By Michael Mobbs
17 March 2011 – Have you ever walked across a paddock and had to pick your way around patches of Bathurst Burr to avoid being prickled by them?

Anyway, for those who wish to get to the other side of this Bathurst Burr, here are a little patch of Burrs to avoid as you go about reading your latest issue of The Fifth Estate.
Mind your step if you read on, there are little Burrs to keep you on your toes.

Burr 1: How little we know
Once again I’ve been brought to a moment of silent wonder at how much I don’t know and how much our Aboriginal elders do know about the Australian bush.  Read this note to me from Frances Bodkin explaining it a little more to me:

“The Australian bushland is not merely a mass of plants growing next to each other, but is rather a community within which there are relationships between organisms that sometimes are not immediately obvious.

For instance, the relationship between ants, butterfly larvae, butterflies and certain trees:
The ants care for and transport the butterfly larvae from the galleries within the ants’ nest where they stay during the day, to the tops of the trees where they feed at night. At daybreak the ants bring the larvae back to the nest gallery and clean them.

After sunset they take the larvae back to the treetops.   When the larvae pupate the ants care for and keep the chrysalids clean until the tree begins to flower, then the ants carry them into the treetop where the butterfly hatches out and is attracted to the flowers where it sets about pollinating them.“

Our universities, in particular the landscape architecture faculties, and our TAFEs, are uniformly ignorant about this fundamental dynamic of our bush.  So, not knowing about it, they don’t teach it.  And they don’t ask Aboriginal elders to teach it for them – what would they know, they’ve never been to university?

So we get trees in cities which don’t have plants with them they have a vital association with and depend on to flourish.

Burr 2:   Does climate change exist on the point of a pin?
In the last Burr I quoted 2004 research which suggested the Gulf Stream and The Great Conveyor belt may slow down due to climate change. See report

A reader correctly pointed out that I failed to mention 2010 research which reinterpreted the data and concluded these rivers in Earth’s oceans were not slowing down.

The reader is correct; there is a more recent opinion that says one of the two ocean rivers, the Gulf Stream, is not slowing down. Sorry, and, thanks.

My omission is a handy example of how data and science can distract us away from getting on with our life, and with loving our Earth to health.

The point that catches my eye here is that, six years apart in time, scientists and experts can look at the same data and come to different conclusions about it.

This exchange reminds me how little we understand how Earth functions as a system of systems.  To do other than our very best to show her as much respect, gentleness as we draw on – to seek to do her no harm each day we live – this is what’s at the heart of my daily bread.

We must treasure these two mighty rivers of Earth’s oceans without which our civilisations will quickly disappear.  And study them closely.  We do know that when the Gulf Stream failed a long time ago Earth slid into an ice age in a few months.

That we have never ruined or saved a planet before. Yet we behave each day as though we are experts about the business of saving a planet.

Truth is, none of us, expert of not, know what to do to sustain life on Earth.  A little humility seems handy for this Burr, and my fellow thistles, flowers and experts.

Thanks again, dear reader.

Burr 3: Pig Iron Bob lives on
During World War II soldiers gave the former Prime Minister who’d sold iron ore to the Japanese which they’d turned into guns and ships that were used on Australian soldiers the derogatory nickname, “Pig Iron Bob” (Sir Robert Menzies).

If we applied the same thinking to today’s politicians who allow ever more coal to be dug which is coming back as increasingly extreme weather and bringing us costly floods and droughts what might we might call them? “Fool’s Gold Tony”?  Or “Floods ‘n’ Droughts Julia”?
Burr 4:  The stupid country
Australia has two of Earth’s dirtiest power stations where poor grade coal is burnt and the air pollution from them is as massive as it gets from these things.  Both are in Victoria – at Hazelwood and Yallourn.

Who owns them?

A British company, International Power, owns Yallourn, and a Chinese company, TRUenergy, owns Hazelwood.

So.  Let me get this right.

Our leaders, Crap Science Tony and Floods ‘n’ Droughts Julie want to pay compensation to British and Chinese companies to stop them burning our coal and polluting us?

Ah, but it gets better.

Australian banks lent most of the purchase monies to the British and Chinese companies to buy the power stations.  They paid very little of their own money and bought in the late 90s when everyone knew about climate change, and the likelihood of coal fired power stations being turned off.

Now, how do you suppose the mortgage documents are crafted?

If the companies fail – for example, if the power stations are wound down without compensation – the debt stays with the Australian banks.  That is, the banks can’t seek repayment of the outstanding debt from the head offices of those companies in England or

China where the profits are going.

So, in addition to leaders who want the royalties and jobs from an Earth-threatening industry, coal mining, we have banks silly enough to lend billions of dollars on terms which make them losers if the polluting businesses are closed down.

Got to love that planet, our pollies and banks don’t.

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who advises, teaches and speaks on sustainability issues. He works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy.
Michael Mobb’s book “Sustainable House 2nd Edition” has sold out its first print run, but new copies are expected soon. Place your order through

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