoys me that there is no constructive way of getting rid of the three wasteful halogen lights in the kitchen area, but I leave those lights off as much as possible. I also need to find something like an LED that will fit into my reading lamp by my bed - that's a halogen too, at present.
  • I only buy organic meats (I eat chicken and pork, but no red meat), and organic other thingies as much as possible. I don't care so much about purported health benefits - although ingesting fewer pesticides and so on is bound to be good - but the fact you're contaminating the earth less and farming in a more sustainable manner are the stand-out benefits to me. I don't think there is any reasonable way to get rid of intensive or even industrialised farming... but I think it can be done in such a way that it actually has fewer effects than traditional methods (which require a lot of land).
  • I have a bokashi bucket to take all my food waste. I'm lucky that I can add it to the compost at the CDL's, because I have no way of disposing of it in my small flat. It's working well - there is a not-too-offensive smell if I have the lid open (it smells like silage rather than rot), but otherwise it's completely unnoticeable.
  • Of course, I recycle whatever I can recycle.
  • Finally, I'm trying to fill my kettle with only as much water as I need for each use. If any of you North Americans drink hot tea and don't have a jug, get one! It's certainly more efficient than heating water in the microwave, and tea made from microwaved water is, frankly, vile (god knows why it makes a difference, but it does. Perhaps boiling it in the kettle oxygenates the water more?)
Things I need to improve:
  • Turning gadgets off at the wall. There's no need for me to have my stereo and wireless router on standby all the time.
  • Buying the right gadget at the right time. I'm happy with my phone, so I won't be replacing it for the next couple of years. However, I bought a new music player - the iAudio I should have bought initially - because the iPod was giving me gyp. I'll be flogging the iPod off to a colleague at work, or on eBay, but still.
  • I've gotten my plastic bag store down to less than a dozen, but I don't need that many in reserve for my rubbish bin.
  • I should probably take shorter showers, but I won't.
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So, today is apparently "blog for the environment" day. While it's something we should be considering constantly, raising the profile even more certainly can't hurt: some bandwagons you just need to jump on. Personally, I think that the environment is one of the most pressing issues facing us, in conjunction with the economic policies that make it more profitable to pollute and use up our environmental capital, rather than fixing it.

There are those, like Bjorn Lomborg, who believe that by over-emphasising the perils of global warming and so on, there is a risk that other crucial priorities for human well-being will be overlooked. Two immediate responses spring to mind: 1) if the world goes up in flames, other "priorities" will be moot; 2) since when has any group, such as the entire population of the world, been incapable of working on more than one objective at a time?

We do the things we can, and hope that all those small differences add up to enough. Now, I'm going to talk about "buy local". Worthy aim, when it doesn't fuck up something else. To all Tasman-ites, please, for god's sake, stop buying Australian rice. The Murray-Darling river system feeds those rice paddies. It is drying up. There have been droughts for years. They are selling Murray River salt in the supermarkets. The environmental cost of rice shipped in from Asia via cargo boat is negligible compared to the cost of Australia's largest river dying. Think about it. Cargo boats, while they pollute in their own way, can carry massive quantities of goods, so their carbon footprint is relatively low. Sure, consider food miles as part of the equation, but look at the cost to the local environment when it comes to trying to grow crops that are unsuitable for it, and check out the means of transport - trains vs trucks, boats vs planes, and so on. These equations are not simple, but at least try to consider the whole picture.
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Canberra is in the throes of a drought and has been for years. Literally. There has been below-average rainfall for the last 8 years. As of today, the dams that supply Canberra are 38% full. But you wouldn't be able to tell from the amount of reaction you get from the powers-that-be. They only implemented Stage 3 water restrictions a couple of months back (after a winter of no rain) and there still seems to be idiocies being carried out in the name of "civic beauty". One is the watering of the median strips on the roads into Canberra. There are eucalypts in two rows and grass on median strips about 15m across. The grass is watered, every other day. Why?

Then there are the fountains, which are my particular bugbear. I walk past four of them on my way into work. And without exception, they are all ugly. Ok, perhaps there is some merit in the Ugly Civic Fountain outside the Canberra Centre for some, but the rest of them are varying degrees of pathetic dribbles and/or algae breeders, with no aesthetic merit whatsoever.

Don't believe me? Here they are:ugly fountain pics )

Since the two "fountains" in the middle of the roundabouts on Parkes Way aren't on my route home, I didn't take pictures of them. About 20m across, full of true-blue disgusting scum, and maybe a pathetic dribble in the middle when they switch it on. The ducks seem to like them, though, when the lake is a bit rough. Shame they're plonked into the middle of a concrete desert, with no cover.

Before anyone accuses me of being utterly curmudgeonly, some of the fountains/water features around town are quite nice, and seemed to be nicely maintained (perhaps because there is little reservoir visible). I also value greenspace in town, and think the two nice green parks in Civic need to be watered, as does any multi-function park. I just don't understand the watering of the median strips, where you can't exactly have your lunch/a picnic (unless you think traffic fumes make a nice sauce). And I don't see the point of dissipating thousands of litres of water into the air when it doesn't rain back down again. Despite the disingenousness of their talk about "non-potable" and "recirculated" water, at least there has been some acknowledgment of the wastage involved on Parliament Hill. It's just a shame that the message doesn't seem to be tricking down. Ho ho.
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A few things I've been thinking about in the last month:

  • I really do need to find a decently-sized place to live.
  • I resent the fact that to get enough space to fit me, my books, and a pet and maybe a garden, I essentially have to rent a 3-bedroom house. Canberra's housing stock consists of them, McMansions, "functional" apartment blocks with no garden space (I live in one now), or townhouses/swanky apartments ditto.
  • I don't want to have to share with a stranger here in Canberra. There might be some groovy, reasonably clean, reasonably quiet, reasonably sane, queer-friendly types here, but hm, yer standard 3-bedder does not have soundproofing, and I'm getting more twitchy about privacy the older I get.
  • I wish I had about a million bucks so I could start off a co-housing project. Room for garden, nanimals, play area, with moderately dense, well-designed and varied living spaces.
  • Renting a three-bedder seems wasteful for one person. It is wasteful. Even if I could find one cheap enough to rent by myself that wasn't in hickville.
  • I've offset my carbon consumption last year (and will do for the forseeable). I've done my car and my current living quarters for less than $200. Obviously I'll up that if I get a larger place.
  • Organisations that do carbon offsets in Australia:
    • Elementree (native treeplanting around Australia, focussing on areas with erosion and salinity problems - they have an excellent carbon calculator tool, and this was my choice for doing my offsets).
    • Carbon Neutral (predominantly native treeplanting around Australia, again in marginal areas affected by salinity etc. In association with Men of the Trees, and my second choice for Australian offsets).
    • Greenfleet (treeplanting around Australia, with a particular focus on the Murray/Darling river system area)
    • Climate Friendly (wind farm development in Australia and NZ. While this has longer term benefits than planting trees, I think they should be self-funding. Funding R&D into other alternative energy sources seems to be more worthwhile).
    • EasyBeingGreen (a NSW-based commercial enterprise that sponsors emission-reduction methods, such as low-energy lightbulbs, and sponsoring tradespeople to install low-emission options.  Again, I'm not sure why an individual should donate money for them to carry out their services, but the ideas are worthy.)
  • Carbon offsets in NZ:
    • CarbonZero (part of Landcare Research, a government body, and used by the Green Party to offset all their travel. Provides calculators which one can use to offset with the EBEX21 project, which places convenants over unused land (>100ha) for the purpose of it regenerating its own bush/forest, while monitoring and calculating results. I use this to offset my air travel).
  • Next time I'm home, I'll rent a car from Europcar.
  • I need to switch over to the "green" electricity tariff.
  • And no more Aussie-grown rice. While I'd much prefer to "buy local", having rice paddies around a river system that is rapidly drying up seems counter-productive, to say the least. At least with fruit trees, in theory (and I hope in increasing actuality), they can be drip-irrigated directly at the roots. Rice paddies, not so much.
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We've all heard about climate change. One thing that's hard for me to adjust to in Australia is the climate. Canberra has a huge temperature variation over the course of a year, but it's getting hotter. Being a New Zealander, if you're not a farmer, it's easy to be complacent about climate change (although I don't personally know any kiwis who are complacent, since we love our country so much), whereas here in Australia, the marginality of human civilisation on this continent feels more acute every day. It's in your face.

I went to see An Inconvenient Truth a couple of weekends back. It was interesting enough, stuff we know, yadda yadda, but for me, it was noteworthy for two things. One, if Al Gore's prestige makes the complacent tossers in certain large industrialised countries wake up and get their heads out of the sand, great. Forgive my cynicism in saying that big business won't make enough changes fast enough until they are made to do so. We'll see if people start putting their money where their mouths are, and, more importantly in the short term, if certain governments do as well.

Secondly, I was shocked by the graph representing the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the last few years. Follow the link to look at a version of that graph. It shows the cycle of CO2 levels found in Antarctic ice cores, going back a few ice ages. It also shows the trend for temperatures over that time, which you can see is closely associated with the rise or fall of CO2 - all well and good. What shocked me however, was that I'd read previously that the carbon dioxide levels had been fairly elevated compared to previous levels. Sure, 10% more, 15% more? Whatever. Silly me. Check out the graph again. See the red line heading up vertically at the far right of the graph? How about a concentration of CO2 nearly 50% more than it's ever been? The graph shows long cycles between the ice ages and warmer periods, with carbon dioxide ranging between 180 ppm (ice age) to 280 ppm. This is over 400,000 years. Since the modern age, that amount has gone up to 360 ppm. If we translate to the associated rise in temperature that has always gone with the rise in carbon dioxide levels in the past, the picture is not a pretty one. Ok, most of us knew that, but I seriously didn't realise it was so bad.

On to the personal. Canberra is arid, and it's not weather that works for me, at all. The last time it rained in Canberra was nearly a month ago. Remember, it was spring up until the beginning of this month.
Canberra rain graph )
November was quite wet, since it rained on 7 days, for a total of 40mm of rain. In all of October, there was 4mm of rain. In September, there was 18mm of rain, nearly half of which fell on one day, the 4th. Canberra's rainfall, for the entire year, has been 363.2mm They've just put in Stage III water restrictions, which means using a hand-held hose for watering, alternate days, during 4-hourly time slots. Why wasn't this done in October, with the piddly 4mm of rain then? Half of the rain this past year fell in two months: Jan (79mm) and June (74.4mm). How sustainable are dam levels when you have rainfall patterns like that?

If you look at the graph line with the yellow triangles showing the number of rainy days a month, you can see why it's not terribly sustainable. Even that number is somewhat misleading, since a large proportion of the days I've graphed had less than 0.2 mm of rain fall (which would pretty much evaporate when it hit the ground). On average this year, less than 5 days a month have had rain. For another disturbing trend, the pink line shows the highest rainfall on a single day in a month - see how closely the total rainfall navy line approaches that pink one. It's happening more often than not, showing that in most of the months of the year (except, again, January and June), most of the rain in that month fell on one day. In August, it all fell on one day (since the other day it rained that month, it was one of the 0.2mm jobbies).

Just for comparison purposes, the total rainfall in Los Angeles last year (you know, that place right next to a big desert) was 693mm. Since the average for LA up until the 90s was 391mm, it's obvious where the rain has gone. Heh. Wellington gets about 1700mm of rainfall a year, while London gets about 500mm. Before you think that only ducks live in Wellington, it's all in big storms which leave lots of clear days in between - and a lot more sunshine hours than London, as I can vouch.

Regarding sunshine, Canberra isn't at all short of that, given the lack of rain.
Canberra temperature graph )
It's already hotter than this time last year, oh joy. The max and min temps refer to the hottest or coldest one day reached that month. The averages for all the days that month aren't that far behind. See the 20 degree flucutation in max and min temperatures across the year? Auckland's range is half of that, only about 9 degs over the course of a year. One certainly can't get complacent about the weather here. And I won't even start on about the 14 bushfires currently burning 234,000ha (578471 acres) of bushland around Victoria... at least a couple of months early. I suppose that by peak bushfire time, February, there won't be anything left to burn.

So, while the NZ government is considering what to do with the Tokelauan and other Pacific refugees that will be turning up on the doorstep when their islands get flooded out, they might want to think about how many Aussies are going to think "bugger this" and go somewhere that it rains. As for support on the Kiwi side of the Tasman, while several groups of firefighters are over here helping out, big business is doing its bit too. Fonterra, the dairy export board, is "looking at markets Australian companies would not be able to supply". Well, how nice. Of course, I'm wondering why on earth Australia - given the unsustainability of large pasturelands here - is farming enough dairy to export bloody low-cost milk powder, but that attitude of Kiwi farmers saying "give us higher prices now" gives me the creeps. Of course, given the latest UN report saying that cows produce more greenhouse gases than cars, we'll see just how long that attitude lasts. I'd like to see that UN statistic verified, although I note they're counting all the ground clearance, fertiliser and feed costs into that output.

Finally, in the movie, Al Gore says that hope isn't lost, and points to the progress made with the ozone hole as evidence that people can smarten their ideas up. I think this particular problem is less tractable, although I suppose improvements made might work as precipately as the problems developed. But I can't help thinking a huge part of the problem is Malthusian, and what are we going to do about that? I'll qualify that slightly. I believe we might be able to adequately feed the existing population without overburdening our resources - if we start managing them properly now - but I don't think the Earth is capable of doing so for the projected population in the next century. And certainly not if we don't make any changes.
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(?) Industry House, which is a new building that has gone up over the road from work, is using a bark-and-(possibly) native-grasses garden as part of the surrounds. There are still a few too many concrete slabs covering the rest of the space, but at least it's not a water-hungry garden or another fucking fountain. It amazes me how a city, which has been in a drought for 8 years, can still be so gung-ho about running the stupid things.


I don't know if it's a "trend", but the number of women walking around in dark outfits and light-coloured heels is astounding. I don't pretend to be a fashion expert, but it's just a bad look. Also, to the woman with the navy suit and lilac heels, I hope you're colourblind, because otherwise there is no excuse.

PS. Got both eps of Torchwood today. Eee!
trixtah: (Default)
Yes, petrol prices are going up. And we're surprised why? It's a finite resource (unless we have a few millenia to wait for vegetation to get converted, although at the rate we're chopping down the vegetation, who knows if we'll ever get oil again). It's running out.

Yes, of course OPEC manipulates prices and so on, but it IS getting scarcer. Get over it. Get into ethanol (cleaner burning) or bio-diesel if you don't want to pay for petroleum and stop yer whining.

Oh, and if you're in the US, the equivalent of AU90c a litre is not much. Here, the average price is $AU1.12 a litre. In NZ, it's $AU1.29 a litre. In the UK, it's 90.2p, which is $AU2.14. I hate to think of the crying in the US and around the world if we all had to pay UK prices.

And I like Hugo Chavez's offer of supplying petrol to poor communities in the US. Sure, it's partly a bite-back to Pat Robertson's charming pronouncements, but it's kind of nice for someone to be putting resources where their mouth is. I don't like the idea of "hydraulic despotism" (as coined by Frank Herbert) being used to hold groups to ransom, but the idea of making those who can afford it pay more is pretty appealing.
trixtah: (Default)
I love earth buildings, and if one day I get sufficiently rich enough to buy some land and build a house, it will be made of dirt. I can imagine all the "yeah rights" coming from the kiwi contingent, because, you know, in NZ, it rains. But so long as your earth building has a "good hat and boots", ie. it has a decent roof with wide eaves and a good solid foundation that doesn't allow water to pool, then your earth building will outlast you. One of the oldest buildings in NZ, Pompallier House, is made with a rammed-earth construction, and is still going strong over 160 years later.

So, there are two main earth building methods. There's rammed earth or pisé, which involved putting up formwork to lay out the wall courses (such as when pouring concrete walls), filling the forms with layers of earth (normally with 3-5% cement mixed in), and then tamping down each layer to half its original height, before shovelling in more earth and tamping again. Hard work, and you can imagine how hard it must've been in the days before pneumatic tamping tools! The advantage of this method is that you get nice flat walls and they go up fast, since you're building in situ. Disadvantages are that the soil must have fairly precise clay and sand proportions (high clay), and that the formwork and tamping can get pretty pricey.

Adobe is the process of making bricks out of mud, which again needs to have quite a decent amount of clay, with some sand and possibly straw mixed in. You mix up the mud, pour it into brick moulds, and then wait for the bricks to cure (a month, at least). So, the advantages of adobe are that you can do it in bits at a time (you don't need to make all your bricks at once), it needs bugger-all skill to make bricks and it's more flexible with doing nice shapes like curves in your walls. Disadvantages are that you can't start building for AT LEAST a month (assuming you managed to make all your bricks in one day (uh huh), and you have perfect weather during that month), you need to tote the bricks around to lay them, and you need to learn bricklaying.

Given the usual state of NZ weather, I always thought that rammed earth would be the way to go.

But wait...!

There's a company here in Oz who have come up with a method called Formblock. It's like a combination of the rammed earth and adobe methods. You get a basic assembly which consists of a block shape which is 600x300x300mm. These are then slotted together to form a run, and then a slurry of earth+10% cement is poured into the run. Next day, you remove the block assembly and slot it together for the next layer up. The assembly is offset in the same way that normal bricks are, so when you pour the next layer, the slurry runs down into the gap left between the blocks on the lower level, thus no need for mortaring. Wow. Much less labour-intensive than the other methods, reasonably fast (certainly faster than adobe!), no need for a high clay content (in fact, less is better) and it's reasonably flexible, since you can build the forms into curves. The only drawbacks are the higher percentage of cement needed (cost), the cost of the forms ($AU3500 for a kit that will do a 7m course) and the fact that the wall widths are only 300mm. I'm used to the idea of 450-600mm widths, although that might just be my being used to rammed earth ideas (you need to be able to stand between the forms to ram the earth down). It'd be interesting to see just what difference the narrower width makes to thermal mass properties. Although, if they use it here in Oz, which has much greater temperature ranges than NZ, then it must be reasonably decent.

So, yeah, if and when I ever build my house, that is how I'm going to build it!!


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