Recovering our waste – and our humanity

Glenorchy’s Recovery Shop is an object lesson in how to deal with waste

Scott Fletcher’s Tip Goddess guards the Recovery Shop entrance.

Scott Fletcher’s Tip Goddess guards the Recovery Shop entrance.

Glenorchy, home of Mona, is doubly blessed. Before Mona there was the Tip Shop, or as it’s now known, the Recovery Shop, which this year celebrated 25 years in business.

On the face of it these two institutions have little in common. Unlike Mona, the Recovery Shop would be unfamiliar to most art museum aficionados. No premium waterfront location here; the Recovery Shop is to be found in the back blocks of Glenorchy, next door to the waste management centre. And far from a handsome award-winning structure, it is accommodated in stock-standard tin sheds.

But art doesn’t understand such things. Its many forms include street art, often a visual statement about politics and society. Informal street art is nearly always painted on a wall because that’s the quickest way to express yourself without getting caught.

In paying homage to the material we discard in our daily lives, the art of the Recovery Shop is also about politics and society. But its art, unlike the street version, is gloriously three-dimensional.

At the shop’s entrance is a steel seat with a mesh top and mesh balls on the end of stalks, enclosing bits of scrap plastic that sunlight has begun to break down into smaller pieces. It’s a sculpture by Ben Beames about the environmental hazard of discarded plastic, and yes, you can sit on it.

That’s just the start of a trail of artworks commissioned by the Recovery Shop’s directors, Brad Mashman, his partner Rena Dare and Brad’s son, Zac, beginning in 1996 with a simple assemblage of industrial piping, assorted car parts and a light shade by Steve Palmer.

In 2005 Daniella Maniero produced a “waste stream totem” of an owl and three fishes using plates, utensils, bicycle parts, coins, bottle caps, a vegetable steamer and chicken wire.

In 2013 Jon Williamson was commissioned to produce two works, “Good consumer choice flowers” using tools, a fence, electric motor parts and computer cooling fans, and “Serendipity Complex”, made from discarded PVC pipes.

Five more sculptures by Scott Fletcher were added in 2014 – all animal and human forms re-using auto parts, gauges, garden tools, a vacuum cleaner, a security camera, a street sign, an instrument casing, electrical and computer parts, a padlock, a beer keg and a garbage bin.

In 2016 Donna Ritchie created a monument to climate change called “The Tipping Point”, made from tiles, mirror glass, toys, white goods and a metal box, featuring melting glaciers and rising seas and carrying a message of hope: “This is not yet our fate”.

Then last year Maggie Butler added a new indoor piece, “Seeing things differently”, a tribute to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. She used fake grass, tableware, a table cloth and indoor furniture to create a dining setting on its side.

“The age of glorious nonsense” is a history of waste from pre-industrial times to the present, illustrated by six miniature sets made by Brad Mashman, who trained as an industrial designer. Viewers are urged to turn away from the throwaway culture to an enlightened re-use culture.

The artworks have become part of a program for schools visiting the Recovery Shop. At the end of each visit, students are asked to personally commit to work towards a sustainable future, embracing change while supporting community and caring for the natural environment.

Brad Mashman and Rena Dare have thought deeply about what it means to share this planet with other living beings and have invested hugely in doing something about it. In September, Mashman’s pioneering work in waste reduction was recognised with a Churchill Fellowship.

Mashman’s program involves a visit in the first half of next year to Europe, which leads the world in its innovative management of waste. There, he and Dare will investigate government, community and commercial waste reduction models in Sweden, Belgium, France and the UK.

Whatever they learn on their journey, they will take with them a certainty that humanity, with all its faults, foibles, creativity and potential, can resolve the global waste crisis.

As the Recovery Shop’s displays tell us, in ancient times there was no waste management problem. All materials used were biodegradable, returning to the earth as part of natural cycles.

Today we are daily being duped by economic modelling that excludes environmental costs while providing no future guarantees. Today’s unprecedented amount of waste is a crisis which none of us, least of all our leaders, wants to talk about. But talk about it we must.

The resilient, resourceful people at the Recovery Shop know what is needed for a comprehensive plan. But making it work requires their resourcefulness to be applied on a vastly bigger scale, and to address not just waste, but the commercial drivers that create the waste in the first place.

This will be a Churchill Fellowship worth watching. We just need governments able to listen and respond to its messages.

Posted in adaptation, arts, environmental degradation, human behaviour, landfill, social mindsets, waste | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The value of a street education

School students, facing a lifetime of climate chaos, have every right to protest in the streets.

Greta Thunberg, 15, outside the Swedish Parliament last August in her protest politicians’ failure to act on climate change. PHOTO Michael Campanella / Guardian

Greta Thunberg, 15, outside the Swedish Parliament last August, protesting against politicians’ failure to act on climate change. PHOTO Michael Campanella / Guardian

A few words last week from Scott Morrison and his resources minister, Matt Canavan, could only have widened an already obvious gap between them and Australian youth.

“We do not support our schools being turned into parliaments,” said the PM. “We think kids should be in school learning.… What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.”

A placard at the 1000-strong school students’ climate protest in Hobart on Thursday, one of the prime minister’s targets, retorted “If you were smart, we would be in school”.

Morrison is dead wrong to imply that activism and education are mutually exclusive. The students in the streets last week had a first-rate learning experience, while also airing their knowledge of climate change science and how the world has responded to it – or not.

They have applied critical thinking, the essence of a good education, to the climate problem, and understand better than many of their elders the cloud that hangs over their future and the utter inadequacy of Australia’s response.

For his part, Matt Canavan wants students studying geology to learn how to make mines and drill for oil and gas, “one of the most remarkable science exploits in the world”.

He went on: “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like, in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge of your life and getting a real job.” That is, activism is a fast track to unemployment.

That sort of statement is a fast track to electoral oblivion. All these students will eventually be voters, a few of them as soon as next year. Of all people, they are most damaged by government failure to act effectively against rising emissions. They have every right to be angry.

This year, much of northern Europe had its hottest summer in 250 years of records. Sweden was hit especially hard, experiencing its first significant wildfires in forests close to the Arctic Circle.

In August, a 15-year-old Stockholm girl named Greta Thunberg decided to take her country’s leaders to task. Every day for three weeks she sat on the pavement at the main entrance of her country’s parliament, next to a large placard reading “School Strike for Climate”.

“What am I missing? What am I going to learn in school?” said Thunberg to a Guardian reporter. “Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?” She did, however, read books and do homework during her strike.

Sweden has enacted some of the world’s most ambitious climate measures, but Thunberg cited current scientific analysis to show that to limit warming, even these need to be stronger.

If Sweden needs shaking up, how much more does Australia, which addresses climate change by ignoring fossil fuels and managing trees, land and waste instead? Applied to the whole world, our Paris targets would land us in a global catastrophe by mid-century and probably well before.

A trio of high school students in Castlemaine, Victoria – Milou Albrecht, her brother Piper and her friend Harriet O’Shea Carre – decided to follow Thunberg’s example.

Promoted on social media, their idea for a “School Strike 4 Climate Action” took off across the country. In every capital city last week thousands took to the streets, while students in smaller centres found their own ways to air grievances about government inaction.

They deserve the final word. “I am here because I am terrified,” Carre told thousands of students in Melbourne. Read what this 14-year-old says and judge her activism for yourself:

“When I think of all my blessings, it just makes me want to cry. This is because I am a lover of life. And the idea that my children and grandchildren may not get to experience the beautiful world that I live in, is one of the saddest things I can think of.…

“You must listen to us now! You cannot continue pretending we are not here, and that climate change is okay. Because we are here, so is the climate crisis, and it is destroying our planet.…

“We have trusted you to do what is in the best interest of our country, and it is clear to us that you aren’t. It’s time to take our futures seriously.”

It is indeed.

Kimball Johnston was generations removed from these students, but he would have warmly applauded their protest. He gave countless hours of his time to the cause of raising environmental awareness, until his sudden death in Hobart, two days before the school strike.

He didn’t promote himself, or air his views like I do. He expressed his passion for a better world by being there when things needed doing, and by knuckling down and doing them. His many friends who have shared his love of nature, me included, mourn his loss.

Posted in agriculture and farming, Australian politics, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, carbon emissions and targets, changes to climate, climate system, community action, education, environmental degradation, forests and forestry, fossil fuels, future climate, human behaviour, international politics, land use, leadership, youth activism | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shorten’s play for a climate plan that lasts

At last, a climate policy from a major party worth a second look.

Bill Shorten delivers his energy plan. PHOTO Bloomberg

Bill Shorten delivers his energy plan. PHOTO Bloomberg

It’s hard to share Bill Shorten’s excitement about his grand vision for Australia’s energy future when every other such vision has turned to mush in the meat-grinder of party politics.

But coming from the leader of the party hotly favoured to take power after the next election, Shorten’s plan has struck a chord with many in business and academia. Could it be that after all the wilderness years we have something to look forward to?

A Labor victory looks even more certain after Saturday’s rout of the Coalition in Victoria. Plenty of factors were in play there, but climate change was undeniably one of them, especially in Melbourne’s affluent east and southeast. Just as it was in affluent Wentworth.

Business – notably the Business Council of Australia – has reacted positively to Shorten’s promise to work with the Coalition to implement the National Energy Guarantee, crafted by Josh Frydenberg when he was energy minister and supported by Scott Morrison as treasurer.

The NEG in various forms was approved in three Coalition party room votes this year. Each time a disgruntled minority threatened to vote against it, causing then-PM Malcolm Turnbull to set it aside.

Seizing the middle ground is the aim of Labor’s endorsement of the NEG, on which it is likely to base a yet-to-be-defined emissions trading scheme, probably to include transport.

That wasn’t the only shared policy space. There is more than a hint of Tony Abbott’s “direct action” in Shorten’s 10-year energy investment plan to directly underwrite renewable investment through a “contract for difference” auction scheme.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation loans for renewables will be boosted by $10 billion, and Labor will empower the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to help us use energy more efficiently, for which Australia is rated last among developed countries by the International Energy Agency.

A $5 billion transmission and distribution fund will go to upgrading interstate interconnectors and building new ones, including a second connection across Bass Strait, and support for strategic storage initiatives including Tasmania’s ‘‘Battery of the Nation” pumped hydro proposal.

Aiming to make solar power available at any time of day or night, Labor will set a national target of a million new household battery storage systems by 2025, offering low-cost financing through the CEFC and a $2000 rebate for 100,000 battery installations in lower-income households.

Shorten promised $100 million to create a community power network, setting up 10 community power hubs to provide legal and technical advice and start-up funding for local renewables projects.

Australia, already the world’s biggest supplier of lithium, will see a radically expanded battery industry under Labor, which claims a skilled workforce, advanced mining technology and high-quality scientific research all point to Australia becoming a leading battery maker.

Shorten pointed to modelling showing that as many as 60,000 new jobs could be created if it pursues its 2030 target of 50 per cent renewable electricity. He also promised to set up a “just transition authority” to help the coal-power industry and its workers make the shift to renewables.

This all sounds absolutely fabulous. I should be the last to be critical of a plan to set Australia back on the path to a clean energy future, and I applaud Shorten and his party for taking this significant step forward. But there are also significant caveats.

Labor’s 2030 target is 50 per cent renewable energy and 45 per cent lower emissions. The Morrison government has walked away from its Paris 2030 commitment of a 26 to 28 per cent cut in emissions but continues to claim that this will be achieved easily.

The October report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, prepared at the request of the 2015 Paris climate summit, has significantly recast the debate about such commitments. That report makes clear that a huge, urgent global effort is required to avoid dangerous climate change.

It is glaringly obvious that the world’s developed nations must lead by example. In Europe, including the UK, there is growing support for national targets of zero net emissions by 2030, even 2025, just seven years away. In Australia, not even Labor can now say its targets are adequate.

One lesson from the history of climate policy in Australia is that few politicians have got their heads around the pressing scientific imperatives that lie behind it. In Shorten’s speech there’s a glimmer of hope that this is starting to change.

“The latest report from the IPCC is unambiguous: climate change is no longer an emergency, it is a disaster,” he said. He went on to argue that the single most important thing about energy and climate policy right now is to have one.

But having a policy is a far cry from having a good policy, and even further from implementing it. For Labor’s policy to have a lasting impact it must have strong national backing, and that has to include bipartisan support. Winning the election would be just the start.

Posted in Australian politics, batteries, business interests, business, investment, employment, carbon, carbon emissions and targets, carbon pricing scheme, changes to climate, climate politics, coal-fired, energy, energy efficiency, hydro, renewable energy, solar | Tagged | Leave a comment