This decade will be the defining moment in human history. Countries around the world are setting emission reduction targets that will be measured in the year 2020, so that means that a heck of a lot of action has to happen during the next 10 years. We all have the power within to tackle the biggest issues that are now being presented to the human race, and unfortunately for us, they are all of our own making.
Whether you believe in man made climate change or not, weather patterns throughout the globe are shifting and the planet is heating up. Dryer and hotter in some places and wetter or colder in others. Extreme weather events are occurring more often and both poles are melting, the north more so than the south. There are undeniable facts. Just visit your meteorological bureau and look for climate change information to check how much the average temperature has risen in your part of the world. Here is the link the climate variability and change trends at the Bureau of Met in Australia. This change will affect us all in some way or another.
Climate change aside, we will be forced to deal with other global issues, such as the peak of oil production, population overshoot, water and food shortages, social cohesion, and resource depletion. Just facing one of these issues is scary enough to deal with but to tackle all of them during the next 10 years and beyond is a daunting thought to say the least. We will be facing change on a major scale, and this social and behavioural transformation will be felt all over the world, but more so in the so called developed nations. A shock to the system, more likely!
Currently, the argument is for limited change, but without the loss of our current lifestyle. Most governments are too gutless to commit to fair and binding emissions targets, and have yet to make the public aware of the other major issues. I would argue that our current western lifestyle is not all that it is cracked up to be, and it is shallow and destructive. However, I agree that we can transition to a more sustainable lifestyle without a massive loss of the current paradigm, however many people and corporations are hedging their bets on a series of ‘Techno fixes’, so that they can continue on with business as usual, for example Carbon Capture and Storage, or Ethanol as a replacement for transportation fuel. In my humble opinion, I believe that we are kidding ourselves because we are too far down the rabbit hole. Tipping points may have already been reached in the environment and with population growth. The gap between the have and have nots widens every single day, and will widen as the price of oil continues to rise.
So what are we to do? Well, we could just all party like it is 1999, or we can take individual action that becomes a groundswell of larger actions that actually make a difference. So, lets take my families transition over the last 4 years as an example of what is possible without waiting for the development of a Techno Fix. We have lowered our environmental footprint dramatically over that period, with a bit of determination, and a bit of research.
All the technologies that were required to assist us in our goals are still available today, and have been for many years. Solar PV was installed to reduce our reliance on coal fired electricity, and we simply purchased GreenPower for the excess that we could not generate during the winter months. PV is currently available in many countries with large tax credits or government grants to assist with the costs. There are also feed-in tariffs available in many states and provinces now that will assist in payback costs of your system. Same goes for Solar hot water, which has been available for many decades in Australia, but is now only just being fitted as standard to new homes due to building codes. Wouldn’t it be a great leap forward for the planet if the government planners mandate that a small Solar PV system had to be installed on new homes during construction. We produce 75% of our own electricity and most of our hot water is free with little natural gas being utilised.
Then there are what I call the “NO Tech” solutions. What I mean is that you do not need any marvellous new technology fix to lower your eco-footprint with any great cost. Some examples are collecting your own water off of your roof with rainwater tanks or water butts. Once you have collected some water, then you can plumb to the toilet (or get a composting loo instead), and washing machine. I personally exclusively use the rainwater to grow and maintain an abundant vegetable garden and fruit garden, all without increasing our consumption from the mains water supply. Also, through water conservation, we have lowered our household water consumption by about 30%.
The next NO Tech solution is waste handling, and I always cite the 4R’s. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Not only waste, but all material things or stuff. We refuse products on the basis of needs or wants, refuse products with excessive packaging, reduce consumption of unnecessary stuff, reuse items we already have or fix them if broken, and if all else fails, we send it off for recycling. Using this simple methodology we have reduced our landfill waste output by over 75%. As for food waste, there isn’t any. If we don’t eat it as leftovers, the dogs, chickens, or worms eat it. Any garden waste goes straight into the 3 compost bins that I maintain.
My favourite NO Tech solution is growing our own food. What joy I get from watching a plant grow from seed and nurturing it all the way to harvest. To feed the needs of the garden, I use the chicken manure from our 8 hens. The chickens eat our kitchen scraps, make fertiliser and give us eggs as an added bonus. Talk about very useful pets! You can even keep meat birds if you like to supplement your diet, but I personally don’t do this as I have a very squeamish wife.
However, the easiest NO tech solution is energy efficiency. It is so very often overlooked, and not may people realise that by leaving unused appliances on, they are driving demand for electricity generation that is simply not necessary. In our state of Victoria, which has a heavy reliance upon Brown Coal for its electricity generation, each kilowatt hour you use equals 1.2 kilograms of CO2-e released into the atmosphere, along with particulate matter and mercury. So every time you turn off an unused electrical item, you are saving money as well as our atmosphere.
Other NO tech solutions are riding a bike to run errands, buying second hand goods, buying local organically or bio-dynamically grown foods, making things for yourself. Learn to cook for yourself instead relying on takeaway or process food. Not only is it more nutritious, but quicker than driving to the golden arches in most towns I bet! Even these simple acts will make a difference but will not lower your standard of living one little bit. In fact, I am willing to bet my next zucchini that you will find that you will become a happier person and you will become more aware of the things going on around you. Now that can only be an outstanding change in lifestyle for you and your family.
So, in conclusion, if my family and I can lower our environmental footprint by actually enhancing our standard of living, then others certainly can do so and embrace the transition neccessary to right the wrongs of the industrial age. The action we all take this decade will shape the future of life on Earth for time immemorial. In my view, if we don’t change something by the year 2020, then the graceful transition that might have been possible will all but disappear, and only a rapid decline will remain as our legacy.
If you care about learning what needs to be achieved in this decade, and you live in Victoria, Australia, come along with me and some friends to the Transition Decade Launch on February 14th at the Melbourne Town Hall. For more info, check out www.t10.net.au. It looks like a great event, and you might just learn a bit more than I have articulated here. I don’t know all the answers, but collectively we do!
I don’t really understand why everyone doesn’t do all those things you mention Gavin. I don’t find them onerous at all; actually the opposite! It is so easy to use food from the garden and not have to think what you need and go off shopping, in the car… and solar hot water is so hot all the time during much of our Australian year…. Chooks are so lovely and easy to have, apart from the eggs and manure even….rainwater is wonderful for the garden and easy to collect…. and so it goes on. So much of “the modern” life is a mystery to me!But I do love blogs and couldn’t live without the internet…. but I don’t like the factories that make computers and fridges and even solar panels…. that is where real change needs to happen soon too.
Fantastic post Gavin.
Thank you Gavin for this post. I read your blog every day but don’t usually comment. I wanted to let you know i do appreciate the time you take to share this information. Good work. Regards Libby