Overwhelmed & Discouraged: The latest IPCC report

I’m feeling pretty deflated this today, I’ll admit. Deflated and frustrated.

From Slate.com

From Slate.com

It’s taken me a while to write this today, partly because there’s so much to read through, partly because it makes for such depressing reading, and partly because I can’t help but listen to this negative little voice that’s telling me that it’s pointless to even bother. Because people and nation states are still not going to change. You look at the Australian government right now, and then you look me in the eye and tell me seriously that Australia is going to kick off some real, meaningful action to reduce our emissions. You drive through Texas and tell me that all these people are going to give up their trucks, reduce their air-conditioning usage. Look at mining and gas companies and tell me that they’re going to look at ways of shifting across to green energy. Look at China and India and tell that they’ll put their industrial and economic development on ice, because those of us in developed countries (which have caused the problems in the first place) are asking nicely.

It’s not going to happen. And if it ever does, I can’t help but feel it will be right at that tipping point, where it’s already too late.

I’m sorry for being such an enormously melodramatic negative Nelly, but the enormity of this problem is starting to overwhelm me. With each IPCC report that comes out, the outlook looks bleaker and bleaker. A few quotes from the latest report on what has already happened:

In many regions, changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological
systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality

Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of
climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts…Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate.

Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods,
cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems
and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence). Impacts of
such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, morbidity and mortality, and consequences for mental health and human well-being. For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors.

Of course, countries are trying to adapt to these new effects, but the description of these adaptations worldwide is just a half a page. Seriously. We are already feeling the effects of climate change worldwide, and our best efforts regarding adaptation can be summarised in a half page. The predictions for the future of climate change don’t offer us much promise unless we get ourselves into gear in terms of both prevention and adaptation though – again, some choice quotes:

Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger (medium confidence).

A large fraction of both terrestrial and freshwater species faces increased extinction risk
under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century, especially as climate
change interacts with other stressors, such as habitat modification, over-exploitation,
pollution, and invasive species (high confidence)

Until mid-century, projected climate change will impact human health mainly by
exacerbating health problems that already exist (very high confidence). Throughout the
21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions
and especially in developing countries with low income, as compared to a baseline without
climate change (high confidence)

Reading through the report has left me overwhelmed. Eric Holthaus summarises my feelings beautifully in this paragraph from his article in Slate:

It’s difficult for me, as both a scientist and as a human, to emotionally process continued inaction on climate change. My characterization of this report may make it seem like the problem is hopeless. It’s not. There’s still time to stave off most of the worst effects if we all work together and realize that every single person’s actions, no matter how small, make a difference. But it will take massive action.

My greatest fear? We’re still not ready for the necessary ‘massive action.’

You can read the IPCC report for yourself here.



Good news!

Image from the GetUp! site


This is the best news I’ve seen out of Australia in a long time. After carving off a chunk of World Heritage designated land in Tasmania and allowing the expansion of a coal port in northern Queensland, the Australian population has said enough is enough and is standing up against the dumping of dredging sludge in the Great Barrier Reef. A campaign by GetUp! has seen thousands of donations which will go towards a legal challenge by the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office against the Australian Government. Will they win? I’m not sure. But if nothing else it goes to show that the Australian people will not take the wholesale destruction of their environment lying down.

You can contribute to the GetUp! campaign here.

Strange variations: Ecological Footprints in two countries

Last week I started an online course, An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health which is being run by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. It started out well. A lot of the introductory information was about things that I’m reasonably familiar with, through my studies or just general reading-for-interest, but there were also other elements that I didn’t know about, so it was nice to continue my learning.

One of the things that really fascinated me was taking the Ecological Footprint quiz. The coordinators suggested that we do this and respond to an overall class poll so we could see the wide range of resources that different students are using. They also suggested that we play around with the poll and explore how different living situations might produce different outcomes. Out of curiosity, I decided to compare my life here in the USA and my life in Australia.

This was my result for the USA:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.44.15 PM

This was my result for Australia:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.49.41 PM


Whaaaaat?! This seemed completely crazy to me. I really thought the outcomes would be very similar – my diet is very similar in both countries, our energy consumption is similar (although green options seemed more accessible in Sydney – possibly because I knew more about the electricity market at home), I use a car with the same very limited frequency, my purchasing habits and recycling/trash habits are much the same…even more strangely, I would typically fly further in a year in Australia than here!

I’m honestly having a lot of trouble figuring out this discrepancy. I’ve taken the quiz multiple times to make sure there wasn’t a glaring error. I’ve looked at it over and over. One difference I can see is that the Australian quiz is a lot more specific – for example, it asks what type of lightbulbs you use, how much your gas/electricity bills are per month etc. These aren’t options in the US version. Even so, I just can’t see any really compelling reason for the difference.

I’d be interested in what your thoughts are. I’d also be really interested to know what quiz results you get (and because it seems surprisingly relevant, what country you’re based in). You can take the quiz here.

A week of infographics: Day 3

Merry Christmas, ya’ll! Hope that whatever your beliefs and traditions, you’re having a lovely day with family and friends.

(I’m sorry to be such a downer with the infographic, but I do think it’s useful info!)

This infographic is from Inhabitat. Click through for the original piece.

These are just the tiniest of ideas – most of all, enjoy and make it all worthwhile!

When science is ignored


Bees – the cause of some of the most recent controversy about scientific independence

I’ve been quite alarmed by some of the articles that I’ve read this week.  The first was this piece by George Monbiot, condemning the UK’s Chief Scientist for playing politics rather than representing honest science.  The second was a post on Bad Astronomy, about the interference of the sphere of politics into that of science in the United States.

What happens when scientists becomes spineless?  What happens when the political agenda defines the scientific agenda and removes peer review along the way?

The world is at a critical point in so many ways. Climate change and our energy future, deforestation, rising rates of species extinctions are all current and concerning. They are also all issues that are politically fraught and, rightly or wrongly, highly debated.  Now, more than ever, the independence and non-partisan nature of science needs to be ensured. All evidence needs to be considered and presented scientifically and without bias.  As Phil Plait notes, ‘when a society’s government starts dictating what can and cannot be investigated, scientific and creative progress stalls.’

Not only does it stall, it also throws us to the mercy of Economics, Growth and Big Business that determine so much of the political agenda, and at the moment, that’s the last thing we need.


Update on the veggie patch

You guys may remember our veggie patch back in late October from this post. I thought I’d just share with you how the garden is going…

PicMonkey Collage

Our tomato plants are trying to take over the entire garden. We have hundreds more tiny green ones still on the bush – the top right hand corner is part of the first harvest (we ate some before I took this photo). Everything apart from the capsicums is thriving like crazy and I get excited every time I walk out the back door. Even better, I’ll hopefully be able to keep the edible garden going all year round – David gave me the Little Veggie Patch Co’s Guide to Backyard Farming for Christmas, which recommends fruits and vegetables for planting and harvesting all year round.
For now though, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that everything will bounce back okay after today’s heat – it’s been 43 degrees Celsius in Sydney…

Summertime climbing in Sydney

At 30 degrees celsius, yesterday was a pretty regular Sydney summer day.  I don’t mind this sort of weather, but going climbing and hiking in it probably wasn’t the best idea that David and I ever had.  By 3-4pm, the sun was absolutely belting down and we were tired and thirsty.  Not recommended.

I thought I’d share a few photos though, just because I think that climbing is such a great way to get away from all the trappings of the city and the suburbs.  There are rock walls in all of the national parks around Sydney, including Lane Cove, which is the one we went to.  It’s mere blocks from my university, but a world away once you get onto the trails.

PicMonkey Collage1

PicMonkey Collage2


I’m curious about you guys – do your cities have bushland (not just parks) within your city limits?  Do you use them?

Welcome to 2013


New Year’s fairy lights

Happy New Year all!  I hope everyone had a lovely and relaxing festive season with family and friends.

I am going into this new year with a lot of good intentions.  One is to blog more frequently (ahem).  Another is to finally (finally) finish my Masters.  With just two subjects to go, I should be done by the end of the year.  And then, who knows?  Further study and research is definitely an option, but I guess we’ll need to wait and see. Yet another major one is to climb better and do more outdoors, so any adventures like that may pop up from time to time.

I’ve also done a short list of things to read and watch (and write about) this year.  A number of the books are already sitting on my bookcase, waiting for me to get to them (I did get three of Vonnegut’s books for Christmas though, so there maybe a delay on those!).  I’d love for some further recommendations, so please leave any ideas in the comments section.  Thanks!

Reading List: 2013

Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health – Marion Nestle

Waste – Tristram Stuart.  I started this a few years ago and was fascinated, but, in my usual fashion, got distracted by another book.  I would also really recommend his TED talk (on the list below)

The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter – Peter Singer and Jim Mason.

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating – Mark Bittman

Prosperity Without Growth – Tim Jackson

The Great Disruption – Paul Gilding

TED Talks: 2013

The Global Food Waste Scandal – Tristram Stuart.  I just watched this and it was short and excellent.

What’s wrong with what we eat? – Mark Bittman

Greening the ghetto – Majora Carter

The other inconvenient truth – Jonathan Foley

One seed at a time, protecting the future of food – Cary Fowler

Obesity + Hunger = 1 Global Food Issue – Ellen Gustafson

Why I must speak out on climate change – James Hansen

A Plant’s Eye View – Michael Pollan

Sustainable seafood?  Let’s get smart – Barton Seaver

Film/TV: 2013

BBC’s Planet Earth.  I’m just as shocked as you that I haven’t watched this yet

BBC’s Frozen Planet



The Great Global Warming Swindle (I’m curious.  I’m also not going to make any promises about my mood afterwards…)

No Impact Man

The Climate Question: Degrees of Change

The 11th Hour

5 totally not rocket science tips for reducing your footprint

Maybe it’s just the blogs and news articles I read, but it’s becoming harder and harder not to just get caught up in a cycle-of-DOOM mentality: in which the human race is exterminated through its own folly, after decades of warfare over food and water, dying en masse from heatwaves and hurricanes and unseasonable cold snaps.

Doom= feeling defeated.

There are little, totally simple things we can do though.  This is just the tiniest handful of ideas, many of which have been shared a thousand times before, but please feel free to share it around…

Grow things.  Plant trees to offset carbon emissions.  Place pot plants around your home to help purify the air.  Grow your own herbs and vegetables, using as little pesticide and commercial fertiliser as possible. Use native plants to help prevent erosion and restore the soil.


Not just at home and not just the lights.  Turn off the computer when you leave the office.  If you’re the last one out, turn off the lights.  Office blocks should look like it’s Earth Hour every night.  At home, switch to energy efficient bulbs – they actually produce bright enough light these days and will save you money in the long run.  Turn off the TV if no one is watching.  Spend time away from the TV and the computer – read a book, spend time with friends, go for a run.

It’s really easy.  I’m not suggesting you go vegan or vegetarian or flexitarian or whatever.  Just eat a little less – make at least one (preferably two) meals a day meat free.  There are so many fantastic non-meat options for protein available that you shouldn’t feel deprived.  Remember, cheese is still on the menu!

Walk where you can. Ride where you can.  Walk to the train or the bus.  Just drive less.  Sometimes, it’s hard to avoid, sure.  But if you’re driving 3 blocks to the store, you’re doing it wrong.

Share your food – it’ll be all the tastier.  Cook more and avoid processed junk that is produced from crops that have caused deforestation in factories that are run on fossil fuels.  Enjoy good food – that alone challenges the industrial food system.


Well, friends, as of last night uni is over for another semester.  And I have to admit that despite my passion for food/ environment issues, I will happily avoid any literature on food deserts for at least a month.  Guys, that stuff is crazy.  The more I read, the more confused I get.  There is so much uncertainty, so much controversy and so much contradiction that by the time I submitted my paper I’d just about turned myself inside out.  It’s definitely something I’d like to delve into further though – just give me a few weeks breathing space!

Today, I thought I’d share a video that I watched last night.  My friend Rodrigo linked to it on Facebook and I started watching it thinking that it was just an exceptionally well-filmed nature documentary.  It wasn’t.

It is definitely worth watching, and I think that it’s really important that lots of people do see it.  But please also be warned that it is pretty harrowing and I did sit at my desk in tears for a while (yes, I’m a sook about some things).

Please think about donating to his Kickstarter.  And also, let me know what you think.

(On a side note, I should be much more consistent with blogging for a while.  I won’t have uni again until early August and I have also just started a new job – hence the limited free time that I have won’t be absorbed by job applications – at least not for a while I hope!  I hope you’ll come back to join me again!)