Living with Dystopia

Do you ever feel as though you are living in the early scenes of a dystopic film? I have to confess that I do.

In the background, the audience is being shown hints of the coming catastrophe. We hear the news radio mention increasing numbers of extreme weather events and related disasters. We see newspaper headlines declare, ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe‘ and ‘1 million species are facing extinction‘. And yet our heroes appear to be carrying on with their lives normally.

As the film progresses, this apparent normality is punctuated by signs of anxiety, despair and resistance. Parents sit up late quietly discussing their fears about the future. Colleagues share a bleak joke about the upcoming apocalypse. Grandparents start becoming radical. School children walk out of school.

Soon it becomes clear that the looming disaster has already arrived, and people react in a range of predictable ways. There are, of course, those who continue to deny the problem — either because they benefit from the status quo or because it is just too confronting to face the truth.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

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Is the legal tide turning on climate change?

Late last week, the NSW Land and Environment Court refused approval for a new coal mine outside the town of Gloucester in the Upper Hunter Valley in a decision that the NSW Environmental Defenders’ Office is calling a ‘landmark legal win for climate and community‘.

While in many ways this decision was uncontroversial — in that it merely upheld an earlier ministerial decision — Chief Justice Preston’s judgment was significant in the Australian context both for its extensive reference to climate change and for his honour’s clear acceptance of the science.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

 

The Darling’s dead fish of late capitalism

Humans of Late Capitalism (HOLC) is a social media account that plays on the massively popular Humans of New York (HONY) phenomenon to starkly highlight the reality of what it is like to live on our planet today. Its darkly humorous images serve as an ironic critique of our society and, particularly, our economic system.

Over the last few weeks, Australia has produced two symbolic images that fit well into the HOLC narrative: a massive fish kill in Menindee lakes on the Darling River and Walgett, the town with two rivers and no water.

Water is critical to life on this planet. And yet clean water supplies are dwindling due to the impact of human activity, while demand continues to increase. The United Nations has estimated that ‘by 2050, at least one-in-four people is likely to live in countries affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater’.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

The inequity of this silent killer

When our kids were little, our family moved to Hanoi for my partner’s job. After we’d settled in to our new neighbourhood of Tay Ho (Westlake), we enjoyed walking the streets and admiring the beauty of the city. Hanoi is set around a number of lakes and filled with historic buildings and old winding laneways that are too narrow for cars. It is also surprisingly green. Plants grow on every available square inch, crammed into tiny pockets of dirt and pots.

But we hadn’t been there long until we begun bemoaning the frequency of foggy days and waiting hopefully for the rare clear days when Westlake would shine blue and we could see clearly over the rooftops from our sixth-story terrace.

I can’t remember exactly when I admitted to myself that it wasn’t fog that was obscuring visibility. But once I had fully acknowledged the extent of the airborne pollution, I felt a lot less keen on living in Hanoi with young children.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Climate change is here, now we need to adapt

Wentworth voters sent a strong message to the Coalition that it needs to start taking serious action on climate change or risk seeing its vote continue to fall.

The ALP should also sit up and take notice of exit polling from the Australia Institute, which found an overwhelming majority of voters (79 per cent) were influenced by climate change (and the need to replace coal with renewable energy), while almost half (47 per cent) indicated that this issue had a lot of influence on their vote, and a full third (33 per cent) named it as the most important issue.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the Hague Court of Appeal has upheld the historic decision in Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015), which ‘determined the Dutch government must reduce CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent (compared to 1990) by 2020 to fulfil its obligation to protect and improve the living environment against the imminent danger caused by climate change’.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Ideology and idiocy in national energy policy

The Australian Greens have called for the establishment of a government-owned energy retailer, Power Australia, in order to bring down energy prices and drive emissions reduction ‘by providing a guaranteed buyer for clean energy’ to ‘contract the next wave of renewable energy projects’.

Of course, you’d expect such a call from the Greens, but calls for investor certainty in the clean energy market have also been coming from industry, as the government struggles to develop a coherent, bipartisan energy policy (as has just happened in New Zealand).

In the wake of the recent ousting of Malcolm Turnbull over the emissions reduction components of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), new Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided to decouple carbon emissions from government energy policy.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Christian PM should have a heart for climate

Australia has always been a land of bushfires, but usually not in winter. This past month, however, the NSW Rural Fire Service was faced with over 80 significant bushfires. Scientists were reportedly shocked by the scale of the fires and environmental change academics have, unsurprisingly, blamed global warming.

And what did our government do in response to these fires (and related widespread drought)? It decided to continue to play Survivor: The Musical Chairs Edition and knock off another leader — on the basis of his desire to introduce emissions reductions, no less. Good times.

As others have noted, climate change policy has played a key role in the political instability of Australian politics over the last decade. And it has mostly been due to the recalcitrance of our political class in resisting any action that might jeopardise its cosy relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

 

Laying waste to waste

This week Coles announced it will give away its reusable plastic bags, after having received a barrage of abuse from a minority of shoppers who were disgruntled with having to bring their own or pay 15 cents to purchase a plastic one.

While Coles has announced this is an interim measure (until 29 August) to allow customers ‘more time to make the make the transition to reusable bags‘, others argue that in the meantime it effectively removes all incentive for customers to bring their own. Worse still, these new reusable bags take even longer than the old single-use ones to break down once they are discarded, and this is often after just one use.

The extreme resistance of a minority of shoppers is one issue, but what interests me is that while 80 per cent of us support a plastic bag ban most of us still accept and use them regularly while out shopping. The fact is that it is all too easy to make daily choices that negatively affect the environment, and there are many incentives for us to do so — cost, time, social norms. This is where policies like plastic bag bans come in — they change the incentives and not only help us to do the right thing but also to normalise it within our culture.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

Us and them: reconceiving trees

Charlie stood frozen in the doorway, tears streaming down his little cheeks. ‘What’s wrong, hon?’ I asked. ‘The tree,’ he said, pointing at the huge Poinciana that lived in our front garden.

A week earlier, a large branch had fallen during a storm and the arborist had arrived that morning to check on the tree. To our dismay, he discovered that it was rotten to the core and would have to go. He just couldn’t save it.

The kids cried all the way to the school bus. ‘I’m going to cry all day,’ said Charlie. ‘I loved that tree,’ my daughter, Lily, added.

It was dusk when I returned home, but through the dying light I could make out a large scar on the landscape of our garden. The empty space seemed to reproach me.

When I spoke to friends and colleagues about our tree, they all seemed to relate. One colleague spoke of the death of a large Jacaranda in her childhood garden. Another, of his and his wife’s valiant efforts to save an old tree in their garden and their delight when it recovered. Other friends spoke of their deep sadness when neighbours sold up, and the new buyers cleared away beloved trees for new development.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

 

Will veganism save the planet?

Last Tuesday 5 June was World Environment Day. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to find out what most people do to try to limit their impact on the environment.

I’m happy to report that, according to my highly rigorous and scientifically valid survey (okay, twitter), we are all making significant changes to our lives — both in terms of daily habits and big lifestyle choices — in order to try to protect our planet.

To give you a feel for the responses, I’ll group them into a number of key themes. The first is consumption. People are consciously reducing their consumption, avoiding ‘fast fashion’ and meat, and trying to buy locally or only second-hand. Right on theme for this year’s World Environment Day, people are also focused on eliminating their use of single use plastics by avoiding excess packaging, and bringing their own containers, water bottles, keep cups, and shopping bags.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street