Doomsday preppers: paranoid nutjobs or eco-visionaries?

By Andy Mason, originally published in Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit, 26th May 2016

Recently, in order to avoid doing any actual study about environmental issues, I’ve been binge watching National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers. It follows US families who’ve devoted themselves to preparing for any number of doomsday scenarios – everything from natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes to a nuclear attack or economic collapse. Many have invested tens of thousands of dollars or more in any number of elaborate schemes to protect their family from catastrophe – underground bunkers, home-made tanks, surveillance systems, booby-traps, you name it. Of course, most are also obsessed with stockpiling as many guns and as much ammunition as possible so they can defend themselves and their families from the hostile masses should society go belly-up.

It’s easy to dismiss the “preppers” as paranoid nutjobs, and I suspect this spectacle is the primary appeal of the show. Preppers seem like the ultimate proof of the absurd individualism of American culture – so convinced that the government is either incompetent or out to get them, and so distrustful of everyone else in their communities, that they have become obsessed with total self-reliance. Most of the protagonists are suburban white men, and I’m sure you could write essays for gender studies about prepping as performative masculinity, a macho façade which hides a deep sense of insecurity.

However, there is more beneath the surface. Many preppers are interested not only in defence, but in ensuring they can provide for themselves after the collapse. This has led many of them to ingenious DIY green designs in their attempt to ensure self-sufficiency. There are lots of examples of excellent home gardens built along organic/permaculture principles, rainwater collection or water purification systems and home-made renewable energy setups. One guy has even built an apparatus like a giant magnifying glass using the screen from an old television, which enables him to cook and even melt steel using only sunlight.

One of the most interesting examples I found was in season 3 episode 3, where Arizona family man Chad demonstrates both sides of the prepper universe. Chad is convinced that the US government is eventually going to wage nuclear war on its citizens, so he is building a bunker in his backyard and giving his young daughters firearms training.

However, Chad has also developed an aquaponics garden which easily produces enough food for his family. Aquaponics is a combination of fish farming and vegetable gardening, where the water (containing nutrient-rich fish crap) is pumped through the garden beds and then waste plant material is fed to the fish, forming a closed system that requires no other inputs. This allows fish and vegetables to be grown very quickly and efficiently. The only waste produced is algae, which, in a further stroke of genius, Chad is able to convert into a natural fuel called biodiesel, enabling his family to be self-sufficient not only in food but in fuel as well.

As environmentalists, I wonder if there isn’t something we can learn from people like Chad. Ultimately the environmental movement must focus on broad social change, not just celebrating people who’ve cut themselves off from society, but the preppers have many important lessons to share about how to do more with less. They show us that other ways of doing things are possible – maybe if we can convince them that Bush didn’t do 9/11, we can get somewhere.

Citizen Science at Vickery Forest

Citizen Science at Vickery Forest


Words & Pictures by Andy & Amy.

Andy is studying Geography, Political Economy & Indigenous Studies at Sydney University and has been involved with ASEN for a couple of years.  

Amy is in her first year of a Bachelor of Science and Fine Arts, studying psychology and biology and has only recently, but enthusiastically,  become involved in ASEN.

We recently participated in a citizen science trip up to Vickery State Forest. 

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Coal & coal seam gas mining in north-western NSW has been the target of enormous protests in recent years. ASEN members have been involved in campaigns in the Pilliga, near Breeza and at the Leard Blockade near Maules Creek. There are enormous plans by the fossil fuel industry to turn the Liverpool Plains into a new Hunter Valley – a once-rich agricultural area now pockmarked by coal mines. A diverse coalition of farmers, environmentalists and the local Aboriginal traditional owners, the Gomeroi, have come together to oppose the industry’s destruction of farmland, biodiversity and cultural heritage – not to mention the contribution which these projects will have to global climate change.

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On Friday the 5th of August, we drove up to Maules Creek, spotting an echidna wandering off the road as we arrived late at night. We were welcomed with hot tea and hot water bottles, a blessing in the near-freezing north-west night. Our weekend getaway wasn’t only to check out the beautiful scenery and animals, we were there to help out the Leard Forest Research node, a citizen science group focused on effects of coal mines in & around Maules Creek on local community & environment.

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Waking up to a chilly Saturday morning in a cottage on a local farmer’s property, we met some of the group – a diverse bunch of people including locals, farmers, environmentalists, Gomeroi people and other students. We drove out to the Vickery State Forest, a beautiful area to the south-east of the Leard State Forest which has been largely destroyed by open-cut coal mines. Vickery Forest is also threatened by a planned “expansion” of the Vickery coal mine, which would see the destruction of the vegetation and the animals that depend on it. It turns out this expansion is basically a whole new mine project, vastly larger than the one which was originally approved and which will be even larger than the existing open-cut mines in the area.1

The Leard Forest Research Node is using citizen science to challenge the further expansion of coal mining in the area. Our main aim for Saturday was to do some preliminary vegetation surveys & look for Koala habitats. We broke off into groups and sure enough found some good stands of critically endangered White Box-Yellow Box-Blakeley’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and although we didn’t spot any koalas we found some koala scats, meaning that they’re certainly around. We headed back to the cottage and a beautiful view of the sunset over the plains. On Sunday, we continued looking for koalas in another area in a travelling stock route next to the Namoi river, next to the proposed mine site. As it’s only a couple of hundred metres from the river, there is a lot of community concern about the high likelihood of impacts on the river as well as on groundwater.

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A Bearded Dragon in the Vickery Forest
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A “scar tree”, from which Gomeroi ancestors have cut a section of bark for use in carrying food, water or young babies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To stay tuned with the campaign, follow Front Line Action on Coal on Facbeook or Twitter, or check out their website

There is a feature documentary about the Leard Blockade, now available on DVD.

For more info about the impacts of coal mining on local farmers, ABC recently released this program.

SBS made this short piece about the destruction of Gomeroi/Gamilaraay cultural heritage by coal and CSG mining.

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Join us next week at Climate Camp '09

We hope to see you next weekend at Climate Camp ’09 at Australia’s oldest coal mine: where actions speak louder than words.

From Friday October 9 – Sunday 11th, pitch your tent alongside hundreds of others at Climate Camp ’09 – or stroll in for an afternoon – for great workshops, music, art, food and positive climate action.

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THE DETAILS

When is it? Friday October 9th (set up from 9am, Welcome to Country at 12 midday); to Sunday October 11th.  You can also check out the Facebook event.

How do I get there?
Helensburgh Park, Helensburgh (40 mins south of Sydney).  Check out the map at here.  It’s easily accessible by train and car, see here for details and directions.  We’ll have huge marquees, toilets, showers, decorations, kitchens, tents, solar panels galore, and a whole lot more.

How much? Anyone is welcome to come to Climate Camp ’09, and entry is by donation.  We’re suggesting a range of $5 per day (for low-income folks / students, incl. some food) to $20 a day (for waged folks, incl. food all meals).  For more details, see here.  Kids are free.

Can I bring the kids? It’s school holidays, and we’re ready for a flood of kids at Climate Camp.  Bring them along!  We’re preparing a big Art Space and a Kids’ Tent, with great volunteers co-ordinating heaps of hands-on activities, crafts, and fun learning about climate change and sustainability.

What’s on? There is an exciting and packed program for Climate Camp ’09.  Kicking off with a Welcome to Country from Uncle Dootch (Dharawal Traditional Owner and Chairperson of the Illawarra Aboriginal Land Council), then workshops on new media, climate justice and coal expansion. On Saturday, there’ll be practical workshops about taking action and learning your legal rights, great forums on political donations, sustainable transport, and planning for a vibrant community action on Sunday.  Download the Climate Camp Program here.

Check out the Get Ready for Climate Camp page for more details, such as:

  • What you need to bring
  • Food at Climate Camp (bring your own or eat ours)
  • Options for folks who can’t camp (billeting and local accomodation)
  • Who will I camp with?  Neighbourhoods at Climate Camp
  • Frequently Asked Questions, and
  • Climate Camp’s Participants’ Agreements

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THE ACTION

Join the Climate Camp ’09 community rally and walk-on at Australia’s oldest coal mine


Join hundreds of parents, youths, locals and workers in a community rally and peaceful walk-on to the site of Australia’s oldest coal mine in Helensburgh.

The Climate Camp ’09 action is on Sunday 11 October starting 11am at Charles Harper Park (cnr Walker and Parkes St, Helensburgh). Please wear blue and be creative around the theme of water, climate and jobs.

The NSW Government has recently approved an extension of the Metropolitan Colliery coal mine for a further 23 years. The mine uses a process of ‘longwall’ mining that involves removing coal from long shafts, then allowing the earth above it to collapse. The Metropolitan expansion will mine directly underneath southern Sydney’s main drinking water supply, threatening Woronora Dam, and polluting more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
Speakers at this climate justice action include Uncle Dootch Kennedy (Traditional Owner of Dharawal land, Chairperson of the Illawarra Aboriginal Land Council), Graham Brown (retired coal miner), Julie Sheppard (Rivers SoS) and Lee Rhiannon (NSW Greens MP). There will also be a number of entertaining performers supporting this powerful community action.
Don’t miss this important opportunity to wear blue and be part of the flood for climate justice. When it comes to water, climate and jobs, actions speak louder than words.
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WHAT YOU CAN DO

How can I help? You can invite your friends with the Facebook event; organise with other parents to bring along the kids for a school holiday treat; get together with a bunch of your mates to camp together; or just come along for the powerful and peaceful community action at Australia’s oldest coal mine on Sunday October 11th.  For the keen beans, we’d love help setting up on Thursday Oct 8th (packing down on Monday Oct 12th) in Helensburgh from 9am.

Follow us around: Drop an email, follow us on Twitter, and check out our website for updates throughout Climate Camp ’09.

Donate: You can make a donation to Climate Camp ’09, by sending a cheque (to 19 Eve St, Erskineville NSW 2043), pay online via our website, or deposit directly into the bank account (Climate Camp Australia, Account Number: 984525802, BSB: 650 000).

Check out exciting news from Climate Camps around the world.  When we pitch our tents next week we will not be alone. We will be part of a global movement of tens of thousands of people attending Climate Camps to push for change and climate justice.

Last week, North Americans at the West Coast Climate Convergence took on Chevron and big oil; 1500 people in Copenhagen taking action to shut down a coal-fired power station; and South Australians staged their first Climate Camp, taking community action against coal-fired power.  For information about the flood of community climate action, check out the links at www.climatecamp.org.au or listen to this great radio/podcast series Camping all the Way to Copenhagen.
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JOIN US AT CLIMATE CAMP ’09

Climate Camp is for all of us – because when it comes to water, climate and jobs; actions speak louder than words. We hope you’ll join us at Climate Camp ’09 – with our kids and parents, our neighbours and friends – so we can begin building solutions together.

For climate justice and a kick-arse Climate Camp,

Holly and James

For the Climate Camp ’09 Organising Collective info@climatecamp.org.au

P.S. Check out www.climatecamp.org.au and join hundreds of folks next weekend from October 9 – 11th at Climate Camp ’09: three days of sustainable living and community action in Helensburgh, at Australia’s oldest coal mine.

Can’t make it for the whole weekend?
Just come along to the Climate Camp ’09 action at 11am on Sunday October 11th, at Australia’s oldest coal mine, for water, good jobs, and climate justice.

Daring climate protest targets polluting aluminium smelter – Rising Tide

Media Release 9th June 2009

Climate change protestors have halted production in Australia’s largest aluminium smelter by attaching themselves to a weigh bridge that is a pinch-point of the operation.

tomago-aluminium-protest

The protestors are angry that heavily polluting industries, like aluminium smelting, will receive 90% of their pollution permits free from the Federal Government under the controversial Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, allowing them to carry on largely unaffected by pollution constraints, and leaving the public to pick up the cost of reducing greenhouse emissions.

Aluminium smelting is an extremely energy intensive industry, and the Tomago plant has a constant demand of around 900MW of power, which is supplied from greenhouse polluting coal-fired power stations.

The Hunter’s two aluminium smelters, at Tomago and Kurri Kurri, use 15% of NSW’s electricity, yet are charged just one sixth of the cost per mega watt paid by ordinary energy consumers. The annual electricity subsidy to the aluminium industry has been estimated to be at least $210 million.

“The Tomago Aluminium smelter alone is excepted to receive over $250 million in free permits in the first year of the CPRS. It is half owned by mining and aluminium giant Rio Tinto, which last year posted a profit of $15.8 billion,” said Steve Phillips, spokesperson for protest organisers Rising Tide Newcastle.

“The Government is pursuing a backwards climate policy that rewards big polluting companies like Rio Tinto at the expense of the rest of the community and the world.

“Aluminium smelting in Australia is two-and-a-half times more greenhouse polluting than the world average, because our energy comes almost exclusively from coal burning.

“At this crucial hour in world history, we should be forcing plants like this to use renewable energy – not paying them to use coal power. The Aluminium industry needs to clean up, or clean out.

“The Federal Government needs to shift focus from compensation to restructuring. We call on the Federal Government to reverse the perverse subsidies given to coal-powered aluminium smelters and make assistance under any emissions trading scheme conditional on an urgent switch to renewable energy for all smelters.”

Check out photos and footage at: http://risingtide.org.au/node/901

Dramatic climate protest over Budget at Parliament House in Canberra

06623315001Eight people were arrested during a dramatic protest at Parliament House in Canberra this morning.

Two women disrupted Treasurer Wayne Swan’s post-budget address in the Great Hall, protesting at the government’s shamefully inadequate response to climate change in both this budget and its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

At the same time, seven women locked themselves together in a circle in the main foyer of Parliament, chanting slogans calling for swift and meaningful greenhouse pollution cuts, not handouts to polluting industries.

Meanwhile, outside, two protesters in climbing harnesses abseiled from the front facade of Parliament, hanging an eight metre long banner reading “Carbon Budget Blowout”.

The budget address comes just a week after the Federal Government back-flipped on its promise that their controversial Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme would take effect from next year.

Georgina Woods, spokesperson for protest organisers Rising Tide Newcastle: “The Government has utterly failed to deliver on its promise to take effective action to reduce greenhouse emissions. They will take us to the next Federal election with greenhouse pollution still rising.

“The Budget released last night is a black hole. They are throwing money everywhere but where it needs to be: urgently bringing down greenhouse emissions.”

Legislation for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is expected to be introduced into parliament this week but protestors say the scheme is riddled with problems.

“With just six months till the crucial Copenhagen climate talks, and a Government enslaved to big polluting industries, every parliamentarian must examine their conscience: one day, we will have to explain what we did to our children.”

The eight people arrested were subsequently released without charge.

Some images and media coverage here:

http://media.theage.com.au/national/breaking-news/protesters-scale-parliament-516938.html

http://conorashleigh.com/zenphoto/index.php?album=stories%2Fbudget-blow-out-parliament-house-act-australia

http://www.news.com.au/gallery/0,23607,5051169-5010140-2,00.html
http://risingtide.org.au/budgetclimateprotest
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,25474102-29277,00.html
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/05/13/2569313.htm