river red gums

News from the Front Desk: Issue No 396 – A letter to the editor during this chilly winter period about firewood gave pause to think. Even more so the beautiful photos of luscious red river red gums cut down to a nice neat size, perfect for feeding into the Coonara.

Can’t you just feel the toasty warmth after a hard day watching footy, feet up, glass of red wine at the ready, Barry Manilow on the stereo?

Well, that’s how the man who answered the phone at the company selling this winter dream put it when we called.

There are some people who only use wood to warm their houses, he offered enthusiastically, adding that it’s a great tradition. Sustainable too. Yes, wood produces more emissions than coal, sure but the trees can grow again, he said.

How long does it take a red gum to grow we asked? Is it 50 years? We hear that hardwood takes that long to grow.

“Naw, not that long.” So? “Can’t say, ask the boss.” (The boss did not return our phone call.)

So, this company is earning $330 a tonne for timber grown on its property. The man said there is an agreement with the NSW government to keep doing what it’s doing.

Our letter writer says the demand is so great the timber is going out green but the return to investors who bought into the lovely farmland producing the trees is green in a different sense, the lucrative green that comes from pillaging nature.

We omitted the name of the company in our coverage since a glance at Google will reveal countless businesses still selling felled trees to warm us, all over the place.

The Total Environment Centre’s Jeff Angel says it’s a big problem when there are so many other ways to stay warm.

Using timber for our built environment is fine, he says, if it’s from plantation timber.

WeWork and the meat ban

This week we heard that WeWork, the giant co-share office provider, has told its 6000 staff that it will no longer subsidise or pay back cost of meals that include meat.

The financial press seemed to go into meltdown, a great number of major newspapers reporting this shock announcement of a major corporate entity wading into hippy dippy land.

But has it?

Meat is a serious producer of emissions.

WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey said: “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact.”

Last year we reported that Australia’s meat loving diet is responsible for emissions 200 per cent higher than those of a typical high-income country thanks to our love affair with meat.

Now research from the US based Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy shows that the five largest meat and dairy corporations combined (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra) are responsible for more annual greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell or BP.

The institute also found that:

  • The combined emissions of the top 20 meat and dairy companies surpass the emissions from entire nations, such as Germany, Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom.
  • Most of the top 35 meat and dairy companies (16) either fail to report emissions entirely, or exclude their supply chain emissions, which account for 80-90 per cent of emissions. Only four companies provide comprehensive emissions estimates.
  • Less than half of the top 35 meat and dairy companies have announced any type of emissions reduction targets. Out of these, only six include emissions generated from the supply chain.
  • If the growth of the global meat and dairy industry continues as projected, the livestock sector as a whole could consume 80 per cent of the planet’s annual greenhouse gas budget by 2050.

If you want to know the humane cost of our dedication to eating meat you only have to think about those gruesome images of sending live sheep exports off shore with a huge number of the animals dying from heat street or other stress before they got to their destination.

Closer to home take a look at what’s happening to animals right now as NSW faces what’s being termed the “worst drought in 100 years” in The Guardian’s photo essay.

It’s a sobering wake-up call and you can’t help wondering at our determination to keep farming animals when the land says no.

In the media coverage about WeWork a whole raft of examples of big corporates starting to turn green or ethical or both, were trotted out as examples of the “next big thing”.

Bloomberg said WeWork was using the anti-meat edict as a branding gimmick. As part of the attraction for Millennials who want to work for ethical or sustainable companies.

So while in the past, glamour or the cool factor, might have been used as branding gimmicks today it’s environmental credentials.

Nothing wrong with that.

In other hooks in the war for talent we read of companies offering rewards for using public transport, composting food in the cafeteria or adding green roofs to buildings.

American Airlines and Starbucks both recently said they would phase out plastic straws, two buildings in London have gone “zero plastic,” and in Australia, we reported in recent weeks that some property companies are starting to insert lease clauses for retail tenants to mandate they get rid of plastic in their food offerings.

Food and veganism is a big thing though and according to the learned analysis following the WeWork news, food is a tribal signal to attract  like-minded people.

In the US veganism is soaring. An Australian dietitian back from visiting the US noticed that in Los Angeles restaurants veganism that reigns supreme.

Also in the US we see the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has mandated vegan-only food for its 80 staff in its Washington DC offices. And the WELL Building Standard latched onto the importance of food right at the start and mandates healthy café offerings for the highest scores.

This quote from The Chicago Tribune sums up the zeitgeist:

In today’s “meaning economy,” what we buy carries value-laden significance. It defines our identity and marks our tribe.

The shift from function to meaning as a source of economic value also shapes who works where. Instead of trying to be blandly inoffensive, workplaces embody the cultural values of their tribe. That’s why we see Google employees refusing to work on Defense Department projects or companies boycotting the National Rifle Association.

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  1. Viva las Vegans! I am trying again to reduce my animal industry complicity, but cheese is so tasty! Tonight i used aged cheddar and organic QLD dairy milk dandelion chicory tea as an entree to my deluxe vegan salad of zucchini, red capsicum, beetroot, ginger, bird’s eye chili, garlic, alfalfa sprout, rocket and toasted sesame(India), sunflower, pepita(china), had only a few bites of my olive oil balsamic dressed bounty and returned lustily to easting the cheese with some dark organic chocolate manufactured in Poland.
    I remember the menu being entirely vegan at the Students of Sustainability conference in Perth in 2002.
    My mum spoke of a gathering of the siblings last weekend laden with meats and dairy.
    Reorient or die in the dust. Or both.

  2. Hmmmm. I find your piece on timber wood fires is very unbalanced. I live in north-east Victoria & see first hand wood fires versus other heating forms. I think the most unbalanced part of the whole situation is the way that the timber is sourced. In my area, despite forests all around full of easy to access dead timber, the authorities go in & cut down a pile of living trees for people to use as firewood. If you go in & take some of the already dead timber you will attract huge fines. The powers that be would much rather choke us almost to death during the spring & autumn by having planned burns in those areas. Why waste this resource??? I am not saying that everyone should have a wood fire. However, look at the whole picture not just a small part of it. I would be very surprised if the green house gas emitted from people burning wood to stay warm was as great as that emitted from the governments planed burns.
    By the way, I have a blue-gum that was planted near my home about 15 years ago & its so huge I don’t know how council will get rid of it.