Category Archives: Planet

How Palm Oil is Killing Orang-Utans

Photo by Michaël Catanzariti

Photo by Michaël Catanzariti

Palm oil production is the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia – threatening the survival of critically endangered orang-utans, as well as tigers, elephants and rhinos.

What Is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is used for cooking in developing countries, but in developed nations it’s mainly used in soaps and cosmetics. Oil palm trees are grown only in the tropics. The industry has boomed in these developing nations as oil palms produce a far higher yield at a lower cost than other vegetable oils.

The Environmental Cost

Unfortunately, the palm oil industry’s quick expansion comes at a huge environmental price. In South-East Asia, approximately 300 football fields worth of forest are destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations. Much of the forest is cleared by burning, thus releasing more carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing the earth’s ability to reabsorb it.

The Threat To Orang-Utans

This deforestation is particularly bad news for our close relatives: the orang-utans. Since oil palms grow best in the lower wetlands favoured by orang-utans, about 80-90% of their natural habitat has already been cleared.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates there are just 54,000 Borneon orang-utans and only 6,600 Sumatran orang-utans left. To make it worse, around 1000 orang-utans are killed each year by deforestation. The Sumatran orang-utan is now critically endangered and will be extinct in the wild within the decade if things remain the same.

Orang-utans are slow-moving apes who live in trees. When the rainforest is burned to clear land for plantations, many of these animals are literally burnt alive in their homes. Most of the time they cannot outrun the engulfing flames. In addition, plantation owners in certain areas of Borneo and Sumatra see orang-utans as pests and shoot them on sight.orangutan

We Can Help

We have power as consumers. When we band together we can put pressure on companies to source sustainable palm oil that does not contribute to the continued destruction of the rainforest. You can help by:

  • Supporting environmental organisations like WWF and Greenpeace
  • Signing petitions
  • Sending emails/letters directly to cosmetics and soap companies
  • Boycotting products made with unsustainable palm oil

Consumer Power Works!

Last week, P&G – the multinational company best known for Head & Shoulders – gave into pressure from consumers and environmentalists. They have vowed to remove deforestation from their supply chain by 2015. Woo hoo! Read the full report here.

If we continue to put pressure on major producers who source palm oil, plantations will be forced to become sustainable in order to stay in demand. In this way, we can give the remaining orang-utans a fighting chance at survival.

If you want to avoid palm oil altogether, check the ingredients list carefully. Palm oil can be disguised under any of the following names…

– Palm oil kernel
– Palmitate
– Palmate
– Elaeis gunieensis
– Hydrated Palm Glycerides Hexadecanoic
– Palmitic acid

Let’s save these beautiful creatures before it’s too late!!

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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Planet


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Fishing Our Oceans Dry

Precious marine life is being continually ravaged by unsustainable fishing practices – like bottom trawling and long-lining – to the point of endangerment. If overfishing continues at this rate, scientists predict we will have no more seafood to eat in as little as 50 years.


Unsustainable Fishing

Much of the commercial fishing industry is creating this problem by:

  • Exceeding quotas set by scientists in order to maintain current fish populations.
  • Catching vulnerable or endangered species.
  • Bottom trawling – a fishing method which rakes a huge net across the ocean floor, pulling up any and all marine life. Other fish, turtles, dolphins and sharks are needlessly slaughtered and thrown back dead.
  • Long lining – another unsustainable method  resulting in similar consequences as bottom trawling.

According to WWF, “The global fishing fleet is 2-3 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support.”

Possible Solutions

Fish Farming

Many people believe fish farming is a good alternative to catching endangered wild fish. In theory, it is a great idea. However, the kinds of fish people like to eat are large predator fish (e.g. salmon and tuna) that feed on smaller fish like herring and anchovies. In order to farm large fish, vast quantities of feed fish must be caught; it takes approximately 5kg of feed fish to produce 1kg of farmed fish. In this case, smaller fish are now overfished, negatively impacting their marine ecosystems.

Marine Sanctuaries

Marine reserves – areas where no fishing is allowed – are a great way to preserve ocean life. Unfortunately, marine reserves only cover about 0.6% of the world’s oceans. Additionally, most governments are reluctant to create more marine sanctuaries, instead opting to support their fisheries departments. It would be wonderful to see more marine reserves arise for the sake of seabed life, coral reefs and many fish species.

Sadly, even marine sanctuaries cannot protect migratory fish species, which are some of the most overfished.

Consumer Boycotts

The most viable solution seems to be boycotting unsustainable fisheries. While a great number of fisheries partake in destructive activities, there are still some sustainable fish/fisheries. You don’t even need to forgo seafood, just particular brands and sources. By following this route, we hope that demand for endangered fish will eventually go down and the industry will stop overfishing. For more information on which fish to eat (without devastating the marine environment!) check out Greenpeace’s sustainable seafood guides.



The biggest obstacle we’re facing now is that  people don’t realise this is a problem. How can we expect help in fixing something that no one knows is broken?

If people saw elephant or rhinoceros meat on a menu, they would surely be up in arms about it. Many are simply unaware that species like blue fin tuna and monkfish are currently fighting for their survival.

We need to raise awareness about critical fish endangerment.

For a more thorough look at the current marine situation, I strongly urge you to watch The End of The Line documentary. Here’s a little trailer to pique your interest…


Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Planet


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Renewable Living

The western world’s current energy usage is unsustainable. Personally, I have been trying to make changes to minimise my carbon footprint, including:

  • Adopting a vegetarian diet;
  • Turning off lights and appliances when not in use;
  • Taking public transport whenever possible;
  • Living in a small space;
  • Recycling;
  • Composting when available;
  • Buying sustainable/organic products when possible;
  • Minimising heating/air-conditioning; and,
  • Minimising water usage.

I thought I was doing pretty well, but I recently did an ecological footprint test and found out… If every person on the planet lived like I do, we would need 1.2 earths!

Honestly, I was shocked at the result. Here I was thinking my lifestyle was sustainable, but in actuality I have a ways to go. While my extensive travel over the past year would have dragged up my score, I was still caught off guard.

I urge you to take the footprint test. The results may surprise you.

Making small personal changes does help; my final result was considerably lower than the USA average. Check out the infographic below to see the extent of western un-sustainability.


Radical Change Is Needed

I see now that personal lifestyle changes are not enough. A massive energy overhaul is necessary to protect and restore our planet. These changes start in the home; it is our prerogative to implement radical change.

To find solutions, we first need to identify the problems. Here are just some of the un-sustainable practices used in western homes:

  • Extensive electric/gas heating and air-conditioning
  • Electrical grids fed by fossil fuels
  • Watering large non-edible gardens and grass
  • Obtaining all water from the water corporations
  • Large McMansions

Such practices are wasting our non-renewable natural resources – e.g. coal, oil and gas. It is so silly, especially considering the abundant renewable energy sources available to us.

The Shift to Renewable Living

The shift towards renewable living practices has already begun, but it requires greater involvement to make a real difference. Let’s quickly explore some sustainable practices being implemented around the world and how they can be furthered…

Renewable Energy

solarpanelIn Iceland, 85% of energy is from renewable sources. Geothermal energy is readily available thanks to the country’s many hot springs and tectonic activity.
Unfortunately, despite their green energy, Icelanders still have a big ecological footprint due to other environmental factors.

We can’t all harness the power of geothermal energy, but every country has a unique natural environment with the capacity for renewable energy. For example, Australia has plenty of sunshine and open space for solar panel “farms”.

Renewable energy is being halted in part due to the set-up costs. In my opinion, the financial cost pales in significance compared to the environmental costs of non-renewable energy. Rather, it would be a financial and ecological investment for our planet’s future.

Tiny Houses

The tiny house movement has taken off in recent years as people begin to realise they don’t need the prescribed big house (and big mortgage!) to be content and fulfilled. Many westerners live in luxurious, large spaces well beyond their needs (and means).

Living in a tiny house can drastically reduce your carbon footprint as you have a much smaller area to air-condition, heat, light and power. Tiny houses also allow for going “off the grid”, to further minimise your energy consumption. I tried out tiny living for 5 months last year and can truly vouch for it.

If tiny seems too drastic, small houses are also viable options. Take a look at for some beautiful examples of micro, tiny and small living spaces. Prepare to be inspired!


Sustainable Building

Sustainable building practices are becoming more popular. One particularly awesome building methodology is earthship biotecture. EarthShip houses – built from recycled tyres, natural clay and other recycled/upcycled materials – are self-sustained structures complete with edible greenhouse gardens, rainwater systems, natural insulation and waste systems.

For more info, published this amazing, picture-laden post on EarthShip homes a while back: 10 Reasons Why EarthShips Are F!#%ing Awesome.

Diagram of an EarthShip house

Diagram of an EarthShip house

Rainwater Collection

Simply collecting your own rainwater is a great step towards sustainable living. This is especially true in drought affected areas like my home town. Collect fresh drinking water and reduce your water usage (and monthly bill)… Sounds pretty good to me!

Crazily enough, some states in the US have banned rainwater collection. You might recall hearing about a man in Oregon who faced a prison sentence for just collecting rain. See a short video about it here.

Together we can reduce our energy consumption and make sustainable changes to save the planet.




Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Planet


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How To Overcome Language Barriers

When you’re travelling you meet a lot of people who don’t speak your language; but that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate. There are so many ways to communicate (and make friends) that don’t involve talking. It’s simple to rise above language barriers and broaden your possible friend pool. Here are just a few techniques I’ve learnt during my time on the road, in hostels, at festivals and even in my hometown:

Make Music

Music is the universal language. You probably can’t speak deeply with your Portuguese, German, Japanese and French speaking friends at the same time – but you can absolutely create beautiful music together. Music doesn’t require ordinary language. Learning a little about keys, melodies, beats and chords will give you the musical “grammar” to converse with a wide array of people, regardless of their native language. Jamming brings you closer together and you’ll experience the same connection (or better) as a good conversation provides.

Not so musically talented? Get some maracas or a kazoo! Don’t take music too seriously, you don’t need to be Jimi Hendrix to get involved in a jam. Relax and be yourself. Everyone else will enjoy your fun, carefree approach to music. If that still seems too daunting, just sit and actively listen. Good music requires a good audience too.



Unsurprisingly, dance comes in right alongside music. Even if you speak a little of your new friend’s language, chances are you won’t be able to understand them over the speakers at a party/festival. So, instead of forcing a conversation… Dance together, link arms, spin people around in circles. A little physical contact goes a long way in making personal bonds. Plus, dancing is the best fun!



You know how kids make friends so easily? It’s because they play together instead of trying to find some affinity through words. Playing helps you share a moment with someone and relate on the same topic. Play sports, chess, cards, board games, hoop, juggle, spin poi or twirl fire – whatever your plaything of preference. The people you are playing with already share an interest with you, so you already have an affinity. Since many games have well-known rules, you can just get down to the playing part. At the end of the day, bonds made through playing games together are just as good as the ones made through conversation.

Playing games also helps you learn other languages. By seeing or showing a physical action, people can easily tell you their own word for it. Likewise, you can teach others some of your language.


Share Experiences

Explore your travel destinations together. You don’t need to speak the same language to go on a hike, head to the beach, do yoga, swim, mountain-bike, sky-dive or bungee jump! Sharing amazing travel experiences like these can bring about long-lasting friendships. These people will always be in your memories.


Use Body Language

Enjoy the silence and communicate using your body. Smile, laugh, make eye contact, pat someone on the back or just share a quiet meal together. A lot of what we express is non-verbal, so make the most of that. You can share some really lovely moments with people without a word passing between you.


There’s no need to avoid striking up a friendship with someone just because you speak different languages.


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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Planet


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[perma]Cultural Evolution

Current industrial-agricultural methods are often destructive, wasteful and unsustainable; this goes for animal, grain, fruit and vegetable farming practices. These unsustainable methods include:

  • Vast clearing of natural landscapes
  • Stripping soil of its nutrients, ultimately rendering it useless
  • Depleting groundwater supplies
  • Using fertilisers that pollute our land, water and air
  • Factory-farming

Consumer culture demands copious amounts of crop and animal products, so we can all go to the supermarket and buy whatever we desire. While this practice may work on a small scale, the global population is growing by the day. Supply will need to increase, and the quickest/cheapest way to achieve this is by using unsustainable methods. This is the basis of our entire economy, so we can safely assume this trend will continue. However, if  demand keeps growing and we continue these practices, eventually we will deplete the earth’s finite resources.

How do we fix this? We need to remember that human beings are a part of nature, not apart from nature. We need an agricultural system that reflects our true place within nature. Cue: permaculture.


Photograph courtesy of Srl

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture was popularised in the late 1970s by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. They recognised the unsustainable nature of industrial agriculture and set out to remedy the situation. Thus, permaculture was born.

Permaculture, a contraction of “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture”, is built upon 3 core ethics:
Earth Care – Restoring the soil, water and air to its best state so that it can continue to support life;
People Care – Encouraging self-reliance, personal responsibility and community growth; and,
Fair Share – Taking only what we need and sharing surplus.

12 Design Principles of Permaculture

Want to know more? Permaculture is a broad field, that cannot be easily reduced to a few paragraphs. That said, the major principles of designing any permaculture system are a great place to start. David Holmgren outlines these principles thoroughly in his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, but I will just give a brief summary. For more information, click on the icons beside each principle.

1. Observe & Interact
Pc-Icons-Principle-1Natural environments are all different. That is to say, there are no blanket rules for sustainable design; we need to observe and understand our personal situation in order to create a suitable design. This principle also encompasses “being one with nature”.

E.g. You may notice that rainwater pools in certain areas of your yard. By this principle, you would use that knowledge to your advantage and plant vegetation there that thrives in such an environment.

2. Catch & Store Energy
Pc-Icons-Principle-2There are plenty of free, natural energy sources available to us. This principle highlights the need for harnessing natural power and storing it for future uses.

E.g. Sunny places can utilise solar panels to catch the sun’s energy. Solar power systems also have the capacity to store energy for cloudy days.

3. Obtain a Yield
Pc-Icons-Principle-3Make sure you are getting something from your hard work. There is no need to buy something, say tomatoes, from a shop every week if you have the perfect place to grow them for yourself. Of course everyone’s yield will be different, depending on their personal situation. The important thing is to obtain something.

E.g. Someone living in a small apartment can still grow some herbs on the windowsill and obtain their own yield.

4. Apply Self Regulation & Accept Feedback
Pc-Icons-Principle-4It is important to constantly assess our impact on the earth, people and fairness. It is equally crucial to be open to feedback about our actions. We look back at older generations and wonder how they could have made such poor environmental decisions, but we don’t want future generations to do the same. We can assess regulate our global impact ourselves.

E.g. Taking note of unnecessary personal energy usage and making a conscious effort to reduce it.

5. Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services
Pc-Icons-Principle-5Mother Nature provides us with an abundance of resources, we just need to know how to use them. This idea is about reducing the amount of non-renewable resources we use, and increasing renewables options.

E.g. Horse-drawn ploughs use the horse’s energy instead of burning precious fossil fuels. They also require smaller spaces between rows of crop, meaning less wilderness needs to be cleared for the same yield.

6. Produce No Waste
Pc-Icons-Principle-6Essentially the old adage: “waste not, want not.” Why do we throw so much stuff onto landfill when we could use it here and now? Our society is becoming more conscious of this principle but it is still important to remember. Reduce, re-use, recycle!

E.g. Composting kitchen scraps to use in the garden, using food scraps to grow more food.

7. Design From Pattern to Details
Pc-Icons-Principle-7Wild ecosystems have evolved in certain patterns, like fractals, that allow them to thrive. We need to replicate these patterns to use as the foundation for sustainable design.

E.g.When walking through the wilderness, one does not come across 100 rows of fruit trees (like we see in agriculture), and for good reason. Ground vegetation and shrubbery are important for returning important nutrients to the soil. It follows that our gardens should follow similar designs.

8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
Pc-Icons-Principle-8In other words, working together to achieve results. Too often, people shut themselves inside their homes, becoming so focussed on their individual existence that they don’t even know their next door neighbour. Community is essential to permaculture.

E.g. Community gardens are the perfect example. Not everyone has the time or space to grow much, but community gardens are the perfect remedy. All it takes is a little cooperation.

9. Small & Slow Solutions
Pc-Icons-Principle-9Permaculture cannot be achieved overnight. The idea is to make small changes often. To reference Aesop’s fable, be like the tortoise and not the hare.

E.g. If you start by planting one or two vegetables, soon enough they will be flourishing and you can move on to plant more. Likewise, if your friend or neighbour does the same you can share between the two of you. Soon enough more people will want to be involved and eventually a community may be formed.

10. Use & Value Diversity
Pc-Icons-Principle-10Diversity is a natural part of environmental systems. Diverse vegetation safeguards against minor problems having major consequences. It makes sense to include diversity within our own agriculture.

E.g. Consider Mr Brown, who plants only potatoes, and his neighbour Miss Green, who plants potatoes and kale. It so happens that potatoes become infected by Potato Virus Y. In this case, Mr Brown’s entire garden would be fruitless, but Miss Green would still have kale to eat because she incorporated diversity in her system.

11. Use Edges & Value the Marginal
Pc-Icons-Principle-11Don’t disregard edges and spaces between fields or wilderness. These areas are often rich in nutrients from both adjoining areas; so may provide the ideal place to grow another plant. Alternatively they may provide protection from the elements or yield food in the off-season.

E.g. If your garden was next to a large meadow, strong winds might blow across the meadow and affect your plants’ health. You could plant trees in the adjoining edges, creating a shelterbelt that would act to slow down wind speeds in your garden.

12. Creatively Use & Respond to Change
Pc-Icons-Principle-12“Vision is not seeing thing as they are but as they will be.” Our world is growing and changing, so we need to grow and change with it. As permaculture itself is still so young, we now need to help develop the ideals and help them grow. At this moment we have the opportunity to share permaculture with others and watch it metamorphose into some truly beautiful.

Icons from Check it out for more information.

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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Planet


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Tiny Living

Photograph by Tammy Strobel

By now the tiny house craze has well and truly hit the internet. I can’t count how many blog posts I’ve seen on the subject… “Top 10 Tiny Houses”, “17 Tiny Homes You Will Fall in Love With” etc. etc. etc. How is this post any different? I have actually tried it.

With average housing prices and income hardly matching up, it is no surprise that people are interested in downsizing. The median house price in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia just hit $535 000 (around US $486 000), while the typical Australian working full-time earns about $57 400 a year. Admittedly, the Perth average is higher than usual but that only makes downsizing all the more relevant to me.

It gets me thinking about how we set ourselves up to accumulate debt. We are encouraged to attend university, where we acquire our first real debt: tuition fees. After graduating, the accepted norm is to get a full-time job and save up for a house deposit. Once you can afford the deposit, you are lucky enough to receive your second real debt: a mortgage. The average mortgage takes 25 years to pay off; during which time you are expected to start a family, which can often send you even further into the red. But, why? Why should we begin our adult lives sinking deeper into debt?

It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t need a lot of space or material possessions to be content, so I was thinking seriously about tiny homes. When I came to Canada in June, it was the perfect opportunity to give tiny living a shot. So, my boyfriend and I made one of the best decisions we have to date: we bought a camper van.

My Tiny Home Experience

Our new home was about 7m² (75 square feet) – complete with a gas-powered stove, fridge and furnace, and a living/dining area that converted to a bed. Unfortunately we lacked a bathroom, which would pose some difficulties that I need not go into. Despite that, we had everything we needed.


It is difficult to reduce this entire experience to words, but there are definitely some nameable benefits that came from tiny home living.

  1. Cost Effective
    We picked up our van-home for $2 200, peanuts! Not only did the van provide us with accommodation, it doubled as our form of transport. Having kitchen facilities and cupboard space meant we could buy cheap bulk groceries, cook at home and consequently save on food. Usually when travelling, you can only buy as much food as you can eat or carry, which ends up being hugely pricey. By saving us on food costs, hostels and bus tickets, the van paid for herself in just a month.
  2. Getting Out More
    Tiny home living reminds us of our home’s practical purposes as a place to sleep, eat, rest and recuperate. Basically to do all those things necessary to keep us going in other areas of life. When our homes are large and full of 101 possessions to keep us busy, it is easy to forget that there’s a whole world out there to explore. Living in our van reminded me of that fact every day and I got out more to walk around town, visit parks and lakes, try new activities, meet a vast array of people. Essentially, tiny home living motivated me to get out and do things instead of staying cooped up at home. I certainly felt better for it.
  3. Ability to Live Off Grid
    We could go anywhere and live off the grid – in the comfort of our own home, mind you – whenever we pleased. For months we had no permanent address. We could just drive until we found a place we liked, then park up our home and live there until we decided to move on. We even lived at some little-known hot springs, deep in the woods, for a while. I can’t think of anything better.
  4. Simplified Life
    Living with few possessions in a small space could be described as “living simply”. Ordinarily, when there’s something on your mind you can retreat to your home for ample distraction. Living simply means that you can’t escape so easily. As such, problems and concerns are brought to light sooner and dealt with before a mountain can be made out of a molehill.
  5. Closer Relationship
    Being physically closer made my me and my boyfriend emotionally closer too. Trust me, it is impossible to distance yourself or hide your true feelings when your partner is always in reach. We were forced to address any issues that arose at once, instead of glossing over them and distracting ourselves.

The freezing Canadian winter inevitably approached, so the two of us have bunkered down in a studio apartment for now. Even though our studio isn’t big, it seems like there is so much unnecessary space. We still stay within a few metres of each other all the time, it seems unnatural to put large spaces between us in our home.

Living in a tiny house is not for everyone. Now I have tried it though, I wouldn’t want to live any other way.


Posted by on December 6, 2013 in Planet


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