We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children
(Native American proverb).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Washing Machines and Free TVs

My last post made me dredge up an old, unpublished post from four months ago... still relevant!

Our 4 year old washing machine is dead! Aside from the considerable annoyance it has caused it has also made me quite angry about the state of our modern lifestyle and the impact it is having on our planet. Before I dug out the warranty papers (thank God for extended warranty options!), I looked around to see what a new one was worth, what features they had before I had to make an informed decision about whether to "buy new" or "repair". The thing that really got to me was that LG had a special promotion where you could get a free LCD TV with every purchase of a new front loader... imagine that; a free TV. Now I could get rid of that heavy CRT thing that I inherited from my parents when they upgraded their TV to the latest Sony LCD.

The math was easy to interpret: repair it for $500 (actually $0 because of the warranty) or get a new washer PLUS a TV for $400 (the price of the new unit LESS the warranty payment), complete with a new warranty, latest bells and whistles, and a sense of satisfaction that we FINALLY had a slim TV that would sit on the wall and not a reinforced TV unit. Say nothing of the fact that not one but two old units would have to be thrown out; I guess we could keep the TV for our bedroom, and give the old, old TV that was replaced by the last TV to our kids so that they too can watch countless hours of TV or play DVDs or computer games in their room instead of physically exerting themselves or (heaven forbid) interacting with other people in a social context where they would have to use their creativity and ingenuity to come up with a new game together, or communicate effectively... sorry, I digress.

Seriously, what has our culture come to when it becomes easier to just discard so we can get the latest and greatest, or chain ourselves to our houses, or add to the wasteful consumption that is western society. Something has got to give!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Creating Food Security

In my last post I mentioned the importance of taking back control of our world, and mentioned that I would be more practical in my approach to doing so. Part of my family's approach to reclaiming our world has to do with improving our food security, and in the process eat better, fresher, more wholesome food.

How do we do that? It really is easier than I thought, and for starters try some of these tips:

1. Space is no obstacle: regardless of how much space you have in and around your home, there is always spare space for growing food, even if you rent. We rent a modest home on a modest sized block and have gradually increased our food production by using pots, underplanting existing garden plants with herbs or salad greens (see the Lettuce under the Azaleas), or using temporary no-dig gardens such as old tyre stacks, planter boxes, etc. Our entire supply of fresh herbs come from underplanting.

2. Grow what you use: I cannot justify buying parsley from a supermarket! It grows like a weed around our home and when it looks a little worse for wear, grab some more seeds and just sprinkle them on any bare patches... even in the cracks in the pavement. It will green your world and is so easy to use. The same can be said for mints, basil, thyme and many of the most common herbs. These common food plants are easy and can save a bunch of money over time.

3. Eat seasonally: when you grow your own food you eventually recognise what is in season and can relearn what our ancestors in herintly knew. Even if you are not growing all your own produce (and lets face it, if you have a job outside your garden you will probably not have enough time to devote to a garden and be completely self sufficient) you will at least get fresh, local foods from your local green grocer that supplement your own efforts.

4. Start small and grow: I started my food garden journey with a 1.5m by 1.5m plot and now have potatoes, garlic, peas, cabbage, broccoli, fennel, lettuce, rocket, onions, a huge range of herbs and plans for a similar range of summer vegetables... and although it has taken over 5 years to get to where I am now (don't be turned off; the soil around our house looked more like bricklayers sand and I decided to regenerate it organically which takes longer, but made me feel better inside), I have learnt a lot along the way, had many failures, some successes, but have continued to grow my plot and satisfaction.

5. Share: get to know your neighbours, talk about growing food, find out what they grow or would like to grow and grow something different, then share the produce. You will not only get greater exposure to different ways of growing food and a range of produce, you'll get to know your neighbours a whole lot better and grow more than food; you'll be growing a community.

6. Community gardens: the Carriage Works Kitchen Garden Project in Sydney has been an inspiration to me, but the more I think of it, the more I realise that my reality in the outer suburbs is quite different to that of inner city dwellers. If your community can start a community garden anywhere, GO FOR IT! If you are stuck in suburbia with your 900 Sqm block, then maybe using more of your own space is the way to go. Either way is a step in the right direction.

That's plenty to start with. I don't claim to have a lot of answers, just a lot of ideas and a willingness to learn.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reclaim Your World

Food security is soemthing almost as foreign to us Australians as rabid dogs, yet at the CarriageWorks Kitchen Garden Project launch last September I was confronted with a very plausable reality: we are only three days away from hunger! Pesimistic it may be, but the fact remains that we are SO reliant on our economic systems that we are literally enslaved to them to the point of having our very survival compromised should the external shock be significant enough.

Dont' believe me, check out the doco "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" at www.powerofcommunity.org and see how easy it was for Cuba to have their physical survival compromised by forces very much beyond their control.

Now I'm not a conspiracy theorist, nor am I a pesimist by nature, but I am concerned about my ability to withstand the externalities associated with decisions made by faceless men in foreign lands upon my quality of life. The powerlessness that invokes is enough to make me question the wisdom of the global village in which we live. Surely our local village would not be so quick to condemn us to servitude, poverty and ruin as they would have to face us each an every day, yet our global village has the advantage of distance. We are only as close to our global villagers as our telecommunications allow us to be, yet we can also be a world away at the flick of the proverbial switch.

I cannot accept a world where my livelihood, my quality of life, even my very survival can be determined in a board room on the other side of the world and then ignore my oposition by disconnecting their internet link or cable network. The countries of the North have been doing it to the majority world for centuries, but in this era of rapid communication and global webs the speed at which this can just as easily be applied to any one of us at any given point in time. Human evolution may just have gone too far!

What do we do? Reclaim what is ours! It is our life, our world and our future, why can't we claim it. I think it is time for us to take back our sovereignty and take charge of what is rightly ours. Sure, globalisation has led to massive improvements in life expectancy, biomedical science, unprecedented wealth for some of us, but maybe we have won this glorious prize of human ingenuity which is a high standard of living at the expense of our quality of life... and in the process forgotten the difference!

As an EarthKeeper I would like to be practical in my attempts to wind back the perils of progress and suggest some ways we can all take control of our lives, not leaving decisions to multinational corporations and their puppet governments (lets face it, many of them are! Just look at how much power BHP and Rio Tinto can have over a "successful" government such as Australia's). My pledge is to give share some ideas I have on achieving these ends, and hopefully to hear some of your ideas to the same end.

Reclaiming the earth for all keepers and not simply those who would mine its very soul,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Education Evolution

School's back again in NSW. Have you been to an Australian school lately? I teach at one. Gradually I've seen our campus being covered slowly but surely by metre after metre of cement in landscaping, sports halls, libraries, and so on. Don't get me wrong, these all have an important role to play in the education of our children. What concerns me is that there are so many schools signing on to be slowly yet surely covered by GFC salvation spending for which we will be paying for a generation.

Enough of the economics. What about the other side effects:

1. Nature deficit is a term coined by American author Richard Louv and was used to describe our lifestyle being increasingly removed from nature and the resultant 'ecophobia' which could criple our ability to understand and work with natural systems in the future. Whilst clearly not empirically validated, we are doing nothing to stem the flow of the forced removal of our children from natural systems; when was the last time your kids were able to run outside on a rainy day, or play in the mud? Several other studies have shown that the amount of 'green space' on campuses directly correlates to academic performance, usually as a result of increased satisfaction with the learning environment.

2. While it is wonderful to have new facilities, if, like in the school I teach at, it results in more cemented play spaces and reduced grassed or natural surfaces such as wood chip or bark, injuries will increase and in all likelihood, academic performance, the very thing the policy has set out in part to improve, will suffer. Cement IS less forgiving than grass, sand or woodchip, and you don't learn much in the school nurses office.

3. Space itself is also an issue. Schools with scarcely enough room to provide outdoor play space have miraculously found space to build more facilities. Much has been said in the media about cases of waste and abuse, but the overcrowding of campuses could be further restricting physical activity in a context of increasing obesity. Don't fence me in!

4. Finally, many schools are focussing more on the construction projects rather than on the teams they manage or the student welfare they are responsible for. This lack of focus on the individual is likely to lead to a growing dissatisfaction among teachers, students and parents eager to have their concerns heard and responded to.

Yes, we have now got beautiful, well constructed schools (and I haven't even mentioned the computers!), but we also have a $16billion hangover, and with all this expense we still have trouble holding on to great teachers whilst student satisfaction, academic performance and childhood/teen resilience are worsening. If this doesn't ring alarm bells, nothing will.


Keeping the future for our children.

Greed, for want of a better term...

Today I spent the day with my family. Nothing unique, but sometimes the greatest clarity comes in the simplist of tasks or most common of days. We spent the day in Sydney at the Powerhouse Museum. The EcoLogic exhibit displayed in large type on one wall that 86% of the world's resources are consumed by 20% of the world's population. This is nothing new; I first heard a ratio similar to this at university in the early 1990's nearly 20 years ago. The troubling part however is that back then it was more like 80:20, rather than 86:20. But really, this is mere semantics. Why would we split hairs over a paltry 6%. Surely the real issue is the huge discrepancy between those who have and those who do not.

As a father, I spend a great deal of time with my wife trying to teach our sons the importance of sharing, to live together in harmony, and spurn greed (ironically, something also discussed at the museum today in their exhibit on the 1980's where they quoted those immortal words so poigniently delivered by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street: "Greed... is good. Greed works."). In my last post I alluded to the double standard that exists in relation to opportunity in our country. This really is but the tip of the iceberg however. We are rapidly becoming one of the most prosperous nations on earth, and with the freedom this brings come responsibilities. How can we, as a nation, celebrate that we have escaped the GFC better than nearly all other OECD or G20 nation and not have an increasingly signficant role to play in global humanitarian and refugee operations? Yet our first response is to pass the repsonsibility of illegal entries to one of the world's newest nations; one that still struggles with their own ethnic and economic chasms; one that we still push our own interests upon in our economic use of offshore oil and gas fields. If any country can afford to accept, support, train and assist those fleeing religious, political, economic or any other persecution, we can, and increasingly so. Anything less is nothing less than greed. We have it good, really good, and yet we are collectively reluctant to "share with the other kids" in our region.

It's a simple issue and simple solution yet our response is just mean spirited and so politicised. When the Howard Government unveiled its Pacific Solution it was met with widespread condemnation. Now the Gillard Government is trying a similar approach, people are generally applauding it, but really, it is more of the same with a different wrapper. So we're short of skilled labour, but have thousands knocking down our doors and being turned away or told to wait. Can't we build an education revolution by training refugees to fill our shortages? Won't that inject stimulus money, solve a skills crisis, provide hope and maybe solve the unsolvable.

Keeping the world for those for whom nobody else will.
Earth Keeper

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Fair Go in the Lucky Country

I hear a lot of talk about "God's Will". Jesus himself said that the poor we shall always have with us, yet he spent his entire life shunning material gain, admonishing others to give all they have to the poor, to follow him in a life of service and humility.

Australians have forgotten their birthright, their core values, and have sought to temper their values with material wealth. This has wrought all sorts of mean spirited policies and there are few left to advocate the true values of being Australian. Australia is the land of opportunity, yet if you happen to speak another language, believe in a different religion, pray to a different god, admonish the rights of humans rather than citizens, then your opportunities are somewhat less than those who maintain the status quo of a power base long forgone in search of the quick buck which is only available because of the global village we now find ourselves in.

Think about the irony here: we ride the wave of wealth that comes from the orient of old, yet we mistrust those upon whom our wealth is built when it comes to who we allow to share in the rites of citizenship. We can scarcely contain our excitement at the bargain we have obtained in our favourite store, yet spare no thought for the wages the one who has formed the object of our favour has earned as a result, nor the conditions of their lives, their freedoms, rights and responsibilities in their communities. Would we be so eager to accept the prizes of consumerism at its peak if we were the ones to bear the costs of such wealth? I dare say "no".

Australia is dead to opportunity if we believe in a fair go, yet cannot find the humanity to accept those from other countries whose only hope for "a fair go" is to seek it in distant lands without expectation of success. What is the price of wealth? It is the responsibility to help those upon whose sweat and blood the wealth is wrought, both domestically and internationally.

Our new Prime Minister has promised much but has yet to fully realise this. My prayer is that her constituents, our fellow Australians of diverse backgrounds, exercise their rights in a free and democratic society in order to remind her of our collective responsibilities which inevitably will result from our position of wealth, opportunity and advantage.

Keeping our earth for our children and our children's children.
Earth Keeper.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Food for everyone...

...That's the sign that sits at the start of Myrtle Street, Sydney, Australia. In my last post I mentioned being involved in the CarriageWorks Kitchen Garden Project (which is about to start its second workshop series commencing February 6... follow the link to find out more!). Food has been a passion for my wife and I as long as we have been together, nearly 14 years now, and we are both passionate about eating well, using whole foods and preparing as much as we can from scratch, which is what initially sparked my curiosity in the Garden Project in Sydney. I had also been reading and was increasingly concerned about GM food, the increasing reliance on ethanol and bio diesel as potential saviours from the impending oil crisis, and the growing appetite of rapidly developing Asian countries for the western diet, which cannot sustainably feed the west let alone the billions of people who now live in Asia. Food, it seems, is going to be the next frontier to be challenged by the limits of nature.

When we attended the launch of the first kitchen garden series we had our eyes opened to the extent of the waste and the potential problems in the supply of food. Speakers addressed issues such as the fact that over $4billion worth of food is thrown out in Australia annually (check out OzHarvest to see what one organisation is doing in this respect, founded by this year's Australian Local Hero of the Year); our food prices are among the highest in the developed world despite being a net exporter of food, and only getting worse as oil prices continue to climb; we have lost about 75% of our agricultural species diversity; organic and whole foods are still priced at a premium, while the highly processed and nutritionally questionable products the food industry market to us are cheaper and only seem to make us sicker collectively.

Grow Your Own! That's the the suggestion made by Michael Pollan in his book "In Defence of Food". Take it one step further and you have community gardens: it is communities working together to feed each other and forming closer bonds with neighbours who previously had little contact; it is eating better, more nutritious food at a lower cost; it is reducing your ecological footprint because your dinner has less food miles.

Myrtle Street opened my eyes to the potential this concept could achieve, even to city dwellers where space was scarce and time limited. As you can see in the images, a variety of produce can be grown almost anywhere: this is just a few hundred metres from the University of Sydney and Broadway. Not only is it better for you, it is better for the community who are actively engaged together in supporting and working on the project, and it is better for the planet both in terms of minimising food waste through the communal compost bins and using less resources (especially fossil fuels) to produce, transport, process and market the product.

My challenge to you: Eat fresh, eat local, grow your own!

Monday, January 18, 2010

To be an Earth Keeper...

As early as I can remember I have been passionate about the planet; sometimes overtly when marching in protest of a development or logging old growth forests; sometimes just in my belief that a slower pace of life and old fashioned foods and lifestyles are not only better for you personally, but collectively. I've written passionately about conservation in university papers, been a member of several environmental groups at one time or another and even voted Australian Greens. I loved Midnight Oil, took Geography at school, then studied it again at university. Taught teenagers in high school how to be aware, take care, and share information that would create a better future than the one they inherited from their parents.

Then I forgot! I forgot to care; forgot to be an agent of change for sustainable living or social justice. I became intent on making it (whatever "it" was); of making my fortune and then living on my estate enjoying my due rewards. Seduced by the all powerful, all important dollar. Lured by the promise of a full and extravagant life of parties and travel and cars and real estate, fine wines, fine foods, classy hotels and fame.

I'm not exactly sure what the tipping point was, but 2009 was a watershed year for me. I had been teaching Business Studies and running a small business with my wife for years, and I was ready for a change; seeking a shift to the country to find myself and give my beautiful wife and boys a slower paced and more peaceful life. I thought we could live off the land and leave our lives behind. It was all about me, and even though my motives were better, they were still inward looking.

We have always had a passion for cooking, good food and wine, enjoyed the search for quality produce and farmers markets, and were looking for the perfect region for our resettlement program, all the while watching family and friends slowly accumulate more and more while having less and less time for those they loved. It finally came down to 3 things:
  1. My wife and I went to the USA for a friends wedding, and while we had an amazing experience, we saw American capitalism at work first hand with its strip malls, huge fuel guzzling cars (and trucks!) food servings to feed a small village, and cities (New York in particular with it's bitter-sweet lifestyle) which had life but no ecology, and while we would love to return, were also acutely aware of what we didn't want our planet to resemble in 100 years time;
  2. A good friend and colleague invited me to help her fulfill a dream of creating a school garden which we could use to encourage our students and their families to be actively involved in growing food for themselves and their families, as well as being a practical application of theories we were teaching every day. Instantly I saw it as a way of achieving my self sufficiency goals in an environment where food prices going through the stratosphere, fuel prices at historically high levels, economic uncertainty and one of the worst droughts in Australia's history;
  3. Whilst researching markets for my wife to sell her hand crafted wares, we came across a kitchen garden project being run by CarriageWorks performance space in Sydney. We attended the launch in which they played the documentary "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil", among other speakers relating their experiences in their goal of achieving a more sustainable future for themselves and our wider community. At this point something inside me turned on, like a culmination of all previous learning, beliefs, experiences and goals had been leading to this point. I applied to be involved in the workshop and was selected. What I have learned since will be the point of future blogs.

Today, I write as one who treasures life, in all it's intricacies, forms and relationships. I am an environmentalist, and as such I believe that life is is intricate web of systems, both biophysical and human, and to disregard one would be to the peril of others. I am about living sustainably, so that everyone from my grandchildren through to their great grandchildren and beyond will live in a world which allows them to have a quality of life as good as our own, and not, as Ron Laura suggests, living in a way which inadvertently sacrifices our quality of life for our standard of living. I am about community and our collective responses to the challenges which face us. Through collective action we can, as Paul Hawken calls it, be a part of the earth's immune response system to ecological decay, economic disease, political corruption and social dysfunction. These are the aims and duties of an earth keeper; a steward of an earth we have borrowed from our children, rather than an earth we have inherited from our ancestors. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and hearing yours.