New Council report - Brisbane. Clean, Green, Sustainable 2017-2031

Brisbane's Council released a report titled 'Brisbane. Clean, Green, Sustainable 2017-2031' this week. Apparently an amalgam of 10 existing documents, it provides a list of targets and indicators showing council's goals on air and water quality, household carbon emissions, waste disposal, parks and biodiversity. However, having had a look through the document, I think the criticisms by opposition member Cr Peter Cummings are on point, and that it lacks specifics around what actions will be taken by when and how Brisbane's targets sit comparable on a scale of sustainable cities.

It would be fantastic to see this report backed up by a concrete plan of action.

Criticisms aside - and the document does seem to be one that makes a lot of facts more digestible for Brisbane dwellers rather than a policy document - there are some points in the document about environmental initiatives that I've not heard of in Brisvegas before. Here they are in dot pointy form:

- Plans to implement a CBD-wide initiative whereby one plant room provides cold water to air conditioners in towers around the city. Sadly, the water is chilled in 'off peak' times, which presumably means it's chilled using electricity. Still, 10-30% energy savings per building is not to be sneezed at.

- Continue the capture of gas at city landfills for combustion via flaring or electricity generation. Wow! How did I not know this was happening? This is so cool! School children know more about this than I do it seems, with a Council leaflet on school recycling containing this fun fact: "Over 32,500 megawatt hours (MWh) of green energy is generated annually from landfill gas at Rochedale Landfill, which is enough to power about 6500 homes every year."

From 2016 School Recycling Factsheet: Landfill published by Brisbane City Council

- Continue to explore opportunities for policy and legislative changes to support the adoption of alternative, low carbon waste treatment methods, including the production of energy from waste. Awesome! Be great to see existing initiatives like Substation 33, a social enterprise run by YFS that recycles e-waste, supported and assisted to grow too.

-  The busway network carries more passengers annually than all of the city’s motorways combined. What? Seriously? I'm surprised. I really am.

-  Council is ...taking a whole-of-catchment approach to waterway management that transcends local government boundaries, through the Resilient Rivers program. This cross-government program is addressing water quality in the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay through initiatives in other local government areas. The program was initiated after upstream sediment threatened Brisbane’s water supply during the 2011 flood and following continued erosion of crucial farming land in the Lockyer Valley.

You can find the full report at:

How Kant helps me with questions of environmental ethics

Every time I attend and environmental rally it simultaneously fills me with mixed feelings of hope (it’s always edifying to see others supporting what you support, regardless of the nature of the cause) and existential dread. Dread because dwelling on climate change and listening to speeches about it is ultimately horrifying. It reminds one of one’s mortality, and as a member of a nation of over-consumers and polluters, one’s own part in perpetuating the struggles, maltreatment and deaths of those affected by consumption and climate change.

I’ve spent more than one night awake wondering about the future of the planet – it’s even driven me to write science fiction recently – but it’s a very good thing to be affected by and think on deeply.

One of the things that plagues me is how to know what is right or ethical action? Obviously there are so many answers to this, each with its own usefulness, but one of the most important I think I’ve stumbled upon during my time studying political philosophy comes from Emmanuel Kant.
"Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." 

By which (in my extrapolation) he means don’t do something unless you’d will it to be replicated universally by everyone. I take this to be a mediation between individual and social compulsions. I might be individually compelled to use the earth’s resources carelessly because it is less hassle to me than to be frugal with them. However I could not will that this would be a universal behaviour because it would result in there being no resources left to use and very probably no me left to use them. You can see already how different this reasoning is to an economic one which justified my excessive use of resources through ‘supply/demand’ reasoning or because it might create jobs.

To me it seems Kant’s argument extends to reasonableness. I can judge (to some extent, not particularly well or easily in the example I’ve used however because of all the variables) what is a reasonable action for myself by judging what actions I could will become a universal law. So a reasonable level of my use of earth’s resources is the level at which if my usage levels should become universal, would be sustainable and not damaging to life on earth. This is a nice little cycle back around to that philosopher whose work has its echoes in every philosopher’s since – Aristotle.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics talks a lot about virtue. To have it, he says, one must have not only the will to do good (compassion), but be able to correctly use reasoning to find the path to the right end (the one which allows human flourishing – Eudaimonia) within the particular given circumstances. Kant’s thinking I believe helps us with this reasoning.

Ethics and philosophy rarely come into question at large International Environmental Policy/ Law gatherings like Paris 2015, but it should. It is difficulty and head-hurty to think about sometimes but also invigorating, and truly if we are incapable of being critical of our drives and of how as humans we do and ought to make decisions, then we are really very unsophisticated little robots indeed.

Here are a few resources to make things less head-hurty.
Sparknotes on Nicomachean Ethics book ii 
Kant: The Moral Order on Philosophy Pages 

On Tiny House Addictions

As a social science nerd, it's no big surprise that I find dwellings fascinating. People's relationships with each other, the environment around them and themselves are all shaped to some extent by their houses and vice versa.

I love visiting other people's houses to see how they live, and I would get a serious attack of the yearns as a kid driving by clapped out old farming houses and sheds no longer in use. Wanting to explore. Find hidden treasures, old bottles, relics and objects which, in their state of un-use had lost their meaning.

I love houses on wheels, and houses in tents, and houses built to survive an Antarctic winter.

I love discovering new spaces so much I've lived in seven different houses in the last ten years of living in Brisbane, not counting the flat that was my home during six months spent in Amsterdam. 

But the dwellings I like most - and I have to pause here to acknowledge the very real element of trendiness that goes with them (thanks Portlandia)- are tiny houses.


I've had a folder of bookmarks named 'tiny houses' that has survived the death of three laptops. Tiny houses appeal to my hope that I have a hidden talent at building things (but without being overwhelmingly huge). And if that wasn't enough to get me addicted, I think the smallness of a house, as long as it is surrounded by enough outdoor living space, invites the inhabitant to live outside more often. And I'm Australian, I like living outside. 

It's a bit of a dream of mine to buy a small block of land with nothing on it, take a bunch of books and camping gear and just hang out there and try to build one of the tiny house projects that you can find templates for all over the web (even if it's not particularly feasible it is a great motivator to save money!). 

So I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite tiny house resources and blogs so you can have your own daydream about a tiny house on a tiny block too! Most of them are made on trailer or campervan bases because why not use something already existing? and also it gets around zoning laws.

One of the fun ones I really enjoy is by a super handy dude called Square Inch. His YouTube channel has twelve videos on how he made his tiny house, with some very intricate details like how to fix your windows so water doesn't get in. One of my friends used to watch make-up tutorials to relax after a hard day knocking out her PhD. I watch tiny house how-tos. I like to think it's less weird than watching Grand Designs because I'm totally learning about the minutiae of how houses are constructed, which I'm certain will at some point in my life be useful (if I could afford the tools and workshop carpentry would be at the top of my list of hobbies), and I also have some hope of owning one within my lifetime and without selling all of my organs and blood or becoming a high priest of bitcoin or something.

Moving on...

I love the website Instructables. It seems like a respository of human wisdom and ingenuity. There are instructions for just about anything you could think of there (and many things you couldn't). And there is, of course a Tiny, tiny house instructables tutorial (one tiny wasn't enough it seems). 

The Tiny Life has a super comprehensive checklist and strategic planner on their website for those seriously thinking about tiny houses, as well as heaps of e-books for every step of the way, and tiny house topics, such as Top 5 Biggest Barriers to the Tiny House Movement, and the Fallacy of a Cheap Tiny House.

They are cheaper than house-houses though! Which, basically is the point isn't it? Less resources, less wasted space, less money. Macy built hers for $11,500 USD (close to $16,000 Australian), which is an astonishingly affordable price if you think that the average Brisbane wage is around $52,000 (according to 2010-2011ABS data). That's between 2-3 years' rent for me!

But these are all in the ole America, you say? Well, that's okay, that's where it seems to have all started, but the tiny house buzz is making its way to Australia. Keep an eye on the Tiny Houses Australia Facebook page for updates on the Aussie movement, or read about it here on the Herald Sun.

Fred's Tiny Houses is the only Australian tiny house company I've seen so far, but I'm sure many people are trying their hands at making them - a friend's partner was having a go in his backyard for a while. Fred also runs workshops and tours around his tiny house in Victoria.
Fred's tiny house has one of my favourite Aussie design things: corrugated steel
Know of any other companies in Aus making them? Have intense feelings about tiny houses that you are shamecited about and have to tell the world? Let me know in the comments! Every time you leave a blog without commenting, a tiny house dies!

Wwoofing in Portugal - learning by doing

Thought I'd share a snippet of my travels, one of the most important for my sustainability education.

At the end of February I spent a week Wwoofing on a sustainable farm near Malviera da Serra, not far from Lisbon in Portugal. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my six months in Europe, and I'm positive this is down to the way we spent our days.

The perfect ratio of a day it seems, is:

Wake up at 7.30 to views over rolling hills down to the rocky coastline. Having an old sea fort visible in your view amps up the romance. I definitely recommend it.

Everybody helps to cook a quick breakfast - thanks to Mariana for the BYO of cheese from your workplace/farm in Italy (half goat, half cow, since it takes something like 10 litres of goat's milk to make 1kg of cheese). Coffee. Lots of coffee. Tip your grounds into the mushroom box. The coffee slurry will make a great acidic mushroom environment!

Boots on, pat the dog, head down the chilly cobblestone driveway to the orchard armed with tools for trimming the peaches and assorted other stone fruit which, since it is winter, look like naked and shivering old men.

Spend 3-4 hours trimming the orchard - between four people you can get a lot done! And strip down and chop up the twigs for the homemade pizza oven for use in the summer. Talk about British Comedy. A lot. Also have conversations with your host about Aristotle, the orchestra of the planets, and the age of Aquarius. Don't worry if you're cold. The sun will get over the pines at half past ten and then you'll be bathed in warm Mediterranean sunshine. Keep the sleepy little peach buds on the trimmed branches to stick in your ponytail. You're already dirty, twigs are just decoration.

When you're done trimming, you can build a garden border with woven dead palm leaves and stakes made from the orchard branches.

Take the tour of the marvelous biodome greenhouse complete with windmill-powered drip-irrigation your host has invented himself from welded scraps and three layers of clingwrap.

Around 1.30pm head back up the cobblestones, past the flowering aloes, drinking in the view of the coast, and start preparing lunch for your excellent host and the other two woofers. Eat lunch together, with a glass of Medronho if you're feeling adventurous, or just a locally grown, family produced red wine if you're not.

Spend the afternoon drowsing in the sunshine, pedalling the bike-powered washing machine, or exploring the nearby Sintra National Park and castles.

Head home, and make a communal dinner on the homemade gas 'oven'. Dine beneath a chandelier powered by a small windmill (Portugal is windy!). Shower only if you can stand the cold water by the light of the solar lamp (the gas takes at least 15 minutes to heat the water, and being an Australian I could not in good conscience leave the water running that long!). Retire to the fireplace. Drink Medronho or Porto, and listen to your host's stories about Portugal's history, or head to Lisbon to taste the incredible seafood and drink on one of the hilltops overlooking the harbor.

I can't recommend Wwoofing highly enough for people who have a little knowledge about building, gardening or engineering (Wwoofing hosts do get frustrated when people show up and do little work - they are feeding you and giving you a place to sleep for free after all). It's a wonderful way to exchange knowledge about permaculture, gardening and sustainable living.

Just being able to slot into another person's already pre-arranged sustainable lifestyle made me realise how easy it is to make some changes that make things more ecologically friendly, and just how little I need to live a fulfilled and happy life.

Many thanks to Carlos, my wonderful host, for making me feel at home and bringing me many of Portugal's fantastic cakes to try (and who simply could not have been more generous), and Mister Archer, the German Shepherd who was our guide on our walk along the coast.

Sustainable Amsterdam - tips for Brisbane?

Hi all,
So after a very long hiatus (insert excuse here), I'm going to try to resurrect EcoBris, because now more than ever I think we sustainable Brisbanites need to be active in pursuing the kind of Brisbane we want to live in, regardless of what local government is doing (although of course I am also hoping for lots of Greens wins at the State Election on Saturday).
I am also currently on my way back from an exchange, which has allowed me to live and study for 6 months in the very eco-friendly city of Amsterdam, so I have plenty of fresh new ideas about how a city can work almost car-free and prosper by doing so.

Of course, first thing to do when I get back is to find a sharehouse, and having seen how fantastically well Facebook groups have worked for buying selling and trading at the college I've lived at for the last 6 months (a definite plus for cutting back on waste), I thought it would be useful to set up a Facebook group for environmentally friendly sharehouses. You can find the group on Facebook - 'Sustainable Sharehouses Brisbane' . I'll also try to post information on living sustainably in sharehouses and apartments there when I can.

Some sustainable things I've learned in Amsterdam:

  • I've given up buying toothpaste because of the waste the tubes create. Lush makes sodium bicarbonate-based toothbrushing tabs in pill form which you crush up in your teeth. Although it's weird at first they work nicely and is packaged in nothing but cardboard. 
  • I can cycle in all weather...even small hail and cross-winds, and still have fun! (Amsterdam's lack of hills helps. Also it helps that you can arrive with perfect hair as the separate bike paths and slow pace mean you don't need to wear a helmet. I'd rather protect my brains in Brisbane and worry about the hair later, however). 
  • I can totally make my own sauerkraut (chop up cabbage and put in a teaspoon of salt. Macerate with your hands until there's enough juice to cover it. Press it into a jar with juice covering the top, and leave it for a few days. Carraway seeds add a nice flavour). Just don't kill the flavour with too much salt! Newbie fail!
  • Bike paths can be pretty! Like the one in Brabant (top), in the Netherlands. They can also be entirely made of solar, used to power streetlamps and even electric cars through the many plug-in stations around. There were about five on my street in Amsterdam alone!
  • If you make the electric cars tiny enough they can go on the bike lanes and reduce congestion - which means less cars sitting in traffic jams with their motors running!
  • Finally, the best thing to do with land that's been poisoned by heavy industry (shipbuilding), is to give it to a bunch of visionaries for 10 years so they can put salvaged houseboats on it (so as not to disturb the chemical-filled soil) and create a vegetarian houseboat restaurant, workspaces and storytelling stage.

    Cafe De Ceuvel in Amsterdam Noord
Looking forward to starting a new year in Brisbane, and trying to find ways of applying some Amsterdam sustainability to Brissie life!

Food Politics and Safety Updates

Just wanted to point out a few really great Food articles by bloggers this week.

'Beyond Porkwashing' by Twilight Greenaway can be found on Grist and reports McDonald's move to stop using 'gestation crates' for pigs, but without committing to a timeline, and about another food supply company, BAMCO who have.
 'Unlike many of the sea changes we hear about within today’s food companies, which are often spurred by consumer demand, BAMCO has a tendency to be more progressive than its customers. (Taking hamburgers off the menu on Low Carbon Diet Day and reducing beef purchasing by one-third are probably not the kinds of things you would do solely to please an American customer base, for instance.) (Grist)'

There's also a neat little debate about an organics report in the US and the reasons the USDA is an 'uncomfortable host' for the National Organics Program between Marion Nestle's blog  Food Politics and Jim Prevor's blog The Perishable Pundit.It's great to see two people agreeing to disagree respectfully and open mindedly!

And a great post about the EPA in the US preparing to release the Dioxin assessment, 20 years in the making, only to be greeted by Agriculture lobby groups who say the report will scare the crap out of people. Michele Simon at Appetite for Profit makes the rather salient point that it is better to scare the crap out of people than for all those people to have cancer...touche.
Food Safety News gives a post-report-release run down on the EPA assessment and how different groups are interpreting it.

Back to School to Learn My Voice Counts

Tonight saw me and some buddies head back to primary school to learn about the sustainable energy plan that's going to lead us to zero carbon emissions!
We literally sat in a primary school library, scrunched, with other long out-of-school community members, into tiny yellow chairs.

As Luke Reade of Transition Kurilpa and Beyond Zero Emissions began his talk at Christ the King Primary school in Graceville, the old boy at the front of the class helpfully loaned him his walking stick to use as a pointer for his slides. Strange how this small action gave the small room a feeling of community, even if for the brief moment of shared laughter.

I've been to a BZE presentation before - the launch in Brisbane, which you can read about here  and I think they are doing the most amazing job of changing opinions on moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energies. There was some interesting discussion at the end, which I won't go into here (you'll just have to go to one of the talks yourself!), but the most important thing I took away from it was something I often forget: Local members and even federal pollies need the populace to push them on things. For a democracy to work, the population needs not to be apathetic, it needs to believe that if it stands long enough and shouts long enough and presents its opinions well that it will be heard.

Luke said he'd spoken to someone recently who'd said Beyond Zero Emissions and groups like it had changed the way discussions were happening around energy and climate issues in parliament. He also said that people always asked why didn't BZE get more politicians onside, and why weren't the politicians supporting it? He replied that the local members always said they needed to hear enough from their electorates that they wanted something (like renewable energies) before they were able to act on it.

It's something Sarah de Vries, who started the magazine 'This Next Wave' talked about in the Brisbane launch of the magazine at Avid Reader. Having had a government job in sustainable architecture, Sarah also heard the question 'but why doesn't government do something?' and asked it herself, particularly when solutions seemed so simple and easy to her. She said she'd thought about it, and watched proceedings and had come to the same conclusion Luke had spoken about: that politicians can't say their electorate wants something unless the electorate gets up and tells them enough times.

Politics is a popularity game, and if enough people are informed and know how to make themselves heard, local members must play to them by listening and acting.
I get a lot of those emails from Get Up and WWF and other organisations about contacting my local member, and sometimes I have the time, energy and drive to do it. But often I forget, or leave the email lingering too long in my inbox, because I simply forget that my voice counts, and that I am privileged to live in a country where it does!

There's a State election on soon, and now's the time to make your voice heard. Got any burning issues?