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Banking on the Reef


Photo credit: Paul Toogood (Flickr)


Adani’s Carmichael coalmine would be disastrous for the Great Barrier Reef, but the company needs the support of banks, which in turn need our support. Alix Foster Vander Elst gives you the lowdown and lets you know how people power can help. Alix works for Greenpeace, but she has prepared this article as a volunteer in her personal capacity. The views expressed in this piece are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of Greenpeace. 

For anyone concerned about Australia’s natural environment, 2015 was the year of the Great Barrier Reef. Adani (the company wanting to build a huge coal mine next to our Reef) and the government fought to push forward a project that will invariably damage the Reef. The Australian people fought back even harder.

What happened?

In a whirlwind few months:

  • the government announced a plan for reef protection, which the Australian Conservation Foundation said did not take into account the mine’s effects on the Reef
  • UNESCO decided the plan was okay-ish but they’ll be checking on its progress in 18 months
  • a legal challenge resulted in environment minister Greg Hunt’s approval for the coalmine being thrown out (all thanks to a skink and a snake!)
  • traditional owners spoke up about the horrific effects the mine would have on their land
  • and, crucially, more banks announced they won’t fund the coal mine.

Why is that last point crucial? Well, building the mine will take a lot of money. Adani doesn’t have this kind of cash, so it will need to borrow it. The company could borrow from an international bank but, according to Market Forces, it will also almost certainly need the involvement of an Aussie bank.

So how do Australia’s big banks rate when it comes to the Reef?

  • NAB – have said they will not fund the mine 🙂
  • The Commonwealth Bank – pulled out of its advisory role but hasn’t explicitly said it won’t fund it 😕
  • Westpac – recently announced it won’t be funding projects that will contribute to Earth’s temperature warming above 2°C. But the bank hasn’t explicitly ruled out funding this mine 😕
  • ANZ –made a vague commitment like Westpac’s, but it’s even less clear 🙁

Okay, so what can I do about it?

Did you know that the big four have lent $36.7 billion to fossil fuel projects in Australia since 2008? That’s money that was lent to the banks by the vast majority of Australians. Here’s how you can protect the Great Barrier Reef with your banking choices:

  1. Check how your bank rates. Use Market Forces’s handy comparison table.
  2. Change banks. Use Market Forces’s How to Switch Banks and Make it Count.
  3. Tell your bank what you think! Banks really do care what their customers think of them (especially if you’re threatening to leave). When people leave in big numbers, and the bank knows it’s because of a specific project, it makes them sit up!

Some other great resources to help you bank ethically are, and So go on – get informed, make some noise and help protect our Reef!

For more ideas from Otter about how and why you can use your money to change the world, you might like to check out our previous articles on superannuation, Superannuation: one of your biggest opportunities to change the world, and the follow-up, Superannuation: still one of your biggest opportunities to change the world.

Photo credit: Paul Toogood cc. This image was not modified.

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How to keep cool this summer (and still save the world)

keep cool

Photo credit: Robert S (Flickr)


Summer is most definitely here, as the animals at Taronga can attest! It has become so easy to rely on air conditioning at home, but before turning on that AC, Emma Prineas has some suggestions on how to beat the heat in each room of the house.

The bedroom

Don’t let hot nights keep you from sleeping soundly. Lightweight cotton sheets will keep you cool in the summer, as the fabric is more breathable than synthetics. Choosing a light colour rather than a dark shade will keep the heat to a minimum as well. On super hot nights, pop your sheets in the freezer (in a bag of course) for a few minutes before bed. Or freeze a hot water bottle or ice pack (sports or otherwise), then take it out of the freezer and wrap it in a pillowcase to cuddle while you sleep. Some people swear by Egyptian cotton for sheets* but it’s not just cotton that the Egyptians have got right. The “Egyptian method” of cooling down in the heat is to dampen your top sheet in cool water before cuddling up under it. Add a buckwheat pillow under your head for comfort and you’re ready to slumber.

Putting talcum powder on the sheets is one of those old fashioned remedies – try it and see. If you have fabric curtains, let the ends sit in a bucket of water, and cool down as the breeze pushes the cold air into the room. If you’ve got a fan, put a block of ice in front of it and voila! And sorry guys, but as we all know, sleeping alone is far cooler than sharing your bed!

The living room

Keep the cool in by shutting all the doors and windows, and closing the drapes of curtains. This will keep the cool air in, rather than allowing the room to heat up. When the sun goes down and the night has dropped the temperature a little, you can open them up again and you’ll be the coolest cat on the street.

Using a fan? If it’s cooled down outside, pop the fan facing away from you. This will draw out the heat, and pull in the cooler air. And of course, turn off the lights (and any other electricals) whenever you can, as these are tiny little heat packs! In the long term, plan to replace the lights in key rooms with LEDs, which give off far less heat. If it’s scorching, hang a damp sheet in front of your window, and the breeze will push cooled air into the room.

The bathroom

Cold showers are an obvious choice (with a load of benefits), but a fully clothed cold shower on the hottest of hot days will bring your core temperature right down. And for those who can stand it, a cooling bath will do the trick.

While you’re in there, grab a face washer, dampen it and keep on you all day, cooling your forehead or the back of your neck when you need it. You could even dampen fabric bracelets to keep your pulse points cool.

The kitchen

We all know it – keep that oven off in the summer. A working oven, open or closed, will warm the entire house up, and who wants a hot meal in summer anyway. Ditto for the stove: don’t plan on boiling up any potatoes! Your body generates more heat with a big meal, so stick to light, room temperature foods. Think of cooling summer soups like gazpacho or chilled cucumber soup.

There’s debate as to whether hot or cold drinks cool you down more. In days gone by, the British would drink hot tea in the colonies, causing them to sweat and thus bring their body temperatures down. Similarly, you’ll often find soup on Caribbean menus. And if you can’t live without your espresso in the morning but the heat is just too much? Freeze it and enjoy a coffee iceblock for breakfast.

*actually, not today’s topic, but you need to be careful with actual Egyptian cotton due to reports of child labour in the Egyptian cotton industry.

Photo credit: Robert S cc. This image was not modified.

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Unwanted Christmas presents? Regift, repurpose, recycle

Christmas cry

Photo credit: Michael Bentley (Flickr)

Tired of waking up each Boxing Day with a social conscience as overburdened as your digestive system? Tony Ryan shows you how to alleviate the guilt that comes with a stocking full of unwanted Christmas presents.

This Christmas, my family instigated a Kris Kringle arrangement. So while my arms were relieved when I carried home a considerably smaller pile of Yuletide bling this year, my conscience was equally relaxed – I didn’t have to stuff a cupboard full of unwanted presents, unlike many previous Christmases.

Not that I blame my kind-hearted loved ones. Sometimes family members just get it wrong. You can drop all the hints you want about the latest Grand Theft Auto video game but end up with John Hopkins University Press’s history of auto theft, Stealing Cars. (Which I’m told is an authoritative account, but which no-doubt lacks the fun factor of the game.)

Then there’s the always-awkward double-up present – your dad and your partner get their wires crossed and end up buying you the same gift. They both know your tastes, but they failed to coordinate their shopping. This year I received two boxed sets of the entire run of Friends … ahem, I mean two copies of the complete works of Leo Tolstoy. And as mad keen as I am on Leo, that’s too much Russian profundity for Christmas time.

Luckily for me, there are a number of ways to deal with gifts like the 2015 calendar that my sister gave me this Christmas. (Seriously, Sis, put some effort in next year.)

Donate them

Perhaps the most time-honoured way to deal with the fifth set of cheese knives Grandma has given you in as many years is to donate them to charity. St Vinnies, the Salvos and other charities will accept just about anything, but many other organisations will take your unwanted gifts. Libraries accept donations of books, and local sports clubs will take soccer balls, cricket bats and the like. GiveNow lists organisations that refurbish and donate unwanted bicycles, and Givit and Good360 allow you to search for ways to donate specific goods.

You can always stockpile your novelty mugs and give them to people who might actually appreciate them next Christmas. But, unless you want to make a point and risk a tense Christmas dinner this year, it’s best not to give Uncle George the same Star Wars-themed chess set he gave you in 2015.

Swap them

There are many online and offline exchanges that allow you to find someone who will love your unwanted presents and happily accept them in exchange for theirs. Swishing is the practice of swapping clothes and accessories for others, saving you money and reducing your environmental footprint. Then there’s Clothing Exchange, Thread Swap and Oxfam’s Exchange for Change. With all these options, why not see if you can go the whole year without buying a single item of clothing!

Sell them

Selling your unwanted presents requires a bit of discretion. Don’t sell that jelly bean-scented phone case (yep, unfortunately, that’s a thing) online if you know that the person who gave it to you regularly scopes out your eBay page. Likewise, if you have an aunt or uncle who relays to the entire extended family every scrap of gossip they come across, don’t tell them you’re heartlessly selling the bacon-flavoured dental floss (which, you guessed it, is also a thing) that Mum gave you.

But with a bit of caution, you can make some moolah from those less-than-desirable gifts (if you can find someone who’s in the market for toilet paper printed with brain teasers).

If your generous but misguided loved ones haven’t yet adopted a Kris Kringle, bring it up well before Christmas 2016. You’ll save yourself the hassle of shopping for fifteen nephews, aunts and grandparents, and spare yourself the emotional energy required to grin through gritted teeth and thank cousin Jim for the spectacles that double as chopsticks.

Photo credit: Michael Bentley cc. This image was not modified.

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Sustainability resolutions for 2016


Photo credit: Laurie Wilson (Flickr)


Riding the wave of optimism that has come from 2015’s environmental advancements, Emma Prineas takes you through her new year’s sustainability resolutions.

Go vegan or vegetarian five days a week

We all know that the huge consumption of meat and dairy is having an enormous adverse effect on our environment, in terms of emissions, biodiversity loss, run off – the list goes on. The World Health Organization’s recent confirmation that red meat is likely carcinogenic, and the rise in meat-substitute products, makes the start of 2016 a great time to commit to a few (or more) meat-free days every week.

Experiment with Veganuary, giving you a month meat-free. And after you’re done, set yourself a challenge to go meat-free Monday to Friday. There are loads of websites with recipes to kick you off, such as

Read labels

It’s easy to habitually go for familiar brands when you’re at the supermarket. But every dollar you spend is a vote for your values. So, get into the habit of checking ingredients, sources and packaging when you shop. What should you look for?

  • Certified sustainable palm oil. This ubiquitous stuff appears in a myriad products under all sorts of different names. It means saying hello to CC’s, and farewell to Doritos, owned by PepsiCo. Check that the company is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and make a statement with your purchase.
  • Fairtrade ingredients, particularly in tea and cocoa, both of which should be clearly labelled. Try Green & Blacks for chocolate and fairtrade green tea, both commonly available, and tell the supermarkets that this is important to you.
  • Sustainable or responsibly sourced paper. The packages on most toilet papers, kitchen rolls and tissues in the supermarket indicate whether the products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Check for the little FSC logo on the back to make the responsible choice.
  • Social support: get into the habit of seeking out companies that have a social conscience. A great example is toilet paper producer Who Gives A Crap, which donates 50% of its profits to build toilets in the developing world (and handily is also uses only 100% post consumer waste recycled fibres!).
  • Recyclable materials: Single-use plastic is an environmental disaster, so stick to recyclable packaging and materials. And when you need a new utensil? Don’t buy it new – head to your favourite second-hand store, check out eBay, or ask your friends if they’ve got a spare one.

Give more than you get

Give. Give love, time, care and thought. We overflow with abundance at this time of year, so it’s a particularly great time to reflect on those who are less fortunate, or who are having a tough time. Make an impact incognito with Kindness Cards from the Wake Up project, and pay the love forward. Offer to volunteer in your community. Go on a trip that also raises money for a cause you care about, for example, join the 12-day Moon Bear Challenge hike in northern Vietnam with Inspired Adventures. Or offer your skills on the board of a not-for-profit. Check out GoVolunteer or for inspiration.

BYO n’ go

Become an expert at bringing your own. Take water out with you, or an empty flask that you can refill at will, to avoid purchasing bottled water (read more about that environmental disaster here), and get a KeepCup from your fave cause to put your daily coffee in while making a statement! Going to the supermarket? Take your own fabric bags, or even bring your own packaging – think Tupperware – to avoid the small bags or plastic wrap that can come with loose fruit and veg.

Declutter your mind, home and life

Starting from the inside out, get clear on your goals by cultivating mindfulness, creating peace in your inner world. Break it down into weekly focusses, that become monthly goals. Project that peace to your immediate family or community by decluttering the things that you don’t value. Turn off the tablet and invite them around. Push that peace right out to your community, donating anything you haven’t used in 12 months to someone who needs it. The less “stuff” you have, the more space you have to find your authentic self, and live your authentic life.

Start At The Beginning…

So, where to begin? Set your goals, and work out how to break them down so that they stick. For more ideas, see some more examples of the New Years Resolutions of members of the Ethical Writers Coalition such as:

Photo credit: Laurie Wilson cc

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The clean, green thrill of a cold shower

Photo credit: Cristiano Betta (Flickr)

Photo credit: Cristiano Betta (Flickr)

JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. While “the other things” he referred to almost certainly didn’t include taking cold showers, Tony Ryan thinks JFK’s famous quote can be applied to adopting this practice to reduce your impact on the environment.

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Host a waste-free party this festive season

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle; The Green Gables; Mack Male (all Flickr)

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle; the green gables; Mack Male (all Flickr)

The festive season is almost upon us and with the mad Christmas rush, it’s easy to let our waste-free principles fall by the wayside. Stephanie Lewis shows you how to be the host or hostess with the most, except when it comes to waste, with just a little planning.

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