Marsh Tiger

Marsh Tiger butterfly, wings closed
Marsh Tiger, Danaus affinis

Another visitor: the Marsh Tiger, Danaus affinis, is common on the swampy grasslands not far from us alongside Ross River,  but this is the first time I have caught one in our garden. It’s about the same size as the Eggfly or the Migrant, and the sexes are very similar as you can see in this photo which I took near Ross River last year.

These Marsh Tigers are sometimes called Swamp Tigers, but a real Swamp Tiger is a very different beast and you wouldn’t want to get so close to it. There’s a YouTube video about them here, but my first introduction to them and their unique homeland was a fascinating novel, The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh; it’s warmly recommended.

How special are we?

Most of us automatically make a huge distinction between people – ‘us’ – and animals – ‘them’ – but is that really justifiable? When we look at the question instead of taking the answer for granted, the gap shrinks dramatically.

First, we are compelled to realise that we are animals, big monkeys in fact, so the distinction is between ‘people’ and ‘other animals’. That step may seem small now but it split England right down the middle 150 years ago Continue reading “How special are we?”

The oil crunch

The ABC’s Catalyst is a regular part of my (limited) TV viewing and last night’s programme was exceptionally good, tackling an important subject intelligently and entertainingly.

The topic? Peak Oil, the idea that global oil production has to decline after all the easily-extractable oil is exploited. Some experts think the peak was in 2006, others claim we haven’t reached it yet, but the consequences are going to be challenging either way: much higher oil prices forcing enormous economic, and hence social, changes. (Did someone say ‘collapse’?) Continue reading “The oil crunch”

Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles

Buckman - Tasmania's Wilderness BattlesGreg Buckman

Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles

Jacana, June 2008, $29.95

Wilderness has been a bigger community issue in Tasmania than in any other Australian state, so a history of the fight to preserve it has a lot of ground to cover. Buckman organises it chronologically within four strands – hydro-electric power, forestry, mining and national parks – and traces them from the 1850s to the beginning of this year.

‘The Hydro’ created the biggest issues: Lake Pedder and the Franklin River made national headlines and political history from the 1960s to the 1980s. The conservationists’ focus then shifted to forestry, confronting the rise of woodchipping and the (stalled, as of October 2008) Tamar Valley pulp mill. Continue reading “Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles”

Environment books 2007

On this page are reviews of three books with environmental themes, all released between late 2006 and late 2007 and all reviewed by me for the Townsville Bulletin. (The freedom to cover issues the paper wouldn’t usually touch was one of the perks of my role there.) I am adding them to Green Path in 2020 as a time-capsule, a snapshot of where we were at the time. I have shortened the longest of them but they are otherwise unaltered.

The books are, in order, a manual for activism, a manual for individual action, and a caustic but entertaining look at some of the policies that have led towards our looming predicament.

Michael Norton: 365 Ways to Change the World

365 Ways coverMost of us would like to see changes in our world but we usually don’t do anything, and often that’s because we simply don’t know where to start. Whether we want better school lunches for our kids or more protection for the Amazonian rainforest, this book will help.

It tackles a new subject every day of the year. In one page we get a quick summary of the topic, web sites to visit to get more information or to act immediately (through online petitions, donations, etc), and a short list of actions anyone can undertake locally.

The activities are as simple and obvious as ‘Make Amends’ (apologise to someone you have harmed) and as odd as ‘Drinking for the Environment’ (Brew your own, or at least drink local beer, to reduce transport costs). In one week, for instance, we learn about conservation holidays, the benefits of walking to school, billboard liberation, treating diarrhoea in the third world, concerts for peace, and school-to-school internet link-ups.

As this sample suggests, the proposals are varied and often entertaining. Some of the 365 actions will be impossible, irrelevant (composting toilets can’t be installed in a seventh-floor unit) or just too hard. But there will be dozens that make the reader think and might encourage her or him into action. Some of them will take more than one day’s spare time so it might all average out pretty well.

An icon at the top of each page identifies it as belonging to one of a dozen themes: Community and Neighbourhood, Culture and Creativity, Democracy and Human Rights, Discrimination, Employment and Enterprise, Environment, Globalisation and Consumerism, Health, International Development, Peace, Volunteering and Citizenship, and Young People.

365 Ways to Change the World is written for adults but many of its pages would be wonderful lesson-starters for upper primary to middle secondary classes on social and environmental themes.


Norton has written another book, The Everyday Activist: Everything You Need to Know to Get Off Your Backside and Make a Difference, published by Boxtree, October 2007; £9.99 in the UK.

Penguin, 2006, $24.95
Review published Jan 2007
and updated November 2007

Angela Crocombe: A Lighter Footprint

Lighter Fottprint coverAustralians – yes, all of us – use far more than our share of the Earth’s resources. For sustainability, everyone on Earth must consume them at less than a third of the rate we now take for granted. A Lighter Footprint is dedicated to showing us how we can cut back.

A short introduction explains the need for change and an even shorter final chapter encourages the reader to spread the word, but otherwise it is thoroughly practical: do this, not that; buy this, not that. Crocombe covers one aspect of our domestic consumption per chapter, from Transport, Energy, Building and Renovating, Water, Food and Recycling to Ethical Investment, and then suggests tactics to have similar principles applied in our workplaces. This arrangement of material leads to some repetition but does mean that each chapter can be used as a stand-alone reference.

Crocombe identifies many small ways in which we can change our behaviour (and, incidentally, save ourselves money) and shows that all together they can make a big difference to our impact on the environment. Little of the content will be completely new to the book’s likely audience, but most readers will find plenty that is useful.

Scribe, 2007, $24.95
Reviewed September 2007

Robyn Williams: Future Perfect

future perfect coverThirty-five years as a science journalist for the ABC have given Robyn Williams a terrific overview of the innovations shaping our world. In Future Perfect he looks ahead to see their likely medium-term results. He is, as his regular listeners will expect, perceptive, merciless and entertaining.

Science education in Australia, ‘Intelligent Design’ and the corporatism that treats employees as consumables are all targets of his very critical attention. So are the future of cities and of transport: he reckons we have ten years to fix our worst habits or suffer appalling consequences, but that we can do it if we try. In ‘The future of sex’, though, he lets himself relax: ‘Rumpy Pumpy 101’ for teenage boys and … no, I’ll stop there. Read it yourself.

Allen & Unwin, 2007, $17.95
Review added December 2007

All posted to Green Path October 2020