Musings from life as a scientist. Sometimes you'll get what you expect, sometimes not...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear Mr Rudd

I am a PhD student at the University of Sydney, studying Inorganic Physical Chemistry. I am writing to express my extreme disappointment at your abandonment of climate change legislation.
As a scientist, I simply cannot comprehend how (in your own terms) the "greatest moral challenge of our times" has been swept under the table. The science behind anthropogenic climate change is indisputable, and we must drastically reduce our carbon emissions NOW to mitigate the very worst of effects. For Australia, increasing temperatures is probably the least of our problems: I see ocean acidification (inducing the collapse of fisheries and loss of the Great Barrier Reef), changing rainfall patterns (leading to water and food insecurity) and an increase in extreme weather events (fires, cyclones, etc, leading to millions of dollars in damages) as our major problems.

As a young person (I am only 24), I see the failure of your government on this issue a massive let down for us, the future generations. The longer you delay now, the more serious the problem for me and my peers in the future. Even now, we face a world that will be very different to the one you were bought up in.

I want to see a government with a vision for the future - one that is not just looking toward the next election. I want to see a government with the courage to be longsighted, to make important but perhaps unpopular decisions and who will invest in the future. I do not see either you or the opposition (who, let's face it, are even worse on this issue) doing such a thing.

Australia could be a global leader in regards to anthropogenic climate change: in introducing legislation for the reduction of CO2, in investing in alternate energies (solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal and photovoltaic), in actively integrating them into the grid, and in exporting those same technologies.

So my question to you, Mr Rudd, is this:

Are you going to step up to the plate? Are you going to be a world leader in dealing with anthropogenic climate change and be courageous enough to push for longsighted policies that will save our economy, our environment and our future?

Or are you going to leave my generation to Hell and High Water?

Kind regards
Elizabeth Fellows
PhD Candidate

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


An hour of blog update. Gone into the ether. Even though apparently my draft was saving as I went.

Curse you, blue screen of death. And Dell, curse you too.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I love Melbourne, I really do. C and I have just spent the weekend walking, eating, windowshopping, drinking, eating, admiring, walking, eating, drinking and lazing downtown.

What I love most is the justaposition of lifestyles. Walk down the top of Collins street and find Chanel, Ralph Lauren and the like, beautiful old buildings, churches, parliament and lovely manicured gardens. Flinders lane is full of young, edgy fashion designers and graffitied alleys with cafes full of young, edgy people. And then Bourke st mall is full of your regular old chain stores, with regular old tourists.

Restaurants! Wine bars! Little alleyways full of cafes! Good coffee everytime! (Although, quite a few places did not have raw sugar. Tsk, tsk.)

It's such a different feel to downtown Sydney. I like it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Anonymous commenting switched on!

To vego or not to vego?

Let me start by saying I like meat. No, I love Meat. And if it's the baby version? Even better. Veal, lamb, duckling, you name it, I'll eat it. But even so, C and I have started to actively reduce our meat intake and move to a more vegetarian diet.

To me, there are broadly 4 types of vegetarians/vegans.
1. Oh my gosh, you can't eat those tiny little baby animals, it's soooo mean, they're so cute how could you want to eat them?!?
2. Don't you know everyone is going vego now?
These two types of people will not be dignified by a discussion.

The other two types of people have, I feel, quite valid reasons for going vego:
3. Ethical grounds - these people usually have no moral problems with the act of eating meat, but DO have a problem with how the animals are treated.
4. Environmental grounds - again, no moral problem with eating meat but are concerned about the impact that intensive farming has on the environment.   

Obviously, people are not so easily pigeonholed; most vegetarians I've met (and the reasons that C and I are going more vego) are a mix of types 3 and 4.

But are these valid? Do people need to completely cut out their meat intake to make a difference?

Ethical Considerations
Let's talk about chickens for a second. A quick google search for 'battery hens' provides a plethora* of heartfelt cries to save the chickens and the evils of battery eggs and battery farming. And it doesn't just stop with chickens - pigs and cows get similar treatment. Let's face it, the images are pretty damn awful, and the reports of the health and treatment of these animals are devastating. However it is quite hard to seperate what is true and what is purposefully tear-jerking. The hiding of good, informative, non-emotive and non-judgemental papers behind subscription-only journals makes it all the more difficult for the general public to make an informed opinion. However, google scholar provides; feather-pecking, cannibalism, broken bones, foot disorders, oteoporosis, parasites, lung problems and high stress levels** are just some of the problems faced by caged egg-laying birds. I don't even want to look at what reports are out there about pigs and cows, and I haven't even touched upon the use of steriods and genetic selection for fattening up these animals for eating.

But what about free-range chicken, pork or beef? Is it okay to eat this kind of meat and eggs? And does it really make a difference if one in 20 people does? And what do they actually mean by free-range anyway? And how can I know if what I am buying in the supermarket labelled 'free-range' is actually free range?As late as November 2009, Australian Pork Limited were submitting to have proper labelling of pork products*** for consumers, a move which should be applauded. And I have just found this interesting report from the Senate in Australia. So at least things are starting to move in the right direction.

And do we have the space for everyone to switch to 'free-range' anyway? And what about those people who can't afford free-range to begin with?

I guess that's why people just choose to go veg. The line of whats, whys and ifs stretches far too long, and it's easier to Just. Say. No.

Environmental considerations
An excerpt from the first paper on google scholar I looked at:^
"...this means that to produce one kilogram of boneless beef, we use about 6.5 kg of grain, 36 kg of roughages, and 155 l of water (only for drinking and servicing). Producing the volume of feed requires about 15340 l of water on average..." (emphasis mine). Considering the average shower uses about 9 L/min, removing just 1 kilogram of beef from your diet is the equivalent of about 340 five minute showers. That's almost a years worth of showers, people.

Well, maybe I should eat some fish? They don't use water. On second thoughts, let's not talk about overfishing. Or land use. Or methane pollution.

I guess my problem is not with going vego. It's pretty clear that any reduction in meat intake is going to be better for the environment, and perhaps will save some animals from unnecessary suffering. But how do I reconcile a love and enjoyment of meat, with such knowledge? How do I make good choices? And how much responsibility should I take for reducing my impact on this planet? And what does the average person feel about it?

Neverending questions.

(Not the most widely researched piece, I know. But you get the drift.)

* just to name one. Actually, this site isn't too bad, but still uses too emotive language for my liking. 
* Likewise.
Other links: (I know this is wikipedia - but go straight to the references - I'm lazy!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A beginning and an experiment.

I'm a scientist, what did you expect?

I hope to fill this blog with musings on science and science news, life as a student and researcher, and other things that take my fancy (no doubt there'll be a bit of dancing in there, too).

So, random yield. Let's see how this works.