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Nature, awe and fear

Water

I learned to swim in calm waters. Small lakes, predictable and easy. You don’t need to worry about the waves, or timing.

The ocean is a different beast. The coastline is beautiful, the waves majestic and powerful.

I am not a strong swimmer, and I was repeatedly reminded of this years ago when trying to learn surfing (which I failed).

Some of those moments: awe-inspiring waves, fun play in the water. Then a wave crashing over your head, a big tumble underwater, and a sudden realisation that you are not running the show – the ocean is.

Awe and fear.

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Human centred design considered harmful

In the 1990’s, I worked as a programmer and a software developer. Back then, using computer software was quite difficult for the layperson. I moved into the field of interaction design and learned about usability in the 2000’s. It was a revelation: we could no longer blame the user for everything that went wrong with software – the blame now lay squarely with us, the ones who made the software.

The disciplines of usability and interaction design, along with several others, have since evolved into a field we now tend to call User Experience. We follow an approach called Human Centred Design, which involves ‘the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process’.

I have spent nearly a decade and a half working in this field and have always held a strong belief that design should be human centred.

Lately, I have been having some doubts. Let me explain.

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Collapse: You cannot prepare for what remains unthinkable

What if there was no cash at the ATM?
What if there was no petrol at the bowser?
What if your home didn’t have electricity or running water?
What if there was no food at the supermarket?
What if there was no ATM, or petrol station, or supermarket?
What would your life be like?

We have known about climate change breakdown for over a hundred years. This knowledge has been more broadly accessible since the 1970’s, and it has become more acute by the decade. Yet, we have done nothing.

As climate breakdown fills the news every day now, people in wealthy countries are more aware of it. However, the general reaction has not been a change in individual behaviour, or demands for systemic change: instead, it is a mix of denial, apathy and mild despair.

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Collapse: A reading list

This post is a list of essays and articles covering climate and ecological breakdown from various perspectives, including how these overlapping crises may induce collapse of industrial civilisation as we know it. This is companion piece to my essay on collapse – please read that first.

We are currently living in the early ripples of extinction-magnitude crises. There is no time for cheermongering or false hope. The time to act is now.

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Promise of change without changing at all: The electric car as a talisman of false hope

In the public imagination, the electric car – and the hybrid car before it – has been hailed as a key solution for consumers to reduce their environmental impact and help slow climate change.

As one indicator, web searches for Tesla are up over 450% from 2012 to 2018 peak, and the company is now valued at over US$54 billion on the stock market. The cars are selling, too: Tesla sales are up seven-fold from Q3 2015 to Q3 2018.

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Reflections and highlights from the New Economy conference 2018

I recently joined the New Economy Network Australia conference for three days here in Melbourne. It was fantastic – you can find the program here (pdf). I’ll cover some of my reflections and highlights from the conference below.

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We are mistaking wants for needs and it is costing us the world

As consumers, we always want more, and we are very good at justifying these wants as needs. I discuss how to separate wants from needs, why it is important in a world on the cusp of irreversible climate breakdown, and why we urgently need to want less.

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The downsides of convenience

The modern society wants us to be productive, to optimise, to fit more into a day. Slowing down is thought of as a weakness, something to look down upon.

Consider a Monday conversation at the office, where your colleague asks what you did over the weekend. The reaction is to rattle off a list, to recall each activity, to talk about the quantity of things we did. The more the better; otherwise your weekend must have been a waste.

Bigger Better Faster More
How about Smaller, Enough, Slower, Less?

A key to fitting in more is choosing convenience. Convenience is sold as the solution to help with our busy lives, and it comes in many shapes and forms.

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On embodied emissions, exploitation and the unsustainability of consumer products

One core feature of globalised capitalism is that supply and demand, production and consumption are geographically separated. Consumers buying physical products have very little visibility into the supply chain and the participating organisations beyond the maker (the public brand) and the seller (the place of purchase). As consumers, we tend to stick with the story crafted by marketing and advertising, and assessing the sustainability of a product beyond this superficial understanding is a challenge we are not encouraged to take on.

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Undo capitalism or it will undo us

Let’s start with an assumption:

We want to live meaningful lives on a healthy planet and we want the generations to come to be able to do the same.

And a related definition of true sustainability (Ehrenfeld 2009):

[Sustainability is] the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the planet forever

We are currently using 1.7 Earths each year. This means that ‘we use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate, through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ecosystems can absorb’ (source).

Our current way of life is deeply unsustainable.

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