The Hidden Carbon Cost of Everyday Products

The Hidden Carbon Cost of Everyday Products

Kai Whiting, Universidade de Lisboa and Luis Gabriel Carmona, Universidade de Lisboa

The targets set in the Paris Agreement on climate change are ambitious but necessary. Failure to meet them will lead to widespread drought, disease and desperation in some of the world’s poorest regions. Under such conditions mass migration by stranded climate refugees is almost inevitable.

Yet if richer nations are to be serious in their commitment to the Paris target, then they must begin to account for the carbon emissions contained within products they import.

Heavy industry and the constant demand for consumer goods are key contributors to climate change. In fact, 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced through the process of converting metal ores and fossil fuels into the cars, washing machines and electronic devices that help prop up the economy and make life a little more comfortable.

As one might expect, the wealthier parts of the world with their higher purchasing power do more than their fair share of consuming and polluting. For every item bought or sold there is a rise in GDP, and with each 1% increase in GDP there is a corresponding 0.5 to 0.7% rise in carbon emissions. The growing demand for day-to-day conveniences exacerbates this problem. For metal ores alone, the extraction rate more than doubled between 1980 and 2008, and it shows no sign of slowing.

Every time you buy a new car, for instance, you effectively mine 3-7g of “platinum group metals” to coat the catalytic converter. The six elements in the platinum group have the greatest environmental impact of all metals, and producing just one kilo requires the emission of thousands of kilos of CO₂.

That car also consumes one tonne of steel and you can add to that some aluminium, a whole host of plastics and, in the case of electric cars, rare earth elements.

Often, no one is held accountable for the carbon emissions connected to these materials, because they are produced in countries where “dirty” industry is still politically acceptable or seen as the only way to escape poverty. In fact, of the carbon emissions that European consumers are personally responsible for, around 22% are allocated elsewhere under conventional carbon accounting practices. For consumers in the US, the figure is around 15%.

From mine to dump

Carbon emissions from the exhaust pipe tell only part of the story. To get a full sense of the carbon footprint of a car, you have to consider those emissions that go into producing the raw materials and digging a hole in the ground twice – once to extract the metals contained in the car, once to dump them when they can no longer be recycled.

Buying a new car and dumping the old one might be justifiable if the change was made because the new vehicle is more fuel efficient, but it is certainly not when it’s a question of personal taste or corporate-level planned obsolescence. The same is true for any number of high tech items, including smartphones that run on software that renders them unusable in the medium term. The environmental consequences of replacing a smartphone, in terms of carbon emissions alone, are considerable. Apple found that 83% of the carbon dioxide associated with the iPhone X was directly linked to manufacture, shipping and recycling. With these kinds of figures, it is hard to argue a sustainable case for upgrades – regardless of how many solar panels Apple sticks on the roof of its offices.

Governments of richer countries that import products but not their emissions must stop pointing the finger at China or other manufacturing or mining giants and start taking responsibility. This means going further than they have been willing to go so far, and implementing sustainable material strategies that address a product’s entire lifecycle from mining to manufacturing, use, and eventually to disposal.

The ConversationOn an individual level people must vote with their money. It’s time to leave behind the laggards who hide the cost of the carbon contained within their products and who design them to fail in order to put profits before people and the environment.

Kai Whiting, Sustainability and Stoicism Researcher, Universidade de Lisboa and Luis Gabriel Carmona, Researcher in Sustainable Systems, Universidade de Lisboa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Farmer Wants a Hive: Inside the World of Renting Bees

The Farmer Wants a Hive: Inside the World of Renting Bees

Manu Saunders, University of New England

Almonds, blueberries, apples, melons – all of these fruits, and many more, rely on insect pollination. Some crops rely more on pollinators than others. Insect pollination isn’t just about the number of fruits produced – it can also improve the quality of the yield. For example, self-pollinated flowers may produce a fruit, but it might be very small or misshapen.

So how do farmers make sure their crops will produce enough fruit to make a profit? Crops in most parts of Australia have one main blooming period, usually in spring or early summer. The window for pollination usually lasts two to four weeks, depending on the crop. During that time, insects need to be flying around visiting flowers to feed on pollen and nectar to ensure that pollination happens.

To optimise yields, most growers rent European honeybee hives during crop flowering season. Honeybees were first introduced to Australia from Europe in the early 1800s. Today, the beekeeping industry includes around 600,000 managed hives and is worth around A$100 million to Australia’s economy. But it’s not just about honey and beeswax products.


Read more:
Not just bees: the buzz on our other vital insect helpers


Managed crop pollination services have become big business in many parts of the world, including Australia. Although most beekeepers do still keep bee hives to produce honey or wax products, paid pollination services are becoming increasingly important to the industry.

In Australia, the almond industry is one of the biggest renters of honeybee hives for pollination. Almonds bloom for a few weeks at the end of August and rely almost completely on insect pollination to produce harvestable almond fruits. The many plantations across northwestern Victoria rent more than 150,000 hives each year, costing millions of dollars in rental fees. Costs per hive vary depending on the crop, covering costs to the beekeeper such as how far they have to travel, the time of year (early season pollination can be more stressful for honey bees and require more feeding costs for beekeepers to maintain hive health), and the risks (e.g. chemicals) bees might face in the crop. For almond pollination, one hive can cost around $70-100 to rent.

The journey

Some growers rent hives by contacting individual beekeepers directly. But many corporate growers will hire a pollination broker as a go-between to organise the complex logistics of trucking thousands of beehives from interstate to be there at just the right time. Delivering bees too early or too late can impact the health of the honeybee colonies, or result in lower crop yields.

The beekeeper and grower usually sign a pollination agreement, in case there are any problems. For example, a beekeeper can specify that the grower should not spray pesticides that can damage the colony’s health while the hives are in place.

Honeybees naturally return to their colony at night, as they rely on daylight and warmth to forage. This makes it easier for beekeepers to transport hives when needed. At night, when all the bees are at home, hive entrances can be shut off to stop them escaping during the journey.

Beekeepers load their hives onto a truck and drive thousands of kilometres to the plantations. They leave their hives dotted throughout the plantation just as bloom is starting, and return to collect them at the end of flowering.

Because beekeepers collect their hives at night, it’s unlikely that many bees are left behind. If an individual does get lost, it won’t survive long on its own, as individual honeybees rely on the colony to stay alive.

Alternatively, crop growers can buy their own hives and set them up permanently, eliminating the cost of rental and reducing the pressure on honeybees used for pollination services. However, this comes at its own cost. Growers need to maintain the beehives themselves or hire a beekeeper to do it.

Many small-scale growers do this really well, and diversify their business with another product (honey). But the practice is less economical for larger-scale growers.

Native stingless bee species are another option for some growers. These bees live in colonies and make honey, just like the introduced honeybee, and can also be managed as pollinators.

There is a growing stingless bee pollination industry in eastern Australia supplying rented stingless bee colonies to crops. However, these bees aren’t naturally found throughout much of the southern and inland parts of Australia, where conditions are less suitable for them. There is lots more research to do to understand the full potential of using stingless bees on a larger scale. For example, we need more data on how these native bees improve fruit set in a variety of commercial crops, and we need greater understanding of how transporting stingless bees to regions outside their natural range for pollination services might affect colony health.


Read more:
Losing bees will sting more than just our taste for honey


There are also thousands of native pollinators in Australia, including around 2,000 native bee species and thousands of flies, wasps, butterflies and other insects. We already know many of these are capable of pollinating our major crops, including almonds. This means they are providing pollination services for free. Some can be more effective crop pollinators than honeybees.

But we still know very little about these wild pollinators. In particular, some of the ways we manage our agricultural landscapes, such as broad-scale monocultures, habitat clearing and overuse of pesticides, can have damaging effects on pollinator populations.

The ConversationMost crops benefit from a variety of insect pollinators, not one single type. It’s financially and environmentally risky to rely on a single bee species for all our food production. Ideally, we need to build understanding of how to manage landscapes sustainably to support multiple pollinators.

Manu Saunders, Research fellow, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Event: Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation, Sydney

Event: Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation, Sydney

Learning how to grow mushrooms – the edible kind, that is – could be quite overwhelming for first-timers. This workshop will walk you through the steps!

Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation is a two-day workshop where you can learn how to start farming delicious oyster, shiitake, enoki, reishi and many other mushrooms at home, organically. The program includes a practical introduction into fungi world and lessons on sustainable approaches for home mushroom propagation such as no-waste techniques, permaculture principles and more. You’ll also receive a host of take-home mushroom resources to get you started!

For more information, visit Milkwood’s website.

June 9-10, 9am-5pm | 107 Rooftop Garden, 107 Redfern Street, Sydney

Best Plants to Improve Your Nighttime Sleep

Best Plants to Improve Your Nighttime Sleep

Having trouble keeping your eyes shut at night? As unlikely as it sounds, house plants might be your solution. These plants can help you get your forty winks by purifying the air and relaxing your body. Here are a few plants to add to your bedroom…

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is more well-known for its gel, which can be used to treat minor cuts, burns and insect bites as well as condition hair – but it’s also great to help you get some sleep at night. It produces oxygen in the evening and thus can purify the air as you fall into deep slumber.

 

Peace Lily

This plant has one of the best performances in removing pollution from the air, breaking down harmful gases and eating up mould spores. It also increases humidity in the room, which can help ease sore throat and sinus as well as prevent drying skin.

 

Lavender

Lavender flower not only brings sophistication to the room with its beautiful purple colour, but its scent also has relaxant properties that help reduce and prevent stress and anxiety.

 

English Ivy

Allergies keeping you up at night? Consider stocking up English Ivy, which cleans up the air and remove airborne mold and faeces in just a day.

 

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus or schlumbergera will adorn your room with its beautiful flowers and, like aloe vera, it releases oxygen at night. Plus point: it’s also not hard to manage at all!

Soils 101: Plants and Treatments

Soils 101: Plants and Treatments

Everything requires a great base, including your garden. By knowing your soil, you can figure out the best plants to grow and the proper ways of maintaining and improving the ground. Read on to find out the various types of soils, as well as the plants and treatments to suit them…

Clay Soil

Clay soil feels sticky and slimy, especially when wet – but it turns rock hard when it’s completely dry. It drains slowly, and thus takes more time to warm up during spring and summer. Clay soil holds a higher amount of nutrient than other kinds of soil. Some flowers like aster and bergamot grow well on clay due to their hardiness.

 

Sandy Soil

Sandy soil is dry, free-draining, and low in nutrients. It’s lighter than clay soil, because sand (which makes up a significant part of this type of soil) weighs less than clay. Make sure to water more when you’re planting with this soil, as it dries very rapidly and warms up quickly during spring. Plants with high tolerance to drought like hibiscus, tulip, broom and sun rose thrive on sandy soil.

 

Silty Soil

Silty soil has fine particles that do not bind easily – therefore, it is more prone to be washed away by rain. However, it retains more moisture and nutrients than sandy soil, making it more fertile. Silt soil is also well-drained with smooth, silky texture. Shrubs, roses and daffodils grow well on silty soils.

 

Peat Soil

Peat soil contains a high amount of organic matter. Its acidic nature makes it unsuitable for decomposing. Peats is water retentive, and may require more drainage support. This dark, spongy soil is suitable for planting shrubs like camellia, rhododendron and heather as well as root crops.

 

Alkaline Soil

Also known as chalky soil, this type of soil generally has a pH of 7.5 or higher. The texture is, as the name suggests, chalky and stony, often with white visible lumps. The use of this free-draining soil may result in stunted growth and yellowing leaves, as the plants could not access minerals and nutrients that they could have from acidic soils. Try growing vegetables like beets, spinach and cabbage on this soil with the help of fertilisers.

 

Loamy Soil

Many gardeners consider loamy soil as the ideal type, due to its high calcium, aeration, water retention and good drainage. It also warms up quickly in the spring, but doesn’t dry out in the summer. Most crops and vegetables can do well with this soil.

Event: 2018 Sculpture at Scenic World, Blue Mountains

Event: 2018 Sculpture at Scenic World, Blue Mountains

Enjoying art and nature together – why not?

Sculpture at Scenic World is Australia’s regional art exhibition which transforms the rainforest of Blue Mountains into an outdoor gallery from April 13 – May 13.

The exhibition will showcase 38 artworks along from the Scenic Walkway to the Jamison Valley, providing a unique sensory experience with interactive installations, guided tours, curated artist talks and weekend workshops.

The participating artists will be in the running for the $20,000 Scenic World Major Award in addition to the $5,000 Artist Peer Award and the $3,000 Environmental Award.

Tickets start from $39 for adults. For more information, visit the Sculpture at Scenic World’s website.

April 13 – May 13, 9am-5pm | Scenic World Blue Mountains, Katoomba, NSW

Best Flower Gardens in Sydney

Best Flower Gardens in Sydney

With the busy lifestyle in Sydney, it can be hard to take the time to go into the nature and enjoy the view. But do not fret – these inner-city gardens will allow you to feast your eyes on beautiful flowers and greeneries without having to trek for hours.

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Situated at the heart of CBD, the RBG not only boasts the view of Sydney Opera House and The Rocks, but it also has a diverse flora collection – roses at the Palace Rose Garden, ancient and rare palms and ferns at the Australian Rainforest Garden, aromatic herbs at the Herb Garden, and unique flowers at the Australian Native Rockery. It’s a lovely place to have a quiet lunch, wander around, or even work in the outdoor setting – they have high-speed wi-fi!

 

Fagan Park, Hornsby

Whether you want to have a picnic, walk your dog, bring your kids outdoors or wander alongside the waters, Fagan Park has you covered. Its Gardens of Many Nations sprawl around 10 hectares, allowing you to walk the trail while enjoying their 11 nationality-themed gardens. A local bushland is also available if you’re looking for a longer walk or a bike trip. Otherwise, just stay close to the playgrounds or shelters.

 

Swain Gardens, Killara

Get an English-style garden experience by strolling around the beautiful landscape of these gardens. The quiet bushland setting covers around three hectares, enveloped by tall trees and filled with various levels of terraces.

 

Auburn Botanic Gardens, Auburn

While its fame could be attributed to its hosting of the Cherry Blossom Festival every August, Auburn Botanic Gardens is enjoyable to visit all year round. Featuring a sunken rose garden, a fauna reserve and aviary, pony rides, petting zoo and picnic grounds, it is a great place for a weekend family excursion.

 

Wendy’s Secret Garden, Lavender Bay

Dubbed as Sydney’s worst kept secret, the garden was created by local Wendy Whiteley at the Lavender Bay Parklands following the death of her husband. Today, it features a variety of plants, flowers and trees, with the highlight being the large fig tree providing shades to visitors and other greeneries. Some Australian-made sculptures are also on display, adding to the uniqueness of the landscape.

What are Air Plants?

What are Air Plants?

Air plants or tillandsia are popular for some reasons – they require no pots, no soil, little space, sporadic watering, and can be displayed in creative ways, from hanging terrariums to the walls. So what are they, and how can we best take care of them?

There are more than 650 types of air plants (Tillandsia sp.) with different colours and leaf thickness. Most of them have funnel-shaped flowers and/or triangle-shaped leaves.

To survive and thrive, air plants need bright, indirect light with temperatures ranging from 10 to 32 degrees Celsius.

In general, you should water your air plants once every two weeks – more often if the environment is brighter, hotter and/or drier. It is also understood that air plants with green leaves require more water than its silver counterparts, as they dry faster. Allow the plants to fully dry after misting/submerging the leaves in water by putting it on top of a towel to ensure that they don’t rot.

Keep your plants healthy by adding fertiliser into the water each month during spring and summer seasons.

Sources: 1, 2

Best Plants for Tea Drinkers

Best Plants for Tea Drinkers

Avid tea drinkers know that great ingredients make great drinks. This is especially the case in tea and tisane, or herbal tea made of various leaves, seeds, roots or barks. If you’re interested in making your own tea from scratch, there are a few plants that you can grow at home to make this happen. Here are the plants, along with some guide on how to grow them.

Camellia (Tea)

The original tea is probably the hardest to grow at home, as they require two to four years until they can yield crop. Plant at least two shrubs, keep the soil moist and watch out for iron deficiency in the plants, which is characterised by yellow leaves.

 

Chamomile

Chamomiles not only make for pretty flowers, but they also have calming and sedative effect when made into tea. Unlike camellia, chamomile requires dry soil. Plant it in part shade, and then move fully under the sun when it grows.

 

Ginger

Helpful in relieving nausea and upset stomach, this tuberous plant can also be used in cooking as a spice. Plant in humid, warm location with partial shade using sandy soil for optimum growth.

 

Peppermint

Not only does it have refreshing taste, but it also helps in curbing bloating and soothing sore throats. It’s also very easy to grow, indoors or outdoors! Make sure to provide the plant with full sun exposure, lots of water and good drainage.

Best Activities to Get You Closer to the Nature

Best Activities to Get You Closer to the Nature

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get closer to the nature, you’ve come to the right place. Getting in the nature not only allows you to breathe in fresh air, but it also has been proven to improve mental health and wellbeing by reducing stress and anxiety. For self-described city people, venturing to the wilderness can be a bit daunting – but with the right activities, getting in touch with the nature and enjoying yourself don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Here are the things you should try to up your green game…

Scenic Walks

For those who never hiked before, scenic walks around your city can be a great starting point. Pick your favourite scenery, be it the coastline or the hillside. Make sure to research the distance and trek difficulty of your chosen route before embarking on the walk.

 

Kayaking

Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the waters for all preferences: a relaxing time for slow paddles and panoramic views, or a session to improve your upper body fitness with faster pace.

 

National Park Picnics

Visit your local national park and bring your loved ones for a picnic by a stunning lookout. You can enjoy the lush flora, dip your toes in the pristine waters and have a chance to spot local wildlife – what’s not to love?

 

Glamping

Don’t know how to build your own tent or create a bonfire? Worry not – now there are a lot of glamping options in Australia, allowing you to enjoy the outdoors without sacrificing comfort.