Quick links and long reads

Some links for you, on this public holiday. 

‘Made in Australia’ might mean using more carbon than elsewhere.

The word Koala is thought to mean ‘no drink’. So when they start to drink, scientists worry.

Good thing then, about Australia’s hidden water.

Speaking of landscapes and the ground, Christine Jones, who is a soil scientist, explains in this podcast episode how mycorrhizal fungi work and why they are so important. I love her food analogies – hyphae are like ‘fairy floss’ and soil rich in organic matter is ‘chocolate cake’.

Aussie brush turkeys are, amongst other things, great composters.

Lastly, if you’re curious about the controversy surrounding the date of Australia Day, read what historian (and friend of mine), Stef Bonatti has to say.

Image source: ABC

Books I read in 2017

Here are some of the non-fiction books I read in 2017. 

Last year I read about behaviour change, critical thinking, anthropology, and food. The more I learn about these topics, the better equipped I am to think critically about waste related issues. I read some novels as palate cleansers, but won’t include those here. Here are those non-fiction books I enjoyed or learned something from, or that I can remember having read:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey
I found this one at a little free library and finally read it. The concept of private victories resonated with me because I think there’s much to be gained in those small, personal moments of success in terms of keeping us on a path to lower waste living. I’ve also been mulling the habit of Thinking Win Win. Upon reflection, I realise that some instances I’d considered to be Win-Win outcomes have been Lose-Win where I sacrifice my needs to keep the peace. Something to work on. There is a reason this is a classic.

Fostering Sustainable Behaviour: An Introduction to Community Based Social Behaviour Change
Doug McKenzie-Mohr
Awareness for critical environmental and social issues is usually over-emphasized – awareness is not usually the issue, inaction is. So why don’t we humans do what we’re supposed to when given all the right information? This textbook focuses on how to set up your community change program for success, including how and why to properly investigate barriers to adoption in target audiences. It also offers guidance on selecting appropriately specific and non-divisible behaviours to target for change.

Les Robinson
Read this book, especially if you are involved in public behaviour change programs. Robinson makes a strong case that we’ll be more effective by seeking to change the path, not the person. Effective solutions are sticky, leverage existing motivations, and enable the behaviour change. A good companion read to Fostering Sustainable Behaviour, as there are similar concepts at play.

Psychology for a Better World
Niki Harré
A useful read for anyone on a sustainability journey who wonders why others aren’t coming along with them. The author explains that understanding identity is a precursor to identifying shared values between ourselves and others – understand that and you can appeal to their values more specifically and effectively. I reviewed it in more detail in this post where you can also find a link to read the ebook for free.

Weapons of Math Destruction
Cathy O’Neill
Social inequality results in wasted human potential, and unnecessary hardships for some members of society. Some widely applied algorithms are merely baking in biases to systems that affect employment and lending amongst others. The author is a Harvard trained mathematician and former Wall Street quant turned Occupy activist. She now spends her time educating on how mathematical models can insidiously undermine socio-economic fabric, and how to design and administer these more fairly.

Bad Science
Ben Goldacre
In these times of Woo, it’s good to be able to tell good science from quackademic nonsense. Epidemiologist Ben Goldacre pleads for us to save our mistrust for those who really deserve it, and not fall prey to clickbait content that misinterprets science and creates unfounded fears. He gives us the tools to be able to think critically about claims we hear on purported benefits or dangers of everything from vitamins to vaccines. The basics of good study design won’t be new for those who’ve taken any statistics, but still a good and entertaining read with some surprising stories from the medical research front lines.

Weaponised Lies: How to Think Critically in a Post-Truth Era 
Daniel J. Levitin
With fake news and clickbait likely at an all time high, our ability to parse what is real is of the utmost importance. As with Bad Science, much of this won’t be new for anyone who’s taken a stats course,  but the author does a good job of digesting the important stuff into layman’s terms and calling out specific number and word manipulations we should all watch out for.

Poisoned Planet: How Constant Exposure to Man-made Chemicals is Putting Your Life at Risk
Julian Cribb
While slightly hyperbolic in tone, the author usefully takes a macro view of pollutants, since they cycle through ecosystems in a number of ways and none of us can individually detox in the ‘juice cleanse’ sense of the word. According to the author, the accumulation of man-made chemicals is dropping our society’s average IQ by a couple points each generation. Outtake: it’s impossible to contain pollution, it needs to be reduced at the point of production, and precaution must prevail. Personal detox is a myth, so put down the charcoal smoothie and start getting involved in the wider community efforts.

Revolution in a Bottle: How Terracycle Is Eliminating the Idea of Waste
Tom Szaky
It’s the story of Terracycle’s beginnings, from selling worm wee in coke bottles to becoming the world’s largest recycler of soft plastics, recounted by Tom Szaky, the founder. It’s a quick, punchy read and you’ll marvel at his aplomb and enthusiasm for both entrepreneurship and waste reduction.

Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth
Judith D. Schwartz
This curiously titled book is no anti-vegan manifesto. Rather, it’s one journalist’s deep dive into how the soil functions to store water and carbon. There is a good overview of the mechanics of carbon sequestration by plants, a discussion of the importance of mychorrizal fungi in the soil food web and of course, how a look at how herbivores can be used in the management of brittle landscapes.

The World Until Yesterday
Jared Diamond
My rule of thumb is to read anything Jared Diamond writes. He delivers yet another thought-provoking book about the long history of human behaviour before the more modern era, and differences between tribes and states. Lots to unpack there.

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World
Adam Grant
The author’s Malcolm Gladwell-esque writing style is an easy to read and entertaining enough. Not a whole lot of detail stuck so I should probably re-read. He lands some sound points, including the one about the peril of hiring for cultural fit. Down the line this rids a company of important alternative viewpoints that would have helped avoid groupthink. Instead he advocates actively looking for cognitive diversity. Hard to argue with diversity.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely
Another book about the irrationality of humans and how silly we humans are. Ariely is a personable writer, who covers similar ground to Daniel Kanehman and his ilk. Entertaining, although I preferred Thinking Fast and Slow.

The End of Plenty
Joel K. Bourne
Agronomist and National Geographic journo Joel K. Bourne asks how we will feed a planet of 9 billion. There are no silver bullets, but some intriguing possibilities are explored. This is an openminded look at various food systems, Malthusian pressures and food history (including the ups and downs of the Green Revolution).

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Dan Barber
I listened to this as an audiobook from the library. I’m normally impatient with audiobooks, but Chef Dan Barber weaves a good story. He explores how we can do better and eat more sustainably by learning how and what the land provides, rather than the conventional approach of imposing arbitrary crops on the land.

Quicksand Food (podcast)
Stefan Posthuma
I’m loving this series of interviews with the food producers of the Illawarra region in New South Wales. You’ll hear from cafe owners, organic farmers, leaders of food rescue initiatives, expert baristas and more to get a look at how the wheels of each business turn.

Grown and Gathered
Lentil and Matt
Yes I read cookbooks. Matt and Lentil have created a gorgeous, immersive read that starts with the place – their Victorian farm – and ends with the food. I have returned to this one again and again this year since getting it as a gift for Christmas 2016.

Which would I recommend?

I enjoyed them all, but if pressed would most recommend the 7 Habits, Changeology, Bad Science, Cows Save the Planet, The World Until Yesterday, The End of Plenty, and The Third Plate. Some of the others start to overlap, or the ideas weren’t totally new to what I’ve read before. For more, here I posted a list of 15 books that influenced my outlook on sustainability. In 2018 I’m thinking of backing off from the pop social psychology to reach for more permaculture, Australian history (all 50,000 plus years), and soil related books. Thanks to Amanda for writing this post on her year in books and inspiring me to do the same.

Tell me what books have you read and enjoyed lately?

The year that was 2017

In 2017 I welcomed many thousands of visitors through these pages. I even met a few of you in person and it made my day. I enjoy writing as a creative outlet, and because I feel compelled to explore the idea of waste and share what I learn. My enthusiasm outstrips my talent and I have 41 posts from last year to prove it, on worm composting, food experiments, food waste hacks (here, here, and here for example), energy savings, my Plastic Free July, how to make beeswax wraps, and fermenting. I also celebrated hyper-local foods like the neighbourhood olives I foraged, processed and made into tapenade. I let you in on you how I take care of my hair (i.e. barely), my trusted deodorant recipe, a neat trick to make your toilet bowl gleam, and a super simple lip balm recipe. I read some interesting books which I haven’t yet posted about, but will shortly. I started posting a few things that made me happy and didn’t create waste as outtakes from the day to day, and I also started rounding up quick links and long reads that I thought you might also enjoy.

Lots more happened that I didn’t get around to writing about. Little successes, big ideas in the works, community collaboration projects, and more. At time of writing, 80 posts sit in draft – more than articles published in my few years of blogging, and there are even more in my head. Many are ready, but for some decent imagery. Others are half-formed thoughts or outlines for posts. The thing about writing, when you can write anything you want, is that some posts flow out of the brain and onto the keyboard like sweet, sweet honey, and other don’t. The latter are those where the topic is big and my words are imprecise. I’d love to finish them all and push ’em out, but time is limited. Turns out I’m my most productive when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Or the inspiration strikes when I’m nowhere near a screen, so it’s jotted onto a scrap of paper, or into the Wunderlist app. I work full time, participate in various other community sustainability initiatives, and face the usual demands of friends of family. Also, the lighting is rarely good in my apartment to get those pics. On the plus side, these mild constraints are training in letting go and hitting publish. Posting is a form of resilience therapy for the type of perfectionism that never involves making anything perfect and often involves avoiding something altogether out of fear of imperfect. I assume this practise will eventually make me a better writer and thinker.

And then there’s always the balance of doing to enjoying vs. doing to documenting. I still enjoy documenting (if only so I can remember what I was up to) but I seek presence. Over the summer break, closing out 2017 and transitioning into 2018, I made a point of staying away from the computer and the phone, and instead spent time in nature, with people and playing in the kitchen.

If you’re reading this, thank you for visiting. In 2018, you can expect more posts about compost, food, experiences, local resources and really any old thing that seems related to reducing waste that I get around to posting about. ‘How To’ topics were quite popular, and I hope very achievable for anyone who tried making anything I wrote about, so I’ll carry on when I think there is a recipe or a technique that I’m excited about. I’ll always try to keep it as simple as possible, because low waste living should be easy, if not fun.

Happy 2018 friends.

How to keep worms happy in hot weather

Tips for keeping your worms comfortable in the heat. 

People usually think of Sydney as a sunny, happy place. It is, mostly. There is also a level of extremity that takes some getting used to. A day that begins at 35 degrees might plummet to 22 within minutes of the antarctic southerly wind belting through (laundry pegs are essential). The city itself is a concrete heat sink. New housing developments lack trees, which are sorely needed to help to pull water from ocean onto land to regulate temperature and provide shade for people and roads. No surprise then, that we’re smashing heat records, a rain storm destroyed the roof of our last apartment, and the occasional tornado rolls through town. Applying local indigenous knowledge of the seasons makes so much more sense than the imposed European framework of spring, summer, fall, and winter. We are in the ‘hot and dry’ currently. Labels aside, temps over 30 degrees are normal at least half of the year. At times it’s hotter still, with heat waves in the low 40s lasting for days. Like humans, worms don’t thrive in extreme heat. Weather above 30 degrees celsius can stress worms and even kill them.

Here are a couple of tips to manage worms in the heat:

Shade: House your little guys are in a shady spot. If you lack space, a hessian sack or an an umbrella can be repurposed to create shade – in fact it’s the perfect way to get more use out of a broken umbrella.

Balanced bedding: Add newspaper and bits of cardboard to keep their home balanced between carbon and nitrogen and nicely aerated. Toilet paper rolls, newsprint and egg cartons all work well. Make sure the bedding is overall a bit moist.

Reduced feeding: Worms don’t eat as much in the heat, so reduce the volume or pace of feedings leading up to and during a heat wave.

Make popsicles: Freezing and/or blending scraps helps your worms eat them faster and doubles as a way to cool the tray temperature. Worm popsicles!

Block ice: On scorcher days, when I don’t want to add any more food scraps, I put a bucket of ice, frozen as a block, into the feeding tray. I keep this block on hand through the summer so I’m always prepared for a heat wave. You could use any sort of container that will accommodate the expansion of water as it freezes.

A hot day here or there isn’t the end of the world, and worms are still fairly resilient creatures. My worms survived a heat wave above 40 last year when I was out of town and couldn’t give them some ice. Probably because they were already shaded, had decent bedding, and weren’t overfed in the lead up.