Planes

What of the jet-setter, setting into the sun with aspirations of seeing the world, learning about it and making it a better place? Our flights are currently carbon-belchers, polluting the jet streams with their emissions. A lot of these aforementioned passengers would likely welcome in zero-carbon flight with wide-flung, open arms, but I bet the majority are not designers or engineers of that particular variety and so they must rely on someone else making that travel aspect of their lives more aligned with their values, even if they can’t depend on themselves to do it. Ah, the beauty of community and teamwork.

The same goes for the person driving all around the Queensland coast, studying how tropical reefs off-shore are suffering from ocean acidification caused by too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. That person may wish to commute by more environmentally-friendly means, but perhaps a bicycle cannot get them as far as they need to go within the time frame they have for their research and their passion is not driven in the direction of fossil fuel-free automobiles. This is the crux, you see.

I speak to so many brilliant minds who truly want the world to be a better place; they care about the planet and very much want better options for transport, energy and the like but still use their old ways to get around and live their lives because there is not a feasible alternative that they can walk into a shop and buy yet.

So what answer is there? The average Joe/Jane cannot do everything, even if he/she wants to. Sure, a person can read up on engineering and brush up their math if they want to learn how they can make a difference in that department. They could learn to dive and tackle wave energy as just one of numerous renewable energy resources; they could invest their time in installation and studying the impacts of such on marine life. They could delve into sociology and psychology, compiling a volume of information on human behaviour and how to lead people if politics is somewhere they see themselves thriving. But perhaps what they were really born to do was create art in the form of plays, movies, landscaping, thatch-roofing, or tattooing and therefore what would make them happiest is to spend their time doing these things – offering a service to welcoming recipients.

There are two ways that these sustainable changes will occur amongst us as a people. The first is that they will be implemented top-down. The masses will campaign to such an extent and with such uniformity that the government will have no choice but to tweak its protocol to that of the people finally after a history of bullshitting their way to more cushioned surroundings and higher stacks of cash.

The second is that more and more people will take themselves off-grid and begin their own self-run communities entirely isolated from mainstream society. This will involve teamwork and honest communication above all else in order for it to work, as well as depend on private land for these communities to claim home on.

So in the meantime, what is there for the person with the desire to jet set, which will further their research, expand their mind, and connect them with like-minded folk? Is that person simply to sit at home or only venture to the realms within cycling distance? No, of course not! We must move with the times, evolve with the times and this navigation is a construction process with a positive outcome on the horizon; it’s just a bit like some real-life construction scenarios where something has got to be demolished before an improvement takes its place.

Welcome to Part 3 of my ‘Troubled Tides’ series. Check out parts 1 and 2 if you didn’t catch them a while back. The aim of this series is to shine light on three of the most detrimental activities happening to our planet’s water right now. Today’s final post will be focusing on ocean acidification – probably the lesser known of the three topics I’ve covered, but absolutely catastrophic if it continues at the same rate.

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Dead zones

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Smothered and covered

Did you know that our oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? I don’t remember learning that in school. In fact, it wasn’t until I got into my Marine Biology degree that I realised the extent of this problem. You see, we’re told about plants and how important they are for their CO2 absorption and O2 production during photosynthesis, but considering our planet is mostly water, what happens to all the rest of the CO2 that is the excess to what our plants are capable of absorbing?

The answer is that over a third of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the oceans. Now, this is fine so long as equilibrium is maintained. If harnessed by the algae living in the water to use for photosynthesis much in the same way as the plants do on land, with not much overflow, that’s not a problem really. But what about if there is overflow – and oh boy, is there; where does that go?

What happens is that it gets absorbed into the water itself, creating a chain of chemical reactions that produce an excess of H+ ions as an end result. You’ve heard of the term pH before, right? So pH refers to the acidity of something (the more H+ ions in a solution, the more acidic). That means, the more CO2 absorbed by the oceans, the greater the number of H+ ions floating around and therefore the more acidic the water body becomes.

Now, because our planet is always happiest at equilibrium, our oceans try to do something with all these excess H+ ions so as to keep the pH stable. Some of the alkaline carbonate (CO32-) molecules that are lingering around will bond with these H+ ions, forming bicarbonate. This steals free carbonate from the water, meaning there are less of these ions for calcium (Ca2+) to bond to. Now why is this important?

The problem is that our oceans are full of life. And that life, much like us, is sensitive to pH. You’ve probably heard the term ‘pH balanced’ thrown around on the commercials for some of your cosmetics; that’s because if we’re going to put a product on our skin, we have to ensure that it isn’t too acidic or alkaline for our skin to cope with. You’ve heard of acid burns, right?

Our oceans are full of calcifying organisms – organisms that build a protective shell for themselves, like plankton, molluscs and corals. These organisms used calcium carbonate (CaCO3). So if there is a decrease in CO32_, that means it is harder for these animals to make their shells. And worse, if there is a real excess of H+ ions, causing this whole imbalance, shells that have been built will actually start to dissolve, to free up CO32-.

These organisms essentially have their homes disintegrate right off their backs, leaving them vulnerable and unable to survive. This leads to extinctions, repercussions in the food chain and dead zones. If animals can’t survive in these conditions, we lose the beauty and abundance of our oceans. This affects us so deeply, because a planet with a 70% dead zone is no planet of beauty.

So what can we do about it? The key, as you know, is to stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere! We have got to cut it out with fossil fuels: the gas, oil and coal. We need to stop with the deforestation. We want our land masses to be filled with as many plants as possible, to absorb as much of the atmospheric CO2 as possible, limiting what our oceans have to face. The leading causes of deforestation include agricultural plantations such as soy bean and palm oil, as well as cattle ranching.

Be careful what foods your diet consists of. Pay attention to the ingredients label and try to only eat things if you know where they came from. Try to consume more of a plant-based, local diet. Try to explore renewable resources for your energy supply and transport. And lastly, educate yourself. Knowledge is power, so clue yourself in on what is going on and why it is going on, as this is the best tool to contribute to solutions.

On Friday night I watched the brilliant Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo in the film of the same name. His portrayal as Trumbo was genius, as I expected it would be, but there was a profound message I took away from that production that haunted me still when I awoke to the gusts of rain and wind yesterday morning. That message is this: is it worth doing the ‘right’ thing if you lose everything you hold dear in the process?

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I won’t spoil the plot, but the film tells the story of Dalton Trumbo and his persecution for being a communist in Hollywood in the 1940’s. During the process of standing up for what he believed in, he was sent to prison, almost destroyed his high-rolling movie career and wreaked turmoil amongst his friends and family by isolating himself.

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Although worlds apart, I could very much relate to this inner battle that he faced. It is the reason I have pursued veganism and other seemingly ‘environmentally-friendly’ lifestyle choices: a deep-rooted desire to do what is right. Well, I should rephrase that to what I think is right. And this is just it: we are all equally entitled to our own opinions about what is best for the planet. And we also all have our own limits, don’t we? I have taken a look at myself and decided that I’m willing to compromise on diet and cosmetics. But I still enjoy the home comforts of gas and electricity and so destroy the planet in this way by consuming fossil fuels. I’ll also hop on a plane and fly across the globe at a moment’s notice, should the opportunity arise.

We all have our limits, we all assess what we can feasibly do to make ourselves feel better about how we live our lives, but bask in denial about the things we don’t want to let go of. It’s also a matter of fine-tuning the formula that allows you to achieve greatness; let me elaborate by giving three examples of people all living very different lives, but all with pure intentions to better the planet:

  1. Joe lives in a treehouse in the woodland. He hunts and gathers all his own food and his electricity runs off of power from a water wheel that he constructed himself. Joe’s ethos is about getting back to being one with nature and living the rustic life. The downside is that he’s pretty lonely living so far away from other people.
  2. Jeanette resides in London. She lives an organic, vegan lifestyle and is a health coach. Jeanette flies all over the world giving inspirational talks about healthy eating to encourage people to get off of their fast food binges and consume whole foods once more. She lives in a modern, smart house with energy efficient features, close to her downtown office. She needs to be central so that her clients can visit her easily, but the downside is that she misses the stillness of the countryside.
  3. Jack runs a pub in a small, English village. He lives above the pub and walks or cycles everywhere. His pub sells a variety of food, of which the meat and eggs are free range and he’s passionate about reducing and recycling waste. As such, there isn’t a single-use piece of plastic in sight and the pub recycles all of their packaging. The downside, however, is that he doesn’t always see the nicest side in people, considering how much alcohol is in the vicinity and how many use that poison as an escape. Jack struggles with carrying the burdens of others on his shoulders.

Who is right? Who is trying the hardest? Who is setting the best example for the next generation? We will all disagree and this is the crux. We can only do what feels good to us, because what feels good is our unique formula for happiness and the more people that are happy as a collective are what will lift up the spirits of this planet.

As I near the end of my first week of learning about and partaking in all things vegan, I’ve had a whole new perspective on things. I’m not talking about some greater mental clarity as my body is detoxified or any of that garbage; I’m referring to the back and forth that I’ve had with myself regarding perfectionism.

Whether in the workplace or amongst friends, I’ve been engaging in discussions either about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, or seeking advice from those with experience. Everyone has their own opinion; some have called this mission of mine stupid, others admirable, but mostly I’ve faced intrigue from friends and colleagues that had never considered it themselves.

A big lesson that I’ve learned this week is that I’ve got to be careful where I draw the line with my lifestyle. Some of you may know that I partook in the Marine Conservation Society’s #Lifewithoutplastic challenge earlier this year. Essentially, I tried to live without one-use plastics for a month. It was very eye-opening and challenging and I must admit that whilst I tried to continue with a life free of waste after that month, I reverted somewhat, simply because I felt like I was missing out on some things that I truly craved. I had to compromise on going in a direction that felt a tad bit too restrictive to me – restrictive and isolating.

It’s really easy to become obsessed with wanting to do more and more because you feel an overwhelming urgency to save the planet; before you know it you’re living in the jungle amongst the wildlife, foraging for your own foods and totally isolated from all the people you once knew; all in a quest to be the perfect human and live harmoniously with everything else on the planet. This, however, does not equal happiness necessarily.

If I were to continue with my veganism and try to live a life void of waste, I’d be restricting myself in a way that I really can’t see me being comfortable with right now. Some of the products that I can buy with ease which aren’t derived from animal ingredients happen to come in plastic packaging. That is just how it is. Now, I could look at buying as many products as possible loose from markets, however not all food groups are going to be covered here necessarily and it is really important as a vegan to ensure that you’re getting adequate nutrition from your diet. I feel like I can’t do both.

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It’d be really different if all product packaging was biodegradable. That would mean that I could go to any of my local shops and purchase all the foods that I need to maintain a balanced diet, without having to worry about the repercussions of the packaging that I’ll be taking home and throwing away, adding to landfill. And changes like that have to come from our ‘leaders’. It has to be the only option for manufacturers. Business is business at the end of the day, and the figures have to work in a way such that profits are maximised – at least in the society we currently find ourselves in – and thus if plastics are the cheaper packaging option, that will be the choice.

If it were law that all product packaging must be biodegradable, the consumer would not need to concern themselves with the repercussions of what they buy. They would be able to focus purely on buying the ingredients they desire to make the meals they pine for. Real change, it seems, needs to come from the top down.

I’ve realised that I can’t do everything right. And it frustrates the hell out of me, because I know I strive for perfection, as many of us do. I can buy fair trade and support that market, but the product may be packed in plastic which pollutes our environment. I can buy apples that are loose, but may have been doused in pesticides that are killing our bees. I may be rejecting leather, but then the easiest alternative might be a man-made, non-biodegradable option. You can’t win at everything.

There’s still so much to learn and I see this whole process as trial and error, because I’m human and that’s really all I can do. I’m leaning heavily on researching the consequences of various choices and friends who have experienced the things that I’m debating. I have to accept that striving for perfection at the cost of all else is somewhat narcissistic and probably definitely won’t make for a life I can look back on and truly be proud of. I don’t have all the answers right now, but I know they’ll come with time; I’m on the road to somewhere and that’s better than being left curb side.

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I’ve decided to embark on what I think is a wise pursuit; that pursuit being veganism.

Over the past 10 years I’ve been pretty experimental with my eating habits. I was raised by a mother who loved to cook and in multiple different countries and as such have a broad spectrum of favourite dishes. However, I also try to stay educated on nutrition and our environment, so have tried out a few different things along the way.

The first was vegetarianism which I embraced for a year or two in my early teens, around the same time that I volunteered in an animal shelter and was adamant that I was going to save all the animals in the world from slaughter. This lifestyle diminished and I resumed a somewhat ‘normal’ diet, although I suppose if you placed me on the spectrum I’d be on the healthier end.

As I got into my late teens and educated myself on environmental issues, it became more important to me to think about where my food was coming from than eliminating any one particular food group. I placed emphasis on dramatically reducing my consumption of fish due to learning about our oceans’ decimated stocks, and also focussed on free range wherever possible. Again, I was healthy, but probably the most I’ve ever weighed due to thinking it was OK to indulge so long as the food was ethical, regardless of the sugar content!

About 5 years ago I was under immense stress and although at the time blinded to the impacts stress was having on my stomach, I made a decision that I still stick by to this today, which is the avoidance of dairy. How does it make sense to drink another animal’s milk?! I also tried out the very faddish gluten-free thing, but found it totally pointless when I came to my senses.

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Head here for Milk 101

Over the past couple of years, I would say that I have had a pretty healthy diet. I never eat fast-food, I only buy meat and eggs if they are free-range, at least 60% my daily intake is vegetables, and I always have a dairy-alternative in my fridge. I’m ready for something bigger though; something that can truly make a difference.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I could not recommend Cowspiracy enough. It puts forth an enticingly strong argument about veganism that simply cannot be denied. If you want to help a planet at crisis point, forget trading your car for a bike and taking shorter showers; reconsider the meat you consume, specifically how much water it took to produce it and how many natural habitats have had to be decimated for agricultural practices along the way.

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Rainforest replaced by pasture land – North Queensland, Australia

I can completely see the appeal in diets comprised of lean meat and vegetables for our well-being, but the issue is that our planet cannot sustain that diet for everyone. It’s no good being told to live like the ‘cavemen’ did in hunter-gatherer times on a paleo diet if the planet’s population has exploded since then. We simply do not have the means to support everyone evenly like this, which is what we should aspire to do.

We can, however, support everyone on a nutritious plant-based diet. It takes far less land, water and resources and you are able to absolutely thrive on it. But, like any kind of regime, education and preparation are key. Luckily, I have experimented with vegan food in the past, and as I mostly consume vegetarian dishes during my week, am happy without dairy anyway and could easily ditch eggs, I’m on track to a wholesome vegan diet.

Yesterday was my Day 1 and it wasn’t entirely vegan. I just tried to be aware of exactly how many animal products I encountered and avoided them where possible. Habits take time to change and are much more likely to last if you implement change gradually. I’m also taking the opportunity to record interesting recipes in a dedicated journal, so that I ensure I keep mealtimes exciting and delicious. In addition, I’ve been researching the best bites in town for days that I want to have a treat and let someone else do the cooking.

When you live in an environmentally-conscious city – such as where I’m based – you have everything at your disposal to make a vegan lifestyle choice. The only thing to stand in the way is yourself. I’ve only just embarked on this exciting change, so any tips from veterans are much-appreciated. Please point me in the direction of your favourite online resources as I’m trying to be like a sponge and absorb as much information as I can. Non-vegans, if you take one thing away from this, it would be to watch the brilliant Cowspiracy; I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t get you reconsidering things.

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