Category Archives: urban

Sunday Reads #5: All things climate, environmental and politics

Don’t like the budget? Your options aren’t limited to voting

While some in the government are calling the actions of many disappointed Australians “socialism” in truth, civil disobedience and peaceful protesting is an essential element to a fully functional democracy. Of course, the opposition, when they have no genuine rebuke, will resort to name calling, so let them have that, at least.

Pyne short on maths when it comes to ‘prestige’ degrees

For those who care about the quality of the minds of future Australian who will be in charge when we are old and needing assistance (hoping that we haven’t made them selfish and apathetic). The best point of this article, for me is the simple point; if university graduates are likely to earn 75% more, why not add a tax to those currently earning 75% more to support those who follow them?

It avoids the debilitating debt the current proposal will create and it will avoid further insult to the disadvantaged – those who may not make the supposed 75% more, women who take time off to have children, people who suffer an unforeseeable health problem down the track when they have already completed university and are unable to work in the same fashion, etc.

Climate change by any name is economics

A little shameless self promotion…

Why ethics won’t help cut emissions

An excellent article to support a carbon price

Rules to cut carbon emissions also reduce harmful air pollution

What’s more, CO2 isn’t the only thing that comes out of exhaust pipes. Reducing carbon emissions reduces all other relating chemicals and particulates. A decarbonised world makes for healthier lungs!

Carter and de Lange’s GWPF sea level report plagiarises their own heartland funded NIPCC propaganda

This made me laugh… But we must give them a little room. After all, they have such a small resource base to work from that this type of this is inevitable.

‘Damage already done’: Climate Change Authority staff quit amid uncertainty

My initial thought in reading this was, “Well, I’ll happily apply for a role!” (noting, obviously, my skills sets are probably not a great match)

I’ve written numerous articles over the years about the how poorly the Australian Green Sector has established itself. Since 2009 it went downhill for some time and I had a sense last year that again momentum was indeed rebuilding.

Nowadays, I’m careful of whether or not I include the words “climate change” or certain publications in an application. We all have mouths to feed and lives to live. The cuts to research and anything relating to climate by our current government is an effective tool to undermine the confidence of the sector.

Global survey: Climate change now a mainstream part of city planning

And despite the strange behaviours in Australia, the world is building cities to that buffer them from future climate change… it feels a million miles away from sprawling urban Australia.

Abbott pedals against the global climate awakening

And there you have it.

The Anthropocene Blueprint Forum

As I wrote recent, I have been left with the conclusion that our public representatives have forgotten their role to the public, as public servants, with continual measures that favour the wealthy minority and short term self-gratification.

We need solutions that support climate science, biological science, agricultural science, social science, as we best understand it, and potential threats, today.

There is a lot of talk, but little action from a wide range of agents.

About the only place I have any faith restored is in the public itself. Occupy and the March in March show that many thousands of people are motivated towards change. They see the shortcomings of Business and Usual as well as the potential to a wide range of solutions.

Crowdsourcing

In the days prior to the Information Age the democratic process gave the best weight to the people. It was the original crowdsourcing through the election of individuals that would speak on their behalf. It has never been perfect. It has always spoken for those groups with the most influence, not necessarily the majority.

Modern technology provides the solution. People can be organised to take a stand, to change behaviours and to influence their local culture via social media.

Progressives, with their diversity views, can step in time on shared values and/or mutual disgust of the current power brokers.

With this in mind, I’ve started a forum.

There is no content yet, but for a topic on the forum structure, but it is the platform I wish to develop and take NewAnthro forward.

Welcome to The Anthropocene Blueprint

The new forum is The Anthropocene Blueprint.

It’s a simple, free, forum as the initial test bed.

As the name suggests, it is a place for those who recognise that our influence is lasting. We shape the world. We shape the atmosphere, the lithosphere and the hydrosphere.

Climate will continue to change. Population will continue to grow. Our economy, our technology, indeed our modern world necessarily plays a continuing fundamental role in our modern world. The only point in question is whether all of this will come at a massive cost to those yet unborn or if we can enrich the world through all our modern processes.

Let’s draw up the Blueprint.

The Anthropocene Blueprint thus is all inclusive. Any problem noticed by a member of the community or solution already applied in a personal situation is part of the process. It is the shape of the future we wish to design.

Through a forum, it avoids hierarchical influences and solutions are applied by the individual through their own means and desire (if it so exists). In this space, we can share and influence change than benefits us all and future generations through an entirely grassroots motivated approach.

More importantly, the forum must be the result of an engaged community of users. We need to be involved and we must also encourage others to as well. It is our blueprint and our statement to future generations that we recognised the need for change and worked towards it on their behalf.

I’ve created a new page above that you can use to directly find the forum should you need a quick and easy link to it for others.

The most important part of this project is that it cannot be left to a few of us. We must build a large and motivated community of users. We could, collectively, reduce the burden of living costs as well as our impact on our resources in a scale that would surprise observers.

We must live the example to set the example.

Senator Ludlam’s take on the Abbott government and his vision for WA


I can’t say I align with the Greens or any party in general. However, Ludlam couldn’t have hit the nail on the head more perfectly.

‘Urban Australia; not built for the 21st century’

Here are two real world experiences from my own life.

Firstly, four years ago, a friend and I visited Melbourne for a short holiday. After a night out, we caught a cab back to our hotel on the fringe of the inner city.

I am notoriously bad with names, but entirely opposite with directions. One of my favourite warnings to others is, “I never get lost, but I can’t tell you where I am”.

With that in mind, I had to apologise to the driver for not being able to give him an address, but I could easily direct him.

Without a detour, we quickly made it the short distance back to our hotel. The driver was by far the worst driver I have ever come across, rude and unpleasant for the entire trip, with a few snide remarks when we reached the hotel. My friend can be a little hot-headed and the two of them nearly ended up in a physical incident.

I later learned that the driver’s attitude most likely reflected being caught into taking a small fare. They apparently have the reputation for rejecting fares under a certain amount and, by not giving him the address, he might have felt that it was a deliberate attempt to avoid this.

The second experience occurred with the same friend, however this time in his home province of Sichuan, China, this previous April.

We were there for his wedding and on one of the days he wanted his Aussie friends to experience a typical Chinese weekend recreation. This in basic detail is a lazy day in the countryside, playing Mahjong, perhaps doing a little fishing, all while drinking copious cups of tea and enjoying the delicious food of the region.

Again my friend found himself in a war of words with a cab driver. The driver was annoyed by how far we went out into the country, thinking that we would stop at one of the closer country tea houses. It ended with the driver demanding twice as much as he outlined at the start of the trip.

Yet, the drive out from the centre of Dujiangyan to the tea house was less than 15 minutes in total.

While on holiday there, at any hour of the day or night, if my family required something, it was a short walk from our hotel room to all sorts of goods and services. By comparison, in suburban Australia, for most people, without a vehicle, there is a significant separation from even essential goods and services.

More than this, the attitude of the taxi drivers in both cities speaks volumes of the contrast in urban design.

Australians largely are subjected to poor quality, inefficient urban design and yet, when you speak to them about this, the defensive response illustrates just how ingrained into the cultural identity this phenomena actually is.

We Australians have been sold the urban sprawling landscape for so long that anything else seems foreign. However, it’s not the image of suburbia that we really buy into, but rather the semi-rural feel; the escape from the “rat-race”… our little oasis, overlooking parks and golf courses by sunset.

Of course, when we all move there together, value of land increases, driving further development and soon we find ourselves again stuck in peak traffic, far from any open spaces.

How different would it be to live and work within a short commute from one another, with all goods and services within a walking distance? How about having the countryside a relatively short drive out of town, for the weekend getaway?

Throughout Asia and Europe, this is normal for most people, where urban design still reflects times without widespread fast vehicles, yet in the sun scorched Great Southern Land, we are fixated in converting sun-buffering green space into concrete and bitumen, where we waste a lot of our life in commute.

With the cost of petrol and electricity on the rise, this lifestyle already hurts Australians and will increasingly in the coming decades, ultimately devaluing the urban landscape and local economies. It is unsustainable and will, sooner or later, be rejected, either by choice or by necessity.

I have a feeling that, if provided an alternative, innovative urban designers could set the scene for a new urban landscape for future Australians that would be adopted by many and over time, most. This would not be like Asia or Europe, nor would be what most Australians are currently used to, but a combination of both to develop something new, distinctive and unique.

With a changing climate and increasing costs in traditional energy, to act sooner would be timely.

I have a few ideas myself on this and would love to see an increase in this dialogue in an urban landscape already stretched too thin.

Hot 2013; adaptation to climate change is no longer trivial

Firstly, thank you to all followers of NewAnthro. I hope you have enjoyed my work here over the past year and will continue to do so into 2014.

My only hope for the coming year is that, with the heat waves over the past autumn, the warmest winter on record, incredible bush fires of this past spring and the first day of the new year threatening to break records for maximum Australian temperatures, the dialogue will shift away from trivialities in certainty of expected climatic change and to what matters; making Australian communities more resilient in any case.

Energy companies were once telling us that price rises were likely if Abbott removed the carbon price and now they’re telling us the opposite. The only thing I think Australian families can bank on is ever increasing prices for electricity, gas and fuel. For this reason too, the dialogue needs to shift towards making the Australian economy more resilient (which starts with those who do the work – the wage earners).

Looking at heat stress, losses in primary production, human respiratory health (air quality in relation to dust, smoke and smog), economic stress on families and direct damage to communities due to bush fire and flooding should be enough to change the tone of the conversation in Australia towards activities that would otherwise be considered to both mitigate from and adapt to future climate change. It’s a niche market that is only likely to grow and we can prosper from leading the way or pay through the nose if we lag.

Apart from this, my silence over the past few weeks is due to a few factors.

Firstly, I have been writing. I’ve produced a number of articles that I’ve provided to various outlets and been undertaking some revisions to suit their platforms. This is in the hope of increasing my audience (I’ve produced more than 600 posts now on this blog – I know it is of value from the feedback I receive, so I’m hoping to maximise the impact of my work).

I’ve also started a few projects, more or less as a hobby. I’m interested in learning more about a lot of technology. This has led to building an 115W, 12V solar panel thus far which I’m very happy with. All up, I managed to build it for under AU$100.

I have a lot of experience with off-grid systems, so I’ll make good use of it and have since moved onto other projects.

This recent activity has been spurred by the common point that a lot of climate aware commentators make; we currently have much of the technology required to decarbonise human activity.

I want to know more about what this technology actually is, how practical it is, how we can adopt, adapt and improve and what potential setbacks actually exist. I started with solar because it’s what I’m most familiar with. I hope that all of this experimentation will both help my writing and eventually shift my career into something I’m highly motivated about.

On that note, I must admit that reading and writing are among my greatest passions, which makes me feel a little disappointed with myself for leaving NewAnthro idle for so long. Hopefully, I can find a new groove into the new year and return to a better pace of writing.

As NSW burns, we refuse to learn

I know I’m largely repeating what I wrote back in January. However repetition is required until the message sinks in.

The tragedy currently unfolding across NSW shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, the only surprise would be if it doesn’t eventually spread to cover areas of SA and Vic.

The reason being the recent so-called “break” in the drought. In reality, the weather turned on the Aussie sprinklers for a couple years before returning to normal. In turn we had above average flora growth across the Great Dividing Range and arterial waterways of Eastern the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee.

This is now returning to normal, leading to die-back, hence fuel loading.

Expect some serious fire threats into the coming hot and dry El Nino period.

We celebrate the breaking of a drought, but looking over great periods than election cycles and waterway plans, we should be concerned about the wets; how we manage the water and the landscape beyond that period.

We are a fickle species with a tendency for the short term and will continue to feel the pain wild fires (not to mention the carbon loss) until we can move beyond our tendencies and plan for the longer term.

How Not to ‘Save the World’

Some months ago, a senior academic and I talked as we drove the many hours to the project site. He was informing me on his views regarding invasive species, some of which I thought were questionable.

To clarify, I bluntly asked, “What do you think we should do with weeds?”

He replied, with all the authority that he could muster, “Get rid of them.”

I didn’t pursue the conversation any further at that point. I knew from experience that the tone was one baiting me into a debate. I’m usually all for a debate, where I see value. In this case however, the individual is one who likes the fight more than a resolution and I’m not really one for that.

It’s a nice idea to remove weeds and certainly not impossible… as long as you throw enough money at the problem. This is where the environmental debate fails all the time.

It could be in discussions regarding invasive species management, limiting the impact of pollution or even climate change. Whatever the subject, for the most part, we can eventually achieve the currently unthinkable if only we wish to drain enough resources into it.

Those who fall prey to sci-fi resolution to problems, starting the discussion not unlike an Arthur C. Clark story, imagining the problem is soon to be resolve and the discussion should be about what this means for us, just like the environmental romantic, are victims to the results, without object rational on how to reach them.

An excellent example in Australia is the olive. How much money should we spend on managing olives in natural landscapes when the recruitment of these comes from dedicated plantation? I once refused to buy Australian olives for this reason, but is such a protest of any value?

Am I giving up?

This isn’t to be confused with environmental defeatism that Bjørn Lomborg tries to pass off as realism.

Let’s put it this way; it’s not impossible to rebuild your house to correct all the problems, but can you really afford to do so, or does it make more sense to allocate some of your money to repair what you have?

The olive is an assimilated immigrant to Australia. It has its place now in the local culture and environment (is that cringing I hear?).

To this realisation we have two general options that have their relative expenses; we could “get rid of it”, which would close down the industry and outlaw all trees in backyards and public parks as well; or, we give it a citizenship, acknowledging it as a productive food source well suited to Australia in a warming climate.

The former would require a major PR campaign and many years of eradication and monitoring. The latter would likely see us not managing it as a weed, but rather as new competition to endemic species with the aim of promoting biodiversity which would include this new “local”. This would require effort and research.

Paved in good intentions

Environmental discourse has been plagued with romanticism or an unrealistic impression of “indestructibility” ever since the notion that it was a topic worth discussing became established.

The worst part is not that those who discuss environmental management most passionately are the most likely to fall into such a trap while those least likely will typically reject concern altogether, but rather that there is this line drawn in the sand between both extremes.

Either your hopelessly infatuated with a resilient (or fragile) Earth or concede that such musings are little more than a “liberal conspiracy”.

Where is the possibility to even start to discuss the place of the “Australian olive” for instance, in such an absurd and naïve situation?

To Get rid of it?

Over the last century, the Australian government and landholders has spent countless hours and dollars in management of the rabbit. This has included a 1700km rabbit-proof fence (build between 1901-07), two different viruses, warren destruction, chemical control and even explosives (read more here). Even while the most recent virus was having its greatest impact (1998-2003) the management cost for feral rabbits was estimated to be around $1 million (more here).

Yet, I see bunnies throughout Melbourne and right up to central NSW on a daily basis.

Yes, something must be done and our efforts have had an impact, but how much really? We can’t rebuild the house, but equally, electrical tape over the tap isn’t going to stop the leak.

Out with the old

The olive and the rabbit are not good comparisons. Olives will forever spread while they are being farmed where ol’ bugs just has a thing for breeding prolifically.

The point is that the current attitudes and strategies do not reflect the realistic capacities of management options and beneficial outcomes. I’m tired of the blanket eradication message where the reality continually fails to meet the target. I’m just as tired of the dismissal scoffs of the other side of the discussion.

We need approach species management with fresh eyes and very likely, different goals. The promotion of biodiversity would be an excellent target. The promotion of productive ecosystems which thrive while providing services to urban landscapes would be another one.

In short, there is nothing ignoble in rethinking our relationship with other life and in designing ecosystems with which our landscapes actively interact. To be absolutely frank, there is no other multi-cellular organism as invasive as ourselves, but at least we have the capacity to promote ecosystems, rather than out compete all else until we are the last one standing should we choose to.

We need a new dialogue willing to step back, compromise or actively engage where it is needed, without unrealistic ideation or denial. This will start with an internal look on ourselves and our place within ecosystems.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

Coffs Harbour City Councillors: tilling the soil for northern anti-science propaganda

Cr Nan Cowling

Reviewing the recent fluoride media in Australia, I’ve found that Coffs Harbour city councillors, noted in the article, Nan Cowling, have decided to raise the question of whether to continue water fluoridation to be discussed at the 2013 Local Government Association annual conference in October.

The three noted justifications for this were; cost; “Well, Queensland are doing it”; and a large population of elderly people.

Cost

It’s $65,000 a year, or $1.43 per person per year (with a population of 45,580 according to the 2011 Census for Coffes Harbour, Code UCL112004). Councillor Nan Cowling believes that tooth decay had more to do with access to dentistry, but can we access dentistry for less than $2 a year?

Even if you looked at Code SSC10553 (SSC) instead, the population is only 24,581 and yet the cost is still only $2.64 per person a year.

As I don’t know how much of the Coffs Harbour community is provided the water in question, we have a cost somewhere between $1.43 and and $2.64… Hardly bank busting.

Good in Queensland

In the words of mothers everywhere; “now, if Queensland were to jump of a cliff, would you jump as well?”

Firstly, Queensland has a problem of a very invasive memebase, more commonly known as “The Queenslanders for Safe Water, Air and Food” (QAWF), which has enjoyed success largely because Queenslanders have not had much exposure to fluoride – something new in their waters is scary… especially for their hydrangeas.

Most people in capital cities outside of Queensland don’t give fluoride much thought. They’ve lived with it for decades – including Sydney and Coffs Harbour – without concern.

QAWF is an anti-science movement that repeats debunked claims with complete disregard for counter-arguments and strong scientific evidence to the contrary. You really don’t want to encourage such thinking to propagate or else, before you know it, the Earth is 6000 years old and flat.

How Old is the Coffs Harbour Community?

The point that Coffs Harbour community is mainly elderly is utterly untrue. Again turning to the same 2011 Census data we find the following (very similar regardless of which of the two codes used);

coffs harbour pop

You get a fairly even distribution across the ages, admittedly, but would you expect a far higher group for what is only the first quarter of an expected life span? Nan Cowling herself is on the aging end of the spectrum, which may do better to explain why she disregards more than 25% of the Coffs Harbour community (0-19 yo).

Moreover, fluoride assists with the remineralisation of teeth – a process which is not age discriminant. The entire Coffs Harbour community benefit from drinking water fluoridation – a process that costs them less than $3 each a year!

In essence, the Coffs Harbour city councillors have fallen prey to fear mongering propaganda, with no cost benefits and complete disregard not only for their younger community, but everyone within their region.

A Playground for Social Improvement Under-tapped

I have been a student or employee of a few universities now and one thing I noticed they all share is a proliferation of proud posters, website “ads” and statements of their successes in progressive work.

As far as I can tell, this ought to be their primary position. Anything else would be squandering their unique assortment of resources.

Universities and colleges can be places comprising thousands of staff and students focused on enhancing our understanding of the natural world, human health and social justice. They often take up large plots of land and require large quantities of resources (especially water and electricity). They can also be large sources of pollution and chemical use (eg. waste, various gases, radiation, etc).

If they are not asking themselves, ‘How could we be more efficient in the use of X?’ or ‘How could we reduce the waste of Y?’ well they are not making use of the cluster of thinkers and doers at their disposal. Likewise, if they are not asking themselves, ‘How can we improve well-being within a community?’ and applying various social experiments within their (often vast) community (or subsets within their community), well, again they are missing a unique opportunity.

Too often we cry that the government should do something about problem B, however – and this touches on the point I was making in my previous article – most often there isn’t an acceptable example of the contrary locally. Take, for instance, old growth forest loss or the recent noise around the carbon tax in Australia.

In the former, what are the alternatives? White Australia is heavily culturally coupled to logging as it is the sheep industry (which too is unsustainable). Examples of countries that do otherwise are countries that live different with different cultural values. Look at Japan for instance. The protection of their woodlands does relate strongly to other cultural options – such as limited (if at all) land meat production and much higher urban density to that “expected” within white Australian culture. Germany is another country with a strong focus woodland protection and even though it is, like white Australian culture, western European, it is still a different way of life to ours and the two hundred years of ‘a sunburnt country’ mentality.

Likewise the carbon tax plays on a fear that our politicians are relentlessly screaming wolf about; it’ll ruin the economy. This is very much a cultural value. Most people in Australia hold the right to free enterprise as one of the highest virtues. We’re probably not unlike our counterparts in the US in that we praise the success of others who were able to secure a large chunk of wealth for themselves. Look at Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart. Both are, in general, viewed as “go-getters” (although, this is far from universal).

The carbon tax is seen as an attack on this cultural value (as is the mining tax, and the goods and services tax etc). A “big fat tax on everyone”, as Abbott drilled into the public is an affront to a prime cultural value held by most Australians. So foreign is the contrary position, it may feel that it’s not unlikely one would hear comparisons to socialism or communism. Fears of an Orwellian state run rampant.

Yet, within our own communities, we have large sub-communities, with a large amount of assorted resources and a drive for knowledge. From these communities, we could (or should) have a playground for testing local cultural values, under the guise of resource management and social well-being (that is to say, improvement in these fields would be the quest). The medical schools already do this – so why is it too much to expect third year or post-grad students to be asking questions like, ‘How can we make the campus more biophilic?’ or ‘How can we lead to lower stress and improved learning rates within the students?’ or ‘What can be done to manage X resource more efficiently within the campus?’

Such answers could be profound as it would not be restricted simply to factual answers, but also within a cultural context. It could be thus more easily applied within the wider community than, say, expecting Australians to adopt practices from abroad simply because they are more efficient.

The one thing to be wary of however, is the potential grounds for xenophobia that is created if we put too much emphasis in culture. Again, I feel that tertiary education provides a good tool. They are, in Australia, multicultural communities. Posing questions and developing answers within this sub-group could reflect Australia, as a whole, and thus present answers to a wide range of problems – within that cultural context discussed above.

I started this article by saying that, from what I’ve witnessed, universities are doing this and proudly sharing this fact via various media. I would like to see more of it – especially aimed at student project development and across a wider scope than I am aware of occurring so far.

It would also be useful for the students of natural science as it would give their studies a social aspect that is sometimes lacking (not always, as I am aware with the natural resource management components of my own degree) and hopefully an awareness of the impacts their future careers could have on politics and their local communities. It could also provide an avenue for learning science communication to such students. Most importantly, it would help to couple facts, or at least greater certainty, to cultural values that could be more readily applied to the greater community beyond the campus boundary.

A Master’s Degree in Taking Responsibility

By Meika Jensen

The infamous Heisenberg Uncertainty principle concludes that we cannot observe an event without influencing it. Once primarily true on the quantum level, the latest broad views on science and sociology suspect it holds true for the greater world, too. With our climate-changing habits and environment-altering progress, the “event” of the world has been changed by our very presence. Of late the mark of humankind on the globe has become so extreme that some scientists suggest a new age has begun, the Anthropocene Era, where change is not geological in origin but – from irrigation to forest-stripping – mostly man-made.

Sound like undergraduate philosophy? Maybe something from a top masters degree program? Well, it is, actually. Environmental Science degrees have become a common option for American universities, teaching students about the effect people have on the environment and how to mitigate the damage. Graduate level programs take the concept one step further, encouraging students to create their ecological solutions or employ green tech to save money and energy at the same time.

Making a Difference

This evolution in education shows a promising trend toward environmental awareness. If humans really are creating the next age of the earth, such graduate programs are the forefront of our development. Changing the world for the better means seizing our new opportunities and taking care of the world, not just for our children but also for the world itself. Awareness is a sizable piece of the puzzle, as seen in the rush of government regulation over energy efficiency and carbon footprints. But true inspiration often starts in the classroom.

Master’s degrees in environmental studies are just the beginning. After all, only a small portion of students is aiming for jobs in ecology or scientific research. Of greater influence are the MBA programs in sustainable development. These teach students to use recycling, low environmental impact, and energy efficiency to their benefit when managing businesses. Not only can companies tap into government benefits by becoming more environmentally friendly, they can also save money, increase profits, and sponsor new, lucrative innovations.

Benefits are similar in the tech sphere, where degrees support the development of low-energy technologies and the use of new materials, which result in less waste, fewer toxins, and lower energy use. Specialties focus on energy design, city planning, and even electrical engineering.

Of course, as the degrees become more common the need for talented educators also increases, which creates a new market niche for environmentally skilled teachers. If humanity plays its cards right, this new environmental control could end up benefiting – well, everyone.