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One Person Stories

A wartime refugee once said to me, "There's nothing like bullets flying over your head to keep you focused and bring out hidden talents in a hurry". Climate change is doing something similar. All sorts of people are rising to the challenge and doing quite remarkable and inspiring things.

If YOU have done (or are doing) something that goes beyond what you might previously have expected you could achieve, or if that sounds like someone else you know, please share your stories here!

Email your story.

 

One person’s story - Green Renters
by Cate, Victoria, February 2012

When I started University I moved to Melbourne and moved into one of many rental properties. Nearly 20 years later I’m still renting. I’m happily married, finally finished that degree and have lots of interests. One of these is sustainability. I started wondering how I could make our own rental property more environmentally friendly. For the last seven years I’ve lived in a typical rental property: a single story town house in inner city Melbourne, complete with a front and back garden. It’s over 100 years old and the landlord, who owns several homes in the area, does as minimal maintenance as he can get away with.  I went along to a couple of sustainability event with my now husband, only to be greeted by indifferent sales people selling solar panels or rain water tanks who treated me as something of a persona non grata for not owning my own home.

So I was determined to do something. My husband and I started a blog that we called Green Renters. Two years later this has grown to a small not-for-profit incorporated organisation with international recognition. We provide sustainability advice for people living in rental accommodation through our workshops, special projects and our website.  Our website is full of tips, tutorials and article relevant to renters on issues such as container gardening, dealing with mould and how to reduce your utility bills. Our workshops include topics as diverse as reducing food waste, making your own beauty products, sustainable apartment living and how to make your festive celebrations greener.

Over 30% of Australians live in rental accommodation, a number that grows to 70% in inner city suburbs. With a shortage of rental properties in most urban areas we have to take what we can get.  There are no minimum standards for rental properties in some states, let alone for sustainability.

But there are lots of things we can do to green up our homes and lifestyles.
For example in the last year we’ve:

  • Run an expo specifically for people living in rooming houses and social housing, the first of it’s kind in Australia.
  • Run an International Student challenge for students living in the city of Melbourne.
  • Undertaken a national survey of renters, again, the first of it’s kind in Australia.
  • Won the WWF 2011 Earth Hour education award.
  • Delivered over 100 workshops to renters around Australia.

It’s interesting; I was quite politically active at University and was involved with many people who said that the only way to make a real difference is to lobby for big structural change. Never mind the little things. Many people advocated that this could only be achieved through lobbying and direct action and protests and rallies. But life gets busy and burnout kicks in. I think this is the reason why so many people are involved in small, local initiatives like attending a workshop, planting a veggie patch or learning to save energy at home. It may not directly lead to big structural change in the short term but it builds connections and communities and a sense of resilience. If more of us do our bit, regardless of how we reside, the more we are ‘the norm’ rather than the minority, and the more things start to change.

I sometimes wonder if local and accessible actions are the key to counteracting apathy. So many people say ‘oh that’s a good idea’ but don’t extend this thought into actions. If you’re reading this and you’re a renter, there’s loads of ways you can engage with us and other renters. Have a look for us on Facebook and our website www.greenrenters.org. Maybe you’d like to do some volunteer work or even become a member.
We’d love to hear from you.

Cate Lawrence
Green Renters
cate@greenrenters.org


Zero Emissions: It's Simple
by Brad, Queensland, August 2011

As a young boy, I was inspired by things that people built. I was amazed how radios operated, how computers got faster and clearly remember one day walking through one of the cooling towers at Tarong Power Station, Kingaroy, and thinking “Wow!” I marveled at its grandness.

I’ve been an Engineer for over ten years now and I’ve gradually, sometimes nervously, come to see how such “grandness” is also a part of humankind’s undoing. While the media may have you believe that there is still a debate as to the science of climate change, those in the science community itself have long moved on to assessing the impacts of climate change.

Although it took me some time to reach the point where I’ve accepted the academic reality of climate change and that it would probably be calamitous, it took me a little longer to accept it at an emotional level. Last year, after reading Clive Hamilton’s not exactly ‘chipper’ book, Requiem for a Species, I finally accepted a reality that was grim and depressing.

The level of debate in Australia remains discouraging to say the least. The proverbial freight train has already started to plough into us, as evidenced in the increasing intensity of fires, floods and droughts. But some people remain either involved in the faux-debate as to whether the freight train exists at all, or suggest that by taking a couple of steps further along the proverbial track we may avoid calamity. Luckily, it was around this time that a bright light shone through that hubris: a plan called ‘Zero Carbon Australia’ was released.

The Zero Carbon Australia plan has leap-frogged the pathetic level of public debate and answered two key questions. Firstly, “what does the science say we need to do to have a high chance of minimising climate change?” Secondly, “how can we achieve that change using existing technology?”

It was as simple as that. Well, not so simple in practice.

The solution is the result of several years of hard work by Beyond Zero Emissions – a sizable team of largely volunteer engineers, scientists and others – working with researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Energy Research Institute.

The plan takes as its starting point a widely accepted premise put forward by Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute in Germany. This premise specifies a carbon budget for the world between now and 2050 which gives us a 67% chance of avoiding two degrees of warming. Based on this carbon budget being equitable amongst people everywhere, and given Australia’s world-beating per capita emissions today, this gives Australia a scant ten years to bring our emissions levels down to zero. You won’t hear that goal touted by any politicians.

The first part of the Zero Carbon Australia plan which was released in July 2010, outlines how Australia will produce its electricity without emitting any carbon dioxide. The main technologies involved are wind power, concentrated solar thermal power with storage as well as a large range of energy efficiency measures.

Wind power is the most technologically mature renewable energy available. Concentrated solar thermal has been proven in the USA for more than 20 years and is currently being rolled out on a large scale in Spain as well as seeing a renaissance in the USA. This is the energy that can reliably supply base-load power to our nation.

Before you start to say “It can’t be done,” the plan is modeled to supply Australia’s energy needs based on real wind and sunlight data taken at various locations around the country. Also quantified are the materials, people and skills required to build it. That’s where this story gets even better: this plan will create a peak workforce of around 140,000 jobs, with 40,000 of those continuing in the operation and maintenance of the plants. That dwarfs the 20,000 jobs currently involved in the domestic fossil fuel industry.

To make this plan a reality, the finance required would be around $37 billion to be invested per year for 10 years; that’s about 3% of our GDP. Australia currently spends around $40 billion per year on insurance, and $20 billion on gambling. It would seem to be a pretty poor bet to insure your house without insuring the climate on which it depends.

Pulling our weight in terms of avoiding dangerous climate change is only the first of many plusses. Producing our own energy removes our dependence on foreign oil, and avoids the $1.2 trillion we are set to spend on it over the next 30 years. It eliminates the problems of coal seam gas and the damages it will do to lives and the environment as it takes more and more viable farmland and plays Russian roulette with our ground water.

Implementing the plan would position Australia as a world leader in this field. As we need to be able to contribute something to a world weaned from our coal reserves, then building skills in renewable energies is a good bet. Finally, this plan is based only on currently commercially available technologies, without accounting for innovation, something which humans are good at and something that will always happen. In that regard it could actually be construed as a worst-case scenario for what it would take to decarbonise our economy.

I’m no longer depressed about the level of climate change debate and I’m back to being the kid going “Wow” and marveling at a new “grandness” of human achievement. I’m getting out into the community and telling everyone about these inspiring and achievable answers to a question long bogged down in the mire of its own confusion. And I’m getting on with contributing to ongoing research into the other parts of the Zero Carbon Australia plan that will be released over the coming months and decade.

This story by Brad Schultz originally appeared in the June 2011 Brisbane Line newsletter. Brad can be contacted at brad.schultz@beyondzeroemissions.org


The ReGEN shop - a re-use and recycling centre run by a local co-operative
Gloria, SA, July 2011

Gloria is not one to brag about her achievements, and is frankly too busy achieving things to write her own story, so I'll tell you about her. At first glance she seems like a typical older suburbanite, but she has an amazing back yard. Every square inch is growing something, and almost all of it is edible, including things I'd never heard of (yes, she happily gave me seeds of them for my own garden). Despite having a very productive garden of her own, she helped establish what is now a thriving local community garden as well.

She has been doing voluntary work for the South Australian environment for years. Her book, "Why Conservation?", was published in 1979. She worked with National Parks and on State and local government advisory and consultative committees, always with a focus on saving energy, recycling, sustainability, and community education. She has spoken to many community groups and schools, teaching that human health is closely connected to the health of our environment.

In 2007, the closure of a local op shop prompted her to establish the ReGEN charity shop, a Green op shop, as an environmental education centre and a place for low-income families to recycle and purchase items at very little cost. The shop is a co-operative of local non-profit charity groups. Volunteers from these groups are rostered to staff the shop, and in return their charities receive a proportional share of the profits. In the last four years, the ReGEN shop has generated over $171,000 for local charities.

In addition to functioning as a re-use and recycling centre, the ReGEN shop provides free information to help local residents with their household budgets. It also provides information about reducing toxic household chemicals, growing some fruit and vegetable crops at home, saving energy, and the benefits of re-use and recycling.

Local residents wholeheartedly support ReGEN with donations of household goods, and in the last four years many tonnes of clothing, furniture, books, and household goods have been prevented from going to landfill. The shop, at 552 Milne Road, Redwood Park, SA, has not only been promoting the Re-use, Repair, Recycle ethic, but also helping the local community at the same time. The ReGEN shop received the 2008 Australia Day Award for the best community project in Tea Tree Gully.

Not bad for one person, eh?