Monday, May 28, 2007


Yesterday it was Rachel Carson's 100th birthday. Although she died in the early 60's she's often credited with creating and inspiring the modern environmental movement.

That is of course a very eurocentric way of looking at "the environment", but Carson's writing emphasised that our urban biased "command and control" attitude towards nature had us up to our elbows in the proverbial.

Silent Spring was published in 1962. USA's proverbial was DDT and Carson spelt out its impact in breathtaking detail. One of her prime observations was of urban DDT use to control tree insects, and the gradual residue buildup in our ecosystem.

Our very presence between the forests and grasslands, and the waterways on which our dominant economic model relies is a strange no-mans-land. Marston Bates wrote a brilliant book about the same time as Carson. The Forest and The Sea emphasised the symbiotic relationship of the two, and it is especially in that context that our beloved production system is typically nothing short of "in the way".

The two main nature old timers were Henry David Thoreau and a century later later Ralph Waldo Emerson. Way back in 1854 Thoreau wrote the magical not-too-wilderness account of Walden pond. Thoreau's was a position of observation. So too Emerson's A Sand County Almanac. A lay person in someone elses patch.

Carson and Bates were largely observational but with a little more analysis (they were after all scientists). They had the luxury of observation when our urban presence was perhaps most aggressive.

It was appropriate then that I caught Planet Earth last night on Prime. Rich, rich observation and even richer imagery. In no way does this detract from analysis of the seemingly simple but amazingly complex system that is our biosphere.

It seemed to me a perfect way to end Carson's birthday, and of course to reflect that our in between-ness requires a whole lot more respect of the planet than we generally show.

Some advice: catch Planet Earth next Sunday on Prime...

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I'm wearing the most comfortable shoes in the world. No, really. They're seriously comfy.

What I'm about to spell out is a seriously conscious but totally plausible degree of consumer information. This is what we as intelligent consumers should be able to find here in New Zealand.

In probably my most explicit carbon sin I tend to buy shoes from REI in the States - maybe once a year. They're air freighted rather than shipped from China - as your typical retailer would have them. My shoes have done an extra few thousand k's than the average kiwi pair.

On a purely "shoe miles" measure my shoe purchases are bad form. But the last two pair I've bought have not only been comfy, they've had some ethical credential behind them.

I mentioned Timberland in my Open Sesame post back in March. I've a pair of theirs which - had I brought them today - would come with their own "nutrition label". Timberland are serious about their place within their community.

But my new shoes are from Simple. Not only are they amazingly snug, they're made by a seriously environmentally conscious company. Simple's shoe ingredient list includes recycled PET plastic, hemp, recycled rubber, water based glues... the list goes on. Talk about good on the foot.

Further than that, in shipping my shoes from REI I have supported a consumer owned co-operative. That's right, REI, one of the largest outdoor goods retailers in the States, is owned by it's members. But wait there's more. REI report explicitly on their environmental stewardship.

REI are not too dis-similar to the impeccable Patagonia in adopting a staunchly positive business position within its community. We simply don't see that degree of community grounding here in New Zealand. So, either through ShoppingFix or through another push of mine I'm gonna do something about it.

There are some pretty cool shoe stories out there. Just ask.

In short, if the shoes fit, ask some questions. If they talk listen. If they're silent they've probably got something to hide.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


My buddy Dion and a few of his crew are putting together a doco about the demise of rail travel in our beloved Aotearoa.

He put out a recent call for "art patrons" to get "Maintrunk Country Road Song" produced with the following teaser:

This promises to be train spotting de-freaked (with just enough geek to keep you in your seat). It will no doubt cover many of the issues raised when closure of the Overlander (Wellington to Auckland) service was announced. It will certainly have charm, oddball, and some cool music.

When the Overlander was resurrected it threatened to (ahem) derail the doco, but no! Some opportune story hunting and a few oddball personalities have kept the film on track (take that!).

If this fundraiser looks like your thing leave a message with Dion at his dysfunctional blog or email him. For "investor" status and a ticket to the premier $30 is a steal. You'd better be quick.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


In what looms as a potentially catastrophic trend in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Jessica Simpson has revealed that she's lactose intolerant.

With millions of teenage morons ready to take the bait, methane emissions from dairy cows are set to trigger a wave of pro-flatulence faux-cool. "Smell that...? ...cappuccino."

Climate scientists have identified a number of potential positive climate feedbacks. Ocean floor gas release from ocean warming and arctic tundra gas release from melting ice are well known examples.

With Simpson and her horde of brainless worshippers, GHG emissions from milk production itself will be exacerbated by the human reaction to milk consumption. Simpson threatens to normalise lactose intolerance - fuelling a rise in dairy consumption.

I suspect this cow-methane-airhead loop has not been factored into climate models. That being the case, runaway climate change becomes a stronger possibility. Simpson is indeed all hot air...

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Following Zimbabwe's election to head up the top UN environment agency this morning, their ambassador asked "what has sustainable development to do with human rights?".

A good question. If you have no idea about either. And the Mugabe regime clearly hasn't.

Sadly the question was rhetorical and in blunt defiance of the widespread criticism that followed the blatantly absurd appointment. Apparently it's Zimbabwe's turn.

The vote was tight and seems to have been an "up yours " from developing nations directed at the West.

The upshot is that the planet's health has become the latest play-thing for an institution that can't hit the headlines for any good reason.

Naturally, there's a positive. The departing chair is oil advocate Qatar. Members of Robert Mugabe's government have an EU travel ban. Maybe under Zimbabwe guidance the UN can come up with a way of reducing diplomatic carbon emissions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


2.51 million flights are scheduled to depart worldwide this month, and the New Zealand Herald reports that "binge flying [is] killing the planet".

As the IPCC assessments have shown, we're far from immune from the impacts of climate change in NZ. The impact is of course partly economic. Our biggest tourism market has the yips: 18% of Aussies are considering not flying. Ever.

The Listener covered the potential impact on our tourism market back in March. In pointing out the polluting problems of flying, the author notes that "jets consume eight times the fuel that trains do travelling the same distance". But what about solutions?

Rather than bridging the Tasman, our tourism sector needs real answers. Air New Zealand have ordered a quick fix or three - a bunch of fuel efficient planes. But that's simply applying duct-tape to the problem.

The Listener mentions carbon offsets. Air New Zealand have "looked at, and discounted" offering these to customers, although customers can always buy direct from any of the multitude of providers.

Brian Fallow discusses polluter pays emissions trading (ETS) in the Herald this morning. He notes that there is no fuel or sales taxes imposed on any international flights (anywhere) and rightly sees that the NZ aviation market is ripe for being placed under the NZ ETS being considered by government. Hardly the environment for a new airline you'd think.

It's clear that New Zealand must future proof it's biggest export earner. Our tourism earnings will be flavoured by climate change policy. International visitors to our shores are more carbon aware by the day - our aviation industry's position in a national economy where carbon is priced is crucial.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Greenpeace don't like the Genesis energy ads on the telly. Nor do I. Genesis are a key reason why the present government has had no success in even levelling GHG emissions. So bring on a spoof of the TV ads...

It's not overly clever, but highlights a classic piece of greenwashing. Check the Clean Energy Guide link over on the right hand panel. If you're currently with them, break up with Genesis the easy way.

Oh, we lost our semi in the fair trade football. Off to Havana for a tipple. Come along.