Saturday, September 25, 2010

BP Gulf of Mexico oil well - de-commissioned

According to President Obama the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has finally been sealed, five months after the initial explosion. There is still a significant amount of cleaning up to be finalised and a serious amount of legal wrangling to be completed, but hopefully this means that there won't be any additional direct pollution to this already suffering marine ecosystem. Pin It

Green Power

I have recently been thinking of trying to start to convert my house from being on the normal electricity grid (the one where you pay a company for the privilege of them providing you with electricity to your home). The alternative is having your house generate its own power either through solar panels or if you're in the right location wind power from a turbine within your garden. The power is then generated by these energy sources and then you have a bucket load of batteries storing the power and you then access when you need it. To undertake such a move can be expensive (initial investment) and require some replacement of appliances depending on how much electricity you generate.

However, I heard recently that perhaps it is 'better' just to pay the 'premium' for Green Power through your electricity provider. The reasons as it was explained why this might be better, is because such an investment by yourself through your electricity provider means that your provider has to put this money into renewable energy sources. In turn, you provide direct investment into the renewable energy sector and ensures that there is an overall investment in this technology in Australia, leading to greater resourcing (financial commitment) of this sector and renewable energy becoming cheaper and more accessible to a broader cross-section of people within the community. Overall, this might mean that there will be less investment in non-renewable energy sources and less pollution.

Definitely food for thought. Currently, I have a 25% investment of the overall value of my electricity bill each quarter directed to Green Power, but certainly haven't made the financial leap to the 100%. Reason being, I haven't considered it a priority in the financial juggling that is undertaken in my household. However, I will certainly be considering the possibility in the future. Pin It

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PARKing day

On the 17th of September this year, Brisbane held PARKing day. The principle behind this day is the consideration of how much green space we could have in the city if we didn't drive our cars to work and car parks were converted to lovely green spaces. Brisbane City Council was on board with this initiative (along with other companies and groups) and assisted with converting some of the inner city carparking spaces into lovely temporary green spaces for the day.

Additional information can be found on the following website:  and there are links to other pages with photos from this base page. Some of the spots look pretty cool and enticing. The only thing I am disappointed about is to find out about this after the fact and not being able to participate.  Pin It

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life Cycle Assessment

What is it and how does one undertake one?

Tonight I have been looking into this and I found the Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society ( They have a useful page that discusses what a 'life cycle assessment' is and here is their explanation:

"assesses the environmental aspects and potential impacts of a product, process or service by
  • compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
  • evaluating the potential environmental impacts of those inputs and releases
  • interpreting the results to better inform decision-making".
The ALCA has a basic methodology of how someone would undertake a life cycle assessment, but so far I don't know how you as a general member of the public would actually obtain the information required to be inputted into such an assessment so that any sort of judgement or comparison of products could be undertaken. Will keep you posted.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Food for thought

Quote from "Green Metropolis" by David Owen that I thought might generate some personal opinion and perhaps even some conversation.

"In the very long itself is unsustainable, no matter what we human beings do or fail to do, because the sun will eventually burn out."

This is from the book that is doing my head in but some of the reading today made me a little less prickly and made me think that perhaps bits of the book are a little more insightful than I had given it credit for.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

El Nino/La Nina

It is raining luscious rain here in south-east Queensland. Does this surprise anyone? Some people might say 'no'. But are we all so forgetful to lose sight of the extremely low dam levels we experienced only a couple of years ago where the government forced everyone to become extremely water efficient and the general drought conditions that we experienced here in Australia? No watering the garden, no washing the car, etc, etc.

In light of the cyclical patterns of these weather events I thought I would try and understand the El Nino/La Nino concept a little better. Having read only a few pages on the net, I can share the following.

  • it is a cyclical pattern
  • when the El Nino event is on the Australian side of the Pacific, the east coast of Australia experiences below average rainfall (drought-like conditions, depending how extreme this event is)
  • when a La Nina event is on the Australian side of the Pacific, east coast Australia will likely experience higher than average rainfall (as we currently are experiencing)
  • the concept relates to the oscillation of surface air pressure between the eastern and western sides of the Pacific (hence the 'southern oscillation index' (SOI))
  • The SOI measures the strength of this oscillation and measures the difference of surface air pressure between Tahiti and Darwin
  • If the SOI is positive it indicates a La Nina event (above +8), if it is the negative it is an El Nino (below -8).

Presently Australia is experiencing a positive SOI, with the Bureau of Meteorology currently reporting (13 September 2010) the 30-day SOI as +25. Thus the east coast of Australia is having conditions that would indicate a La Nina and we can expect to receive above average rainfall. Yeah!

Don't get complacent with the water saving measures though, despite our current wetter than usual conditions. We will eventually swing back to the El Nino event (on average every five years) and need all the water we have saved during La Ninas and also need to be well-practiced in how to scrimp on water. This is the time to perhaps install a rainwater tank (if you didn't when the government was basically giving them away) to collect water for your garden, hook up irrigation systems in your garden to either your water tank or your grey water system or just undertake some of the maintenance around your house that needs a little extra water now so that you don't cut into the water supply when we don't have much.

Don't forget water is a precious resource.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Two books about urban design & nature

I am currently reading two books, one which is infuriating me and one which I find quite reasonable and practical. This isn't surprising that you could have two books that could elicit differing responses, however they are in fact discussing exactly the same thing. Both of them are discussing urban design, particularly in America, and examining the idea that urban sprawl is bad and some of the metropolis's in America have smaller environmental footprints.

The first book seems to be chanting how great the smaller, more compact metropolis is and how terrible for the environment the 'urban sprawl' model of the suburbs is. I have mixed feelings about this principle to start with. Certainly there are components that are correct in this bare bones argument and certainly applied to the stereotypical urban sprawl model this is accurate, but I find a sense of greenwashing has been applied to this model that the author is trying to shove down your throat. I feel the book has been written very emotively and I find that I am reading it in a similar fashion.

The second book is discussing the same principle of a lighter environmental footprint in the compact metropolis, but it seems to be doing it in a more enlightened, educated and balanced way. And thus I am not feeling my shackles flaring up reading this one.

Now that I have had my rant, I will try and dedicate another post to discussing the principles and concepts that support the argument that the model of current suburban lifestyles is so terrible for the environment and the planet as a whole.
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House orientation

As the last post indicated the green house design principles are up there on my want to know about list at present. One of the primary principles if you are starting from scratch is orienting your living areas with a northerly aspect and apparently this is true north and not magnetic north.

What is true north? The north point in this instance is the geographic point of the North Pole, rather than magnetic north that moves over time and doesn't relate to the orientation of the sun, which is what you are aiming at capturing in these living areas.

A concern people may have about orienting these living areas to the north, particularly in the sub-tropical/tropical regions, is that in summer such orientation could make these areas quite hot. Well, there are a number of things that can help to reduce this heating affect but one of the first ones is to shade these areas. Plant trees outside the living areas, for example.

Well now I have to get a map out and start searching for the perfect block of land to build a lovely house with green design principles embedded in its design.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Green House Design Principles

Well this topic is starting to become a bit of a hot topic for me at the moment. I have a strong urge to learn more about this issue and really it will take some time to come to terms with it because I don't have a mind that automatically can adopt many of the details that underlie the general principles. Nevertheless hopefully I can keep the momentum.

Today I found a great website that outlines the basic green design principles when considering building, renovating, retrofitting your house along these lines. The web address is: Great page that outlines the overarching principles in fairly layman terms. Hope you find it as intriguing as I do.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Biodegradable Pen

Today I bought some new ball point pens from a large stationary store/chain here in Australia. I found the most bizarre product and one that I never thought would come with any sort of environmental options, but I found a pen that is being marketed as 'biodegradable'.

Gimmick or fact? The details are sketchy and whether it is any more degradable than the next pen made out of normal plastic or better for the environment on face value I have no idea but the gimmick factor intrigued me so I purchased a pack of two. Comparatively maybe a little bit more expensive than a middle of the range pack of 2 ball point pens.

Upon reading the fine print, the main outside pen components are the biodegradable parts, as they are made from corn based material (as the packaging explains) and basically the rest of the pen are your typical of a standard pen. These normal pen components need to go into the normal rubbish process, whilst the corn based material (the outer pen shaft) can go on the other hand can go into your compost or into the soil and it sounds like it will take about a year to break down. Interesting product and process if it truly does work.

Overall as I said I don't know whether the footprint of the product is truly any better or worse than a standard ball point pen. This is where I need to start looking into life cycle assessments and how to do them accurately enough to make a judgement about the environmental footprint of products and services from my living room or whilst in the shops.
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Health impacts living near roads and railways

In the near future my family may be moving towns. In light of this I have been searching around the broad region for a place to live. In looking for our current home I was always aware of the proximity of high voltage transmission lines and wanted to live with some sort of setback from major roads due to concerns relating to the potential health impacts of these sorts of infrastructure.

In the region we will be moving to there is a significant amount of large volume, relatively high speed roads criss-crossing the region and also a railway line that carries freight and commuter trains bordering the hinterland region. In light of the significant amount of transportation infrastructure within the living areas of this region I now would like to know more about the health impacts of these transportation corridors.

It seems that there is some association with sleep disruption due to noise with railways and health impacts, particularly in regards to learning capabilities for small children. However, I don't know at what distance from the railway infrastructure this association diminishes. I also saw a paper about increased asthma and rail and rail intersection, but again don't know at what distance this decreases. I also don't know what type (voltage) of electricity lines are utilised on the rail lines in the area and thus the potential health impacts of these.

Need to research this some more but if anyone has any information on this matter I would appreciate hearing about it.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Glossy Black-Cockatoo survey day in SEQ & Northern NSW

The 31st October this year sees the return of the annual Glossy Black-Cockatoo survey in South-east Queensland and Northern New South Wales. There have been some changes from last year, with a number of regional coordinators organising local events on this day and a larger geographic area to be surveyed.

To participate as a survey volunteer you must complete some training before hand, which is again organised by the local coordinators and by the sounds of it doesn't take too long and just helps in identification and survey techniques. Once trained and willing to participate on the day it is my understanding that you will be responsible for surveying a one square kilometre location periodically from dusk to dawn to determine presence of this species. As an incentive to participate, the team has organised a number of prizes for participants (see their website, details below, for additional information).

Additional information on the survey work, who to contact or just further information on the Glossy Black-Cockatoo it can all be found on the Glossy Black Conservancy website (
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Australian company's competition with a twist

I was recently shopping at my local grocery store for my weekly shop and noted in the biscuit aisle that one of the biscuit companies was holding a competition. We all see these, win $10,000 or a car or a holiday or whatever the prize is to encourage us to divulge our details for their marketing purposes in order to win something that will make our lives 'richer'.

However, the competition that I noticed in the aisle this time was a little different. It didn't offer to make you richer but rather a local charity or club in the order of $1000. Wow! I looked at this advertisement for the competition and thought "Why would I enter it?" I am not affiliated with any club or charity within my local community (as sad as that is) so I would get no direct reward, etc, etc. I wondered how many people also thought the same, competition, but then on reading the details that nothing would be coming back directly to them decided not to enter it. I actually returned to the aisle after mulling on this matter for a little while and decided that it would be a good social practice.

Now that I have got the competition entry form and the qualifying products I then have to decide on a charity that I would like to see 'win' $1000. This 'task' of choosing the 'right' group is now complete and I have entered on their behalf. I certainly see this as an interesting social experiment, in light of no personal gratification for those entering the competition and wonder how many people will have go online or post entries into a competition when they don't actually 'win' anything compared to their normal 'direct reward' type model.

I certainly feel good about myself and I think that is enough of a 'win' for me in this instance.
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Health issues from modern society

I have been reading that many of the incidences of children's asthma in our modern society can be attributed to our polluting lifestyle, in particular air pollution. This is quite often overlooked as something that shows our polluting habits are affecting our health not just the 'environment'.

I'm sure very few of you have really considered that our modern, polluting lifestyle can directly kill people. One of the case studies that I read about was in America, where a little girl died after having an asthma attack on a day when the public had been warned to stay indoors because of poor air quality. The little girl and her friend were playing outside and due to the particulates in the air her respiratory system closed over (an asthma attack) and ended up in hospital where they couldn't save her because her asthma attack was too advanced.

I certainly am interested to know what distance from major roads that direct particulate air pollution can affect people and also whether our general air quality here in south-east Queensland is as bad as some of the 'polluted' cities in America that we see on the news and has the potential to significantly affect our health.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cling Wrap

Until recently I had used what I consider to be copious amounts of cling wrap (clear plastic film) to keep my sandwiches intact when going to work, covering fruit & veggies that were half consumed for storage in the fridge, covering up packets of ham that I had opened and then don't seal again, etc.

Having thought about the amount of cling/plastic wrap that I was going through I was convinced there had got to be alternatives to using all of this thin plastic. I was concerned because of:
  1. the amount of plastic I was using and throwing away after a single use
  2. the potential for this plastic to be blown from the landfill locations (or on the way there) and entering the waterways and marine environments, in turn potentially being consumed by all sorts of aquatic life forms; and
  3. just generally adding to landfill.

What did I do? I invested in some more plastic (this doesn't sound very good) but I purchased a few long-wearing plastic rectangular containers to store left over foods, a sandwich-specific storage box to contain my sandwiches and a spherical container that will store tomatoes and onions.

As a result of this I use hardly any plastic/cling wrap and generally feel a little better about the footprint. I'm sure the plastic containers that I am still utilising in the kitchen domain are not the perfect environmental solutions but I consider it a start and something that I could easily adopt into my lifestyle.

Hope this helps others.
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