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I’ve become a season, equinox and solstice watcher over the past few years.  

The winter solstice on June 21 each year is the shortest day of the year – with the latest sunrise and earliest sunset of any day during the year. I’ve noticed there seems to be about two hours of difference between the light in summer and winter, at least here in south east Queensland. In a strange way it feels like a year-long tidal change, only with daylight. In winter we get the low tide of light on June 21 – the  Winter Solstice – and then we build up again over the next six months to the high tide of daylight on December 21 – the Summer Solstice. Year after year, around we roll, one solstice after another. In between are the two perfectly balanced equinoxes where sunrise and sunset, daytime and nighttime are exactly equal.

These natural occurrences have intrigued humans ever since our brains evolved to the point where we could notice, reflect upon and seek to understand and communicate. Indigenous people right around the world have always had stories to explain their landscapes, the weather, the solar system, the annual and seasonal patterns. Right throughout human history there have always been stories to explain natural phenomenon and patterns. Over the past 400 to 500 years, humans have rapidly changed their observation and storying skills and science as a field of endeavour has become well established as part of our civilisation.

I love the way children are often intrigued by rocks, fossils and the ocean. For many kids as they get older, a career in science is becomes possible. Ever since my son and I spent our first holiday at Lord Howe Island when he was four years old, he’s talked about becoming a marine palaeontologist. He’s now finishing Year 10 at high school and starting to check out university pathways in science fields that could take him from marine biology to criminology. It’s pretty exciting!

The point I want to make in this message is twofold. The first point I want to cover is how vitally important science is in our lives, especially these days as we realise how quickly the natural world and its weather patterns and systems are changing. I’ll talk about this in a moment. The second point I want to mention is that science is an evolving field. Even in my lifetime the way science is conducted and the work of scientists is changing rapidly. There are some areas of science that are useful to mention with regard to this evolution and I’ll touch on these soon.

It was only in the 1950s that the emergence of global warming was identified by scientists who had begun measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and calculated that increasing atmospheric CO2 could eventually raise global temperatures. These scientists had started to work from a small observatory site at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa where they noticed that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were steadily increasing. One of Australia’s best climate change/atmospheric scientists, Dr Graeme Pearman, was one of those scientists who focused their attention on these changes.

Sixty years on from the start of this process of measuring atmospheric CO2, the world’s best scientists – thousands of them – have no doubt that global warming and climate change intensified and accelerated by human activities is very, very real. Over the past 10 years, many thousands of these leading scientists have worked together as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to share information and write
up their observations and findings about climate change. It’s the first time ever that the world’s scientists have worked together in this way, largely
because climate change is such a huge phenomenon with great dangers for human society and indeed, the earth and her living systems. The IPCC scientists have set aside their traditionally competitive ways of working in order to combine their findings and sound the loudest possible warnings to governments, politicians, corporations, teachers and everyday people.

Their findings that climate change is real and is happening everywhere, are the strongest and most credible warnings possible. It is essential we all heed these warnings and rapidly change the way we live – from households to industry to government and the worldwide economic system – to stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately.

This change though, is an enormous threat to big business because their profits depend on greenhouse gas emitting activities like mining, manufacturing and agriculture on a global scale. As a result, the corporations and industries of the world, with all their wealth, profits and power potentially at stake, have spent (and continue to spend) billions of dollars to discredit climate change and the scientific community. They have done everything they possibly can to persuade governments and the public that climate change does not exist, that our social and economic systems are just fine and that we should go on living as we have done for the last 30 to 40 years – consuming, polluting and producing stuff.

What a crock! Do not believe these stories. Work with the good science like that of the IPCC who do not have an agenda around profits and power.

Interestingly I recently received an email about the formation of another international panel of scientists, though this one will focus on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This means it will gather together ecologists, nature scientists, resilience scientists and so on, to develop a series of reports that measure the health of our landscapes, oceans, waterways, ecosystems and so on. Like the atmosphere, biodiversity and ecosystem services also form some of the most basic building blocks of life. This includes oxygen – the air we breathe; clean water from unpolluted waterways; pollination – the bees, the bees; healthy soils for growing food and microscopic bacteria that munches through organic wastes, and so on.

It is these scientists, who have carefully observed, recorded, compared, monitored, measured, collaborated and presented their work about the earth’s systems and cycles, who have the most important, accurate and valid data to tell us about the earth and its state of health. They’re not perfect. Their science is an evolving field and they are learning from their experiences and mistakes all the time, just as we are. But their work is the best possible information we have and it’s sounding alarms very loudly and constantly these days. We are idiots if we don’t take notice and act wisely.

Canadian scientist David Suzuki recently wrote that “protecting the planet is a sacred and scientific duty”. He suggested that scientists have a vital role to play to protect the earth. He said,

“In 1992…some of the world’s most prominent scientists issued an urgent warning about imminent ecological collapse. The ‘World’s Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ signed by 1700 top scientists from 71 countries, including 104 Nobel Laureates, began with the statement: ‘Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.’ Major television networks and newspapers ignored the warning” (July 9 2010, http://www.davidsuzuki.org)

The people we need to take most notice of are these independent scientists, the ones whose work is not funded by big business or industry and who are prepared to stand up and sound warnings about the potential collapse of ecological systems. It’s always useful to check how scientific studies are funded…some scientists work for big business and not surprisingly, their findings usually support the work of the big business that pays their wages. Beware of corporate science.

The other issue I wanted to mention briefly is that science is not a static field. It’s changing and evolving all the time. I think the way parts of science are evolving right now is particularly exciting in areas like systems thinking, ecological resilience, complexity theory, quantum physics and ecology. More and more, scientists working in these fields are realising that the world is not a machine made up of separate ‘bits’. They recognise that the world is a living system with lots of interconnections that work intimately and often mysteriously together.

Their work is starting to flow out and make sense to some leaders, activists and teachers who are realising that the simple, cause-and-effect method of decision making is no longer so relevant to our world. Many people are starting to realise that the relationships between humans and nature are complex and sometimes unpredictable. And that we need to think about our world very differently if humanity is to have a long-term future on earth. This is a very exciting area of science that my work in sustainability is just starting to touch on. For the young people who do go into a scientific career over the next decade, I suspect your life will touch on some of these important areas too.

So there we have it; a message of kindness that supports good, independent, holistic science. A  message that regards scientists as heroic alarm bells whose warnings about ecological damage must be heeded and heeded fast. Our future depends on it.

PS Economics is not a science.

Here’s a fantastic video clip made by ABC TV’s “Hungry Beast” with real climate scientists!:

 

Here in South East Queensland where I live, life focuses on a triangle of villages for almost all of our activities – our Beechmont home base, the village of Canungra for shopping and Tamborine Mountain for school and entertainment. This area is also a green triangle of villages with forested windy roadways, community libraries, small local businesses and close-knit communities. Our triangle between Beechmont, Canungra and Tamborine Mountain is what this message is about: small is still beautiful.

This theme is inspired by the work of an English economist named E.F. Schumacher, who in 1972 published a book called “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered”. Since it was published, that book has become an iconic guide to human-scale lifestyles, which means it’s about small economic systems, small-scale technology, neighbourhood sized community and the importance of relationships between people and with the earth. It’s one of a handful of iconic books from the 1960s and 1970s that includes “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson and “Limits to Growth” by the Club of Rome, all of which identify some of the main issues we are now facing as a civilisation.

“Silent Spring” sounded the alarm about the use of toxic chemicals and their ability to enter the environment through waterways, soil and the atmosphere, and climb the food chain to destroy creatures from the tiniest insects right through to the largest predators including humans.

“Limits to Growth” used the very first forms of computer modelling to predict how rates of human population growth and levels of consumption of natural resources like water, soil and oil to grow huge amounts of food for the global economy, would diminish the earth’s ability to supply all the raw materials for our needs.

It turns out that the predictions in “Limits to Growth” about population growth, overconsumption and ecological limits were correct. The scientists who wrote that book suggested we couldn’t keep growing and consuming forever on a finite planet. Now we’re learning about these limits in the form of climate change, global warming, peak oil, water scarcity and species extinction.

E.F. Schumacher’s book was the most positive of the three. While he proposed that large-scale, centralised systems in government and industry were destructive of humans and nature, he also suggested alternatives such as small-scale technology, ‘technology with a human face’ that is simple, non violent and controllable.

He said that meaningful, fulfilling work is essential for the human spirit and that there was a need to humanise work, to bring it back to a scale that is local, understandable and built on relationships between people and nature, not driven by huge corporations, a global marketplace, and destructive and massive machinery or infrastructure.

Schumacher advised that humans also need to understand sufficiency – how and when to say ‘enough’ to over-consumption, over-production, domination and waste. He said that people needed to stay close and connected to the land and with nature – in practice and in spirit.

Schumacher was a visionary.

In the world of the early 1970s (I was about 10 years old then); computers and mobile phones hadn’t even entered our imaginations, let alone our homes and workplaces. Only a few scientists had ever heard of climate change and peak oil.  There were wars to fight, cities to build, products to manufacture and a global economy to capture.

While some people heard Schumacher’s message about small is beautiful this was a time when governments and corporations were gearing up to grow really, really big. ‘Growth is god’ and ‘greed is good’ quickly became the slogans of the 1980s and 1990s and small is beautiful was forgotten by most people. Until now.

In these days of growing public and political awareness about climate change, water and resource scarcity, the peaking of oil production and increasing energy costs, some people like me are remembering E.F. Schumacher’s wise words. In our part of the world – our green triangle of villages at Beechmont, Canungra and Tamborine Mountain in the Scenic Rim – small still exists and is indeed beautiful.

It’s in all the cute, vibrant shops at Canungra run by people we know: the newsagency with Paul, Shona and the new owner Jan; the gift shop with Gail and Cheryl; the pizza place with Wayne; the independent supermarket with Tony; as well as all those lovely cafes like the Bean In with their friendly owners and staff. All along the entire main street we know the people who run the shops and businesses that help to make Canungra a delightful, prosperous, and eco-friendly village.

But it’s not only because Canungra is cute that we love it. Statistics that are gathered year in and year out about business show that small, local business is an extremely powerful force for good in communities.

Locally-owned small businesses employ millions of people around Australia and the world. They meet the needs of local people for goods and services. They are more likely to source their stock and supplies locally because they understand how important it is for local enterprise to thrive. They actively support local community groups with donations and services. And every time we spend our money at a local business, that money is more likely to stay circulating inside our community for longer – four times longer.   

Here’s how it works…

Let’s say I withdraw some of my money from the community bank (that’s important too – the creation of local banks for local communities). Then I spend my money at Paul’s newsagency to buy a  local newspaper, at Wayne’s to buy a pizza made from local vegies and cheese, and then at Tony’s independent supermarket to buy locally-grown fruit and vegies.

Those three shopkeepers all employ local people so my money goes towards paying the wages of those local folk. It also goes to pay the local growers for the food they supplied to those shops and it goes back to the Beaudesert Times, a local newspaper sold at the newsagents, which employs local journalists to cover local stories.

If those local employees then spend their wages locally it means my money does another round of our local shops and again helps to employ local people, keep local small businesses healthy, purchase local supplies and so on.

For every $100 spent locally up to $60 of that money stays in the local community – going around and around in what is called the multiplier effect.

If on the other hand, I spend my money at say, a big corporate supermarket on the Gold Coast to buy stuff that’s been made in China and shipped around the world to Australia, then of my $100 spent, only about $15 or less stays in the local community.

The other $85 is quickly dispersed to pay big advertising companies, international industrial farms, and profits to the corporate shareholders. Only a tiny amount of my $100 stays local to pay minimum wages to a few staff who have few options to spend their money in the local community because there are so many multinational corporations and so few small, local businesses.

There is no local connection, no local benefit, no relationships, no community and definitely no earth care.

It’s that lack of connection and care that is making us now realise that money and stuff don’t buy prosperity, health or happiness. All around the world in affluent countries like Australia, the US and the UK for example, rates of depression and obesity are skyrocketing. All the money in the world is not making people happy. All those big box shopping malls filled with clothes, gadgets, toys and fast food are also filled with lonely, depressed, overweight people. While outside, the atmosphere is choking, the roads are gridlocked and the oceans are overfished.

Something has to give. And it is. Nature and community have been sacrificed to the god of ‘stuff’ and are beginning to collapse under the weight of it all. We are learning that there are indeed limits to growth.

I believe strongly in Schumacher’s small is beautiful message. We live it every day of our lives here in the green triangle of Beechmont, Canungra and
Tamborine Mountain.

We see it when we go on holidays to Lennox and camp on the edge of that seaside village.

We even see it in pockets of the city at places like Currumbin on the Gold Coast and West End in Brisbane where there are vibrant communities, human-scale small businesses run by local residents and creative activities like Currumbin’s SWELL Sculpture Festival that bring people together to celebrate the arts and nature.

Small is beautiful is not just for country towns. It can happen – needs to happen – everywhere: in cities, towns and villages right around the world. It’s fairer for people and much fairer for the environment because local business is connected to its local rivers and forests more closely too. It can see the consequences of its actions more clearly than any corporation ever can.

Small is beautiful local businesses and local living economies are a vitally important part of creating a sustainable future here and now. We need solutions to our predicament that are healthy in every way for nature and for humans, and small is beautiful business and local living economies fit the bill well.

The amazing thing is that small is beautiful already exists in places like Canungra, Tamborine Mountain, Currumbin and West End and we can support it every day by buying local, banking local and living local.

What’s your favourite local shop or cafe? Why not go there this week to say hi to the local owners and help to change the world from your own neighbourhood!

This message is about music. The silence, the gaps and the sounds that together make music.

The silence, the gaps and the sounds that connect our lives and make music a powerful ally in living meaningful lives. Let’s start with silence.

Almost every morning I wake up at sunrise. From my tiny bedroom with its two walls of windows, I watch dawn arrive each day. First the sky changes colour in a kaleidoscope of deep midnight blue to mauve, to pink, sometimes to orange and then into a classic big sky blue. When the sun
breaks through the horizon, the first golden rays slide into my room spotlighting a driftwood and shell wall hanging. One moment it’s all about the
shifting sky, the next moment my room starts to glow golden.

And not a sound.

No booming Hollywood movie soundtrack. No chorus of angels. Magnificence. Mystery. Silence. Every morning.

When I go for late afternoon walks with our dog Sam, I dive into the sunsets too. As I walk along the edges of the rainforest and the ridge above Coomera Valley, I am always struck by the beauty and the silence.

Sometimes I reflect upon our lives on a rotating planet that’s hurtling through space and wonder how it is that we’re not surrounded by a maelstrom of noise and gale-force winds as the earth spins moment by moment through the solar system. It’s such a mystery and a miracle.

We’re very lucky to live in our little old house on the top of the hill at Binna Burra because every day, especially at sunrise and sunset, we experience silence and extraordinary beauty. Every day we have a chance to connect directly with nature and acknowledge the mystery of being alive here on earth at this time. In the silence we can remember our place in the scheme of things and how to be humble and creative all at the same time. That’s the power of silence.

But there is also power in sound.

When my son Huon was 10 years old and in Year 6 at Beechmont State School he attended a music camp for school bands down on the Gold Coast. He played the clarinet back then and I remember how proud his music teacher Mr Florey was about the way he volunteered to be in the lead section of the camp concert band and take on the dreaded high notes with his clarinet.

I remember band camp very clearly. I remember being in the big sports hall with lots of other parents for the final band camp concert. When it came time for the concert band to perform, I saw 80 kids, aged between 10 and 12, sitting quietly in their plastic chairs with calm concentration, eyes to the conductor and shining instruments – flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones – in their laps. Ten percussionists stood behind, armed with
drumsticks and ready to make noise.

The relentless fluorescent lights lit up every nook and cranny of the hall as we parents drank in this picture of our kids – still, silent, ready.

The conductor raised her hands. The children raised their instruments. And with instant harmony and coordination they all played the most incredible music. I simply couldn’t believe that 90 kids who had met only four days earlier could fill that boxy sports hall with such beautiful
music. The band played four pieces of music with such skill and pleasure that I cried from beginning to end (such an embarrassing mum!). I didn’t know children could make such beautiful music together. They gave all their parents such a surprise.

And dotted in amongst the concert band were some of the school music teachers. They had shining eyes too and were kind, inspiring and
friendly to the kids. They were connected closely with them all because of their mutual love of music and their ability to make music through coordinated skill and commitment.

When I think about the state of the world and the tipping points humans and nature are now crossing, I remember that band camp concert. I also think about the garage band my son is now in and the way he and his mates work together to create amazing rock music. The skills they and all
musicians have to express harmony, cooperation, joy and beauty through their music gives me a sense that all is not yet lost. The skills required to make music in bands and ensembles gives me hope for the future. Musicians practice teamwork, collaboration, listening, hearing and creating every day through their music and that has immense power.

The history of music is filled with extraordinary stories. I think one of the most fascinating and heartbreaking of these is the music that was born out of slavery in America between the 1600s and 1800s. This was the human tragedy that eventually gave rise to blues, soul and gospel music.

Music journalist Mark Kidel describes the way music arises from discontinuity, destruction and death in human societies. He suggests it is through such times that new forms of music are born out of the need people have to tell their stories and survive their situations. Mark says:

“the movement of people through mass migration, military conquest, the mass kidnapping that resulted from the practice of slavery, the exile of refugees: all of these produce change…a type of cultural crossroads triggering a revisiting and reinvention of styles and forms of music” (Kidel, 2008, p13).

This is exactly what we see in the Playing for Change project – in their DVDs and video clips. The music of the Exile Brothers from Tibet for example, expresses the sorrow they feel about fleeing from the invasion of their deeply spiritual and peaceful country. And there’s the totally danceable music of the Cubans, Italians, Brazilian and Portuguese street musicians who are now living in Barcelona in Spain. There’s the soul of musicians from war torn Congo, and the South Africans who survived apartheid.

Playing for Change demonstrates and Mark Kidel talks about the power of these creative crossroads and musical conversations to evolve new musical genres that transcend all cultural boundaries and differences.

I think this is an extraordinary and powerful idea. We all know of the power of music to touch our emotions. Music is a bridge that leads directly to our hearts. It has even been known to reach people who suffer from aspergers syndrome and autism, illnesses that shut off peoples’ ability to engage with others emotionally.

In these times of environmental and social crises, I can’t help wondering about the connection between brokenness and music, and music’s power to both take our tragedies and differences to create new stories, and its ability to reach people of all ages, cultures, religions and to reveal our common ground – our collective soul.

It’s usually when we’ve been broken ourselves – by life’s challenges and depths – that we find new ways of rising up again with humility, openness and curiosity to start again. If this is also the place where powerful music is created, then I wonder about what sort of possibilities might arise if we more consciously include music to help with the transformation of our broken civilisation into a post-carbon world? As the Israeli-American virtuoso violinist Yitzhak Pearlman once said, “…sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left”.

Let’s for a moment, reflect upon the failing of the earth’s natural systems and cycles, as well as humanity’s damaged social systems and the decline in human health and wellbeing. I think that right now, we are experiencing the breaking down of our old, globalised, industrialised world. Maybe we are now in a type of dark age that is signalling our arrival at an important crossroads in the history of humanity? One road points to the decline of the human species if we keep over-consuming, disconnecting from nature and each other and fatally damaging our life support systems beyond
repair.

But another road points to the possibility of renaissance, if as a species we behave in ways that are based on creativity, wisdom, soulfulness, heart, reflection and a deep collective intelligence.

I wonder if we, as a species, can find the strength and humility to give everything of ourselves – now – to remake the symphony of our lives?

I look to young people and the music they make for inspiration about how we can creatively and optimistically collaborate and make our world anew. Adults have so much to learn from young people about creativity and community. And in turn, I hope adults can help young people learn about silence and reverence and reconnecting with nature.

Now is the time for all of us to dive deep and find out how much music we can make together with what we have left.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in”

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

 

Playing for Change “Redemption Song” by the late, great Bob Marley:

Playing for Change Band performing “One Love” live in Madrid:

 

leadership

This is a great message of thanks from the Youth Climate Coalition to the Greens for their leadership on addressing climate change. I’m sure it’s one many young people will appreciate.

Have you ever played the game called Bingo?

It used to be a popular community game played in local halls and clubs all over Australia. Groups of people would sit at tables armed with pencils and sheets of paper that had random numbers arranged in sets of about six games. A cheeky ‘caller’ would draw numbered ping pong balls one at a time, from a big container and call out the number on each ball using a ‘bingo vocabulary’. For example, the number 11 was called ‘legs eleven’ probably because it looked like a pair of legs.

Many numbers had a funny term attached to it like ‘legs eleven’ and each player would look for the called number in their game, and mark it off if they had it. Whoever was the first to mark off all the numbers in the game was the winner and they’d jump up and yell ‘BINGO!’ as they crossed off their last number.

Bingo is one of those funny, old-fashioned, community games that have never completely disappeared. It’s still played at some bowling clubs and community halls and it’s the type of game families might play for fun at say, a local bowls club when they’re away on Christmas holidays.

For this message I’ve pinched the bingo term ‘legs eleven’ because this message is about the power of walking and moving more slowly through life, just the way our ancestors did.

There’s a local legend in my community at Beechmont, about a woman named Barbara McKenzie who was the matriarch of one of the first white settler families in this area in the early 1900s. Barbara was mother to 10 children and her family bought, settled and named Providence Farm, still owned today by Greg and Wendy our local dairy farmers.

Legend has it that back in the early 1900s when the McKenzies first settled on Beechmont, Barbara only ever left Providence Farm to give birth to her children. Each time her new baby was due to be born, she walked down the mountain’s rough logging tracks (there were no roads back
then), to Nerang where a Dr Berry and Nurse Spencer would attend her at the hospital. Then, when she was strong enough after the baby’s birth, Barbara would walk home again with her new baby.

During the same era as a few more new settlers and their families arrived at Beechmont, the first school for the Beechmont community was opened. It was called the Beech Mountain Provisional School and a Miss Butz was the teacher. Barbara McKenzie’s seven youngest kids were enrolled on the first day the school opened but as the number of local kids attending was not enough to keep the school open, Barbara’s eldest son Dan walked down
the mountain to Numinbah Valley and persuaded families from the valley to enrol their children at Beech Mountain school to bolster numbers. As a result, quite a few kids from Numinbah Valley walked many miles each day along a track cleared through dense rainforest, up the mountain, to school. Naturally they walked the same distance home each afternoon.

Ah, the wonders of legs…they’ve been walking this place for tens of thousands of years.

The Aboriginal people of the Yugambeh Language Region – from the eight family or clan groups who lived between the Logan River near Beenleigh to the Tweed River down south and out to the west of Beaudesert – walked this region constantly. The people of  the Yugambeh language region and indeed, the people from the hundreds of Aboriginal nations right across the continent of Australia, created and maintained one of the most sustainable civilisations in human history without a single drop of oil, without cars, factories or electricity…they lived full, creative, connected lives within these landscapes in truly sustainable ways over tens of thousands of years.

Oil.

It’s an ancient legacy buried beneath the earth and ocean.

It’s sunlight energy captured in plants that over billions of years of underground compaction, have been transfigured into a form that humans over the last 200 years only, have discovered how to use to power and manufacture pretty much everything in our modern world. In the time since the internal combustion engine was invented and with incomprehensible speed, business, industry and governments have manufactured lifestyles for us that are entirely dependent on oil.

Our oil-driven lifestyles of today are equivalent to each of us having hundreds of slaves working for us 24 hours a day to make our lives easy and mobile. The last 50-60 years, particularly since World War 2, have been a time of unimaginable growth, affluence, consumption, innovation, industrialisation, material wealth, unequal distribution of material wealth, poverty, resource wars and corporate power…all based on the discovery, extraction, manufacture and use of oil.

But our easy and relatively cheap access to abundant, high quality oil is over. Over the last 50-100 years, it appears that we have almost exhausted the billion-year legacy of fossilised sunlight energy. Now oil corporations like BP (British Petroleum) are searching for oil in incredibly remote and risky places and as we saw in 2010 at the Gulf of Mexico in the US, they are destroying entire regions and ecosystems, communities and
economies when things go wrong in the search for and extraction of oil.

The term used to describe this situation where the easily found and extracted oil is used up, is ‘Peak Oil’. It doesn’t mean we’ve run out of oil, but it does mean we have exhausted the easily found, high quality, accessible oil. From here on, the energy and cost that it will take to find, drill, extract and manufacture oil will pretty much wipe out the benefits of oil for our society. It will cost too much, be too hard and too dangerous to extract and it will be a much lower grade of oil requiring much higher levels of manufacturing to make it usable.

We are entering an era – right now – of oil scarcity. This means that oil is going to become extremely expensive. And this is going to radically change the way our lives work in the 21st Century. That’s why this message is about ‘legs eleven’, walking, the history of walking here in our home region, and the elegance of slow.

Pioneers and settlers like Barbara McKenzie’s family knew how to get by without cars, tractors, trucks, buses and loads of ‘stuff’.

The indigenous people from the clans living in the Yugambeh Language Region lived in this area successfully for more than 40,000 years without needing a single drop of oil.

Even Binna Burra Mountain Lodge which is just up the hill from where I live, has operated as one of Australia’s first ecotourism enterprises since the Great Depression in the 1930s when scarcity was normal, oil was precious and life was much slower.

The Lodge was founded by Arthur Groom and Romeo Lahey in 1933 when slow travel was the only way to go. Here’s how Richard Groom, one of Arthur’s sons, described the journey from Brisbane to Binna Burra Lodge in those early days:

“…four to five hours after leaving Brisbane, incoming guests would be bumping along in a large service car, with luggage and supplies strapped to mudguards and running boards. Within sight of Mt Roberts, the last few miles of road became a ough track, narrow and slippery. Having been told that they had to walk the last mile to the Lodge, passengers would no doubt have been looking forward to stretching their legs after the cramped ride.

“Not many would have foreseen just how tough and scary that narrow uphill track was. Sagging energy was quickly recharged though, on arrival at the Lodge where the large wood-fired kitchen stoves produced hot soup, toast and pots of tea”.

Parts of that trip to from Brisbane to Binna Burra sound uncomfortable and hard, especially the final walk through the forest to the Lodge. And parts sound wonderful – hot soup, toast, tea and no doubt friendship and laughter between the guests and staff, forged partly by the challenges of
getting to the Lodge and partly by the hearty, simple food.

Today we are living in a time of approaching perfect storms with the collision of peak oil, climate change and water insecurity for example. The massive changes these phenomena bring are joining up too, so that we don’t even have the ‘luxury’ of dealing with the impacts of just one crisis at a time. We have the unknowns of all three simultaneously connecting and impacting on our modern lifestyles.

We are entering a time of questions and uncertainty because we don’t know how these crises  will affect our lives – separately and more importantly, combined – because they’re all upon us at the same time. It feels like a lottery of the unknown, where, if all else fails, at least we know we can rely on our walking legs.

In truth though, I think we have more than our legs to rely on these days. We have some amazing technologies such as solar power, to combine with our brain and muscle power to help us transition to a low-oil, low-carbon world. It’s important to remember that opportunities are arising for smart, creative, innovative people and enterprise who can craft new ways of doing things especially in the areas of local transport, local food, renewable
energy and so on.

Then there’s also the unusual, almost-never discussed idea of reducing our mobility – of travelling less and staying close to home more. I wonder what might happen if we stayed home more and helped to grow our communities so we could share resources and rebuild our connections to our neighbours and the places where we live?

Here in the Scenic Rim, a region that’s physically large with lots of little rural villages and towns, maybe we could think seriously about living, working and playing mostly in one place, instead of commuting our lives away? Within our beautiful living landscape here in the Rim, one of the ideas that makes me feel more optimistic about our future is the possibility of creating local living economies and communities. Places where useful and beautiful goods and services are grown, produced and exchanged. Places where creativity, prosperity, decency and generosity thrive.

What if the things that mainly moved across the region and indeed around the world, were ideas, music, creativity and stories with the help of technology like the internet?

What if each village or community had the ability to grow their own food, supply their own renewable energy, catch, use and reuse their own water? What if local economies revitalised themselves so that local manufacturing of goods became normal?

I wonder if local economies could be created in communities right around the world so each place became more self-sufficient and able to feed, house, clothe and care for everyone living in that community? Surely that would be fairer to people and the planet and help us transition to
a low oil, low carbon world?

The idea of a community-based economy could only happen though, if we rediscovered a very important idea: Enough…enoughness…sufficiency…

Remember Bill McKibben from Message 3 – Burning down the house – and his discussion about our predicament and his analysis of the state of the earth in his latest book “Eaarth”?

Well Bill’s also thought a lot about what we can do to pull back from the brink of ecological and social disaster as well as how we can cope better with the climate change we’ve already unleashed. He reckons one of the big questions we need to ask ourselves is ‘how much is enough?’ He says:

“The consumer societies we have created posit that the only possible answer is ‘More’. And so in the pursuit of more we have turned ourselves into tubby folk, raised the temperature of the planet one degree with a further five degrees in prospect, countenanced ever deeper gulfs between rich and poor and so on. And in the process made ourselves happy?

“But say you’re in a meadow, surrounded by wildflowers. Do you find yourself thinking ‘They could do with some more wildflowers over there’? Do you glance up at the mountains on the horizon and think, ‘Some more mountains would be nice’? Do you lie on the rock by the brook thinking, ‘This brook needs more rocks’? Does the robin in that tree chide itself for not tripling the size of her nest? I think not. Nature schools us in sufficiency – its aesthetic and its economy demonstrate ‘enoughness’ at every turn…it offers the great lesson of being simultaneously abundant and finite” (McKibben, 2005, p23).

And so we return to the ground beneath our walking feet. The extraordinary living landscape of mighty forests, tumbling mountains, lifeblood rivers, a patchwork of farms and friendly country towns and villages that is now known as the Scenic Rim.

It’s a landscape with a long history of mobility that stepped so lightly on the earth that those who came before us managed to preserve and protect some of the world’s greatest environmental biodiversity.

As we ponder our future in this region, let us remember the legacy of legs and the amazing grace of slow. We have an opportunity to free ourselves from the slavery of affluenza – the chronic modern-day disease of growth is god – if we rediscover the wisdom of ‘enoughness’ and the abundance within this land and in the lives of those who came before us.

 

There’s a fantastic 6 minute summary about Peak Oil by the Post Carbon Institute called “300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ-J91SwP8w

Way back in 1980 when I was 17 years old and in my last year of high school, I sewed a patchwork quilt by hand. It took a year to make and at Christmas I gave it to my mother Joss. It now hangs over the back of the lounge in my home. It’s the quilt I use on cold winter nights when I’m watching TV or that my son uses when he’s feeling sick and is resting on the lounge with pillows and cushions all around. 

I don’t know what inspired me at 17 years old, to take on such a project. At that time I was a typical Gold Coast teenager. I loved going to the beach (some things never change!), I played lots of sport, I had found true love for the first time and I was doing okay at school with plans to go to uni the next year. But somehow in all that normalness, I picked up a needle and thread, found scraps of material and with stitches so small I can now barely see them without my glasses, I quietly sewed my way through the exams, friendships, pressures and transition of Year 12.

A few years ago I made a second quilt and gave it to my son for his 12th birthday. It’s still on his bed and occasionally he finds a leftover pin stuck in it too – ouch!

I’m fascinated with handmade quilts. I once read a novel that talked about the making and use of quilts as secret maps for escaping Negro slaves in the American south, before slavery was abolished there in 1865. Apparently these ordinary looking quilts had codes and symbols sewn into them that guided escaping slaves to safe houses across the country. How incredible.

There is a quilting group here at Beechmont where I live. Many of the women in this group make the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen. Every second Wednesday they gather at the old community hall to share cups of tea, home baked cakes and bikkies, as well as conversation and sewing tips. The day I visited the crafters group about five years ago, was the day I understood the art of craft – the amazing creativity and skill that feeds the crafter and their quilt. It was also the day I understood how community is built through creativity…and I continue to see this every time people get together to play music.

As the information superhighway, including the internet and electronic technology, continues its juggernaut journey to every corner of the world; as global corporations overtake governments and entire countries with their power and profits; and as children are thrust earlier and earlier into adult worlds and shop-till-you-drop lifestyles, I think there is also another world at play. It’s below the radar of the turbo-charged corporate and consumer world, but if you look carefully you can easily see it; especially in small communities like Beechmont, Canungra, Boonah and Tamborine Mountain, though it also exists in every city and community in every part of the world. I call it the homespun world…and it’s about people creating and coming together in friendship.

You can find the homespun world every day in community halls, country and farmers markets and independent music. It’s in the eyes of singers from community choirs. It’s in the conversations of young mums and dads at community playgroups as their busy toddlers play on swings and slippery
slides. It’s at mobile and other council libraries. We find it when we get together with friends for a game of tennis, cricket or soccer, or when we get
out into the garden to plant seeds or pull out weeds. It’s a quieter, calmer world that travels at a slower pace. It literally dances to the beat of
different drums. And its measures of wealth have nothing to do with money or buying stuff.

My dear friend Nadia Sunde sings this world to life in her songs about childhood, her mother’s eyes, fun under the mango tree, peanut butter sandwiches, cups of tea with friends, her kids Asher and Mia, moon rises, sun rises and sleep.

Independent music is one of the homespun world’s greatest successes. Everywhere around the world, teenagers, adults, families and seniors
from all walks of life are making music. In their homes, garages, schools, computers and community halls, homespun musicians are singing their own
stories, making their own music and growing their skills and their hearts. And not for a Big Record Deal either. They’re doing it because they love music and can create their own music. Through their music they bring people together and build bridges across differences. It’s easy to feel sucked into the industrial machine, especially the corporate music machine, and yet right here at our fingertips, the homespun music world is always beckoning us to play.  

The homespun world also includes local food and farming as well as the things my neighbour Wendi does so well – baking, food preserving, cheese making, seed saving and sewing. ‘Grandmother skills’ is a good name for these sorts of crafts. Many people think these skills are old-fashioned. But as those earth emergencies I mentioned earlier – climate change and global warming for instance – cause havoc now and then with extreme droughts, floods and storms, and as our energy supplies like petrol and electricity become more expensive and vulnerable, Grandmother (and Grandfather) Skills are the very things we need to help make us more resilient.

They help us to repair our clothes so we get more wear out of them and don’t have to buy new stuff all the time. They help us to make our own healthy, delicious meals from food we’ve grown ourselves fromthe seeds we’ve saved, so our food bills go down, our health goes up and we’re not held
to ransom by massive supermarket corporations.

They help us create great music and beautiful gifts and treasures like handmade quilts that mean so much more to our lives than ‘stuff’ we buy from shopping malls. Let’s remember too, that most of the stuff that’s in those malls has been manufactured in factories and sweatshops where many workers are mistreated and poorly paid.

Have you heard of the country called Cuba? It’s in Central America close to, but not part of the United States. Cuba is a communist country that was ruled by a dictator named Fidel Castro for many years between 1959 and 2008. It is still a communist nation and Castro’s brother Raul Castro now rules the country.

Cuba has a very complex political history, particularly in modern times since World War 2 and I won’t go into that here. But when Fidel Castro was installed as the dictator of Cuba in the late 1950s, the US, which was and still is a democratic, free market economy, stopped trading with them in protest about their system of government. This is called a trade embargo. Cuba allied itself with the communist-ruled Soviet Union for many decades and the Soviet government virtually supplied all of Cuba’s needs in machinery, food, fuel and so on. In turn, Cuba became an industrial farming nation that exported most of its products like sugar to other countries like the Soviet Union. This situation made Cuba dependent on the Soviet Union for most of its needs as well as on oil and other fossil fuels to function. This situation made the country extremely vulnerable to political and environmental shocks, though the Cuban government didn’t seem to realise that at the time.

In the early 1990s, the world’s political stage changed dramatically when communism was overthrown in the Soviet Union. As a result, that country no longer supported Cuba or supplied all its needs because it was focused on the transition to become a democracy and all its energy and resources went to supporting this process. 

Almost overnight, Cuba was left without its ‘parent’ country supplying most of what its people needed to survive. At the same time, the US hardened its trade embargo of Cuba. In Cuba, the petrol and other fossil fuels that were essential for making electricity and fuelling cars and buses right through to making fertilisers and powering tractors for farming, were suddenly extremely difficult to obtain and Cuba’s systems of farming, transport, electricity and even water – essential things that keep cities functioning and people alive – crashed.

The Cuban government and people realised they had to get organised fast or they would starve. So they learned new ways of farming through organic and Permaculture growing that didn’t need artificial fertilisers, pesticides and big machines powered by oil.

They learned how to grow their own food, even in the cities, and how to distribute it in ways that were fair for people.

They went solar on a huge scale and homes and buildings became powered by the sun with solar panels and similar types of renewable energy technology.

And they re-organised their transport system so that push bikes and public transport, particularly buses, became the main ways that people moved around.

Through all of this adversity, known as the ‘Special Period’, the Cubans also began to rebuild their culture – their music in particular – which brought people together to create and make the most of what they had. And Grandmother and Grandfather skills became essential as people re-learned how to make do with what they already had and to stretch their resources out for as long as possible.

In sustainability and environment circles, Cuba during the ‘Special Period’ has become an inspiring example of how we can live good lives with less stuff and how, at the same time, we can learn how to look after the soil and the natural environment so nature looks after us. Cuba is certainly not perfect, but it was the first country to make real sustainability – for the planet and for people – its top priority. There is a great DVD available called “The Power of Community” that shows how Cuba managed such a transformation during the 1990s.

Interestingly, the Cuba of today has tended not to maintain this level of sustainability under President Raul Castro and is again, highly dependent on fossil fuel and importing food. The extraordinary urban agriculture and Permaculture systems created in the early to mid 1990s are starting to fade as the government attempts to engage more in global trade. It’s a big risk, particularly after showing the world how to live a high quality, low-carbon life.

It seems to me that though we live in a time where the industrial machine seems to rule, if we look closely below the threshers, another world is being born, though maybe it didn’t really ever die. Though the marketers, advertisers and spin doctors would have us believe otherwise, it doesn’t actually take much for human beings to be happy. We certainly need the basics of safe, sturdy homes to live in, healthy food, clean water, clean air, good health and good education but beyond these basics it is family, friends, community, creativity and contribution that count. These essentials are found
simply and cheaply through the homespun world.   

Maybe it’s not the highly paid, high flying jobs we need – that keep people at work and away from their family and community and create a false sense of happiness built on the mirage of ‘stuff’. Maybe we just need enough meaningful, paid work to cover our basic costs and then more time to spend creating lives and communities of meaning. Maybe it’s not the latest cool gadget we need from the giant shopping mall, but the time to create our own beautiful quilt or to garden or make music. As the legendary local living economy and small business entrepreneur Judy Wicks says, what we need is belonging not belongings. This, I believe, begins in the homespun world.

If you wanted to learn a new ‘grandmother’ or ‘grandfather’ skill, what would it be? Why would you want to learn that skill and what would you make/do with it? Once you’d learned the basics, would you teach that skill to one of your friends? Why don’t you tell us about your journey into learning a grandmother or grandfather skill here…

I’m not a domestic goddess like Nigella Lawson. I don’t look like her, I don’t speak like her and I certainly don’t cook like her. That’s why when we have friends and neighbours over for a party, we always ask them to bring a plate of food to contribute to a communal meal that’s called a pot-luck feast. Everyone brings a plate of food, it all gets laid out on a big table or two and voila, there’s always more than enough for all of us to eat. And it’s delicious too. Home-made sushi, fresh baked bread, free-range frittatas and delicious desserts to name just a few. These sorts of meals fuel all the conversation, laughter, friendship and musical jamming that we love at our parties.

It took me years of hard core environmental research and activity to realise that food is at the heart of positive social change and earth repair. Can you believe that? All those years of slogging it out in scientific facts about the rates of forest destruction, global warming, pollution…and you know, most people don’t really hear or understand this stuff on its own. It’s just too big and scary to deal with. But food…well, food is another matter. I call the potential of food to bring people together in fun ways ‘social change by stealth’. I’ve realised over the years that you don’t always have to hammer people over the head with all the bad news. Sometimes you just have to invite them over for a party and a pot-luck feast. If your feast is made from food that’s homegrown, organic, homemade and fresh, then we might just start saving the earth as well.

How is this so?

Where our food comes from, how it’s grown and produced, how it’s packaged, how it’s transported, where and how it’s sold, how it’s eaten and how ‘leftovers’ are dealt with is a really big deal. It’s such a big deal that if all we focused on was food in our efforts to nourish the earth and ourselves, we could probably make an immense and positive difference. There’s a US journalist named Michael Pollan who makes this very clear when he says:

“By gaining a firmer grasp on the nature of the Western diet – trying to understand it not only physiologically but also historically and ecologically – we can begin to develop a different way of thinking about food that might point a path out of our predicament. In doing so we have two sturdy – and strikingly hopeful – facts to guide us: first, that humans historically have been healthy eating a great many different diets; and second, that…most of the damage to our food and health caused by the industrialisation of our eating can be reversed. Put simply, we can escape the Western diet and its consequences” (Pollan, 2009, p 11-12).

That’s why we buy most of our organic fruit and vegies from community supported agriculture schemes (CSA), farm share enterprises, community enterprises and local farmers. Our aim is to source as much food as possible from independent, family or community-owned farms that are close to home, here in South East Queensland and Northern NSW. We  make sure we eat as much organic fresh fruit and vegies as possible. We also buy our bread and bikkies from small, family-owned bakeries at Tamborine Mountain or Canungra. We buy our groceries from the small, independent supermarket at Canungra. We have chooks and are learning to grow food ourselves in our backyard garden. I worry when we eat too many packet chips or junk food. Save the planet, eat real food, eat local food.

Did you know that almost 40% (that’s nearly half) of our carbon footprint is connected with the old, industrial ways of producing and selling food? That’s another reason why I want food that’s fresh, organic and local.

When we buy food from our neighbours we also help our local communities to thrive because our money stays in our community for longer. For example, when I buy local fruit, vegies and honey from Dena at Beechmont Shop, that money stays on Beechmont. It goes to Dena who then pays a lot of it onto growers like Geoff, Karen or Chris who she buys her local produce from. If they then spend their money locally buying Beechmont goods and services, like moisturiser from Vanessa or even solar panels from Sam, then our money goes round and round within Beechmont. And that helps Beechmont businesses to grow and create jobs for local people like you and me.

Every community can feed itself this way – locally. And every community in the world can grow their local economy, businesses and employment in ways that are self sufficient and sustainable if the people in those communities buy locally, eat locally and produce locally. Up until about 200 years ago, that’s how most villages, towns and communities worked. And it did work. With the amazing internet world we have today, it can work even
better because people, businesses and communities can also trade more easily across regions like South East Queensland if they can’t produce everything they need locally. The internet also helps ideas – good ideas – move right around the world. That’s a great system of exchange that requires little energy, unlike the global food system.

You’ve probably never thought about how food moves around the world – why would you? This information is generally kept behind the scenes of gigantic corporations and governments. But here’s a snapshot of how the industrial food economy basically works.

Huge multinational corporations own every part of the food chain. Starting from seeds they have patented and genetically modified so that they only last for one growing season and the farmers have to buy new seeds each season instead of saving the best ones each year and replanting and
growing them over and over.

They also own the factory farms that don’t look anything like the rolling green paddocks at Beechmont. These are industrial wastelands crammed with millions of caged farm animals like chooks, pigs and cows, or they are hundreds of miles of a single crop like canola that is managed at every stage by computers, huge machines and millions of tons of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The corporations own the factories that make the fertilisers, pesticides and machines. And when industrially-farmed produce is harvested it is then shipped to factories owned by corporations that process it with chemicals and flavourings into food-like substances that are packaged and
shipped around the world to supermarkets that are owned by the corporations.

These products, which are no longer fresh or healthy but more like the packaging they are wrapped in, are then advertised by the corporations who own the media. Most people shop at supermarkets for their food, pay the corporations for their food-like substances and without realising it, support a worldwide industrial machine run by the corporations, that spews out massive amounts of greenhouse gases and leaves little room for small, healthy, family farms to grow real food for real people. A friend of mine who is a businessperson in the local food economy, estimates that out of every $100 spent on food at the supermarket, $70 goes on food production, shipping, marketing and packaging. Only a tiny proportion of the money we spend on supermarket food ever reaches the farmers.

I should also mention that out of the other end of the industrialised, corporatised food machine emerge the diseases we hear so much about – cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity – caused by chemically treated, high calorie food. The so-called developed countries of the world like the US, UK and Australia are filled with overweight, unhealthy people while the poor countries of the world struggle to survive at all because of the way food
is grown, produced and distributed internationally.

The other thing that comes out of this end of the industrial food machine is pollution such as massive amounts of effluent and greenhouse gases from animal factory farms. And misery – the misery of animals and humans treated inhumanely by an industrial machine.

This gives the humble little backyard garden with its baby beetroots, silver beet, snow peas and herbs a whole new strength and meaning doesn’t it…? When we grow our own food or buy fresh, organic foodfrom local and regional family farmers, who would have thought we were being eco-warriors? It’s not as glamorous as Sea Shepherd’s activism, but it’s probably just as important. And in the end, it’s healthy and fun too. As we find great recipes, save and plant seeds season after season, look after the soil, compost, harvest and cook in our own homes – to contribute to the pot-luck feasts with friends, neighbours and family – we are also growing a better, cleaner, greener, fairer world. Bon appetite!

PS Let’s cook. Find the recipe for your favourite meal and post it here on this blog. Then we can all try to source the ingredients locally and cook it up for our friends and families.

Here are some great local and regional food links:

Organic Farmshare: www.organicfarmshare.com

Food Connect: www.foodconnect.com.au

Northey Street City Farm: www.northeystreetcityfarm.org.au

CERES Community Environment Park: www.ceres.org.au

Zest Fest: www.beechmont.org.au

Permaculture Australia: http://permaculture.org.au

The Witches Kitchen: http://witcheskitchen.com.au/

The Bower Studio and Garden: http://bowerstudioandgarden.wordpress.com/

SEED International: www.seedinternational.com.au