30 March 2009

some good news

Todd Stern, US chief negotiator at climate talks in Bonn.

"We are very glad to be back. We want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us," Stern said to loud applause from the 2,600 delegates to the U.N. negotiations.

They clapped again when Stern said the U.S. recognized "our unique responsibility ... as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases," which has created a problem threatening the entire world.


Stern said no one on his team doubted that climate change is real. "The science is clear, the threat is real, the facts on the ground are outstripping the worst-case scenarios. The cost of inaction or inadequate action are unacceptable," he said — a total change of tone from his predecessors.

Full associated press article here.

And Earth Hour photos looked excellent, too! Much discussion on Earth Hour, at our place. By the way, there were postcards and newspaper ads here in Amsterdam, but I don't know if there were any official switch-offs in the city. I note some commentators are taking it rather literally, like John Quiggin, who does a calculation of the emissions stopped by people taking part for one hour, compared with switching over to a few energy-saver light bulbs for good. I have total respect and admiration for JQ in his persistent use of fact, logic and his outspoken stance on climate change and target setting in the Australian political sphere. But I think that perspective is a bit too literal and doesn't really reflect what the event is about, in terms of mass acceptance.

I personally think WWF are doing a pretty good job trying to shift the symbolism of it towards a statement of "please government take more action". And surely there aren't many Earth Hour participants who think "that's it" - an annual switch-off is enough to stop global warming. Really. It's simply a good way to count how much of the population does actually 'get' this thing - that we, humans, have stuffed the balance of gases in the atmosphere by burning oil and coal. And according to Earth Hour in Aus anyway, that's more than the commentariat like Miranda Divine would have you believe.

Acknowledged, some may say it's about 10 years after this mass awareness would have been really helpful. But anyway, Earth Hour. Not a bad thing at all.

I like the photos because they show people in charge of these landmark buildings do actually believe those fundamental things. That industrialisation has warmed the globe, and that we have to make a different choice on energy use / energy supplies to fix it. Its kind of like the relieved feeling when you go on a march .. "oh, right, its not just me.. lots of people feel this way." Either that or their boss believes it is good enough PR to put the order through to turn out the lights for an hour!

Oh, and there's another thing - I'm now here in Europe spring. Easter in a couple of weeks. With life bursting out all over, birds singing, flowers literally shooting up before your eyes... a spring fertility festival makes so much more sense. In the south, it falls just as everything is in senescence. Dur.

I would love to see these kind of change-of-season rituals adapt in Aus to have a bit more meaning. They are so old that the western world has mostly forgotten the roots, and whoops, changed them to be about Jesus, etc. Perhaps an annual lights out at the onset of Autumn, in Aus, with it's associated candles and parades and outdoor 'light' related festivals could a be perfect new tradition for marking the moment. Nights getting longer, darkness closing in, an embracing of the dark, the uncertain, the dreaming. Earth hour could have the unintentional hallmarks of a seasonal event that is fitting to the rhythm of the earth, that is something the family can do together, that is a bit mystical, and a reminder of how to tread lightly, and just a wee little bit pagan. (Sssh.. don't tell the editor of the Herald who sponsors it!)

26 March 2009

Grieving for the climate

So, right, I've been working on and off in the area of climate change for a while now. (As if you didn't know). Since 2000 to be precise. Lately I've had a niggling feeling that the vast majority of western people are straight-out deniers. This is because of the comments attracted to every major and important article I read in a proper newspaper. I'm talking here about the ones that give space to those who think national governments need to stop weaseling out of real carbon cuts, not the crazy mis-information mafia like The Australian and The Washington Post.

Newspapers obviously are available to the everyone. From someone who has been campaigning on climate change since the 80s, like a colleague of mine, to someone who only just heard the term last week. They might have voted for Obama, but they're like "whaddya mean climactic change? Global warming.. hey-l it was snowing here last week." .. and so on.

My latest take on it is that large chunks of the Australian and US citizenship are going through the classic stages of grieving. Take this quote:
Whenever one's identity and social order face the possibility of destruction, there is a natural tendency to feel angry, frustrated, helpless, and/or hurt. The volatile reactions of terror, hatred, resentment, and jealousy are often experienced as emotional manifestations of these feelings.
from The Grieving Process by Michael R. Leming and George E. Dickinson

And you don't have to check out the links, as it's too depressing dear readers, but recent tell-it-as-it-is articles by NASA scientist James Hansen, and long time environmental commentator George Monbiot have attracted a wail of denial, attack, ridicule and defamation. I don't remember it being this vitriolic when I started on the issue.

Leading Climate Scientist: Democratic process isn't working (Hansen Interview 19 March)

Opportunity for 2 degrees lost (Canberra times, 23 March, reprinted from the Guardian)

The first one in particular attracted every single tired and disproved point from the denial camp that have all been carefully dismantled; some years ago.* (Btw.. it's clear that from about number 50-on the commentors are coming from the US, they talk about "our tax dollars.")

My mate who's been in this game longer says it's reflection of an anti-global warming campaign that has had a long time to work on its strategy and has been successfully selling doubt for about 10 years, and the efforts are now paying off.

Kind of weird for me, though, who worked in a fully government-funded department nine years ago, whose main remit was based entirely on the premise that global warming was real. Oh yeah, and quite bad for the economy. Back then, mind you, the preferred actions were education, PR and voluntary business programs rather than legislation. Maybe the risk of accepting the science wasn't so high.

And another thing - everyone I know personally is convinced to some degree, whether it is just to recycle when they didn't before (I know recycling has very little to do with climate but, hey at least it's acceptance that humans change their environment) to avoiding flying at all costs, to building low-energy homes, organising protests, or generally de-carbonising their whole life.

Since the turn of this century, the real science has gotten scarier, more urgent and some top scientists have broken ranks, going from simply analysts and predictors to urging strong action and even civil disobedience. Goodness.

But these days, it looks like all the cool kids post to blogs, with these angry, hurty and shouty messages. Hopefully it's an illusion. Perhaps web-zines, blogs, Youtube, etc, just attract a shouty minority of people. Perhaps the format lends itself better to flaming than to constructive discussion. Perhaps those who have read a paper more than once in their life and understand the basics of climate change just can't be bothered posting to say that the deniers are mad and bad. They spend that two minutes to sign an online petition for good solar tariffs instead. They are too busy changing the baby's cloth nappy and getting their gear on for the cycle to work to care.

I dunno. I hope so.

- - -

* In case anyone else has the energy to ever patiently talk to someone in real life who really is undecided and has heard about sun-spots, mini-ice-ages, water vapour, etc... without raising your voice ... This website has a long list of answers: http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics

Personally, I don't have the patience, I just screech "well when you are evacuating your million dollar-home due to flash flooding, don't come crying to me!". Because I'll be living in a hemp treehouse eating nothing but squid and lentils, with solar panels, a CB radio and a bike-pedal washing machine. Come the revolution. There's no room for you and your denier ass in my woven pandanus-leaf hammock.

25 March 2009


Outside my regular cafe, an elderly Indonesian man approaches me and asks a question in Dutch. He has a scrap of paper in his hand and looks like he is looking for an address. As I start to form the sentence I can say most confidently in this country's native language.. Ik spraak Nederlands niet.. he notices the delay in my answer and switches to "oh, Engels? you speak English?" Yes I say, I speak English, but I know this area well if you are looking for something. .. "So you are an outsider then. Like me." he says. Yes, I am. I reply. And then he walks off to find his destination.

22 March 2009

Recession-proof jobs ( an occasional series)

1. Piercer

On Friday I wandered to the main shopping /cinema district in Amsterdam. There, I had a quick chat to the guy in the piercing and tattoo shop. (Don't worry mum - didn't get anything done). He told me he "doesn't know about this recession - they recently renovated the shop and business has been up for the last nine months!". He thinks it's only "affecting all the rich people - the big end of town, not the ordinary people."... "Well, not yet" he added. Maybe piercing would still go well anyway in a real recession, as people without decent jobs form a punk rebel army and go marauding in search of meat, scraps of tin for their urban humpies, and un-diseased women. You would probably have to barter your piercing, lobe-stretching and scarification skills for food and medicines though.

2. Locksmith

A colleague's brother's profession. Apparently in good times, people want locks. In bad times, they also want locks.

18 March 2009

Illicit Urban Improvements

From the lovely link provided by the lovely miss megsy in comments a couple of posts back

A hand-painted bicycle lane in Canada.

A playground made from dead space in Spain

A painted- on soccer pitch in UAE

All forming part of a Canadian exhibition on altering your own urban landscape. Niiiice.

Grow your own drugs

Is the title of a new show on the BBC. Not a reference to less-than-legal drugs. It's a bit like a cooking show presented by a rather cute ethno-botanist (from Kew Gardens nonetheless), who goes out and picks herbs and flowers, then makes home remedies from them. The one I saw was featured a chamomile pillow for sleeplessness, a fruity face mask that used vegetarian geltine, and a home-made cough syrup. Nice!

Best of all, the recipies are on the BBC site. Here's the link, for the anoracky gardening readers. Sadly you've got to click on each episode then scroll down to where it says recipes. If anyone from bbc is checking their trackbacks, then note it would be a good idea to list all the recipes grouped by type (e.g. beauty, common cold, etc)

Good to see the beeb maintaining its muesli-eating, wartime rationing soul.

6 March 2009


New Booklub post. And thanks Meri Risa, I was just testing posting, because my main page disappeared temporarily.

4 March 2009



I have a need to garden at the moment. On the weekend, a great lady called Mel and I walked up and down the flower market in Amsterdam and were inspired to take our first step towards guerrilla gardening. This has been quite a thing amongst trendy post-hippies in the UK for a while now, and fits into a kind of re-claimed ye-olde-crafte-integrated-to-the-nasty-city sub-culture that also spawned knitting bombs and such.

So our attempt started local, in fact the miroscopic strips of dirt right next to my front door. For you lucky house-dwelling aussies, my front door is actually a security door to a block of 8 flats that extends right to the property boundary in a particularly urban part of the densest city in the world. It's like: door. street. No gaps.

Anyway, spring must be approaching as it is now well above zero in the daytime, and the chairs are back in our plein, goodbye icerink. At the flower market Mel got a lemon tree, and I picked up about $6 euros worth of overcrowded daffodils and blue hyacinths (i think). We popped outside to the street in the gloaming and plonked them all in, nearly 2 doz individual plants, in clumps just right where I suspect plenty of men have relieved themselves in the small hours after leaving the nightclub across the street and getting on their bike. Oh well, a bit of extra nitrogen never hurt, right. It's the tiniest addition of plant life, to a tiny strip with just a few scrubby plants, and it took about 10 minutes, but it was a good feeling!

We've both got a taste for it now, and I think I'll move down the end of my street to a long, blank wall, and perhaps do a mix of bulbs and pretty creeprs, and maybe some rosemary for the locals to pick. One thing in this country that is cheap: flowers and bulbs. Mel wants to do the area around the new trees in her street that are currently surrounded by sand, and hence, dog shit. She's even talking about adding soil first, now that's advanced.

Only thing is, it's not particularly guerrilla round here, as loads of Amsterdammers pretty up their front steps onto the street, with as much as they can cram into a space about 30 cm square, including pots and planters. I can't imagine really anyone batting an eyelid, but anyway, nice to add to the riot of colour that is spring and perhaps some tulip bulbs that will continue to pop up and self-propagate long after I've left the area. Hm, maybe a packet of sunflower seeds. I don't like to spend loads on cultivating plants for my own balcony, as they will eventually have to go.. but can easily imagine going berko in the public spaces, radiating out from my front door.