Canvassing Ideas for Real Change

When it comes to recycling, it seems that Australians are steadily rising off the proverbial couch of apathy. There remain, however, a number of issues that have seemingly fallen between the cushions.

Last year, more than 4 billion plastic bags were used in Australia. Roughly 85% of these ended up in landfill sites while millions of others were cast to the wind to live out their non-biodegradable afterlife on the ocean floor and in the stomachs of ocean fauna. Many Newington students and parents have been involved in Clean Up Australia day for several years. In 2014, the event falls on the 2nd of March, and organisers are predicting the collection of more than half a million plastic bags. Around the world, more than 1 trillion plastic bags produced are manufactured each year.

There have, of course, been a number of positive steps made in the last decade; one of the most effective was an Australian retailer program of reducing plastic bag use by 50%. It was successful in achieving this objective but when the program ended in 2006, bag use immediately increased by 17% within just 12 months. Since then, very little progress has been made. To see this, we only need look so far as an article from the Sydney Morning Herald titled: “Plastic bags join endangered list” (See link below). In it, Environment Reporter, Ben Cubby says “Peter Garrett [then environment minister] is likely to impose either a levy on each bag handed to shoppers, or to ban them outright within 12 months.” And we might be very happy to pat ourselves on the back, except for the slight complication that the article is from January 2008… more than 6 years ago. In that time, no such levy or ban has come any closer to being established.

Having said that, the push has not been quite so spectacularly becalmed across Bass Strait, with Tasmania having had a ban on plastic bags for nearly 6 months. South Australia took the plunge even before that. Further afield, Los Angeles, last month, enacted a citywide ban on the use of plastic bags in large retailers (with smaller retailers being given a transition period of 6 more months). Such action is undeniably possible.

Luckily, it is not the only route to success. Change can be just as effectively implemented without the need for new legislation. In fact, all it requires is a little bit of consideration on your part. Forget hedge funds, super and the stock market, a few dollars spent on several canvas bags is one of the best investments you could make. Turn your loose change, into real change. Sturdier transportation, less cluttered streets, less polluted oceans and another step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The plastic bag has had its time, now is your chance to put it to rest.

And once you’ve done that, consider:

Clean Up Australia Day
When: 9-12am, Sunday March 2
Where: Meet outside Centenary Hall
Bring gloves and closed shoes, parents welcome.

The sadly out dated article:

Worming Your Way Into Sustainable Living

Environmental action in parliament has been lacking of late. But while our representatives are being influenced by the whims of corporate giants as big as Gina Rinehart – and some less big – we see that there is still a lot that can be done on a small scale, contained within our own individual societal ecosystems. It’s quite possible in fact, that spineless critters are both the cause of the problem and one of the solutions.

While we’ve had politicians for a long time, my family only got a worm farm this year. It was a source of significant excitement for my parents, so much so that, by the time I found out we were getting one, we already had it. This particular one is a little over 1 metre tall, composed of several layered sections and looks very much like a small water tank. You put organic refuse in and – by the ecological machinations of worms – you receive a nutrient rich fertiliser for your plants and soils, charmingly named “worm juice”.

It was an interesting choice by my parents. I had always seen a worm farm as being an addition to the backyard, the sort of thing that you’d find beside the veggie patch. Living in a converted warehouse in the inner west, we had no garden (and none has sprung up since) yet the worm farm is surprisingly at home. There are four reasons that might be preventing a household from opening the not-so-proverbial can of worms and starting such a farm.

1. Everyone one would have a worm farm if it were cheap so it must be expensive, right? Wrong. You can buy a triple-tiered worm farm as well as a starter pack of 500 worms for around $100 from Bunnings and for even less from other specialist stores. This is more than enough for most households. Ah, well then it must be expensive in terms of time? Nope, unlike dogs these worms don’t require daily walks, and unlike cats they don’t require worshipping. Once you’re set up, your duties are kept to giving them your scraps and a few litres of water once a week, collecting that worm juice and occasionally lifting the lid to ogle at all the wriggling.

2. Sometimes the fear of “eau de worm” can prevent this leap into sustainable living. Rest assured, after several months, my mum (whose office is right next to the garage and worm farm) has no complaints. Bad smells are from rotting materials, but the scraps of food are so quickly consumed that this is never an issue. The only way that smell can be a problem is if you’re putting in much more food than can be digested.

3. “I wouldn’t know what to feed them.” Unsurprisingly, these little guys are not picky. They will eat paper, cardboard, leaves, eggshells, almost all other organic waste, even hair. It’s much easier to learn the few things they won’t eat: things that are acidic, spicy or dairy products. Any household has more than enough organic material (that would otherwise rot at a dump) to sustain a worm farm.

4. The final reason you might be holding back is that you don’t see enough of a need for the worm juice to want to bother. If you have a garden at all, then worm juice is perfect, being one of the best fertilisers money can buy. If you don’t have a garden (like my family), it’s just as useful. You could improve the aesthetic of the whole street by using it on the kerbside greenery. You could give it to a neighbour or a relative. You could even sell it if you were so inclined. One litre is usually around $20. The average worm farm produces this in a week.

Given the huge amount of political rubbish going around, it might be the perfect time to start putting yours to good use.

A fact sheet with information on getting your worm farm up and running:

Zal Batmanglij’s The East (2013), and Ethical Philosophy.

(Hint: you might need to watch the trailer (or even the film itself) first! (Rated PG-13), but if you’ve done Year 10 PRS, you should understand the post below)

Ever heard of “freeganism”? It’s something like being a vegan, but with an additional requirement –

Freegans maintain (quite correctly!) that people in urban centers throw out as much good food as they consume: fruit and vegetables that look a little old, perfectly good bread products and pastries that won’t “keep” until the next day, and food approaching its use-by date, but perfectly edible, etc. So what do they do? Source it for free (hence “freegan”) and eat it. (I’ll leave it up do you to look up what “dumpster diving” is!). What do you think? A good way to combat unsustainable living? Let’s see …

A quick synopsis of Batmanglij’s film: an operative for an elite private intelligence firm (Sarah) finds herself involved in a significant moral complication. After infiltrating an anarchist eco-activist group (“The East”), who intend to stage a series of violent, secret operations against big corporations, she finds herself sympathizing with the characters she meets, and adopting (in part) their philosophy: a classic storyline if ever I’ve seen one (ever seen Donnie Brasco, or Out of Sight?). All this falling in love with freegans, of course, runs against her purpose, which is to protect the big corporations against such attacks. It really is a good watch!

As the movie progresses, it turns out the The East are willing to endanger human life in order to achieve their aim in showing the world what damage some corporations can do to the environment, and this is where Sarah starts to experience some major complications in her thinking. Does she support the consequentialist perspective that the environment is just there to be used and abused, so long as it makes people happy? Or does she have sympathy for purposes of The East, who want to see leaders of corporations shamed and punished for their intent to destroy natural resources and the lives of some people (deontology)? This is a pretty realistic vision of what’s actually happening in the world today (did you see the story of the Greenpeace activists recently imprisoned in Russia for trying to stop oil drilling in the arctic?)

As further action ensues it becomes rather apparent that both ethical perspectives are fundamentally flawed (and this leaves Sarah in quite a pickle!): consequentialism cannot determine real justice in a situation where the natural world has been harmed by the interests of a larger group, while the deontological ethics of The East cause harm to individuals, and do little to help the interests of sustainable living prosper in the community.

It’s interesting to note here that the producers of the film actually became “freegans” for two months before writing the film. In a dramatic confrontation towards the end, it becomes quite clear that this provides something of a moral center for the narrative, and it’s admirable that they should give us something of a realistic window into this lifestyle (The East actually really do live by some good, if “shaggy” principles).

And here we might find some sort of answer to Sarah’s dilemma: perhaps you might think that if the eco-activist outfit had considered the philosophy behind their own practice, they might have thought of a third way. If we only put all food into two categories –“presentable” and wastage – then we’re going to waste a lot of it. It we take each individual apple, croissant, or sandwich, on the other hand, and consider it’s edibility in the moment, then we’ll waste much less. This might make you think of another ethical position we look at in PRS: Situational (or Virtue) Ethics. If we stop trying to apply oppositional sets of rules to our world, then we might find that individual practice (interacting with people “in the moment”) is more important than all encompassing theoretical perspectives (making rules which don’t work in all situations).

Try looking at it another way: it’s true that we’re going to have to use the environment in some ways, to sustain our needs: provide shelter, food, and generate warmth, etc. – just as even freegans still need to eat. The heart of sustainability is not punishing individuals for their crimes against nature, nor making rules about what we can and can’t do based on the consequences. Instead, we need to try and change people, to have a personal sense of the problem of unsustainable living for themselves: like Ms Randell has maintained in her previous post, we need to help each other care about the world we live in, and then we might act accordingly. Can this be done through large scale symbolic actions (like the ones attempted by The East), or should it be better achieved through education, personal interaction, and living by example? Some tough questions!

I’ll save you from a major spoiler (how does the film really resolve these difficulties at the end?), and leave it to you to watch yourself. Consider the implications of Sarah’s final and dramatic decision … what would you do?

A Brief History of Caring

I remember sitting in Ms Springer’s year 7 science class and hearing about climate change. I remember being paralysed with fear; non-renewable resources pollute and are finite, CFC’s were eating the ozone layer, our laundry detergents poisoned the water system.. what?!? Who allowed -that- to happen?

I remember talking to other teachers and hearing them dismiss it. I remember telling my own mother and some of her friends and hearing what I hear over and over yet today:

1.) my contribution is small; what I do doesn’t matter and

2.) if it were such a big problem, people would have fixed it already.

I remember being disheartened. I remember feeling powerless, thinking there wasn’t anything meaningful that students can do.

I was wrong.

There is so much to do. So much for all of us to do.

So we started a blog.

This is the place we come to as a community to care. To talk, to debate, to exchange ideas, to participate.

Because we can. Because we should.

So, good people of Newington, of Stanmore, of Sydney, of Australia, of the world, I lay down the challenge here:

What will you do today to improve our environment?

Start a debate, think, read …most importantly be a part of our world.

We offer a space.. do it here.. we want to hear from you and write the next chapter in the history of caring.