As you grow, some old shoots must wither

While writing to an Australian friend this morning, I found myself tempted to describe a planned hike as a bushwalk. I immediately checked myself, as expats so often do, and realized that I had not used the term bushwalk is so many years that it had been lost from my vocabulary. It made me so sad to think that there were parts of my speech, perhaps even parts of my Australianness, that were slipping away.

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Five Reasons Aliens Have Not Made First Contact

In the Star Trek universe, the date of First Contact with alien life is fast approaching. According to canon, an affable if a little unhinged scientist called Zefram Cochrane will catch the attention of the Vulcans in 2063 with mankind’s first warp drive. There seems to be little contention that there is intelligent life out there, and some of it may be more advanced than us. But have we ever stopped to think that perhaps the little green dudes are maybe just not that into us? Here is why. Read More

Why foodies must also be environmentalists

Foodies and environmentalists don’t always get along. Environmentalists make compromises daily for sustainability. Foodies are known for being single-minded and ruthless in their search for the perfect meal.

But I argue: If you love food, you must appreciate and respect the environment in which it was grown. And that means you have to make green choices or risk losing the foods you love in the long run.

But it’s just food, you say, and everybody’s gotta eat, right? How much harm can it possibly do? As Bijal Trivedi points out in New Scientist, the answer is: quite a lot.

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A Murmur of Approval

Last weekend, my husband and I found ourselves at dusk in a park we frequent in Sunol. We were procrastinating because it was Sunday night, the park was lovely and we didn’t want to go home yet. We stopped in a clearing because a few red-breasted robin were flitting around but as we stood there, the few became many and the many became hundreds.

The next thing we knew, the birds had started to form a murmuration, an undulating wave of birds that swooped and swarmed ahead of us. Where I come from, birds are a little more raucous so I was delighted to see this display for the first time.
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The Hidden Cost of Cheap Clothing

As I write this, I am wearing another woman’s pants. I’m wearing a second woman’s shirt. This isn’t some Fergus Brown-style fantasy but an effort to reduce my waste footprint while still trying to look stylish.

Some of you probably find it a bit creepy to consider wearing someone else’s clothes. As my germaphobic workmate once put it: “You can’t trust clothes in a thrift store – someone could have died in them.” My answer to that is: So what?

I have been wearing second-hand clothes for as long as I can remember. As part of a working class family back in Australia, where clothes have always been expensive, my parents would rely on hand-me-downs from family members and friends, or buy from thrift stores and seconds retailers. What began as a fiscal necessity turned into a way of life that is green, cheap and – I gotta say – usually rather well-dressed. Read More

7 Environmental TED Talks to Educate, Energize and Entertain You

It’s usually around the third drink that it happens. You’re in a bar, talking about a problem you’re having – whether it’s with your garage door-opener or the stubbornness of the human mind – when suddenly, you’re interrupted by your companion who breathlessly blurts out: “Oh, ooh! I saw this amazing thing in a TED talk that might help…”

TED stands for Technology Entertainment and Design and is a series of engaging, rostrum-style talks held all over the world and broadcast for free – several talks a day. As one who frequently spends her lunch hour with TED (and who has been guilty of the bar-room conversation, above), I’ve compiled some compelling talks on environmental themes. From the navigational wonders of the African dung beetle to the misconceptions that cause mothers to put their children at risk of disease and death, these TED talks will hopefully educate, energize and entertain you in good measure. Read More

The Devastating Environmental Impact of the Space Program

My brother is a Trekkie. No, not a long-distance hiker but a Star Trek fan. He has watched all the films and TV shows, met some of its stars at expensive conventions across the world and has plastic models of ships adorning his living room. (Before you ask: Yes, he has a girlfriend and yes, she’s gorgeous.)

In his lifetime and mine, it will likely be possible for punters like us to go to space. We’ll be hitching a ride on the coat tails of 70 years of scientists who have been working out how to shoot rockets into space and how to safely put people on them.

There are few who don’t think that science is incredibly cool but Star Trek is about ethics and caring for humankind’s legacy – and what kind of legacy are we leaving in the wake of the space program? In short: Toxic soils, disease, ecosystem upheaval, resource depletion, and human and wildlife displacement. Read More

Meet the Tiny Desert Slime that Holds our Topsoil Together. For Now.

If your eyes were microscopes and you had really good sunblock, you could lie down in the Arizona Desert and watch tiny microbes build colonies of millions around you. These greeblies, called cyanobacteria, colonize the very top layer of soil and need little more than sunshine to survive. In their wake, they leave a trail of slime that glues the soil together, allowing larger organisms like moss and lichens to grow.

It sound like something out of a Robert Heinlein novel, doesn’t it? But we should think fondly of cyanobacteria because there is mounting evidence that they are what knits our ecosystems together and their slimy calling card could save us from the killer effects of climate change. Read More

Meet the big fish in the sustainable seafood push

So here we are, my husband and I, standing in a busy Asian supermarket on a Saturday morning and I have two cuts of frozen fish in my hands. My husband and I are discussing which one to buy and we’re considering type of fish, cut, price and how far it’s traveled to our plate. Then I throw a spanner in the works: is it sustainable?

My husband sighs. He does this when I ask him to rinse out his disposable drink cup, and when I am dithering in the toilet paper aisle, trying to work out whether I care enough about the earth to spend an extra 9c a square. It’s the resigned sigh of a moderately green man who is married to an environmental zealot.

The good news – for my marriage and the line of people forming behind us in the supermarket – is that it’s becoming easier to find out what’s actually on your plate, where it came from and how sustainable the fish stocks are. Read More

A mixtape for planet earth

Still on a high at the end of a successful green film festival and pumped by the news that the US Government is taking real action on climate change, I have made a mixtape for the Earth of my favorite environmental tunes.

These are songs that turned me into an environmentalist. I hope you love them too.

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