Filed under green

Then and now

Two photographs, both taken from more or less the same spot, and exactly one year apart:

7 January 2012

7 January 2012

7 January 2013

7 January 2013

She’s dry alright. Last year we were enjoying the second of two fairly wet summers after a lengthy drought. So far this summer has been very dry again and it feels like another drought is upon us.

See also: The Food Garden at Buggery Acres

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Wattle Day

September 1 is Wattle Day in Australia, a slightly nationalistic, but mostly nostalgic holiday that coincides with the supposed first day of spring. It’s a lovely day today so I snapped a few different species growing around my home.

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The food garden at Buggery Acres

I already shared this on Facebook and Twitter but it’s worth re-sharing on the blog. A short video showing the progress of the food garden here at Buggery Acres, from the overgrown wilderness we inherited when we bought the place to the orderly green oasis of today. Makes me happy, hope it’s good for you too.

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Why I’m not participating in Earth Hour

We won’t be participating in Earth Hour at Bag End tonight, just as we haven’t in previous years. Apart from the fact that we’re on solar power here, so turning off the lights for an hour, a week or even a year won’t reduce our CO2 emissions, I think Earth Hour is a crock.

Earth Hour

Earth Hour, which since 2007 has been promoted by the WWF and the Fairfax press in Australia, seems innocuous enough at first glance. If you’re concerned about climate change, turn your lights off for an hour, shut off the TV and sit in the dark. The promoters of the event make a big deal about figures showing lowered electricity demand during the annual event, and claim their event raises awareness.

Awareness is not action. Climate change is the possibly greatest threat human civilisation has ever faced, and the increasingly gloomy predictions of runaway global warming this century and beyond are a call to action. Most of the people who participate in Earth Hour won’t take any substantive action to reduce their greenhouse emissions, because Earth Hour peddles the dangerous mistruth that you can combat climate change through small-scale actions like changing to fluorescent light bulbs or using ethanol-blended fuel.

To prevent global warming, the developed world will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% by 2050, and even then some warming will occur before the global climate stabilises. Even the small amount of warming that has occurred to date has had significant effects, with more severe storms, widespread drought and glacier melt. Species have already become extinct. I’m sure I don’t have to go through all the science in detail.

The changes that will be required to prevent a global catastrophe are huge, and every day that passes without coordinated global action increases the scale of what is needed and the cost of acting. Symbolic actions like Earth Hour may increase awareness about climate change, but they also risk encouraging complacency – “We did our bit during Earth Hour; now we can go back to driving our kids to school in huge 4WDs and flying around the planet at the drop of a hat.”

Earth Hour doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions in any meaningful way (in fact, all the paraffin-wax candles burning tonight will go a fair way to cancelling out any saving). You could have Earth Hour 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it still wouldn’t be enough. You can’t shop your way out of the climate crisis – the only solution is to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions now, and move quickly to a renewable energy-based economy. Climate change is a looming catastrophe that needs a ‘war effort’-like response, not a bunch of middle-class do-gooders sitting around by candlelight and singing Kumbayah.

So I’m against Earth Hour, and won’t be playing along tonight. If you happen past my house at 8:30 tonight, it’ll be modestly lit with low-wattage bulbs powered by solar energy, as it is every night. If you choose to participate, good on you, but I hope you’ll be fighting for real action as well.

OTOH if you’re one of the loonies joining the ‘Human Achievement Hour’ protest, I hope your SUV kills you.

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Flooding my home town

When I was growing up in Bega I probably wished more than once that the town would be obliterated by some kind of natural disaster – a meteorite, volcano or perhaps a flood. I wanted to be somewhere else.

But now it looks like my idle childhood wishes might come true. Seems like global warming will continue to accelerate, with the world’s big economies playing a game of ‘Chicken’ and refusing to act until someone else does. With global warming comes rises in sea levels, and the experts reckon there will be anything from 19cm to several metres of sea-level rise this century. Some have argued that, with positive feedback effects accelerating the process, sea level rises of 10m or more before 2100 are possible.

Here’s an animated projection of the effect of sea level rises of between 0 and 14m on my old home town:

Looks like it might be a smart time to open a water-skiing supply shop in Bega. Get in early.

You can see how sea level rises will affect your home town (or anywhere else) at http://flood.firetree.net/.

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She’s dry alright

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this living-in-a-bushfire-prone-area thing. In the last week we’ve put the fire plan into action three times – that means preparing to defend the house against a fire reported in the area. The latest of these is currently burning 2 kilometres away, and as I write this the house is locked up, the hoses are at the ready, the gutters are blocked up and full of water, and I’m watching the planes and helicopters buzzing back and forth as the CFA deals with the fire.

All of this is happening in utterly dreadful weather – it’s 45ºC outside, there’s a vile wind blowing, and the air smells of smoke.

While all of that is hard, I think the hardest part is the constant apprehension of impending disaster. Even when there’s no fire reported in the area, on days like this you find yourself sniffing the air for smoke, watching the skies, listening to the radio, and always expecting that something bad is about to happen.

Today is the 29th of January, and so far this year we have had not one drop of rain, and there is no prospect of rain in the next week, probably more. I do not remember ever in my life going through a whole month – any month of the year – without any rain at all. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the last time there was no rain in January in this part of the world was 1930. We depend on rainfall in this house because the only water we have – for drinking, cooking, showering and gardening – comes from rainfall harvesting. We’re doing OK for water at the moment but it won’t last forever without some rain.

Honestly I wonder where this all will end.

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Drought? What drought?

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  • Total rainfall received at our house in 2008 (allegedly a La Niña year): 485.0 mm.
  • Median annual rainfall for Kyneton 1873–1969: 752.9 mm.
  • Median annual rainfall for Castlemaine: 1966–2008: 595.0 mm.

We’ll all be rooned.

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Saving Australia’s Special Places

The Australian Conservation Foundation has released a report, titled Saving Australia’s Special Places, which outlines some of the likely effects of global warming in Australia. The report (not available on the ACF website, but there’s an article in the Age about it) details some of the “catastrophic” ways Australians will be affected by living in a warming world.

The headline issues (at least according to the Age) are that wine production will fall, snowfalls in ski resorts will disappear, and beaches will be swallowed up by rising sea levels. You can guess at whom this activism is targeted – middle-class people who, the ACF presumably hopes, will be alarmed at the thought that by 2050 they won’t be able to go on skiing holidays, spend a day at the beach or enjoy a nice glass of sauvignon blanc at the end of the day. Quelle horreur!

I guess the ACF knows what it’s doing, but surely the real threat of global warming is much more significant than its impact on the overprivileged lives of middle-class families in Melbourne and Sydney. Milliions – probably billions – of people will die if the climate continues to warm. Most of these people will, of course, be in Africa and Asia, not in Toorak or Lane Cove, so I guess it’s sad that we lack the common humanity that this fact isn’t enough to trigger widespread engagement with the urgency of the problem we face as a species; instead the ACF has to appeal to people’s fear of losing their comfy, unsustainable lifestyle.

“It’s not a drought, it’s a dryness”

From the federal Department of Bloody Silly Ideas comes the news that a panel of highly-paid “experts” have suggested we stop calling the drought a drought because it “makes farmers feel bad.” Instead, the government’s hand-picked Drought Policy Review Expert Social Panel suggests we use the word “dryness”.

“Words like drought … have negative connotations for farm families,” the report said.

“There needs to be a new national approach to living with dryness, as we prefer to call it, rather than dealing with drought.”

This is the sort of outside-the-box think that Australia desperately needs. Instead of dealing with permanent water shortages, rethinking agricultural policy or (gasp!) actually doing something to reduce the carbon emissions that are causing global warming, let’s just give the drought a new name and all will be well.

Now instead of worrying about the endless drought we can think of it as simply “a dryness”, the sort of expression that, until now, one only heard on deodorant and moisturiser commercials. Thank you, highly-paid panel of consultants!

Unsurprisingly, the National Party has rejected the suggestion that the drought be renamed. After many years, Australia’s farming sector has made a highly profitable shift from actually growing things to focusing on collecting government drought assistance payments, and obviously if the drought is renamed their business model might dry up (pun intended!)

Speaking of which, apropos of the current fashion for nationalising business losses by partial government buyouts of debt-ridden banks, has anyone noticed the parallel between this and Australia’s longstanding policy of subsidising the farm sector during the (increasingly frequent)bad years while giving the squatters and cockies a free ride when things are good?

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Fill in the blanks

A few weeks ago I started building raised garden beds in the now mostly-cleared part of our property which will become our food garden. I’ll be progressively adding new beds over the next couple of years and eventually we’ll have probably 20 or more beds, so I decided a naming scheme was needed. As a gardener I need to be able to think “time to put some manure on bed x” or “these seedlings will go into bed y”.

Rather than numbering the beds, I decided to give them all names, in alphabetical order and honouring the great men and women of science and philosophy. With the help of my friend Kirsty I’ve got most of the letters of the alphabet covered, but there are some blanks. Any suggestions?

  • Archimedes
  • Babbage
  • Copernicus
  • Darwin
  • Einstein
  • Fibbonacci
  • Galileo
  • Hoffmann
  • I
  • Jung
  • Kinsey
  • Leonardo
  • Marx
  • Newton
  • Orwell
  • Plato
  • Q
  • Russell (Bertrand, not Jane)
  • Sagan
  • Turing
  • U
  • Von Bingen
  • Wittgenstein
  • Xenophon
  • Y
  • Zeno

Only Archimedes and Babbage have actually been built so far, so alternative suggestions for any of the others are also welcome.