Why do this?

You must be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi

The greenhouse effect is the process whereby energy from the sun is trapped within the earth’s atmosphere by gases which act as a blanket, preventing all of the energy being re-radiated back to space. Some greenhouse warming is good and prevents the earth from being a frozen block of ice spinning through space. The problem is that through the burning of fossil fuels and other interventions, greenhouse gas concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere have been steadily increasing since 1750 –

• Carbon dioxide has increased from 280 –381ppm (36%)
• Nitrous oxides have increased 280 – 320ppb (14%), and
• Methane has increased 0.7 – 1,78 (245%)

This causes more solar energy being trapped within the earth’s atmosphere which results in average rise in the earth’s temperature, radically affecting the climate and producing more extreme weather events.

In September 2008 the Garnaut report into the effects of climate change on Australia was released. The report is an extensive review of what Australia can expect if human induced climate change is allowed to continue on its present course and in the final chapter, entitled “Fateful Decisions” he leaves us with some hope –

“There are times in history of humanity when fateful decisions are made. The decision this year and next on whether to enter a comprehensive global agreement for strong action is one of them.”

But also with a chilling prediction –

“On a balance of probabilities, the failure of our generation on climate change mitigation would lead to consequences that would haunt humanity until the end of time.”

Professor Garnaut in his report, is speaking in terms of decision making at a government level, but the decisions that we as consumers make also can also support the increase or reduction in greenhouse gases. Dr Mark Diesendorf in his book “Greenhouse Solutions with Renewable Energy” states that a combination of efficient energy use, solar hot water and other already existing renewable energy technologies have the propensity to halve Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions within a few decades.

The problem is complicated however in that we not only consume energy but we consume “things” and produce waste, turning resources, through a series of industrial and consumption steps into rubbish. To combat climate change there needs to be a holistic approach that individuals can also use to reduce the negative impact of their activities on climate change.

Unfortunately there is another looming crisis that must be factored into the mix – the so called “Peak Oil”. In 1956, the American Geologist M. King Hubbert developed a graph showing that the US oil production would peak in 1970. He was ridiculed at the time but his prediction was proved to be correct. He also predicted a world peak in 2000, but this did not take into account the 1973 oil embargo and the reduction in production and consumption that it caused. Ongoing work suggests that the peak occurred somewhere around 2010. This peaking of the Hubbert curve does not mean that all the oil is gone, merely half gone. With the demand continually increasing (particularly as the huge economies of India and China attempt western-style development) and supply decreasing, prices are due to skyrocket with unpredictable but what would be seen as negative impacts on Western lifestyles. This includes Australia and as David Holmgren (the co-inventor of the permaculture process) puts it, the end of the age of cheap energy (oil) could result in “an infinite array of pathways and local possibilities from the benign to the horrific”.

Both peak oil and climate change are two aspects of the same problem and the effects of both of these crises need to be taken into account when working out our own personal response. The good news is that by increasing the level of sustainability of our lifestyle both our reliance on oil is reduced and our contribution to human induced climate change is too.

As Ted Trainer of the University of New South Wales puts it - “The present consumer way of life in rich countries is totally unsustainable”. Australians are leading the charge in this race towards ever increasing consumption. The ecological footprint (ie the amount of the earth’s surface each one of us requires to sustain our present lifestyle) of Australians at 9.4 hectares per capita is second only to that of the United States at 9.6 hectares per capita. If the amount of land available to produce our needs averages out at 1.8 hectares per person it can be seen that over 5 earths-worth of land would be required for everyone to have an Australian-esque lifestyle. However, even the current worldwide average of 2.2 hectares per person exceeds our earths’ carrying capacity by 20%. From the preceding it can be seen that the current Australian lifestyle must become more sustainable.

This site is focussed on the sustainability of urban households in particular, because of the steady drift towards the cities, especially Australia where, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007 census, 68% of Australians now live in the major cities. While cities can be thought of as discrete identities themselves, they exist as “resource black holes” that consume the material resources of an area considerable larger than the physical dimensions of the city itself. Also consumption, or more specifically, household consumption is the real driving force in resource consumption and waste production which result in the environmental problems that are being dealt with today.

Economic chaos adds a touch of desperation to the mix and may reduce the preparations at a government level to combat both the climate change and peak oil emergencies and can take our focus from these issues as well. It is difficult to concentrate on the bigger picture when you are focussed on providing for your family, but becoming more sustainable by using the strategies outlined in this site can actually save you money. Learning to produce the necessities of life can be rewarding for you, your pocket and the environment so good luck on your journey!

Be one of the first to get your hands on davids latest work. Pre-order your copy before the launch on February 10 at SLF Melb.

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