Tagged environment

Welcome to the world of cloth nappies

Buying cloth nappies is a complicated business. There are many different styles, different materials and brands. Prices vary from dirt cheap ($2 a nappy) through to insane ($50+ for a custom nappy. Yes, there are such things as custom nappies.).

The first time I bought cloth nappies, I spent around $14 a nappy. Unfortunately, these nappies started leaking regularly and falling apart. Within a few months, the retailer had sent some replacements that failed again. I’d say by the time Mia was a toddler, she was in cloth nappies half the time, disposables the other half, and we were doing a lot of laundry.

A pile of cloth nappies on a blue sofa. The nappies are brand new and in solid colours.

These are the cloth nappies that Mia used for 2 years.

I have since found out that these nappies have a reputation. They are identical to the dirt cheap generic nappies, but someone has rebadged them and inflated the price. Really, I got the worst of all worlds. Cheap product, high price.

The experience undermined my ability to recommend cloth nappies to anyone. However, in my nappy research for Lana, I have learned that good quality nappies:

  • Do not leak
  • Last overnight
  • Last beyond one child and can be resold to recover much of the upfront cost
  • Look completely different to the ones I had first bought

So here is the new nappy stash. These are handcrafted in Australia, made of bamboo and come in ‘everyday’ and ‘night’ versions. I paid around $25 per nappy, which is a very good price for a handcrafted nappy.

A pile of colourful and black cloth nappies on a white couch. The nappies are new. Some are smooth and some are furry.

These nappies fit both Lana (newborn) and Mia (toddler). Mia uses them only for nights now, as she is day toilet trained, YES!

I hope to write more about the environmental and cost implications of using cloth nappies. The benefits of cloth over disposable are not clear cut (unless you buy renewable energy and use your nappies for more than one child). There is also a lot to be said about the cloth nappy community (yes, there is such a thing) and the clash of cloth nappy cultures (yes!! There is an ongoing war at the heart of the cloth nappy community).

Bottom line: Budget for around $18-30 a nappy. That’s how much a good quality nappy costs. It will save you a lot of heartache and laundry to buy nappies that don’t leak.

If that sounds too costly to you, have a think about the cost of disposables over the 2+ years that your children will be in nappies. Think about doing cloth nappies part time. Also, seriously consider buying second hand. The second hand cloth nappy market is huge on Facebook. If you want help linking up to the right groups in Australia, get in touch.

World’s biggest flower, Titan Arum

‘Okay, Joan, we’re coming over to the city to see the flower!’

My mum was on the phone. Last night, I had excitedly called her to say that the world’s biggest flower had started blooming in the Botanic Gardens. It was the first time in the seven years that the Gardens had been looking after it.

The flower is the Amorphophallus titanum. Wikipedia describes how the  shorter and more widely used name, Titan Arum, was coined.

The popular name “titan arum” was invented by the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough for his BBC series The Private Life of Plants, in which the flowering and pollination of the plant were filmed for the first time. Attenborough felt that constantly referring to the plant as Amorphophallus on a popular TV documentary would be inappropriate.

It is also called the ‘corpse flower’ because it smells like rotting flesh. That makes it attractive to beetles and flies, which help it to pollinate.

Such is the difficulty of getting Titan Arum to bloom that Wikipedia has a list of publicised titan arum blooms in cultivation. When I looked at Wikipedia on Boxing Day, the Melbourne bloom wasn’t listed yet. It’s now there and I feel proud that I knew about it before Wikipedia and the news media.

See? You don’t need to be constantly on Twitter to get the scoop. You just need to live next door to the news action and stumble across it by accident on a public holiday.

The queue to see Melbourne's Titan Arum

The queue to see Melbourne’s Titan Arum.

We arrived at 10:30 and waited around 25 minutes to get in. Our family and friends who came later in the day and the following day had a one hour wait.

Titan Arum bloom in Melbourne

Inside the Tropical Glasshouse.

Here is the bloom. You see the green stalk-and-leaf plant to the left of it? That’s another Titan Arum plant. I understand that each plant can take one of two forms: the stalk or the flower (inflorescence). We’re lucky that one of them decided to be a flower.

The Sunrise camera crew films the flower

The Sunrise camera crew films the flower

Sunrise and Channel 10 were in the glasshouse the whole time we were there. The Age went one better and put together a time lapse video of the flower opening up overnight.

Not landfill

I was walking to the Monash University engineering department when this shocking sight confronted me.

Rubbish in front of the engineering library

Rubbish in front of the engineering library

Oh no! Someone spilled a rubbish bin and it’s going everywhere! …Hey, wait a second… The bin is half buried in the ground.

Yep, it’s an art installation.

In front of Matheson Library

In front of Matheson Library

Snake on a road!

I’ve been working on a construction site. As we were driving yesterday, we were stopped in our tracks by an eastern brown snake. It was big — about five foot, or as long as I am tall. It fat, as thick as my wrist.

It was also deadly. The eastern brown snake is the ‘second most toxic land snake in the world’, according to Wikipedia.

We got out of the 4WD to take photos. The snake looked at us for a while, then darted very fast into the grass next to the road. It was beautiful and wriggly.

Sunbathing on the road -- snake

Sunbathing on the road -- snake

We use the zoom lens -- these things move fast!

We use the zoom lens -- these things move fast!

Ah, look at its beady eyes

Ah, look at its beady eyes

Deluge of autumn leaves

In London, I see autumn leaves on a scale you don’t get in Australia. In some places, I walk shin deep in red, orange and brown leaves.

London’s neighbourhoods are beautiful right now. However, I do feel sorry for the street sweepers. During the rest of the year, they’re clearing up litter, dog poop, pavement pizzas and cigarette butts. Now, on top of their usual duties, they fight an unwinnable battle with leaf litter.

The sweepers fill their rubbish carts with red, orange and brown, and the next day, the trees have re-layered the roads and footpaths.

The sweepers’ only respite is winter, when the branches of deciduous trees are exhausted and bare.

There is one other thing about the leaves that makes me worry.

You see, when leaves fall and naturally decay, the nutrients go back into the earth. At the same time, carbon dioxide is released. This doesn’t contribute to climate change because when leaves grow back in spring, the tree re-absorbs the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What I worry about is that all those leaves collected by all those street sweepers will go to the rubbish tip. This must happen because the sweepers are still picking up litter. No one is going to separate the leaves from the litter.

In a rubbish tip, the rubbish is stacked in layers and capped every night so that the rats and pigeons don’t make a mess. This means that organic material like leaves have no oxygen. Instead of decaying (aerobically) and releasing carbon dioxide, the leaves will decay (anaerobically) and release methane.

Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Over the next two decades, this methane released will trap 72 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Even after a hundred years, methane is still 25 times more potent than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

I wonder if anyone else has been thinking about this.

Volunteers

I read that a potential with green roofs (growing plants on a roof) is colonisation by ‘volunteer plants’.

Volunteer plants! That’s the best phrase for weeds, invasive species, non-native flora that I’ve ever heard.

The ‘indefensible’ 5% target

Since the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper was released on Monday, I have been perplexed.

It had all been going so well. Kevin Rudd (my Facebook friend) fulfilled my little heart’s desires when he ratified the Kyoto Protocol. After seeing Penny Wong speak in London, I was so impressed that I adopted her as my hero.

But now this — the unconditional 5% by 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. Five per cent? Did I hear correctly?

On the face of it, it seems so pitiful, so unambitious. I didn’t understand! And until I understood Kevin and Penny’s rationale, I would withold condemnation.

Today, I read through the executive summary and selected chapters of the White Paper.

Now I understand.

Before anyone protests or supports this scheme and its target, please, please take the time to read at least the executive summary to understand the key details. (In fact, I beseech you to do this for any issue on which you wish to express an opinion.)

5% from what baseline?
My first question was what the baseline year for the 5% reduction was. The Kyoto Protocol and European Union policies (with which which I am most familiar) are based on 1990 emissions. So when the UK says it’s aiming for a 26% reduction by 2020, it’s compared to the 1990 baseline year.

Our 5% target is from a 2000 baseline year. After looking through our greenhouse inventory and the ABS, it turns out that this is not much different to the 1990 year (although the Australian Government have argued that 2000 is a more challenging baseline).

Year Net greenhouse gas emissions
(tCO2e)
Australian population Net greenhouse gas emissions per capita
(tCO2e/capita)
1990 552 648 000 17 million 33
2000 552 813 000 19 million 29

tCO2e — tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Other greenhouse gases are converted into the same global warming impact as a tonne of carbon dioxide. For example, over 100 years, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide so one tonne of methane is 25 tCO2e.

Why our 5% is worth their 20%
The Government believes that a 5% cut by Australia represents the same effort as the European Union’s 20% cut because of this key point: Australia’s population will grow by 45% between 1990 and 2020, while the EU’s growth has flatlined during the same period. You can see how it is harder to stabilise (or reduce) emissions while your population grows. Each additional person will produce additional emissions through his or her direct consumption (electricity, heat, food, goods) and employment activitiy.

So the logic is that if Nations A and B set the same target, and Nation A’s population doubles, then Nation A has to work twice as hard as Nation B to achieve the same absolute reduction in emissions.

Table E1 of the White Paper executive summary compares Australia’s total and per capita reduction commitments with those of the EU, the UK and USA. I’ve reproduced it here.

Country 2020 targets 2020 per capita reduction

2050 targets

Australia 5-15% below 2000 levels (4-14 per cent below 1990 levels) 27-34% below 2000 levels (34-41% below 1990 levels) 60% below 2000 levels (60% below 1990 levels)
European Union 20-30% below 1990 levels 24-34% below 1990 levels 60-80% below 1990 levels
United Kingdom 26% below 1990 levels 33% below 1990 levels 80% below 1990 levels
Proposal      
United States (proposal of President-elect Obama) Return to 1990 levels 25% below 1990 levels 80% below 1990 levels

60% by 2050
The White Paper states that the Government is still committed to reducing emissions by 60% by 2050 (presumably from the 2000 baseline). This is in line with the EU and, until recently, the UK (who just this month set itself an 80% target by 2050). I am not sure how the Government expects to ramp up from 5% to 60% reduction over 30 years, and I will be looking at the strategy if/when it is released. However, I believe that getting the emissions trading scheme established is an important structural change to the economy. It could be the thin edge of a giant wedge of change.

20% renewables by 2020
I was worried that the 5% target would not be big enough to transform the energy market to support competitive renewables. Although emissions trading is the Government’s main climate change mitiation measure, I am relieved that there is a separate target for renewable energy — 20% of electricity supply by 2020. This isn’t as ambitious as it could be but at least the commercialisation of renewable energy is recognised as a strategy to be specifically managed.

Credit where credit’s due
I wish to give credit where credit is due. When it is implemented, Australia’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) will the broadest in the world. Below, I’ve compared it to the world’s first scheme, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).

  Australia CPRS EU ETS phase 1 (2005-2007) EU ETS phase 2 (2008-2012)
Coverage of greenhouse gas emissions 75% 40% 46%
Participating sectors Energy activities, transport, leakages/losses, industrial processes, waste and forestry* Energy activities, ferrous metal and mineral industries, pulp, paper and board activities As for phase 1, plus a number of new industries (e.g. aluminium and ammonia producers)
Greenhouse gases included All six Kyoto Protocol gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons Carbon dioxide Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons

* Excludes agriculture and deforestation (17% and 10% of emissions in 2000, respectively)

It is useful to note that the aim for Phase 3 of the EU ETS (post-2012) is to cover all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including aviation, maritime transport and forestry.

In non-conclusion
My quick review of the White Paper has led me to conclude that the Government’s proposal is defensible in terms of international standards for action on climate change.

However, please note that I have made no comment on:

  • the justness or effectiveness of relying on a (single) market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • the adequacy of the targets set by the EU, UK and US (to which Australia claims parity); or
  • the reliability, desirability or controllability of the population projections that have led the Government to its small absolute target.

But I am relieved that there is a logical basis for the 5% target, which I can now explain to those people who are equally perplexed as I was.

Bibliography
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001), ‘A century of population change in Australia’, Year Book Australia: 2001, catalogue number 1301.0, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002), ‘Population size and growth’, Year Book Australia: 2002, catalogue number 1301.0, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Carbon Trust (date not given), ‘The EU Emission Trading Scheme’, last update not given, Carbon Trust website, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Carrington D (2008), ‘Australia pledges to cut emissions by up to 15%’, The Guardian, 15 December 2008, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Department of Climate Change (2006), ‘Australia’s National Greenhouse Accounts’, 2006 inventory year, online emissions database available here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Department of Climate Change (2008a), Carbon pollution reduction scheme: Australia’s low pollution future, White Paper, 15 December 2008, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Department of Climate Change (2008b), ‘Australia’s renewable energy target’, Department of Climate Change website, last updated 17 December 2008, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

Dimas S (2005), ‘EU climate change policy’, speech at the Conference of National Parliaments of the EU and the European Parliament, 21 November 2005, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008

European Commission (2008), ‘Questions and Answers on the Commission’s proposal to revise the EU Emissions Trading System’, press release, 23 January 2008, available online here, accessed on 18 December 2008