Why business as usual is so scary

Shortly after Christmas Day, the sky disappeared. It was only then that I realised I’d always taken it for granted. The sky, and the air. I’d always taken the air for granted too, and now it was hazardous.

Like many parts of Australia, my hometown of Canberra had a truly terrible summer. Surrounded by bushfires, and sitting in a geographic bowl between mountain ranges, the city filled with smoke and choked on it for months.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Biodiversity loss is a flaming tragedy


There are so many details about these unprecedented bushfires that I have no idea how to process. Like so many in Australia, I have spent hours staring in disbelief at the sheer number of fires raging across NSW alone, watching clips showing glimpses of their incredible size and ferocity, and grieving the millions of acres of forest laid to waste in their wake.

As a country, we have cried over the human lives lost, and tried to contemplate the economic and emotional toll of the thousands of homes and properties destroyed, in addition to the massevacuations of people. I doubt we will ever forget those images of evacuees huddled by the water on New Year’s Eve under a deep red sky; or of the brave little boy accepting a medal on behalf of the father he lost so young.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Human rights for the climate ‘apocalypse’


If you live on the east coast of Australia then you, like me, have probably been choking on smoke haze for weeks now. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though this eerie, apocalyptic atmosphere is a grim reminder of the future we’re heading into.

If you’re even less lucky, you might be living in one of the many regional towns across NSW that are rapidly running out of water. In some places, there’s even talk of evacuation. Tuesday was also the hottest day ever recorded in Australia. Ever. And the rest of this week is a heatwave that’s unprecedented for this time of year — with some areas set to hit 50C.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

The power of gift-giving without the waste


Christmas and similar significant festivals are a fraught time for many people. Who do you spend the day with? What food should you bring to share, and does it have to be gluten-free, paleo, vegan, or keto-friendly? What do you do if Uncle Clive starts talking about politics, or Aunty Edith wants to debate the science behind immunisations?

And then there is the issue of gifts.

In the 1970s, sociologists in the United States found that gift giving at Christmas time was subject to strict unwritten rules that determined everything from who gives what to whom to how presents are wrapped. They even determined the symbolic meaning behind different kinds of gifts — signifying things such the status of your relationship or whether you were alienated from your spouse.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Clean ocean win shows it’s worth dreaming big

In 1997, oceanographer and boat captain Charles Moore made a shocking discovery. After deciding to cut through the North Pacific Gyre on his way back to California from Hawaii, Moore gazed into the ocean and, instead of pristine waters, found a vast vortex of floating plastic debris. 

Moore later described the experience in an article for National History magazine. ‘I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.’

Read more over at Eureka Street.

Existential lessons from road kill

It was just after six in the morning when it happened. The sun had barely risen above the surrounding hills, which were white from a rare overnight snowfall, and I was out walking with my dogs. We paused as a mob of kangaroos bounded through the trees. When I thought they’d all passed, we continued on our way.

But I was wrong. About 15 metres in front of us stood a straggler. She quickly ducked behind a eucalypt, melting into the landscape. Sensing her fear, I pulled the dog leads tight and turned to walk in the other direction. Seeing us turn, she bolted out from the tree, heading for the back of the mob. Eyes on us, she veered wide towards the road just as a white station wagon came speeding around the corner.

I screamed as it made impact, but the driver either didn’t notice, or didn’t care. He just sped on.

Scientists have estimated that at least four million native animals are killed on Australian roads every year. That is a lot of animals. A lot of lives. But, what can we do about it?

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Building equity into 20-minute city plans

I only left my suburb once last weekend, and it was excellent. As boring as it may sound, it turns out that this highly local lifestyle is not only good for the environment, but is one that appeals to many of us. Rather than spending our time driving between amenities and activities, most of us would like to be able to walk or cycle to most of those things that contribute to living a good life. And governments are starting to take notice.

In recognition of the social and environmental benefits that flow from people staying out of their cars and getting out into their own neighbourhoods, cities around the world have been announcing plans to improve liveability by adopting the 20- (or 30-) minute neighbourhood concept. Plan Melbourne describe this as being ‘all about “local living” — giving people the ability to meet most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip of their home’.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Nuts and bolts of an Aussie Green New Deal

The Reserve Bank (RBA) cut rates this week to a historic low of 1 per cent in an attempt to stimulate the economy in order to maintain employment growth and increase disposable income (and, thus, consumption). The ALP have argued that 1 per cent interest rates signal a ‘national crisis’ and that successful economic stimulus is going to take more than a rate cut.

In response, they have pushed for the LNP to bring forward its tax cuts and to increase spending on infrastructure. RBA Governor, Phillip Lowe, has a more optimistic take, stating ‘the outlook for the economy remains reasonable’, but has also hinted that more could be done to stimulate consumption. 

Of course, the question of what should be done to stimulate the economy (if anything at all) largely depends on how you frame the problem and, in particular, on how you explain its origins. Debates around the meaning and cause of economic crises are nothing new, and they have been blamed on everything from greed, to regulatory failure, poor economic theory, culture and excessive regulation.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Can we share our way out of this climate mess?

On the side of the road, just where you turn into my suburb, there’s a large sign that reads, ‘Climate Election’. Although the election has been and gone, the sign is still there and it’s looking kind of forlorn.

It’s been a sad few weeks for anyone who was looking for a clear change of direction from the federal government in relation to action on climate change. The reality of the looming climate crisis can feel particularly overwhelming when we fixate on the political process as the only practical solution — a mindset that makes a lot of sense when you consider the complexity and scope of the challenge ahead.

However, this is a mindset that Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom cautioned against in 2010 when she argued that, given the ongoing failure of governments to reach agreement at the international level, it is essential that we ‘adopt a polycentric approach to the problem of climate change in order to gain the benefits at multiple scales as well as to encourage experimentation and learning from diverse policies adopted by multiple scales’.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Living with Dystopia

Do you ever feel as though you are living in the early scenes of a dystopic film? I have to confess that I do.

In the background, the audience is being shown hints of the coming catastrophe. We hear the news radio mention increasing numbers of extreme weather events and related disasters. We see newspaper headlines declare, ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe‘ and ‘1 million species are facing extinction‘. And yet our heroes appear to be carrying on with their lives normally.

As the film progresses, this apparent normality is punctuated by signs of anxiety, despair and resistance. Parents sit up late quietly discussing their fears about the future. Colleagues share a bleak joke about the upcoming apocalypse. Grandparents start becoming radical. School children walk out of school.

Soon it becomes clear that the looming disaster has already arrived, and people react in a range of predictable ways. There are, of course, those who continue to deny the problem — either because they benefit from the status quo or because it is just too confronting to face the truth.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street