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Dear Chilliwops,

Today I was reading a web page that delivers the quote of the day.  Today’s “nature quote” said, “Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.”  The author was sixteenth century French writer and philosopher Michel de Montaigne.

It is a positive and noble notion but is it possible for “nature to have her way”?  Consider mankind’s excesses, greed and hunger for more.  The reality is we don’t allow nature to “have her way”, to take care of itself.  As a society we continue to want more and often neglect to use what we have sparingly or with caution, with consideration for our environment.

This is not only an Australian problem it is a global problem. Wanting more material things motivates us.  We are constantly bombarded by advertisements and it has become too easy to buy using credit.

We are also conditioned by Governments and businesses to expect economic growth.  Governments make adjustments to their policies to increase the level of growth in our economy.  But Governments generally do not measure environmental considerations when they measure growth.  They tend not to measure the impact of development on the overall well being of our society.

Surely the well being of our society should include a consideration of how our environment is impacted, not merely the financial return to society (including Government by way of taxes) or the number of jobs created by investment or new development.  For many, measuring environmental impact and placing a dollar value on it is difficult to understand.  There is usually an obsession with financial growth but such growth can have a detrimental effect on our environment.

For example, in Australia Governments place minimal constraints on mining coal because it provides money to Government, jobs, electricity and export dollars.  In fact, not only are we negligent in not applying constraints, our Government actually provides subsidies to help coal mining companies.  Can you believe that?  Other countries have signed an Agreement to phase out such subsidies but our Prime Minister refused to sign the Agreement.  So much for his noise about caring for the environment or wanting to limit greenhouse gas emissions!  All talk and no action.  Coal-fired power stations are responsible for huge greenhouse gas emissions.

When coal is burnt in our power stations sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are released into the atmosphere in large quantity.  They are subsequently blended in a single mass in the upper atmosphere, forming sulphuric and nitric acid rain. For that reason alone – the environmental and health damage from acid rain - burning coal is a terrible idea.  But that is only one part of the emission problem.  The other big issue is the emission of carbon dioxide, the source of so much of our global warming.

There are some people who claim global warming caused by human activity is a fiction, merely a natural cyclical event.  But all of the scientific evidence suggests otherwise.  Either way, shouldn’t we be attempting to reduce emissions?  Surely we need to leave the planet in the best possible condition for future generations.

As individuals what can we do?  These are just some of the things you or your family might like to consider:

1. Instead of driving everywhere suggest to your family and friends that it would be nice to walk, cycle or take public transport.  It would save fuel, reduce emissions and be good for your health at the same time.

2. Think about how you may be able to use less energy around the house.  Be energy efficient by turning off the lights, for example.  Turn off all electronic equipment that is not in use – your computer, the television, everything.  Ask your Mum to only use cold water to wash clothes and to dry the clothes in the sun – clothes dryers use huge amounts of energy.  If your parents buy a new refrigerator or other electric appliance ask them to check the energy rating.

3. Write to your Member of Parliament to demand he or she considers the environment – requires all new developments to undertake an environmental audit, requires all legislation contains an environmental audit with the focus on greenhouse emissions.

4. Ask your parents if you can grow your own vegetables.  You may not realize this but the processed foods bought by you or your parents are processed using far too much energy.

5. Recycle your waste as much as possible.  Ask your parents to buy a composter or develop your own composting system.  The end result will be less material dumped at landfill sites - which produce methane gas – and great fertilizer and mulch for your garden.

6. When you buy stuff tell the shop assistant not to wrap your items in plastic.  Avoid plastic bags.

7. On the subject of fuel for the government fleet of vehicles write another letter to your Member of Parliament, and perhaps the Minister for Transport.  Better still ask your entire class and all of your friends to write to the Premier.  Tell them how the conversion of a significant proportion of Australia’s vehicles to LNG would not only address our fuel security but the use of Liquefied Natural Gas more commonly known simply as LNG, would have an impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

8. Ask your parents and their friends to find constructive ways of campaigning against the use of fossil fuels such as coal in power stations.  There are more environmentally sustainable resources that we should be relying upon.  Solar, wind, wave and tidal power for example.

9. Read all of the articles you can get you hands on about greenhouse gas emissions.  Become better informed.

I recently read a very good article published in an independent media outlet, The Conversation.  The author Frederick Trainer, a visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales, wrote about “The ‘simple life’ manifesto and how it could save us.”

Here is a substantial excerpt from that article:

“It is … now clear that increasing the GDP in a rich country does not improve the quality of life!

So let’s shift to the Simpler Way

This is the term some of us are using for the kind of society in which we could easily make these huge reductions, while actually liberating ourselves to enjoy a far higher quality of life than we have now – if we wanted to. But we could not do it without unprecedented, radical structural and cultural changes.

Here are the basic elements of The Simpler Way:

We must develop as much self-sufficiency as we reasonably can, both at the national level, meaning much less international trade, but more importantly at local and household levels. We need to convert our presently barren suburbs into thriving economies which produce much of what they need from local resources.

Home gardens and mini-farms throughout suburbs would allow nutrients to be recycled back to the soil. Most of us could get to work by bicycle or on foot, and there would be almost no need for food packaging, food transport or marketing, and little need for fridges.

Because there will be far less need for transport, we could dig up many roads, greatly increasing the urban land area available for community gardens, workshops, and nature.

Most of your neighbourhood could become an “edible landscape”, crammed with long-lived, largely self-maintaining productive plants. We could convert one house on each block to become the neighbourhood workshop and gathering place.

There would also be many varieties of animals living in our neighbourhoods, including an entire fishing industry based on tanks and ponds. Many raw materials can come from the commons, the small woodlots, bamboo clumps, ponds, meadows, clay pits, from which all can take free food and materials.

It would be a leisure-rich environment, full of familiar people, small businesses, common projects, drama clubs, animals, gardens, farms, forests, and things to see and do. People would be less inclined to travel for leisure or holidays, reducing the national energy consumption.

People would work on voluntary rosters, committees and community work groups to maintain infrastructure and provide services. (The Spanish anarchists ran whole towns without any politicians or bureaucracy, via citizens’ committees and assemblies.)

If you think this all sounds a bit unlikely, you’re right. There is no chance of making these kinds of changes in our present economic system.

It would require a radically new economy: one with no growth and not driven by market forces. Investment and distribution decisions would have to be made by deliberate collective processes.

This does not mean we must have centralised, bureaucratic, authoritarian, distant, big-state socialism. Most of the small firms and farms might remain as privately owned ventures or cooperatives, as long as they kept within guidelines set by the community.

Towns and suburbs will collectively take basic control of their local productive systems, which would enable them to eliminate unemployment, poverty and homelessness. They will simply set up small firms and cooperative gardens and workshops whereby those without jobs can contribute to producing goods and services the town needs, being paid in our local currency.

Most people would need to work for money only one or two days a week. (In consumer-capitalist society we work far harder than necessary.)

Surrounding the town or suburban economy would be a regional economy in which more elaborate items would be produced, such as shoes, hardware and tools. A few items, such as steel, would need be moved long distances from big centralised factories, but very little would need to be transported from overseas.

Most of the decisions that matter would be taken at the level of the town assembly, not the nation state. Democracy would be participatory, as opposed to representative. Big centralised governments could not possibly run our small local communities. That could only be done by the people who live there, and who understand the local needs and opportunities.

Obviously, we as individuals will only live well if our town thrives. Our real wealth and welfare would be due to public factors, such as a beautiful landscape and a caring community. Our personal incomes and property will not be important. The situation would require and reward good citizenship.

The biggest and most difficult changes will have to be in our outlook and values. The present commitment to individualistic competition for affluent “living standards” and ever-increasing wealth would have to be replaced by a strong desire to live simply and frugally, cooperatively, and self-sufficiently.

Living more simply does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means being content with what is sufficient, and seeking enjoyment from non-material pursuits. Living in ways that are frugal and that minimise resource use should not be seen as a burden or sacrifice that must be made to save the planet. These ways can be sources of great life satisfaction.

Neither does it mean turning our backs on the modern world. The Simpler Way would let us keep all the high-tech ways that are socially desirable. We would have far more resources for science, research, education and the arts than we have now because we would have stopped wasting vast amounts of resources on non-necessities.

Obviously at present the chances of such a transition being achieved are very poor. But the global situation is rapidly deteriorating and increasing numbers are realising that consumer-capitalism is not going to solve our problems.”

The article provides good food for thought doesn’t it.  The author acknowledges how difficult it would be to achieve everything he describes and that our economic system – or at least our economic thinking – would need to be changed.  But we have to start somewhere to ensure our planet survives and even if we can achieve some of these objectives it would be a huge step forward.

Do something positive for our environment each day.  I guarantee that will help improve the years in your life.

So far I have written to you about adding meaning to your life by helping others; I have suggested you should put your nose to the grindstone and give your schooling your best shot; I have reminded you that we are all born under the same sun, we all deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity no matter what the colour of our skin, our cultural or religious background.  These are all matters that will follow you.

I hope you haven’t found my letters boring.  I will write again soon.

Love always,
Your Popple

Anton Clever is well into his seventh decade ... a former teacher, soldier, farm hand, lawyer and businessman (not in that order).  He has travelled extensively for business and for international clients.  More recently he has started writing ... currently a thriller (which will probably not be worthy of publication, he says) and has written but not published a series of “postcards” from various places (specifically, Victoria, Papua New Guinea, France, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Iran) referring to experiences in those places.  He has also written for several magazines on unusual subjects but matters worthy of debate.