Tracy Marsh is a policy officer at the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). Here, she gives us an enlightening conversation by sharing her knowledge and opinion on the environment, raising issues that are relevant to the anthropocene and suggesting possible options for the future.
Are there any major environmental issues, which you personally find are of particular concern for society today?
Toxicants (harmful industrial chemicals or pesticides being used in products or being released into the environment and harming human health, waterways, etc), Resource depletion, Overfishing, Deforestation, Climate Change.
Do you think the current levels of awareness people have for the environment is reasonable? Or should such issues be pushed further into the forefront of people’s concerns?
I think the level of awareness of school children has much improved but I believe that people’s level of awareness is generally too low. Too many people turn a blind eye to environmental issues. Also there is too much focus on too few issues. Since Climate Change became a better-known issue there has been less focus on other environmental issues. Few people care about other issues – for example, biodiversity. Also there are incredibly many people who deny even climate change, and come up with ridiculous reasons for the increased numbers of hot days etc.
Waste is one of the major issues concerning the environment, (from electrical, to food wastage, to industrial) what is your opinion on this?
I am very concerned about the level of waste being generated, mainly as this means a lot of resources being consumed. I am also concerned about the toxicity of some of the waste generated, for example, the heavy metals and flame retardants in electrical goods. All the trucks driving to landfills seems excessive and especially the ships carrying recyclables to other countries. It’s sad that poor people in developing countries need to pull apart toxic electricals, etc to make a living. It also seems very sad that so much food goes to waste, even before it leaves the supermarket and from our fridges here in Australia, when people are short of food in other countries. Our landfills are filling up in Sydney and all this waste will have to be driven further away.
When addressing waste issues/environmental issues there appears to a greater focus on the collective issues, such that individual contributions are often neglected. For example – In the UK 65% of tea drinkers admit to over filling their kettle when they only need enough hot water for one cup of tea. The extra water becomes an issue as the energy used to boil the extra water is essentially wasted energy, and it has been calculated that this extra energy use in one day is enough to light all of the streetlights in England for a night. Energy is being wasted here without the users ever realising (see blog post “The Path To Overconsumption”) – do you have ideas on how we could remind people on the result of their actions?
It would help if there was information readily available on how consumers can go about reduce their energy consumption or making environmental improvements. And good to spread that information on how lots of individual actions have large impacts when added together. Tell that story about the cups of tea and the streetlights (or causing blackouts or power surges at half time in World Cup soccer matches or at the end of East Enders) or perhaps tell in a way that will make individuals better see that their individual actions can make a difference. I prefer to tell of positive consequences of actions rather than negative. It’s good to try and make people feel like they are the kind of people who do something about the environment. People who consider themselves to have a green image are more likely to be motivated to make take environmental actions.
Is there anything you personally pay special attention to at home?
I like to be careful with energy consumption, so nearly always hang up washing and just about never use the dryer. We don’t have air conditioning and I rarely use heaters in winter even though the house isn’t well insulated. I am careful not to waste food and try not to have many leftovers and try to compost as much as I can of the leftovers. I also don’t like to waste resources, so pick up thing off the side of the road and buys most of my clothes second hand.
Designers are becoming increasingly aware of sustainability and the environment and thus are beginning to create designs with these issues in mind. From a non-designer point of view, do you have opinion on this or any things you’d wish a designer would consider further?
I’d like designers to consider materials that will last and are not laden with toxic chemicals or made from resources that are rare or environmentally damaging.
Despite not mentioning the word “Anthropocene”, it is evident from this discussion that human actions are directly impacting the world, leaving us responsible for the shifts in the Earth’s geology. While this is already an issue in itself, the problem is magnified with the failure to to deliberately face the situation. The addressed points of focus are too narrow – that is, people only focus on the better known issues such as climate change, and neglect other issues which remain just as important. Thus, in Tracy’ opinion, society’s current level of consciousness is underwhelming, revealing the need to improve these issues through envisioning possible approaches for times ahead.
A particular point of interest raised was the outlook given on how we should address the discussed issues for the future. Tracy’s option of telling “positive consequences of actions rather than the negative” in order to encourage people’s behavior in creating more sustainable lifestyles suggest that current methods of raising awareness may be too negative. Perhaps this is true – it certainly does appear that way with many of the approaches demanding we do something about the “urgent and growing threat” as stated by Obama at the UN climate change summit (Kenny, Cox, 2014), insisting that if we don’t do something now we are all heading to our doom. It is possible that this approach hinders the level of enthusiasm people have as the constant negativity becomes rather off putting. Giving people incentive through more positive attitudes – i.e. “if you do this, you are being helpful and saving the earth”, rather than urgency and negative criticism – “don’t do that! You terrible person, you’re killing the world!” – could perhaps motivate people in a more effective way.
EPA Website: http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au
Kenny M, Cox L, 2014 ‘Bigger threat than terrorism’: Barack Obama signals Australia, India and China must improve on climate change, Sydney Morning Herald, September 24, viewed 17 November 2014, <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/bigger-threat-than-terrorism-barack-obama-signals-australia-india-and-china-must-improve-on-climate-change-20140924-10l51d.html>