The Sunday Post.

Looking for my regular Sunday Post? Last week I announced that sadly, I was abandoning my Mini-doc of the Week project. It has defeated me. During school terms, I don’t have the time to get out and make new content, let alone the time it takes to edit it.

This has caused me some anxiety. I was brought up with the mantra “if you start something finish it”.  I started a yearly challenge of one mini-doc a week, and now after only eight weeks, I’m walking away from it very unfinished. You may have noticed that I am very goal orientated.

You can see the evidence in my 60 for 60 project, the Year of Zero. Etc etc. I have immense respect for Matt Jonowsky, who completed a 52 Week video challenge a few years ago! He made 52 simple, short movies that are inspiring.

What will I post on Sundays instead? I have had a few ideas.

  1. Review of the week – a review of another blog, website, podcast, book etc
  2. Recipe of the week – a healthy gut-friendly remix of old favourites. This also gives me the opportunity to tune up my food photography.
  3. Photo of the week continued?
  4. A news story of the week
  5. Eco Tip of the week
  6. Short story of the week (might land me in the same trouble as the mini-doc!)
  7. Occasional mini-doc of the week.
  8. Crafternoon project of the week.
  9. App of the week?
  10. Money saving tip of the week

The list could go on and on. And I have to get cracking on my A-Z of Wollongong posts too!! Oh dear, so many ideas so little time! By next week I’ll have Sundays sorted!

A universe without God?

Discovering Humanism

I don’t believe in an all-powerful god sitting somewhere looking down on us and letting bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. As an 11-year-old, I couldn’t figure out why, if god made everything,  did (he) make the devil. The scripture teacher smacked me on the bottom in front of the class for that question.

At the same time, I felt a strange sense of jealousy when my best friend, Annette, would go to church on Sunday. When she had something special to believe in, and I had nothing. When her family had elaborate rituals, and my family had nothing. The sense of community it gave her.

Later as an adult, I went on to describe myself as agnostic. I believed there must have been “something” to believe in, I just wasn’t sure what.  I couldn’t say for certain there was NO god. I couldn’t prove that god didn’t exist. But neither could I prove god does exist. That feeling of disquiet I felt as a kid remained. I wanted to believe in something; to give me “purpose” and focus.

When my daughter converted to Judaism and lived as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, I was in awe of her strength of passion, and again jealous of her sense of commitment and surety. I was jealous that she was so sure of what she believed that she was willing to turn her life upside down for it. That she had a way of ordering her life that made sense to her. I struggled. Why was I here? What was my purpose? What was the purpose of the Universe?

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I reflected on my jealousy and realised part of it stemmed from the fact that if there was no god and if I did not follow a religion, then everything was up to me, and I had to be responsible for all my own actions. That burden sometimes felt too heavy. I wanted someone to tell me how to live my life and how I should act.

I have changed my mind again and now I feel liberated and free. I have discovered there are people like me and we are called humanists. Why did it take nearly 60 years to find this out?

Humanists believe in science. They do not believe in God, gods or supernatural beings. They do not believe in an afterlife. They believe we live one life and we have a moral obligation to live that one life well. To not damage others or the universe. To exist in harmony and peace.

Notre Dame - God's grandest house?
Notre Dame

Humanists understand that life is uncertain and we can not know everything. We can, however, use rational thought, experimentation and our senses to learn about and then explain our universe and the amazing things in it.

That describes what I think and believe. There are people out there who feel the same way and hold conferences, have debates and write books I never knew existed. I have found my tribe! My lack of religion is not a calamity, it is not a shortfall in my character or upbringing. It is sensible, rational and true.

I came from nothing, I will become nothing. I have no memories of life before I was born because there was no consciousness. When I die, I will again have no capacity to feel or think and I will be nothing but a pile of saggy flesh and bones hopefully nourishing a tree.

I will be gone, and maybe I will be remembered kindly by those who knew me. That is up to me, and how well I live my one life.

 

 

House of God?

 

Recycling Humans?

Chemistry as it applies to the human population.

Recent bush fires in Australia have had me thinking down some very black roads.  Some related to politics, capitalism and how the world could have been better if we had taken advantage of different “sliding door” moments.

I have reflected on climate change, sustainability, the death of native animals, destruction of houses and communities. I thought about the moments in history which have led us here to this time and place.

…And then I got to thinking about thermodynamics. About available energy and matter.  The fact that there is a finite number of atoms on this Earth.

The big question in my mind then became “How many people could live on this planet without ruining it?”

As a chemist, I have studied closed system reactions. Our earth is essentially a closed system.  A closed system only has a certain number of atoms available so once you use them up the reactions have to stop. Rearranging atoms usually uses up energy. Energy is also limited.

These limited atoms are used to make up all the things on Earth including humans. There are an estimated 7,656 million people on the planet. Let’s say the average mass of a human is around 80kg. That’s 612,480 million kilograms of humans. (1 kilo = 2.2 lbs)

If we wind back the clock just 300 years to the 1700s, the estimated upper limit[1] of the human population was 680 million. That means there is an extra 558,080 million (558,080,000,000) kg of human flesh on the planet now compared to then.

Most of those extra kilograms have come from other living things in our closed system because we eat them.  There has to be a time when we simply run out of atoms and energy to keep making more humans. The majority of the energy we are using now has come from the stored energy of ancient living things – a.k.a fossil fuel.

While some of the atoms in current humans may have come from recycled humans (i.e. the return of nutrients to the soil through decomposition) most of the time we don’t generally “recycle” humans. We put them in sealed boxes in burial grounds off-limits to agriculture where the nutrients can not be returned to the system. Cremation adds to the carbon in the air.

We waste and misuse so many resources. As consumers, we salve our conscious with the catch-cry,  reduce-reuse-recycle, but that is unlikely to be enough to stop or reverse climate change.

Is it time to stop being humans who recycle to humans who are recycled?

Is it time to start thinking about burial practices so the nutrients in humans are available for other uses? I’m of course not the only one thinking about this sort of thing; burial trees pods have been mooted for a while.

It’s all sounding like Soylent Green may not be such a bad idea after all! By the way, that movie, where people were recycled to make food for other humans was set in 2022.

I also believe that those of us in developed economies, who use a lot of resources, have a moral imperative to reduce the number of children we have. We need to seriously consider limiting our population through natural attrition so that some of the atoms can be returned to make other things.

Instead of “one [child] for mum, one for dad and one for the country” how about just one for the planet?

[1] https://www.ecology.com/population-estimates-year-2050/

Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day

Is Valentine’s Day even a thing in Australia? For some of us yes, for others it’s another capitalist plot to make us spend money.

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Capitalism is fed

As Hallmark scams you!

According to a 2019 survey conducted by Relationships Australia, more than half of all adult Americans and a third of adults in the UK celebrate Valentine’s Day in some way. Eighteen per cent of the 1700 Australian respondents in this survey said they had never celebrated Valentines Day because they don’t believe in it. I am with that 18%.

Valentine's day

Another Australian survey conducted in 2015  by Canstar Blue says that of the 2050 respondents they questioned, 46% said they intended on doing nothing for Valentines Day. Of these people, 54% did not celebrate it because they didn’t believe in it.

I don’t think I have ever received a Valentine’s Card. Well, at least I don’t remember if I have. I don’t know of many of my peers who make a fuss over the day either. From my casual observations, it seems to be celebrated here by people who celebrate Halloween or who think Black Friday is a sale day and not a day to commemorate tragic bush fires in Adelaide!

On a personal note, I see it as another way to get people to spend money on things they don’t really need. Or perhaps spend money on things they should be doing anyway, such as spending quality time with people they love or have significant relationships with.

Approximately 131 million Hallmark cards were exchanged on Valentines Day in 2016 raising more than a $1 billion dollars.  Not to mention the money spent on roses and chocolates.

Valentine's Day

On the other side of things, it singles out single people. This might make them feel sad or SAD! A counter-movement called Singles Awareness Day (SAD) is ‘celebrated’ on February 15th and accentuates the positives of being single. I’m with them!

Maybe we should start another movement and channel all that money into showing our love for our planet. Instead of buying a single long-stemmed red rose grown in a greenhouse, think of ways to lower your own greenhouse emissions. Instead of giving a whole bunch of roses that will die in a few days, plant some trees which will last more than a lifetime. Instead of giving chocolate which leads to the destruction of rainforests, spend time with the people you love and volunteer together to help clean up your local area.

Make February 14th (and every day) LOVE Day. Love Our Valuable Earth Day

 


 

Fires on the NSW South Coast

For the last three days I have been working in the Emergency Management Centre in Nowra ( 2 hours south of Sydney) as a communications officer. I’ll be there for another three days. As a volunteer, I don’t expect or want to be paid. I volunteer for two reasons, to help others and help myself. Volunteering is one of the sure fire ways to boost your own mental health and wellbeing. I’m no hero or saint, I’m just practical!

The twelve hour shifts have me taking messages from 000 (Australia’s equivalent to 911) and delivering them to the operations officer who then decides which fire teams will be dispatched and what other resources will be required.

As well as 000 calls, we meticulously log the movements of the various appliances as they move from place to place.

The voice in the head set declares:

Fire Com Fire Com this is {insert unit name here}

Go ahead {Unit name}

We are proceeding from the X Station to the Y Staging Area at {location}

Received {Unit name} Fire Coms Clear at 16:08

The words are precise to ensure the meaning is clear. The word “proceeding” is important. Emergency vehicles “proceed” when they are just driving normally. They must get permission to “respond” under lights and sirens.

The transaction is then logged both in a written book and in a computer-based time log. The radio messages are recorded. The time log is then available to the State Operations team in close to real time, so they can oversee the various operations around the State. If we have not heard from someone for a while, we will do a “welfare check”.

The written log has numbered pages, each log book must be kept. This means that if there is an enquiry after the event, the log entries can be checked to help determine what happened and why. It’s a heavy responsibility.

We also answer really important questions for crews like where they can get lunch!

The two big rooms that house the EMC are awash with high-vis uniforms and colourful tabards. Tabards are like waistcoats with the role of the person in large letters emblazoned on the back and front. The Incident Controller, Operations Manager, Public Liaison Officer, Animal Welfare. Catering, of course. There is a tabard for every role. It makes it easy for anyone to know who is who because not everyone who is here is from the Rural Fire Service even if this is their “party”.

There are clusters of people from the Police, Fire and Rescue NSW, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance, Endeavour Energy workers ( to cut and restore the power to burnt power poles) National Parks and Wildlife, the Defence Force and more like me, in Orange from the State Emergency Service. We all work side by side to put the jigsaw together without losing any pieces.

For the past three days, the weather has been kind and the mood in the EMC was calm but wary. The relatively low temperatures and light winds have meant that crews have been able to do some back burning and to create containment lines. Holiday makers have been able to get home and the long lines of traffic seen yesterday have depleted, giving the police less grief. There has been a steady stream of lovely food brought in by towns’ people supporting our efforts.

But today is the day before D-day. Disaster day. The forecast is grim. 44C (111F) and low humidity. The light northerly winds of the morning will be whirled around by a strong southerly in the afternoon. It is likely to be another day like New Year’s Eve when more than 100 homes were destroyed, whole towns razed and people died.

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I hope the Bureau of Meteorology has it wrong. The fire crews and all the rest of us will be doing our best but there are only so many fire trucks and only so many people who can do the work. Please follow their instructions. Please don’t go through road blocks. Please don’t light fires. Please make your decision to stay or leave early and please take care, not risks.

My 200th Post

WOW! This is my 200th post. I chalked up the 100th post on January 1 2019.  So it’s been a busy year, and I am not quite at the end yet.

Although not as eventful as previous years, I have still been trying new things and keeping my mind active.

Including

  • Travelling to Scotland
  • Two courses with the Australian Radio Film and Television School; one on documentary making and the other on mobile video content creation.
  • A jewellery making course with a local Illawarra designer
  • Completing an online SEO course which will hopefully boost visits to this blog.

I have continued running and entered into 3 x 10km events.

I remain proud of the fact that I have posted at least once every week and recently twice a week with the introduction of my Photo Of the Week challenge.

Thank you to those who visit frequently and take the time to like and comment. It’s always nice to know there is someone out there. I think my 60 for 60 goal of 1000 followers is a pie in the sky, but you never know!

 

October 2019.jpg

 

 

Sydney Airport – my old friend

Hello old friend we meet again. I’m sitting in the departures hall surrounded by people speaking languages I don’t understand. Happy travellers returning home or starting their next adventure?

Check in and security completed with a minimum of fuss, although note to self – the boots with the metal trims? Don’t wear them next time! Rooky error! I’ve streamlined my packing and look smuggly at those who are wrestling with their hand luggage to get out all the liquids while I pop my prepackaged plastic ziplock in the tray. Hazar! Travel Ninga status restored

I have 90 more minutes to waste and I’m wishing I hadn’t had that extra glass of cheap wine to help me sleep! My stomach is a little squeamish. Is that nerves or a hangover. Both, no doubt. I do hope it isn’t the slightly under heated lamb shank I had last night at the hotel.

How things have changed in the years since I took my first international flight. That flight, to Italy, was my first time ever on a plane. It was January 1982. After leaving Sydney we stopped in Melbourne then Perth then Singapore then Bahrain, and finally Rome. Mechanical repairs at Bahrain meant we sat on the tarmac for six hours, air con off, no food, no water. Thirty. six. hours. Thirty of those confined to a tiny seat. Thankfully I was small and could curl up cat-like. Thankfully, I was travelling with someone I could lounge against without concern. The invisible force field surrounding the chair could be extended – a little. The toilets became blocked. The plane remained in that state until we got off in Rome.

Back in those days international travel was a novelty. At least for my family and friends who hailed from more or less working class roots. My brother had been to London a couple of years before but unless you count Lord Howe Island, my parents had never left Australia. The ex’s dad worked for Qantas, so his family flew frequently on staff tickets. Cheap travel sure, but you didn’t count your chickens until the door was closed and cross checked because you could get off loaded if another paying passenger needed the seat.

“Seeing a friend off” was a social occasion. Your friendship group would drive you to the Airport and as payment, you would shout them a few drinks at the Airport Bar before racing to the gate. I don’t remember if there was any security screening but I do remember that your friends could come right up to the departure gate where there were many teary goodbyes.

In 1982 the decor vibe was timber paneling and 70’s orange. Since then, it’s undergone many, many renovations. Every time I come here there are hoardings covering up more promised improvements. It’s bright and airy with charging points and interesting seating nooks. Tom Hanks’ character could live here quite happily.

It’s beginning to brighten up outside as Sydney starts it’s day. Jets have started to leave as the curfew is lifted. Come on Iain, it’s time to move to the gate.

Iain! It’s a bit early!

Coffee and your wallet

A cappuccino in a green cup.

Black gold

Last week I wrote about the nutritional value (or not) of coffee, this week the focus is on economic factors. This is a simplified analysis and not meant to be an economic treatise. There are no doubt, lots of angles I have not considered.

Microeconomics – your budget.

Café coffee:

As a point of reference, I am going to use my regular order of a skim milk regular sized cappuccino as the “standard” purchase. You can pay anywhere from $A3:50 – $A6:00 depending on size and location so I will use a cost of $4 per cup.

If you buy one cappuccino every day, you are going to spend $4 x 365 = $1460 per capita per annum.

So maybe you only buy coffee on the days you work. Using a 5 day work week and four weeks annual leave that’s $4 x 240 = $960.

Let’s say your working life is around 40 years;  you’ll end up spending between $40,000 – $60,000 on coffee! If you’re living as a couple, that could be $80-120,000 over your lifetimes.

SHIT that’s scary money!

That’s three years of mortgage payments! Is it worth it?

Do-it-yourself coffee – instant.

Ok, so you’ve decided you can’t do without coffee. Can you save money by making your own?

Well yes!

A  200 g jar of instant coffee will set you back around $13 from Woollies and will make around 100 cups of coffee. Plus there’s milk and sugar or sweetener if you use it. I am not going to try and factor those in here.

If we stick to the one cup per day, every day of the year you will spend $47 per annum.

Over your work life and not allowing for inflation; $1900.

BOOM!  An instant saving of $38K per person. But you aren’t going to switch to Moccona because we have all become coffee snobs who want “proper” coffee from the trendy cafe! And in reality, you’ll probably drink both the made at home/work and the cup(s) from the cafe.

Maybe you can buy a coffee machine and save money that way?

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Do-it-yourself – coffee machine.

This calculation presents a few problems. It’s a bit of a “how-long-is-a-piece-of-string” argument. Just typing “coffee makers” into Google; gives you machines ranging from $3000 to $59. If you spend $3000 on a coffee machine, it will take you 2 years to make your money back, and I bet you won’t!

Why?

Because even if you have a fancy coffee maker, you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Using a pod machine will save you money too, BUT you’ll have to deal with the environmental cost of all those plastic or metal pods. AND you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Of course, you could grind your own coffee too and use a plunger or lots of other methods which would be cheaper than cafe coffee so you could potentially spend much less than that estimate of $60,000 over a working lifetime.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money or tell you if you can afford that or not. You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but you may have not given it much thought. I think the main point is that coffee is a luxury. While some of you will argue that it is essential, it’s not. Not like food or shelter. The money you spend on it is discretionary.

Macroeconomics – the global economy

The Production Side of Coffee

Coffee is derived from two main species Coffea arabica and C. Robusta. It has only been in widespread usage as a beverage for around 500 years. It is thought to have originated in Ethiopia where it was domesticated before being distributed widely. The now huge South American crop originated from the seeds of a single plant taken from the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens.

The ten biggest coffee growing nations are Brazi, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, Peru, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Guatemala and Uganda. The countries that consume the most coffee are (in order) United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France.

I think you can see how things are going to pan out here. There is an imbalance between the economic power of the people who grow coffee and the people who drink coffee.

Poor people grow it, rich(er) people drink it.

The price of coffee is controlled by the commodity markets in New York and London, a long way from the growers. It is the second most traded commodity after crude oil. I have no idea how these commodity markets work, but I’m sure that the people on the floor yelling and shouting at each other aren’t thinking about whether a grower can feed his family on what he will be paid.

According to the documentary  Black Gold (2014), Ethiopian farmers are paid around 65c per kilo. It costs them 90c to produce one kilo of coffee. (huh???)  There are up to six steps in the chain from grower to consumer with each step adding to the price. The coffee part of your daily cup is only worth around 3 cents. While this data is now five years old, the principle remains the same. The growers are not given a fair price for their labour and have to endure significant hardship so you can be perky.

I recommend you download the Black Gold documentary. You can watch the trailer here or buy/rent the full version.

Watch it,  then try and drink your coffee with a clear conscience!

The consumption side of coffee

I live in the small city of Wollongong which has a population of just under 300,000. A Google search of cafes in Wollongong throws up 8 pages of results. The people at Wollongong Council told me there are X cafes. (I’m waiting on the council to get back to me with that number but it’s lots! ) That’s a lot of cafes and a lot of jobs. Multiply that by towns in Australia, and then the world. There must be a bazillion million million dollars sloshing around in coffee.

People who work in or own cafes aren’t exactly rolling in cash either. In Australia, there are more small traders selling coffee compared to big chains like Starbucks or Tim Hortons.  Many cafe workers are students earning the minimum wage. Then there are the roasters, the distributors, the drivers who deliver the coffee, the importers, the cup manufacturers, the barista trainers, the espresso machine makers, etc. etc. etc.!

According to IBIS World, the cafe and coffee shop industry in Australia alone is worth $10Bn with a growth rate of 2.2%. 139,091 people are employed by 20375 businesses. (I don’t think this includes all the ancillary services listed above.) Contrary to what I was thinking, this represents only a tiny proportion of the total value of Australian business which was estimated to be around $1.7 trillion in 2016.

So, perhaps the Australian economy wouldn’t fall over if we all stopped buying coffee, but it would be sleepier and grumpier!

Can you be a more ethical coffee consumer?

Yes – to an extent.

  • Buy your coffee from a small business rather than big chains or multinationals. That way your money goes to pay for a family’s expenses and not making faceless corporations bigger.
  • Choose places that offer fair trade or direct trade coffee and be prepared to pay a little more if needed.  Read more about ethical coffee buying here
  • You can look at helping finance a grower directly through an organisation such as Kiva which provides micro-loans directly to people in need. You can read about Kiva here.