Sunday, 27 October 2013

Transitioning from wasters to savers - can we do it?

Simple fresh vegetarian food can be a feast
A third of all the food grown in the world is wasted, according to a new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The FAO estimates that this waste is responsible for 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent which makes it the "third top emitter after U.S.A. and China".

Amazing stuff that  highlights the importance of work that community organisations and groups like SecondBite are doing in saving food.

If you haven't read the earlier case study on Christ Church Community Centre, you can check it out here. It's one example of the good work being done by many community level organisations.

Other interesting initiatives I've found out about through Twitter recently are Remote Indigenous Gardens and Basin View Integrated Garden.

The Remote Indigenous Gardens aim to improve access to fresh fruit and vegetables, which are often hard to obtain and extremely expensive in remote areas. Prior to European invasion, native fruit and vegetables formed the majority of Indigenous people's diets, so it's great to hear about bush tucker, bush medicine and useful plants being grown in gardens like Banatjarl.

Some of the community gardens in this research project also feature Indigenous plants and I plan to highlight them in case studies soon.

The Basin View Integrated Garden is a large sustainable garden design incorporating aquaculture. It looks as if it would be too expensive for most community organisations in its complete form but it is a very interesting concept.

General information about community gardens in Victoria can be found through Cultivating Community or through some local Councils.

(Update 28 October - just want to add that there are now over 400 schools participating in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.)

Community gardening and food saving initiatives can be part of a broader move towards community self reliance and resilience, by improving access to fresh food, promoting healthy eating and social justice and inclusion. This also reduces the carbon emissions caused by food waste, food processing and transport (food miles).

In moving towards local self reliance, local communities are inevitably at odds with large scale capitalism. The community movement is essentially about thrift - making the most of limited resources - and sharing, whereas capitalism is about growth and profit - using more resources to produce more things to sell to more people.

Although community gardeners might not think it, they are in competition with capitalist organisations like supermarkets. Inevitably I think this division is going to become more apparent and  the community reliance movement will face opposition. However the movement from a society based on growth (and waste) to a society based on thrift and conservation seems essential if we want to create a fairer and more sustainable society.

Population growth may sustain the growth imperative of capitalism for some time but it is possible that population growth may start to decline globally this century (as it has in wealthy countries). This would depend on many factors particularly increasing access to education and human rights for women in poor countries, better sharing of global resources to reduce poverty and improved access to contraception.

Moving to a stable population and a society of thrift and sharing, rather than competition and growth, requires a huge change in the governance of society at national and international level, including the need to ensure that people still have meaningful participation and employment. While these concerns may seem remote to health promoters and community members working at local level, such people actually have a great deal of knowledge and wisdom to contribute.

I was therefore very pleased to come across the Community Economies Collective recently. The work of the collective aims to:

  • "produce a more inclusive understanding of economy
  • highlight the extent and contribution of hidden and alternative economies
  • theorize economy and community as sites of becoming
  • build sustainable non-capitalist economic alternatives
  • foster ethical economic experimentation
  • engender collaborations between activists, academics and communities".

It is also based on the feminist theory of J K Gibson Graham. I hope to make contact with the collective soon and explore possible links with the work of this research project and the participants in it.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Bandt opponents shooting themselves in the foot?

In the recent debate over Adam Bandt's tweet:

"Why Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney ... "

I've seen several people arguing that bushfires in September and October aren't unusual.

For example, helen stream, a commenter at The Conversation, quoted some information, which she said was drawn from contemporary media, showing 14 cases of bushfires in September and October in NSW (full quote at the end of this post). I've seen those figures quoted elsewhere and heard that similar figures were used in News Limited media (although I haven't seen them because I don't usually read those media).

At first I thought well, that's interesting, it must be more common to have bushfires at this time of year than I'd thought (which is presumably what the commenter wanted people to think). Then later, after reading that Environment Minister Greg Hunt  draws his information on bushfires  from Wikipedia, I checked out Wikipedia also.

To cut this long story short, I went back and looked again at Ms stream's figures after reading Wikipedia, and noticed the following pattern:

Decade       Bushfires in September or October in NSW (according to helen stream's figures)
1920-29   1
1930-39    -
1940-49    1
1950-59    1
1960-69    -
1970-79    -
1980-89    1
1990-99    3
2000-09    7

On the face of it, that looks very much like bushfires in Spring in NSW are increasing very rapidly, exactly in line with what one would expect with climate change.  

Now I certainly would not put too much faith in Ms stream's figures, because they are clearly politically motivated (even if they show the opposite of what she wants them to). But it would certainly be interesting if any researchers had the time to follow this up, or have already looked at these figures?

It's also equally interesting that climate change opponents are apparently so desperate that they will use figures that actually undermine their case.

I haven't seen anyone else pointing this out yet, so I thought I'd publish it here for information and comment.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt and several other conservative MPs criticised Mr Bandt for "politicising" the bush fires. Bill Shorten, the ALP Opposition Leader, also backed away from the issue, saying it was not an appropriate time to look at it. Tony Abbott went so far as to say that UN climate chief Christiana Figueres was "talking through her hat" in linking climate change and bushfires.

I'd suggest that conservative politicians should take a good look at the figures that are being used to (supposedly) support their case that there's no link between climate change and bushfires!

Comments and further information are welcome as ever.

From helen stream, commenter at The Conversation, 22 October 2013:

"[OCTOBER 1951
From Sydney Morning Herald 24 October 1951, Page 1 headlines:
Firefighters battled yesterday with more than 100 bushfires near Sydney and in the country. ']
From Sydney Morning Herald 13 October 1948 Page 1
FIGHT FOR HOMES Bushfires At Mt Colah.
From Sydney Morning Herald 8 October 1928, Page 11 headlines:
Fires and Storm 
The city was encircled by bushfires, and many buildings were Unroofed.
North-Western NSW: Bushfires – 01/09/84 deaths – 4
Western Sydney and Central Coast, NSW: 16/10/91 deaths – 2
Hunter Valley, NSW: 01/09/96
Central Coast/Hunter Valley/south coast. 15/08/96
NW NSW : Bush Fire 30/10/01
Sydney, NSW: Bushfires 09/10/02
Northern NSW: Bushfire 27/09/02
Central Coast, QLD/NSW: Bushfires 27/09/02
Cessnock, NSW: Bushfire 19/10/02 deaths – 1
NSW Bushfires 24/09/06 
Bushfires: Sydney and South Coast, NSW 24/09/06 ']"

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Project update - projects addressing environmental sustainability and equity/social inclusion

Participants in the action research project have identified some projects or actions that they feel are promoting both environmental sustainability and equity/social inclusion. These range from a simple action such as one PCP encouraging agencies to inform themselves about the Home Energy Saver Scheme by attending a local forum, right though to a major partnership project involving 14 agencies working with vulnerable clients to increase housing sustainability and reduce energy costs (Pass the Parcel).

I am currently analysing the information I've been given about the projects to identify key characteristics. The table below is my first attempt and will no doubt be worked through and further refined as the project progresses.

This table is based on information that participants gave me about projects, so the characteristics below reflect what different participants saw as significant about the project. This could vary depending on the perspective of the person talking - for instance a local Elder might highlight different characteristics of a project than a Council or PCP officer, for example. Again the information will be further developed and analysed as the project progresses.

All of the projects aimed to promote health and wellbeing. This is central to the work of the agencies and community groups represented in this research project so I have not included this information in the table below.

Some of the most common characteristics of the projects are:  promoting social inclusion, for example by building community, reducing isolation, improving access to services or reducing living costs for low income groups (19 projects) building capacity, for example through developing skills and knowledge of agency staff or community members (12 projects), reducing energy costs and increasing housing sustainability (8 projects), increasing access to food, especially fresh and locally grown food, and reducing food waste (7 projects) and increasing access to nature, largely through community gardens (6 projects). (There is of course considerable overlap between the latter two).

Four projects also had a specific Indigenous component, for example through the participation of Indigenous community members and through aiming to increase awareness of Indigenous culture.

This table is a work in progress and may not reflect the final classifications of the projects. I will be inviting research participants to comment on this draft as part of the action research.

I have looked at projects promoting adaptation separately and will include some information about them later but it is worth noting that there is considerable overlap in practice between the concepts of adaptation, resilience, climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability (the term I usually use in this project).

From a sustainability perspective, a gap in this work is that it is not addressing the activities of the wealthier people (and businesses) who create more carbon emissions. The people these projects are aiming to assist are often those who will be a most at risk from climate change, but they are not the people who are most responsible for creating it.

PCPs, and health and community agencies generally, often focus their work on those who are affected by health inequities. However, as identified in the first stage of this project, there is also a need for action and advocacy to those more powerful groups who are creating the social and environmental inequities that underly the health inequities.

Projects promoting environmental sustainability and equity/social inclusion - some key characteristics (draft only) 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Today is International Day of Rural Women

Classified as: reflective journal, feminist theory, advocacy

Tuesday 15th October 2013* was/is (depending where in the world you are today) International Day of Rural Women

As someone who grew up on a farm, I'm conscious that the role of rural people in our country is sometimes overlooked.

The role of women in rural life has often been particularly overlooked. In fact, our first Australian national census in 19011, as well as saying that Aboriginal natives should not be counted, also said that the unpaid work of women in farming should not be counted, even though it was recognised that women often did a lot of such work, particularly on dairy farms.

As this international day highlights, the role of rural women has also been overlooked in many other countries, including poorer and less urbanised countries, where women's role in food security for their families and communities is so important.

In this research project, I have found that interest in being close to nature, growing food, Indigenous heritage and knowledge, and feminism, are often interlinked in complex ways. I plan to highlight some of these links in a project update soon.

I know that in my own case, growing up with children of Aboriginal heritage (even though this heritage wasn't talked about) is a precious part of my life experience. At our little one teacher primary school, we used to come to school early some mornings in spring so that we could go into the nearby bush and look for greenhood orchids and other interesting plants, like ink plants, as we called them. We also used to drink nectar from the gum blossom and eat the gum off wattle trees on the way home from school (until somebody's mother said it would give us appendicitis!).

Some other links of interest in relation to the themes of rural life, Indigenous knowledge, and women in rural life, are:

Via Campesina movement
This movement promotes the cause of small scale, peasant and family farming, including its role in food security

The First People's Movement
This movement states that:
The single unifying issue facing Indigenous Peoples everywhere is how to protect their territories and stop the “asset stripping” that robs them of their livelihoods and the foundation of their cultures. Without land and control of their assets, Indigenous Peoples are destined to remain the world’s poorest communities – with the worst health, highest mortality rate and shortest life span.

National Rural Women's Coalition
This is the coordinating body for rural women's networks across Australia. Again, while noting that rural people are sometimes seen as (and sometimes are) conservative, it's good to see that the coalition has two Indigenous representatives on its eight-woman board.

(*Not Sunday 13th October 2013  as it was when I first wrote this post, but dates and times have never been my strong point!)
Reference information:
I wrote an analysis of the 1911 National Census in my MA thesis Bodywaves: changing meanings of maternity and work in twentieth century Australia (Monash University 1994). This analysis particularly drew on the work of Desley Deacon in 'Political Arithmetic: the Nineteenth-Century Australian Census and the Construction of the Dependent Woman' in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1985 Vol 11(1)
This post is classified as:
Feminism - theory and practice
Indigenous - Indigenous heritage and knowledge
Food - food security
Nature and health - access to nature