Breana Macpherson-Rice is the administration assistant for Refraction Media. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Management)/Bachelor of Arts at UNSW.
In 2014 I started my studies in environmental science at university, bright-eyed and practically bursting with excitement. In hindsight, I estimate this enthusiasm lasted for all of about 20 minutes before the sinking feeling began.
With an array of classes focusing broadly on pollution, extraction and emissions, my peers and I were quickly depressed by the speed at which the Earth appeared to be careening toward destruction. It was bleak, but, as you will notice, I made it to the other side of my first year. This is an achievement I attribute to a number of stories from around the world that replenished my stores of ‘warm-and-fuzzy-feelings’, ensuring I had enough to draw upon to provide motivation for everything from getting out of bed to hitting the books. I thought I would share a few….
1. Australia could be powered by 100% renewable energy if we really wanted it to!
Before I started at uni, news about renewable energy rarely reached my ears, so you can imagine my amazement when I discovered that a fully renewable Australia is actually viable! A study conducted by UNSW researchers demonstrated how a sourcing energy from a variety of technologies while being sensitive to demand could achieve a 100% renewable energy grid in Australia. It also found that this could be a very competitive option if a carbon pricing mechanism is employed.
2. Indigenous Australians were quite possibly the world’s most knowledgeable and efficient ‘farmers’.
Dispelling the myth that Indigenous Australians were simply ‘hunter gatherer’ people wandering about this massive continent, Bill Gammage’s book The Biggest Estate on Earth is as fascinating as it is important. Forget ploughs and paddocks; the first Australians,armed with a massive volume of knowledge about the natural world, used fire as a tool to holistically manage the entire continent.
Read: The first farmers
3. A bright yellow blob of cells is challenging our notions of intelligence and giving us planning advice for infrastructure.
What is intelligence? The answer to this is being further complicated by slime mould, a funky yellow single-celled organism that behaves in a remarkably smart manner considering the absence of anything resembling a brain in its amorphous shape. Capable of discerning health values of food and speedily plotting the most efficient routes to food sources, this organism is now regularly employed to give us a little bit of advice when mapping cities’ public transport systems.
4. Big vats of algae could be the solution to clean fuel for Australia’s future.
Who would have thought that algae could provide a solution to cleaning up our fuel-guzzling habits? It has been discovered that some microalgae strains are ridiculously efficient at producing biodiesel, making them possibly the only renewable source of fuel that can satisfy our hunger for the stuff without taking up precious arable land.
5. Combining the internet with the sandpit adage ‘sharing is caring’ could be the start of global solutions to consumption and waste.
With the internet providing instant access to users across the world, it is no surprise that there is a massive online space being devoted to websites and apps that exists solely to facilitate the swapping of goods. Additionally, initiatives like Uber and Airbnb are transforming this to a service level, revolutionising the way we think about property in a process that often works out cheaper for the user and the environment – a win-win!
6. The data crisis in developing nations is being solved by teens with mobile phones.
Lack of data on social and environmental issues is widely recognised as a massive challenge faced by enacting development and planning, especially in economically developing countries. New technology from the UN means that young people can use their mobile phones to help map issues that surround them, in a method that empowers locals and democratises the map-making process – not to mention that it sounds pretty fun.
7. Some TLC and elbow grease can reverse the environmental stress associated with intensive agriculture.
Problems with soil salinity, acidification and erosion are familiar to agricultural communities across Australia and the world, often causing a lot of grief. However, more and more case studies are proving that these effects can be reversed with a bit of thought and support, such as the Chikukwa Project in Zimbabwe, which used concepts of permaculture to transition the community from hunger to abundance.