It's always interesting to discuss rural, 'bottom up' sustainability initiatives in our class. At a recent sustainability living festival at Woodend, a $100,000 grant was announced for a solar farm at an old timber mill. The income earned from the tenant's electricity payments will be reinvested in more solar panels, creating a perpetual fund for community energy. Also in Central Victoria, Newstead has received a $200,000 grant to become fully powered by renewable energy. Closer to home, Indigo Shire Council, after a community consultation process, voted unanimously to formally adopt a policy totally opposed to the coal seam gas industry. Indigo Councillors spoke of the north east being both a prime site for renewable energy and of prime agricultural land - 'fracking and agriculture don't mix'. Agriculture is the subject of another article based on Melbourne University's recent 'Appetite for Change' study. It seems food production changes are a barometer of climate change. For farm animals, heat stress during heat events is significant. Dairy cows produce less milk, beef cattle are delayed in reaching target weights. Warmer nights mean plants have less time to recover before the next day's growth. Wines, especially merlot and shiraz, grown in our Mediterranean climate areas will be less suitable for growth by 2050. Bananas will continue to feel the impact of cyclones. Potato production could be affected by potato famine like conditions. We also read about a South Gippsland dairy farmer who is encouraging 'her girls' to calve in April and May to mitigate summers that seem much earlier and longer and less conducive to grass growing. Looking through a 'food miles' lens, we discussed a thought provoking article about how the concentration of ownership of food production alongside mind boggling food miles can lead to waste and insecurity in farming communities. Land was also on our agenda in terms of the need for improved strategies to tackle the growing electronic waste stream entering landfill; and the impact of coal seam gas exploration via fracking, seismological changes and earthquakes. Another jam packed month!
Did you know that 2015 is the International Year of the Soil? Many of our U3A members are from agricultural backgrounds or garden lovers so are keenly aware how important the health of our soils is.
Dr Tony Weatherly, a soil scientist at the University of Melbourne, is currently researching into technologies to support large scale food waste as a soil conditioner. He would like us to think about soil as a dynamic, living thing. "Soils have a tipping point, just as our own health does, and beyond a certain point soil can't be repaired or replenished - it's not an unlimited resource. Understanding soil science is more important than ever: our future environmental and economic well being depends on it. we can't keep treating soil like dirt, pun intended" ('Soil, Food and Cities' Voice University of Melbourne 9 March 2015 p 8). Another article University of Melbourne researcher, Professor Deli Chen and his soils group hope to develop a scientific index called a nitrogen footprint to increase consumer awareness of how efficiently the farmer used nitrogen fertilizers when producing their food ('Food, Fertilizer and our nitrogen footprints' Voice University of Melbourne 9 Feb 2015 p 10).
The Australian Academy of Science's report 'The science of climate change: questions and answers' was released recently (www.science.org.au/climatechange). We read a thought provoking article relating to this - 'Climate Change is not in doubt, so stop the ostrich act' - by Nobel Laureate and Academy of Science fellow Brian Schmidt (The Age, 16 Feb 2015). Schmidt considers we should not self-diagnose but scould act on expert opinion. Class member Frank wholeheartedly agreed with Schmidt's analogy 'It's much like getting a medical diagnosis from a panel of the country's best doctors' (Schmidt quoted in The Age, 16 Feb 2015).
Other topics discussed this month included the evidence of warming of the world's oceans from data collected from 3500 Argo buoys from 2006 - 2013; concerning reports that the government does not consider the Great Barrier reef in danger; cyclones; wave energy;the production of a new type of plum; Innovations in solar technology in which energy from the sun is printed on plastic and research by a Bendigo raised water engineer, Profesor Peter Scales, on an optimal system to recycle wastewater.
John reported on the Strathbogie Voices seminar by Dr David Karoly and on George Marshall's presentation in Shepparton which emphasized the importance of relating climate change conversations to the feeling sides of people's brains, to their stories and interests, rather than focusing on 'polar bears', or people will 'do it later'.
As you can see, we always have lots to talk about and highly value the work our tutor John Lloyd puts into preparing topics for us to discuss each session.
True sustainability is only achieved when our society achieves this in three spheres of our activity: Social, Economic and Environmental. Sustainability in each of these three spheres is far from being achieved. This has become the concern of governments and ordinary people world-wide and has resulted in many questions about the sustainability of our present lifestyle.
1st and 3rd Friday
10 am to 12 midday
U3A Meeting Room 1
Convenors and contact details
0474 936 460
Renewable Energy Benalla - website
Economists for Equity and the Environment
The Future Economy
Population Matters-For A Sustainable Future
Strathbogie Voices Seminars on Climate Change in Euroa (YouTube)
Frank Dunin's paper 'Fire reduces water harvest from Melbourne's water supply catchments'.
Frank Dunin's response 'Chemistry Lesson for Scott Morrison'
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