Too many weeks ago, a little before Christmas, I left Lima; packing my life down to a luggage limit again and saying goodbye to what had, over 14 months, become very much my world. Projects were finished in too much haste, too many sad farewells were said, and one lonely 3 a.m. I walked into Lima airport one more time and flew back to the echoes of the life I left behind.

A lot changed in Australia during the year I was away, most of it to do with politics. Policy changes and funding cuts hit many industries hard, including my little corner of environmental management and renewable energy, and several months ago now I found myself without a job to come back to. Opportunities are born of adversity, however, and the struggles in my sector, combined with my experiences abroad, inspired me to take another big leap into something new. Thus I find myself here, on a university campus in the controlled chaos the first day of classes, becoming a student again.

I’m back in my home country, but in a new city, with a challenging new adventure to live. Read More

Cieneguilla 029a

The COP20 kicks off here in Lima tomorrow, which is kind of a big deal.

What is the COP20?
COP stands for “Coalition of the Parties”, which is United Nations-speak for meetings of the countries participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and this particular meeting is called the COP20 as it is the 20th such meeting of the Parties.

Previous COPs worth mentioning include:

  • 1995: COP 1, Berlin, Germany – the Berlin Mandate to act against climate change, which shows how long we’ve been talking about this stuff for.
  • 1997: COP 3, Kyoto, Japan – the signing of the 1st COP agreement, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change
  • 2001: COP 6, Bonn, Germany – the USA under George W Bush rejects the Kyoto Protocol
  • 2009: COP 15, Copenhagen, Denmark – International negotiations for a new post-Kyoto agreement fail in spectacular fashion. Pretty much every meeting since has been about picking up the pieces.

How big a deal is all this?
For the next 2 weeks the representatives of all the member parties – all 196 of them – will be talking here in Lima. These representatives of the majority of the world’s governments aim to negotiate new global agreements on greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate change mitigation. The measures developed during these 2 weeks will be further tweaked then formally signed into being next year at the COP21 in Paris.

So why do these agreements matter?
The best understanding of the science indicates that an average global temperature increase of 2oC (3.6oF) is now the MINIMUM increase guaranteed to happen this century, and that even the best agreements at the COP can’t stop that from happening. The climate is already changing now, and the social and environmental impacts of that 2+oC change are already appearing. Here in Peru glaciers are disappearing, agricultural productivity is declining and water shortages are emerging, and it’s only going to get worse. We know the world is shifting, and that these changes are going to be economically, socially and ecologically significant.

Left un-checked, climate change, will irreversibly change the natural resources (soil, water, forest, oceans, air) we depend upon, with permanent effect on where we live, what and how much we eat, and just how many human beings can survive on our planet. Competition for decreasing natural resources will cause wars. There will be food shortages not just in poor countries, but rich countries too. Increased frequency and severity of climate-linked natural disasters, like hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, cold-snaps, floods and fires, will affect all of us. Read More


Protecting landscapes isn’t a novel idea. An appreciation for spectacular views and aesthetically special places drove the creation of the first national parks in Australia and many other parts of the world, long before we starting talking about things like biodiversity values and ecosystem services. In Australia we’ve protected these places by preventing their habitation or exploitation for anything more than tourism, but you can’t do that in a place like Peru where people have been part of the landscape for thousands of years, where the areas you want to protect not only hold great beauty, but also well-established communities, connected by roads and wires to the wider world and shaped by millennia of agriculture.

Nor Yauyos Cochas is a beautiful place; there is no arguing that. The territory of the Yauyino people, this Andean oasis boasts glacier-capped peaks and mirrored alpine lagoons revered as apus – natural gods – by the Andean people, as well as the spectacular turquoise waters of the upper Cañete river. The steep mountainsides are incised by ancient agricultural terraces and remnants of the old Inca road network – the Qapac Ñan – still connect the walking routes between villages, revealing the age and extent of human habitation in Peru’s central-western mountains. In the modern villages of Huancaya, Vilca, Tanta and Miraflores the modern world has made little intrusion. The houses are largely still hand-built adobe and special stone channels bring water from the river through the streets, where the Quechua-speaking locals collect it in kettles to boil for use. Read More


Twelve months ago this week I unpacked my bags in a simple hotel room and stepped out to meet Lima, the city that would be my home for the next year-and-a-bit.

Lima… almost 10 million people pressed up against the desert coast. The kind of place where no-one is truly from, if you go back far enough. The pre-Colombian cultures that built their mud and stone temples here fished and worshipped in the summers when the sun shines brightly and the rains pour down in the Andes. In the endless grey days of winter they returned to the hills and the fields of the river valleys. Permanent settlement came with the Spaniards who claimed this swampy coast for their capital in the conquest of the region.

So began the difficult history of this city, a place of clashing cultures and competing motivations. The Spaniards brought with them African slaves, then later Chinese coolies to work the silver mines and guano deposits. Japanese migrants came to settle at the end of the Second World War. Domestic terrorism in the Shining Path years drove the mass migration of Andean peoples to the city outskirts. Now and the promise of work and a better future for their children draws people from the far coast, the high Andes and the steaming Amazon to Lima.  Read More

Huancayo 064a

It’s a question I asked myself on my first day of work here in Lima. On Day 1 I arrived at the office and was handed an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for an irrigation project and asked to provide my opinion on the quality and the shortcomings of the EIA and the project. What on earth is a “bofedal”? Read More


I should be doing a final check for references on the blog post I’ve had sitting as a draft for the last fortnight: an article on one of the ecosystems here in Peru that’s really caught my aquatic-scientist attention. Instead, I’m going to tell you a story that I think is far more important. The story of Andres.  Read More

Why I Write


It feels a bit wrong to make my first post after a long silence one about why I write. Maybe I should call it “Why I no longer write so regularly” and talk about things like work-life balance and learning to give myself time to process tricky emotions and adapt to big changes, and about having so much to say after such a break that I don’t know where to start. This seems as good a place as any though, participating in a blog hop that my friend Lauren tagged me in.

Lauren writes a little about food and a lot about coffee. She’s also a something of a social justice champion and creator of the $35 food challenge, in which I have always been too scared to take part. Maybe I’ll do it this year, where AU $35 will buy me about PEN S/90 worth of groceries, which means I can maintain my fine dark chocolate habit… Anyway, if you live in or travel to Sydney and care about your coffee, go read Lau’s blog. She’s aces.

Anyhoo, I’m supposed to answer a few questions to elucidate why I write, so I’d best get on with the questions: Read More


So what’s it like being an environmental volunteer in the developing world? I can only answer as to my experiences here in Peru, but the same things hold true in many other places.

For me, this year has brought a lot of big challenges beyond just from being a long way from home and working in a foreign language and culture. The toughest stuff has been the reality of my work: good environmental management depends on understanding the problems out there and the resources that are available to (try to) deal with them, and sometimes can be quite shocking. Read More


When you choose a path to walk you cannot know exactly where it will lead you.

At best we can only see part-way to where the journey will take us and the obstacles we will encounter.

Adjust to the path as you find it and let it lead you where you need to go.

Let the journey become part of you.


I haven’t re-blogged anything before, but this post by the Snail of Happiness sums up so much of my own thinking so eloquently that I had to share it.

Originally posted on The Snail of Happiness:

Over recent months there has been a massive increase in the number of on-line petitions that I’ve been asked to sign. They are generally targeted at various levels of government and often seem to me like worthy causes: don’t sell off the Land Registry; don’t sell off public land, including forests; don’t allow the use of neonicotinoids… the list goes on and I am quite happy to support such causes. But, it’s not enough. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that simply clicking a button on our computer is going to change the world if we are not prepared to take action ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong – I think on-line petitions are a great way to tell our politicians what we think. It has been too easy in the past for those in government to be separate from ‘the people’ and technology is a brilliant way of facilitating…

View original 864 more words


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 711 other followers

%d bloggers like this: