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Kathryn Foster

‘Really momentous changes will happen’: a chat with Kathryn Foster

EarthTech ambassador Kathryn Foster exudes an infectious enthusiasm for STEM. With decades of experience in the software industry, across firms ranging from Microsoft to lean, innovative start-ups, she’s got a unique perspective on what it takes to make something new, and why it’s worth developing the skills to generate your own ‘upwards spiral.’

Q: So let’s start at the beginning – how did you get your start in STEM?

Well, when I started university, I found calculus really hard, and chemistry really hard. So of course I decided I wasn’t good at it, and enrolled in a business path instead.

But after that, I got a job for a mobile phone company. I ended up working on a project where I converted our sales system to a database, and in the process, I rediscovered this passion for computer science. I became a multi-platform systems engineer, basically setting up internet access to buildings and solutions inside companies. And from that, an opportunity came up at Microsoft.

Q: And what was it like inside Microsoft?

At the start, I could go all week and be the only one using the woman’s bathroom. The only females that time were the receptionists, or maybe HR and marketing.

I felt like I had to put on a suit of armour every day going to work – I had to look like one of the guys, wear ripped t-shirts and jeans. I found I had to communicate differently, like a man. I had to stop explaining myself, and just start asserting.

After a while I asked for some professional coaching. The feedback was that I was being inauthentic. So changed the way I dressed. I stopped trying to dress like one of the guys. It wasn’t about the clothes – it was about how I felt. I had to dress the part of an intelligent woman to be authentic, and confident in myself.

Q: So you’re obviously passionate about getting girls into tech. What should young women know about that?

A: I think STEM is a tool, the same way business or languages are a tool. Our solutions we use in this world are designed either by scientists or artists. And the way I see it, STEM is a tool to create that, to get what you want around you. If you want to have a part in it, you need STEM.

Q: What’s stopping more girls getting into STEM now?

A: There’s this subliminal message in Western society that girls are not good at STEM subjects, so you don’t have to try in the first place.

And it’s true that those subjects are hard, and we teach everyone that it’s hard, and of course it’s human nature that when we encounter something hard we want an excuse to turn away to something easier.

But if girls appreciate that STEM is a set of tools they can use to solve the problems they’re actually passionate about solving, it’s in context. It’s still hard, but there’s a reason to not turn away and just put your head down and learn it.

Q: Let’s talk about the project you’re working on now. How does sustainability come into it?

I was born in the 1970s, so my generation is really that single-use, consumable plastic, air-pollution generation. And the reality is that we’ve created this trash problem and environmental problem, so now we need to go fix it.

My project is a data centre that is carbon neutral. I’m doing that because from a business point of view, it’s the smartest thing I can do. The biggest costs of a data centre are power, and internet access. So if I cut the cost of producing my energy by 50 cents on the dollar, it makes business sense. And as a result the environment wins too.

Q: And that’s the world we’re entering – sustainability is no longer a greenie, hippie notion, but now it just makes business sense.

A: Yes, and it’s exciting. It’s a problem to be solved, but it’s not a burden. This old world of business is about taking, but not giving back. I call it the downwards spiral. But this new way is an upward spiral – you’re giving back by giving more opportunities and positive outcomes, which in turn generate more.

Q: And we’re in a huge shift at the moment. Humanity is realising we need to make some fairly significant changes. There’s a huge opportunity for creativity.

A: Well, technology has given power to people who traditionally never had it. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection, and you can make a business that offers a solution and makes money from it.

Everyone was surprised by how Uber disrupted the taxi market, but that’s just one business model. Every industry will be disrupted by the internet. I’m excited to see what happens. It’s going to be messy, but there’s going to be a lot of really cool innovation.

Q: Yes, and turning our industries into a sustainable model will be a massive change.

A: You asked earlier about why I’m passionate about girls getting in STEM – it’s that digital sphere where the really momentous changes will happen.

But in order to create a solution in that space, you have to understand it. Necessity is the mother of invention. So it’s actually awesome that we urgently need to become sustainable and start giving back.

The biggest ‘ah-hah’ moments of my life were those where I realised that to get what you want, you have to be ready to take it. Don’t sit around waiting for people to give you what you want. As a woman you don’t need to wait, regardless of what society says you should do. Sometimes you can be quietly assertive.

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EarthTech Interviews News

Bella Carter

Bella Carter

Learn about Bella’s experience as a teacher, and where she sees the future of education.

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Bayley Pilling

‘We have a lot more power and access than we think’: a chat Bayley Pilling

Bayley Pilling may be only 18, but his sense of drive would put most older adults to shame (or at least make them rethink why they’re on this earth.). Growing up among the plants and passion of his family’s nursery business ePlants, he knows a lot about two things vital to the future of this planet: fungi, and finding your purpose.

Q: One thing I know about you is your passion for agriculture. How did that come about?

A: It really happened because I was raised in this environment, with ePlants. It came about from my parents’ frustration with the way the natural world was treated. ePlants comes from the term ‘enviro-replace’ which is a term my father made up, but it sums up the path I’ve been raised with. It’s about the difference we can make.

Climate change is all this doom and gloom, but we can actually do a lot through carbon sequestration, simply through having plants in the soil – even in our backyards.

Q: Talk me through the importance of the soil – and how we’ve lost track of its importance.

A: Well, we’ve been led right away from the soil beneath us. We know less of the ground than we do of the cosmos.

If you account for all the fossil-fuelled carbon emissions since the industrial revolution, there’s actually double that amount of carbon emitted from the soil.

It’s so interesting. I’m really interested in the mycorrhizal fungi. They’re one of the oldest life forms on earth. These guys are responsible for 30% of the carbon that’s been sequestered from the air into the soil – they interact with the roots of trees and form a kind of network between them. Through this network a tree can actually pass nutrients into the soil and transfer it to a sapling that could be kilometres away, or tell other trees to produce biochemicals to combat pests and diseases.

We think it’s just the tree sitting in the dirt, but the dirt is everything. The tree actually gives away 30% of all the sugars it produces through photosynthesis to the soil.

Q: Wow. So, from a technology point of view, what can we learn from nature?

A: Think of us humans as custodians of the land, we need to get back to what science is really about: adherence to natural laws and principles. Nature is a perfect cycle. It doesn’t have inputs and outputs that make all this money.

How old are you? How many young people of your age have a purpose like you do?

Eighteen next week. I think yes, we can easily be led astray from our abilities and our purpose, but at the same time it is quite difficult to be able to burst through the fear of failure. We need a resource where we can network to achieve what we want to do in life.
This generation is probably one of the most eager to change the world form the way our grandparents have left it. We want to make a difference. We just need a spark.

Why? Why do you think that is? Is it the information access?

We feel very empathetic for our future generations. We need to work together – all generations – to make this a good outcome.

I think we have a lot more power and access than we think we do.

Even if you’re just supporting the organic farmers at your local market – by doing so you’re cutting out the 25% of fossil fuels needed just to get the food to your dinner plate, and helping that farmer sustain the soil. Food scraps is also one of the largest sources of methane – bigger than cows. We can almost all be composting in our backyard, and all make a difference.

We’ve got to get rid of our inputs and our waste, and learn from nature, which has no waste and no inputs – everything just works like a song, like an orchestra.

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Ali Pilling

‘When you know what you’re here for, you’re unstoppable’: a chat Ali Pilling

Ali Pilling is all about helping things – plants and humans alike – grow and thrive. After three decades of running a family nursery business, she has some big thoughts about sustainability, education and the power of tapping into what makes you tick.

Q: How long have you been running ePlants?

A: We started from scratch 30 years ago. It was basically a cow paddock.

My mission is to raise inspired, financially independent kids. And ePlants has been a platform for that – my kids have learned that wealth is basically stored work. Kids need three things in life: to be passionate about what they’re doing, to find meaning and purpose, and to get paid for it.

Q: And you’re so passionate about that you’ve written a book about this?

A: Yes! It’s called ‘Live, don’t Exist.’ The title is from a poem my son Bailey wrote. It’s just so important to do what you love.

Q: Sounds like all of your kids have a passion nurtured in them. How have you done that as a parent?

A: That’s a great question. I think parents are the most influential people in a child’s life, so it’s a no-brainer to lead by example. It’s about also believing and trusting that our kids know themselves, that they know what they’re passionate about, not projecting your values on to them.

I’ve got so much respect for education and for teachers, but don’t 100% agree with what’s going on with the school system. So, it’s about extracurricular activity outside school.

Q: You’ve been passionate about EarthTech – why?

A: Well, I want this planet to be here for future generations. I love people, plants, animals, living things. We can make changes. We just have to start now. I don’t want our kids to be scared – I want them to be optimistic, to know we can all make change.

We are all here for a purpose. When you know what you’re here for – when you combine purpose and passion – that’s when you become unstoppable.

Q: You have a passion for helping youth, obviously. How many young people have you employed through ePlants?

A: Yes – we’ve employed about 500 over a 30-year period.

They’re young people that have a true interest in the outdoors, nature, the environment – they’re like a sponge. They’re a pleasure to work with. We do school-based traineeships, apprenticeships, work experience – we love to give kids a taste of permaculture, sustainability, regeneration, horticulture. We want those kids with that interest, and we want to feed that interest.

I can see with my own kids, how they just shine when they’re doing something they’re genuinely interested in. Education comes in many forms. It’s about learning by doing.

Q: Tell me more about the financial independence angle. One of things that is stressful about our society is that we’re so debt-fuelled and consumerist. How do you think we break that apart?

A: I believe we’re living well beyond our means. It’s important to know the difference between needs and wants – and teach that to our kids. It’s not their fault – instant gratification is our culture. Parents need to teach their kids they need to earn money and spend less than they earn.

We all need to create our own business these days – it’s about wrapping our own passion and purpose into it.

Q: Yes – they say the majority of jobs in the future don’t even exist yet. All young people will need to have an entrepreneurial mindset, an innovative mindset.

A: That’s what I love about EarthTech. The youth of Australia and beyond – these kids are so purpose-driven, they’ve had access to so much information.

So there’s never been a better time in history to do what you love, love what you do, wrap meaning and purpose around that, and find a way to get paid for it. And if there’s no jobs out there, create your own!

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Ella Woodborne

‘We’re suddenly realising the impact we can make’: a chat with Ella Woodborne

Sunshine Coast student Ella Woodborne is a student leader, environmentalist and self-proclaimed ‘bookworm.’ And as a youth ambassador for EarthTech, she’s also a big believer in the power of technology to change the world.

She dialled in to a chat with our founder Ant Moorhouse about optimism, advocacy, and why the environmental movement needs all kinds of brains.

Listen to our full chat, or read some highlights below.

Q: So you’re 16. What’s your genesis story of why you’ve decided to dedicate your time and focus to the environment?

I’m passionate about preserving our planet. It’s my upbringing. I’m South African, I grew up with a lot of nature around me. My mum worked with animals, my dad was a vet, we lived out in the bush, my mum’s best friend ran an elephant reserve. I was always outside, and that made me appreciate it.

As I got older, as I began to understand the science and the issues facing our environment, it made me want to protect and look after it

Q: And tell me about how you’ve led environmental action at your school?
A: I run an environmental team at school called Green Team – we started it last year. We looked at the issue of plastic waste at school and the need to cut down on single use plastic.

So we asked everyone at our school assembly to stand up and cross their arms if they wanted to say no to single use plastic, and the entire school stood up, including the teachers. I was nearly in tears, it was so emotional. You could feel the connection between everyone.

I thought it was a really thought provoking moment about what my generation can actually do.

Q: Let’s talk about that – what CAN your generation do? What is the secret of this Greta Thunberg army? Why is this moment so important?

A: My generation is suddenly realising their potential and the impact that we can make.

At present I think everyone of every age has an equal impact and responsibility to make change. But my generation specifically is the future. That sounds a little bit egotistical, but within the next few years there will be a fresh wave of politicians entering politics, and my age group be able to vote.

We’re seeing inadequate change being made, so we’re banding together. We acknowledge that the older generations have done what they can with the knowledge they had, but today we have so much information about climate change and my generation is harnessing that.

Very soon we’ll be able to get into politics and we’ll be able to use this information.

Q: Tell me about technology, and your generation’s role from a tech point of view. My generation has had to learn tech as a second language. What’s it like being a native speaker? And how can it add to the solution?

A: I think technology is potential.

It’s about education. I can access thousands of scientific papers so easily, and develop an opinion for myself. I don’t need to wait for a librarian to pick what information I can access.

And connection. At a time like this, with the planet at a tipping point, humanity needs to be united and technology is a great way to connect people. It makes the future look a lot brighter.

Q: You sound like an optimist. Are you? Can we solve this?

A: I’m a realistic optimist.

It’s a dangerous time at the moment. We’re nearing the point of no return. But I believe we’ll be able to stop this before it reaches a point where we can’t fix it. It doesn’t look like that right now, and that’s of great concern. But when we begin to reunite, make changes to policies, listen to what the youth has to say, harness technology, things will start happening.

I read a lot of books, futuristic books. They’re always set after an apocalypse. We’ve always seemed all seem to like the idea that the world is going to end. But we need to be a little more optimistic. We need to have a common goal.

Q: One of the cool things about having you as an EarthTech ambassador is that you’re not a techhead! But you are a student leader. What should other people like you, the non-robotics-club-type kids, do to get involved?

A: I think environmentalism is a responsibility for all of us. We need to encourage everyone and help them understand that everyone can make an impact.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a bookworm or techhead, arty or science person. We all have ideas. I’m a writer and a poet. Through my writing, I can help create change too.

Because tech isn’t just tech. You need to be able to pitch your ideas, convince people. You need the communicators involved there too. You need a whole variety of skills. We all have that potential.

Q: Yes, and when we designed the EarthTech Challenge, we imagined it’d work that way. Often the deep scientists are deep inside their world, and they need others to team up with. Leaders and entrepreneurs.

A: Yes, people are diverse. We all have different skillsets. If we were all the same, the world would be a boring place.

Some people are good at technology and coding. Some are good at presenting. Some are good at design. Some are really creative.

That’s why a team challenge format is so appealing – one person couldn’t do all of it, it requires working together toward a common goal. I really appreciate that about the Earth Tech Challenge.

And there’s a bigger lesson, beyond the EarthTech Challenge. When we’re adults, when we’re the ones in power and making changes, we’ll need to work together too.

Q: So what’s the heart of your message?

A: I encourage everyone to get involved in the Earth Tech Challenge.

More broadly the planet is all of our responsibility. It belongs to nobody but it’s all of our job to look after and care for it.

We’re at a crucial time in our planet’s history: the future of us and our children and our children’s children will be impacted by what we do now.

If you’re questioning if you should get involved with environmentalism, the question is, can you entertain that idea that if we don’t do anything, your kids may never see a glacier, or they’ll only ever see a tiger in a picture book? I can’t.

I often feel overwhelmed, like I’m not doing enough. But it’s up to every single one of us: what we buy, what companies we support, what politicians we support, to make change.

We all have the potential to make change.

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Alison Foley

‘Step into the fear, and you can do so much good in the world’: a chat with Alison Foley

Ali Foley is the founder and director of Ten Little Pieces, a movement that empower ordinary people – especially families – to help solve our litter and marine pollution crisis. On the back of that, she’s now set to embark on a high seas adventure in 2020, as one of 300 women selected to crew the eXXpedition, researching and advocating for solutions.

She joined EarthTech founder Ant Moorhouse to talk about her approach to environmental action – and why it’s crucial to ‘step into the fear.’ Listen to our full chat, or read some highlights below.

Ali Foley is the founder and director of Ten Little Pieces, a movement that empower ordinary people – especially families – to help solve our litter and marine pollution crisis. On the back of that, she’s now set to embark on a high seas adventure in 2020, as one of 300 women selected to crew the eXXpedition, researching and advocating for solutions.

She joined EarthTech founder Ant Moorhouse to talk about her approach to environmental action – and why it’s crucial to ‘step into the fear.’ Listen to our full chat, or read some highlights below.
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Q: How did you first get into the environmental space?

A: Ten Little Pieces came about one beautiful summers day on Noosa Main beach. I had my kids and they were hot and tired and cranky and wanted ice-cream. So I said to them: an ice-cream was going to cost them ten little pieces of rubbish.

To my astonishment, from just about 30 metres of beach they came back to me with three bags full of straws, bottle tops, cans, little plastic spoons, cigarette butts. I was shocked, because Noosa is a national park and I hadn’t noticed the rubbish before that. And then we got the ice-cream, my five year old said to me he didn’t want the little plastic spoon – and I realised, by picking up a few pieces of rubbish, my kids had made the connection between what was there on the beach, and what they consumed.

It got me thinking: we can actually do something.

Q: And how has Ten Little Pieces grown since then?

Well, a few weeks later we did Clean Up Australia Day. And talking to the other parents there at our local park, I shared the idea of ‘picking up ten little pieces.’ And then we posted about it on social media… and suddenly people started sending in photos from all over the world of their little legends with their ‘ten little pieces,’ the Netherlands, Vietnam… it just took off.

Mums and dads were saying that it got them to start conversations with their kids about regenerative practices, reducing waste – not scaring them but helping them take action. It’s really simple.

So that’s how it started. Now I’ve been invited to come into schools, all the way from preschool to grade 12, so I’ve had to keep learning myself! I’ve done the UN Environment Program Marine Litter open course, and some of the science is quite confronting once you encounter it. It makes it difficult not to take action.

A: Simplicity is power, yes. The problem can seem so overwhelming, particularly for young kids.

So true. And they drive the conversation, they ask the questions. As parents we need to be ready to let them come up with solutions, and solutions from four year olds are brilliant!

Q: And so that has led to eXXpedition. Tell me about that.

A; Well, before I became a mum I cruised the world on superyachts and motor yachts, some of the most beautiful places. My husband is a diver too. So we really appreciate so many of these places that are under threat.

So having done quite a bit of study in the field of marine ecology and plastics, I applied for eXXpedition, which is a two year pioneering ocean sailing mission crewed entirely by women from all over the world.

Over the two years these 300 women are going to be researching and analysing plastic pollution and they – we – are going to be talking to the local governments and community groups about the effects of plastic pollution and what we can do about it in different environmental and social settings.

The thing is, none of us have all the answers, but there are hundreds of us. We were all selected to be part of this because we all have a superpower – filmmakers, artists, teachers, activists, scientists. And if we approach it from all of these angles, we have a shot at bringing it under control. The potential is enormous.

If you’d told me five years ago I’d be sailing around the world picking up garbage, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now it brings me so inspiration knowing that I’m contributing to something that could forward solutions on this issue.

Q: I love the ‘eXXpedition’ branding. Why is it all about women?

There are two reasons.

One of the scientific threads running through the mission is to research the effects on plastic as an endocrine disruptor – hormones to do with sex characteristics. Historically the research on that has been focussed on men. But studies are starting to show that the effects are different on women. We’re now suggesting that when women consume products contaminated with plastic pollution, particularly fertile-age and pregnant women, it passes those toxins directly on to the foetus, eventually. We’re not sure what’s going on, but we need to find out what’s happening. So the crew will be providing hair samples as part of an ongoing data gathering in this area.

The other reason is that only 13% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professionals are women. There’s a lot to be said for encouraging and supporting young girls to use their skills and problem solving aptitude in this area.

Because we need everybody. We don’t have time to delay and be afraid of trying. If you can think of a solution to a problem, speak up. That’s the message for women. It’s collaboration that will help us solve this situation. 

We’ve all got a superpower. Mine is talking! Talking to kids in a way that helps give them a way to feel empowered and effect change.

Q: The flipside of that statistic about women in STEM is that donors to most not-for-profit organisations are 75% women. So women have the empathy, but need more opportunities to get involved in the tech.

A: Yes, and both eXXpedition and EarthTech are about making that leap and overcoming the fear. With a peer group supporting each other and cheering on.

It’s scary to do things like this that are out of your comfort zone. But that’s how you learn and grow. Step into the fear, and then you have the opportunity to do so much good in the world.

Q: So what are you going to do when you get back from eXXpedition?

A: I really want to incorporate these experiences and the photography I’ll take on board into our classroom presentations for Ten Little Pieces.

The place I get to go is between Tonga and Fiji, 500 nautical miles through waters affected by the Southern Pacific Gyre. These communities don’t create the plastic pollution that’s devastating their environments, but they have to deal with it.

So I don’t think we can event talk about sustainability any more, we need to think about regeneration. We need solutions that knock over multiple problems with one solution.

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Dr Andy Lewis

‘Coral reefs are the canary in the coalmine’: a chat with Dr Andy Lewis

Dr Andy Lewis is Magnetic Island local, which means the corals of Great Barrier Reef – plus 1500 species of fish, 134 species of sharks and rays and more than 30 species of marine mammals – are literally his neighbours. He’s seen first-hand what climate change and marine degradation is doing to our oceans, and as the CEO of the Coral Sea Foundation, he’s at the frontline of efforts to protect, repair and maintain the reef ecosystem.

We had a quick chat over Zoom about science, politics, and the challenges and opportunities facing the next generations. Have a watch of our full chat, or read some highlights below.

Why is the Great Barrier Reef important and what’s happening to it?

The situation is there’s no doubt it’s suffering from the effects of climate change and the slow increase in ocean temperature and acidification. From a global point of view, this area is still the largest, biggest, most intact bit of reef left in the world. It’s suffered degradation but it’s by no means dead and gone. NOW is the time to be redoubling our efforts to ensure its survival.

The Reef has evolved in a setting over millions of years where it regularly gets disturbed – by extreme weather events, by crown of thorns starfish. Being in a state of recovery is the way it exists. The crucial question is whether the recovery potential of the reef is being severely affected.

Over the last say 10 years there’s been a number of major disturbances on the reef. A series of really big cyclones have affected it. Crown of thorn starfish. And thermal bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. It’s started to recover – there are baby corals settling around the epicentre of the destruction – and there are numerous reefs still in good condition. But overall, scientists are saying that there’s cause for concern.

We have a window to turn this around, but it requires emissions reductions, and quickly, and marine protected areas. Those are the only things globally that are going to save our coral reef ecosystems.

Why should I care about ocean ecosystems, if I’m just an average person living my life in the city or wherever else?

Coral reefs are the canary in the coalmine. By 2050, there’s going to be another 2 billion people on the planet. I just look at it and go, if the coral reef ecosystems are failing, then we don’t have much of a chance of feeding all those people and sustaining our civilisation in the long term. If the reefs are going down, we’re all going down.

For an average person in the city, what this means is we need to be driving for is this push towards renewable energy. It’s now the cheapest way to produce power, and Australia is blessed with the highest per capita endowment of renewable energy of anywhere in the world.

We have an opportunity in Australia to be a global renewable energy superpower. It’s sitting in our lap. But it’s being ignored and undermined by our current crop of politicians because they have so many vested interests in the oil and gas industry.

For an average person, we need to push our politicians in the right direction. This is the biggest transition in energy for a hundred years.

So you’re saying we can have our cake and eat it too. By focusing on renewables, we can make the reef healthier while creating new, amazing jobs and rebuilding the economy?

Yes, we need to clear the logjam. Our country has so much more potential than it’s currently realising. We should be the smart country of our region. We need to be more than India’s and Asia’s quarry. I could go on…

It’s changing – the youth led climate movement around the world is evidence of that.

It’s an exciting time. When people are faced with a choice between change and chaos, the majority of people choose change – we just need to facilitate that change.

When you’re talking to young people, high school and university and TAFE students, what do you say to them. How should they be acting right now?

They should think personally about their own individual consumption choices – their carbon footprint, of foods, material goods, resources. The internet gives us the ability to look deeply into the footprint of these choices.

The second thing is, the renewable energy thing is here and it’s in our best interest to do it. You guys need to vote, you need to make your voices heard.

The third thing is, unfortunately your generation has been handballed this situation. You’ll need to fix it. But with collaboration and new thinking, you can make the massive changes that will be needed to make things more sustainable. The way you’re living now, at the beginning of your life, is massively different to how you’ll be living in the middle and end parts of your life. That’s an opportunity. Build this momentum for change.

So you’re saying, we do the right thing now – cap our emissions, vote with our votes and wallets, achieve the Paris Climate Accord objectives – but there’s still going to be damage. So let’s talk mitigation and adaptation. How can humans help protect the reef to mitigate the damage that’s locked in already?

One of the major stories that comes out is that protected reefs in marine reserves recover faster, and get damaged less. We need marine protected areas, no matter what’s going on in the oceanic ecosystems generally. We’ve got 33% of the Great Barrier Reef in fully protected areas, but we need to focus on those areas directly to our north, in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands – they directly feed into the Great Barrier Reef, but they’re not protected. And getting those areas protected means working with the locals in a bottom-up approach.

I’m still convinced that the best way the system will replenish itself is if we preserve it. There’s a lot of tech solutions being proposed – genetically modifying corals, and so on – and we need to understand those, but a system on the scale of the Great Barrier Reef needs the system itself protected. And we need to do a huge amount of research as we go, to see what needs protection the most, and which species are adapting themselves and proving tougher.

The other thing is sea level rise. The inertia in the West Antarctic ice sheet is so big that the trillions of tons of ice in that thing are not going to change direction anytime soon. Sea level is going to continue rising for the next few centuries. We need to deal with the fact that coastal infrastructure is slowly going to be inundated. We need to work out what we can save, what communities we need to move.

All of these things are necessary to avoid the dislocations and breakdowns that can cascade and lead to conflict.

One of the big discussions has to be, how do we move human civilization forward in a sustainable way? Eternal economic growth isn’t working. We need the next generation to be innovating in this way too.

What do we say to the local communities who are just trying to lift themselves out of poverty? How do we balance the need to feed so many billions of people while protecting our reefs and forests and so on?

The answer to that is crystal clear. Marine reserves have more big fish in them, and these big fish produce far more eggs than smaller fish. That means an area of marine reserve maximises the fishery yield into areas outside that reserve.

In our case, we’ve been communicating that finding to locals in PNG – mostly young women who are able to advocate in their own community, saying that the fish stocks are better and bigger when we protect the big fish around the reef. We can help the locals set up these protected areas in the best place to maximise fish stocks in the future.

What’s the role of women and young girls in making these changes?

Empowering women is one of the crucial things that has to happen. I see that very clearly in places like Melanesia, where the women traditionally own the land and the sea country – you only owned land where your mother was from. So there’s a history of women making the decisions… than in the last few decades that’s broken down. Encouraging the women to regain the power they traditionally had is important.

And the other thing we found is the bulk of students coming through studying conservation or environmental management – the majority are women. There’s this huge resource of smart, well trained indigenous women in these places. So we set up this organisation called the Sea Women of Melanesia, kind of new age eco missionaries… and within a year or two they’ll be running it themselves, they won’t need our help anymore.

You ran for the senate in Australia in the last election, but why on earth would you want to get involved in politics? What do you want to get out of that?

I don’t have any real desire to be down in Canberra, but I look at it as a case of, if I don’t then who?

We need people who recognise that climate action is needed to solve all these problems we’re facing.

We didn’t win the seat, but we’ll run again in 2021. Because a lot of what has to happen requires political solutions. We need to change our leaders, not just our lightbulbs. The decisions made by our government will affect us all for decades to come. The vested interests are quite sickening, to tell you the truth – they’ll affect us and our kids. We need to enact the change we’re pushing for. It’s inevitable.

The guys in there now are on their last gasp. They’re the old guard, and they’re worried. It’s like South Africa and the apartheid regime. I speak to a lot of people who get despondent about the global situation, and the way governments and media disregard the science, and I just say, we’re about to go from candles to fires. You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire.

In climate action we’re just getting started.

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Dr Kelly Page

‘Leave your assumptions about age at the door’: a chat with Dr Kelly Page

Dr Kelly Page is an expert in youth innovation. With a career spanning the globe, she’s worked in academia, business and education as a learning consultant and educator, with a particular interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, design thinking and entrepreneurship. She’s also – lucky for us – an EarthTech Challenge expert, giving our participants an incredible opportunity work alongside her and draw on her experience.

We had a quick chat over Zoom to talk about what’s ahead. Listen to our full chat, or read some highlights below.

Q: In general, how can adults nurture or support the creativity of young people, without getting in the way?

A: When you’re working with young people, you need to create space for them to be as they want, and just ‘hang out.’

Kids have always been told what to do by adults, so as a result they often don’t feel heard, so a key thing to do is look at the language, get rid of the ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ labels and show that it’s just about people of different ages collaborating.

As opposed to a traditional hierarchical way, we need to level the playing field… often all young people need from adults is simply being connected to other people, the right people, who can mentor them.

Q: One of the things we do in the EarthTech Challenge is paring up teams with those mentors – scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, storytellers. For those mentors, what should they be doing to shape the ideas of the teams, to nurture without cripple the creativity?

A: What you have to do is actually listen. Not just with your ears, with your eyes.

See how the teams are responding in the situation, and what probing questions you can ask. Approach it from a storytelling aspect, as a human being who is interested – not as an ‘expert’ in the field.

It’s not about telling or imparting knowledge, it’s more a process of uncovering it together. The ability of the next generation to uncover and discover and find information is incredible. So as a mentor, remember you’re there to listen and guide. Don’t fill up the space with your ideas. Leave your title at the door.

Q: So many people are so vocally negative about Greta Thunberg and other young people who are speaking out and taking action. As someone dealing with young people every day, what are your thoughts about that?

A: The dilemma is that many adults come to the conversation with your people with THEIR view of the world. And that’s so different from a young person’s view of the world. They’ve grown up in an incredibly connected environment, where so much knowledge is at their fingertips, so we need to recognise our dismissal of young people is often our – older people’s – ignorance.

Some stories from my experience. We had a kindergarten class – kindergarten! – playing with light and colour, and they came up with a way you could make a kaleidoscope on a digital app. We brought a software engineer in and together we made an early learning tool to teach kids about colour and light. Seriously.

So we need to leave our assumptions about age at the door. We often assume that ‘expertise’ refers to years of experience, but really, it’s just about using knowledge in different ways to solve a problem. And yes, kids can have expertise. And they can make connections between ideas, often, quicker than we can. We can learn a lot from them.

(Of course, at the same time, they’re still kids. They’re teenagers. They do need lots of snacks!)

Q: What’s the difference between innovation and entrepreneurship, when dealing with young people?

To innovate, you need to be entrepreneurial – to move something from an idea, from the ideation phase, to impact, to launch in the world.

Entrepreneurship often gets put into the category of business, but historically, the earliest entrepreneurs were artists and artisans. It’s about taking a risk, knowing how to pivot and deal with uncertainty, building and developing that mindset.

From a practical point of view, in our schools we don’t spend enough time around fiscal management, financial literacy, and that’s an important part of entrepreneurship. Kids often graduate from school without knowing how to balance books, how to create a budget. We need to help them understand business models – for profit and not for profit models alike.

My parents had a business, so from when I was little, I saw my parents working and heard them talking about the finance side. The more you expose kids to that, the more they can understand the reality of ideas in the world.

It’s also about collaboration. Bringing team-based work and collaboration in is also really important to entrepreneurship.

Q: How do we create an EarthTech Challenge that gets the most out of these young people, and what can they expect to get out of it?

A: The design of it is crucial. It needs to make it personal to the participants. And it needs to be purposeful.

Purpose is highly linked to wellbeing – if you have a purpose of why you do what you do, it makes you feel really good. If participants see that what they’re doing has a purpose and can actually make a difference, will actually impact the earth, that will really give them agency.

They need to know we are committed to their ideas having possibility and reality in the world – it’s not just a competition. We’re going to actually make their ideas happen. So we need to define their role going forward, if their idea gets picked up and is something that gets invested in – what is their role as a cofounder of the technology that they’ve created?

At EarthTech, we have the connections to make this happen. Young people won’t just be a vocal part, but will actually be the ones to build the technologies and solutions that will save the planet.

 

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EarthTech Interviews News

Jandamarra Cadd

‘We need a perspective of We, not Me’: a chat with Jandamarra Cadd

Jandamarra Cadd is an acclaimed portrait artist and Aboriginal elder of Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung descent. We had a chat about what we can learn from first nations cultures about the environment, healing, and moving forward from trauma.

Listen to the whole podcast here, or read on for some highlights.

Jandamarra Cadd is one of the nation’s most eminent portrait artists, acclaimed in every major Australian portraiture award, including the Archibald Prize. He’s also an Aboriginal elder, descending from both Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung peoples – among the oldest living cultures in the world – a perspective which deeply informs his work and life.

Our founder Ant Moorhouse sat down with Jandamarra in Noosa to talk about the land, country and what all of us should know about first nations culture, healing, and the earth.

Listen to the whole podcast here, or read on for some highlights.

Q: For many Australians, especially those over a certain age, there’s always been this blank in our knowledge about Indigenous culture. Is this changing?

A: I think it’s slowly changing.

For such a long time, 200 years, there’s been this mentality of Aboriginal people as a backwards race of savages. This mentality didn’t see the sophisticated understanding that could have actually benefited all people in this country, that knows, ‘when that flower comes out the mud crab is ready, when that flower is out, don’t go fishing, wrong time, you’ll disrupt these million year cycles and disrupt your children’s children’s children’s future…’.
But what you share about that blank space is that people are wanting, now, to understand and fill it in. Mainstream Australia has a fragmented identity, and we yearn to understand about what has been here for so long.

Q: The world is changing, or at least it feels like it’s changing for the better, at least from my position of privilege… but is ‘reconciliation’ the right idea?

A: I think it’s hard, because reconciliation means ‘coming back to.’ But we’ve never actually had a conciliation. For the longest time, Australia has been trying to turn Aboriginal people into white people, and that’s caused so much damage. We have the highest rates of suicide and incarceration in the entire world, the lowest life expectancy of all people, in the entire world. It’s a struggle to know how to move forward.

How I share it, is that for Aboriginal people and the land, it’s like a fish in water. For Aboriginal people, and for all of us perhaps on a deeper level, that connection may look separate like a fish in water, but as soon as you try to take them apart, look what will happen. It starts to get separation anxiety and freak out, its organs and brains start to shut down, eventually it passes away. Aboriginal people are in that transition. You go ‘I don’t know who I am without my connection to country, the plants and animals.’ It’s genetic memory, memories of millions of years of what’s natural for me. When people say, get over it, they’re just saying ‘put a suit on and become like us.’ And this isn’t destroying a people, this is destroying the oldest continuous living culture in the world.

Q: How can we get us as humanity from exploiting the environment, to being stewards of the environment? The way that European, modern culture has exploited the land over the last few hundred years – there’s so much suffering. But the smartest tech and scientific people I know are going back to nature to learn, and the irony is that they’re going back to the old ways to learn. What is the foundation of the old ways – that connection to the land, and the knowledge base within that?

A: Well, Aboriginal people had no dentists, hospitals, no known tooth decay, no known diseases as we know today. All of these things that in Western culture run rampant. My great grandmother once said to me, ‘once you move away from this one,’ pointing to the ground, ‘you get this one – Rama Rama’ – it means sickness of the spirit, body, everything. The further you move from the land, the further you move from who you are.

What I see it as, the Aboriginal people understood they were a part of something, not separate to it. Everything is based around an inherent understanding that we are one with everything. For Aboriginal people, their connection to that flower, that dirt, that tree, and their responsibility to look after it – it wasn’t an effort or that they have to do, it was natural. It was self.

Q: In modern life, by contrast, it’s so different. We’re not connected to our food supply; our feet aren’t connected to the earth… how do we move forwards? What does that look like?

A: Moving forwards is about bringing what is behind, or back – but not in a linear sense, bringing it back rather in the way of a circle or the spiral.

You can’t deny what is here. But the technology we have has to align with that natural law, that’s about the sustainability of all life.

Technology used in a way that facilitates the role of nature, that facilitates education, that infiltrates all these systems that treat all these things as separate and with such disrespect and disregard… that’s positive. For example, a lot of people are infused with this deep feeling of loneliness and isolation and suffering, which is due to no connection to your community, with people, with your environment – but technology can bring people back together.

Ultimately if you dig all those holes bigger, and cut down that tree to get that one fruit, you’re taking from your children’s future, you’re taking from your your children’s children’s future, and in that I feel it’s the greatest form of child abuse that could ever exist, in that ‘I want what I want now, but you’re not going to have it tomorrow because of that.’

I feel like this modern day way is not wrong or bad, but it needs to be in balance, and we need to be aware that ‘we are that’ not ‘we own that.’

Q: So how do we collectively go about healing indigenous communities that are hurting so much because of the past?

A: I feel the greatest step is acknowledgement. Aboriginal people aren’t looking to assign blame. It’s not about blame, it’s about healing.

But you can’t heal if the majority of a society is ignorant – about the massacres, the rapes, the brainwashing of kids to think their culture is wrong. My family is lathered in intergenerational trauma. Trauma gets passed down, and hence the high rates of suicide and incarceration. But acknowledgement leads to coexistence. It can enrich the lives of all people.

Q: With the welcome to country, should there be a reply? It’s a one-sided, sometimes token gesture. Are we meant to respond?

A: I don’t think so. It’s more of an acknowledgement. If people want to come up and say thank you, that’s deeply respectful, but it’s a thing that people should sit, and absorb and take in, with sacred reverence.

We need to see that an indigenous culture, or ‘back there,’ isn’t behind. ‘Back there’ is where you’re headed to. It’s a circle. A connection to land and ourselves through all of these things, everything else starts to make sense in our lives.

The fragmentation that happens [with our mainstream way of life], this ignorance, this separation from everything, it keeps us imprisoned in a way of being that can’t last. The earth will get rid of us – we’re damaging the earth which simply means it’s us becoming the endangered species.

We need to come from a perspective of ‘we’, not ‘me.’

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EarthTech Interviews News

Dr Hugh Possingham

‘Yes, we can save the planet’: a chat with Dr Hugh Possingham

Hugh Possingham is chief scientist at the global environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy. We asked him about climate change, technology and optimism.

Dr Hugh Possingham is one of Australia’s most eminent scholars, and currently leads global environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy as its scientist-in-chief. He’s also one Earth Tech’s expert advisors, giving us extraordinary access to one of the planet’s greatest thinkers in conservation, ecology, technology, and the interaction of all three.

Our founder Ant Moorhouse sat down with Hugh over a virtual cup of tea to talk about innovation, politics and why it’s smart to be optimistic about the future. 

Watch the whole Q&A here, or read on for some highlights.

Q: What’s The Nature Conservancy’s approach to climate change?

A: Tackling climate change [is] the 800 pound gorilla in the room. There’s no point sorting out water, food, protected areas and energy issues unless we tackle climate change head on – both mitigation activities and adaptation activities. And now we’re working in 74 countries doing that. 

Q: At The Nature Conservancy you seem extremely pragmatic. What’s with that?

A: People will only [change their behaviour] if they realise it’s important to them, so we very much embrace the pragmatic ‘ecosystem services’ view of nature. 

Pollination is falling to pieces all over the planet, and we need to deal with those things, and that’s a problem largely with pesticides and native vegetation. Fisheries are sustaining hundreds of millions of people in terms of protein, so we need to sort out not just big fisheries but also help smaller artisanal fisheries become more sustainable, from the Solomon Islands to Ecuador. So we see our outcomes as actions on the ground, in a bigger context.

Q: Are you an optimist or a pessimist about humanity, the world and where we’re heading?

A: I’m very much an optimist… I mean, I’ve been through some depressing fights, a lot of habitat has been destroyed, and things seem to be going backwards but we also know we’re going from seven and a half billion people to eleven billion people. That’s someone unavoidable. And if you look at how we’ve performed in terms of biodiversity, half the numbers of plants and animals on the planet have disappeared in the last fifty years.

But a lot of that is due to stupidity, and bad actions, and inefficiencies. Technology is an important player. Wind and solar in Australia now are far more cost effective than coal, there’s enormous battery storage, agricultural technology changes – we did the analysis, and we think we can have our cake and eat it too. We can provide the prosperity to have eleven billion people without stuffing the planet. We need to act, though, VERY fast in the next ten years.

Q: What does that mean to you, that we can have our cake and eat it too?

A: Technology. It’s driving the long term sustainable growth of the planet. Growth in one sense has to end – we can’t just pack more and more people on to the planet, and we can’t just continue to consume. But the other big driver of growth, the 7% GDP that countries aspire to – that’s technology. And technology has shown no sign of slowing down. 

Most of the vegetables on the planet [in the future] will be grown hydroponically in massive farms beneath cities, no transport costs, virtually no water use. Power use, yes, but with low cost energy. In some sense it’s what the Dutch are already doing, in greenhouses. You can feed an enormous number of people on this stuff. 

You look at the fisheries. The five hundred biggest fisheries of the world have actually turned around. The abundance of them are starting to recover… the boats have better technology, the fish are marked and the supply chains can be monitored and on average with the mathematical and statistical modelling they’re looking up. It’s the nine and a half thousand small scale fisheries on the planet that are lagging.

Q: How do you address climate change deniers?

A: Climate change is a fact. It’s disappointing this issue is still being discussed. But to the [deniers] holding out, let’s pretend… let’s say it’s only 50/50. Imagine there’s a 50% chance that climate change will get away from us and we’ll head towards 4, 5, or 6 degrees Celsius, which really would be pretty nasty for nature and people across the entire planet… the cost of going carbon neutral in a country like Australia is only about one cappuccino, per person, per week. Would you be willing to forgo a cappuccino every week to stop the chance of civilisation as we know it ending, as an insurance policy?

And all the things we’re going to do to reverse climate change have all these extra side benefits to them as well. Better water, food, more access to green space, all the things that make people mentally and physically happier.

Q: So what’s the role of technology in conservation, looking ahead?

A: It’s an exciting time. We actually have all the technology we need to save the planet. Well and truly. It’s just not being deployed fast enough and scaled quickly enough to get where we want. 

It’ll get there, but the longer we wait the bigger the price we have to pay.