OXYGEN FILES stairs with people

OXYGEN FILES: October 24 was the UN’s official International Day of Climate Action, which meant for most member states there would be some actions, some events and probably some press releases. Here in Australia, it wasn’t even on the official federal Department of Environment and Energy events calendar.

But we did hear the thud of coal hitting the front bench again as a likelihood for publicly-subsidised new energy generation capacity. Guardian cartoonist First Dog on the Moon summed the whole shambles up quite well with a timely cartoon handily coinciding with Climate Action day,  Coal! It will not die OMG.

Elsewhere in the world, attention paid to the date included an announcement from Finnish renewable energy company Neste that it has just launched Zerobnb.com – an Air BnB type initiative focused exclusively on sustainable accommodation and travel options.

Its goal, according to the PR, is not to establish it as a long-term proposition, but to give a “gentle nudge” to the short-term letting giant that they should add a section for sustainable travel to their website. Once it does, Neste says its plan is to wind down its operation in the green travel space.

It does almost seem an oversight Air BnB hasn’t yet specifically addressed the sustainable accommodation space, as tourism players including Trip Advisor have long recognised there’s a major market for green travel options.

Talking about progress – and lack thereof

Climate Home News published a “time capsule” to make Climate Action Day – revisiting the moment 30 years ago, on October 24 1988, when Malta first put climate change formally on the UN agenda and tracing an overview of how global efforts evolved from that point.

The Atlantic published a long and extremely worthy read examining how climate change is already damaging US democracy.  (We can hear you suggest the major damage is due to the occupant of the Oval Office – but, maybe he’s a symptom too?)

Some of the analysis is quite specific to the property sector and rings alarm bells that will be familiar to Australian sustainability advocates in the smart city, resilient design and sustainable built environment spaces.

“The most immediate consequence of climate change won’t be an abrupt entry into an alien Anthropocene hell,” Vann R Newkirk II writes.

“It’s more likely to be a slow descent. Racial wealth gaps will increase. Racial health disparities will be exacerbated. Sprawling metropolises and rural hamlets alike will face steeper and steeper budgetary constraints (and could be forced to rely heavily on fees and fines to keep the lights on, a move that some cash-strapped local governments have already made and one that disproportionately affects poor or minority residents).

“Housing markets will continue to realign in favor of displacement and the creation of a migrant, renter class. Marginalized neighborhoods will continue to shoulder a majority of the environmental burden. Trust in government will continue to decline as it proves unable to help people plan for or respond to climate effects.”

Does suburban rail need parking?

Shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and cities Anthony Albanese recently published a thought piece at The Big Smoke suggesting that if there is a goal to get more people commuting into work from the suburbs by train, there needs to be more parking at the suburban stations.

He argues that the concept of “park and ride” only really works if there is sufficient “park”. Otherwise, when all the parking spots associated with the station are full, people park on neighbouring suburban streets, causing congestion.

Albanese says the promise from Labor is a $300 million Park and Ride fund if it gets elected, to enable state and local governments to expand parking at suburban rail hubs.

What could be even better is if those funds are tied to the installation of solar car parks – turning all those car spots that are merely occupied space during working hours into clean energy-generating assets. That’s the kind of joined-up-thinking it would be great to see out of Canberra.

The issue Albanese was raising also led to another thought, that perhaps some of the major masterplanned estate developers could be doing more in the way of “soft” social infrastructure.

Most of these estates now get their own website or microsite, which easily creates a platform that could be used to facilitate carpooling to the station for catching the train to work, carpooling for getting kids to school or other activities and car-sharing with neighbours for shopping, doctor’s visits and so forth.

UK MPs aghast at fast fashion

The UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has begun questioning the nation’s largest fashion retailers due to concerns about the sustainability impacts of high-churn clothing.

Environmentally, concerns include the millions of tonnes of clothing sent to landfill or incinerated annually; the increasing quantity of plastic fibres from textiles winding up in the ocean and in the gullets of the fish that live there; and also the emissions footprint.

Retailers are also being asked whether they are paying a living wage and taking steps to ensure there is no child labour in their supply chains.

Committee chairwoman Mary Creagh told BBC news that if the current catwalk-to-waste trajectory continues, the UK fashion industry will account for more than a quarter of the nation’s climate change impact by 2050.

“Three in five garments end in landfill or incinerators within a year – that’s expensive fuel! Half a million tonnes of microfibres a year enter the ocean. Doing nothing is not an option,” Creagh says.

Suggestions as to what Australia’s state of unsustainable dress is please send to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

Portland’s pitch for climate impacts redress

City leaders in Portland Oregon have recognised that while it is one of the US’s most sustainable cities, people living in lower-income neighbourhoods largely populated by people of colour are not gaining an equal share of the benefits.

So along with voting for federal senators next month, Portland voters are being asked to decide on whether the city will launch the Portland Clean Energy Fund.

The proposal is to put a one per cent surcharge on revenue earned by the biggest businesses in the city, which would raise an estimated $30 million. This could then be spent on clean energy projects such as installing solar and home weatherisation for the disadvantaged communities, along with improving tree canopy.

Portland is not the only place where a little something extra is being added to the Midterms ballot paper. In Washington State, voters will be asked whether they support the introduction of a carbon tax to apply to power plants, refineries and other specified emitters in the state.

In Arizona and Nevada, there is a ballot item that if endorsed would see power companies having to source 50 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources. There are also ballot items in several states relating to marijuana legalisation, minimum wage increases, and capping or restrictions on tax increases.

Why the ATA became Renew – and where to now?

The Alternative Technology Association recently rebranded itself as Renew, and chief executive Donna Luckman said there were some very good reasons for the change.

Among them the fact that the kinds of technology the organisation has long-supported are not a fringe pursuit anymore.

When the ATA first started in 1980, people had to “build their own” solar hot water systems and solar PV systems, Luckman says. These were the small band of early adopters who formed the core of the new organisation’s membership.

Fast forward 38 years, and there are now around 1.8 million Australians with solar on their roofs.

Other sustainability aspects the organisation promotes are also headed for the mainstream.

“We don’t want people to think that comfortable, sustainable and resilient homes are alternative,” Luckman says. “They should be normal.”

The organisation has also grown in influence and stature in the areas of research, policy and advocacy.

Luckman says the goal now is about far more than solar and other technologies. The aim is to “help households at every step of the way into sustainable living”.

As part of the rebrand, Renew has also launched a new website that includes tools and calculators for consumers to use.

We can expect to see its advocacy work also escalate over the next few years, Luckman says. While the organisation is still committed to helping people take “practical action” through information around what they can do in their own homes, what the organisation learns from this consumer engagement will be brought to political leaders.

The water conversation is also going to gain more attention, both in terms of saving water in our homes and in capturing more of it also, Luckman says.

“We are aiming to renew all Australian homes so they are affordable to run, comfortable to live in, have decreased emissions and are resilient to the changing climate.

“In Australia we have the technology, the skill and the knowledge. We have no excuses.”

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