Features

Geoengineering against climate change

The Saturday Paper

WHEN THE THREAT OF CLIMATE CHANGE from greenhouse gas pollution was brought to the attention of United States president Lyndon Johnson in 1965, his scientific advisers didn’t recommend solving the problem by cutting emissions. They recommended littering the sea with floating glitter. Lots and lots of glitter.

The temperature rise could be offset, wrote the environmental pollution panel of the president’s science advisory committee, “by raising the albedo, or reflectivity, of the Earth”. This could be brought about, they informed the president, “by spreading very small reflecting particles over large oceanic areas”. And it would be cheap, relatively speaking – about $500 million a year.

Sounds crazy? The scientists were serious … and rather prescient. More than 50 years later, similar ideas to cool the planet are being considered to alleviate the symptoms of runaway climate change.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 18, 2017 as “Particles of faith”. Read it online here.

New Power Generation

The Big Issue

The Big Issue

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW about the energy sources of the future, ask the man who’s been there: Arnie. Last December, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the time-travelling Terminator turned “Governator” of California for two terms, posted a Facebook rant explaining why he was on a crusade for clean energy. “I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads,” he wrote, beneath a photo of gleaming solar panels. “I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.”

California, where Arnie ran the show from 2003-2011, now sources more than a quarter of its energy from wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric dams. The state is also home to Silicon Valley, a hotspot for disruptive innovations. For anyone seeped in start-up culture, where stagnation is death and you’re only an app away from overturning a legacy industry, renewable energy looks like the next big thing – Electricity 2.0.

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Bittersweet

The Big Issue

Toxic, poisonous, deadly – in the last few years, sugar has attracted some less-than-sweet commentary both here and overseas. But Australia remains one of the world’s biggest sugar exporters. Greg Foyster heads north to discover what effect, if any, the recent controversy is having on the industry.

BRIAN COURTICE COMES from a long line of cane growers. His grandfather started cutting cane in 1910 and farming it in 1922. Two of his grandfather’s brothers formed the Sugar Workers Union in Bundaberg and organised a canecutters’ strike in 1911. Brian’s father, also a cane grower, was a member of the board for the local sugar mill.

For three generations the Courtice men have lived and worked at Sunnyside, a nearly 50-hectare farm in the Woongarra region southeast of Bundaberg. And for almost all of those days, sugar has been a mainstay of life. Now 64, Courtice remembers school holidays spent cutting green cane in the fields. In the mornings he’d put a mound of sugar on his cornflakes, and three sugars in his tea.

But Courtice doesn’t put sugar in his tea anymore. Sitting on his front veranda and nursing a mug of Bushells sweetened only with honey, he explains that as he got older he became increasingly concerned about the relationship between sugar consumption and dental cavities. Courtice has the weathered skin of a farmer – his hands are tanned and calloused, with crescents of dirt under the fingernails – but his teeth have suffered worse deterioration. “I’ve got a mouth full of fillings from when I was a kid from using too much sugar,” he says.

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Hotting Up

The Big Issue

The Big Issue

Heatwaves have killed more Australians than any other form of natural disaster. Although there are now signs extreme weather patterns are being taken more seriously, is enough being done – or will more vulnerable people die?

SUFFERING THROUGH A scorching summer’s day is, quite literally, an act of patriotism. Last year, a group of academics from Macquarie University published a study examining extreme heat (meaning unusually hot weather for that location) in Australia from 1844 to 2010. They discovered that more people had died from the heat on 27 January than any other date, and suggested this was probably due to
the aftermath of boozy Australia Day barbecues in the sun.

It says a lot about Australians’ attitude to hot weather. At the peak of summer, Australians gather in the sun, cook over coals, and then drink diuretic beverages, pissing away every last drop of deference to the climate.

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Wood for the Trees

Cover Story - Wood for the Trees TBI 465

The Big Issue

On the 35th anniversary of Australia’s first forest protest, Greg Foyster re-examines the so-called ‘fight for the forests’, and asks if the old image of greenies versus loggers is still relevant.

THE BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO shows two uniformed policemen dragging a male protester down a dirt track. His clothes are filthy and tattered, his hair matted in long dreadlocks. This is the first public image of Australia’s first forest blockade, which erupted over plans to log remnant rainforest at Terania Creek, a quick Kombi ride from the hippy enclave of Nimbin in northeast New South Wales.

The photo occupied the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 18 August 1979, which happened to be the 13th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. The parallels were obvious, and 10 days later they were made explicit in the paper’s first big feature article on the blockade. “It was like Vietnam,” wrote journalist Craig McGregor. “Dense green jungle, choppers in the sky, men with guns shouting into walkie-talkies, a bulldozer smashing through trees, people being carried off…”

The battle lines were clearly drawn: ‘straight’ versus counter-culture, developers versus conservationists, old versus young, loggers versus greenies. Thirty-five years later the issue is still portrayed in the same militaristic terms – as a dramatic clash between timber workers and environmentalists in the bush.

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Riding Free

Slow Magazine

Slow Magazine

PERCHED ON A BABY SEAT at the back of an extra-long “ute” bicycle, Woody Ulman Jones scans the roadside greenery for edible treats. Up ahead, he sees a wild loquat tree and shouts, “More, more, more!” His mother Meg Ulman slowly applies the brakes, and the bike comes to a stop. It’s snack time.

Although only eighteen months old, Woody is already playing a role in putting food on the table. “Woody is an amazing forager,” says Meg. “While we’re pedalling with our heads down, he’s our chief spotter.”

Woody is the most recent addition to Artist as Family, a five-mammal artistic troupe that includes the primate hunter-gardeners Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman, their young cubs Zephyr and Woody, and their trusty canine companion Zero the Jack Russell. Since November 2013 this motley crew has pedalled and picnicked their way up Australia’s east coast, riding more than 2000 kilometres from their home in Daylesford, Victoria, to northern New South Wales, gathering material for a new book called Free Food.

For the full story, pick up a copy of Slow Living #19.

 

Heatwaves Hurt Disadvantaged Australians

ABC-LogoSIXTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD Bill McKenzie stands in the corridor on the eighth floor of the government housing complex where he lives, pointing accusingly at a thermometer fastened to the wall. He explains that at 4pm on January 17, as Melbourne sweltered through one of south-east Australia’s worst heatwaves, the thermometer read 43 degrees — hotter than it was outside.

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My Dream Co-Home

slow-magazine-and-ipad2

Slow Magazine

LAST YEAR, my partner and I imagined setting up our dream home. We’d just returned from cycling 6500 kilometres up the east coast of Australia exploring simpler ways of living, and we fantasised about a bush block with a rustic cottage and vegie patch – our very own organic outpost in the hills. After ogling property porn online, we conceded that even the cheapest land in remotest Tasmania was beyond our meagre budget. But I still clung to my mental blueprint, picturing wooden floorboards, an antique Aga stove and compressed-earth walls. Continue »

Watching the Wheels

 

Big Issue cover #442

The Big Issue

THE FIRST TIME my partner, Sophie Chishkovsky, suggested cycling up the east coast of Australia, I thought she was crazy. “That’s impossible!” I said. I was an inner-city yuppie, and my only daily physical activity was a 5km bike ride from home to work, after which I sat at a desk for 10 hours. I was part man, part adjustable office chair. How would I cope with pedalling thousands of kilometres?

The bigger question, of course, was why do it in the first place? I was on the cusp of my thirties and had started to think more seriously about settling down, but the idea of committing to a mortgage in the suburbs, and the decades of full-time work required to pay it off, filled me with dread. I wanted to explore some other options – not just the obvious ones – before embarking on the next phase.

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Ride Rage

The Age (Melbourne) Magazine

WE COULDN’T have chosen a worse time to ride. It’s been raining all day, there are floods in the state’s north-east, it’s nearly peak hour and the rapidly darkening sky is threatening to unleash another torrent. Yet we’re about to enter four lanes of traffic on Dandenong Road in Malvern East, following a route on which our guide, Lachlan Toose, has come off his bike five times in two years (when we first met, he held up his elbow to show the result of a recent run-in with a delivery van door. “Just scabs,” he said. “To be expected”). Now we’re on a tour of his collisions, a 12-kilometre journey from Orrong Road, Balaclava, where he works as a primary school teacher, to his home near Warrigal Road in Camberwell. Toose speeds up on his blue Giant racing bike, mud flicking from the back tyre onto his T-shirt. Up ahead, the Dandenong Road intersection is a lagoon of shallow puddles. Toose rarely sees cyclists out this far from the relative safety of the inner city and, apparently, neither do drivers: shortly after we cross Dandenong Road, a silver Holden hatchback swerves in front of him to reverse park. Toose says it’s comonplace: a driver cuts him off once every three weeks, someone opens a car door on him – an illegal act – once every few months, and he receives verbal abuse fortnightly, with the usual insult an unimaginative but revealing, “Get a car!”

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The Big Pitch – Selling Advertising to the Public

Kill Your Darlings (literary journal)

THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY can sell just about anything. Whether promoting the slave trade in the eighteenth century, peddling quack medicines in the nineteenth or flogging cigarettes to impressionable youth in the twentieth, advertisers have persuaded the public to consume an astonishing variety of unethical, ineffective and sometimes deadly products. But there is one thing the advertising industry has always had trouble selling – itself.

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Profile – Anj Barker

The Age (Melbourne) Magazine

In 2011, I wrote 33 profiles of inspiring Melburnians for The Melbourne Magazine. This is my favourite.

ANJ BARKER’S right hand does a lot of things. In the mornings, it grips the rail attached to her bed, helping her get up. During the day, it controls the joystick of her wheelchair. At awards ceremonies and high schools, it presses palms with people inspired by her story. But at the moment, Anj Barker’s right hand, which lies at the end of her only fully functioning limb, is giving us the finger. The gesture is not meant to offend, but to communicate. Brutally bashed by her ex-boyfriend at 16, Anj suffered substantial brain injuries and for years couldn’t speak. But she could move her right hand, so she developed a characteristically cheeky sign language: thumbs up meant yes, flipping the bird meant no — or that she was in severe pain.

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Where Does Your Recycling Go?

The Age (Melbourne) Magazine

IN ONE SMOOTH MOVEMENT, the recycling truck empties five tonnes of plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, newspapers, aluminium cans and steel tins into a heap on the concrete. Amid the faint smell of supermarket dumpsters and the sound of shattering stubbies, a grotty yellow Caterpillar loader shoves the pile onto a towering six-metre-high garbage dune.

We’re at the Visy Materials Recovery Facility in Heidelberg, the first point of call for empty Coke cans and crusty pizza boxes from some 400,000 households, most of them in the inner north-east.

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Birthday Behind Closed Doors

The Big Issue

The Big Issue

“MAJNUN,” they call. “Majnun! Majnun! Majnun!” The word, meaning ‘crazy’ in Arabic, comes from The Story of Layla and Majnun, an Islamic folktale about a young man sent mad with love. If ‘crazy’ is another way of saying ‘unusual’, then Maile fits the description. For the young Australian is standing in a car park wearing a bright red dress and holding a tray of baklava swaddled in wrapping paper. Today is her 22nd birthday: to celebrate, she’s hosting a party in an immigration detention centre. Majnun Maile, indeed.

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Give a Possum a Tree

New Matilda

YOU know an animal is in serious trouble when you start counting its habitat trees individually. David Blair, a member of the Australian National University team monitoring the federally endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, stands on a dirt track in gumboots and a green vest, pointing out old grey eucalypts one by one. “Probably 14,” he says when he’s finished counting.

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The Green Brain

G Magazine

YOU’VE heard the phrase “you are what you eat”. Well, psychologist Dr Bob Rich thinks you are how you act. “Habits are everything,” he says. “Your very personality is a network of long-standing habits. Everything that can be said about you is something you do.”

In fact, almost 50 per cent of behaviour is habitual, and those habits can take many months to form. One recent study found that the average time for an action to become fully automatic was 66 days. Even simple behaviours, like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or running for 15 minutes before dinner, can take more than two months of daily repetition to become ingrained.

Breaking your old, wasteful habits and forming new, sustainable ones isn’t easy, but this article will give you the psychological know-how to achieve that goal. So take your typical route to the lounge room, settle into your favourite armchair, adopt your usual reading posture, and let’s get started.

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To Buy or Not to Buy

G Magazine

G Magazine

With the silly season just around the corner, we put the question to every environmentally conscious shopper: can buying green save the planet?

YOU’RE standing in a store facing a shelf of sustainable products. Their earthy green packaging beckons. For many an ethical consumer, a heated inner dialogue ensues. If you vote with your dollar, you’ll be supporting sustainable industries, runs one argument. But what happened to the message of reduce, recycle, reuse? Do you really need the item or is it just a waste of resources cleverly marketed to make you feel like you’re doing your bit for the planet?

Touring a supermarket and eco-store with advocates from both camps, G opens the debate and welcomes your opinion on when to fill your trolley with green goodies and when to walk away.

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A Write-Off

Emerging Writers' Festival anthology

THREE make-up artists. Four producers clutching clipboards. Five cameramen. I’m sitting in the studio of SBS quiz show Letters and Numbers, trying to count how many people are working behind the scenes. The glare from the coloured stage lights casts everything in magenta and cyan shadows, like a 3D image before you put the glasses on. It’s hard to see, but I can spot at least 15 crew members.

When the episode goes to air, viewers will see only five people. They’ll be seated around a semi-circular desk against a blue background. One of the regular panellists will be David Astle, playwright, novelist and long-time freelance journo. Right now the cameras are rolling and he’s flicking through a massive Macquarie Dictionary propped up in front of him. He’s my first profile subject.

‘Borzoi,’ he says. ‘A Russian Wolfhound. Very tall, long nose, extremely quick.’ Remove the Russian reference and Astle could be describing himself. Lean and lofty, he has shaggy, salt-and-pepper hair, a rapid-fire wit and a dominant proboscis. In this, I’m sure he can weather the insult. This is a man who once described an Italian chef as ‘built like a gnocchi ball’.

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Vict Govt Laws Stifle Democracy

Crikey

CONTROVERSIAL Victorian climate change protest laws breach freedoms of political expression and are “stifling democracy”, a prominent barrister and Greens candidate has claimed. Brian Walters SC, who is running for the seat of Melbourne in the Victorian state election on November 27, told Crikey that new penalties relating to “critical electricity infrastructure” specifically target climate change protesters.

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The Next Wave

G Magazine

TWELVE days after usurping the Labor leadership, new PM Julia Gillard outlined her “boat people” policy to an anxious public. The plan? A “regional processing centre” on East Timor.

There was nothing new about the idea – regional processing has been part of Australia’s response to asylum seekers since the first wave of Indo-Chinese refugees in the late 70s. The only novel aspect of the policy was the astonishing speed with which it was cobbled together. A hasty call to Timor-Leste’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, a quick chat with the UN, and Gillard was ready to strike asylum seekers from her pre-election to-do list.

Yet the issue of “boat people” can’t be swatted away so easily. Australia needs to develop a considered, long-term approach to asylum seekers and refugees because they could be heading our way for a long time to come.

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In Transit

The Big Issue

The first problem is getting here. The second is getting permission to enter. Then asylum seekers living in the community must find somewhere to stay. Greg Foyster meets a group of people constantly on the move.

SORIYAN SPENT  a year and a half travelling on trains to nowhere. He would wake up early, haul himself off a bench at Cheltenham Station, in Melbourne’s southern suburbs, and shuffle, tired and cold, onto the six o’clock train. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a red-and-black jacket – a gift from a friend – he would stretch out on a row of seats and close his eyes while the suburbs whooshed past the windows.

He would spend three, four, five hours on the train, travelling on almost all the lines, passing all the stations. Craigieburn, Cranbourne, Sydenham, Glen Waverley, Lilydale, Pakenham – this 28-year-old man from India has criss-crossed the city more times than most locals. At night he would return to Cheltenham or Watergardens Station, in the city’s northwest, and lie on a bench, a backpack under his head for a pillow, a brown blanket over his body for warmth. Sometimes, neighbourhood kids would come and abuse him, shouting racial taunts or trying to grab his bag. Sometimes, he would be left alone. At dawn the cycle would start again: another day riding the rails to pass the time; another night chasing sleep at a train station.

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Crank Up the Power

G Magazine

G Magazine

YOU might have seen the odd electric bike or two roaming around the streets (especially uphill), but you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a new trend about to explode – at least for the time being. Despite technology pushing ahead, e-bikes have taken a long time to gain momentum.

Patented as early as 1897, power-assisted pushies are only now taking off, with more than 120 million electric scooters, bicycles and tricycles zipping along the congested bike lanes of crowded cities, mostly in Asia. Not even the financial downturn halted manufacturing – last year electric bicycle production in China soared 8.2 per cent.

On the other side of the globe, Europeans have also caught the battery-powered buzz.

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Trouble Concentrating?

YEN (cover story)

CHANCES are you’re reading this magazine with your mobile nearby, switched on and ready for action. The second it beeps your attention will be yanked from this page, pulled by the invisible cord that connects us to friends and family, work and the web. It’s an electronic lifeline that nourishes with texts and tweets, news and gossip. It’s infiltrated every aspect of our lives and, according to some experts, it’s driving us to distraction.

So if your mobile beeps, just ignore it. Better yet, switch it off. Because for the next five minutes, we’re going to look at how technology saps your focus and what you can do to get it back.

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Doing Good in Bad Times

The Big Issue

THREE o’clock at the office. The sounds of clerical work reverberate through densely packed cubicles. The familiar clackety-clack of fingertips on keyboards, the laboured breathing of printers under the duress of impending deadlines, and the mechanical slurping of a hungry paper-shredder form a percussion track that’s been playing since morning. Among it all sits a young woman, attuned to the rhythm of industry. She types, files, tends to chirping phones. She’s a typical office worker in a typical office, except for one important distinction: she’s not getting paid.

Talulah is a volunteer; one of a growing number of laid-off workers looking for something to fill the empty pages in their yearly planners. You might expect the recently redundant to be confirmed misanthropes, oozing spite from every pore. But, in some cases, the opposite has occurred.

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The Meditation Myth

The Words We Found: The Best Writing From 21 Years of Voiceworks, Hardie Grant 2009

I KNOW two serious meditation practitioners. Half an hour after the first told me meditation gave him a calm and balanced mind, I heard that the second had been committed to a mental hospital.

Passing paramedics spotted my flatmate meditating on the footpath of Swanston Street and called the police. Recently he had been suffering from psychosis tinged with Buddhist altruism and had come to the conclusion that moving through the world ‘killed molecules’. He would suddenly freeze, mid-stride, to avoid colliding with nearby atoms. When the police found him he was rooted to the sidewalk, gawking at his own shadow.

I didn’t find out about his episode until returning from an interview with Mr Siladasa, the chairman of Melbourne Buddhists Centre, days later. During the session Siladasa, a respected neurologist, had spoken eloquently about the benefits of meditation. He was lucid, logical, sane and happy. How could the same technique have contributed to both mental states?

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