Posts Tagged With: sustainability

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

To convince a skeptic?

In honour of a morning’s decent work on my dissertation, I thought I’d dig up this old gem. It’s the list of demands I managed to squeeze out of a climate change skeptic who’d been arguing with me here a while back:

” I want to know what you’d need to see to admit AGW is actually occurring.”

How clearly do I need to put it. We have a hypothesis “Anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Warming”.
Fact: It is unproven.
What would make me support it?

Included would be:
Some facts that appear to support the hypothesis.
Absence of facts that disprove the hypothesis.
Absence of facts that do not support the hypothesis.
Absence of hypebolic statements from such people as Al Gore, the media and the IPCC which are frequently nonsense.
A lack of scientists who do not support the thesis.
A lack of silence on the costs (Social and Economic)of actually acheiving the CO2 reductions demanded by the IPCC.
The absence of apparent hidden agenda of a number of the key players in this scare.
The absence of the attitude of many “Alarmists” such as yourself in that they refuse to consider any facts which contradict their faith.
The absence of Cap and Trade proposals which are pointless except to take money from the masses.
The absence of the proposed diversion of funds through the above and other measures, away from the real needs of this planet.

This list is one of the most honest and revealing representations of a skeptic position I’ve encountered. A complete misunderstanding of how science works, but really, digging deep into personality and politics. Roger doesn’t like the kind of people who talk about global warming, and he doesn’t like some of the proposed solutions, and his answer is to deny it’s real.

Anyway, here’s a picture I took while walking home on Friday.

Nothing particularly compelling about this photo, I just like the uniformity of the building.

Categories: environmentalism, Politics, Problems, Science, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Said Hanrahan

"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
  One frosty Sunday morn.

There’s nothing frosty about the drought currently gripping America’s South and parts of Mexico. While the region has a veneer of green from the judicious application of irrigation water, it is experiencing one of the most severe droughts ever seen.

Have a look at this amazing aerial photoset by George Steinmetz for Time. Some pictures don’t look particularly extreme until you see the boat docks lying forlornly on dry lake beds.

Unlike Australia’s Millennium Drought, which lasted almost 10 years, this is a relatively short event, but extreme.

People arguing for action to mitigate climate change are often branded alarmists, like Hanrahan in the classic Australian bush poem. But this type of extreme weather is exactly what’s been predicted for at least 20 years. The economic, social and environmental costs of inaction are simply too high to ignore these signs.

A dustbowl in Northern Queensland

A dustbowl in Bathurst Bay, North Queensland. It's not a pleasant place.

Categories: environmentalism, photos, Politics, Problems, Science, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment


This video is 40 seconds long. Please watch it.

You will never see one of these animals alive. The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, is extinct. This next video is of a creature that’s still alive, but is hard to find:

It’s footage from my friend Nic on a trip to track down this tiny frog on a wet Queensland night. There’s only a few of them left, anywhere, and they emerge to breed after very heavy rain. We were lucky enough to find this one calling. I have little doubt that, in 70 years – the time that’s elapsed since the extinction of the Thylacine – there will be none left alive. Pollution, climate change and habitat destruction will claim this unique species and hundreds of thousands of others, some well known, others undiscovered.

You could, right now, if you wanted, go somewhere – near or far – and see a species in the wild that simply won’t exist in 70 years time. You can take a camera and video it for others to see in the future – when that species is gone forever. Stop and think about that for a moment.


Seriously. Actually think about that.


You can make a Thylacine video all of your own.

The grandchildren of our generation will be able to watch our Thylacine videos and ask, “Why didn’t you do more to protect it? Why did you think it was OK to keep overexploiting the environment, even when you knew what the consequences would be?” Now reverse the situation: imagine that you are a 15 year old in 2080 learning about the decisions faced at the turn of the century, and what choices were made. What would you think of those people?

It looks like those walking the lofty corridors of power today will get away with it – they’ll be dead before those questions are asked of them. My generation will be the one to do the explaining. I know what I’ll say; to quote Frank Turner (language warning):

On the day I die I’ll say at least I fucking tried, and that’s the only eulogy I need.

What will you say? Or will we all start asking these questions now, loudly, to members of our families, to colleagues at work, to politicians and journalists and the businesses we buy from, on behalf of the future and ourselves?

If you like this post, share it. Email it, tweet it, whatever. But more importantly, share the idea. Talk about our place in the world. If we don’t take responsibility for our actions, who will?

Categories: communication, environmentalism, Problems, Thoughts, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Grow a pair, Australia

I’m fed up with all the misinformation going around in Australia about the carbon tax. Here’s a few short points you need to know about carbon reduction in Australia.

  • Australia is not ‘going it alone’ by pricing carbon. That’s bullshit, plain and simple.
  • Both parties plan to put a price on carbon. Labor’s price on carbon is a $23/tonne direct price, the indirect price from the Coalition’s direct action scheme is an estimated $15/tonne.
  • Labour’s plan will see this price paid by the industries who create the carbon pollution. The Coalition’s plan doesn’t charge the polluters – the taxpayer foots the bill.
  • The estimated costs to everyday Australians under Labour’s carbon tax are based on averages. You, personally, have some control over the cost. By consuming less power, or buying less carbon-intensive products, you will dodge most of the tax. However, you will still get the benefit of tax cuts. So if you’re smart, you can come out ahead under Labour’s scheme. Under the Coalition’s scheme, you will pay no matter what.
  • Black Friday bushfires. Great Barrier Reef bleaching. Queensland floods. 2010 the hottest year on record. Wake up and realise this problem is real, it is happening now, and it will get much worse if we do nothing.

There you go. I’m not a cheerleader for the Gillard Labour government – I don’t think the scheme gets us where we need to be. A 5% cut by 2020 is nowhere near enough. The environment doesn’t care what’s politically or economically feasible, it cares how many billions of tons of carbon dioxide are pumped into the atmosphere. But Labour’s policy is better than the Coalition’s, for the taxpayer (i.e., you and me) and for the future.

Don’t be a bunch of selfish pricks, Australia. Grow a pair and shell out a few dollars a week to help protect your future and your grandkids’ future – not to mention the billions of other people, plants and animals around the world who will suffer under climate change.

Categories: communication, Politics, Problems | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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