Author Archives: Moth

Storrar and the redfaced middle: When we have it so easy that we forget how to do it.

It seems that everyone in Australia is talking about Duncan Storrar. A number of articles relating to him appear on my news feed. Without a doubt, his question has hit a sensitive national nerve.

Regardless of ones political or economic views, the fight that has erupted points out to me that we are universally unhappy with the current system.

I’m inclined to tip my hat to people, such as Wilkinson and Pickette, with their research behind the book ‘The Spirit Level’. In short, with moderate inequality, the nation’s economy flows more freely between all contributors than where we have super rich (who, by definition, remove significant amounts of the nation’s GDP into personal accounts) and entrenched poor.

I think of money like the blood of a nation. Clots are bad. Flow is good.

That said, one of the recommended articles in my new feed stood out;

OPINION: Is a family on $120,000 doing that much better than Duncan? Written by Johanna Morley

I had to read it. I can’t say that I was very moved.

Not only did the article rely on a range of fallacies and an inappropriate use of statistical data, but it also point out a lot of what is wrong with modern day Australia.

The sense of entitlement that various groups wax lyrically about is not restricted to a single cohort of the community. It’s wide spread.

To start with the simple errors – MS Morley’s article conflates rich with a household of two incomes of $60k. That’s by no means rich and not even part of the wage brackets likely to see much change in tax brakes.

To go further, while it sounds impressive to rely on ABS data, this data has limited use and is certainly erroneously applied to the article. For instance, two statistics used in one paragraph were the average grocery and transport costs for a couple with children. This is a blanket number for all couples with children (one has to assume because no link is given) regardless of household income. The greater the inequality within the sample, the less applicable this average would be to a single situation.

Ms Morley is likely to misapplied this data.

Certainly, Mr Storrar couldn’t spend the amounts provided in that article and so if these fictional families are, then yes, they are doing better than him.

But here’s my real grievance with the article; the phrase is ‘to live within ones means’ and not ‘to live to ones means’. Here’s my personal case study.

I definitely believe that I live a good life with my wife and two children.

My wife is a full time mother. With her background in early childhood development and our views on embedding our personal values on them prior to schooling age, it was a choice that we reached fairly early.

This of course means that I am the only earner.

She of course gets the FTB, but it amounts to pocket money because of my earnings. That said, our shared gross household income is significantly less than Ms Morley’s example families net income.

Moreover, I have a car loan and pay child support on my teenage son from a previous relationship. All of this is taken out of my payslip prior to addressing our own living expenses.

Even though I wouldn’t complain about my income, we probably have a little less than two thirds of one of her example families.

I would agree with Ms Morley’s example of Melbourne rent, but apart from that, my life is very different from her examples.

We have quality family holidays. We eat well. My children have everything they could ask for. Yet, we don’t live to our limits.

We budget hard and give ourselves a wide margin for the unexpected. We shop around and make the most of the variety of options out there.

We hunt op-shops. We budget annual memberships to places that our children love to visit often, meaning that weekend activities are exciting yet cheap.

And most importantly, we sacrifice what we don’t actually need (to be honest, it isn’t really a sacrifice).

To take mobile phones for example; you can buy a good phone for under $250 and pay for a sim only plan for $25-$30 per month, with unlimited calls and texts as well as sufficient data. This can amount to around half the cost of a phone-plan package that you buy from any retailer.

I also grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables to supplement our groceries (in a small space). We don’t watch (or pay for) TV and couldn’t care less about what is ‘the to-have item’ of the month.

Lastly, we aim to save at least 10% of our pay each week. This is the safety net that goes towards the unexpected and our holidays.

Through a careful eye on our income and critically evaluating our needs and wants, it’s possible to live well on a moderate income.

So to respond to Ms Morley’s question; is a family on $120,000 doing that much better than Duncan?

If they’re not, they’re doing it wrong.

Going it alone: taking personal ethics to make personal changes in a changing world

Mitigation is the early strategy, while adaptation is the later strategy. Prevention verse cure.

Our species has a terrible track record for identifying long term risk and affording it the necessary preventative measures.

We’re always looking for the cure, or more accurately, the quick fix.

We may lament the lack of political will or the token gestures of industry, but ultimately, we have our own footprint, vote and wallet. No-one is beyond blame for inaction.

Avenues of adaptation

So, to speak of meaningful adaptation, there is only efficiency, which in turn starts to address mitigation also.

We will need to either practice high autonomy (ie. self-sufficiency) or high communal living in retrofitted cities to promote greater interaction to compensate less personal space. These, or a combination of the two – something like a self-sufficient town.

The alternative; low autonomy and low communal living – suburbia – will buckle under economic pressures in coming decades. It isn’t made with any flexibility, easy access to jobs, goods or services and is largely a heat trap. Most houses there are made to large a single generation.

Given the price trends and general design focus of inner-city areas in Australia, it’s unlikely that a lot of us will be able to take the highly communal living approach in the near future.

Likewise, as much as I would jump at the opportunity to work with a group of people to invest and develop a sustainable village, finding enough people in the same part of the world to make it possible is very difficult.

For much of us, the only avenue that is any way achievable is autonomy.

Autonomous footprint, vote and wallet

This is the primary focus that I wish to take NewAnthro on. It is the story of my life for the last few years so far.

I have been exploring food production within my cool Victorian climate, with some success. While my garden only compliments our grocery needs, each week is a little better than the last.

I’ve also been building solar panels and found them to be fairly straightforward. In both the cases of my panels and my garden, being currently stuck in a rental property, I have some significant limitations in what I can achieve.

Then there is “up-cycling”. I hate buzz words generally, but the principle is great and one that I think appeals to anyone who (like myself) is forever spotting things that could be useful in later projects.

The difference between hoarding and up-cycling is actually doing something with this material more than storage. I plan to give some project examples along the way.

My ultimate goal is to be in a position to hit the ground running as soon as I can buy some space.

Two birds, one stone

All that I am working towards is aimed towards buttressing my life, so that it will be more resilient, prosperous and better suited to my personal views and ethics. It will be adaptation.

Yet, as efficiency is at the heart of what I will do, it will be, on a very small scale, mitigation as well.

I might try to find case studies of people who downsized to make the best of life in a highly liveable city as well. I’m confident that this is just as viable, but sadly in short supply.

If any topic, or idea has sat with you and left you thinking, “I wonder if…” please feel free to let me know. I’m always happy to research, test and write on whatever interests my readers and can assist us to reduce our footprint and live more align to our ethics.

 

One Reason Homes Cost So Much

I’ve moved a lot, by anyone’s standards, over my life. The reoccurring theme I’ve found in suburban landscapes is that it’s built for the driver. One’s home is an island within vast tracks of MAMBA. We can do it better. We have done it better. We’ll need to make human landscapes better if we’re ever going to make genuine headway on climate adaption and mitigation as well as increase resource security and waste reduction.

I found this video an interesting piece in the puzzle before us.

My thoughts on potential job losses at CSIRO

In light of the recent news about the potential loss of jobs in the Oceans and Atmosphere and Land and Water divisions of CSIRO, I thought I should repost these videos I made several years ago. At that point, I was working as part of a national network called Ozflux.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience and one that I’ve regretted having to move from ever since. Many of my mentors came from this division of CSIRO and it’s them who come to mind now.

I only hope that enough people recognise the immense value CSIRO is to Australia and that whatever changes are deemed necessary do not negatively impact CSIRO’s role in improving the lives of Australians as well as our understanding of this unique and wonderful landscape.

The ethical city: an idea whose time has come

Written by Brendan Barrett, RMIT University and originally published on The Conversation.


Globally, there is intense discussion about the future of urban life through the World Urban Campaign. The central proposition is that:

… the battle for a more sustainable future will be won or lost in cities.

Presumably, this is predicated on the fact that 54% of the world’s people live in cities, where 70% of global GDP is generated. By 2050 the urban population will have risen to 66%.

In parallel, following the Paris climate agreement, major cities are committing to measures designed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The poster for this campaign should read “Coming to your city soon”.

It is clear 2016 will be the “urban year” as the global community prepares for the Habitat III summit in Quito, Ecuador, this October.

At Habitat III, governments will agree an urban agenda to guide global urban development over the next 20 years. The agenda is taking shape through preparatory meetings (the next one is in Indonesia in July), as well as regional and thematic meetings.

A series of 28 urban thinkers campuses has been organised across the globe, running until February 2016. One of the last of these is in Melbourne, Australia.

A world of challenges

We are all too familiar with the problems cities commonly face. These include rising house prices putting ownership beyond the reach of many, suburban sprawl, long commutes, traffic congestion, social problems, isolation and polarisation.

Melbourne leads the pack of Australian cities that rank highly for liveability, but they rate much more poorly for sustainability.
AAP/David Crosling

At the same time, Australian cities have real strengths. This is reflected in their performance in various rankings on liveability and quality of urban life. But we ought not assume that this situation is sustainable, or that we can lock in liveability.

Globally, cities face even greater challenges. In the global south, if you live in a city there is a one-in-three chance that you live in a slum.

Also, despite progress on the Millennium Development Goals, poverty is still our greatest urban concern. It is not limited to the south and has been growing across cities globally since the global financial crisis. Limited financial resources constrain the capacity of city administrations to respond to these challenges, especially in the face of austerity measures.

While that may seem like a pretty glum picture, there are reasons to be hopeful.

In a survey of 20 cities last year for the UN Global Compact Cities Program we identified many examples of civic leadership and urban innovations.

Related to this, in the US, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley at Brookings have described these innovations as a “metropolitan revolution”. They argue that local leaders are doing the hard work of growing the job market and making their communities more prosperous. They cite examples in New York, Portland, Houston and Miami.

In Europe, the Norwegian city of Oslo plans to be fossil-fuel-free by 2030. Utrecht is the first of several cities in the Netherlands planning trials in which they pay citizens a universal basic income.

Oslo aims to be a fossil-fuel-free city by 2030.
flickr/News Oresund, CC BY

Across the English Channel, Bristol is seeking to transform the economy by introducing a local currency. The Bristol pound is designed to strengthen business relationships within the city and to build trust.

What these cities and their leaders have recognised is that “business as usual” will not get us to where we need to be.

Technological innovation, institutional reform, financial investment and regulatory change are all part of the answer, especially as we seek to achieve development goals while ensuring we do not undermine our environmental sustainability. However, we may need to dig deeper. Something that we neglect is the need for changes in values at both the societal and individual levels.

Twisting Einstein’s famous quote somewhat, it is possible to assert that “we can’t solve problems by using the same value system that created them”.

Here is where the notion of the ethical city comes in.

What is the ethical city?

Ethics is concerned with what is “right, fair, just or good”, not necessarily what is most accepted as normal or expedient.

Most people will have heard of the term ethical corporation. It suggests that such businesses place certain key values and practices at the centre of their operations. This could include fairness, integrity, respect for the environment, elimination of discrimination, and so on.

Internationally, some of these key values are elaborated in the ten principles of the UN Global Compact. Thousands of companies have signed up. Mayors of cities and governors of regions can also sign up to these principles by sending a letter to the UN secretary-general.

Yet the term ethical city is rarely used, even though ethical considerations underpin how we plan and manage our cities. And the ethical values underpinning the vast majority of our decisions about city life are rarely made explicit.

Even so, in most cities we already see various measures designed to support ethical governance. These range from internal commissions to audit and check on performance through to measures to promote transparency and community participation in decision-making.

Urban leaders, administrators, planners, engineers and others are aware of the ethical ramifications of their work, have guidance to refer to and training when needed. Although sometimes people fall foul, the vast majority do not because they are seen to be doing the right thing.

But we must recognise that there is a dominant view of “business as usual” based on an embedded set of values. Good examples include how most cities are designed primarily to accommodate the car, how we work in the CBD and live in the suburbs, or how homelessness is seen as a fact of life in many cities.

How do we create a more ethical city?

Thought leaders like Peter Singer have done a lot to elaborate the importance of ethics in everyday life, especially with his book Practical Ethics. However, we live in utilitarian times.

More than ever, our cities need ethical leadership – good governance, transparency, public trust building and fairness. They need ethically based planning to deal with the complex challenges facing our communities. This depends on our willingness to tackle the tough questions around sustainability, resilience, economic vibrancy and inclusiveness.

There is also our role as citizens. What are our expectations of ourselves as ethical, engaged citizens? What do we expect and deserve, and what are we prepared to commit to each other in the ethical city? What kind of citizens do we need to be?

Most of all, if we end up agreeing that we need a city that cares, how do we navigate to this end in a world where private profit and consumption are kings and where the tenets of the ethical city – social inclusion, climate action, gender equity, rights of children and youth, and myriad other rights and needs – are lacking?

If this sounds like a new year dose of utopianism, think of cases that you could envisage in your city – from participatory budgeting, to crowd-funded social enterprises, to any number of people who decided “what should we do?”, then acted on it.


The Ethical Cities Urban Thinkers Campus, to be hosted at RMIT University in Melbourne on February 16, will explore the ethical city in relation to urban development, inclusion and rights, and resilience.The Conversation

Brendan Barrett, Research Fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shubhendu Sharma: How to grow a tiny forest anywhere

RISING TEMPERATURES, RISING INEQUALITY AND CONDITIONS FOR REVOLUTION: THE DAWN OF THE ANTHROPOCENE

[Mike, from Watching the Deniers, has moved to a new location. I’m really enjoying his new work. With his permission, I’m planning to repost much of it. Originally posted here]

38-french-revolution-1789-granger

“The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term…” Paul Mason, The End of Capitalism has Begun (The Guardian, 17 July 2015)

As the planet burns, wealth has been rushing up, not down

Three pieces of recent news should give all of us pause, as they tell us something about the nature of capitalism and the state of the world in it’s present form.

Firstly Oxfam’s recent report on the growing wealth divide in which it was revealed that 62 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people.

That’s not the most shocking thing about their report though: since 2010 the wealth of the 1% has been growing at an exponential rate while the wealth of the bottom third of humanity has decreased by trillions of dollars.

As we take a moment to ponder the implications of this massive transfer of wealth from, let’s consider a piece of “science” news.

The World Meteorological Organisation has just announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record:

The global average surface temperature in 2015 broke all previous records by a strikingly wide margin, at 0.76±0.1° Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. For the first time on record, temperatures in 2015 were about 1°C above the pre-industrial era, according to a consolidated analysis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The future, should we fail to act decisively now looks grim:

“We have reached for the first time the threshold of 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is a sobering moment in the history of our planet, ” said Mr Taalas. ” If the commitments made during the climate change negotiations in Paris and furthermore a higher emission reduction ambition level is reached, we still have chance to stay within the maximum 2°C limit,” said Mr Taalas.

As the planet burns, wealth has been rushing up, not down.

The third piece of news? We’ve also ushered in a new geological age:

Humans have produced enough concrete to thinly pave the entire surface of the Earth, while carbon dioxide emissions are rising 100 times quicker than at any time during the past 800,000 years.

Such dramatic transformations of the planet are showing up in the world’s sediments and warrant the declaration of a new geological epoch – aptly known as Anthropocene to reflect humanity’s role – according to a new paper published in the journal Science.

The research, compiled by two dozen scientists and academics, identified planet-wide impacts ranging from nuclear fallout from weapons testing to mining that displaces 57 billion tonnes of material a year – or almost three times the amount of sediment carried by the world’s rivers.

What is one to make of these reports?

Welcome to the Anthropocene: where economics, environmental collapse and politics collide

Typically these pieces of information are presented separately, often buried among the middle pages of the remaining print newspapers in their op-ed sections.

Taken together they paint a picture of the world today: that of rising temperatures, rising inequality and burgeoning conditions for social upheaval.

Journalist Eugene Linden in his work “The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather and the Destruction of Civilizations” notes this repeating pattern throughout history. From the collapse of the Greenland Viking colonies, the climatic chaos of the Little Ice Ages or the fall of the Mayan kingdoms due to extreme drought, shifts in climate and weather often preempt and drive significant disruptions to human societies.

The concern is that we may not be adequately prepared for it:

“We have not been tested by climate change. Moreover, humans have a tendency to fit new information into familiar patterns. This may explain why so few people have noted that the climate began changing during the past two decades, and even fewer more have become alarmed…”

What is true of the climate, is also true and the growing disparity in wealth and the ecological destruction around us.

The best of times, the worst of times: conditions for social disruption? 

This wealth transfer, and the stealthy takeover of the planet by corporations, has been in progress for decades. It is a process that individually we have not noticed, nor seen how it was effected. And yet we are now living with the results of the free-market extremism of neo-libralism.

Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, recently summed up this state of affairs in a recent TED talk:

“Democracy. In the West, we make a colossal mistake taking it for granted. We see democracy not as the most fragile of flowers that it really is, but we see it as part of our society’s furniture. We tend to think of it as an intransigent given. We mistakenly believe that capitalism begets inevitably democracy. It doesn’t.

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and his great imitators in Beijing have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it is perfectly possible to have a flourishing capitalism, spectacular growth, while politics remain democracy free. Indeed, democracy is receding in our neck of the woods, here in Europe.

Earlier this year, while I was representing Greece — the newly elected Greek government — in the Eurogroup as its Finance Minister, I was told in no uncertain terms that our nation’s democratic process — our elections — could not be allowed to interfere with economic policies that were being implemented in Greece. At that moment, I felt that there could be no greater vindication of Lee Kuan Yew, or the Chinese Communist Party, indeed of some recalcitrant friends of mine who kept telling me that democracy would be banned if it ever threatened to change anything…”

We live in an era of rapid technological, economic and social change. Some of these changes are empowering the individual and society, while others constrain them.

As the Anthropocene dawns we witness the conditions the proceeded the great revolutions of the past.

In this I am reminded of the French Revolution, and Dicken’s famous opening lines: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”