Sunday, September 29, 2019

"To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men."

I came back from a 'data break' (when you don't get a SIM card for an international trip because you're actually relishing a break from compulsively checking email and social media) to a Facebook feed littered with my 'friends' opinions on climate change. I've stayed silent on a lot of the discussion, save for a blog I wrote after Cape Epic this year. Silent because of a depressing feeling of hopelessness for this planet and our society in general. Made more acute by being the mother of a 17 year old who is shortly to inherit what we have made. Instagram tells me she went to one of the many marches for action on climate change around the country. It reminded me of one of the quotes I keep which have deeply moved me:

"To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men." Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Since I have recently used a good portion of aviation fuel flying to Scotland, it's perhaps hypocritical of me to critcise the choices of others. (I flew economy class so I'm less of a hypocrite than those in first class.) But then we are all hypocrites. Every one of you out there marching against climate change are actively destroying the climate through your own choices. If you had more than 2 children, you're contributing to overpopulation. We're not farmers in the middle ages. You don't need to worry about half your offspring dying due to preventable diseases or malnourishment. If you bought a house in the outer suburbs when you work in the city, you burn tonnes of fuel each year commuting to your job. I pass you people every day while I run or ride to work, sitting in traffic. Cursing the traffic while ignorant that you ARE traffic. Obesity is a topic I've had a lot to say about which is also related to climate change. In it's simplest form, it is consuming more than you need, which is at the core of all devastating environmental impacts. Researchers had a stab at estimating the costs of overeating on the environment and put it at ten times the significant cost of food that is wasted and not consumed. And of courses there's microbeads, plastic waste, pollution of the land and waterways...

 One of the most interesting things I did while in Scotland was visit museums. Who visits museums in their home country once they've finished with mandatory school excursions? It was fascinating and I particularly liked the animal exhibits. Seeing the animals which are still with us but don't inhabit Australia. And those species which have long since departed. The most impressive was the Irish Giant Deer - a 600 kilogram animal with antlers 12 feet wide weighing up to 40 kilograms. It, along with several other species,  became extinct or moved further north (the Arctic fox was found in Scotland) at the end of the last ice age. Yes, there was climate change then. The earth has undergone a series of warmings and coolings. But it has never happened at the current rate and this is almost entirely due to human activity.

The most common response to friends posts calling for government action on climate change, is that it isn't up to governments, we're all responsible and it's up to us to fix it. While I agree with where the responsibility lies, here's why leaving it to individuals to fix it is flawed: humans are very poor at acting in their own best interests when the consequences are long term. They are even worse at acting morally when the consequences are not likely to be born by them or people they are close to. Humans know that smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol and doing little exercise will drastically decrease their health state and, possibly lifespan. Even if modern medicine keeps you alive, you will suffer the effects of cancer, liver disease, heart disease and having parts of your body amputated due to the end stages of diabetes. And yet most of you are still guilty of at least one, if not most of those actions.  If you cannot make decisions in your own best interest now (and in the interests of our taxpayer funded health system that you're depleting), you are woefully incapable of making decisions in the interests of the planet and for future generations. This article will not speculate on why that is, but it's been explored by many behavioural scientists. Let's just accept that as individuals making long-term choices, we're a bit fucked.  

Governments and other public bodies are supposed to make and enact laws which create a society in which we reach greater prosperity (not just material prosperity, but health and meaningful existence) together. When we are too stupid to save for retirement, drive safely or stop smoking, governments step in and impose the superannuation guarantee, fines for speeding and taxes to make smoking financially unattractive. The ban on smoking indoors (2004) and the 12.5% annual excise increase (2010) saw smoking rate plummet showing that price and social pressures (like protest) are effective in behaviour change. The first things I learned in economics (second attempt at uni, didn't last) was the demand curve and its relationship with price (the more expensive something is, the less people want) and the concept of externalities which Wikipedia defines as:

"...the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. Externalities often occur when a product or service's price equilibrium cannot reflect the true costs and benefits of that product or service."

Once you accept that human contribution to climate change is an externality which is not currently reflected in the cost of goods, the only reasonable proposal would be to assign a cost to that contribution. Also known as a carbon tax. As with the GST, this tax is focused on consumption which, at its extreme, is the blight of our society. The sugar tax, when imposed in the UK, lead to companies pre-emptively reducing the amount of sugar in their beverages. Whether you believe that sugar is to blame for obesity or not, you should be impressed at the power of taxes in changing the behaviour of the most immoral of institutions - companies. What if imposing a price on carbon forced companies to reduce their emissions? They do seem very desperate to keep selling us goods and willing to change their behaviour once sales are threatened. But more importantly, what are you willing to pay to reduce climate change. I'm not talking about choosing the green tariff or deciding to offset your overseas holiday. (I ran my trip through this online calculator which asked for a paltry 36.43 USD to assuage my guilt). 

We live in Hobart which has a ban on high density building because it threatens heritage values and the city's 'vibe'. Are you willing to pursue high density living to prevent deforestation from urban sprawl and emissions from gridlocked roads as the hoards commute from further and further out? Will you let go of the Australian dream of the quarter acre block so your one child can have a trampoline? Will you demand apartment blocks with green space from developers so that many children can play in the one yard? If you live within 10 kilometres of the city are you willing to active commute or use public transport and vote for a car-free city and parking that is so expensive that it dissuades people from driving in (don't get between a Hobartian and their free parking!). I challenge people on their car use and hear the arguments: "But Johnny and Hannah have football after school so I have to drive them to their school then me to the office so I can drive back to their school and drive them to practice. Then I have no time to get exercise for myself..." True commitment would mean radically altering our lifestyle choices in terms of where we live, how much land we own and how we get around. What if people chose to buy homes close to where they worked, and made decisions on their kids schools based on walking distance and not perceived prestige. I see a lot of kids commuting to school by foot or on scooters and they're rarely the kids of the middle or upper class. What if they sacrificed climate control and 30 minutes of (false) efficiency to get up early and walk to school and then jump on a bus to work thereby saving the planet and getting that missing physical activity. You have those options now but you don't take them because making the choices to live far away and drive a car are not nearly expensive enough.

My partner and I are in the top 20% of earners in Australia which blows me away because I feel poor comparing myself with those around me. We can't help but balk at paying more for a kilogram of loose carrots than for a kilogram of carrots in a plastic bag. Now if my partner chooses the plastic bag (and he does have a true love of the environment), I can't help but think how the lower 80% make their decisions on environmental issues.  Until the true cost of emissions is represented in the price of our goods and services, behaviour will not change. Unfortunately for Australia we are at the mercy of populist governments created by a media which has been bought by corporations and a deterioration in education regarding the function of governments and the economy in general (my experience of schooling). We cannot say we are serious about climate change when we elect governments who are not willing to impose a price on emissions. In the short time Australia had a carbon tax significant reductions in emissions were made but it was thrown out when Australians realised they had to pay more for their carbon-emitting electricity. Electricity use is the number one carbon emitter of the Australian economy. For some reason we still don't connect our own activities with climate change and we expect the path to halting the devastation to be cheap and painless. 

I loved the sight of the wind farms in Scotland which provide the majority of their renewable energy. Australia's renewables contribute 23.5% to it's energy use compared to 33% in Scotland. The majority (54%) of Australia's renewable energy comes from burning bagasse, the byproduct of sugar cane harvesting as well as wood waste. Wait. Didn't we just cover the fact that burning stuff increases CO2 emissions? Not to mention that swathes of forest are cleared to grow the cane which produces a food that we now know isn't actually very good for us. Straya. While renewables are a fine objective, people need to get to grips with the reality that the real answer lies in consuming less. Less food, less fuel, less land. And the over-consumption will not stop until it's financially painful to continue.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Repetition as a way to notice improvement. ( And salvaging positives from disappointment)

I haven't blogged about my last race. I can't think of anything to blog about. We raced, nothing went too wrong, we came third. Only 3 teams finished the whole course, so we joked that we actually came last. I criticised the last event run by the same organiser for being a shambles. This event went smoothly and the course was interesting incorporating some local features like Obi Obi gorge and Kondallila Falls. The swim/run up the gorge was an absolute treat. If you're in the area I highly recommend checking them out. And if the weather report says 7 degrees and windy and you start the paddle leg at 3am, I also highly recommend layering up. The race finish dash continued under the arch to the van where the heater was turned up to maximum and there we stayed until we stopped shivering enough to make it to the McDonalds drive-thru for coffee and breakfast.

Finally stopped shivering 

After a short recovery I went back to run training in earnest. John and I had planned to attempt the Ramsay Round in Scotland in conjunction with a holiday. It's a 80k-ish grovel over 24 mountains in the north of the country to be completed in under 24 hours to be recognised as meeting the challenge. So in between a full time job, part time business and study, I tried to fit in 4 hour runs in the mountains and 16km foot commutes to the office. There are many times I did not want to do these. But it's part of committing to a project - you get the preparation done. Full stop. And I did get to see some incredible sunrises, and run in the snow and it made me grateful to have the opportunity to do these things. And then I got to the office, and struggled through the day wondering if everyone was as tired as I was. If studying until 11pm and getting up at 5.30am to run was really worth it. If I didn't have the challenge to aim for I would have taken the sleep in. I never realised how important having a goal was to simply getting out the door. I could manage a 5k jog each day to stave off cardiac disease without much trouble. But to really push myself, that takes a bigger carrot. It was easy when there was always the next race. When sponsors expected podiums and I was on an upward trajectory. But on the gentle slope to middle age, if I didn't race again no one would care and I have no one to answer to. My clients are in this position all the time. It's bloody hard!

Ran through plenty of this over winter. Still chuffed with snow after being a Queenslander for 39 years.

One thing I think is important to being successful - not just in sport but in life - is having a high tolerance for repetition. Learning anything new takes repetition. Judging the effectiveness of an intervention takes repetition, and time. John and I don't get to run together often, but when we did he would always ask what route we were doing. And I'd say "the same one as last time". Boring hey? But repeating the same route meant less thinking about where we were going, more focus on the running and generally improves the efficiency of the whole process. And when I'm really busy, I value efficiency above novelty. Although it's hard to be bored running on the mountain which ranges from waterfalls, moss and fern trees to dolerite and alpine scrub over a 1000m ascent. Another benefit of repetition is noticing improvement. I was doing an endurance run so kept my heart rate under 160 on the climbs and ticked over about 130 on the easy flats. Nowhere near flat out but enough to be tired and sore (damn you downhill running) after 4 hours. Over the course of a couple of months, I noticed I was running up hills I'd previously walked. I started getting back to my car earlier so I'd have to run up the road for a bit to make up the 4 hours. And a bit further each time. I wasn't as sore or tired and could muster the energy for a family ride in the afternoon. I felt like a runner again.

Saw plenty of sunrises. Am always blown away by their beauty.

As is the way with running, injuries bring things to a screaming halt. Not me, but John with a torn calf. I could have done the run by myself, but that wasn't the point. I've done a lot of challenges by myself. This was something we wanted to share. And, with my sense of direction, I would have got hopelessly lost. I was disappointed. All those tired, early mornings would be for nothing. I had no 'result' or release. But what I did have was that experience of adaptation. The experience of sucking at something and finding it difficult, but persisting, repeating until I got stronger, and better. And that's why I do most things and why I'll never stop trying new things. "He who stops being better, stops being good". Apparently that's Oliver Cromwell but I first saw it on a running program my coach sent me. It's always stuck with me as an attitude to sport and life in general. If we stop trying to be better, we may as well curl up and die. I'm reading the hot book of the moment by Jordan Peterson. It's hard going. But rule 4 is "compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today". It urges people to think of small ways they can make life better, be better, each day. In coaching we talk about outcome goals and process goals. The outcome is what you want to ultimately achieve (eg. 40kph average for a race, under 3 hours for marathon). The process is how you get there. I WILL go to bed at 9.30 each night so I can wake up at 5.30am and train. I WILL get out for at least one hour of exercise each day, no matter what other obligations present themselves. I WILL prepare a nutritious meal to support my body even though I'd rather spend that time watching Game Of Thrones (or whatever people watch. I don't even have a TV nor time to watch it). If we compared ourselves to professional sports people every day, we'd never get out of bed. But if we can notice the improvements, the outcomes, of our commitment to the process, then we can be satisfied that it is 'good'. 

One more shot of my running route. Yes I'm showing off now. Get out there and find the awesome spots around you!