a change in time

the small changes we make everyday will all add up to create a more sustainable way of living


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checks and balances; where change lives

I thought it was about time I looked back over the last three years, from the time when I started the Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, to see what changes we have made and what still lies in the ‘too hard basket’. The ‘We’ to whom I refer is my husband Peter, and myself. I am lucky that Peter has supported me from day one in my attempts at behaviour change. Such support is not a given.

The change I am most pleased about is our reduction in food waste, or more precisely, wasted food. While we have made attempts over the years to ‘divert food waste from landfill’, it hasn’t always been a top priority, funny about that. We’ve had a compost for years but that has become a place to stack all unwanted green waste. I have had some success with worm farms, however I have twice been defeated by a string of hot days. Then one of the students in the course suggested I try the bokashi bucket. It suits our lifestyle perfectly, something not to be underestimated, so now all scraps and any leftovers go into the soil in our backyard.

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Chopping up food scraps is a meditative practice for me – I enjoy the process and the result.

Another area where our awareness has been raised is, just how embedded ‘single use plastic’ has become in the western lifestyle. I am constantly reminded, at the monthly creek sweeping of Darebin Creek, of the amount of plastic being thrown away. We stopped using plastic bags, for the most part, some time ago. We still have a way to go when it comes to kicking the habit of buying prepackaged goods from the supermarket. Some people seem able to go cold turkey – once they realise the damage a product is causing to the environment, they no longer buy it – still working on this one.

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I was pretty shocked at how far down the layers of plastic go. There was no way I could remove all of it so I stuck with the most recent items that could end up in the waterways.

But let’s not get too depressed. There is fun to be had in this crazy old world in which we live. Our efforts at ‘re-using, re-cycling’ etc still provide a lot of pleasure and pride. Take for example, when our washing machine recently stopped working and was beyond repair.

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Peter made it into a brazier! Okay, the plastic might melt from the heat, but we’re going to give it a go. Suki is not so sure.

One unexpected outcome was my new career as a rapper. (ha ha!) As  part of our graduation from the Community Leaders in Sustainability program, we were required to make a short video of what we would take away from the course. Inspired by our son, Louis, who kindly allowed me to use his beat, I decided to try writing a rap. Peter took on the role of camera operator and editor and , voila, instant fame!

And last, but not least, I finally ditched the big toilet paper company and changed over to a company that has a strong ethical basis – my logic being that we should support companies that are committed to making a difference.

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The name is a bit off-putting, but it isn’t a bad question for us to be asking ourselves. (Couldn’t resist a free plug for Bill Gammage’s book!) 

The main thing I have learnt on this comparatively newly chosen path is that it is worth making these small changes, even though there are those who think we are way past being able to make a difference with the little things. It is our continued desire to consume way beyond what we actually need that is contributing to the current swathe of problems linked to environmental degradation. If we stop buying stuff, the companies producing it will have to change their ways.

For our children, and our children’s children.


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The right to fly

When Anthony James told our sustainability class that he had decided not to fly anymore, we were left with no doubt regarding how committed he was to shrinking his ecological footprint. I learnt a great deal from these classes however it was this particular declaration that has stuck with me. I have since oscillated between admiring his resolve and, somewhat cynically, thinking ‘as if one person refusing to fly will make any difference’. Today I am going to consider a few facts and opinions on the topic – our right to fly.

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The ubiquitous ‘reaching your destination’ shot. Landing in LA, October 2012

In February this year I came across an article entitled, ‘How far can we get without flying?’ The tagline is ‘when a climate scientist decided to stop flying to cut his carbon emissions, he caught a glimpse of the post-oil future.’ It immediately reminded me of Anthony’s decision; my curiosity was aroused. The author of the article, Peter Kalmus, created a basic pie chart of his personal greenhouse gas emissions for 2010.

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I don’t think this was the actual pie chart however it certainly works for the magazine article. I always enjoy an accompanying visual. 

Kalmus introduces the term, cognitive dissonance – ‘the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.’ The first time I heard this phrase, it rang true to me, especially after I was introduced to the kinds of changes we humans would need to embrace if we really want to make a difference to our CO2 emissions. Most of us are aware of the impact that flying has on the planet. I have to admit I didn’t realise just how extreme the impact is.

An excerpt from Kalmus’ article:

Hour for hour, there’s no better way to warm the planet than to fly in a plane. If you fly coach from Los Angeles to Paris and back, you’ve just emitted 3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, 10 times what an average Kenyan emits in an entire year. Flying first class doubles these numbers.

However, the total climate impact of planes is likely two to three times greater than the impact from the CO2 emissions alone. This is because planes emit mono-nitrogen oxides into the upper troposphere, form contrails, and seed cirrus clouds with aerosols from fuel combustion. These three effects enhance warming in the short term.      

But even after being exposed to this kind of information, I feel unwilling to let go of what feels like ‘my right to fly’. The Big Overseas Trip, which once would have been something we aimed for at least once in our lives, has become, due to cheap airfares, something we now feel inclined to factor in every two years or so. And even after all the travel Peter and I have done, and the fact that flying is a significant drain on Peter’s wellbeing, we still toss around the notion of another trip to LA to see friends or a return trip to Barcelona, to see the Sagrada Familia, which was covered in scaffolding when we visited in 1985.

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If you really love your friends and family, you will make the effort to fly interstate or overseas to see them. 

Where does this version of cognitive dissonance leave me? Recently I thought that maybe if everyone was assigned a quota of kilometres they could use to travel by plane, we could still fly, but with a  substantial decrease in damage to the planet. It is unlikely that this will happen. Meanwhile, when the prospect of flying is in the air, we will seriously consider whether the flight is necessary or whether we can find some other way to satisfy the desire to travel. It took Kalmus ‘three years to quit’, so I figure that we still have a bit of wiggle room. To fly or not to fly, that is the question. What do you think?

                                               

 


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Worms are people too!

Many years ago my brother Rod gave me a CERES worm farm for Christmas; a very generous present. (Thanks Rod!)

With the worm farm installed in our backyard, I would no longer need to toss our food scraps into the bin. Yay for me! Okay, I was a little smug about how virtuous I now would be. Take that landfill!

That’s when I discovered that being the owner of a worm farm is not as easy as it sounds. Worms need food. And they die, in the heat, by the thousands! Too much responsibility!!

After that hot summer, back in 2009, when our first family of worms frizzled and fried, tossing food scraps and leftovers in the bin didn’t seem so bad after all. Until I enrolled in that damn sustainability course. That’s when the ghost of worms past started haunting me. ‘Did we die for nought?’.

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Peter fashioned this shade tent to protect the new batch of worms from certain death. They are very grateful.

Less than eight weeks into the Swinburne course, Peter and I went to CERES and purchased a box of worms. I was ready and willing to try again. Avoiding the heat wasn’t the only change we needed to initiate, there was the problem of the food not breaking down fast enough. The very helpful nursery attendant at CERES mentioned that it helps to cut the food into small pieces as it is easier for the worms to break it down. Why didn’t I think of that? Worms have very tiny mouths!

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Yummy worm food – a selection of carrot and potato peelings, some egg shells and loose tea.

One day, while peering at the worms, it occurred to me that I am a farmer, a worm farmer. I have a responsibility for the worms. It is a symbiotic relationship. I need the worms to dispose of our food scraps and they need me to make sure their conditions are met – they need food, and shelter from the elements.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself from the worms. How fear of failure can paralyse even the best of intentions. Every time I open the lid to spread a new batch of food, I still get that tight feeling in my stomach. Will they still be alive? So far, they have survived, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I love worms.