Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Investing in a fair food supply: Insight from Britain

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on July 25th, 2012


Photo by Sue Peacock via flickr cc

From Food prices are at the mercy of global pressures that we struggle to control by Jay Rayner:

“But if it doesn’t happen, if Britain doesn’t do more to feed itself, if it doesn’t do more to support struggling sectors such as the dairy industry, we will be left at the mercy of the international markets. The food price rises we would see then would be excruciating.”

The British like cows. We like to see them in fields and regard the dairy industry as much more than merely a part of our food system. Rolling green fields filled with the familiar dots of black-and-white Friesian hide are a key part of our cultural identity. Which explains why, late last week, Twitter came alive with demands from far beyond the farming community for us all to get behind the nation’s dairy farmers in their fight for a fair deal. The announcement by the major processors of a 2p per litre cut in the amount they would pay for milk has pushed the farm gate price well below the average of around 30p per litre cost of production. Dairy farmers, who have been suffering for years, are being pushed to the edge of bankruptcy.

The irony is that too many of the problems in the British dairy industry have been caused both by patterns of consumption by those very same consumers who are leading the charge and by the way they have connived, albeit passively, with the supermarkets to keep prices low. But that is only a part of the story. For the problems experienced by British dairymen are actually representative of something much, much bigger: it’s about the way our national food supply has been left at the mercy of huge international pressures from increasingly volatile food markets.

If the dairy industry were simply a vertical business model involving the retailers paying the cost of production to farmers plus a little bit more, these issues would not exist. Unfortunately it isn’t. The price of milk is dependent on the European market price for its cream component and it’s the value of that which has collapsed. In June of 2011, it was £1,800 a tonne. Now it’s just over £1,000 a tonne. A sudden surge in demand for dairy in the past few years as a result of an emerging, milk-loving, middle class in China resulted, almost inevitably, in global over-supply. Few of us drink whole milk these days and the skimmed-off cream – sold to the cheese, butter and yoghurt markets – has become a vital part of the business model for the processors, which needed it to offset the brutal deals offered by the likes of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. It is the collapse in the value of cream that those processors are now passing on to the farmers.

Of course, in an ideal world, dairy farmers would break their contracts with those processors and find a different model, but they can’t. They have nowhere to go.

The savage, grossly irresponsible way the supermarkets have forced dairy farmers down on price has also put independent processors out of business. And consumers, apparently delighted to pay £1.18 for a four-pint bottle of milk, haven’t helped. Indeed, for all their talk, consumers show huge reluctance to pay more. For 15 years, Booths, the small, family-owned supermarket chain in the north west, has offered Bowland Fresh, a brand of milk sold at a premium – 52p a pint as against 49p – all of which goes back to the farmers. It accounts for just 10% of sales and has never gone beyond that.

The way a little-known international market in cream is impacting upon dairy farmers here is not a one-off. Our food supply system is now entirely global and exactly the same shocks are being felt elsewhere. In May, as the G8 met at Camp David to talk about plans to tackle chronic malnourishment in the developing world, concerns were expressed that commodity prices were heading towards historic highs not seen since the food price spikes of 2008, which resulted in murderous riots and export bans across the world.

Late last week, those historic highs were breached. In 2008, corn spiked at $287 a ton; last week, spurred on by drought conditions in the American Midwest, the futures price went to $340 a ton. In 2008, soyabeans hit $554 a ton; last week, a ton was costing just shy of $660. For the moment, the prices of the primary food security crops – wheat and rice – remain down on historic highs, but there are fears that if the corn harvest suffers further, then prices in wheat and rice will follow.

These are not abstract issues for money men and markets. They affect people at the bottom of the economic heap. Right now, for example, there is an acute food deficit problem in Yemen. People are starving in their millions. Children are dying. The problem is not a lack of food. There is food in the country. It is that the economy has collapsed to such a degree and food prices have risen so high that people cannot afford to feed themselves. Aid groups such as Oxfam say they are as likely to be handing out hard cash in Yemen right now as they are food aid.

In Britain, we will also feel these shocks. For example, corn and soyabeans are primary livestock feed and with the Chinese and Indians ramping up their meat consumption the cost is bound to shoot up.

The real issue is that, just as with the dairy industry situation, we have no protection from this price instability because of the behaviour – once again – of the British supermarkets. In the early 90s, the UK was more than 70% self-sufficient in food. Today, many experts believe we are down to just 50% self-sufficiency. The reason: the major supermarkets have been so vicious on prices paid to farmers that huge numbers have left the industry.

Pressed on the issue, the British Retail Consortium, speaking for the multiples, points to a recent report listing the grants they have made to fund studies on environmental sustainability and waste-reduction. This, they say, proves supermarkets are investing in British agriculture. Nonsense. It’s pennies compared to their vast profits and nothing compared to the imperative of paying British farmers a fair price so they can genuinely invest in British agriculture for the future. This may mean price rises for the British consumer, and in a week when we have heard more than we may ever wish to about the boom in food banks, that may sound unpalatable.

But if it doesn’t happen, if Britain doesn’t do more to feed itself, if it doesn’t do more to support struggling sectors such as the dairy industry, we will be left at the mercy of the international markets. The food price rises we would see then would be excruciating.

Be in no doubt: the current crisis in Britain’s milk business is not an isolated incident. It’s a warning.

>>Read the original article by Jay Rayner on the Guardian.

Learning from European Cities

Posted in Models, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on July 12th, 2012

 Source: The Fifth Estate

Photo by Jason Pier in DC via flickr CC

From “Sexy … as in small: the European angle on cities” by Robin Mellon, Green Building Council Australia (GBCA):


In Australia, we have borrowed much from Europe in the evolution of our cities, not least some of the names. But the majority of Australia’s urban development has occurred during the era of the motor car, and so our towns and cities are much less dense and much more sprawled. And with that broad expanse of country on which to build have come larger and larger homes.

On a worldwide scale, Australia already has five of the 20 least affordable cities, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2012 Worldwide Cost of Living survey. Energy prices are rising fast, mostly due to under-investment in infrastructure over the past 25 years, and water and landfill charges will be tracking in a similar direction.

Europe is similarly undergoing its own financial worries, with significantly higher levels of unemployment, inflation and national debts than Australia. But can we learn from our European cities? What have I taken away from the last few weeks? The lessons I’ve learned can be grouped into four areas:

It’s not the size that counts.

First and foremost is the question of building size – it really isn’t how much you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts. Many of the offices, houses and apartments I saw were simply smaller – there was less space available and a much greater demand for what there was, and so small apartments were the rule rather than the exception. There were also many more good design and good technology solutions for coping with small spaces – whether new development or retrofits. The bottom line is that smaller homes are cheaper to run – how much less would a 100 square metre apartment cost to operate than a 150 square metre apartment?

Small equals savings.

The cars you see in European capital cities are also smaller on average than those in Australia. Whole days would go by without me seeing a big 4WD or people-mover, with everyone using bicycle share schemes, public transport or chic little cars (many of which were, in turn, either car share schemes or rechargeable cars). Small cars are just cheaper to run, and often have a comparable safety rating to larger cars, especially when considering where and how they are most often driven.

Old world ideas for a new age.

Most of Europe’s older buildings were built at a time when ‘sustainability’ was not a buzz-word – they depended upon natural ventilation and natural daylight, shading from the sun, eaves, shutters, balconies on which to grow plants, dry washing and sit outside, and thick walls and insulated roofs to keep the buildings cool in summer and warm in winter. Many of these older buildings, therefore, have good opportunities for retrofitting, now that we can combine good passive design with good technologies and good behaviour.

Adjusting expectations.

Because smaller apartments and cars, and often older buildings, are the norm, people have different expectations. Sure, they might want the latest in modern convenience, but what was most readily available was small and traditional and so the expectations were lower. Certainly the dreams of a European first-time home owner do not equal a 250 square metre house and land package with double garage thrown in, but a small apartment in a walk-up block close to public transport. In Europe I heard many times that the percentage deposit needed for a mortgage was much higher; in turn this helps to keep expectations lower because the smaller the purchase, the smaller the deposit needed.


Read the full article by Robin Mellon on the Fifth Estate.

True costs of imported food in Australian supermarkets?

Posted in Movements, Opinion, Policies by Kate Archdeacon on June 1st, 2012

Source: Food Magazine

Photo by Tait Schmaal in an article for Adelaide Now about the damage imported processed food is doing to local growers.

From “Where does the food sold in Australian supermarkets really come from?” by Jessica Burke:

One in every four grocery items now sold in Australian supermarkets is private label and of those, about one in two is imported.

The Age has conducted an investigation into the state of the supermarket sector, and the results would not surprise anyone in the Australian food manufacturing sector. It found the rate of imported food products is increasing at a rapid pace, as the only way for the companies to provide their ridiculously low prices is to buy food produced in countries by cheap labour.

South Africa and Thailand, two countries notorious for lacking in workers’ rights and having extremely low wages, are two of the markets commonly used by the cheap food retailers in Australia.  Researchers from the Australian National University embarked on a mission to follow the supply chain of many private-label products sold in Australia, which found them in South African fruit processing factories and canned pineapple facilities in Thailand. “One of the canneries made private-label products for over 100 supermarkets,” researcher Libby Hattersley, who inspected the South African businesses, told The Age. “They just slap the retailers’ label on it and send it out to them.”

Differing food safety laws a risk for consumers

While the ethical issues involved with sourcing food from such countries are becoming increasingly important to consumers, there are various other issues involved with these systems.

“[No Australian food manufacturers] can survive in this environment, most places I’m going, they’re even competing with their own plants in other countries, if the Malaysian or Chinese plant is going better, they have to compete,” Jennifer Dowell, National Secretary of the Food and Confectionary division of the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union (AMWU) told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“The problem with that is that people aren’t comparing like with like.

“We produce food to a very high level and what is being imported from overseas needs to be the same quality.

“There needs to be more regulation and better testing for what comes into our country.

“If food is imported from a high risk site, like China, that will undergo testing, but not if it’s from New Zealand.

“The way the import laws work in New Zealand mean that they can import a product from China, put it in a bag in New Zealand and ship it to Australia as a ‘product of New Zealand.’

“If we try to export to other countries we face huge barriers, but we have removed all the barriers for others getting food into our country.”


Read the full article by Jessie Burke for Food Magazine.

Energy, Transport, Housing & Summer Reading for the PM: Grattan Podcasts

Posted in Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 22nd, 2011

Source: Grattan Institute

Photo by El Pei via flickr CC

Australia’s energy future was considered in a seminar series that Grattan Institute ran jointly this year with the Melbourne Energy Institute. Webcasts are available for the final two seminars on the future of solar power and transport.

Grattan’s report Getting the housing we want was launched on November 21 by Cities Program Director Jane-Frances Kelly in conversation with former Victorian Premier, John Brumby.  Transcripts and recordings of the launch are available, as is the report.

Every year Grattan Institute produces its Summer Reading List for the Prime Minister. The list contains books and articles that we found stimulating and a pleasure to read, and that we believe the PM, or indeed any Australian, should read over the break.  Watch the launch or download the reading list.

Cost-Effective Distributed Energy Systems in Australia

Posted in Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 15th, 2011

Source: Climate Spectator

Photo by twicepix via flickr CC

From It’s time for a smarter grid by Giles Parkinson:

Imagine for a moment that you are the head of a large group of network operators, faced with a decision about what to do about rising peak electricity demand. And you are presented with a choice: invest $2.6 billion over five years on upgrading your network – the route you would normally take; or spend a comparable amount on solar power and energy storage, distributed throughout the network.  This was the question posed by Professor John Bell, of the Queensland University of Technology, and Warwick Johnston, a leading solar analyst with Sunwiz, when they sought to find out if there was a better way than the traditional response of building more poles and wires to cope with rising peak demand.

Using Queensland network operator Energex as an example, and its forecast peak demand growth of 1.25GW over the five years to 2014/15, the study analysed the existing approach of spending $2.6 billion augmenting the grid, or investing a comparable amount in either 25GWh of storage, or 1.25GW of solar PV and 10GWh of storage.  The study concluded that a combination of battery and solar PV produced a far better outcome, because of the ability to generate revenue from the energy produced, and the use of battery storage to resell energy. Over a five year period, the net present value (NPV) of the poles and wires solution was negative $2 billion, while the NPV of the solar/storage solution was negative $750 million. But because these could produce revenue over a 20-year period, the solar/storage had a positive NPV of $2 billion over a 20 year period.

Bell and Johnston say the main take-home messages from this are that the integration of distributed PV and battery storage into the existing energy system has the potential to be cost effective now, and it underpins the case for reform of the National Electricity Market, to ensure that distributed generation is fairly treated and that network providers are encouraged to opt for the solutions that have greater market benefit, rather than simply being least upfront cost.


>>Read the full article by Giles Parkinson on Climate Spectator.

>>Read about VEIL’s work on Distributed Systems.

Do we have a Plan B? Exhibition: Fishmarkets in Japan

Posted in Events, Opinion by chardman25 on October 24th, 2011

27 October , 2011
6:30 pm

“Scientific paper, after scientific paper that I read all seem to present the simple statement – that our oceans are dying and we are killing them. The oceans are the life force that keeps our planet alive – yet it has been predicted that we will have wiped out all the life in the oceans by 2049.  This is within my lifetime – and this is just one of those things which keeps me awake at night.  I wonder: Do we have a plan B?  What shall we humans do, once we fish the last fish?” Georgia Laughton

In February 2011, Georgia went to Taiji Japan for a month to photograph the annual 6 month-long dolphin slaughters.  Planning to return in September 2011, the day prior to her arrival back in Kii Katsurra, a typhoon struck this area – with a death tally of more than one hundred people. With the town in crisis, a plan B for her time in Japan was launched – and time was spent in Tokyo exploring and photographing the fish market there.

Do we have a plan B? is graphic and confronting images of Georgia’s exploration of fish markets in during her visits to Japan – and she poses the question: Do we have a plan B for when we kill the ocean?

Do we have a Plan B? is showing at one hundredth gallery between 26 October and 6 November.

Opening night October 27, 6:30pm

one hundredth gallery is located at 49 Porter Street Prahran (between greville and commercial) and is open Wednesday – Friday 11-7  and  Saturday – Sunday 12-5.

Seven Billion: It’s Getting Crowded in Here!

Posted in Events, Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 7th, 2011

12 October , 2011
6:15 pmto7:30 pm

Photo by bricoleurbanism via flickr CC

High density living is great for the environment, right? But what does it do to our heads and hearts? The Australian psyche was moulded by the myth of the ‘wide brown land’, so what might life packed like sardines look and feel like? With the world’s seven billionth person is about to be born, can we learn from the Asian megacity experience? And will we still be sharing a cup of sugar with our neighbours? As the population debate gets mental, we’re going in search of the soul in urban sprawl.

Hosted by Natasha Mitchell and featuring Kim Dovey, Helen Killmier, Bernard Salt and Sein-Way Tan.

Presented in partnership with ABC Radio National.  Free event, bookings highly recommended.

The Wheeler Centre, 6:15PM – 7:30PM, Wednesday 12 October 2011

Encouraging Sustainability-Related Behaviours: Transport

Posted in Movements, Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on July 8th, 2011

Source: Awake

Image: Richard Drdul vial flickr CC

Getting People from A to B: This is the second in a series of articles summarising research into efforts to encourage specific areas of sustainability-related behaviours.

There is little doubt about the benefits of reducing the amount of travel that people undertake in cars. Decreased traffic congestion and pollution, more exercise, and less need for expensive infrastructure investment are just some of the positive societal outcomes of more people choosing alternatives to private car travel.  For some people, driving is almost the only choice, such as where there are significant structural barriers. A lack of public transport infrastructure is an obvious example. However, for a large proportion of car trips, internal perceptions and motivations appear to be the main barrier. For instance many studies have shown that up to half of car trips are less than 2km in distance. It is these situations, where perception and motivation are the key barriers, which offer some of the best opportunities to increase non-car travel.

Those wishing to encourage more sustainable transport choices face a number of challenges. For a start, car use is a classic “social dilemma”. Social dilemmas occur where there is a clash between immediate self-interest and long-term collective interests. People generally gain a lot of personal benefit from driving their cars. The car gives them flexibility, speed, privacy and comfort, all of which are highly desirable attributes. By asking them to give up their car for the sake of such things as reducing pollution and infrastructure costs, we are asking them to act for the good of the whole community. The other option is to be able to demonstrate the personal benefits of the proposed alternative, to the extent that these outweigh the benefits of car use.

Which leads to the next significant barrier to car use – habits. It has been clearly demonstrated that transport choices are highly habitual. This means that they are behaviours which are undertaken repetitively, with limited decision processing each time. We decided a long time ago that this was the best way to get from A to B, and now we no longer have to think about it each time, instead just relying on a kind of unconscious autopilot to direct our behaviour. In fact, a study found that the stronger a persons travel habit is, the less time they spend examining information presented to them about different ways of travelling. As a result, even if the personal benefits of public transport rise considerably, people with a strong car habit are unlikely to seriously consider or even notice, as they are generally not consciously deciding on mode of transport. For example, an improvement in local public transport services may simply go unnoticed by those who are committed to driving. In a review of this subject, leading Danish researcher John Thogerson concluded that “due to the force of habit, decisions may be repeated even though important conditions have changed and made a non-chosen alternative more preferable”.

A third factor which works against the adoption of car alternatives is the gap between knowledge and behaviour. While providing information about the consequences of car use and possible alternatives can increase peoples awareness of the issues, this does not have a strong relationship with the likelihood that they will change their mode of travel. One particular study which attempted to change transport behaviour resulted in the following finding. “Some powerful methods of influence available in psychology were used: individually directed feedback, dealing both with environmental and financial consequences, self-registration, and commitment. Nevertheless, no change in actual transport behaviour was brought about. These measures proved insufficient to stimulate drivers to leave their cars. The car is too strongly linked to feelings of independence and convenience for that to happen”.

So we are up against some pretty significant barriers when it comes to convincing people to change the way in which they get around. Fortunately, there are some things which work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Share: Country & City in Australia

Posted in Opinion, Visions by Kate Archdeacon on June 15th, 2011

Image: MargaretNapier via flickr CC

For many decades Australia was the country that rode on the sheep’s back. No more – now we are a country of mining and services. In the new Wheeler Centre Quarterly Essay, one of Australia’s most original and respected political thinkers, Judith Brett, looks at what this has meant for the country and the city in our politics and culture. What will be the fate of rural and regional Australia in an era of economic rationalisation, water cutbacks, climate change, droughts and flooding rain? Does urban Australia care for or understand the country anymore?

The Wheeler Centre, 6:15PM – 7:15PM, Thursday 16 June 2011

Free event; recommended to make a booking.

Climate Change Is Real: an open letter from the scientific community

Posted in Movements, Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on June 15th, 2011

Photo: California Academy of Sciences, the line attributed to Wallace Broecker, Scientist, by jinxmcc via flickr CC

The Conversation launches a two-week series from the nation’s top minds on the science behind climate change and the efforts of “sceptics” to cloud the debate.

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes. Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. The magnitude of the problem was given a chilling focus in the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, which their chief economist characterised as the “worst news on emissions.” Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people. A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity. At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes. Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts. Beginning today [Sunday June 13], The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.” For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based. The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence. The signatories below jointly authored this article, and some may also contribute to the forthcoming series of analyses.

Are you a scientist? Do you agree? If you’d like to add your name to the list, send an email to The next installment in our series is from Karl Braganza at the Bureau of Meteorology. The greenhouse effect is real: here’s why.

Go to the original article on The Conversation to read the list of signatories – it’s far too big to include here!