Changing the world?

My daughter enjoying her ‘Babes in the Bush’ adventure through Bush Kids Lane Cove

 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a friend’s house for lunch as part of the Dinner Party Project. As some of the people attending were parents, rather than dinner, we arranged lunch (so much easier!).  The aim of this lunch was to encourage people around Australia to engage in a dialogue about the issues that are important to us and to provide the powers at be, our ideas on how to make this country a better place (for more information on the Dinner Party Project, go to http://www.thedinnerparty.net.au/about).

The people who gathered at this lunch party were what one could say – left of the mainstream political spectrum. They were intelligent, passionate and great cooks.

As we enjoyed our vegetarian lunch, my friend started to ask questions to get the dialogue started.  Firstly we were asked what our ideal society would look like.  We responded similarly in saying that it would be a just society where the arts, culture, public healthcare and education were recognised.  I added that safety was important, because if you don’t generally feel safe, then it’s hard to engage in society.  Another guest added that they felt housing and the lack of affordability was important, so a ‘good society’ would have greater equity in housing.

As the conversation continued, it was apparent that we were all good at identifying problems.  These problems ranged from a lack of appreciation for arts and culture, greater emphasis on ‘jobs’ at universities over theory, difficulties in getting real information in the age of information, disengagement from politics and politicians, cynicism at the world at large and the inability to ‘switch off’ from social media.  Interestingly, the internet was seen a source of a lot of this evil, by demanding a 24 hour news cycle where we receive snippets of information and more and more sensationalist headlines to get our attention.

Something else that we as lefty, activist people identified was our exhaustion – we simply had no time. No time to get up and do something, no time to get the whole story and too tired to bother with much political engagement.  As parents, our children take much of our attention and energy and rightly so. By night time we’re so tired, we’d rather watch something ‘light’, than a serious documentary or ‘depressing news’.

I think this is something that we were struggling with, well it is something that I struggle with. Have my ideals waned? have I become softer?

I am the child of parents who were activists. Even when I was a baby I was going to rallies with my parents who were protesting the Shah of Iran (in the US!) and I remember going to Iran at the time of the revolution. I grew up around politics. We Iranians love to talk politics and having lived through the Iran and Iraq war, there was a lot to talk about!

I remember before I was passionate and pissed off – at a lot of injustices in the world.  My friends at school will remember me as the girl who wrote anti-war messages on paper and then sticky taped this to my school shirt (I think to my peers, I was a bit of a ‘weirdo’ at school). I went to rallies with my parents and continued this on until I was in my early 30’s. Stop the Jabiluka Uranium Mine, Stop deforestation, Anti-Nuclear War, Palm Sunday Peace Marches, Refugee rights, Anti-Iraq War…..

Now what? nothin! I see posters for rallies – marriage equality, refugees etc, but I’m no longer attending.  I too am tired and after negotiating with my 4 year old all day, I prefer a good comedy over a serious ‘depressing’ film too.

So after this lunch, as I drove home, I thought to myself – what practical things can one do? I mean politicians probably realise the problems too, but it’s very hard to ‘fix’ things.  I am a practical person, and these are the ideas I had to remain active, albeit in a different way.  You never know, I might start attending rallies again too!

  1. Pick your issue – there are a lot of terrible things going on in this world and it can get very overwhelming. Accept that you can’t fix it all, but pick something that you’re especially passionate about. For me that’s the environment.
  2. Try and find local action groups that you can get involved with. Or just ones you want to be in contact with to see what events, if any they run. There is a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction in getting something done and seeing the fruits of your labour. I think that is where a lot of people get disconnected. They don’t SEE the impacts of their positive actions.  I have found that there are so many people and groups through my local Council and community groups that are doing great things, and rather than going it alone and starting from scratch, I try to tap into these existing groups and resources.
  3. Live your life in accordance to your ideals. This is a lot harder than it sounds. It means changing the way you live. Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just advise or tell others the way it should be done – do it yourself first. If people see that, then they will follow your good example.
  4. Break down the ‘big issue’ into bite size chunks, that way it won’t seem so overwhelming and impossible.
  5. Accept your limitations – whether that is time, finances, whatever it is.  You’re less likely to become disengaged if you realise that you  only have so many hours or minutes that you can dedicate to your issue.
  6. Share you ideas, ideals and information with your children, family friends and if able, the wider community.
  7. Take care of your health. It is something that we take for granted when we’re healthy. Keep it that way.
  8. Love life and remain positive. It’s very easy to get caught in a negative cycle, but think about the things you have been able to do.

So that’s my checklist. I’d love to hear from anyone with any more ideas and while  most of this is not able to be forwarded to the politicians of the world, it is something that I can control in my life and that makes me feel good.

 

 

Is the carbon tax making me use less energy?

I have been living a fantasy life….a life with low energy prices. Well I was (in the UAE we paid 10 fils per kWh which is about 2.7 cents), until I moved back to Sydney.

When I moved back my mum was forever telling me to turn lights off because ‘this is not Abu Dhabi’. Even in Abu Dhabi I thought I was energy efficient. We usually turned off our air conditioner at night and in the cooler months – out of comfort as well as to conserve energy. I do know many people though that had their AC on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year! I was never one to do that!

When I was in the UAE, my energy bills were usually around 300 dirhams (approx$ 83 AUD) per quarter for water AND energy. So you can imagine my surprise when this landed in my post box.

 

The BILL!

 

Suddenly all of my mother’s warnings came to fruition.  I thought I was somehow immune because we have gas for hot water, cooking and space heating (in lounge room only). I can only imagine the bill if we had electricity for those things also.  So has the economic factor changed my behavior? Am I less wasteful in my energy use? Well before I go through what I do, I thought I’d talk about the Carbon tax. Now, anyone living in Australia has heard about the ‘Carbon Tax’. It is being blamed for everything from my sore knee to the whole Australian economy being on the brink of collapse.

It has been introduced as a way to undertake action regarding climate change, by placing a monetary value on carbon.  There have been education campaigns and other ways to change behavior – this one is about using financial incentives, or disincentives to reduce carbon emissions.  I’m not going to go into the politics of the Carbon tax, but suffice it to say that there are people with strong opinions on both sides of the debate. For more info on carbon taxes, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax

In Australia, energy providers are being taxed as polluters and are passing on this financial burden to the consumer (i.e. you and I).

The Australian carbon tax is directly aimed at major emitters (top 500 polluters in the country) as they are expected to have capital investment capabilities to improve technology and reduce carbon creation. The income tax threshold has been increased for all individual taxpayers as a compensation for price increases to all end users, although middle range tax rates were increased to the point where only individuals earning less than $80,000 per annum received any income tax relief (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax)

In preparation for the possibility of paying higher energy bills and before the solar rebates were further scaled back, I decided to invest in a 1.8 kW photovoltaic system. Now that Sydney is sunny once more it is working, but during winter when I would use energy more for heating, the solar system ends up being shaded for a lot of the day.

A little bit of shading from big tree on my property, but overall my Canadian Solar panels are working away in the day.

So why was my bill so high? And has the high bills changed my behavior. In short, yes!  I was good at conserving energy, but now I try to be REALLY good.   These are some of the things I do at home:

  • Have compact fluorescent lights for most lights, which I now turn off as soon as I leave the room. I was led to believe that it is best to leave these on rather than turn them on and off frequently, as the energy it takes for a compact fluorescent to start up means it is best left on. Now however, there is evidence that if you plan on keeping the light off for more than 5 minutes, then it is best to turn that light off, rather than leave it on (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=turn-fluorescent-lights-off-when-you-leave-room)
  • Try and use energy ‘off peak’. This doesn’t mean I use less energy, it just means it is not in peak times, so technically, by shifting some of this use to off peak times, it will mean that there isn’t such a demand for energy in peak times and should result in less strain on existing power infrastructure.  My energy contract has allowed for lower prices for ‘shoulder peak’ and ‘off peak’ times, but not all do. Check with your provider.
  • Investing in solar. This now ties into the point above. I was trying to do things like washing and what not during off peak times, but now that I have solar, I have re-adjusted my behavior to take advantage of the ‘free energy’ my solar panels are producing. Due to the feed in tariffs being so low, I choose to use my grid-connected solar panels while they are generating energy (in the day time – usually peak times), rather than sell and buy back at night.
  • Switching off appliances at the power point. Many appliances like televisions and microwaves still use energy when turned off, so they are still sucking up energy. If you turn these off overnight, then you reduce energy wastage.
  • Being smart when we use heaters by closing doors and windows to ensure there is no heat loss. However I was given these oil heaters as gifts and they may be one, if not the main reason for the high energy bill. Our house has tiled floors, so it is actually cold. Being double brick I thought it would be warmer (more thermal mass), but it is cold my bedroom is like a freezer, so heating overnight is essential – particularly for the kids’ rooms as they will inevitably kick off blankets overnight. I do wear warm clothes and they both have flannel sheets and pyjamas. Earlier in the year I invested in goose down doonas and they have been a little life saver.
    I think my terrible windows are also letting in a lot of cold draughts and I have not figured out a curtain solution that would look nice in my house, but also address heat gain and loss (depending on the season).
Evil source of my high energy bill? only time will tell.

So they are some of the things I do. Of course there is a lot more that we can all do. I am fearfully looking forward to my next bill because I want to see whether my heighted vigilance plus my solar panels will yield results. I  hope so!