Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Project update - project report now early next year

Classified as: project update

I had planned to send a project report to all participants in October, with a survey for final comments. However it now looks as though I won't be able to do that until early next year.

So this is just a brief update, explaining the delay. It's mainly because I have been working on two tasks: one, finishing an article on climate change denial (based on a literature review) that I hope to publish; the second, a review of Primary Care Partnership (PCP) strategic plans that I'm currently working on.

While this research is on three PCPs specifically, it's valuable to put their work in the context of what all PCPs in Victoria are doing. I began looking  at the PCP strategic plans particularly for a guest presentation I did recently for Masters of Public Health students in the 'Climate Change and Public Health' unit at Monash. I am now reviewing the plans systematically to see how many PCPs are, or were, addressing climate change and equity in their strategic priorities in 2013-17 and 2009-12.

It's been a time consuming business getting all the plans from the PCPs (the 2013-17 plans no longer appear to be published on the Department of Health website as the 2009-12 plans were) and going through them all. I hope to finish it in the next week or so, and then send my preliminary conclusions out to all the PCPs for checking. When that is completed I will return to finalising the research report for those who have been involved directly in the project.

I probably won't finish the report until December, and then I have to apply to the Ethics Committee for approval of the final survey, so I don't expect that to be completed until early next year. My apologies for this delay, but I think having the information about all the PCP plans, for context, will add value to the research.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Crying on the tram for Gough.

Classified as: reflective journal, politics

I had forgotten that Gough Whitlam's memorial service was on today until I was on the tram around 10.30 and started looking at twitter. The tributes started coming through and to my surprise I found tears in my eyes. Gough - and Margaret - Whitlam meant so much to my generation. I can't say it all again, it's been said many times now, but still - it's the generous heart that counts.

The Guardian had a good coverage here. Some excerpts:

Graham Freudenberg, Whitlam's speech writer ... "recalls Whitlam touching his shoulder before he gave an important speech.

'It’s been a long road, comrade, but I think we’re there. He knew how much the words and the touch would mean to me at such a moment.You would go to the barricades with such a man. The Whitlam touch is on us all. He touches us in our day-to-day lives, in the way we think about Australia, in the way we see the world. He touches, still, the millions who share his vision for a more equal Australia, a more independent, inclusive, generous and tolerant Australia, a nation confident of its future in our region and the world.' 


In Melbourne ... [Melissa Davey reporting]

Annie McCrory used to hold fundraisers for the Labor party in Cairns in the 70s.

Watching Gough Whitlam’s memorial service at Melbourne’s Federation Square, she shares her memories of him.

“He used to come with Margaret to our fundraising barbecues and they were a happy, lovely couple.

“She used to make jokes about him all the time, and he always laughed the loudest.

“They were wonderful people who had time for everyone. I have photos of them on my wall still.”

Sitting next to McCrory is Gillian McLeod, who says the election of Whitlam was a “breath of fresh air”.

“Australia had been waiting a long time for someone like him,” she said.

“A very long time.”


 Auntie Millie Ingram ...the welcome to country on behalf of the Gadigal people:

'The impact that the Whitlam government had on our people was enormous and can’t be underestimated. ..
Mr Whitlam, you were a brave and inspired man and we loved you and you will live on in our memories.'


Noel Pearson

'We salute this old man for his great love and dedication to his country and to the Australian people. When he breathed, he truly was Australia’s greatest white elder and friend without peer of the original Australians.' "

The video of Noel Pearson's speech http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/video/2014/nov/05/noel-pearson-gough-whitlam-memorial-speech-video

RIP Gough, legend.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Plea for clearer thinking on the population vs environment issue

Classified as: reflective journal - discourse analysis, evidence

(This is a cut and paste of a comment I just made at The Conversation, in response to this article.)

No offence to Professor Beeson, but I would really like to put in a plea for a better quality of debate about this. There are two key facts everyone should look at before talking [about population vs environment]: what's the fertility rate of a country? and, what's the emissions rate per capita of a country?
You can get it from Wikepedia, I guess it's reasonably reliable. Anyway if you look at that, you will see, for example:
  • Many wealthy countries, like Australia, have fertility rates below replacement rate (Aust is 1.77 per women, replacement is c. 2.1), but very high emissions rates per capita (Aust 18.8 t CO2e)
  • Many poor countries, like Afghanistan, have very high fertility rates (5.43), but very low emissions rates (0.29).

So while both issues are important, reducing our emissions rates is proportionately more important for the environment. And the big question is, how do you simultaneously lower emissions (particularly in rich high emissions countries) while raising living standards and the status of women in poor countries like Afghanistan?
Indonesia is an example of a country that seems to doing well - they have got their fertility rate down to 2.18, while CO2e per head is 1.8 t CO2e. India is also making a lot of progress, fertility down to 2.51 (from very high not long ago), CO2e per head 1.67t.
Almost no wealthy country seems to have low per capita emissions. Singapore looks the best with 2.67 t CO2e, and their fertility rate is apparently an amazingly low 0.8, so their total emissions look set to decline really rapidly as their population falls.
Obviously there are some examples worth looking at. Not sure how reliable Wikipedia is on all this, but it's very interesting. Maybe I should write an article on this! I get so frustrated by people over-simplifying the issue.
(I fell asleep very early, and woke up in the middle of the night, and have been browsing the net and looking up things on Wikipedia, especially here and here. This issue has been bugging me a bit, especially since I heard some similar claims at the Climate Action Summit - arguments made without any clarity about where fertility rates are high and where emissions rates are high. As I've suggested above, there seems to be an inverse relationship in general. Will try to do some more checking on this from original figures and update the post if needed, but just wanted to get something down on this).

Monday, 29 September 2014

Different responses to climate change

 classified as: reflective journal - discourse

The presentations from the Australian Climate Action Summit that I attended recently aren't up on the website, and I'm not sure if they all will be put up, but I want to put down some quick impressions I had of the summit. In particular, I was very interested in a difference between what I'm thinking of as 'technology can get us there, with a bit of political will' approach, and a 'we have to change the way we live, starting from the local level' approach.

As I said, presentations aren't up, so this is really impressionistic and going on memory, and I apologise to anyone I might be misrepresenting. However this was a difference that really struck me.

technology can get us there, with a bit of political will

This seems to be exemplified by speakers such as Dr Stephen Bygrave, from Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). BZE is putting out a number of reports on different sectors, such as energy, transport and land use. Although the land use one may contain recommendations that involve substantial change to our way of life (apparently it may be quite controversial), Stephen's talk seemed to suggest we can reach zero emissions by serious investment in the right technologies such as solar or wind power, fast trains, and so on.

John Quiggin (not at the Climate Summit, but in a recent post at his blog), seems to be following a similar line: serious investment in the right technologies, plus some political will (such as regulation and carbon pricing), can keep us below the 2C level of climate change. He mentioned a number of reports recently supporting this view.

Now I haven't read all the reports in either case, so I'm going on summaries, in the latter case second hand. But I was struck by the tone of these views, as compared to the other approach I perceived:

we have to change the way we live, starting from the local level

This was illustrated in a very appealing way by Morag Gamble from Seed International. Morag talked about her garden and how it supplies all her family's food - plus she was able to give away 10,000 plants last year. She and her partner have achieved sustainable living in an eco-village, with $0 power bill and no mortgage.

Other speakers, such as Nicole Foss, focused more on the instability of the current system (particularly the financial system) and resource constraints for technology development, as predicted many years ago in Limits to Growth. Nicole, however, is also a permaculture advocate, with a focus on sustainable homes and communities.

As readers of this blog will know, the projects I've been looking at in my research tend towards the latter approach. They are local projects, with a focus on promoting community development and social inclusion as well as environmental sustainability or climate change adaptation. That's partly because health promotion in Victoria generally focuses on local projects, but also I think relates to some deeper questions I outlined in my previous post. Can we - or do we want to - continue with our big, hierarchical, unequal organisations, and still achieve sustainable living? Or do we need to live differently, in terms of more equal social organisation, as well as the different technology we use?

You may also note that there is a gender difference above: men presenting the first approach, and women the latter. I don't think that's purely random, nor the result me being selective in whom I chose to illustrate the approaches. I haven't formally researched whether the first approach is advocated more by men, and the latter by women - and within the scope of my current research, won't be able to - but I think it is a valid research question. If only I had more time! 

Finally - this should be obvious, but I know people don't always read carefully - nobody being discussed here is a climate change denier, and all their views are worth considering. Maybe both approaches can be combined in practice (to a degree?), but I think there is a lot of useful dialogue that could happen here.

Monday, 22 September 2014

My five minutes of fame at the Climate Action Summit

Classified as: project update - theory
   - revisited
This was the first slide of my snapshot presentation at the Climate Action Summit in Brisbane on Sunday (21 September 2014). Here's the presentation below (slightly longer than the actual one):
I'm not really trying to rewrite Tolstoy's magnum opus, just wanted a better title because my original one was definitely not catchy. There is some link to war and peace in this talk, but I'd certainly better not be as long-winded as Tolstoy because I've only got five minutes.
This is the original title:

The summit theme that my talk falls under is 'having difficult conversations' and it's certainly hard to put that in plain language. I'm not talking so much about action, as about ideas.
This is about the conflict between two ways of understanding the world and society: one that we have inherited; and the other a way that many people are trying to use in environmental projects.

I'm doing participatory research with people who are working to promote health, social justice and environmental sustainability (more information here).

These people are working mainly in the second way, aiming to be inclusive and to build socially just and sustainable communities. The organisations they are employed in, and the funding and administrative arrangements affecting their work, however, still reflect the first approach. My research suggests this causes significant tension.

[The origin of politics is competition over]
women, cattle, slaves [and] scarce land

"Like all the political institutions historically preceding it, the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (ie considered to be legitimate) violence"
Max Weber 1918  (Weber, Gerth et al, 1991: 165, 78).
Max Weber is generally regarded as one of the 'great thinkers' of the twentieth century. Here, he is expressing a patriarchal view of the world, naturalised as the way the world 'is'.  The assumption is that we (or at least men) are naturally competitive, violent and out for what we can get. This seems to be still a widespread assumption, even though it conflicts with much of our day to day experience.

This is my attempt to show this worldview graphically. It shows a relatively small number of hierarchical organisations (states, in Weber's view, but they could also be other organisations, particularly corporations), which are seen as controlling a much larger passive sphere, including women (as sexual partners, mothers and carers), subordinate and Indigenous peoples, other species and the biosphere.

In this view, most of what matters (politics, history and so on) is seen as occurring between or within the hierarchies, as competition and conflict between states or organisations, or between the different levels within them.

This view is not historically founded. Gerda Lerner (1986) for example, found that patriarchy in the middle east only arose in the last few thousand years. Carolyn Merchant (1989) further suggests that it was as recently as 1500-1700 AD that a mechanistic approach to the natural world as something that could be controlled became dominant.
So this view of the world does not describe the way we 'are', but rather a particular historical epoch. It is, however, the approach that has led to our current ecological crisis.
It's interesting that at this summit we are meeting on Indigenous women's traditional land (as local elder, Uncle Joe Kirk explained to us on the first day of the summit). This in itself shows that women in Indigenous society - which has lasted over 60 thousand years - were not regarded as possessions in the way that they were, for example, in English law until very recent times.
An example of one of the key achievements of the competitive, hierarchical states that Weber described is this: a drone, a hugely expensive technical achievement, representing billions of dollars worth of investment in resources and time, designed to destroy.

Whereas what our lives really rely on is much more like this:

(it's a ladybird)

Plants, flowers, tiny creatures like ladybirds and bees - what Terry MacBride (a previous presenter) described as the "free services of nature" - that's what our continued existence relies on. 

Rather than being in control of them, we are actually dependent on them.

From both my research and my lived experience, it seems clear to me that the approach we need to address climate change will not be produced by the hierarchical, top down, unequal organisations that are dominant in society today - but rather by an approach like this:

These "Team Earth" posters were of course produced in response to Tony Abbott's "Team Australia". The posters express to me the values we really need to address climate change: a recognition that we're all in it together, and an inclusive approach.
It's similar to what Terry Lane (an earlier presenter) spoke about in the Indi campaign: "being our best selves".

Climate change is a global problem. We have to tackle it together.

But as well as being a way to tackle climate change, I suggest it's also a way to go beyond climate change and live in sustainable communities - communities  that are flatter, networked, egalitarian and inclusive, and recognise themselves as part of an ecosystem.

The theme of the summit my talk falls under is "Let's Talk": having difficult conversations. And this is certainly a difficult and perhaps, idealistic or unrealistic sounding, talk. I'm aware, for example, that I'm talking about getting rid of large hierarchies while standing in a university (and doing research in another one), at a time when universities are becoming ever larger, more corporate and more unequal.  But we have to at least start thinking about ideas if we want to see change, so what I'm saying is that these big, unequal, hierarchical organisations are not the best way to organise ourselves - there are other ways, and they can work.


More about the summit soon.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

38 people, 33 projects, 9 action areas and more

Classified as: Project update
Updated with minor changes 11 August 2014.

Here are some facts, figures, themes and ideas about where this research project is up to.

How many people?

38 research participants have been involved in this project to date. There were 23 from ISEPICH in stage 1 of the project (12 community members, eleven staff members from ISEPICH member agencies). Fourteen people from ISEPICH are involved in stage 2 (eight community members and six staff), including one person who has replaced someone who had to leave.

There are also eight staff members from Southern Grampians and Glenelg PCP (SGGPCP) and member agencies, and seven staff members from Wimmera PCP and member agencies, involved in stage 2.

About 40 other people have also participated in forums and discussion groups. These people aren't research participants as their discussions haven't been recorded, but notes from the forums and discussion groups will add to the data for the project.

Another 14 people have made 40 comments on this blog - their names won't be used in the project, but the ideas they've shared will help to broaden it.

How many projects?

I've identified 33 projects addressing environmental sustainability/climate change and equity/social justice from the focus groups and interviews.

There's a lot more projects promoting equity/social justice without an environmental component, and they will be discussed in my final thesis, but I'm focusing particularly on the ones addressing both issues.

This is an update from the info I posted in October last year about 21 projects, so there's quite a few more now.

What are they doing?

Here are 9 key themes describing what the projects are addressing:  
  • promote social inclusion (build community, reduce living costs for low income groups, improve access, identify groups vulnerable to climate change) - 28
  • build capacity  (partnerships, policy, community, organisations, government) - 24 
  • save energy (housing 10, transport 5, other buildings 2, communal kitchen 1) - 18  
  • increase access to local fresh food (improve access, produce local fresh) - 8 
  • increase access to nature - 8  
  • increase Indigenous participation/ cultural safety/awareness - 5  
  • reduce waste - 2  
  • focus on early life, young people - 2  
  • save water - 1
These are my classifications, so they have to be checked by the participants (if they have time!) before they're finalised.

What's it all mean?

A really interesting thing I'm doing at present is comparing what's happening in practice (the projects), with the theory (principles and action areas framework) developed by ISEPICH participants back in stage 1.

Overall, the framework is looking pretty good when compared to practice, but in some areas there's a really good fit between theory and practice, and there's others where it doesn't seem so close. Sorting out the how and why of that is going to be a fascinating journey, and I hope to post more on this soon.

The original ISEPICH framework for promoting equity, environmental sustainability and health

Project update

I just realised today although the principles and action areas developed in the first stage of this project are shown on the Project page, I've never put a copy of the framework up. 

I'm fixing that now, because I've been doing some very interesting work on it which I'm planning to summarise in the next project update.

So here it is:


Sunday, 27 July 2014

More online sexism

"Val, darl, ...
Try to be helpful and tell us the carbon footprint differences between men and women on a local/national/global level and become relevant to the topic rather than a distraction.
Your call….."


Classified as: Reflective journal - feminism, climate change

So I was trying to discuss the impact of gender on attitudes to climate change on the ClimatePlus blog, and this (above) is where the discussion ended up.

First I was told by one man who posts there that gender was irrelevant to the discussion, and then I was told by "Jumpy" that I was irrelevant to the discussion.  I'm doing a PhD on health, equity and environmental sustainability. I'm not sure what Jumpy's qualifications are, but obviously in his own mind he knows a lot more than I do.

Brian Bahnisch, the blog owner, is much better than that. I know that he's busy at the moment, and quite likely he will address this when he has time. In the meantime, I seem to be about the only woman who comments there, and I'm not going to do so any further under these circumstances.

What is wrong with these men?

Will definitely do a post on gender and attitudes to climate change very soon.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Plea to the Senate - keep a price on carbon

Classified as: Reflective journal - advocacy

 Updated with links 22 July 2014

What can I say? Like many others, I have watched in shock as the Abbott government tried to undo all the good work of its predecessor. In public health and education in particular, the government's actions seemed to be motivated by ignorance, meanness and petty revenge.

In the budget, those in the most difficult conditions - the chronically ill, the young, Indigenous people, sole parents, low income families and unemployed people - have been targeted for savage cuts, while the wealthy or comfortably off - like myself - pay nothing or a token short lived levy.

Now we come to the major moment - Tony Abbott's plan to 'Axe the Tax'. Such ignorance, such foolishness I have never seen in a government in all my long life. I cannot understand how Australia has elected such a government.

Yes I know people were sick of the infighting of Labor, and I know they had been made to look incompetent, particularly through sexism and exaggeration, but they weren't. The Clean Energy Futures Act, which includes the carbon price, was actually good and far sighted legislation. It is setting us on the road to a lower emissions future already. More needs to be done, but we have started our journey.

Fortunately at least some of the mechanisms associated with the Act, such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Renewable Energy Target, and the Climate Change Authority, look set to be retained due to the Palmer United Party position - for which I am grateful. But they still look set to axe the carbon price and at best go to an emissions scheme which won't have any impact until major trading partners adopt one.

So I make a last plea - don't do it Senators. If you want to switch to an emissions trading scheme, ok. But it has to be meaningful. The message sent by Australia setting a price and then backing off is just terrible. Apart from making us look like idiots - no small thing in itself - it creates doubt and uncertainty in Australia and internationally. Citizens and businesses in Australia deserve better than this.

To dispel a few false ideas, here is some evidence:

  • The carbon price caused only a small amount - about nine or ten percent - of recent electricity price rises. Most were for other causes particularly infrastructure upgrades.
  • People on low to middle incomes were compensated for the cost increases associated with the carbon price under the legislation. Paying the money back to them again is like paying them twice. People on average to high incomes don't need to be repaid as it was only a small amount for us. (I am not sure how long the link in this point will last as it links to the previous government's information, so here is another one, hopefully more permanent.)
  • Electricity prices are set to decline if we continue our investment in renewables. Without a carbon price, this investment will likely slow down. People will end up paying more in a few years. The carbon price is a small pain for a big gain. As long as vulnerable groups are compensated, it is a fair way of helping us move to a sustainable economy.

Yes, the economy will change in some ways. People may fly less and drive cars less - or drive different types of cars - but that is part of the transition of the economy. We have to invest in sustainable industry like renewable energy and public transport, to meet our changing needs and make sure there are jobs for people.

We can't just cling to the past as the Abbott government wants to do. We have to change. So please Senators, let's do it sensibly. Keep a price on carbon. Compensate vulnerable groups, and go further - help them through mechanisms such as community renewable schemes. Invest in alternative sustainable industry to meet our needs and create jobs. Look to the future, look to what we can be and the world we create for our descendants.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

"I am not the problem", plus threats to renewable energy, health cuts ..

Classified as: reflective journal - Indigenous perspectives, discourse, politics

 "I am not the problem"

A wonderful moment from Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, talking on the ABC's Q and A program on Monday 9 June 2014

I am not the problem

I have copied her words below because they are so wonderful, but it is even better to watch her in person (the link above has the video excerpt)

"You know, I have a culture. I am a cultured person. (Speaking Arrernte) I’m talking another language. And my language is alive. I am not something that fell out of the sky for the pleasure of somebody putting another culture into this cultured being. John [Pilger*] shows what is an ongoing denial of me. I am not an Aboriginal or, indeed, Indigenous. I am Arrernte, Alyawarre, First Nations person, a sovereign person from this country. (Speaking Arrernte) This is the country I came out from. I didn’t come from overseas. I came from here. My language, in spite of whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem. I have never left my country nor have I ceded any part of it. Nobody has entered into a treaty or talked to me about who I am. I am Arrernte Alyawarre female elder from this country. Please remember that. I am not the problem."

This is such an important point - the people who experience or suffer from oppression, are not the problem - the problem is the oppression and the people who practise it or benefit from it. All white people in Australia have benefited from this oppression one way or another (as I've noted in a previous post). We need to acknowledge this.


Another thing I saw on the ABC news last night was a piece about the possible impact on Hepburn Wind if the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is removed by the Abbott government. I've discussed in a previous post how Hepburn Wind is a model for community energy projects, and how after years of work it has just come close to breaking even.

There is more information about the RET review and the possible impact on renewable energy and community energy projects from the Coalition for Community Energy.

I looked at some of the submissions on the RET review, including one from my energy provider, Origin. Origin is calling for the RET to be lowered - and I am thinking about whether I should change my energy provider! At least they are not calling for it to be abolished, but even lowering it is a foolish step backwards.

One thing that makes me quite angry about the position of Origin and also that of the Electricity Suppliers Association of Australia, is that they talk a lot about the costs of renewable energy to the general public, through the RET and the carbon price, but there are two things they don't seem to mention:
  • People on low to average incomes in Australia were in general over-compensated for the costs of the carbon price - they received more in payments from the government than the costs that the carbon price was estimated to cause households.
  • Energy companies make a profit from current household solar. Early Feed-in Tarriffs (FITs), which are the price the energy companies pay people for the electricity that they feed in to the main grid from their solar panels, were quite high, to encourage take up of solar panels. However, they have now been reduced,  and electricity companies now sell the electricity for more than they pay for it. For example, Origin pays me 8c per Kilowatt hour (KwH) for energy from my solar panels, and sells it to other people for 22c per KwH.
 It seems to me that they are not being entirely honest.

Final quick point - I'm sure everyone knows, in general terms, about the huge cuts to health that are proposed in the federal budget, plus the co-payments for doctor visits and medications. It is also worth noting that health promotion has particularly been targeted. The Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA) are advocating on these issues. See advocacy information and letters here.

I would like to write more about the impact of the budget on health promotion soon, but in the meantime I urge everyone to support the work of the AHPA.


* John Pilger, maker of the documentary Utopia, which was being discussed.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Thought about getting your degree tattooed on your forehead, ladies?

When you act like you’re ignorant, people assume you’re ignorant. Your degrees aren’t tattooed onto your forehead.

Classified as: reflective journal - discourse, feminism, gender.

Quick update on a few things happening lately. I've mainly been reading more theory, for my data analysis as mentioned in the last post, and in my spare time reading Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty First Century (an important new book about inequality for anyone who hadn't heard about it yet). I've also been reading what others have said about Piketty online.

The comment above was made by a male (I believe) commenter to me during an online discussion, which I had started by questioning a statement by Piketty that sustained population growth in the 18th century was unprecedented (p 3). The commenter, and another man in the same discussion, were convinced that I didn't understand the concept of exponential growth, and that they had to explain it to me.

Didn't matter that I said, yes, I do get it, I do understand the concept - they were convinced I didn't, and they had to keep lecturing me about it. In the end I got so sick of it that I pointed out to the second guy that, while I hadn't studied general maths since I left school, I have studied biostatistics and epidemiology at postgrad level, got high distinctions for both, and won an award for epi. So the idea that I didn't understand a concept like exponential growth was unlikely.

In response to which, he said that I "sounded like" I was dumb at maths, and he couldn't be expected to know better, given that I didn't have my degrees tattooed on my forehead (not that that would have been much use online, anyway). I suppose the possibility of believing me when I said I understood it, hadn't occurred to him.

I'm not linking to the site, because it's a good blog and shouldn't be typecast by a couple of misguided individuals (in fact the first guy got reprimanded by other commenters, one of whom said he was behaving like a "dick".) However this whole episode reminds me of Rebecca Solnit's work Men Explain Things to Me. I've read the famous first essay, the one that led to the concept of "mansplaining" (although Solnit didn't use that term), but I'd like to read the whole book.

The episode also reminds me of another incident last year, when a male sustainability officer tried to explain to me why I was wrong about electricity prices going up. I'd been talking about peak demand, infrastructure, privatisation and service charges, and why all this had an unfair impact on low income groups. He interrupted me to tell me I was wrong, and then proceeded to explain it all using slightly different terminology. It took me several tries, and again having to insist that I wasn't stupid, before I managed to make him see that we were saying the same thing using different words.

Maybe it's particularly in the maths and technology area that some men think women are dumb. Anyway what about this idea of having our degrees tattooed on our foreheads? Will it work? Will it solve the problem? Or is the responsibility on these men to stop assuming we're dumb? Hard question (not).

But more seriously, how much does this keep women from participating in discussions about these issues? Because as I've mentioned before, not many seem to, at least online, and this is an important gap.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Nearing the final stage - project update

Classified as: Project update - progress report, theory

Looking towards Mt Abrupt, from Dunkeld
The 'Promoting equity, sustainability and health' research project is nearing its final stage. I hope to complete data collection in June-July this year and finish writing up the thesis in mid-late 2015.

Key milestones in the research so far have been:

Stage 1
  • Ethics approval granted (Monash Human Research Ethics Committee September 2011, Alfred Health Ethics Committee November 2011)
  • Two workshops held by ISEPICH Primary Care Partnership (PCP) in November 2011 and February 2012 (notes and reports from these workshops form part of the project data)
  • Focus groups with 20 research participants from ISEPICH in November-December 2011 and February 2012 (over the course of the project there have been 24 research participants from ISEPICH in total, including 11 staff members from ISEPICH member agencies and 13 community members) 
Stage 2
  • ISEPICH PCP stopped supporting the project in July 2012, although individual research participants from the ISEPICH catchment continued to take part
  • Project amended to include participants from two additional PCPs, both in regional Victoria. Ethics approval for the amendments granted by Monash, March 2013 (No participants from Alfred Health in Stage 2 of the project to date)
  • Interviews and focus groups with 14 participants from ISEPICH and 15 participants from the other two PCPs in April - November 2013
I am planning to distribute a report and short survey to all research participants in June- July 2014. This will be the final point of data collection.

I hope to finish analysing the data and writing up the thesis by about July 2015. I also hope to write one or two articles for publication and give one or two conference presentations on the research during the next twelve months.

Data analysis
At present I expect the data analysis will take the following form:

Key content
  • Meanings of equity and sustainability
  • Principles for promoting equity and sustainability
  • Commonalities between promoting equity and sustainability
  • Actions - what have participants done to promote equity and sustainability, what have they achieved?
  • Barrier and enablers - what has helped and hindered them in this work?
  • How do the meanings, principles and actions identified in the project fit with, or conflict with, broader discourses in Victoria and elsewhere? What are the implications of this?

Theoretical perspectives
At the moment I think that the data analysis will be in three stages using the following perspectives (this may evolve differently in practice):
  • First level of analysis - Health promotion and action research theory
  • Second level of analysis - Social practice theory (possibly may also include some network theory analysis)
  • Third level of analysis - Social history and eco-feminist theory
In general terms this is an analysis that starts from the participants' point of view and then moves out to look at this from broader social perspectives. As this is an action research project the participants' point of view will always be central. Any research participants wanting to discuss this with me, please contact me directly through my contact details. Any member of the public who wishes to comment may do so through the comments section of this blog.

Note on "barriers and enablers"
The terminology of barriers and enablers is often used in health promotion but it does not seem to be very clearly theorised. Some literature suggests it derives from behavioural psychology, however in health promotion literature it seems to be used much more broadly, to encompass social determinants as well individual behaviour.  Some relevant references illustrating different ways of using the concepts of "barriers and enablers" are:
Burch S (2010) 'Transforming barriers into enablers of action on climate change: Insights from
three municipal case studies in British Columbia, Canada' Global Environmental Change 20: 287–297
Dodson EA et al (2009) 'Preventing Childhood Obesity through State Policy: Qualitative Assessment of Enablers and Barriers' Journal of Public Health Policy 30: S161–S176
McGuire, AM & Anderson, DJ (2012) 'Lifestyle risk factor modification in midlife women with type 2 diabetes : theoretical modelling of perceived barriers' Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing 30(1): 49-57.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Please excuse me while I tidy up my blog!

Classified as: Reflective journal, methodology, blog

(Apologies to anyone on Google+ who just saw a whole lot of updates from me. I'm just doing an ethics application for amendments to the research project, and it has reminded me that I must tidy up this blog. I'm now going to go through the blog and classify all entries, as explained below. I thought I had turned off automatic updates before doing this, but it looks like I hadn't. Hopefully it's fixed now and you won't get more after this.)

The reason I need to tidy it up the blog is that it has evolved from being mainly about providing project updates and information (the aim when I first started it) to now also including a lot of entries about my reflections, ideas and advocacy.  When I started this research project, I kept a reflective journal. This was always meant to be part of the research data, but I originally kept it as a private journal. Over time, as I have become more confident  and more used to writing on the blog, I have begun to publish a lot of  ideas and opinions on the blog, and  make fewer entries in the private journal. However, looking through it, I think it is important to make a distinction between Reflective Journal entries, and Project Updates. I am somewhat restricted as I am not supposed to publish 'finished work' for the PhD thesis prior to submitting the thesis (except as articles in academic journals). However Project Updates, even though not in final thesis form, will be based on review of evidence to date, while Reflective journal entries may quite free flowing and random, and are more like data and work-in-progress.

Advocacy may be classified under Project Updates or Reflective Journal, depending on the nature of the advocacy, however would also like to stress that advocacy is a legitimate part of a participatory research project, and I may also put advocacy posts on twitter or Facebook or promote them through other blogs, and so on. It's difficult sometimes to classify advocacy in practice - is it part of the research for this project, or part of  my role as a researcher, or as a private individual? Not always clear.

So the classifications will be reflective journal or project updates, with subheadings, and will be at the top or bottom of the post.

Comments are welcome as ever.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Enemies of change, enemies of life

 "the essential quality of living is change ... The static, the enemy of change, is the enemy of life ..."
John Wyndham The Chrysalids*

Classified as: reflective journal, - discourse, advocacy.

First published 11 May 2014, updated with minor changes 14 May 2014.

I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about climate change denial lately, for the article I've been trying to write for nearly eighteen months (in my own defence, I have to say it's a difficult and complex topic).  I think I've almost finished it, but I don't know if it will ever be published. Anyway, I've learnt a lot from doing it, even if only in the way TS Eliot wrote:

And the end of all our journeying
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

which also feels really relevant because I have just come back from journeying to the faraway child.

Also I have just read Lenore Taylor's great article in the Guardian about Tony Abbott and Denis Napthine being on the expensive road to nowhere. Plus, in the  comments on that article and elsewhere, such as John Quiggin, seen views from lots of people who think cyclists are a minor annoyance for motorists, at best.

From all of this, I am reminded that those who are the most opposed to change are those who are the most wedded to the status quo. Which is to say, largely "confident conservative white men"#.

The ambiguous and complex thing, though, is that the most obvious public opposition to them comes from those who are like them, but not quite the same (trust me, I've been researching this for a long time^), that is, men who are left wing. Rarely does one seem to see, in these particular debates, comments from women, people of colour, or children. These are the voices we need to hear. Get engaged in the climate debate people, because it's about our shared future, and the future of those we love.


*I remember reading this when I was a teenager. When  you read the whole passage you become aware that Wyndham was suggesting that the woman from the 'future' who said this, was just as convinced of the rightness of her position as those she was condemning, and just as ready to destroy them.  I think I knew this, but at the same time, being a teenager and a baby boomer in the 60s, I didn't really believe it. I thought that my generation would leave the war mongering rigidity of the past behind us. I see the irony, but I still hope.
#This quote actually is from American research, by McCright and Dunlap (2011), but it also seems to be a fairly good description of the current Australian government.
^Well I guess that's not really good enough for a researcher to say, is it? So I'll do another post about the evidence soon.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Leaving Frankfurt

Classified as: reflective journal, updates.

My leave is over and I am about to head back to Australia. Auf Wiedersehn Frankfurt

Reflections later, maybe.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Beautiful world - more

Classified as: reflective journal, beautiful world

From a river cruise, Koln to Amsterdam

Friday, 7 March 2014

Can we combine the best from rich and poor countries?

Classified as: reflective journal, ideas, advocacy

While I was in Africa, and during my talks with Sandy, I became increasingly interested in the idea of marrying the best - most useful and most sustainable - skills and technologies from wealthy, high technology, capital intensive societies such as Australia, with the best (ditto) skills from poor, low technology, labour intensive societies such as Kenya. I was tempted to call Australia a 'highly skilled' country and Kenya a 'low skilled' one, but I would say on reflection that although that may be a common useage of terms, it's wrong. People in poor countries actually have a lot of skills - they can build houses, grow food, make clothes and household goods and maintain simple technologies, probably better than I could (and for an Australian, I think I'm relatively skilled in several of those areas). In countries like Australia, people have more specialised skills which they cultivate to a higher level. (By the same token I think people in pre-literate societies may have better aural and visual memory than people in literate societies).

It's generally been taught - at least in the progressive view of history - that the development of farming, individual land ownership, and urbanisation, were associated with specialisation, and that that was a good thing. But with the rethinking of modern industrial society that is going on (due to issues around environmental sustainability in particular, and the issues of chronic disease, obesity and health inequalities more specifically in public health) this might now be questioned. We can think about societies that have a broad skill base but simple lives (hunter gatherer, poor countries) or countries that have highly specialised skills and a complex array of technologies and material goods.

In part this line of thought was also suggested because I recently read Paul Collier 'Wars, Guns and Votes: democracy in dangerous places', which Sandy recommended. I'm not usually taken with conservative economists, but this book is based on wide ranging social research and analysis (rather than just economic theory and modelling), and I accept that there is something in what he says, even if I sometimes question his conceptual frameworks and assumptions. One of the points he makes (pp 94-95) is that violence, and particularly civil war, de-skills societies. He points to the construction industry as a key example and suggests we need "Bricklayers without Borders" to teach young men construction skills (he focuses particularly on young men, to encourage not only rebuilding and reskilling,  but alternative occupations to violence and warfare).

Sandy and I usually had our discussions about what needs to be done (or "if I were the Queen of Kenya") in terms of issues such as conservation (we agreed on banning plastic bags, which has been done I think in Rwanda, stopping poaching [although not sure how], and planting trees), ending corruption, providing basic services such as free education and primary healthcare, and raising living standards, particularly nutrition and housing. (We didn't talk much about jobs and private sector). I was more inclined to look at living standards (eg subsidised solar panels and water tanks for all houses and shambas, and possibly floor tiles instead of dirt floors) while Sandy tended to emphasise education and healthcare more (eg she would increase access to primary health care rather than subsidising floor tiles). Both of us  agreed on nutrition, and I think we would both tend to support local self-sufficiency (eg increasing the reliability and productivity of shambas and communal land) rather than increasing cash crops. Reading Collier has also made me think about this question from the perspective of skills as well.

So returning to the question - marrying the best of wealthy societies with the best of poor societies, to create sustainable ways of living - is it possible? How would you do it? What are the priorities? Critics of greenies, in Australia, sometimes say we want to take wealthy societies back to the 'Stone Age'. I don't agree - but if that's not the plan, what is? Off the top of my head I would say we could have

- at household level, technologies such as tablets (eg iPads), mobile phones, solar panels and bikes, combined with skills such as being able to build your own house (from local materials, not highly processed, and preferably not using much cement), grow and cook your own food, and make your own furniture, clothes and soft furnishings (again from local, not highly processed materials)
- combined with government provision of services such as education, health care (with emphasis on quality primary health care) telecommunications and public transport, and
- international provision of peace-keeping and justice services.

Growing and making food and goods, is pleasurable, if it's not associated with monotony and hardship, or lower status and less leisure (as in women's traditional roles). To me there is some idea of the good life in there. Some people might think it sounds awful, but I put it out there for discussion.

(Clearly I haven't specified the role of the private commercial sector. I'm not against it, but it's not my focus here. In a society and economy such as I'm imagining, it would have a smaller role, though it could still be significant. There would still be a role for specialised skills, and for markets and exchange, as well as commercial production of smart and sustainable technologies.)

Wilkinson and Pickett in 'The Spirit Level' (2009) showed that in poor countries, there was a close association between increased life expectancy and increased average income up to about $10,000 per annum (US dollars, pre-2009 statistics). After that, there was no clear relationship, and life expectancy was more clearly associated with income equality. For example, the USA (average income over $40,000, but with very high income inequality) had a slightly lower life expectancy than Cuba (average income slightly less than $10,000, but more equally distributed).

I should note that the evidence on subjective wellbeing and happiness is much more complicated (will look at this in detail at a later time). There appears to be evidence that people's happiness does rise with income (at least up to a point), but that this occurs in both rich and poor countries. The question seems to be (across countries), how much money do I need to live a good life according to the current standards of my society? My question is really a different one: if we accept that we need to reduce consumption and the movement of goods in order to create sustainable societies, what could constitute a good life?

Beautiful world

Classified as: reflective journal, updates, beautiful world

I'm now in Germany, with my youngest daughter, who had her first child a few weeks ago. I'm officially on leave until mid-April, but I will be keeping in touch through the blog, and thinking through a lot of issues.

For now I just want to share the best of my Kenya photos.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Habari from Kenya

So here I am at last in Kenya. I had planned to come here last year, but the visit had to be postponed when I broke my ankle. I am staying with Sandy (whom some research participants will remember from Port Phillip Community Group). Kenya is marvellous, and we had a close encounter with elephants in Samburu Reserve last week.

Apart from enjoying the wonderful hospitality, scenery and wildlife, I have also been finding out about some of the voluntary work Sandy does here. Kenya is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with huge divisions of wealth and poverty. It also has much corruption, often linked with ethnic affiliation. I love the people I have met here, they are friendly, vital and hard working, but they face many challenges.

In partnership with Chris Ellard in Melbourne, Sandy has set up a breakfast program in two local schools. Not all families are able to give their children enough food, particularly at this time of year, which is the dry season, when there is not much growing in the shambas (the gardens or subsistence plots for growing fruit and vegetables). Providing breakfast not only helps the children's nutrition, but encourages them to come to school and ensures they are not too hungry to learn. Primary education for all children is a key national priority in Kenya.

I had the pleasure to visit one of the schools. Below I am showing some of the children and their teacher photos of Australia. The children particularly loved the photo of a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch.

Yesterday, Sandy and I went to visit the widow and three children of a local man who recently died, at only 46 years old. He was a mountain guide of many years' experience, and was dedicated to conservation and wildlife. With help from his former employer and workmates, his widow is managing to feed and care for her children, but it is clear that that she (and the children) have to work very hard to achieve this.

The two younger children, both boys, are still at primary school. The oldest, a girl, has recently completed secondary school. Like her father, she is passionately committed to conservation and wildlife, and her ambition is to train in wildlife management with Kenya Wildlife Service. The diploma course costs about $3000 AUD however, and without her father's income it is unlikely that she will be able to do so. She is a bright and impressive young woman, and we felt it would be good if we could assist her in some way. It would be great to support a woman entering this field in Kenya. One  of Kenya's most famous environmental and political activists was a woman, Wangari Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Sadly, however, Kenya's environment and wildlife are under great threat, from climate change,  forest clearing and poaching, in particular

If anyone would like to know more, or offer support, please contact me on Valerie.Kay@monash.edu for further information. Please also feel free to disseminate this information to friends and contacts. Kenya is a beautiful and vivid country with beautiful and vivid people. From an Australian project dedicated to promoting equity and environment, to support people in a poor country who are working towards the same goals seems a very worthwhile aim.

I recognise that in a way the connection I am seeking to make with Kenya is a chance one, arising from the fact that I visited this country at this time. Yet I believe in building on chance connections. There are huge differences between Kenya and Australia. But if you look deeper, there are also profound similarities, such as our love of nature and wildlife, our desire to see children thrive and learn, and the quest for women's participation and empowerment.

Classified as: reflective journal, ideas, advocacy

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Unfinished business - sexism in left wing politics

Classified as: reflective journal, politics, discourse, feminist theory, advocacy

So according to John Quiggin, my concerns about sexism on his blog are unfounded and arise simply because I can't tolerate any criticism of Julia Gillard:

"OK Val, I think we’ve established that your only concern about sexism on this site relates to your view that criticism of Gillard, even on policies which you are unwilling to defend, was automatically sexist"

Well I guess I'm just a silly emotional woman, probably unrealistic to expect anything better of me ...

For some time now I've been trying to write a post about the way certain left wing or "progressive" male bloggers reacted to the prime ministership of Julia Gillard. I've trawled through the blogs and I've engaged in on-line discussions with the bloggers and with people who comment on the blogs. I've done some background reading on the issues.

Nevertheless I can't write a definitive post at this time. What I can say is this: there are general themes and tendencies in the way anti-Gillard left bloggers and their supporters reacted to Gillard, and there are also general themes in the way they responded to critics like me.

These are:
  • Their criticisms of Gillard were immoderate and often personal
  • They saw moral failures (eg being dishonest) or being on the wrong side of politics (eg being right wing or neo-liberal) as the cause of her mistakes
  • They blamed her personally for government failures or mistakes, but they did not give her personal credit for government successes
  • They reacted to feminist criticism by refusing to address the substance of the criticism or by denigrating the critic.
  • Where the critic was a woman, a very common response was to say that she was incapable of accepting any criticism of Gillard (as per John Quiggin's comment above - I don't think I ever saw any of them suggest this when the critic was male)
  • Another common response was to say that the feminist critics were participating in a Rudd-Gillard "stoush" or similar
I'm not trying to do commentary in this post, but I find the last two points so interesting that I will make a quick comment. In my view, what the anti-Gillard bloggers and their supporters were doing was trying to reconstruct feminist criticism in terms of a patriarchal discourse of competing individuals. More on this later ...

Certain relevant points about the bloggers: they are male, they are Queensland based and they supported Kevin Rudd. In my view, these bloggers and their supporters contributed to the election of the Abbott government. One of the key reasons swinging voters gave for voting against the previous ALP government, as I've noted in a previous post, was that they saw it as chaotic and unstable. These bloggers contributed to that instability.

I'm setting up a work-in-progress page on this subject, where I will keep my notes, evidence and analysis. Anyone who is interested to know more about this is welcome to trawl through that page when I set it up (soon) but I warn you it will be pretty random for a while, even though there will be a a lot there.

The reason I haven't tried to write a definitive post on this at present is that it's a huge task, and trying to get the perfect post done is blocking me from writing about other things that are interesting or important. So I will keep pursuing this issue, and ultimately I will tie it in to my thesis, but yep, it's a work in progress and will be for some time.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Community solar - energy of the future?

Update 20 January 2014*
Classified as: project updates - information, advocacy

Solar panels on South Melbourne Market roof - reproduced from LIVE website
 LIVE community power (solar) project:
"South Melbourne Market's new roof was completed in December 2012. The City of Port Phillip, who own the market, installed 136 solar panels. However there is room for 1000 more panels. LIVE is organising a project that will enable members of the community to have a financial interest in these 1000 panels. We are calling the project LIVE Community Power.
So if you rent your home, or own or rent an apartment, and can't install solar panels on your roof, then these community owned solar panels might be of interest to you.
It also might interest people who own their home, and already have solar panels, but who would like more. Or maybe you own a heritage home, and your north facing roof can be seen from the street, or your roof is shaded by a big tree, then your panels could be on the roof of the market."
For more information see LIVE community power

And an interesting story from RenewEconomy about crowd-funding community solar:
"  By on 23 September 2013
A clean tech expert is hoping to tap into crowd-funding and community ownership models to help install solar energy and address the soaring costs of dirty fossil fuels in remote Western Australian communities.
Peter Hansford of Regional Cleantech Solutions, recently hosted a community solar forum at Notre Dame University in Broome. It attracted  110 people and $120,000 in pledges for community solar projects. ..."
To read the whole story see Crowd-funding could solve energy poverty in remote townships.

I imagine crowd-funding could support community solar projects in a variety of locations.

Community solar projects include those projects that are owned by members of a particular community or community organisations, and those run or funded by governments, businesses or non-government organisations to provide solar power to people who wouldn't otherwise have access to it, including people on low incomes.

One of the great benefits of community solar is that it offers an opportunity for people who can't have their own solar panels - whether because of low income, because they're renting, because they own a flat but there isn't enough roof space or the owners' corporation won't allow it, or because their roof is shaded or doesn't have the right orientation, and so on - a chance to buy in to solar power generation.

This is important from the perspective of this research project, because it's about social justice as much as sustainability. As such, I recognise that it may be difficult for some very low income groups (eg people on NewStart) to get involved with community owned solar projects, but I think the projects mentioned below would welcome ideas on how they could engage low income groups. I urge people to advocate to them where relevant, and to contact me if you would like support in doing this. There are also other possible options, including NILS (No Interest Loans Schemes), that can help, discussed later in this post.

Another important benefit, as I understand it, of community solar is that it is often generated and used within a limited (local) area, so there aren't large transmission costs.

Live (Locals Into Victoria's Environment) has a project to put community owned solar panels on the roof of the South Melbourne market. The Live website also provides a list of community owned solar projects throughout Australia

The Moreland Community Solar project is a partnership project between Moreland Energy Foundation (MELF) and Climate Action Moreland. The most recent brief update I have been able to find on it is on the Moreland Council website, here in July 2013. From what I have heard there is a lot of enthusiasm but also a lot of bureaucratic and regulatory challenges to meet.

Two other projects in Victoria which seem to be relatively advanced are Yarra Community Solar and Portland Community Solar.  All the projects, however, seem to face considerable challenges in getting from concept stage to power generation stage.

It's often mentioned that the key model for community owned power generation in Victoria is Hepburn Wind, which took about seven years to get get to power generation stage (2004-11) and came close to breaking even financially last year. If the carbon price is repealed this year, alternative energy projects will face greater financial challenges, as well as the many administrative hurdles they already face.

As well as community owned solar projects, there are also solar projects by government departments or commercial solar providers working with community members and people on low incomes to improve housing sustainability and reduce energy costs. These include initiatives in Windsor, Horsham and Carlton  by the Victorian Department of Human Services.

Some solar providers offer low interest or no interest deals on solar power  which could be useful to low income earners. No Interest Loans Schemes (NILS) can also be used by people receiving CentreLink benefits to purchase solar panels, for example through the Home Energy Saver Scheme provided by Good Shepherd. Potentially this could also include buying into a community owned solar project.

There are also solar projects in Indigenous communities and in rural and remote areas. There have been some problems with early projects, particularly in terms of reliability and maintenance, however this project in Mornington Island, to reduce costs in the local community run supermarket, illustrates the benefits for communities.

This community solar low income residential project in Colorado, USA, may also be of interest.

I urge all health and community organisations to consider supporting community solar projects, particularly for low income groups, if they are not already doing so. I would also be interested to hear from any that are already doing so.

(*This is an updated version of the very brief post on community solar which I did early in the New Year. I've changed the name to better reflect the growing content as I gather more information.)