Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas in the Australian Bush

In a way, Boxing Day ended up being our real Christmas. Christmas Eve brought the presents, Christmas Day the lovely food, but Boxing Day was the day we found peace and enjoyment in the Australian bush. The heat was intense. It had an effect similar to the icy cold of my childhood Christmases. The extremes of temperature seem to turn nature serene and calm. I love the intense scent of a eucalyptus forest in dry blistering heat.

The air was filled with an orchestra of birds competing with the pervasive humming of zicadas. Beetles and butterflies hovered around the many tiny flowers on bushes and on the ground. We saw plenty of evidence to suggest the presence of kangaroos and wombats, and we even saw an echidna.

Unfortunately, I was not fast enough to take a picture, but for my international readers I include this picture from wikipedia. (All other pictures in this entry were taken by me on the day).

I particularly like this small piece of bush. It is in a travelling stock reserve, access is from a side road through a badly maintained and partially overgrown muddy path. As a result, there usually is nobody else there. There is some evidence that there once was a homestead or cottage of some sort, although nothing much is left, apart from a few strewn pieces of rusty wire, an old fence post and a small stand of neglected plum trees.

The reserve contains a number of unusually grown trees, such as this one which is regrowing multiple trunks out of a fallen branch.

Overall, the area seems in excellent condition. None of the pervasive weeds such as Patterson's Curse nor St John's Wort are anywhere to be seen, and there are also no fields of thistles as is common in nearby paddocks. Instead, there is a plethora of different grass species and a range of bush flowers.

A couple of years ago I started getting interested in native grasslands and I even joined the Grassland Society of NSW. It is amazing how many grass species you notice when you actually start looking, even in our own backyard paddock I was able to find at least ten different species in a small area alone. However, I suspect that most of those are introduced rather than native grasses.

Until I joined the Grassland Society, I had not realised how important native grasslands are for the ecosystem in our region. According to the Australian Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, temperate grasslands in the ACT and NSW are now an endangered species:

"In the Southern Tablelands of NSW it is estimated that 450 000 ha of natural temperate grassland occurred prior to European settlement (Benson 1994). About 2400 ha (0.6%) containing the ecological community in moderate to good condition on public lands and some private lands has been surveyed (Rehwinkel 1997). Possibly the same amount again occurs on private lands not as yet surveyed (Rehwinkel pers. comm.). This gives an estimated total of up to 1.5% of the pre-European distribution of this community remaining in moderate to good condition in NSW Southern Tablelands, and possibly another 5% in poorer condition (native pastures of relatively lower forb diversity and high exotic content)."

Unfortunately, I am still not confident I can identify corrrectly what is a native grass and what isn't. So it is possible that some of the grasses I liked so much during our walk were not actually native grass species. Nevertheless, we walked around with open eyes, and our boys were just as interested as I was in the beauty of our natural heritage which I tried to capture in these photos.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

How to create a backyard maze

The grass in the back paddock has had a chance to grow really well after a wonderfully wet November and December. It very much looks like the drought that has been with us for the last seven years may finally be on its way out. I wouldn't mind letting the grass grow, were it not for the snake hazard. Unfortunately, our ride-on mower broke down and we won't be able to get it fixed until early January.

After spending a couple of rainy afternoons (isn't it wonderful to have rainy afternoons!) with the boys drawing mazes, we came up with an idea... Why not create a real maze outside?

J got the whipper-snipper out and spent 30 to 40 minutes or so cutting a complicated path into the high grass, with many side-paths and dead ends. There are different shapes, straight lines and spirals. Our maze covers an almost triangular area of approximately 350sqm.

We all had a go at walking the maze. It was actually quite difficult to do, even for the ingenious creator!

The boys thought it was magnificent, including young T (in the backpack).

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

A ginger bread house that even tastes good, too.

The kids wanted to make a ginger bread house for Christmas this year. We tried a commercial ginger house package three years ago (which was easy to do but only marginally edible). Last year I tried to find a good recipe on the Internet, only to end up with a gingerbread house that really only kids could enjoy. So this year, I finally wanted to make something for everybody!

I noticed one particularly good bakery in Canberra selling ginger bread houses for a whopping $85.00 a piece. To be fair to the baker, he is a true master of his trade and his food is extremely good. Unfortunately though, that is way outside our budget. Luckily for me, the baker had added a little note to his merchandise, saying that his houses were based on a recipe called "Baseler Leckerli". I figured I might try one of those myself, and I was not disappointed.

This is the recipe:

You need:
300 g honey
100 g brown sugar
400 g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (or less) ground clover
1 pinch nutmeg
150g ground almonds (or alternatively ground hazelnuts)

and for the royal icing:
2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups (330 grams) icing sugar, sifted.

Make a paper model of your house. Remember that you will need two of everything - front and back, side walls, roof.
The dough will roll out to an area of slightly more than an A3 sized page.
Our house had the following dimensions:
front and back - width about 21 cm,
height to roof gable - 14.5 cm,
height of side walls - 7.5 cm.
Cut the side walls and the roof accordingly. We also added a Christmas tree and a few tiles from left-over dough for a "footpath".

Slowly warm the honey together with the brown sugar. Put flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground clover, nutmeg and ground almonds in a large bowl. Add the honey-sugar to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Roll out the dough about 1 cm thick on a slightly floured surface.

Cut the shapes out of your dough and bake them at 200 C (180 C if using a fan forced oven) for about 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on your shapes, they should not become too dark.

Once the baked pieces are cooled down, the fun part begins. Prepare the royal icing by beating the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the sifted powdered sugar and continue to beat until combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately as royal icing quickly becomes hard.

Stick your house together with royal icing and decorate. The ginger bread house will be quite hard and have a lovely crunchy structure when you first make it. It will gradually become soft when exposed to air. It tastes best when fresh but it is still quite ok after a couple of weeks. We have been grazing on ours throughout the pre-Christmas season as a special treat after dinner.


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Friday, December 21, 2007

Permaculture in Canberra

I have been to a number of courses and workshops over recent weeks, starting with my visit to Jackie French's wonderful garden, followed by a field day at Mulloon Creek Natural Farms and an outing to another inspiring organic farm in our district.

I also attended a three session permaculture course run by the Canberra Environment Centre, which has recently moved to its new location near the National Museum in Canberra (photo left). In her book "Earth user's guide to permaculture", Rosemary Marrow defines permaculture as "the science of applied ecological design". This sounds rather grand, and I was a bit worried, especially as a friend of mine remarked that "putting in place all those ideas is just so expensive!" Nevertheless, I figured it would be worth going along anyway.

I was very pleasantly surprised! The course was run by Barbara Schreiner (pictured on the right below), who gave an introduction to the philosophy and application of permaculture principles. I quickly realised that in many ways, I am already applying some of those ideas and principles, but I also learnt many new, useful skills. I also learnt a bit more about the two co-founders of the permaculture idea, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.

During our first session, Barbara outlined the design principles for a well-organised permaculture garden. This kind of garden is a Garden of Eden, devoted to producing food for people, timber for firewood (space permitting) and food for native animals. There are several "zones", starting with the energy-efficient house, then going out to herbs, moving on to less frequently used vegetables, the chook yard, fruit trees, a woodlot for timber and finally a wilderness area for native plants. The idea here is to have the most used areas closest to the house. As one has to walk past these areas every day to feed the chooks, it is easy to be aware of what is happening in the vegetable garden and whether it may need some water, more mulch or whether something is ready to be picked. Less frequently visited crops, such as fruit trees, or native plants can be located further away from the house.

Of course, most of us don't start from scratch but have to work with what is already there. As "homework" we were to do a "site analysis" of our own garden plot, looking at what was where, which areas where used a lot and which ones were not etc. I quickly realised that while my herbs are in a good spot right outside the kitchen window, the vegetables are not at all in a practical area - they are way out there and require a lot of walking both to get to them and to carry water to them. But then again, I enjoy the beautiful view from my kitchen and I need to be able to supervise my boys outside, so under those circumstances, I guess the vegetable beds are in the best possible spot. I just have to make a conscious effort of going out there every day.

Barbara also stressed that one of the ideas in permaculture is to use what is already there - reuse, reduce and recycle, in that order, and to look around our own yard and the wider neighbourhood to find things that other people have discarded but that may still have some useful life in them. That is certainly a principle I fully subscribe to! It was very refreshing to realise that this particular kind of gardening does NOT require expensive new-fangled gardening tools and a complicated set-up, quite on the contrary.

One thing I am going to change next year is the way I plant my vegetable beds. So far I have been planting in squares (due to having to put chicken wire around everything to keep the rabbits away) with reasonably straight lines. Many permaculture designs instead suggest planting in curves, for example in the shape of "keyholes" which allows better access to the plants.

We also learnt a lot about pollination and plant propagation, about manure, compost and no-dig gardening methods, about how to protect young seedlings and what to plant when. At the last session, Barbara showed us some pictures of her own suburban Canberra garden, the way it had started out and how she had gradually turned it into a garden of plenty.

There will be more courses held next year. The website for the Environment Centre can be found at

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Amory Lovins' plan to wean the US off oil

Thanks to the Australian news site kwoff I came across this interesting video of a talk by American energy guru Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Lovins' book "Winning the Oil Endgame" can be downloaded for free from his website.

Lovins clearly has some great ideas. The video was actually filmed almost three years ago (February 2005) but only posted online a couple of days ago. I hope very much that in the wake of the Bali Climate Change Conference we will see more governments and companies start taking note of the many good ideas and great opportunities that are out there to change the situation around. Conferences without follow-up action will remain nothing more than a great talk fest, and even the best ideas will not achieve anything if we don't actually start DOING something now.

If you have difficulties watching the video embedded in this post, please go directly to the TED website. TED stands for the annual "Technology, Entertainment, Design" conference which was first held in 1984. The TED has many more interesting talks which are available for free downloads under a creative commons license.

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The cost of work

A year ago, I went back to work part-time after receiving a call from my university that they needed a tutor for one term. I leapt at the opportunity. I had been away from teaching and research for several years now, having left paid work after my first baby was born. At the time, with two young children at home, the chance of going back to a university classroom for one day a week seemed like a wonderful opportunity not to be missed. I love teaching. I love the intellectual challenge that comes with being in a classroom full of bright young people who are keen to learn and able to question what is being put to them. It was a good experience. Yet, it was also an experience I won’t repeat any time soon.

Being a “casual” employee at the university means you only get paid for the time you are actually in the classroom. You do not get paid for the many hours of preparation, nor for the time you spend marking students' essays and exam papers. The course I was teaching was exciting, with a lot of new material to be worked through. I found I spent many hours every weekend with reading and research, and preparing my classes. This resulted, to put it mildly, in a bit of strain on our family life. Two young children, then aged two and four, need a lot of looking after, and having Mummy stuck in her office all day was not particularly helpful. Household tasks that usually get done over the weekend remained undone and had to be picked up during the week. There was no time for relaxing family outings. Nobody in the family got a break.

Eventually I started wondering how much I was actually earning per hour if taking into account the amount of time I spent working outside the classroom. I sat down and looked at the cost for going to work (childcare, petrol, parking), and the total amount I earned. The result came as a shock. By the end of six months of working between two and three days a week, most of that during weekends, I had earned a total of minus $60.00. I had not only not made any financial headway, I had actually lost money by going to work.

Now we have three children aged one, three and five. I am home full-time. Being at home allows me to do a lot of things myself such as growing almost all our vegetables, making bread, and doing repairs around the house as soon as they come up, resulting in massive savings.

Nevertheless, getting by on one income is a challenge in a two-income world, so once again I was wondering whether I should be trying to find a job. Not that I wanted to – the children are far too small, the older two never really enjoyed their limited childcare experience and I actually like being at home with the kids. Still, there remained that nagging feeling that maybe I needed to contribute more to the family income.

So I sat down to work out how much I would have to earn to pay for going to work full time. I have been keeping a budget for the last number of years, and I know that we have spent over $6000 a year less on household and food items compared to two years ago, when I first started growing vegetables. (And that is despite the fact that we had another addition to the family during that time!) I took this amount into account, plus an annual inflation rate of approximately three per cent. In the case of food, this may well be too little, as many fresh food items have gone up by double-digit percentage points, but I was trying to keep my calculation simple.

We have no extended family living close by and no access to informal childcare. I looked up typical childcare costs and contacted before and after school care facilities plus holiday programs to find out how much it would cost to care for a school aged child. I also calculated the cost of petrol but not parking, clothes or any other such expenses.

With both parents in fulltime work, we would, of course, lose the single income family tax benefit. I also quickly realised that I would have to earn so much just to pay for childcare that we would definitely lose any other family tax benefits, too. Childcare tax rebates are only available to families receiving family tax benefit, which means that I would have to pay full childcare fees. Plus, of course, I would have to pay tax on my income.

The single biggest cost item clearly is childcare. For three children under and up to the age of five in full-time childcare, I would have to fork out close to $55,000 in annual childcare fees. Add to that the other costs listed above, and I would have had to earn slightly over $100,000 this year only to be at exactly the same point financially as I am now.

In 2008, when my oldest will be the right age for school, child care costs would go down to slightly over $44,000 a year, meaning that the amount I would have to pay for going to work before actually earning any extra income will be reduced to $85,000.

Now, to me that is good news. I can confidently say that I am earning $85,000 by being at home, without having to rush out day after day, dropping my kids off at three different childcare centres, pre-school programs and primary schools, racing to work and doing a double shift at home in the evening.

Of course there are drawbacks. I am losing out on career time and that will be difficult to recover. In our case, a dual part-time arrangement for my husband and me didn’t work out. It may work for others, and that may be one way to get around this issue.

But for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives. My children get to spend all the time in the world with me, and we are having a lot of fun together and enjoy each others’ company. We are able to substantially reduce our environmental footprint because we have the time to think about what we do and make changes to our lives. There is time to enjoy life and even do some volunteer community work. The only thing that we are missing out on is the ability to borrow more money against a greater nominal family income if I were at work. But maybe that is a good thing, too.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Land clearing makes droughts hotter - let's plant trees!

A large scale research project undertaken by the University of Queensland shows how the clearing of native vegetation in Australia in the last 150 years has made droughts hotter in Australia. According to University of Queensland News Online, the researchers found that "mean summer rainfall decreased by between four percent and 12 percent in eastern Australia, and by four percent and eight percent in southwest Western Australia. These were the regions of most extensive historical clearing."

Equally significantly, "Australian native vegetation holds more moisture that subsequently evaporates and recycles back as rainfall. It also reflects into space less shortwave solar radiation than broadacre crops and improved pastures, and this process keeps the surface temperature cooler and aids cloud formation."

The research makes it clear that we not only have to protect our existing native forests but we also need to increase our efforts to restore previously cleared areas. Unfortunately, it is always much easier to chop down trees than to replant agricultural wastelands where the topsoil has blown away, the rains are failing and ground water levels are dropping away. Anybody who has tried to plant lots of trees in this dry part of the world will have had the heart-breaking experience that many seedlings do not survive, particularly in drought years - and we certainly had plenty of those recently!

So what is the secret to keeping trees alive? At a recent field day I attended at Mulloon Creek Natural Farms, Matt Kilby from Trees for Earth (pictured on the left above) outlined a number of principles that will significantly improve the survival chances of young trees. Matt said that his aim was to "plant as many trees as possible" and that he plants on average 500 trees a day on his own. He claimed that his system achieves 97 per cent survival rates in commercial timber plantations and regeneration projects. Here are the main steps for a successful planting regime:

- Let the grass grow around your planting site and when you mow it, leave the clippings so that they can turn into mulch.

- Deep rid the ground 6 months prior to planting to aerate the ground and overcome compaction. It is a good idea to rip the whole area along the contours to catch all possible rain. It is also important to allow the soil to settle as airspace in the ground will dry out the seedlings.

- Remove all grass around the tree planting site. Matt explained that trees need fungi to thrive, whereas grasses are driven by bacteria, making it harder for trees to get established. While this is often done with herbicides, it is also possible (and in my view by far preferable) to do this through heavy mulching.

- Digg a big hole, twice the depth of the roots. In degraded and marginal sites, add a cup of tree starter which needs to incorporate a range of minerals and structures that "open" the soil and maximise water and nutrient holding capacity.

- Dip the roots of the tree into some tree tonic, then plant.

- Use a weed mat made from waste paper to retain moisture and keep weeds down around the tree.

- Water each tree with 3-10 litres of root tonic.

- Add a good quality tree guard which needs to stay around the tree for 12 months or longer. Tree guards protect young seedlings from wind stress. Matt suggested using pink tree guards. Apparently, the colour pink increases the CO2 uptake of the tree and thus improves the trees growth and survival rates.

- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulching is critically important, and you cannot have enough. Mulch at least 1 metre around the tree and at least 15 cm high.

- At the 12 months stage add half a cup of complete carbon fertilizer about half a metre around the tree.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How to get kids to eat their vegetables?

I have just read about the release of Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, which encourages parents to con young vegetable haters into eating their greens by hiding spinach in their cupcakes.

I have to admit, I do not have that problem. My kids eat their vegetables. They demand apples for desert. They eat my home-made wholemeal, sourdough, and multi-grain bread, including the crust, without any complaint. They even often wander through the garden and pick their own vegetables and eat them on the spot.

Are they different to other kids? Of course not! In fact, if they get a chocolate treat or a muesli bar in the afternoon, I can guarantee that they will be fussy eaters in the evening. It’s just that in our house, there is no such choice. I have no lollies or sweets or commercial biscuits in the cupboard, so there is no temptation to snack on those. If they are hungry, they can always have a piece of fruit. As a result, we go through enormous amounts of fruit each week.

My kids grow up eating family food right from an early age. No mashed pap, mixed in with inedible rice powder “cereal” glue. And if you have ever tried the stuff, you will quickly know why your baby chucks it all up over the floor. If I don’t like it myself, I won’t give it to the kids! Not that I didn’t try otherwise with my first baby and again with the second, but my kids simply rejected the commercial jars and the “no taste food” for babies promoted in baby books.

Instead, I breastfed them exclusively until six months old, and then they quickly began to eat pretty much what everybody else is having, apart from a few foods that are to be avoided in the first year such as honey (because of the botulism risk) and eggs (because of allergy risks). I also avoid most kinds of nuts, particularly peanuts, partly because of the allergy risk, and partly because of the choking hazard. But I definitely use herbs and selected spices in our food, although I do go easy on the salt. My one-year old loves curries, chutneys, casseroles and gets particularly excited over mixed salads and green vegetables.

Of course they all go through stages where they don’t want to eat their main food and would rather feed themselves exclusively on dessert. Well, there is a simple rule in our house. Nobody needs to finish their plate of meat and vegetables if they are full. But clearly, if you have eaten enough, you are also too full for dessert…

I have read recently that some nutritionists warn against forcing kids to finish their plate as that would make it harder for children to develop a sense of when they have eaten enough. The key is to give them only a small, manageable amount to start with, or make compromises if you have misjudged their appetite – I tend to insist that they do eat the salad or the green vegetables, which they usually happily comply with. And the amount of dessert on offer is really only for the purpose of finishing the meal with a nice sweet taste, not to fill you up again. And if they are still hungry after dessert... well, they can have some more dinner then!

Quite frankly, the solutions promoted in the Seinfeld book sound disgusting. Vegetable mash covered in sweet batter? That would be enough to turn me off vegetables for life. How about some common sense instead?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Unexpected beauty - vegetables in bloom

This year I have been letting many of my vegetables go to seed.

This has proven to be an incredible bonus to my vegetable garden, as the flowers have attracted many beneficial predators such as tiny wasps and a range of other insects, including masses of bees, which are, of course, vital for the pollination of vegetables and fruit trees.

But there is another unexpected side effect to letting the garden go a bit wild - some of the plants are incredibly beautiful, and I never knew about it before I let them go about their natural cycle.

This page shows some pictures taken in the garden this morning.

Above on the left is elephant garlic (Allium ameloprasum) which is really a kind of leek rather than a true garlic variety. It produces giant bulbs which are somewhat milder than ordinary garlic.
On the right is a spring onion which has lived in my garden for at least four years now - we just keep picking on the edges and it keeps growing back. Very handy to have as a stand-by when I have run out of onions. There was a bee visiting just when I took my photo this morning - they are very attractive indeed, not only to us humans!

Probably the biggest surprise for me was the green curly endive that I had been growing as a salad green over winter and that came out in lovely blue aster-like flowers, seen here to the left. I guess after realising that endives are in fact members of the Asteraceae family, the shape and colour of the flowers are less of a surprise!

I have also been growing lucerne for mulch but I have not yet had the heart to cut it down, I find the flowers (pictured on the right) rather attractive, and once again, the bees just love them, too!

And even the potato patch is giving me unexpected delight, with delicate purple and yellow flowers above dark green leaves.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

A burst of native colours in my garden

When we first moved here five years ago, we planted a whole lot of native shrubs and trees along the edges of the garden. Then the drought hit. Some plants survived, others didn't, and most just scrambled along, not doing much. This year, with the little bit of early summer rain we have had, they suddenly sprang into action. I hope that the La Nina weather phenomenon that has started to develop over the Pacific Ocean will deliver more summer rains this year, as the years of drought have left a dehydrated and struggling landscape. It certainly seems like nature is sensing a change!

Many trees have shot up, a lot of the bushes have grown to a reasonable size, and there are flowers on a range of native shrubs. I particularly like the varieties with bottle brush flowers such as the lemon bottle brush (left) and the more common red bottle brush (bottom image). The shrub with the smallish purple brushes and tiny spiky leaves pictured on the right turned out to be a real surprise. I had planted five of those bushes, and they all looked like they might die two years ago.

Given the size of our three acre garden, I simply cannot water everything extensively, so these little things just got a can of water every now and again to keep them alive. Boy, did they reward me for my effort this year! The shrubs are all about a meter fifty high and covered in delicate purple blossoms.

Then there are a number of shrubby things with smallish white flowers which look like the bush is covered in snow (very befitting for somebody like me from the Northern Hemisphere finally getting used to the blistering heat of an Australian Christmas!). The eucalypt trees around our place are also starting to show their true forms - many change the shape and size of their leaves when they grow out of their juvenile stages.

Throughout the drought, the most reliable native shrubs that would still deliver plenty of blossoms turned out to be grevilleas. They propagate easily through cuttings. I have also tried my hand at propagating wattles and eucalypts - both grow best from seeds which I have collected from trees around our place and in the area. A very informative website on native plants, where they grow best and how to propagate them is Corrine's Mallee Native Plants. I find it incredibly rewarding to grow and plant my own shrubs and trees, and after having had some success, I am hooked!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It has been a busy fortnight

Before I knew it, almost two weeks have gone past since my last blog entry.

I got involved with GetUp's pre-election campaign and went to meetings, delivered information material to over 300 letterboxes in our village and spent some time at our local polling booth in an effort to "cut through the spin" and provide undecided voters with information on where the different parties stand in relation to particular policy areas such as climate change, education, broadband access for rural Australia, Iraq and Aboriginal affairs. Needless to say, I am thrilled with the election result and I am pleased that maybe, together with the many, many other volunteers around the country, I had a small part in bringing about change for our country.

I also spent a lot of time preparing and planting in the garden, and I have been to permaculture workshops and organic farming field days which provided me with lots of new ideas and insights, but unfortunately I was not able to sit down and write them up for my blog. Hopefully, over the next week or so, I will be able to find the time to share some of those thoughts and ideas with you.

Like many other Australians (in fact, there are now over 230,000 members), I had signed up to GetUp online at GetUp is a grassroots movement similar to the American organisation MoveOn. The organisation does not support any particular party but instead focusses on raising awareness on issues that are important for this country and that had for too long been swept under the carpet by the former Coalition government's spin and scare campaigns.

One of the highly successful GetUp campaigns was the organisation's climate change ad which challenged the Coalition governments' climate change policy whitewash. (I featured this ad in a previous blog entry .) Nevertheless, I had only been a passive online member until the day when I suddenly got a phone call from Dave, our local GetUp co-ordinator. Dave invited me to a meeting the next day. I went along and it all took off from there.

GetUp is not planning to wrap up only because the election is over. The organisation hopes to continue its valuable work of campaigning on political issues in this country and revitalise our democracy by giving ordinary citizens an avenue to voice their opinions and get actively involved in the political process. I was impressed with the professionalism of the organisation and I think this is also a great way of making new friends. I certainly got to know a range of interesting people who live in my area and I hope to continue my involvement with the group.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Climate Changing Faster than IPCC Worst-Case Scenario

I have just read another chilling piece of climate change news and it makes my stomach turn. The Australian Climate Institute has just released an independent review of the climate science post 2006 and subsequent to IPCC considerations. The IPCC report which will be coming out later this week only uses material published up to mid-2006. According to the Climate Institute research, many new important observations have been published since which were not considered for the IPCC report. The upshot of this report is:

- The IPCC assessment understimates the effects of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than the worst case scenario considered by the IPCC. In addition, the IPCC has not taken into consideration some scenarios with "low probability, high consequence events" such as "rapid collapse of ice sheets or climate-ecosystem feedbacks".

- The report also highlights the massive acceleration in global temperatures and a massive increase in the use of fossil fuels which exceeds the highest emissions scenarios considered by the IPCC.

- Of particular concern is what has been happening in the Arctic. The rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap is happening thirty years ahead of what the models have been predicting.

- The IPCC assumed that there would be limited effect of melting Antarctic ice sheets on ocean sea levels but newer studies now say that sea level rises could be "several metres per century with eventual rise of tens of meters, enough to transform global coastlines".

- The capacity of the land and the oceans to absorb CO2 is declining. As a result, oceans (which are currently considered as "sinks") may release CO2 back into the atmosphere, causing a "positive" (i.e. reinforcing) feedback loop.

The sad thing is that we have known about global warming for at least thirty years. We also have many technologies readily available that could make a big difference such as wind, solar, geothermal. We know how to build energy efficient and solar passive houses. We could have supported and expanded public transport instead of our massive investment in private automobiles and road infrastructure. We know that take off and landing are the two most energy-intensive periods in air travel, making short flights particularly bad, yet I don't know of any government that actively undertakes to reduce the ever expanding number of short flights and the growth of regional airports. We have wasted all that time doing what? And has all our consumption, our expansion, our economic growth made us happier?

Now we are in a situation where we not only have to reduce our emissions, we have to stop our emissions altogether and take CO2 out of the atmosphere. As George Monbiot said in a recent speech: "[R]ich nations must cut the emissions much further than anybody else, you realize that we are talking at a minimum of a 100% cut, and it looks like it might have to go to 110% or 115%. You laugh but we're talking about sequestration and we're talking about such things for example, as growing biofuel and burying it, simply for growing as much bio mass as we can and sticking it back on the ground....something.....anything to stave off this catastrophe." (a full transcript can be found at the beyondzeroemissions website).

And what are we doing? Australian Prime Minister John Howard only recently found that climate change is real (mostly a result of opinion polls that showed that the Australian public is increasingly unimpressed with his stand on the issue) but still calls Labor's modest 60 per cent emissions reduction target by 2050 "radical" and "extremist". On October 20, 2007, the Australian newspaper reported that New South Wales Farmers Association (NFA) executive councillors Howard Crozier and Ian McClintock still deny that there is any "possible link between this drought and man-made climate change." Mark Vale, the leader of the National Party, last month said that "there was "conflicting evidence" on the concept of climate change but later clarified his position, saying it did in fact exist." (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November 2007).

I can only hope that the opinion polls in the lead-up to this election are right and we will get a change in our national leadership, and that we will finally do our part in taking all the real, necessary and urgent steps we need to take to tackle this challenge.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

John and George talk about Climate Change

Isn't it a great relief that we have intelligent and future-oriented politicians in the US and in Australia who have been doing their best to address the issue of climate change? Here is a take on George Bush's approach to dealing with global warming:

And here is a parody of John Howard's climate change announcement:

The difference between the Australian and the UK Government

There could not be a starker difference than between the attitudes of the British and Australian governments towards climate change. According to a report in Scopical, Prime Minister John Howard said on 9 November 2007 that climate change "was not the end of the world", and that the economy was a more important issue. Howard then continued: "I don't think the world is about to come to an end because of climate change. I think we have to have a balanced approach.' Mr Howard was responding to a caller who had questioned the Prime Minister's motivations and election priorities. This is quite a remarkable attitude at a time when scientists around the world sound the alarm bells loud and clear that climate change is changing the world to an extent unseen in human history.

Contrast this attitude with the UK government's stand on climate change: "Climate change is one of the most urgent issues of our time. The first step towards tackling the problem is to make sure everyone understands exactly what the challenge is and what we all need to do to make a difference. [...] We need to educate, excite and inspire others so that we can start working together to tackle climate change." The following movie clip is from the UK's climate challenge website.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A visit to Jackie French's garden

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Jackie French's garden in the Araluen Valley, approximately an hour and a half south-east of Canberra. It was like a visit to the garden of Eden. In our own garden we currently delight in the first few strawberries that are starting to ripen. In Jackie French's place, the trees are laden with oranges, lemons, limes, avocados, medlars and a whole lot of other fruit I have never seen before and have no names for. The climate is very similar to ours, what makes the difference are her gardening methods.

Jackie French's 1992 book "The Wilderness Garden" was the first Australian gardening book I bought when we started out on our previous suburban block almost ten years ago. In her book, she seemed to throw all the conventional wisdom overboard and called for messy, natural gardens that would look after themselves. At the time I tried some of the ideas with varying success. It just sounded all too good to be true.

Over recent months I raided our local library and borrowed every Jackie French gardening book I could get my hands on. Grow tropical fruit in our climate of frosty winters and hot, dry summers? Have a garden that only takes a couple of hours each week of looking after? Grow fruit and vegetables all year round? How on earth do you do that? It still sounded all rather fanciful until I saw her actual place.

The first impression when you walk onto Jackie's property is a sense of peacefulness. Following a dirt track through beautiful silvery green Australian bushland, the home garden opens onto a green oasis. "Open" is maybe the wrong word, as there are only some smaller areas with open grass. There is plenty of welcome shade around under the large deciduous trees that dominate the entrance area in front of the house. Not that you can really see the house - it is hidden behind rambling roses, trees, bushes, a flowering and fruiting wilderness which extends far beyond and halfway up the hill behind the house.

In her books, Jackie French comes across as a quintessential no-nonsense Australian, friendly, warm and down to earth. This impression was quickly confirmed by the real life Jackie who talks the way she writes (or rather, writes the way she talks!).

It is a highly productive garden in tune with nature. It is a garden that has no place for poisonous sprays or artificial fertilizers. Jackie spoke passionately about her belief in creating gardens that entitle all creatures to some of the garden's riches ("10 per cent for the birds, the rest for us!"). In return, the birds provide pest control services and beauty.
The astounding range of birds was clearly audible, and the odd dropping confirmed the presence of the more publicity-shy wombats and wallabies.

One key to her gardening success is growing trees in groves, a concept she has also explained in detail on her website. The other is to plant lots and plant thickly to reduce evaporation from our drought stricken gardens. But I think the ultimate key is simply her sheer love of the place and its human, animal and plant inhabitants, her generosity (we were all invited to take some fruit home to grow our own trees from their seeds!) and her infectious passion. This is the kind of garden that can feed us all without petrochemicals and genetic engineering. I believe this is the kind of garden for a better future.

When I got back home I went straight back into my garden. I can see a number of trees that are already established and which will make great starting points for some groves...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How to Get Rid of Online Ads and Ad Banners

One of the most pervasive and irritating aspects of modern life is the sheer amount of advertising we are exposed to on a daily basis. I manage to escape most of that advertisement by only watching public television and listening to public radio. I don't read weekly or monthly magazines which these days seem to contain more advertisement and editorials with product promotions than original content. However, until recently I had been unable to escape ever more and increasingly annoying ads on the Internet.

This has now changed. I have found a simple, free solution using css stylesheets called adsubstract. The developers claim that this solution works with most browsers. I have tested it with Safari. It is very easy to set up and it works like a charm! Instead of annoying pop-ups and flashy ads all I get now is a white space where the ad would have been. I can finally read the newspaper without having to close pop-ups that superimpose themselves over the page I am reading and without being distracted by ads demanding my attention.

My advertisement abstinence has a curious effect: I don't know what the latest "must have" gadgets or fashions are and so I have no desire to rush out and buy them. When I go shopping, I am always surprised at all the STUFF that is out there and that people seem so keen to buy even though I cannot even imagine a need for it. Advertisement does work, even on people who do not want to get sucked into the consumerist lifestyle that is so pervasive in our society. I have always tried to be reasonably frugal but it does take a very conscious effort to not buy things that are not absolutely necessary. The most important aspect of being able to resist from buying things only because they are on offer is to understand the difference between needs and wants.

Advertisement makes that distinction very difficult for most consumers. So many things look so promising and seem to make so much sense when they are pushed by commercials and ads. According to the magazine PEDIATRICS "Advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents. Young people view more than 40 000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use. Media education has been shown to be effective in mitigating some of the negative effects of advertising on children and adolescents." I think this finding not only applies to children, it applies to all of us.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Australian Election 2007 - YouTube Update

This year's election campaign is made so much more interesting with satirical YouTube videos making fun of the candidates. One of my favourites on John Howard is "Bennelong Time Since I Rock and Rolled":

The best Kevin Rudd YouTube satire I have come across was also mentioned by other Australian media in the last few days. (A note to my non-Australian readers: Kevin Rudd impressed the Australian public and the Chinese delegation when he spoke in Mandarin at the APEC summit in Sydney earlier this year). In case you missed it, here it is:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Close Encounter of the Venomous Kind

Working and playing in the garden in Australia is wonderful. Unfortunately, it can also be deadly. In our part of Australia, the garden will harbour a number of venomous species, including venomous spiders (redback spiders, whitetail spiders) and highly venomous snakes such as Tiger Snakes (Notechis scutatus) and Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) and the less dangerous but still venomous Redbellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus).

It is easy to miss a spider or a snake and get bitten, so the key is to be aware of the dangers. When we first moved here, our shed was a breeding ground for redback spiders. Every box I opened had one crawling out to me. Redbacks are very shy, so as long as you are careful and don't put your hand into something without looking first, you are less likely to get bitten.

I managed to get myself bitten by a spider about a fortnight ago. Luckily it was "only" a huntsman spider which was clearly unimpressed with my attempt to remove some scale from a young eucalyptus tree. Huntsman spiders rarely bite and are not poisonous to humans. It still freaked me out - huntsman spiders are very big and very hairy, just the sort of spider that would come to haunt you in a nightmare. The one that bit me looked kind of pregnant with a very big belly.

The Eastern Brown Snake is among Australia's deadliest snakes. And that's exactly what we encountered in the garden this week. The day before yesterday, three year old S came into the house to inform me that he had seen a snake and it had gone underneath the shed the kids use as their cubby house. I kept the kids inside for the rest for the day but obviously I cannot lock them up for ever! Yesterday we did not see another one, but today I spotted it myself - same spot, same time of the day. It was a huge adult brown snake, at least 1.20m long, and again it vanished underneath the shed.

According to the University of Sydney, "there are about 3,000 snake bites per year [in Australia], of which 200 to 500 receive antivenom; on average one or two will prove fatal. About half the deaths are due to bites from the brown snake; the rest mostly from tiger snake, taipan and death adder. Some deaths are sudden, however in fact it is uncommon to die within four hours of a snake bite."

I rang Wildcare and had Hans, our local snake handler come out to have a look. He came with his snake handling gear but could not catch it because it was hiding. He gave us some tips on how to avoid getting bitten by a snake. This is mostly about making snakes more visible. Brown snakes and Tiger snakes are notoriously hard to spot - when they lie on the ground it is extremely easy to mistake them for a stick.

This is a summary of his advice:
- Keep the grass short.
- Fill in any cracks and holes under floors or sheds.
- Clear rocks, logs and the like from around the house and the kids' play area.
- Trim bushes around the house and the play area to about half a meter off the ground so that snakes can be spotted easily.

It is also important to know what to do if you spot a snake:
Stand absolutely still. Snakes have no ears, but they can feel vibrations. If the snake has seen you, keep a close watch on the snake. It is likely to be more frightened of you than you are of the snake and will probably move away if you do not move. Then move slowly backwards, always keeping an eye on the snake. Do not run, as the vibrations will alert the snake to your presence and it may feel threatened.

And last, what to do if you get bitten (hopefully you and I will never, ever experience this) by an Australian snake.
Note: this may not apply to snakes outside Australia, so check with your local wildlife authority if you live somewhere else!:

- Immediately apply a pressure bandage. We bought a handy snake pack from Reptile Awareness Displays of Australia at one of their snake demonstrations at a local country show. Most people get bitten on their limbs, either on their leg or an arm.
- Firmly bandage starting from the toes or the fingers. The key is to stop the venom from moving through your body.
- Immobilize bitten limb with a sling and/or splint.
- Keep patient still and calm.
- Ring 000 immediately to get medical attention.
- Monitor pulse and breathing. If either cease, apply mouth-to-mouth or CPR until medical attention arrives.
- Where possible bring vehicle to patient (to avoid moving patient, it is really important to stay still to stop the venom from spreading).
- Do not try to catch or kill the snake as hospitals can identify the snake from samples taken around the bite site.

And last not least, here is part two of a three-part video on Australia's ten deadliest snakes by the late Steve Irwin. Our local Tiger snake is number four on Steve's list. The Eastern Brown Snake is number two. I suggest not showing this video to your kids, as what Steve is doing here is utterly crazy and could be fatal to anybody else.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At Last: Solar Panels Are About to Become Affordable

I just came across a recent article in "Industry Week" announcing that low-cost high efficient solar panels developed under the auspices of mechanical engineering Professor W.S. Sampath at Colorado State University will soon go into mass production.

The article estimates that the cost to the consumer could be about half the current cost of solar panels and points out that the technology can be affordably installed and operated in nearly any location.

This is very exciting news. A massive reduction in production cost compared to traditional solar panels means that the new panels will be able to produce energy at roughly the same cost as "traditionally" generated energy. Accordingly, the cost argument for continuing to use coal and other fossil fuels becomes less and less convincing.

Electricity generation is the biggest single contributor to global warming, both globally and in Australia. If we could replace old technologies such as coal fired power stations with cheap solar power energy, we could make a massive saving on our overall contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Production of these new panels is expected to start by the end of next year.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The World Solar Challenge is On Again!

I am usually not a great fan of car racing. But then again, I am not a great fan of spectator sports in general anyway. Of course, motor sport is only a very small contributor to CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, but given the huge effort we have to make to reverse our massive impact on our global climate, it seems to me that any carbon-emitting activity that is not vital for our society should be suspended.

Luckily for those who really like car races, there is an exciting alternative. The Solar World Challenge is on again, with over 50 teams racing in solar cars across the Australian continent. The Solar Challenge is now in its 20th year. The cars look fantastic - streamlined, slim, futuristic (the small picture on the right shows the car of the University of NSW Solar Racing Team). I wouldn't mind driving one of those myself!

In fact, world emissions from road transport alone account for close to ten per cent of total CO2 emissions. The solar car race demonstrates that it is possible to fuel cars by sunlight. Just think of the possibilities! I think it is a great shame that we have not yet seen a massive government and industry investment in these transport alternatives. Just imagine the technological advances we could have made over the last twenty years! We could all be driving these cool cars now instead of lugging around clunky, ugly and CO2 belching sedans, four-wheel drives or SUVs.

What a shame that our corporate media are not more actively involved on site, reporting on the progress of the race. I would love to be able to follow it through the news rather than having to check up on it through the net.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Welcome back, Margo Kingston!

I met Margo Kingston in July 2004 at the Bungendore launch of her book "Not happy, John". Margo used to be a mainstay on Phillip Adam's wonderful radio programme Late Night Live and a very knowledgeable political journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald. She set up an inter-active online political opinion forum called "Webdiary" which she described as an "experiment in 'participatory journalism' between writer and reader". Webdiary was initially part of the Sydney Morning Herald's website. In short, she was one of the most important political journalists in Australia at the time.

And then she published "Not happy, John" in 2004, just before the last federal election.

At the book launch, Margo explained why she had started Webdiary and what had inspired her to write "Not happy John". She felt that the Liberal Party had led down "small l liberals". She outlined the way John Howard and his friends were undermining democracy in Australia through deliberate misinformation (eg on the reasons for going to war in Iraq), the removal of freedom of information by adding "commercial in confidence" clauses, pork-barreling as a way of buying votes, and pandering to overseas powers and bending the rules to accommodate them (such as during the visits of US President George Bush and Chinese President Hu in October 2003).

And she explained why the Australian media at the time seemed unable to critically analyse what was happening in front of their very eyes. I remember in particular her comment that in Australia, journalists only have a small number of potential employers: mainly Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax. A journalist who falls foul of either one of them may well find him- or herself out of a job permanently in this country. A strong incentive not to stray too far off the accepted course, especially if you have a mortgage to serve and a family to feed. Margo said at the launch that because she did not have to support a family, she not only had the freedom to pursue a more critical journalistic role, she also felt the responsibility to do so.

"Not happy, John" was a passionate book. It was an important book. Unfortunately, the Australian public was not ready for it and voted John Howard back into office. To make matters worse, John Howard not only dominated the Lower House, he also managed to secure a majority in the Senate. John Howard continued his disastrous policies on climate change and surprised the Australian people with the introduction of his so-called "Work Choices" legislation. Nobody was able to stop him.

And Margo suddenly vanished from the public scene. Her Webdiary got the chop from the Sydney Morning Herald. It was moved to a private website where it was kept alive by a group of concerned citizens. Margo no longer wrote articles. Her informed voice, so important for Australia's democracy, had fallen silent.

But now she is back. I heard her on Phillip Adam's Late Night Live last week Tuesday (16 October 2007). And she has written another book, "Still not happy, John". If the opinion polls in the lead-up to the coming election are anything to go by, a majority of the Australian public now agrees with her.

Welcome back, Margo. I hope we will hear a lot more from you again.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Greening the Desert

I am getting increasingly interested in the concept of permaculture and in how to garden in a place that may end up resembling a desert, if the drought continues for much longer and longer term climate change predictions are anything to go by.

I have been trying to find more information on desert gardening. I recently came upon an article in The New Scientist from 14 October 2006, which described the success of tree-planting in the Sahel region of Africa, where farmers managed to reverse desertification by preserving existing trees and planting new acacia trees. This not only made the desert retreat, it also influenced local weather, with researchers attributing an increase in rainfall to the larger number of trees.

I also found this great video which describes a project to green the desert in Jordan.

I am sure that some of those techniques would also work in Australia, including in our garden.

In the Garden

I have spent a lot of time in the garden this last week. The drought is starting to bite again. The grass is dying off, and keeping the vegetables alive and well is a daily toil. Those vegetables that are already established and have plenty of mulch around are doing ok, but the new seeds and very young seedlings need a lot of looking after. The sun burnt relentlessly the last few days, although it is only October and supposed to be spring. But despite the earlier onset of heat during the day, we also had a couple of nights with frost. Yet most damaging have been the gusty, hot and dry winds which have swept across the land, sucking all remaining moisture out of the soil.

Some climate scientists warn of coming food shortages, even in spoilt Western countries. The media already report on seed shortages in Australia and New Zealand. The drought, coupled with increased demand from China and India, is also biting into milk supply in Australia, where butter and cream are becoming increasingly difficult to get for bakeries and patisseries, and some rural commentators warn that a lot of foods may no longer be available by Christmas. Fruit and vegetables prices are on the rise and are said to go up even higher. Given what happened with bananas last year, after cyclone Larry struck Northern Queensland, wiping out most of the banana crop and raising banana prices to over $12 a kilo, I will not be surprised by anything.

So I keep on going. I walk the garden with my watering can every day. So far my effort is paying off. I am already harvesting some wonderful vegetables - spinach has done well, as have silverbeet and mibuna. We have had quite a few broad beans, maybe not yet enough for a full meal, but certainly enough to add to something else. My potato patch is showing signs of life, although the first tops that peaked out through the straw were burnt off by frost. My broccoli is now in flower and I am going to let it go to seed, ditto for my kale, both of which have been wonderful staples throughout the winter months. I find self-seeded snow peas growing like weeds in all sorts of odd spots, and some bok choy has turned up unexpectedly next to the first sprouting jerusalem artichokes. Onions have gone in and are looking hopeful, and I may possibly get a good batch of garlic next winter. There are leeks growing which will be ready to harvest soon, and a first batch of carrots is not too far away from being ready.

However, looking after my vegetables does take time - I am not sure how other people manage to do this in half an hour during the weekend, as it takes me at least an hour each day, mostly because it just will not rain!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let's Vote for Politicians Who are Truly Climate Clever!

The Australian Government under Liberal Prime Minister John Howard has consistently ignored climate change as a real threat. John Howard has in the past repeatedly told the public that he was a climate change "sceptic."

Unfortunately for the government, the public has now woken up to climate change. The changing climate is highly visible in Australia which has been experiencing an on-going drought for a number of years now. Now the Howard Government is trying to re-brand it's climate change policies. Instead of investing in solutions, the Howard Government has been using taxpayers' money to dress up its own inaction as "climate clever." The original government ad is a "clever" mix of good advice (line dry your clothes, change to energy efficient light bulbs) and the promotion of (currently non-existent) "clean coal" technology and nuclear power.

The Australian grassroots organisation "Get-Up" produced a wonderful spoof of Howard's climate change ads which was shown during the Australian Football League Grand Final. Here is an opportunity for you to see it.

There is absolutely no doubt that we all have to do our bit to tackle climate change. Consumers have to change their habits, and that is certainly something I am trying to do myself and promote on this blog.

However, if governments continue to promote the burning of fossil fuels, support the coal industry, look for solutions that may or may not deliver positive greenhouse outcomes far in the future (such as Howard's love-affair with nuclear power) and do not act decisively to include carbon cost into energy pricing now, then all the small steps we as individuals may take will get completely swamped by the big decisions our governments make.

Throughout its eleven years in government, the Howard Government has
- refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, thus helping the other big climate denier, the USA under George Bush, to erode international efforts in tackling the problems early on;
- undermined the development of renewable energy in Australia by not setting proper targets for renewable energy; and
- promoted non-binding emission reduction targets which result in no reduction at all.

The single biggest contribution to climate change all of us can make is to VOTE for a party that takes climate change seriously and pressure governments in power to work much, much harder on finding solutions. If the majority of the world's scientists are right - and I have no reason to doubt that they are not - we are running out of time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Does Your PC Choke on Coal While You are Asleep?

Computers around the country contribute to climate change even when nobody is using them.

Let's assume you use a standard desktop computer with an LCD flat screen. You work during the day and leave your computer on for 12 hours over night while you are not there. Sound familiar? This is a standard scenario for thousands of computers used in call centres and offices around Australia where the screens will go into stand-by mode and the computers remain turned on but sit idle for 12 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The scary part about this is that even though you may not be doing any work, your computer continues to use large amounts of energy. During the time you are away from your desk, your typical desktop computer uses almost 335 kilowatt hours of energy per year, just for sitting there, turned on but doing nothing.

In Australia, most electricity is produced by burning black coal. To keep just a single computer going over night doing nothing, you have to burn approximately 160 kg of black coal a year! This amount does not include the amount of coal burnt while you actually use the computer, it is solely for keeping the computer on over night.

Carbon emissions differ across countries depending on the energy source used. In Australia, your lonely computer will produce just under 350 kilograms of annual carbon dioxide emissions while you are asleep.

There are some obvious solutions. At home, you can turn your computer off at the wall before you go to sleep and subscribe to a 100 per cent green power option through your energy provider to reduce your computer's impact on the environment.

But what about work? If you cannot turn your computer off at the wall, at least use your computer's energy saving option. Appropriate power management (which will put your computer into sleep mode while idle) will save up to 95 per cent of the energy you would otherwise use. If your company has a policy of keeping computers on over night, talk to your management about it. The convenience of leaving your computer on is not a good enough reason to contribute to climate change.

Figures on coal requirements and carbon dioxide emissions were provided by the Australian Greenhouse Office following a personal inquiry.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How Many Nuclear Power Stations Does it Take to Dry Your Clothes?

A dear friend of mine who currently resides in the United States told me that in her New York suburb people are not allowed to use a clothes line. In other suburbs, where there is no such regulation, people often choose not to use a clothesline because people might think that they do not have the money to own and run a dryer.

The utter absurdity of these regulations has finally come to the attention of some state governments in the US. According to a an article published by the Christian Science Monitor on 24 August 2007, The 'Right to Dry' – movement is growing and some states have introduced legislation to override clothesline bans, which are often instituted by community associations. Apparently, the main reason why community associations ban clotheslines is that some people are so prudish that they find other people's clean clothes offensive. Quite frankly, I find it more than offensive that people think they can trash our environment for such a stupid reason!

There are so many reasons why clothes lines are far superior to a clothes dryer that I actually think we should ban all clothes dryers!

Clothes dryers use a huge amount of energy.
Clothes dryers account for approximately six percent of energy use in the residential sector in some US states.
In 2005, there were 88 million dryers in the US, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. The Christian Science Monitor estimates that these dryers consume annually 1,079 kilowatt hours of energy per household, creating 2,224 pounds (or slightly over 1,008 kilograms) of carbon-dioxide emissions per year.
That makes a total of 94,952 million kilowatt hours of energy spent to run clothes dryers in the US! By comparison, California's nuclear power industry produced only 36,155 million kilowatt hours of energy in 2005.

This is a complete no-brainer! Clothes lines use no energy. I wonder how many nuclear power stations could be shut down if we all stopped using clothes dryers?

Line-dried clothes last much longer.
I have always been puzzled by American websites suggesting ideas on how to deal with the lint produced by their dryers. My clothes do not produce lint. I did not even know what lint was until I read about it on the Internet! Lint is a result of clothes dryers (and old-fashioned, inefficient top-loading washing machines) subjecting clothes and other fabric items to stress. As a result, particles and short fibers come off and form fluffy clumps known as lint. Fabrics then become thinner over time and clothes start fraying and falling apart. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep your clothes in one piece rather than trying to come up with ideas on how to use the bits that fall off because you are subjecting your fabrics to too much stress?

Clothes that have been allowed to dry in the sun smell beautifully.
You can completely skip using perfumes in your laundry powder, the sun does the job so much better.

Line drying your clothes saves you money.
Yep, you can get something for free! Running a clothes dryer once a day will cost you around US$135 a year, according to the Home Energy Saver website. Using your clothes line is free. You don't even have to invest in solar panels to get the sun to do the job for you!

Line drying saves ironing.
There is a bit of technique involved here. I hate ironing and have not ironed a thing in years. If you hang your clothes carefully and fold them properly when you take them off (rather than stuff them with gusto in your clothes basket), the wind will do the work for you and you will never have to use your iron again.

Clothes lines are stylish.
Just think of Italy and the lines of clothes hanging between houses! Or Australia with it's iconic Hills Hoist in the backyard! I certainly find a living backyard or streetscape with kids, clothes lines and vegetable beds far more appealing than the sterile ugliness of manicured lawns.

Lose weight by using a clothes line!
Here is some incidental exercise to help you stay slim or lose weight and get some fresh air in the process! So much better for you, for your wallet, and for the environment than driving to the gym and breathe in the wafts of sweat and other fumes you and your fellow gym inmates produce when you lift artificial weights or run on an electric treadmill.

Clothes dryers are responsible for a large number of house fires.
The US Fire Administration estimates that clothes dryers account for about 15,600 structure fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries annually.

And last, but not least - yes, you can dry clothes even in wet weather. Just bring them inside and dry them indoors using a clothes rack!