Friday, March 30, 2007

A follow up to Life in Neutral

An as-yet unpublished submission to the Sydney Morning Herald's Heckler column, by The Great White Hype under my real name.


The Modern Day BioDome

It is the year 2024.

Carbon trading and emissions offsets have reached a peak. There has been mass clearing of land by developers under the new government Affordable Housing Mandate (Amended 2009) in order to enable families to own that far-too-large dream house in the suburbs of Sydney by the age of 23.

The decade old law pertaining to the ambitious Carbon Removal Scheme of 2014 and its required contributions has left a monopoly for a handful of firms prepared to maintain the troublesome and flawed system.

The entire Sydney basin carbon emission load, under the regulations of the COT (carbon offset tax), is now borne by one rather large scribbly gum situated in a hermetically sealed bubble that Sydney-siders affectionately call The Dome, in the middle of Martin Place.

The cost of upkeep of the dome protecting the tree from planet-warming, carbon-saturated atmosphere is so great that the majority of the tax dollars go directly to the running of the large pumps and filters keeping the tree alive. Large groups of workers, their faces obscured by filtration masks of a similar nature, gather around the Dome to gaze on its sparse foliage and twisted branches.

Not even three hikes in the tax rate has managed to result in the planned growth of the number of trees (from one tree to two), in order to satisfy the clamour from the general public and large corporations prepared to pay money to relieve their “carbon guilt”. Psychologists have coined the term for the sudden explosion of trembling and feelings of intense shame associated with workmates and neighbours’ discovering your level of voluntary contribution is somewhat less than their own. There has been little or no change in lifestyles to contribute to global problems associated with greenhouse gases, as wages grew exponentially in order to cover the compulsory COT contributions.

The President of Australia, in conjunction with her colleague in New Zealand, is looking at a broad-brush approach, whereby the population of New Zealand will be relocated to Australia. The net result of the scheme would be the replanting of New Zealand, to be used as Australia’s carbon-offset supply for the next thirty years.

This has raised the ire of several fundamentalist groups, but the precedent has already been set. With Hawaii having been emptied of all but a skeleton staff in 2015 to cater for the US east-coast emission trades, the increase in scale is not so daunting.

The government has launched a new campaign for the Christmas gift offset rush. It is hoped that the second tree will be ready and functional by late 2027. It will be located more towards the geographic centre of Sydney, in the Emu Plains Mall.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Life in Neutral

There's been a lot of press given to people and companies making their offices and homes "carbon neutral" of late. From personal carbon offsets (whereby people pay money for others to invest in activities that will "offset", or render neutral, their carbon emissions), to companies trading emissions on an open market to avoid the need to outlay for new technology or penalties for polluting, this is this years hot topic (so to speak).

Travellers are even getting the chance to relieve their carbon emissions by a surcharge on top of airline tickets so companies can offset the emissions on their behalf (Travellers to get chance to offset carbon, SMH, March 21, 2007).

Two of the largest architectural offices in Australia have "become" carbon neutral in recent weeks. Woodhead and Woods Bagot have both measured their outputs and set about offsetting their emissions (Architecture Bulletin, March/April, 2007). Paper usage, recycling, air and vehicle travel, electricity and energy usage are areas targeted by Woodhead for reduction. Their model as explained seems to be targeting areas for reduction, as opposed to paying a fee and not reducing loads. The Woods Bagot model appears to start with the latter, with staff able to salary-sacrifice to enable their personal lives to become carbon neutral. Woods Bagot has then taken other initiatives: encouraging 70% of their staff to walk, cycle or take public transport to work (although I wonder if this includes the top 30% of staff, i.e. directors, principals), introducing recycling schemes in their offices, employing ‘green switching’ (turning off lights in unused areas), and establishing teams of experts in sustainable design and building practice, which will perhaps increase the acceptance of sustainable development.

Naturally, the schemes offered have detractors. The fact that the scheme is offered at all brings up an issue of cost to the consumer, and whether it is simply a short-cut to doing your bit for the environment. If you can afford carbon offsetting, it is a simpler way to relieve yourself of the burden of guilt than streamlining your lifestyle or habits to reduce your impact on the environment. See Poor will pay more to reduce their carbon footprint (SMH, March 26, 2007), for a brief, yet concise article on this part of the subject. And you're not going without your luxuries, at the same time.

Then, of course, you get the true science-fiction solutions to the growing problem of the global environment (Using smoke, mirrors and faux trees to tackle global warming, geoengineers offer far-out ideas, SMH, March 18, 2007). What's kind of worrying about some of the schemes in this article is that the carbon offsets people buy are financing these operations, which may or may not work. Can your carbon offset payment be considered a true "offset" if the scheme you are paying into does not actually result in any carbon reduction? Although I do find the Planktos solution particularly nice, even if it may not work all the time.

Amidst all this is the faint cry of many individuals, myself included, who are protesting that the modern lifestyle is unsustainable at current levels, let alone current growth levels. I admit my lamenting cry is lacking exposure, focussed on a circle of friends and work colleagues who don’t mind me complaining now and then. Coming back to Woods Bagot for an example, the introduction of the sustainability experts into their design teams gives the practice a chance to expose the important requirement for the spaces we live and work in to evolve, along with our lifestyles.

As a last resort, and perhaps most short-sighted of all solutions, is geo-sequestration (Burying the problem of emissions, SMH, March 20, 2007). Granted, I’m no geologist, but to me the practice of burying liquid C02 seems to be asking for trouble once this stuff starts leaching out in 20-30 years time. Lake Nyos anyone? Certainly a natural disaster when it occurred, but are we potentially turning more of the earth into danger zones by pumping this stuff underground?

No true long term solutions are offered by any of these offset schemes. How are they policed? If you pay a few hundred dollars a year to offset your carbon emissions from your vehicle use and power consumption, who is checking that twenty trees are planted in its place? Who takes care of the trees so that they grow to their full carbon-soaking status? As an earlier article states, “Environment groups agree planting trees is the least effective way of offsetting emissions.” At the moment, there’s no other way to offset current energy uses. True ‘green power’ is a fair way off satisfying the mass market. Without fail, somebody is unhappy with coal, nuclear, solar, wind, methane, or any offered source of energy.

Personally, I find wind power a great solution to energy supply for home and office. But apparently that kills too many birds a year to be ecologically friendly. Solar is the next best thing, but storage of energy is the problem, as batteries can be unsound when it comes to the environment.

- Wind and solar for energy.
- Hydrogen powered cars and mass transport.
- Intelligent design for climate.

Its putting them together in a socially acceptable package that’s the trouble.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Political Correctness goes mad, then this?

In a Sydney Morning Herald article of this morning, a former highway patrol officer has been awarded court costs after being brought to stand over a case of abuse.


Claiming that police escalated the offence once they saw his licence, owing to a previous run-in with police over his past, the man offered the following remark: "Bye piggies, oink, oink".

A sure fire way to bring a simple breath test to a higher level is offer a comment such as this. Yet the remark was found 'not offensive' under the law. So its OK to misuse a term such as this to a police officer? If he'd said it to someone in the street or to a woman in the company of any sane man, he would've wound up face down in a gutter with his teeth missing.

Now and then an officer who leaves the highway patrol prove themselves to be of non-standard operating procedure when it comes to being human beings. I'm afraid this guy constitutes one of them.

I wonder what he'd have done if someone oinked out the window at him while he was writing them a speeding ticket.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Filtering out the "bad"

Having been asked to investigate internet filtering software for a medium sized business, I have noted one feature of all internet filtering software websites.

They all contain pictures of children using computers.

If this is not a blatant attempt at blackmailing parents of a generation of children who dont know otherwise, I dont know what is. Why cant the parents take a little more pro-active control themselves, instead of relying on software to curtail their childrens activities? Remove computers from private spaces (bedrooms), and expose them a little more. Restrict hours via a simple push of the "OFF" button.

And what if one of these undesirable sites is allowed to be displayed because it doesnt contain any keyword that the filter will pick up? God forbid, that as a parent you may be forced to explain the difference between wrong and right, natural and unnatural, science and religion...

The push for advertising and the using of children as a metaphor for the new living standards, "your children can have what you never had as a kid!" is quite frankly disturbing. Look at the kind of society that has evolved now that people can "have what they want" at almost any time, and think what it might turn into if another generation is taught the same thing.

There is little or no sacrifice for material gain any more. I myself am guilty of this on occasion. Though I have resisted the urge to go so far into debt that my children will be paying for my life when I am gone, unlike a great many people in my area of Australia.

Only through the values of work, sacrifice, and the earning of material possessions can children be taught the future.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The art of Ray Caesar

I stumbled across this while following links blindly from a MySpace page I happen to know.

The art of Ray Caesar
Ray Caesar MySpace page

The art on these pages is amazing, for quite a few reasons. Like art should, it provokes different feelings, but I didnt expect them to all come at once over each and every piece. Delicate in construction, delicate in feature, yet strong in subject paradox, Ray's art is mind-expandingly unique.

I dont know whether to be curious, provoked, sickened, disturbed, aroused, sad, happy, or otherwise. Definitely one to browse through the galleries and let yourself ruminate on the progressive thoughts you come up with.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Politics play time

Election time where I live, and soon to be a federal election as well.

Naturally, all the little boys and girls have come out to play, and tout themselves as the champion of the people, etc, etc.

I've decided that I can play political advertising as well as these clowns. Here are my campaign slogans, ready for printing super-sized on placards for my supporters to wave about.

GWH: Not in my f**kin' back yard, you dont!

GWH: Let's put it in someone elses back yard

GWH: For the people, by the people (of my electorate only, all you other electorates can bugger off)

GWH: The other guy must be a w*nker

GWH: Better than the other guy for reasons you couldn't possibly fathom, you simple voter

I look forward to ignoring every "promise" I make in the lead up to the election, and can point to the fact that at least I'm not the other guy you could've been stuck with.

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