Stumbling Backwards into the Future

I’m angry.

Scratch that. I’m furious.

An axe is about to crunch into the lives and careers of people whose work I value more than almost any in the world.

Australia is my home. Our society clings to the edges of a vast continent, one of sharp contrasts and harsh beauty. The wide land affords us riches, through agriculture and mining. Our very borders are defined and shaped by three mighty oceans. Water, and its scarcity, regulates life in Australia, human, plant and animal. And our atmosphere – that thin varnish that separates us from the cold vacuum of space – carries the mighty storms that sweep across the south and the drama of El Nino with its drought and fire.

Sunset Mountain

We have an almost miraculous network of publicly-accessible tools for finding and forecasting what we need to know about our weather, climate and oceans. Even with all the work that’s brought us to this point, those models and forecasts can still be spectacularly wrong. This is hard science.

That’s why I’m speechless to read that the CSIRO is cutting 300 jobs in those very scientific divisions – Oceans and Atmosphere, and Land and Water – leaving a barely-functional skeleton of staff.

The official explanation points to a shift from basic climate science toward climate adaptation and alternative research areas – cybersecurity and robotics (with our internet? Ha). The CSIRO has seen its budget slashed under the Abbott, and now Turnbull, governments, and I pity those having to make hard decisions about what gets the chop.

This smacks of a small-minded and short-sighted vision of the world, and disrespect for Australia’s trajectory into the future. Earth is the only home we have. Humanity wields more technology, more power, more population, than ever before, and we know that systems we rely on planet-wide are teetering toward collapse. We must do better, know more, and damage less. The notion that we have ‘done enough’ to understand our climate – Australia, of all countries, after Paris, of all times – is a humourless joke.

At an individual level, lives and livelihoods are at stake. A grim picture faces Aussie farmers, already a community under incredible strain. For a generation of aspiring scientists, hearts and minds ready to reach out to the world around them, news like this dashes their hopes, and they dejectedly apply to institutions on the other side of the planet. I cannot imagine the morale of the hard-working CSIRO experts whose jobs have been pulled from under them; the collective knowledge they’ve earned, the projects that will be abandoned, unfinished. My heart goes out to them.

Most of us walk backwards into the future – our past visible, unable to see what’s coming next. Our basic scientists are a tiny few who point their headlights outward and forward into the huge expanse of the unknown, not for profit, but to understand what is there and, perhaps, help us choose our path. These cuts dim those lights and blind our society as we hurtle into a long, dark future.

A Storm Is Coming

A gathering storm. Would you turn your back?

Categories: environmentalism, Politics, Problems, Science, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Police, crocodiles and Penguins

Earlier today I submitted my Best Jobs in the World second round video. When I say today, I mean about 2am. I’m a little tired.

The whole process was intense, in a really positive way. Putting full time work together with making videos, creating social media content, reaching out to traditional media, and planning and pulling off an all-weekend outreach/stunt didn’t leave a lot of time for sleep, and when I did lie down horizontally, my mind was always churning with ideas.

An image of a pedalo boat in the Serpentine

This was a particularly hamstring-stretching iteration of my Quiz.

But being tired was the only real downside. I experienced an outpouring of support and endorsements that exceeded any of my expectations. I had friends who worked their connections, mates who joined me at the pub for brainstorming sessions, family proofreading my CV and getting out and about drumming up support, a gang of willing helpers who dressed in crazy outfits and were mobbed by children, and people I know (and some I don’t!) sending me endorsements from all over the world. Whether or not I make the next round, the last fortnight has been filled with highlights that remind me how lucky I am to know so many great people.

YOU were my ultimate referee - more than 160 of you!

YOU were my ultimate referee – more than 160 of you! (note: the mosaic software was being a bit difficult, so I think there are a handful of duplicates and some people missing :-( But I promise I saw and appreciated every single photo!)

Plus, I wandered all over London with a crocodile and a kangaroo, talking to strangers about some of the most inspiring natural places in the world. I mean, come on! How good’s that? It was so much fun that one of my friends wondered aloud why we don’t just do this stuff for kicks, and I’m a little inclined to agree!

An image of Dave and animals in front of the Serpentine lake

As it turns out, dressing up as a park ranger means people just accept that climbing up on things is the most natural act in the world.

I now have to wait until the 15th May to find out if I’m in the final 3. I think I have creatively interpreted the brief (constrained a little by not being able to work on it during normal hours) but I’m sure lots of the other candidates have come up with brilliant stuff, so I’m going to try to put it out of my mind for a week and just see what happens.

In the meantime, here’s a few of the great people I met on my travels:

An image of Dave, Dave and Squash in Hyde Park

This is Squash Falconer (left) and Dave Corn (right), who are travelling 3000 miles around Europe on Elliptigos (the contraption on the right). Smiling adventurers, raising money for charity – click on the picture to find out about their epic trip.

David and Coppafeel! representatives.

Coppafeel! representatives – a breast cancer awareness initiative aimed at younger people. It was a pleasure to have a chat with them, and such an important subject. Click on the image to visit their website.

Image of Dave on a police motorbike

Also, a big thanks to Officers Lee and Alex for letting me jump on their bike. It’s bloody massive!

And with that, I’m going to put the best jobs in the world to one side for a bit, and think instead about nanocellulose, optogenetics, drones and lego bridges during the day, and, well, a heck of a lot of not much in the evenings!

Oh, and you might be wondering why there are Penguins in the title of this post.

Bit of a long story.

Categories: communication, environmentalism, Fun Things On Land, photos, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Are My Ultimate Referee

What’s going on?

I’ve made the top 25 – from a field of 45000 – for the Queensland Park Ranger role in Tourism Australia’s Bests Job in the World. The opportunity could change my life. But to make the cut for the final 3, I need to secure the support of ‘ultimate referees’ for the position.

A Park Ranger’s job is to watch over and protect the environment – which means I’ll be doing a job that’s important to everyone. That’s why I think the ultimate referee isn’t just one person. It’s the multitude of people around the world who appreciate the most inspiring areas of the planet we live on.

An image of a dragonfly on gravel

That means you!

Why should you be my referee?

My whole life so far has been preparing me for this job; academically, professionally and in thousands of hours spent experiencing Australia’s unique wilderness.

This job isn’t just about promoting the Great Barrier Reef – though that’s important. It’s also about the sweeping outback, which is too often out of sight and mind of environmentalists. It’s about animals like the Armoured Mist Frog, thought extinct but recently rediscovered in the remote Far North, and intricate ecosystems of all kinds. It’s about a landscape with tens of thousands of years of enchanting heritage. And it’s about helping people to feel a sense of wonder and connection with nature. I will strive to share stories of Queensland that you haven’t heard before.

So what am I asking you to do?

Early Referees

Some of my first referees – signs in any language welcome!

I need people who believe I can be a great Park Ranger to endorse me, and the video below explains how you can help me by doing this. I need voices of all ages, walks of life, and continents – because everyone has a stake in the natural world. To become one of my ultimate referees, just do these four things:

1. Get your pen and paper out and make a sign, or print one.

2. Take a happy snap with the sign – it could just be you, or with a local landmark, pet, park or doing something you love.

3. Send the picture(s) to me at dave4ranger AT gmail DOT com by the end of Sunday 5th May.

4. Use the sharing options below to spread the word about this post far and wide! In many ways this is the most important part – I’m putting my chances for getting this job in your hands.

Everyone who endorses me will be a part of my ‘ultimate referee’ package that will give me a shot at reaching the final. Think of it like a kickstarter, except it’s free for you to become a backer, and if it succeeds I’ll give you 6 months of great photos, videos and stories :-)

To see my initial application video and find out why I’m perfect for this job, click here.

Categories: communication, environmentalism, Science, Travel, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The future is a little bit broken

“The future is not what we expected it to be.” Mark Shayler, opening the RSA’s Redesigning the Future event, didn’t pull punches. “We’ve become lazy – we define ourselves by the ownership of products.”

I’m typing this on a 2009 MacBook Pro. The machine is almost indistinguishable from thousands of others, a metallic clone whose glowing white apple marks me as a ‘Mac person’ when I take it out in public. But there’s subtle evidence on its hard shell that this machine has shared some of the most important moments of my life.

See here, near the bottom right corner of the touch screen – chipped metal where I dropped the laptop onto the bitumen of a 24-hour McDonald’s carpark after a night of red-eye driving in remote North Queensland. Try the useless eject button, the dead DVD drive rarely an inconvenience but often a reminder of how technology is moving on – is there still a DVD in there? I’m not sure.

A 1996 ad comparing the style of PC and Mac users.

Mac vs PC, from 1996. Image: Flickr/Adam Crowe

And just now, while inspecting my companion of the past three years, I’ve noticed that two of the ‘feet’ are missing, opening small holes into the black-boxed interior, one revealing a sticker in a language I can’t read.

Could I cast this laptop aside in favour of a new one? Send it to join what Rich Gilbert labelled an “end of life centre,” where “a mountain of dead products wait to be collectively reprocessed”? Or, as Jonathan Chapman put it, a landfill that “is more of an orphanage than a graveyard, a place where most things could still work – a home for unwanted things.”

A landfill fire with a prominently flying american flag

A landfill fire at Greensburg, US. Image: Flickr/Jon Person

At some point, this computer will stop working, or I’ll replace it. But what do I do with it then? Staggering percentages of the products we buy end up either gathering dust or in landfill. These objects are the manifestation of raw resources clawed from our environment, shipped, moulded, refined, designed and sold. The part of the object’s life that we see – the part it shares with us – is a fraction of the time from its inception to eventual disposal or, in some cases, recycling or repurposing.

I’m attached to this machine. It’s stamped indelibly with marks that are meaningful to me, and I’d be sad to see it go, even though I can resurrect its software perfectly on new hardware with Time Machine. But we are increasingly educated to value newness, the latest and largest and highest resolution. How is it possible for this consumer ethos to survive in a world where resource scarcity looms, the price of materials is rising, the world’s population and spending power is booming, and our ability to capture value from our immense waste stream is still so limited?

Jonathan Chapman summarised it succinctly. “The sustainability crisis is a crisis of perception, as much to do with the human condition as it is about plastic, metals and carbon dioxide.” I think a good place to start is to look at our own relationship with stuff. What do you buy? What do you value? What do you keep? What do you get rid of, and how? And what would you do if the cornucopia of goods available in the world today, available at the click of a button, dried up?

How might ‘you’ change if the stuff in your life was suddenly gone?

Categories: environmentalism, Problems, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Two distinct people

I’m transfixed by the images of my past life. Stars, waves and open spaces adorn my walls, reminding me that the world of 2010 was one that had a profound impact on my life. I was on an ‘endless quest for new‘, which has continued unabated for the 30 months since I wrote that post, my past self brimming with inspiration and freshness and self-confidence and, well, bragging.

Yorke Peninsula Star Trail

The moon sets orange over the water, stars streaking across the clear night sky…

The job I’m in now is close to a dream. I’m working with a team of people I really like, surrounded by stunning historical science stories and tasked with finding and drawing attention to new ones. But when I get home I am mentally battered by huge issues of the world. They make me question whether what I am doing now is what I want to be able to reflect back on. Issues I have a burning passion for – environmental ones, mainly, but not exclusively – seem impossibly distant and difficult, but also pressing and existential. And when I look at what I am spending dozens of hours per week on – really look at where the time goes, not what emerges – I feel doubt.

And then I go and read this:

So you look at your life, and the two countries that hold it, and realize that you are now two distinct people. As much as your countries represent and fulfill different parts of you and what you enjoy about life, as much as you have formed unbreakable bonds with people you love in both places, as much as you feel truly at home in either one, so you are divided in two. For the rest of your life, or at least it feels this way, you will spend your time in one naggingly longing for the other, and waiting until you can get back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there. –Chelsea Fagan

The whole article hit me pretty hard. London has held me for longer than I anticipated, and it is continuing to plant hooks into me. I’ve made more new and diverse friends in the past 4 months than I have in any time since I first settled into Clayponds. Throwing myself into climbing and joining a Chinese martial arts class has connected me with people who share very little with me but are willing to share a lot.

Twenty Four Forms Tai Chi

Katie leading some of the JASMA demo team in a Tai Chi demonstration at Leicester Square for Chinese New Year

And the stories of other people’s lives in the two places keep me guessing about my own. What’s left of me from 2010 is shouting for me to go back to Australia, to the culture and places and activities that let me live so much more in the moment than London does, equipped with new skills and experiences and a mind a little broader than it was before. 2013 me wonders what the hell I might actually do, if and when I return. London’s shown me tantalising glimpses of interesting futures, but the raw experience of a dark winter makes me shudder at the thought of another year here.

The exhortation I gave myself at the end of my road trip was, in the words of the Temper Trap song I chose, to “Go, don’t stop now, go.” But last week, while being interviewed about my experience with ZombieLab, I was asked if I had a ‘personal motto’, and found myself at a dead loss (it was a little awkward). How do I know where to “go”?

I realise that what I feel is, simultaneously, unique to me and shared by thousands, or millions, of people, present and past. It’s the classic ‘what should I do with my life’ conundrum. I’m under no illusions that there are answers, or that this is even of passing interest to people reading this post. But I’m curious to know: how do you choose your life? Have you faced the ex-pat dilemma? Have you found yourself in a role that just didn’t seem to fit, even though it was a good one? And how did you react?

Categories: environmentalism, Problems, Thoughts | Tags: | 1 Comment

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