Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Climate Change Rally 2011

This weekend in cities around Australia there will be a number of climate change rallies to call for a strong price on carbon pollution and a cleaner Australia. The Brisbane rally  is known as 'Say Yes to Climate Action'. It is being held at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Stage between 1 & 2:30pm on 5 June 2011.

This rally is being organised by the 'Yes Australia' group, which is comprised of a number of organisations including the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Climate Action Network Australia, Environment Victoria, GetUp, Greenpeace, The Climate Institute and WWF. I have seen this advertised on the GetUp website.  There is also a facebook page which you can RSVP to indicating your intent to attend.

If you're in one of the capital cities that are holding such an event, please go along and show your support for a brighter future for Australia, investment in innovation and your desire to have a future for the human species.

Community action and support is the best part of a democratic society, so use this opportunity to our country's advantage! Pin It

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Anger with Climate Change Deniers

This morning I have been listening to a podcast, one of the "Conversations with Richard Fidler" on ABC radio. This conversation was with Naomi Oreskes. This was on ABC Radio on the 18 May 2011 and she has recently co-authored a book called "Merchants of Doubt".

Basically Naomi has recently been examining the history of science, with a particular interest in climate change. Her new book examines the people that have placed question whether human-induced climate change is real. The conversation that she had with Richard was fascinating and has made me even madder with these "climate change deniers".  If you can download the conversation from the ABC website or ITunes I recommend it, or perhaps you can look into Naomi on YouTube as there are several presentations of hers on that website. Hopefully this can provide you with a bit of a reality check on the science of climate change and some insight into the background of the people that have placed doubt on human-induced climate change.

She also had some great insight and advice that she has picked up through her travels in the podcast. One snippet that I thought was useful was a comment along the lines of : it isn't that we want you to necessarily change your lifestyle for the worse, but rather make your lifestyle more sustainable in nature. We are a clever species and thus given encouragement and fact we could provide alternatives to the technologies and issues that are causing significant environmental degradation.

Bring on a better world! Pin It

Friday, May 27, 2011

Feeling overwhelmed?

Recently I subscribed (online) to a magazine called Green : sustainable architecture and landscape design and think I found some of the most useful advice for a person starting to investigate greener options for their life in Issue 2.

An article by Jane Toner and Erika Bartak called "Material Matters" provided the following insight:

"If you  feel overwhelmed...try to prioritise your materials goals and give some focus to your research. While improving environmental impacts for each and every building material may be a noble ideal to uphold, it is better to achieve small successes with priority items than to feel totally swamped and end up changing nothing, deferring to the "usual suspects"."

I often feel overwhelmed and do end up choosing the easiest and most readily available product, but if I choose one item/issue to tackle then perhaps I might end up in the end making a greater difference. Let's see how I go. Pin It

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Worm Farming

Found the Red Worm Composting website today as I was looking for information how long it will take my worms to get going in their new digs. :) The site looked like a useful one and includes some basics about worm farming with some practical examples and step-by-step guides.

Looks like I should be putting slightly decomposed materials into my worm farm rather than transferring the scraps straight from the vegetable to the worm farm. I just thought my worms might be cold! Pin It

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nuclear meltdown

It has been nearly two months since the earthquake and tsunami hit the east coast of Japan, which resulted in significant damage and loss of life. These events are not unheard of or expected in Japan, however the recent ones have had some dramatic consequences in regards to radiation exposure for some of the country's population, food and also a serious incident for at least one of the country's nuclear reactors. The nuclear reactor plant at Fukushima Daiichi has now had three of its reactors having confirmed meltdowns.

You may ask, what is a nuclear meltdown? Basically, this is just a term used to describe a severe nuclear reactor incident, where the core of the reactor has been damaged due to overheating. They are also generally considered serious because of the likelihood of radioactive material being released to the environment.

As background, a nuclear reactor creates electricity by heating fluids via a nuclear reaction which then powers a generator. This process is done through the use of a cooling system, which takes the fluids that are circulated through the nuclear reaction chamber from that location to a generator. Then the fluid that was circulating through the nuclear reactor chamber and consequently being heated is taken to another section of the power plant. At this location the fluid is used as a heat source for a boiler and in turn the steam is used to drive a turbine driven electrical generator.

The 'reaction chamber' needs a continual supply of cool fluids as the byproducts of the nuclear reaction also create heat and continue to produce heat even after the reaction occurs for a period of time (up to several years). If this chamber doesn't receive fresh supplies of cool fluids a 'meltdown'. In the case of the Fukushima power plant, power was lost at the site after the tsunami hit meaning that the cooling system was not functional for a period of time. The cooling system at the plant could not bring cool fluids to the reactors, causing the system to overheat and in turn resulting in several meltdowns.

One of the human health concerns as a result of these meltdowns is the release of radioactive material. Some reports suggest areas within a radius of 30-50km of the power plant have levels of radioactive ceasium to cause concern and iodine-131 within the seawater discharge. However, other research reports state that areas outside the 20km evacuation zone around the power plant have levels of radiation far below human health concerns. There are however still human health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated food and water.

Despite the relative amounts of radioactive discharge from the site and people's concerns in the areas adjacent to the power plant, it is the power plant workers I feel the most for in this situation. These staff continue to work in this environment, knowing there will be consequences as a result of their constant exposure to radiation whilst attempt to bring these reactors back to some sort of stability. These people are selfless and are reducing the risks that would potentially occur if they weren't so self-sacrificing. Amazing! Pin It

Monday, May 23, 2011

Green with Envy

Where did this saying come from? I certainly don't think it is appropriate to be associating envy with people that consider themselves green these days!

I was thinking about the desire to update possessions, cars, houses, etc on the way home tonight. Perhaps I was thinking it would be nice if I had the newer model of the car I drive or the latest version of the Macbook I write this blog on! But then these thoughts transcended to thinking no, there is no reason to update either of these possessions. They do me well, neither are running roughly or creating much struggle for me and neither are causing me substantial financial outlay to keep them going. But I admit am envious of the people that do have the newer models of these (on occasions).

On this note, I think perhaps this (envy) is the curse of the current generations - that much of what we want is affordable and easily obtainable and we can quickly update our out-of-date appliances, phones, computers, cars, really most things that we 'rely' on in our modern lives. Sure some might take us a little longer than others, but truly our lives are blessed with many assets, money and capabilities than previous generations have had available to them.

In light of this ease, I think many people revolve around their need to keep up with their friends, the neighbours and generally what is perceived as exciting to have in our modern community. Envy drives us and means that we have many things previous generations never had and definitely didn't take for granted.

Perhaps if we can control our 'envy', we might tread more lightly on this planet, have smaller environmental footprints and might even have more time to smell the flowers. So next time you think it is important to have the latest computer, phone, whatever, think twice about this and see whether what you already have might do the job! Pin It

Recycling...do you do it?

If you haven't heard already it is very important to recycle anything you can. The slogan "reduce, recycle, reuse" is a great mantra to follow in everyday life. I have however, sometimes got on my high horse and announced that it is no good recycling if you're not going to choose products that have recycled content. But I have come to the realisation that isn't necessarily true, as there is the need for more than one plastic bottle that I might recycle to produce a recycled content product that I might like to buy in the future. Thus, I need everyone to recycle!

Furthermore, it is important to choose products with recycled content, as this follows the "reduce" part of the slogan. This is because you will be using less primary resources and creating a more 'closed' system rather than continuing mine or gather intact primary resources. It also goes someway to also committing to the "reuse" principle because you are re-utilising a resource just in a different form. Such re-use does however still require more resources in the product's transformation process so in fact it is better if possible to reuse things in their original state. 

So, if you're going to be recycling your toilet rolls then best to buy recycled content toilet paper. It isn't as scratchy and nasty as it once was or perceived to be and does the job just as well! Alternatively, if you're ultra keen just use the toilet roll instead of toilet paper.       :)   Peronsally, I'm just at the recycled content toilet paper. 
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Permaculture Resources

The new blog for the Permaculture Eudlo group has just posted an extensive book list covering numerous topics relevant to permaculture.

It is available on the Book list tab of their blog.

Well worth a scan! Pin It

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Now we'll be 'cooking' with worm juice!

Recently we left behind my veggie patch and worm farm in Brisbane and moved closer to the beach on the Sunshine Coast. This has been a challenging move for me as currently we aren't growing our own food to any extent and I have literally been chucking great garden waste and kitchen scraps into the landfill bin (the Council rubbish bin). Not a great way to improve your environmental footprint!

Nevertheless, today I am feeling a little better about everything because we purchased a worm farm. Yes, this one is a purchased one. Last time I built one out of styrofoam broccoli boxes and left over flyscreen. The one I have bought is a rectangular one from Tumbleweed, made from recycled plastic and this time I have put in the full complement of the 1000 worms (last time only put in 500 being the cheap skate that I am). See if I can get some better results than last time.

At least looking forward to putting the kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetables) somewhere that will reduce my footprint rather than the rubbish bin. I will post on the progress over the coming weeks/months. Pin It

Friday, May 20, 2011

Alternate to plastic bags

Recently I visited my local organic supermarket for a trip of excitement. So many great products, inspiring ideas and generally a lot of great organic treats. This store has the typical bulk food bins allowing you to purchase the amount you really require, save some money, buy some traditionally unavailable products and maybe in the long-term the potential to save on packaging typically used to provide these products in mainstream supermarkets.

In many of the health food stores or places you typically buy these bulk options the store still typically provides some sort of traditional plastic bag for you to place these bulk items into. The store I visited today however had rolls of corn starch bags, which are able to be composted. What a terrific idea!

As you may have seen in one of my previous posts, I have previously determined that I can reduce my plastic bag consumption by using reusable shopping bags and generally refusing plastic bag options, however I was stumped as to what I could do as a liner my regular garbage bin in my kitchen. I think I now have an alternative. Corn starch compostable bags!

The premise is that these bags can break down in about 12 weeks time in the right conditions. The right conditions are more likely to occur in your backyard compost than the local landfill, but I believe that surely these compostable bags have got to be a better option in the landfill than your regular plastic bag. Surely?

So, my next thought process was, where can I get these things from and how much do they cost? Well based on my hour long internet search for Australian suppliers it seems there is a variety of products and also a wide variety in cost. They generally seem to be available in bulk, however there are a few companies that seem to be directed at the residential interest with less than 100 bags per roll or box type quantities available. However, I guess if you got a few friends interested I'm sure that the you could buy a bulk supply and then distribute these across a few families quick enough.

Also, found an interesting group called Say NO to plastic bags today! which discusses alternatives to plastic bags and provides some information to retailers in regards to impacts of traditional plastic bags and strategies to either reduce the use of plastic bags in their business or encourage the use of alternatives (with much of this information also a useful resource for the general public). This group also has a User's Guide directly aimed at retailers as a printable information sheet to assist in this transition process.

If you're interested I can post a list of suppliers of some of the truly biodegradable bags in the future. Pin It

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Urban Garden sessions - Brisbane 2011

The State Library of Queensland is about to hold the 2011 Ideas Festival (19-22 May). As part of this initiative, they will be holding a number of sessions entitled "Urban Garden". It is being advertised as a family activity aimed at learning about food, where it comes from, how far it travels to get to your plate and how to become involved in growing your own food.

The State Library website has some information available about the session. Their website also has a short video clip showing the construction process for this urban garden (would love some of those hard-working hands in my garden). According to the library's information the garden is based on permaculture principles and is an active learning event for the family.

Get your hands dirty, 20 & 21 May 2011, at the State Library of Queensland, SouthBank, Brisbane!

Booking are required. No cost. Pin It

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why it is great to have frogs!

Having frogs in your backyard, parkland or ecosystem is a great sign. Frogs are very sensitive to toxins in the environment, as they have highly permeable skins and therefore are often labelled as bio-indicators. 

If you don't have frogs currently in your backyard, don't worry there are ways to encourage them to share your lovely patch.

Methods to encourage frogs
  • habitat - some species require permanent sources of water, whilst others primarily spend most of their time within the cover provided by trees and/or shrubs
  • limit your use of toxic chemicals around your house and garden - stop using chemical pesticides and herbicides in your garden and turn to organic practices, where possible
  • food source - encourage attractive insects into your garden. Instead of spraying mosquitoes or spiders leave them around. Also if plan on having a pond include plants in the waterbody
  • keep your pets away - they just don't mix, although the old lap dog probably won't affect the balance
Why have frogs?
  • indicates that you have a healthy ecosystem in your patch
  • means other processes in your area are likely to be functioning - if the frogs are there, then many of native species will be present too
  • indicates that you will be less exposed to toxic chemicals, because where there are frogs there are unlikely to be a plethora of chemicals
  • reduction in nasty insects, such as those biting mosquitoes
  • lovely night time choruses
Just as a heads up....if you're planning on encouraging frogs with a pond in your backyard avoid having shallow water on the edges and where possible have more vertical walls as this will reduce the likelihood that cane toads will call your pond home.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Useful Native Plant Identification Books

Here are three readily available and easy to use native plant identification books useful in South-east Queensland.
  • Wild plants of Greater Brisbane - Queensland Museum
  • Noosa Native Plants - Noosa Integrated Catchment Association Inc.
  • Mountains to Mangroves (there is a new edition available that combines the previously available two volume set) - Logan River Branch of Society for Growing Australian Plants
These are all photographic plant identification books and group the plant species into their supporting habitats/ecosystems. Easy to flip through to identify and no keys or fancy terms necessary.

Great reference texts and if you're keen it is a great idea to carry at least one of them in the field with you (if you're back can handle it) to help expand your knowledge of native plants in South-east Queensland! Pin It

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Is environmental concern just a first world, middle class concept?

As the title suggests there is some belief that concern for the environment (and things that fall under this umbrella term) is just something the middle class, wealthy and first world countries can be concerned about. I have mixed feelings about this but came to some realisation the other day that if you're fighting hard to put food on the table and provide clothing and shelter for your family, the fact that there is a hole in the ozone layer, the soil from productive farmlands is running in the ocean, the climate is warming, etc, etc is really of little concern to you.

I think this is an important frame when considering the environment, other people's impacts and their ability to address these and also how you approach such concepts with other people. If you want to bring awareness of environmental impacts and betterment for future generations to other people of different backgrounds, ethics, wealth, race, country, etc you have to have an awareness of other people's circumstances.

Asking people to buy organic, fair-trade, locally produced food or other goods and services may not be an appropriate way for all people to address their environmental footprint or not meet their relevant circumstances. Perhaps alternative approaches relate to teaching people about soil conservation, appropriate farming techniques, how to address government, working with their systems and circumstances to make a difference. It just might be a different approach to the one that you take in your home, neighbourhood or country but doesn't make it any less worthy.

Obviously there is a bucket load of environmental issues and this concept is likely to be applicable to them all, just perhaps with different approaches (isn't that the key message). Food for thought. Pin It

Fairtrade Fortnight 2011

Currently we are in the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight (7-22 May 2011) aimed at bringing awareness about fair trade products and the associated ethics and benefits. This week also recognises the effort and rewards that result out of people in developed countries buying fairtrade products.

You might ask what are fairtrade products?

These are products that assist in providing appropriate work and trade conditions, including fair prices, to producers and associated businesses and families in developing countries. 

What type of fairtrade products are available in Australia?
  • coffee
  • chocolate
  • clothing
  • fabrics
  • rice
  • grains
  • tea
  • sugar
  • oil
  • jams & spreads
  • herbs & spices
Another useful tip is where to find these products here in Australia. The Fairly Local website has a list of sellers that stock fair-trade products. This is not an exhaustive list, as I have even noted some fair-trade products in the big supermarket chains. So keep your eye out for them. 

There is also additional information available at the Fair Trade Organisation of Australia and New Zealand's website. 

It is important to remember that a little action either during your grocery shopping or becoming aware of the conditions in which your food and clothing are made can result in not only better outcomes and products for you but also great change for people on the other side of the world. 
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weed wash down

Weeds are significant issues across Australia and I often think about what the country would look like with intact vegetation and no lantana or the many other weeds that are invading natural bushlands and in some cases smothering them. 

There are numerous pieces of legislation which outline declared pests. Here in Queensland, we have the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act. Local councils also quite regularly identify lists of environmental weeds, these are usually invasive species that are non-native but widespread and unlikely to be completely removed from Australia without significant effort and investment. 

Weed control in your own patch of land is important, but where opportunities present themselves it is important to undertake weed seed spread prevention methods where available. I came across a public wash down facility when I was in North Queensland a couple of years back. 


I thought this was a great initiative but I don't think many other drivers on the road where even aware of the facility (it wasn't mandatory and you almost had to know it was there to see it) and certainly didn't seem to be using it. Therefore it probably wasn't very effective at this location, but you never know.

Here is a photo of the wash down facility in action. 

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Ever heard of being an Ecotarian?

I hear a podcast on ABC radio the other day which discussed the concept of being an ecotarian. I had never heard this term previously. The guest on the show discussed their previous vegetarianism which transcended into veganism. Their food choices were based on their concerns for the welfare of animals and the manner in which they were produced, transported and slaughtered. However, this all changed when their neighbour offered them a couple of fresh eggs from their free-range chickens that lived on their neighbour's lovely rural property. At this point the guest on the show thought about this offer and couldn't really justify (based on their previous parameters) why they shouldn't take the eggs from their neighbour.

Many people's choice to become vegetarian or vegan is primarily based on animal welfare issues, but when you produce your own food and know the full process of how the animal was cared for, its environment and potentially how and where it was slaughtered many of the welfare issues fade into the background and become irrelevant. People's food choices might therefore change solely from animal welfare to sustainability issues relating to the production, transportation and sale of food products brought into their lives.

I am not suggesting anyone change their eating strategy I just found it an interesting concept which I hadn't discovered previously. Pin It

How to build your own soils

An important step to becoming self-sufficient in producing your own food is having fabulous and healthy soils. Modern agriculture has all sorts of inputs that they pour into the soil to boost their productivity, but overtime the soils become depleted and require additional inputs and larger amounts. Such strategies are a long way from producing soils, are not self-sufficient and are generally very resource hungry, with many petro-chemical based inputs.

I went to a seminar today on Green Manures and Crop Rotation at my local library. This was presented by Sonya Wallace, a well known permaculture teacher here on the Sunshine Coast. This session was very informative and relieved some of my concerns about have green manure crops within my personal food production system. The concerns that I had previously about green manure crops was that I was loosing a good patch of soil which I could have been producing another viable vegetable crop.

For those that are unfamiliar with green manure crops, these are crops that assist in replenishing the soil with vital nutrients such as nitrogen as well as providing organic matter into the soil encouraging a good soil structure and a great diversity of life-forms within the soil (microbes, bacteria, fungi, invertebrates, etc). These crops are grown to rest your soils and also ensure that you have great soils to produce the food you want on your table.

Sonya presented information on types of green manure crops and the importance of rotating crops throughout your garden to ensure the soils can produce the best crops possible, with your rotation program to include green manure crops.

I now understand it is important to use such crops and strategies to ensure I will have long-term productive soils without having to utilise artificial sources of nutrients, in turn allowing for ongoing gardening success. Pin It

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In Tune with Nature

To become more in tune with the land, seasons and opportunities for food growing, energy and water capture and the changes in wildlife and weeds in my life and the land I occupy, I am going to start an observation journal. 

What will this entail?

  • date
  • season
  • weather - temperature, rainfall, cloud cover, etc
  • what is in flower/fruit - food, native and weed plants
  • what is happening on the land
and anything else that takes my fancy. 

Overtime, I hope to collect a picture of the patterns in the landscape, what I will need to be doing on the land, what to expect from my food plants and identify things that are out of place or sorts.

I am looking forward to learning from this process.  Pin It

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reducing my carbon footprint

Ok, so I have this grand plan (well at least an idea of interest)! I am thinking that I will try this only eating from produce that comes from within 250km of my place! I'm sure you've all heard of the concept by now...if you buy produce from a limited radius from around your house the theory is that you will reduce your carbon footprint (less food kms/miles), support local producers, eat seasonally available food and if you're lucky might even be a little healthier. You will definitely know where your food comes from, you will know how is it produced and you can start to take control of what goes into your body. The concept sounds fantastic, it is the logistics that are the nightmare, particularly for those souls that live in Australia. Well, it seems that way to me anyway.

I have recently moved to the Sunshine Coast and now seemed to be exposed to a plethora of produce at weekend markets. I get the feeling though that a lot of it is still coming from the Brisbane fruit and vegetable markets rather than the producers themselves. Also there seems to be a significant lack of protein producers at these markets too, so unless you're totally vegetarian the markets don't seem to be meeting all of the requirements.

Hence, the logistical nightmare. If I go ahead with this plan it will be extensive question asking for a period to establish the locality of the production process for my food and perhaps some carbon footprint increase due to me driving around finding and sourcing the produce.

I am still keen for the plan, just have to start the process! Also the 250km radius is just an arbitrary distance around my house from which I thought I could obtain a fair variety of produce throughout the year. Pin It

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gourmet Farmer...great TV series

A little while ago the SBS aired a series called the "Gourmet Farmer", where food critic Matt Evans decided to leave his Sydney life and re-connect with the land and the origins of food. Basically, he decided he would become a farmer, aiming to provide for himself and sell some of his wares locally to get by. 

I love this series and the idea of it. I think the notion of growing your own food and being able to provide for yourself is very romantic and idyllic lifestyle. Obviously there is a lot of hard work, pain, suffering and a completely different lifestyle (than I am currently leading) if you get down to the practical side of this, but nevertheless the idea to me is infinitely attractive. 

I have borrowed the DVD of this series from my library and currently trolling my way through it. My daughter and I sit and watch the farmer and his progress together. I love the fact that my daughter is being exposed to food production in its truest form, along with me and realising how you can transform bare resources, to your own food and then turn the produce into something called "dinner" or a "treat". Fantastic. Enjoying journey this so much at present.   Pin It

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Solar panels...shade is bad

I found something out today that I didn't previously know about solar panels....

If there is any portion of a solar panel shaded, then no energy is collected by that panel! How unbelievable is that? Apparently scientists are only currently looking at this issue, which is being done in collaboration with computer scientists who have worked on maintaining computer systems/servers, etc where one component can drop out and you don't loose full efficiency. 

Additional government support and investment in renewables will lead to the resolution of such issues sooner rather than later!

In the meantime, ensure your residential solar panels are not in the shade! Pin It