Just don’t call him an environmentalist

I was recently in Queensland visiting family and caught up with my Dad and step-mum for a few days. My Dad’s a straight-talking feller. He’ll tell you in no short terms that he doesn’t agree with those environmentalists and greenies. He doesn’t really like them much…

While we were there he reminded me how the three large water tanks they have on site provide all the water they need, year round pretty much. He complained that he was still having to pay council for “the pipes that run past my front door”, as he’s now off the grid for water supply.

Whenever we go fishing he’s very careful to make sure our catch meets the size limits set by government. If something is even close to undersize, it goes back in. He laments the big fishers’ impact on his local fishing grounds, and gets antsy when he spots local fisherman flaunting the rules. He’s friendly with the local patrols, while quietly cursing the Government for introducing Marine Protected Areas.

He’ll often suggest we go for a drive in his Toyota 4WD (on it’s third engine rebuild) around the local area (the Redlands Shire) and talk us through the changes he’s seen as this once rural farming area, with rich, volcanic red soil, is converted into suburban estates, townhouses and apartments. He’ll tell you about the farmers of the area, past and present, and how this productive, now peri-urban, land is being lost to developers. (He’ll also quip that they can’t afford to run the car as much as they used too…)

We’ll walk around his property and he’ll show us with (justifiable) pride the vegetable plot, the fruit trees, the mangoes coming into season, the massive avocado trees, the pineapples, the strawberries. Each season he notes he doesn’t have enough friends with which to share the abundant produce that comes off the land. (Thinking about this I’m lamenting not taking more photos when we were there…)

He shares an anecdote about how a friend got the water in the local creek, which runs through the bushland to the back of his property, tested for pollution and sent the results to his local member. He’ll mention how the recently released government report failed to mention his creek in it’s “report card” and how he and his friend took it to the local media resulting in pressure being applied and the figures being followed up by the local member.

While we’re sitting watching (his 80″ LCD behemoth1 of a) TV he’ll explain how they turn everything off of standby using a remote switch device, and explain with pride how efficient the consultant found their kettle. He explains how they’ve saved a lot on their energy bill (which is about 1/3rd what is being touted in the mainstream press as an “average” bill).

He demonstrated the in-home energy monitor that helps them to work out where their energy usage has gone. He’ll lament how the compact fluoros he installed don’t dim, and how the Government’s impending ban on new electric hot water heaters has forced him to go out and buy one now for when this one reaches its end of life. And don’t get him started on that carbon tax.

My life partner Angela ascribes many of my aspirations and environmental awareness to my Dad’s influence. I have to agree (and something that I’m proud to say). My Dad has more “environmentally friendly” features to his property than I could even dream of achieving. And, as is probably apparent, he’s full of contradictions (as we all are).

Just don’t call him an environmentalist. Or a greenie. He just wouldn’t stand for it…

  1. I actually don’t know what size it is, but it’s bloody huge…

Choice on going carbon neutral

Choice magazine have got an interesting article on going carbon neutral. I found it interesting that in this graph Australia ranks 4th for per-capita emissions. I’d always been led to believe we were second only to the US. Also includes all the usual tips (and usual suspects) for reducing emissions, but doesn’t mention offsetting. A useful guide to pass on to family and friends that are bitten by the green bug…

Sustainable = cheaper?

Well… sometimes.

David highlights some Economist stats that demonstrate that sustainability doesn’t necessarily cost more. In fact, sometimes it can save money.

David makes the point that although overall these measures are cheaper, often the decision makers are not the ones who benefit from the reduced costs. And as a result they don’t actually implement these simple measures that have a societal benefit, because they don’t get to see that benefit on their bottom line.

I’ve kind of had this thought before, but never fully put two and two together. In buying our unit in Newtown we were really aware of the poor water management and lack of sustainability features like water recycling, rain-water tanks, solar panels or motion sensor lighting (the body corporate did look into installing a motion sensor lighting system after the fact but the cost was too high to install then – no doubt it would have been significantly cheaper if it had been incorporated at build time). We had limited options due to our financial situation – but mostly it was a case of the “green” options simply not existing.

Virtually every place we looked at neglected the simple measures – which was immensely frustrating for us as buyers. We did end up in a place that was north facing and has good insulation, but had to forgo some of the other things we were aware would have saved us money and been better for the environment.

My view, much as I hate to admit it, is that the buyer has no influence on this – we can ask about it, but in the end we kinda have to accept what’s available (“no influence” is probably too strong – but it certainly is negligible in the grand scheme of things). Even if we chose not to buy, waiting for an enviro-friendly place to come on the market – the market (i.e. developers) don’t know this, and aren’t incentivised to do so. A market failure caused by lack of information perhaps…

I wish there was a way for us all to flag what we were looking for so developers could take heed (assuming we could get sufficient numbers interested in sustainability measures). But there is no such mechanism as far as I can see. So ultimately I feel that government intervention is the only way.

If I were building or buying a house it would be a different story – I’d have a lot more options and choices and my dollar could be focused more effectively. But living in Sydney I can’t see any way that I can afford a house, let alone build one – so I’m stuck relying on developers of apartments and other urban housing. I think the situation is even worse in high density buildings.

But I’m not holding my breath – as I understand it the BASIX laws have actually been clawed back to support developers who claim that it’s too expensive (i.e. too much of a hit on their profits) to do some of these things. It’s really so short sighted and neglects the state of the environment in the name of profit – two steps forward, one step back.

Earth Hour results

Well – Earth Hour was a lot of fun, and a roaring success.

Check out the official press release for more detail, but the highlights are:

  • An estimated 2 million Sydneysiders participated by switching off their lights or taking other energy saving measures;
  • A 10.2% drop in energy usage across the Sydney CBD;
  • A significant drop in energy usage across Western Sydney – the same amount of electricity required to power 6500 homes.

Ang and I walked through Circular Quay for the start of Earth Hour, then attended the WWF fundraiser event.

On the bus on the way to the Quay, I started noticing the difference at around World Square, with Ernst & Young having their lights off. IAG was amazingly dark.

When we got the the Quay, AXA and AMP were both in darkness. A lot of the restaurants around the Quay were also candlelit.

It was both eery and cool and exciting to be walking through the city. You really could notice the difference. I’ve heard a report of a cab driver thinking there was a city blackout…

The Earth Hour Flickr group has some great shots. The before and after of Centrepoint is great, as is the blurry one at the end. Although side-by-side they don’t look as impressive, when you overlay one after the other the difference is amazing!

What’s really cool is a lot of the businesses remained in darkness all weekend – meaning an even bigger energy saving. Integral noted the same thing in the areas where they operate.

Anyways – had a great night, and it feels wonderful to be part of the team that made it happen. I’ll remember it fondly for a long, long time methinks…

Future is man made (Redux)

After a few months of development (and many months of thinking and strategising) I’m proud to announce the launch of the new Future is man made website.

From the blurb on the home page:

This site … is a place where people can share their ideas for living sustainably. We hope the tips and stories here will be useful for you and that you will share your ideas here too.

As part of the team at WWF, I very much hope that the site will become a hub of activity from folks around Australia can share their stories, tips and experiences to make it easier to live more sustainably.

To kick things off, and as part of the Earth Hour promotional activity, the site has a “60 things you can do in the dark” competition – submit your ideas for a chance to win a Nokia 3250 mobile phone and Planet Earth DVD.

I could go into more details about the strategy, development and details, but really, I’d just prefer to point and let y’all decide if you like it or not πŸ™‚ Feel free to let me know what you think by leaving a comment here, or through the site’s contact form.

Big props to Digital Eskimo who were fantastic to work with to get the site up and running. It’s been a blast working with them on the project – muchos kudos guys πŸ™‚

Clean cars, today

TreeHugger: The Car the Automakers Can – and Should – Be Making.

I’ve thought this a lot – good to see the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) putting lie to auto-makers claims that they are doing their best, or that it’s not possible.

All this as Holden sacks 600 workers in its Australian manufacturing business. How much is management in these companies being paid to connect the dots? And missing them wildly…

What the UCS shows is that with existing technologies we could see a dramatic improvement in efficiency and emissions. Imagine what’s possible if we actually innovate and rethink things a little… The NuStroke engine is an example of this kind of thinking.

Update: KPMG today released a statement recommending some of the same things.