This is going to be a far shorter post than I want it to be. I want to do my research and give you the numbers but I don’t have the time. I leave the country in just a few days, and writing for the blog has kept falling off my “must get done” list. I’m sorry. I’m not going to do these guys justice, and I’m going to fall silent again. Life is short and I’m busy living it, but I have so much I want to say. So, on with it!
I’ve written before about unusual and heirloom vegetables and the importance of maintaining a diversity of seed to enable us to grow crops that best suit our local conditions, that provide the quality or yield of food we seek and provide a rich genetic pool to draw on into the future. Crop diversity helps us to make best use of the land and resources we have, and to adapt to changing conditions as the climate shifts. Protecting plant diversity is important work, and seed banks around the world are contributing to it. It’s not only plant diversity that matters though: if we’re going to feed and clothe ourselves as best as we can, agricultural animal diversity matters just as much. Rare breed beasties need loving too.
Farming systems have become industrialised and standardised across much of the world. Just like crops, the animal breeds most commonly grown are those that give the greatest yield per unit cost, with little consideration given to animal health and welfare, suitability for conditions, environmental impacts, disease resistance or even quality of flavour. Much like supermarket tomatoes, many farmers are growing flavourless meat. For instance, a modern meat chicken takes as little as 30 days to raise from egg to plate1. From nothing to roast dinner in a month? That’s crazy selective breeding for yield and little else.
You may shrug and think that a pig-is-a-pig-is-a-pig, but as such farming practices spread and traditional livestock breeds are replaced by the fast-growing, so much genetic heritage, so much biodiversity, is lost. Along with that we’re losing cultural heritage: breeds that are markers of places or peoples, farming practices that are tied deeply to ways of life. All that is gone, left to fading memories, as heritage porkers are replaced by Large Whites2.
That’s the serious side of things – lost diversity, resilience and heritage – but we’re also losing flavour. Industrialised farming doesn’t grow for best taste. The aim is not the highest quality, merely consistency at a low market price. Does taste matter? Not to everyone, not to those on tight budgets, but to you and me? Sure does! One taste of proper free-range piggy ham from a breed grown for taste convinced me enough that I had to try the bacon, then the chorizo, just to be sure… I didn’t know pork could taste so good!
Lucky for me I live somewhere where I can buy free-range raised, rare breed meats. I can do this because where I live there are farmers who are passionate about rearing rare breeds and keeping all that heritage alive. Farmers who put animal welfare, product quality and taste above maximising products and have worked hard to build up enough of a market that they can grow businesses outside the cut-price supermarket paradigm. And yeah, I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can choose to support them: I don’t eat much meat, but what I do eat, I can afford to source from these types of farmers. These farmers, who have become people I know.
Let me introduce you to two of them: Guy and Eliza from Mount Gnomon Farm. These are the folk who awakened me to the true beauty of bacon, grown from their drove of Wessex Saddleback pigs. They are fierce supporters of preserving rare breeds and choose their livestock based on an ethos of preserving rarity, suitability to farm conditions, animal well-being and quality of flavour. They are also truly lovely people, and last year I was lucky enough to visit them on the farm and see their passion in action. It’s a beautiful spot on the edge of the Dial Ranges in northern Tasmania, all green grass, red soil and dramatic sky. I’m very glad I had the chance to visit, to meet my meat and learn about the challenges and rewards of free-range rare-breed farming.
It was an inspiring trip for this sustainable eater, and one that you too can make if you’re going to be in Tasmania this weekend. You see, Guy and Eliza are so dedicated to what they do that this weekend they’re opening up the farm to the public to share their passion and show anyone who wants to know how their meat is raised. This Sunday (March 24th) they’re inviting you to a Rare Day Out at Mount Gnomon Farm.
You can visit the farm, get up close and personal with the animals, see what they’re doing to protect the soils and support on-farm diversity and even sample the very tasty meats their animals become. If you’re interested in heritage breeds or free-range farming, or just getting to know a little bit more about where your food comes from, I highly recommend you go along and check it out, and while you’re there, give Cyril a good scratch for me…
Why won’t I be there? because I’ll be on my way to Peru! Catch you in a month or so and as always, thank you for reading!
 “The first harvest might occur as early as 30-35 days and the last at 55-60 days.” Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc.
 “The Large White has become well established as a major breed in virtually all pig producing countries in the world.” NSW Department of Primary Industries.
I love Tasmania’s forest. Happiness is a mountain-top or a myrtle forest in my world and I’ve spent many blissed-out hours walking through the mossy half-light of the old-growth forests that quietly soothe and revitalise the human spirit. These are special places, rich in biodiversity and ecological complexity. Special places that many people believe are worth fighting for.
You see, Tasmania’s economy is driven by primary industries. We don’t have a big manufacturing base or services sector on this sparsely-populated island, a long way from export markets. Our economy is a small and frail thing, prone to recession and heavily dependent on forestry, mining and agriculture, as well as nature- and food-based tourism, which make for strange bed-fellows and very strained politics. Forestry in particular has been an economic mainstay of regional Tasmania, with the fortunes of whole towns and communities closely tied to taking trees out of the forests.
Those beautiful trees that are the lungs of our planet, that support entire ecosystems and protect rare and threatened species, that the tourists come to our island to see, can also be viewed as potential employment and earnings for many people on an island with limited job opportunities and low educational levels. Families have their fates tied up in the forests, having invested their fortunes in tree-felling machines and logging trucks. For these people the forests are their livelihood and their future in Tasmania: worth more turned into building materials, timber veneer or – tragically – wood chip and paper pulp.
As a consequence of this strong dichotomy – conservation vs. forestry – there has been conflict in Tasmania’s forests for a very long time. Passions run high, occasionally erupting into vandalism and violence, as the future of the forests hang in the balance. We are a State deeply divided along divergent value lines, with this division breeding political and economic uncertainty in a place that can ill afford it.
A little over 2 years ago it was recognised that the only way to move forward was compromise: for the forestry industry and the conservationists to get together and find common ground. Sponsored by the Federal Government, the round table talks began for the Intergovernmental Agreement on Forestry. It looked as though, at last, there might be peace in the forests, with the highest conservation value patches of old-growth forest to be protected in new reserves and financial assistance provided to foresters to exit the industry. Remaining areas of forest would still be logged – after all, we still need timber products to come from somewhere – using “sustainable” practices. Working together, we would find a mutually-acceptable solution.
Except we didn’t. After a promising start the talks failed to find common ground. A Federal Government deadline came and went, and even the threat of losing a $120 million assistance package couldn’t get things back on track. Yesterday it was announced that the talks had failed. The Tasmanian Forestry Agreement is dead.
Both sides are blaming the other for the failure. Both sides are accused of being unwilling to compromise. The conservationists couldn’t win all the reserves they felt were necessary to protect old growth forests. The saw-millers wouldn’t give up access to coups they claimed were essential to fulfil their contracts. Forestry Tasmania, the government business enterprise that manages the timber industry, is operating at a $12 million loss and has been accused of questionable practices and political manipulation.
So where does that leave us? In a worse situation than ever.
- Around 435 000 hectares of forest that had been verified as high conservation value will now not be protected by national parks.
- Timber buyers have cold feet given the uncertainty of the industry and community hostility; contracts are being cancelled and one of the biggest buyers, Ta Ann, is likely to leave Tasmania. Although good for the trees, this is another economic blow for a State already in recession.
- With no forestry industry the economy becomes more dependent on the expansion of that other extractive industry: mining. The Tasmanian and Federal Governments will now come under stronger pressure to permit the expansion of mining activities in Tasmania, and that means more mines in the Tarkine, another area of high conservation values.
- Community divides have deepened and once again there is open hostility between those who see the value of trees as timber and we who think they’re worth more standing.
It’s a totally unsustainable state of affairs, economically, environmentally and culturally. The longer the conflict rages, the more Tasmania is torn apart.
The only way forward is to work together, to try to understand what motivates the opposing side and to talk with empathy and understanding. We need to build a Tasmania that has economic opportunities that don’t rely on extractive industries. That means investing in education and developing new industries that can provide stable employment for many years to come. Tourism and value-added agriculture alone can’t support this island. We need to put our heads together and create another way. With creativity, compassion and compromise we can build a Tasmania we can all be proud of and see peace in the forests at last.
What’s your take on the failed Tasmanian Forests Agreement? Do you have a vision for this isolated island state?
There is nothing like travel to give you a heaping dose of perspective.
We in the western developed world, the vast majority of us, anyway, are so damn spoilt.
Here in Australia we write ourselves the narrative of the battler; hard-done-by working class hero, struggling to get ahead. The reality, however, is far, far different. We’re incredibly wealthy. Daily we take for granted riches of which much of the world can only dream, and yet somehow we think we deserve it, that we’ve earnt the good life that has befallen us by the sheer luck of being born on these fortunate shores.
We turn on a tap and we have clean drinking water. How lucky are we? So lucky that we think nothing of using this precious resource to flush our toilets and water our plants. Over 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water[1, 2] and we let it run down the drain then complain about the cost.
Safe, clean water, on demand, at a fraction of the true cost. Want it hot? Turn on another tap and let electricity or gas work it’s wonders. Energy that’s cheap and reliable enough to heat our water 24-7. Energy so cheap that I’m sitting here, running a computer and monitor and listening to the radio while a pot of chickpeas simmers on the stove and a head of garlic roasts in the oven (I’m making humus). Yes, I’ve turned the lights off in the rooms I’m not using and I’m working by a single energy-efficient globe but even then my bills tell me I use an average of 15 KWH per day, which is only a little below the average for my dwelling type and suburb. I can do better (and yes, long, hot showers remain my biggest guilty pleasure. Maybe next year’s promise for World Environment Day…).
We’ve got safe water, ready power, large houses we fill up with stuff (biggest in the world, apparently, and this place feels exorbitantly large after my recent travels) and there’s the access to food and consumer goods. Walk into your kitchen right now and take a good, hard look in your cupboards. How much food is actually in there? How long could you go without really needing to shop? How much diversity of product is there? I have 2 types of rice, 2 types of lentils, 5 types of flour (I’m gluten-sensitive, so it’s somewhat excusable), black quinoa, quinoa flakes and a number of syrups and oils I most never use and don’t really need (lime oil, rosewater, pomegranate molasses and a serious tea collection…) and that’s after considerable down-sizing and being very mindful about what I buy.
It’s easy to indulge in food without even realising. Walk into any supermarket or grocer and look around: there’s so much food and so much choice! With the shelves so richly stocked our trolleys and household pantries look restrained by comparison. We have a culture that encourages food as a recreational pursuit rather than a nutritional need. Food shortages don’t even cross our consciousness for most of us, despite recent record droughts and soaring prices of staples. If we have the money it’s always there, waiting. Easy.
We are so damn lucky. Lucky to have been born in a wealthy country, a place of political stability and prosperity. No wars have torn my country apart. No dictators have drained us of our wealth (though Gina Rinehart may well try), no diseases have ravaged our people or our food production. Although drought, flood and fire take their toll, we’ve thus far been rich enough and agriculturally diverse enough to weather the storms and bitch about the cost of bananas.
And that’s what gets me really. We have this incredible wealth yet we complain about it. We sit here with our hands out, crying poor, asking the Government for more, always more. How can you be a battler with a place just for you and yours to call home, all the safe water you can drink, power whenever you want it and access to all the food you could ever dream of? When you have health care and social security? When education is free for all and retirement is considered a right? Yes, there are some Australians who truly are poor (particularly our indigenous people, who live in a different world to most of us), but for the vast majority of us and our compatriots in the western developed world, we are rich beyond our own comprehension. We have so very much. By accident of birth we find ourselves in the land of plenty.
Is it surprising, then, that others covet our way of life? That when we travel we’re seen as wealthy targets to exploit? You can hardly blame the rest of the world for wanting in on our privileged party. Yet the planet cannot sustain our current levels of consumption. We can’t pull everyone else up to our standard of living. So do we try to keep it all to ourselves, spoilt children who don’t want to share our shiny toys?
Truth is it’s an inherently unsustainable way of life. We can’t maintain it while the rest of the world scrapes by. Sooner or later the rest of the world will come looking for their share as resources run out. We can try to hang on until then, in a final orgy of consumption, or we can start to learn to live with less. I believe it’s time we learnt the difference between wants and needs, asked ourselves some searching questions and reduced our footprints a little. It’s the only fair choice (and as Dr Samuel Alexander writes, it just might also be good for us).
There’s no point feeling guilty about an accident of birth, and not all of us are in a position where living more simply is a viable choice. Most of us can do a little more, however. We can be just that little more mindful about the choices we make and think about the type of future we want to build. That’s what I’m trying to do and y’know, I’m happier for it.
 water.org fact sheet
 WHO water and health program
 Energy Made Easy Australian power consumption benchmark
 ComSec housing data report 2011
 World Bank food crisis data
 ACOSS Australian Poverty Report 2011
 Radical simplicity and the middle class: exploring the lifestyle implications of a great disruption, by Dr. Samuel Alexander
The lovely Pauline Mak recently requested that I discuss the science behind my opposition to the FV Margiris “super-trawler” in a little more detail. Specifically, she quite rightly asked me to explain why I felt the quota was unsustainable given that respected fisheries scientists like Professor Colin Buxton and Dr Bob Kearney have spoken out in defence of the quota. If I’m going to cite my science degree to claim an informed perspective on the super-trawler issue I really ought to be backing it up with facts!
> You can read my original entry here.
First off, let me clarify that I am not a fisheries scientist. I’m an aquatic ecologist who specialised in freshwater systems and integrative ecology. Once upon a dim, dark undergraduate past I studied fisheries science before deciding that messing about in rivers was much more my thing. Fish ecology and aquatic ecosystems are, however, things I’m passionate about and I’d like to think I’m reasonably well-informed. Plus being a systems/integrative ecologist I’m trained to think in terms ecological interactions and broader ecosystem changes, which I think is relevant to the Margiris case.
So let’s get into it, shall we?
The quota currently set for the Margiris is 18 000 tonnes, or 7.5 % of the total estimated population of jack mackerel and redbait. Is this sustainable? My honest answer is: possibly.
7.5 % is a very conservative quota. For many fisheries a quota around 10 to 15 % is considered sustainable, and for some quickly reproducing species in productive waters, takes of up to 30 % may be managed. The species to be targeted – jack mackerel and redbait – are fairly short-lived species that do breed quickly and have bounced back from previous fishery activity, suggesting the populations are fairly resilient. On the face of things, 7.5 % seems ok, but when I think about it a little more, concerns start to surface.
The first big worry is where the stock estimates come from. Some of the data used to set the fishery quota dates back to studies done in 2002-2004. Normally, the age of the data would not be a concern since there has been no commercial fishing activity in that time, thus no reason for fish numbers to have decreased. Normally: we’ve never really had to think about the impacts of climate change on fish populations before.
Recent CSIRO studies have revealed that fish populations in southern Australian waters are changing in response to climate change, and changing faster than predicted. The ranges of temperate species like jack mackerel and redbait are shrinking. On top of this, tropical species are shifting further south and no one knows yet how the changing species interactions are impacting on predator-prey relationships and marine food webs. Given this environment of rapid, unpredictable change, 8-year old data doesn’t really seem good enough.
Is 7.5 % of an estimated fish population sustainable, in light of the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems? Uncertain! We simply don’t have the data or ecological knowledge to say for certain, one way or another. Throw in the uncertainties around local fish depletion, the amount and species of by-catch and potential issues regulating the vessel and you start to understand why some scientists are concerned. Sure, the Margiris is unlikely to cause a catastrophic fishery crash but there’s enough uncertainty there to be questioning if the quota poses an acceptable risk.
So what is an acceptable risk? It all comes down to error: Type I or Type II.
We have 2 potential outcomes: the null hypothesis, that the quota is sustainable, and the alternative hypothesis, that the quota is not sustainable. The fisheries science to date suggests that the null hypothesis is correct, but there is a concerning level of uncertainty around that data. What are the consequences if we’re wrong?
|Null hypothesis is true:
Margiris quota is sustainable
|Null hypothesis is false:
Margiris quota is unsustainable
|Reject null hypothesis:
Stop the trawler
|Type 1 error:
Fishery could have sustained quota but remains unfished
Fishery unsustainable and trawler stopped
|Accept null hypothesis:
Allow the trawler
Fishery sustainable and successfully fished
|Type II error:
Fishery exploited beyond sustainable yields
So, if my concerns are false but the trawler is stopped or the quota reduced, a Type I error has occurred, but the consequences of that error are pretty minor. SeaFish Tasmania loses some money, AFMA (www.afma.gov.au ) loses a contract and the Margiris’s European owners lose a potential market selling the catch to Africa. Forty theoretical Tasmanian jobs disappear.
If my concerns are true and the trawler fishery goes ahead as planned, a Type II error has occurred. The consequences here are a little uncertain but potentially much more serious. We could see local fish stock depletion, changes in marine food webs, loss of local predatory fish species, changes in fish communities and impacts on local fisheries. We could see jack mackerel and redbait numbers crash, with unknown ecosystem consequences. It’s not certain to happen. It may not even be likely to happen, but the uncertainty is high enough that I believe it’s a significant risk.
I don’t believe we’ll see an orange roughy scale disaster with the Margiris, but I do believe there are serious risks related to her operations and quota and think we should apply a precautionary approach. Personally, I’d like to see the quota lowered to 5 % with monitoring of fish populations over next 3 years to:
- Confirm stock estimates, including identifying any evidence of shifts in response to climate change;
- Confirm no evidence of localised depletion or loss of genetic diversity; and
- Confirm no resultant shifts in predator populations.
When I take into consideration my other concerns about the Margiris – that she and ships like her have been implicated in fishery collapse in European and African waters, that she is a vector for the spread of marine diseases and invasive species, and that the industrial nature of her operations means she’ll only provide employment for 40 locals – I believe the risks outweigh any potential benefits. Add to that the environmental impact of sending a ship from Europe to operate in Australia for fish to sell in Africa and it doesn’t look sustainable at all; environmentally, socially, financially or ethically.
This is why I still say no. Pauline, I hope this answers your questions!
In theory I’m still on sabbatical and this blog should be dormant, but I just can’t help myself. I have to climb on my soap-box and open my big aquatic scientist mouth.
So what’s got me worked up enough to break my self-imposed silence? The imminent arrival of the FV Margiris, the world’s second-largest trawler, currently on its way to Tasmania to take up a licence for fishing jack mackerel (Trachurus declivis & Trachurus symmetricus) & and redbait (Emmelichthys nitidus).
There’s been a lot of noise in the media about this “super-trawler”, reflecting a lot of unhappiness in the community at large. Despite the promise of much-needed jobs in northern Tasmania, the local community is strongly opposed to the Margiris’s arrival, fearing devastating impacts on local fish stocks and the long-term sustainability of the local fishery. It’s not often you see environmentalists and fisher-folk standing arm-in-arm in Australia (just look at the debate over marine reserves), but right now common concerns are bridging the historical divide.
The 142 m long ship can process over 250 tonnes of fish per day, towing a 300 m net through the water. It’s a pelagic trawler, which means the net doesn’t scrape the bottom, but rather scoops through open waters, funnelling fish and other marine animals through its 2 800 m2 mouth. The operators, Seafish Tasmania, claim the trawl net is fitted with proven marine mammal exclusion devices and that by-catch is minimised. I can only hope they’re right.
The Margiris holds a licence for an 18 000 tonne* quota of jack mackerel and redbait to be fished over the Australian Small Pelagic Fishery Area. How many fish is this? Given rough estimate of 1 kg per fish (based on size to weight ratios), that’s 18 000 000 fish per year!
Opponents are worried about both whole-of-fishery and local-scale stock depletion: that the Margiris will take more fish than the ocean can sustain. The quota has been set by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, in theory based on sound science, but there’s no great surprise that the community is sceptical. AFMA doesn’t have the best track record in accurately estimating sustainable yields and no-one in Tasmania has forgotten the near-extinction of the orange roughy, so let’s take a look at the science behind the Margiris’s quota: AFMA admits that the data used to calculate sustainable catch levels is 8 years old. Given the age of the data and the fact that it wasn’t collected for quota-determination purposes, it’s fair to question the reliability of the data. AFMA claims to have taken this uncertainty into account by setting the quota at the most conservative level of for sustainability derived from the data set. But is this good enough?
The truth is we can’t honestly model the impacts of fishing at this scale on the ecosystem. Modern science simply doesn’t have enough information or understanding of the complex factors and interactions involved in moderating marine ecosystems. There are incredibly complex food webs involved, a lack of information on fish movements, genetic exchange and breeding patterns, and huge gaps of our understanding of the impacts of weather and climate on breeding and survival rates. Fish stocks vary in response to many factors including climate cycles (El Niño versus La Niña years), water quality and chemistry, terrestrial run-off, predator pressure, habitat quantity, quality and connectivity and a multitude of other factors. The inter-relationships and feedback loops between these factors are complex and poorly understood. To add to the uncertainty, eight years is a long time in fishery population terms and we have no information on recruitment rates since the data was collected. Much could have changed in that period of time.
Add to that the impacts of a changing climate. Ocean temperatures and currents are changing and no research has been done on the impact of these changes on redbait & jack mackerel stocks. The climate will continue to change and we have no way of accurately predicting the future impacts of these changes on our fisheries. Given the high level of uncertainty, taking the lower yield estimate from eight-year-old data can hardly be called the conservative approach! To truly apply the precautionary principle I think it would be fair to initially harvest half the current quota, and to put in place a monitoring program to verify the impacts on the fishery over several generations and recruitment events.
Word is, however, that reducing the Margiris’s quota would make the venture financially unviable. So we have a fishery that’s only marginally profitable – given a pretty liberal estimate of fish stocks and a large quota – in an area with strong community opposition and significant concerns over local environmental, social and economic impacts. That really doesn’t sound like a sustainable business to me!
I don’t think the Margiris belongs in Australian waters under its planned operational regime, and I’d question the viability of super-trawler fishery operations anywhere on this watery planet. We already have a sad legacy of collapsed fisheries around the world; please don’t risk plundering our waters for short-term profits and a lack of rigorous science.
For balanced, fact-based information about the super-trawler debate, check out the following references and make up your own mind:
- ABC 7:30 Report investigation
- ABC Background Briefing coverage
- Seafish Tasmania FAQ page
- Australian Fisheries Management Authority Margiris FAQ page
- Department of Environment & Heritage: Australian small pelagic fishery report
- Australian Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan (2009)
If, like me, you still think the Margiris is a bad idea, add your voice to the protest over at stopthetrawler.net
Y’know something that really annoys me? Food waste. It could be the many hours I spent working in kitchens to support my studies, or it could just be simple economics, but it riles me.
There’s little sadder than seeing the hard work of our primary producers wind up in the garbage bin, uneaten and unwanted. You’re not just throwing away your own money, but also the labour, water, nutrients, transport and storage that got that food from the farm to you. It’s not just the lost resources either. Food rotting in land fill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more climate-affecting than CO2. That’s a whole lot of unnecessary waste!
How bad is the problem? I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Australia we throw out around 7.5 million tonnes of food waste every year. That works out to about $ 7.8 billion in food waste, just looking at sale price alone! 40 % of our average household garbage is food waste – that’s taking out the people who compost – and in some parts of the country as much as 20% of the total food we buy is thrown away. With 30% of our population living below the poverty line how can we afford to waste so much food? I just don’t get it!
Lately I’ve come across a few organisations doing their bit for reducing food waste in Australia by taking the surplus from the fortunate and using it to feed the hungry. Here in Tasmania there’s Produce to the People, who collect the excess from backyard veggie gardens. In the bigger Australian cities groups like OzHarvest, Second Bite, Foodbank and Fare Share collect from supermarkets, restaurants and farms. Similar volunteer groups and food charities are popping up in major cities across the westernised world. These are fantastic programs, helping to reduce the environmental impacts of food waste and redistributing the surplus it to where it’s needed, but I think it’s also important to do what you can on a personal level to ensure you get the most out of the food you grow and buy.
Very little food goes to waste in my house and what does goes back into the system via my compost bin, rather than rotting away as landfill. It does take a certain amount of effort though! I have to think about what I’m buying and make myself cook even when I really don’t feel like it. I buy in smaller quantities and seek out fresher local produce, so have to hit up the shops a little more often, and when I have over-bought or have been too busy to cook I need to come up with creative ways to use up the excess before it spoils (or freeze it until I land an idea later). As a side benefit, getting the most out of my food gives me a little more disposable income to splurge on a nice wine to wash my meals down with, or the occasional gourmet treat!
Here are my favourite methods for using up food and preventing waste:
- Save any sad-looking veggies or edible offcuts for making stock. I have a bag in the freezer that scraps get thrown into as I go, then once it’s full I’ll add some dried mushrooms or the bones from a roast chook and turn it into tasty stock.
- Preserve it! Make sweet sauces from over-ripe fruit, turn a tomato glut into chutney or simply pickle extra veggies for a piquant treat to enjoy when they go out of season.
- Turn extra herbs into pesto, or chop them finely and freeze in small servings for future cooking.
- Freeze cream or plain yoghurt into icecube trays, then add a few cubes to stews or sauces when you need to.
- Poach or bake fruit that’s past it’s best and add it to your morning cereal or enjoy it as a dessert.
- Get creative in the kitchen; challenge yourself to use up everything perishable before buying fresh food and see what you can invent from the odds and ends hiding in your fridge and cupboards (I’ve made some of my favourite meals this way)
- Cook it all up into tasty meals and freeze them in portions for lunches. With a hot home-made curry or stir-fry instead of a sandwich you’ll be the envy of the work lunchroom!
- Share the love: put on a feast for friends or give away food you won’t use instead of letting it go to waste.
Wood heaters, eh?
In the month I’ve been living here in the Cottage I’ve developed a complicated relationship with mine.
I’ve learnt, now, how to get a decent blaze going with minimal fuss and there’s little nicer than curling up in front of a toasty fire on a cold night, glass of red in hand. The heat it produces is lovely, and when it’s working properly I can set it before bed and the house will stay toasty warm all night. Poking and prodding the fire into cooperation is fun and it’s immensely satisfying to get a good burn going on a cold night.
It’s less fun, however, on nights like tonight when the weather’s foul and I work late, and at 9 pm it’s still a little chilly even with the fire going. It’s been raining all day so the firewood is damp and the baffle plate on the flue has bent (yet again), jamming the flue wide open and significantly reducing the efficiency of my burn and heat transfer.
Heh, a month ago I had no idea what a baffle plate was, let alone what it did. I’d not spared much thought to wood moisture content or burn efficiency, and I’d never considered the price of firewood by the tonne (between $150 and $200, for the curious).
I still feel a little guilty about lighting the fire. In a State where my power is hydro-electric (not exactly environmentally benevolent, but a darn sight better than coal), lighting the fire is both less efficient (in terms of energy cost by yield) and generates a lot more emissions (CO2 and particulate emissions) than using electric heating.
On top of that, the wood I’m burning has to come from somewhere. The current fuel for my fire comes from a beautiful old eucalypt tree that had to be felled over at the House of the Gumtrees (mmm, free firewood!), however my ex-landlord only let me take what I could fit in my Corolla (a surprisingly large amount when you’re determined…) and I’m about to run out. Firewood sales in Tasmania are unregulated, with many sellers setting up trucks on the roadside with cheap loads for sale. Problem is you don’t know where that wood has come from or what condition it’s in:
- Is is green, wet or rotten?
- Was it illegally taken from State Forests, National Parks or trespassing on private land?
- Were old hollowed trees felled that provide important habitat for wildlife (including several endangered species)?
And that’s without considering if it’s actually the tonnage they’re saying it is!
There’s no hiding from the truth: the wood heater is not an environmentally friendly way to heat my home! It’s what I’ve got, however, so it’s up to me to make the best of it.
I’ve been researching wood heaters and firewood recently and I’ve learnt that:
- The moisture content of your timber needs to be below 25% for an efficient burn.
- Burning green or wet timber increases particulate emissions (as well as being much less efficient).
- Even stored under cover, firewood has an amazing capacity to absorb moisture on rainy days.
- Burning pine needles is fun.
- Baffle plates significantly improve the heat exchange from your wood heater (and having it bend and jam open – again – is a bad thing. *sigh*).
- Burning old painted fence posts is an environmental no-no, no matter how much free timber it is or how much your lovely new neighbours assure you it’ll be ok.
- Accidentally throwing in an envelope with a plastic window results in noxious fumes: don’t do it.
- You can’t add the ash and charcoal to your compost, but a small amount mixed with other things is ok in mulch.
- There’s no regulation of the firewood industry in Australia, and there are a lot of dodgy vendors in Hobart (if the internet is to be believed)
- There is a voluntary industry code of practice that sets out standards that wood will be sustainably harvested, in accordance with all laws and protective orders, stored correctly and sold with moisture contents below 25%, with weighbridge tickets provided.
- There is one supplier in the whole of Tasmania who is signatory to the voluntary code, and they’ll deliver to my suburb.
- The cold metal of my bed frame is very nice to rest my blistered skin on when I inevitably burn myself on the wood heater door/frame/handle
- So. Many. Splinters.
So, after a little research and environmental guilt I’ve come to the following positions:
- The wood heater only gets lit if (1) the temperature is below 10oC and (2) I’m going to be home all night (no fire on taiko training nights!)
- Use discarded newspaper from work and household waste (loo rolls, paperwork from the last lease, letters from politicians) to get the fire started
- Pay the extra to buy firewood from the lone code signatory supplier; it’s not that much more than other suppliers and I know it’s as ethically sound as I’m going to get.
- Keep my garden prunings to burn next winter: at least the damn invasive vine I cut down will be useful!
- When the fire’s lit, actively enjoy it.
Hence I’m writing this sitting on my couch, watching the flames over the top of my monitor instead of working with the lap-top docked in the study. If I’m going to commit environmental crimes in the name of keeping warm I may as well keep the most of it, and once Winter properly arrives and the fire is going during the day on weekends I intend to try my hand at cooking on the coals. I’m thinking coal-roasted foil-wrapped eggplant (that’s aubergine for the northern-hemispherians) is going to be a beautiful thing. Baba ganoush for all!
This weekend I’m going to buy my first load of firewood and spend far too much time hauling and stacking the stuff in the little space under the house, and I’ll be talking to my landlord about getting that warped baffle plate replaced this time instead of another attempt at repair. Right now though I’m going to finish this post then put another piece of tree on the fire, sit back and watch the flames while I finish the glass of red that’s mysteriously appeared in front of me.
Have you ever lived with a wood heater or fireplace? Got any firey tips for this recovered teenage pyromaniac?
Come sit with me and tell me all about it. There’s enough red wine to share and though my couch may be fat and bulky it’s pretty comfy.
Last week I went to listen to Warren Macdonald give a talk about his life, philosophies and experiences. The key theme of Warren’s talk was coping with change and a comment he made in passing really got me thinking…
Talking about coaching corporate clients on coping with change Warren commented that they often find it impossible to accept that global economy has permanently changed; that the “Global Financial Crisis” isn’t a temporary blip but a turning point but a brave new frontier.
So are we really watching the death of modern democratic capitalism? I can’t help but think that Warren’s right. This economic slow-down isn’t like others we’ve weathered: for the first time we’re experiencing a lack of capital. We seem to have reached the limits of our resources.
Combined with the stressors of climate change and peak oil production it seems highly unlikely that the good times will return. Economies around the world are collapsing with the exception of those countries lucky enough to still have natural resources left to exploit (and living in one such country it’s obvious that the resulting two-speed economy is entirely unsustainable. When we run out of things to dig up and export Australia too will be in economic trouble.). Countries harder hit by recession are trending towards political extremism at both ends of the spectrum in what seem like great acts of denial that the way we live needs to change.
Meanwhile the global distribution of wealth slides ever further into gross inequality, with the world’s richest 1% commanding 40% of global wealth (though it must be noted that the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has continually decreased over the last 30 years) and the general public seems more interested in celebrities than science, and politics than policy, with the media happy to play along. Here in Australia the quality of political discourse appears to have hit an all-time low, with politicians obsessed with popularity and opinion polls instead of sound policy and solid ethics. It’s getting rather depressing.
I look around me, at the politics, the economics, the environment, the science and the culture and become more and more certain that big change is coming. We in the first world can’t keep consuming at the current rate; the rich can’t keep accumulating greater wealth; corporations can’t keep selling us more stuff we don’t need. Our resources are finite and we’re crashing into our limits, but there is hope.
A growing number of people seem to be challenging what I see as our toxic culture, questioning the conventional economic thinking that continual growth is essential, that quality of life is intrinsically linked to spending power. I keep meeting thoughtful, intelligent people who are opting out, choosing a simpler life in the search for sustainability and happiness. Revolting against the dominant paradigm, these folk are finding that a life with a lower income and more hard work can actually prove more joyful than the coveted big-house-in-the-suburbs lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not consigning themselves to struggle-street or sacrificing modern conveniences completely, but making a conscious decision to question their values and reduce their consumption. They’re living smaller, more connected lives, more closely linked to nature and community, and they seem to be happier for it.
More and more people seem to be accepting that the world has changed, working with it instead of fighting and proving that sometimes less really is more. They inspire me.
Change is inevitable, but when we embrace it we can thrive.
Do you think the world has irrevocably changed in recent years? Have you made significant changes to your way of life? How has change shaped who you are and how you’re living?
 A few years ago Warren lost both his legs in a freak hiking accident. Now he climbs mountains and inspires others to find their passion and test their limits. Learn more about Warren at www.warren-macdonald.com.
 Wikipedia: Causes of the Great Depression & Causes of the GFC
 France goes socialist, Greece rejects austerity measured but fails to elect a government with votes split between fascist & socialist parties and the Tory-led UK is looking more and more like a basket case.
I’ve just returned from a short trip up to the southern Gold Coast to spend the Easter break with my family. It’s a trip I make about once a year to hug my parents, play with my niece and spend some quality time with the kind of old friends who have become family.
I missed out on a window seat this trip, so instead of spending the flight more-or-less glued to the window, watching the landscape unfolding below, I got to thinking about my travels in the context of sustainability
Travel: it broadens the mind, feeds the soul and strengthens the bonds of family and friendship. What’s not to love about it? Well, environmentally-speaking not a lot!
Air travel is the single biggest contributor to my carbon footprint. This trip alone generated roughly 306 kg of CO2 (source: International Civil Aviation Organisation carbon offset calculator). I also make one or two trips to Melbourne each year to catch up with friends and to dip my toe back into the rushing current of modern life: a much-needed perspective check when you live in a beautiful but isolated backwater like Tasmania. That’s around 172 kg CO2 per trip.
This year I’m also heading off overseas for the first time in 6 years. I’m heading off to South America for a few weeks to experience new cultures and explore remarkable environments like Machu Picchu and the Atacama Desert. Getting there and back again? A whopping 1 994 kg of CO2!
For flights booked so far this year I’m clocking up a total of 2 563 kg of CO2 (and that’s without any business travel).
My annual carbon footprint without flights comes in at around 5 tonnes (source: CarbonFootprint.com), so my flights add another 50% to my impact, bumping it up to 7.6 tonnes CO2 p.a. – that’s not a good number. So flying is definitely bad from the carbon emissions perspective, putting a big black mark in the environmental component of my sustainability score. Does that mean I shouldn’t fly? What about all the benefits of my travels?
Living a sustainable life means making choices that also look after my mental and physical health, build strong social networks and interpersonal relationships and live a life that inspires, challenges and enriches me. Travel provides an excellent way to meet many of my personal objectives. My social and personal benefits of travel include:
- Maintaining family relationships
- Building and strengthening my friendships and support networks
- Growing my awareness and understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things
- Inspiring personal change and global thinking
- Learning from others and from the experiences travel provides
- Developing a greater appreciation of the world, its environments and cultures
These are all good things, for sure, but are they enough to balance out the environmental costs? Are there other ways I could gain the benefits of travel without the CO2 emissions? I really don’t know.
What I do know is that I enjoy travel and everything it brings, and that means I’m probably going to find ways to justify keeping on flying, but perhaps I can travel a little smarter…
Better ways to travel:
- Flying less often (and making more use of Skype)
- Choosing closer destinations and non-stop flights
- Travelling by bus or train where possible and reasonably practical
- Paying extra for airline carbon offsets – does this accomplish anything? Perhaps a blog topic for another day!
- Tying overseas trips to environmental or social volunteer work
How do you reconcile your ideals with your impacts? What are your ideas for managing the impacts of travel?