Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Picture if you will the scene:

A lovely spring day in the country. A gentle warm breeze. The spring smells of first flowers, rich earth, fresh air.

Bees buzz, birds sing and off in the distance a dog barks.

And here is Plodder. He is a draught horse. Big and strong, reliable and loyal. He has been working the land here for most of his life. He doesn’t think about it much, it is just the way it is.

Farmer Brown comes to his stall in the morning, brushes him down, gives him his oats and chats about the plans for the day. Pull the cart in the morning into the woods to get some timber. Stroll into town to pick up some supplies and enjoy the pats and admiration of the local children. Plough the home paddock, pulling the plough behind him with his strong legs working, Farmer Brown focussing his attention on keeping the furrows straight.

Not a bad life.

Plodder doesn’t want for much. He is fed and watered. He has a roof over his head. Farmer Brown is not overly harsh or quick with the whip.

Yes. Life is pretty good for Plodder.

One other thing, whenever Plodder is out and about, Farmer Brown makes sure he puts a pair of blinkers on him. They are comfortable enough. They sit on either side of his intelligent eyes, keeping him focussed on the task at hand, gazing ahead wherever Farmer Brown chooses to turn him with the old bridle. Plodder looks this way and that, down at the rich brown earth, out along the road into town, back down the track to the barn. Farmer Brown seems to know what is best at any given moment, and Plodder takes it in his big gentle stride, happy enough.

This is how Plodder has always seen the world outside the barn. Ever since he was a foal he was trained to accept the blinkers without question. Farmer Brown ensured that Plodder wore the blinkers, that Plodder worked for Farmer Brown, and that in return Farmer Brown would ensure that Plodder was not too uncomfortable, and had the occasional reward for his good work. Farmer Brown got the benefits of Plodder’s hard work, and gave Plodder a fraction of the profit for his trouble in the way of oats and rub downs and the odd sugar cube.

Good old Plodder.

But imagine Plodder’s surprise if he could take his blinkers off. If he could see to each side, to wherever he wanted to turn his head? I wonder if he would be so content with his lot. Ploughing the field, pulling the cart, living in the barn. Doing what he has been taught from birth is the right thing to do.

Would he willingly put those blinkers back on or would he want to see the world his way? Would he prefer to be told what to do and when and how to do it by Farmer Brown, or would he start to think that maybe Farmer Brown was just using him to turn a profit for himself, giving just enough back to Plodder to stop him from being too discontent?

The problem, you see, is that once you take off the blinkers that we have all been told we need to wear, it is impossible to live the rest of your life as if they were still on.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Zombie Apocalypse? Not again!

Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Pre and Post-Apocalyptic, Pre Dystopian, etc etc.. If you believe what you see on the TV screen, a zombie apocalypse is coming and not just to a theatre near you!

We humans have a fascination with the undead. Always have and always will apparently. From vampires to werewolves to ghosts and ghouls, the undead are always in the back of the collective consciousness somewhere.

And so to the zombie apocalypse.

It is coming in all its forms and the preppers are getting ready. Stockpiling goodies and guns to ride out the matinee horror fest until the theatre is empty and the candy bar well and truly raided.

But I fear it is too late. I fear that the dreaded zombie apocalypse has already snuck up behind us and taken over without so much as a moan. Vast hordes of undead walking the streets, looking for all the world like ordinary citizens, upstanding, mobile, not wavering in their determination to either kill us or turn us.

I see them every day. I am surprised that others don’t, but then maybe I am one of the few that is uninfected by whatever virus has worked its way into their undead brains. I recognise them by their eyes. Not alive by any sense of the word, but not yet quite dead. Undead eyes. The thousand yard stare of the veteran killer, Vaseline eyes, glassy, hooded, no emotion.

Typically wearing a suit. Typically in the inner city. Typically around the corporate death zones and high street cemeteries. Once happy children now all grown up with the life force sucked out of them, perhaps still just aware enough to realise what they have become.

Assuming you are not one of them, look around you next time you are walking the streets where you live. Can you see them? Don’t worry, they can’t see you. They can only see what the virus in their brains wants them to see, and I can guarantee you it isn’t you. It’s the next deal, the billable hour, the next big thing. It’s the overwhelming need to impress the other zombies, and feel superior to you (even though you are invisible! The irony!). It is the new car, the hope that the latest gadget will fulfil its advertised promise and make them happy and content, finally ending the endless insatiable miserable life-destroying craving for more, more, more.

Yes, I fear that the zombie apocalypse is already here. And it has infected all levels of society, leaving no-one immune.

So, bring on the next wave. The stumbling, rotting fleshed, brain eating zombies of our imaginations.

I have survived this one long enough, and I am actually looking forward to next. Because at least when it hits there will be no ramifications for putting a bullet between their eyes and putting them out of their misery.

Another zombie apocalypse? Bring it on!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Switching on by switching off

In our rush to leap headlong into being entertained every waking minute by the wonders of technology, and our impatience to have our every want satisfied immediately, it seems to be that the hard learned lessons of past generations are being lost.

It isn’t looked on as a good thing to be thrifty, to wait for things that are worthwhile, to make long term decisions and invest in our future selves and our children and grandchildren. These are things that are looked down on whereas once were values worth maintaining. The majority of the population these days seems intent to spend all that they have as soon as they have it, disregard the old wisdom, and then bemoan their fate when things appear unattainable or out of reach.

If failing to plan is indeed planning to fail, then there are many members of society out there who have very little hope of success (in whatever field, or howsoever success is so defined by them).

Of course, planning takes time, and time seems to be what so many people claim to be short of these days. A claim made while wiling away the endless hours that are spent in front of screens of various sorts, televisions, computers, phones, where time slips by without notice, and minutes turn to hours, and reality is circumvented by the imagined. Where time could be spent for even a few moments planning for the future (even the near future of tomorrow or next week), the claim of boredom takes hold and the panacea of “entertainment”, being but a swipe or click away, is substituted instead. Never before has the ability to switch off by switching on been so readily in reach.

But what of switching on by switching off? Would the time poor be better served by consciously switching off and moving on from the endless cycle of screen time? I think so. It goes without saying.

I catch a bus to and from work most days. I am constantly bemused by the number of people with their heads down, headphones in, staring at little screens that are in turn pumping pointless bullshit into their brains.  Life passes them by outside the bus, they don’t notice. Reality for them is right there on the screen. It is surreal.

I sometimes wonder if that is partly the cause of the disconnect between people and the natural world that sustains us. Why think about what goes on ‘out there’ outside the scope of social media, infotainment and consumerism, when you are convinced all you need to know is there on your little screen. Focussing all their attention on that blocks reality. Food comes from a supermarket, power from a switch, water from a tap. Looking at a screen so intently, unconsciously searching for something specific to make meaning, simply means that they don’t actually see anything at all.

The world is an amazing place. Switch off, even for a moment, and switch yourself back on.

Energy is energy – let’s change the narrative

Energy is usually defined as the ability to do work. That’s it. It isn’t coal, or coal seam gas, or uranium, or oil. It is the ability to do work.

The debate as it stands currently seems to be that we should be using renewable and alternative sources of energy rather than fossil fuels. This isn’t helpful to the debate at all.

The sun is not a renewable resource, any more than coal is. It is just far more prolific. To use the term ‘alternative’ just scares the ultra-conservative types, as they associate it with radical greenies preaching a total alternative lifestyle of neo-socialism and kum bah yah sing-alongs, dread locks and anti-development.

Like the term ‘clean coal technology’ has conveniently dropped the final word ‘technology’, and morphed into the idea of simply ‘clean coal’ (in an obvious and little called out attempt to convince punters that burning coal can somehow be clean or that there is a different type of clean coal being mined out there somewhere), the term alternative energy seems to have dropped the concept of simply being an alternative source of energy other than fossil fuels. It is not ‘alternative’ in the radical green movement sense of the word. It is just an alternative. It is not truly renewable in any sense of the word, it will eventually run out (albeit in billions of years in the case of solar energy), but is a viable alternative to what we are relying on at the moment.

So, there is nothing to fear from developing new models of energy production. It makes sense. Fossil fuels are polluting the planet in ways that are having dire consequences, and there are other ways to produce the same power using alternative sources of energy, if there is a will and the funding to do so.

Not to do so smacks of a conscious decision to keep polluting and polluting, putting the world as we know it currently at risk of irreversible change. It smacks of a deliberate decision to run the risk of a future world that will be very different in a challenging and unpleasant way to the one we inhabit at the moment, and seems unbelievably arrogant and stupid. To consciously and deliberately refuse to invest on a global scale into less damaging ways to produce energy, and to frantically fund and prop up old polluting systems that are clearly known to be harmful to the way we currently live is almost criminal in its stupidity.

So let’s change the narrative here. When you are talking about renewables, refer to them as what they are – alternative sources of energy to run the systems that keep us all in beer and skittles. Not alternative in the sense of turning off the lights and living in a commune. Change the narrative, and maybe some of the conservative types out there might just start to understand the concept.

There are no alternatives. Just sources that are bad for us all in the medium and long term, and sources that might just make the world a better place to live than it is going to be in the very near future.

Energy is just energy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ecological Reciprocity Part 2

Ecological Reciprocity Part 2

Ecological reciprocity is the simple concept of doing good things to the ecological systems that sustain life as it is at the moment on planet earth, so that those systems continue to sustain us. It is based on the notion that the systems which make up the whole ecology of planet earth that support all life, including humans, will only continue to do so if we reciprocate and do all that we can to support them in turn.

Because, and do not be in any doubt about this, the whole greenwash mindset of “buy this” or “do this” to “Save the Planet!” is completely misplaced.

 “The planet” will be fine regardless of anything humans do or don’t do. The planet has survived much worse than we are currently throwing at it, and the end result has always been the same – that is, a dominant species, adapted to the conditions that radically change, is knocked off its perch at the top of the food chain, and over time, another species (which may not even have evolved yet) moves in to fill the void. Nature hates a vacuum, you see.

So, being reciprocal to the systems that are currently favouring life as we know it, that allow humans to survive and thrive and multiply beyond all belief in the last couple of thousand years makes perfect sense. If we don’t, there will be what is called ‘system collapse’ and the conditions that we like so much today will change, and they may or may not favour our potentially short lived species into the future.

To quote Lord Northbourne:

The planet hits back slowly, but she hits back hard.

Of course, any notion of time is a human one that we have made up, and in that context the planet hitting back slowly is our idea, not times.

So although we might believe that any backlash for our current shameful attitude to the ecological systems that keep us alive will take time, in terms of the planet itself, we can be dealt with in a very short time indeed.  

In the layers of history of planet earth, we humans could well be a geological footnote, a thin line of anthropocene in billions of years of history - a geological blip, as it were.

As far as “the planet” is concerned, our self indulgent sense of self-importance isn’t really important at all. A self aware species of mammal with a huge dose of hubris, that is too arrogant to think that we could ever be taken down a peg or two by a planet that has been evolving and dealing with species that get out of control like we are for a very long time indeed.

So, ask yourself, if we humans were to mostly disappear in the next couple of hundred years due to a collapse in the systems that are keeping us alive (a collapse that we could be ultimately responsible for), what would the planet look like then? Perhaps uninhabitable in large parts as far as we are concerned, but not for all species currently on this rock.

And then think about what it might look like in 1,000 years, then 10,000, a million! Do you honestly think that humans will totally destroy all the life and life support systems on a planet where life has survived mass extinctions, massive swings in temperatures, asteroids, acid oceans? “Life will find a way” as they say.

So, if it is the fate of “the planet” that is keeping you up at night, relax.

The planet has millions, if not billions, of years to fix any mess that might wipe us, or most of us, of its face. Some would argue that that is not such a bad idea.

But, if it is the fate of the systems that create the conditions on the planet that allow us to live and thrive that is worrying you – and it should – then you better start playing nice.

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Compost, consume less and consume wisely….and in everything you do, understand that it all adds up, and that if you want the planet to play nice with us, then play nice with the planet, and reciprocate. That's not too much to ask is it? What do you think?

Monday, June 17, 2013

To the thirsty of the world - I apologise

I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have just done something rather abhorrent. Not only that, but I have been doing it for some time without a second thought, up to four and five times a day. It’s not that it is the first time it made me feel a bit naughty or guilty even, but I made the mistake of looking into the issue a bit deeper, although not literally (that denial will make sense in a bit) and it really does seem to be a first world practice that isn’t really garnering the attention it deserves.

First a bit of background.

Last summer in Australia, the summer of 2012/2013, it was the hottest year on record. The Bureau of Meteorology had to add two extra colours to its heat maps to deal with the extreme temperatures, and nearly the whole country was experiencing severe temperatures at the same time. It was pretty hot! We had terrible bush fires (wild fires as they are called in other countries), nasty cyclones and then we had floods just to rub it in.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, it was a similar story. Droughts, floods, cyclones, storms, cold snaps, you name it, they were on the go somewhere.

But it is the severe drought bit that really strikes a chord, especially in countries that have been ravaged by drought for so long, and are in the midst of serious death tolls as a result of failed crops, dying cattle, and the general horror that such a situation brings with it. Australians are generally pretty sympathetic to drought. It is ingrained in our psyche. Images of dead and mummified sheep and kangaroos dotted about a dried up waterhole are pretty common during summer, and we all know how it feels to be outside on a stinking hot summers day, and the relief a bit of shade and a cold drink can bring!

Which brings me to my actions which are causing my unease. That is, I just flushed about four litres of perfectly good drinking water down the toilet! In Australia! The land that brags about being ‘the sunburnt country”.

In fact, to add insult to injury, I casually pissed in it first, then without a second thought, flushed it away. What a terrible thing to do. It was, prior to my actions at least, clean, clear, presumably treated to the same standard as the water that comes out of the tap in the kitchen that I drink from, from the same pipe redirected under my house to my toilet. Potable in other words, meaning safe for human consumption.

How ridiculous that in a country that is one of the driest on earth, we are so arrogant as to behave in such a disrespectful way. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that about two billion (yes, billion!) litres of fresh water is flushed down the toilets of the nation every single day. In Australia, if you take a look at one city, the nations Capital, Canberra, you can get an idea of the situation. Estimates have put the wastage there at an average of just under 280,000 litres per year, per household.

So, I feel like a should apologise to the masses dying of thirst in sub-Saharan Africa, or dying of disease for want of clean drinking water anywhere in the developing world. Or to farmers watching there livestock suffer, their crops wilt, their livelihoods dry up. I know that my not crapping in perfectly good drinking water and flushing it away won’t make any difference to your plight, but I just hope that as the aspirational masses of the world continue to rise up and meet the middle class ‘values’ of the West, some new thinking entrepreneur can get it right and teach us all a lesson!

Now, I have to go and stop my kids throwing their uneaten school lunch in the bin, and put it in the compost instead. What a ‘first world’ thing to have to do…

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Farmers, Food Halls and Phobias

Food halls, food courts, whatever you call them where you come from, scare the shit out of me! Not because of any type of claustrophobia, or agoraphobia, or even that rather rare condition cibophobia (who knew?!?), but more to do with the whole business of what goes into filling them with, well, food.

We’ve all heard the term ‘from the paddock to the plate’ and kind of like the idea that there is a farmer out there, somewhere, producing this thing called food, that magically ends up diced and sliced and ready to go in a never ending variety of ways, for the consumptive pleasure of the sheeple (love that term) during the hour or so of freedom from serfdom that we call a lunch break these days.

But when you stand back in a food court, in a capital city or a country town, and watch the amount of protein and carbohydrate that is being consumed, animals and plants in other words, and then you extrapolate that out in a global sense, and then you think that cities are getting bigger and bigger and more and more people are eating and eating and more and more stuff is being produced and killed and cut up and, and…….well, that is why they scare the shit out of me! It just can’t be sustainable. And I’m not just thinking about the food, here either. All those plastic forks and containers that are destined for landfill the moment they are produced on an assembly line ‘somewhere else’, and all the electricity being used to cook and light and clean and heat and cool and it is all so bloody terrifying when you really stop and think about it that it is enough to make one go and live in a cave for a little while just to regroup…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no luddite (well, maybe a little bit) and it’s not that I don’t like people generally (well, I don’t really, especially when they are in a state of mass consumption without even the slightest thought as to how lunch appeared in front of them), it is just that all this stuff is basically the fertility from a paddock on a plate, and perhaps that’s not such a good thing when we are talking about high intensity production like this, that shows no signs of slowing down at all. 

You might not know this, but a food crisis was averted mid-last century by what was called the Green Revolution. Not the kind of Green Revolution some folks want to see these days (that is, environment and sustainability), but a revolution in agriculture that saw a radical increase in production globally. It was hinged on the use of new and improved fertilizers and has been both a blessing and a curse. Synthetic and mined fertilizers are not really doing that much good to the land they get into, and while synthetics are a product of fossil fuels, the mined ones have problems all of their own, land degradation springs to mind. The thwarted Malthusians must be waiting with baited breath to see what happens next as the global population, fuelled literally by the fruits (and grains, and meats) of our own ingenuity, clamber up the aspirational ladder to an evermore crowded middle class mezzanine, start banging their plastic forks on the food court tables and start chanting “we want more, we want more….”.

So, without wanting to even try and offer any solutions to this ever increasing drain on our poor old planet, let me just say again, without the slightest twinge of embarrassment, that food halls, food courts, or whatever you call them where you come from, really do scare the shit out of me!

And, in an attempt to sum up my fear in a nice little package, I have come up with a new phobia that I hope doesn’t get in under your skin like a bot fly larvae (I’ll spare you a link to that particular horror but feel free to investigate it):

Claciboagophobia – the fear of being stuck in an enclosed food hall with a bunch of people who haven’t a clue.

Apparently there is no cure.

Want to be a billionaire?

It seems that finally the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming is gaining traction on the oil soaked slippery slope of the mainstream media – albeit buried between the latest political hijinks and some actor or other that is wearing a new dress – with the Australian Climate Commission’s latest media foray suggesting that to avoid a pretty different planet to the one we have come to know and love we need to leave the majority of fossil fuels in the ground instead of burning them as fast as we can.

Anyone with an entrepreneurial bone in their body would be looking at this issue with an open mind and firing up their creative juices to do a bit of future gazing to figure out where-oh-where the opportunities are really going to lie in the next decade or so. Now would be the time to try and, in the lexicon of the football field, be where the ball is going and not where the ball is right now because the swell of popular support for the notion of moving toward a genuinely sustainable future is growing quite quickly, and where the swell of support heads, so too does political will and the eventual policies to facilitate a change, and that, my entrepreneurial friends is where goes the money (the popularity of the likes of Bill McKibben with his recently sold out tour of Australia where he was spruiking the ‘terrifying new math’ of climate change shows just how far we have come, despite the usual naysayers).

Unfortunately, the political will on this one will lag for as long as there are budget deficits, an addiction to growth and a populace too self-obsessed and distracted by whatever latest gadget they are being told to buy by corporations whose sole raison d’être is to make money and to hell with how it is done (this in spite of all sorts of major otherwise conservative organisations clearly articulating their concern on this issue). It seems it is easy to preach to the converted or to mouth off some platitudes, but the powerful interests with very long investment pipelines in fossil fuels are digging in, puns intended, for a long and expensive fight. Long enough, perhaps, to get all the black gold in all its forms out of the ground, muddying the waters of the by now pretty clear science, funding ‘think tanks’ to obfuscate for as long as possible, and basically playing the role of a fiddling Nero while the Earth fills the backdrop of a burning Rome.

Nice work, guys.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Hypocrisy of Me

I can’t think of one person who lives a life of absolute integrity. It is impossible. Some try, some wouldn’t know the meaning of the word, and most, like me, are caught in the middle. The problem is, when you are caught in the middle, and you know it, you are living the life of a hypocrite. That is my ‘conundrum’ as David Owen would put it.

Ultimately, through a process of self reflection we get to know what it is that makes us tick on a personal level. It becomes an intuitive and a gut level understanding of what we believe in and in contrast what we think is complete rubbish. Self reflection and self awareness are the two things that really bring out the hypocrite in us all.

I would like nothing more than to live a simpler life, not constantly paying for things I don’t really want or need, not bogged down by the mundane everyday fight against the machine. But I don’t do anything about it really. I don’t think many do. I complain and moan, I pay my bills and get up early on cold dark rainy days for the privilege of going to sit in an office and stare at a computer, doing things that don’t really mean a great deal in the scheme of things – at least not in my scheme of things at any rate. I suspect many feel the same, regardless of occupation.

Because at the end of the day, what is actually important is to live a life of personal meaning and fulfilment if you can. Surely, given that we all end up in the ground one way or another, and that we are actually alive on the earth for an incredibly short period of time that should be the only real goal? The fact that we take the absolute incredible event of our planet even containing life in what seems to date to be a pretty sterile universe, and that our birth and existence is both an amazing privilege and an incredible fluke, not a right and a destiny as so many seem to believe, it is beyond belief that we put up with the boredom and inanity of it all on a day in day out basis and call it normal!

I would like to live a life of integrity that will leave the planet in good shape for future generations and I don’t. My social circle discusses climate change, planetary degradation, soil fertility loss, species loss and all of these things ad nauseum. But we discuss them in fossil fuel powered meetings, over fossil fuel powered intensively farmed food, in fossil fuel powered homes, in our cars, in offices that have the lights on 24/7, in aeroplanes, with our feet resting on rainforest hardwood coffee tables, while scraping tonnes and tonnes of leftover food into bins destined for landfill.

The hypocrisy of it all.

What would a life well lived minus the hyperbole and hypocrisy look like? Would we recognise it? Would it inspire us or scare us? Would we want it if it was really an option?

Research has shown us that over a certain level of material wealth our net happiness plateaus out. Who would be game to test that theory coming from the western pattern of massive over-consumption and capitalisation?

Anyone game to lose the debt and credit cards, and latest gadgets for a simpler conscious life?

Pariah status rather than futurist leader I suspect…

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ecological Reciprocity

I have always been a great believer in the power of reciprocity. Say something nice to someone, and the chances are they will respond in kind at some stage.

Let someone cut in on the peak hour drive, and they will pass the favour along somewhere down the line. It is such a simple kind of idea. You do something for me, and I am far more likely to do something of equal or greater value for you. There are tomes written about it, and you can Google the term for a swath of information from pop psychology to serious study.

Wikipedia says that basically, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.[i]

Pretty logical, and we all intuitively understand it. So, it is an obvious and simple idea, but, as usual, here’s the bit I don’t get…

We live here on planet earth. Whether you are a believer of Gaia theory, an environmentalist or a neo-liberal capitalist, everything you do is as a result of the, for want of a better term, ‘generosity’ of the planet. We all accept that, surely? Our air is filled with oxygen courtesy of plant life, our water is cycled through natural systems that have developed over millions of years, the fertility of our soil, the crops we grow, everything we eat, wear, burn, use to make power comes from the single closed system that is the earth.

But where is the reciprocity?

In days of yore, it was there in abundance. We call it the circle of life and things like that, but ultimately it was a system of growth, death, decay and growth, continuing perpetually. Changing, yes. Morphing, yes. A system of peaks and troughs and feast and famines, absolutely, but one system across the entire planet of give and take.

Now, it seems we folks have decided that take is the order of the day, with very little give in return. We take fertility from the soil to grow all sorts of things, and then take more out of the system somewhere else to replace it (Australia, where I live, is a net importer of fertiliser for example, despite there being enough organic waste produced here every year to more than adequately replace that which is taken out. The same can be said all over the world). We suck up the oil and burn it, pumping pollutants into the air and then it is gone. We burn the coal, use the iron ore, eat, wear and build with the plants, and grow, use and eat the animals, and really all we give back is waste in some form or another. Thanks folks, says planet earth, thanks a lot.

Where’s the reciprocity in that?

So, congratulations to the folks at places like Phosphorus Futures (http://phosphorusfutures.net/) who recently won the Eureka Award for leading the way in educating us all to ways of giving back to the system that supports us. Although not their intention, these people have highlighted the fact that we in the West are currently acting like spoilt children always demanding more and never expecting to have to give back in return. Look them up. They are really on to something.

And next time you bin something that could be composted back into the system, or ditch the glass bottle with the rest of the crap in the bin instead of recycling, just remember that if you keep taking from someone and never give back in return, eventually they will seriously crack the shits and the game will be over for good.

In short, all the stuff you hear about ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and ‘tread lightly on the earth’, has really one very basic principle in mind. Think of the planet as a living thing with a conscious, that is constantly giving and from which we are constantly taking, and which will eventually have a moment when it gets pissed off and does something, to quote the Wikipedia example up above, ‘much more nasty and even brutal’ compared to what we are doing to it right now.

And to any Aussies reading this, remember the Moving Pictures anthem of the 1980’s (or if you’re younger than that, maybe Australian Idol’s Shannon Noll), and think about reciprocity and good old planet earth and that just maybe it is time to have a think about it all and how we can improve the current system of ours.

Brothers and Sisters, on behalf of the earth, let us sing:

"What About me, it isn't fair
I've had enough now I want my share
Can't you see? I wanna live!
But you just take more than you give..."

Helpful links:

[i] Fehr, Ernst; and Simon Gächter (Summer 2000). "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity". Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (3): 159–181

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Of Summer Storms and Surprised Neighbours

The post WWII generation had many years to think about the best way to make do, be creative with what you had, and live in a way that today would seem very frugal indeed.

It is with this in mind that I got to thinking about the ridiculous way we live in the 21st century. Ridiculous for so many obvious reasons that unfortunately are seen by many now as a right and a necessity, but are no more than fillers for the blanks left behind when technology speeds up your day so much there are too many hours left over and not enough meaningful stuff to do.

Study after study, research paper after research paper (it really is a wonder the funding keeps going) show that the more meaningful stuff in our lives comes from doing things with real people, family, friends, getting outside, being active. Not more screen time, but more real time.

Fast food combines with fast communications and short attention spans, leading you on a merry dance so all consuming you don’t even realise you are wasting the one shot you have to actually do something worthwhile, to connect with friends and family, to appreciate the natural world, to pat your dog.

Take my kids as an example – they really know how to live. Who else would strip naked and run outside during every subtropical storm we get during the wet season here in Queensland yelling out ‘rain shower!!’ at the top of their lungs? Now that, Barry, is living….

So turn off the TV, break out a board game and invite the dog in for a pat.

Make sure you have three different coloured veggies on your dinner plate that you cooked yourself, drink a mug of black tea, cut your own fries and reuse your leftovers.

Find a recipe for ‘bubble and squeak’, walk to the shop, listen to the radio while you tinker around outside, get some chooks and grow some herbs, the list of things to do that involve real life really is endless.

But above all, if nothing else, remember this – “Rain Shower!!”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

There's more to living than being alive!

Continuing on with the one life to live theme, are you really living your life right now or are you just drifting through it with a few little moments of interest popping up every now and then, appreciated and enjoyed, but unbidden and unplanned?

We all know that trees and grass are alive, and very intricate and amazing things they are too. All things that are alive are complex and incredible and awe-inspiring, and should be treated with the greatest of respect for no other reason than they are living things, right?

But would you say they are ‘living’ in the sense that I mean it here. Living as in actually consciously going out and taking a deep breath, looking around and deciding to really truly live their life? Forge ahead, make mistakes, pick themselves up and keep going towards some personal purpose that is has a meaning to them as individual and unique as yours should to you and mine does to me? Well, when you think of it like that, the answer is a resounding no!

Living in that sense of the word requires a conscious effort, a sustained awareness that every moment you do something wasteful or pointless is a moment you will never get back. Living consciously like that is scary, and it requires great inner strength, because we are conditioned from birth to have our lives mapped out for us by a cultural system of how we should live our lives here in the good old Western world. Our system of ‘living’ (or culture I guess?) has been taken over to a large extent by things that are totally external to what has been proven time and again to make your rather short and insignificant time on this rock pleasant, if not enjoyable.

Living consciously requires not only inner strength but great courage. Courage to actually think about what you are doing and why.  Let’s not mess about – it’s a hard thing to do! But when you do, and you really live with the courage of your convictions (integrity in other words), that is when the people who are too timid to get off the merry go round for a minute look on in awe and say ‘Wow, that person is really living their own life. I wish I could do that…”.

So, are you going to think about what is really important to you, or are you going to keep going with the herd? Everyone else is going a particular direction, so it must be the right way to go, right? Hmmm, innately I suspect you are smarter than that….but be warned, once you take the blinkers off, you will never be able to put them back on, which may end up being a problem for you, because the world will seem like a different place.

That guy in the expensive car at the traffic lights will not impress you anymore, because you will realise that it is all based on the idea that you will be impressed because that is just the way it is. And it isn’t. It isn’t because there will always be a more expensive car, or a fancier suit, or a more expensive whiz bang watch.

So who really cares? Surely you know that o
nce you play that game, you will never ever win, because that system is designed just to keep you playing.

So here's a little experiment for you. 

After you have read this, make a conscious decision to mentally get off the merry go round. Just for today. Take those carousel pony blinkers off and then pose this question to yourself “I know that I am alive…but have I been living?”. And good luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I hate to state the obvious, but...

We have one life to live and one planet to live it on

It would be nice to be a really religious person, or a Buddhist, and truly believe that we get another shot at it all, but unfortunately that just isn’t the case.

We all get dealt the same deal; we have one life to live and only one planet to live it on.

All of us.

Me, you and the richest and the poorest of us all.

Zoom! What was that? That was your life, mate, and you don’t get another.

So what are you going to do with it? Sit around thinking about what you might do one day? Making plans that you know won’t ever happen? Worrying about things that you absolutely positively can’t do anything about and cannot ever influence?

Every time the sun goes down on another day, that is one more day you will never get back.


What did you do yesterday before the sun set that made you proud to be you living your one short life? Anything? Nothing?

And what about the planet that we all share? And when I say all, I mean in a totally global living thing kind of way. Hello trees and flowers, and all that.

What have you done for the planet today?

It gives us everything that we eat, wear, read, see, smell, everything. Have you stopped to think about it at all or are you too busy wasting the one life you have doing stupid, pointless things to give it a second thought? Every bit of food you ate yesterday or are going to eat today came from this planet of ours. Billions of years in the evolutionary making to get to this point of being able to grow and harvest and eat.

Did you think about that or did you just shove some really unhealthy garbage in your face without a second thought?

You can do things that will help you live a bit longer and be healthier, or you can do things that will make you tired and sick and live a short pointless life. But you know that don’t you? Nothing new here is there?

So, you have one life to lead, and one planet to live it on.

Get on with it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A farm is not a factory, and a factory is never a farm

We sing a song about eggs in my house, usually on a Sunday morning when we are cooking what we call a nosh-up – a big family cooked brekky with all the trimmings. The catchy little number is from a kids show called Play School, and the words that ring around the kitchen go something like:

They’re round all around and they’re bigger at the bottom. They’re smaller at the top, and we’re glad we’ve got’em, and they’re egg shaped, ‘cause they’re eggs! Things with wings, and fins and legs, they lay eggs…

except the eggs that we are dealing with are only from the things with wings, and it is getting harder and harder to feel glad about it.

The humble egg. Pariah of the 1970’s, back in vogue in a big way today - especially the free range organic feel good variety in the environmentally friendly packaging.

You know the ones, happy healthy chicken sitting atop a red tractor or standing in a field of green, blue sky, sun shining, glossy feathers, and pointy beak. The brands that euphemistically pop words into their name like ‘farm’ and ‘happy’ and ‘family’….if you have read this blog before, you’ll know where this is going….but let us first take a look at what this is all about.

In Australia, the following classifications are supposed to attach to commercially sold eggs so you, in theory at least, know what you are spending your hard earned on:

These birds are continuously housed in cages in a shed, with a minimum ‘floor’ space of 550 sq cm per bird - ‘floor’ meaning the bottom of a wire cage. The space is about a sheet of A4 paper. Beak-trimming is permitted because the birds are so jammed they can peck each other, leading to outbreaks of cannibalism. Beak trimming is done when the chickens are newly hatched and without the use of an anesthetic.

They don’t mess about on the packaging and accept that you understand they are the cheapest eggs for a reason.

The birds are continuously housed indoors but free to ‘roam’ within the shed, which may have several levels. Stocking capacity not to exceed 14 birds a square metre, or 715 sq cm per bird – what an improvement on the cage ones. Again, beak-trimming is permitted.

Mind you, I have an image in my head of what a barn looks like, and it is a big red timber thing in the American mid-west. Not a huge steel shed with 20,000 birds jammed in, huge fans at either end and electric lighting to keep’em laying.

FREE RANGE (Egg Corporation and Primary Industries standing committee - Australia)
These ones are housed in sheds with access to an outdoor range. The stocking capacity in the shed is the same as in a barn - not to exceed 14 birds a square metre - with no more that 1500 birds a hectare, and yep, you guessed it, beak-trimming permitted.

Access in this case means that the chickens could go outside if they understood what that meant, but by the time the access is granted, they are pretty well used to getting food and water from the machines that pump it out, and, well, why would you go outside? Through a hole in the wall?

FREE RANGE (Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia - FREPAA)
These lucky birds have unrestricted access to free-range run during daylight hours, and the stocking capacity within the housing shed is not to exceed seven birds a sq m. (about three sheets of A4) with a maximum of 750 birds a hectare (although the Egg Corporation would like this to be increased to 20,000 birds a hectare! Nice one, Egg Corp). Beak-trimming is prohibited, as deemed unnecessary if above housing conditions are adhered to, that is, the birds aren’t so jammed that they get aggressive.

OK, they are the definitions of what you might buy, but it seems that it is still a case of caveat emptor when it comes to the conscious consumption of free-range eggs.

The main reason for this wonderful state of affairs is that there is no legally enforceable definition of the term ‘free range’ in Australia. The FREPAA code of practice outlined above is just that, an unenforceable code of practice. In fact, it has been suggested that the increase in demand for free range eggs, and the subsequent increase in their availability on our supermarket shelves simply can’t be matched with any increases in free range producers, free range chickens, or indeed, and logically free range eggs! Great isn’t it? You can call your eggs free range to tap the market, and to hell with the consumer. Let the market decide indeed!

So, over the Christmas break, this little conscious consumer and his little conscious consumer elves will be turning the abandoned cubby in the corner of the backyard into (can you guess?!) our own little free range egg facility. We will feed them our scraps, let them out to clean up the bugs in the garden, use their poo and old straw on the veggie patch, and wake up to inquisitive happy clucks of a couple of Isa Browns.

All on our little block, all five kilometers from the CBD and all organic free-range and all because we choose to.

Then when we sing and dance around the kitchen in our pj’s on a nosh-up Sunday morning, we can be as glad as we like that we’ve got’em, because the round all around little numbers in the pan will be as free range as you can get. Conscious consumption at its most basic!

Now…..I wonder what would our local Council guys would say about us getting a pig….

This issue has been recently discussed in the mainstream Australian media at http://www.theage.com.au/national/free-to-roam--on-a4-sheet-20111205-1ofl0.html. The result of the Federal Court case can be seen here http://www.theage.com.au/environment/animals/100k-fine-over-freetoroam-claim-20120123-1qd6y.html with the ACCC winning the case against the misleading term 'free to roam'. Go the ACCC! 
...and wait, there's more. As of november 2012, the ACCC looks like rejecting the Egg Corp Free Range definition to mean up to 20,000 birds an acre, see http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-02/accc-rejects-free-range-definition/4349634

Monday, September 12, 2011

To quote a global game changer - "Just Do It"

Major shifts in consumption that have been successful include the removal of lead from petrol, the banning of CFCs in aerosols, the regulation of the use of DDT and other super toxic pesticides, labelling of foods to show use by dates, added chemicals, flavours and preservatives and reducing rates of smoking while raising the acceptance that smoking greatly increases the risk of certain cancers.

What do all of these have in common?

Well for starters, they all had the backing of the scientific community as being very important for the long term health of people and the environment in which we have to live. Links were made, the science developed, was peer reviewed and accepted as more likely than not and acted on.

Next, none of these changes really impacted on big oil, coal mining or the notion that economic growth should be the driving imperative of every single person on the planet.

The problem now is that the latest scientifically backed peer-reviewed actions that need to happen to improve the lot of us all into the future are aimed squarely at the really big players in the world markets – big oil and mining – and they don’t like it. It is also the case that many people are finally starting to question the economic growth model that is fucking up every little nook and cranny on the planet and the high priests of endless growth really don’t like that!

In the same way that the makers of the carcinogenic pesticides that were destroying the farmland they were applied to for decades to come fought the science with everything they could muster (look at some of the outrageous claims made against Rachel Carson after her book Silent Spring suggested the need for urgent investigation into the dangers of certain pesticides), and big tobacco questioned the links between tobacco smoking and cancer right up to the bitter end, the big mining interests here and abroad will fund the pseudo-science of denial in relation to anthropogenic climate change and will fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo for as long as they can.

You see, the difference now is that the fight is not about taking the lead out of petrol, or listing additives in food so as to increase consumer choices, or taking a cautious approach to pesticide use. These things, and the other successful campaigns above, did not attempt to shut an industry down. They simply put further restrictions or requirements into play that let the industry keep on keeping on while accepting that the science was highlighting health concerns and regulators were adjusting the playing field accordingly.

Petrol producers could keep producing petrol, just not leaded petrol. Big oil keeps going, everyone is happy.  Chemical producers could keep operating as successfully as ever, but not in regards to wanton manufacture and use of DDT and food manufacturers could keep adding whatever they want within reason to their product, just list it so consumers can decide if they want to purchase it or not.

The same could be said of the current explosion in free-range and organic as consumer choices. No one is shutting anything down, chickens and cows, pigs and grains and fruit and vegetables all keep on keeping on, the mining industry (including big oil) keeps providing the raw material for the power, the transport, the fertilizers and the feed, the storage and the physical infrastructure and everyone is happy. All hail the false economy.

But this time it is different. This time it is about taking the blow torch to mining and oil, as the two biggest producers of carbon, and hence the two of the biggest producers of inputs into anthropogenic climate change. Like with DDT and tobacco, the industry denies and questions way past the acceptance of the science by the vast majority of actual real life dyed in the wool experts on the subject, and funds campaigns and lobbies and creates doubt where there doesn’t really seem to be any anymore.

But it isn’t just oil and coal and mining. The big issue, the real elephant in the room is the current economic model that puts growth way ahead of everything else. It drives the mining and resources booms across the globe. It drives the manufacture of totally pointless crap from non-renewable resources, it drives the production of bigger and bigger houses and stuff to fill them and power to heat and cool them, it drives environmental degradation, it drives ever increasing rates of ‘western’ diseases (like cancer, mental illness, heart disease, hypertension and obesity) it drives consumption generally and it is driving our little rock and everything that clings to its very thin and vulnerable surface into a ditch.

Meanwhile, governments across the globe will avoid the elephant in the room of economic growth equals J-curve suicide, and carry on with business as usual until Paul Gilding’s Great Disruption has the people on the streets belatedly demanding that ‘someone’ do ‘something’. But here’s the rub, we are the ‘someone’, and until there is a critical mass large enough to force a change, the ‘something’ that we all know has to happen will, like the elephant in the room, continue to hide until it is way too late.

So, maybe ‘someone’ (like you) needs to do ‘something’ (like right now) like write a letter to your local member, local newspaper or relevant federal minister. Give it a go, because if enough someones actually do something, it adds up to the change that is so undeniably necessary.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The science of building a rocket is rocket science - this is not...

OK. This is pretty basic stuff. Follow the logic and reap the rewards!

  1. Take your lunch to work. The average city lunch in Australia will set you back $10, even if you didn’t mean to spend that.  $50 a week! Yikes. Better to make a sandwich or bring some leftovers and drink good old fashioned water from the tap.

  1. On that note – drink water from the tap! Buying water is the stupidest thing in the world to do if you live in a western country. Bad for the environment and your hip pocket. May as well pay for the air you breathe. Don’t gasp, won’t be long before some brainiac starts selling air and some knuckleheads will buy it.

  1. And don’t buy take away coffee. Make it yourself. How hard is it? $3 a cup minimum to buy, and some jokers out there are having three bought cups a day. $10 on coffee? Spare me! I’ll take a mug of instant that I bring in myself thanks. Even one coffee a day is $3. $15 a week. Add it to the $50 - $65 already!

  1. Right, now get off the booze. New research has shown that alcohol is a class one carcinogen – that is, it gives you cancer as well as a hang-over. Yay. It is also a great source of empty calories, and increases your appetite as well so you eat snacks that you wouldn’t eat otherwise. Double weight gain. What great stuff….a bottle of wine a day will set you back $10 - $20, and many couples will share a bottle between every night easily. But if your favourite drink is beer or mixed drinks, work it out, I reckon you’ll be surprised if you are a drinker, just how much you actually spend. Let’s be conservative and say $10 a day averaged out to take into account the weekends and the ones at a pub/club/bar/lunch out with the girls, so, $70 a week. Add it to the total - $65 plus $70 = $135.

There you go. Four really easy things to do to save around $135 a week of your net salary (that is, after you have paid your taxes!). How much is that a year? About seven grand!! In cash!!

What could you do with seven thousand dollars extra in your pocket every year? Pay it off your mortgage? Go on a holiday? Get rid of a credit card debt?

This very simple exercise shows how a lot of people who cry poor, and class themselves as good old Aussie battlers are just whining consumptives with poor spending habits who could do with a good dose of financial introspection.

Add quitting smoking, not buying takeaway (it’s crap anyway), catching the bus to work, having one car not two if that is relevant, cancelling an unused gym membership (come on, be honest…) and the savings are significantly increased.

The next step is to put that otherwise wasted cash somewhere you can actually see it grow. Every week you don’t buy a coffee put $15 in that account. Don’t buy lunch, put $50 in there. You see how it goes, and you’ll soon see some serious saving results. It is just getting into the new habit, and out of the old ones.

For one, I will not be suckered anymore by the rubbish “lifestyle” that is chasing my money every minute of every day. They are my hard earned dollars, and I will consciously decide where they go, and reap the financial rewards of my conscious consumption!

Here endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just keep digging...

Thank goodness that Australia is still baulking at the obvious and digging up our coal and iron ore at a faster and faster rate! It really is such a relief to know that our wide brown land is being scraped and picked at and sold off to the highest bidder, and that it seems those highest bidders are China and India. Phew! Now I can sleep at night, restful and at peace in the knowledge that our future is certain, spaceship earth is in good hands, and my grandchildren won’t dance on my grave singing “You bloody idiot, your generation were a pack of complete wankers!”.

It doesn’t matter pound of carbon that the coal and iron ore will eventually run out. Nor does it matter a pinch of topsoil that there will be a moment when it looks like things are going horribly wrong. It is all good news, and all part of an obvious plan on the part of our mining industry to ensure our future survival. Thank you big mining companies, keep digging and digging (some would say raping and pillaging, but shame on them!) and supplying the entropic finite goodies to those big hungry economies so they can keep developing and developing and developing. Let’s face it, as these big multinational do gooders obviously know, without us selling China and India billions of tonnes of Australia we would all be in very big trouble.

And once the goodies run out, and there is nothing left, and the wonderfully forward thinking magnates have done their job, we can only hope that the hole that is left in the middle of our insignificant pile of dirt is so deep that it actually reaches all the way to China, just like in the old jokes. Then we can poke our heads out of the sand, and buy back some of our boring old iron ore in new and improved sustainable products! Photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, electric cars with really fast charge batteries, even intellectual know how on how to run a sustainable and renewable economy that would not have been possible to develop if not for the generosity of the folks turning the top gears of our incredible two speed economy.

In the interim, before we deliver the punch line to the big global joke we are playing on these developing nations (wink, wink) we don’t even need to bother with investing in all that renewable energy sustainable economy green forward thinking rubbish. Boring in the extreme, and complicated, too, apparently - not that we need to concern ourselves with such rot. They will do all the hard yards, and we will just ride on their sustainability wave and Hang 10 on the empty barrel that was crude oil.  

What a ride! The future is bright! Just keep digging…