The paradox of inconsequence

Earth relay 5In Eco Kids: Raising children who care for the Earth, Dan Chiras (2005) speaks of the paradox of inconsequence.

As we go about our daily lives, many of us realise that there are serious environmental problems. However, for most of us, our role in creating the problems seems insignificant. We reason that we’re just one of around 300 million Americans or nearly 6.5 billion world citizens. Therefore, what we do is insignificant, or infinitesimal portion. “Why fret about our actions?” we ask. “It makes no difference.” Freed from responsibility by the inconsequence of our own action, we drive gas-guzzling cars, fail to recycle, leave lights on, let the hose run longer than we should, buy the latest electronics, and consume as if there were no end in sight. (p. 18)

The paradox is that many of our environmental problems are caused by millions of individual decisions and actions, each of which appears to be inconsequential. Taken together these individual decisions and actions lead to enormous problems such as climate change, over-consumption, and resource depletion.

Last weekend when we went down to Sydney for Sculpture by the Sea, we had to decide whether to drive or take public transport. Driving was going to take us a bit over 2 hours whereas public transport was going to take us around 3.5 hours (two trains and a bus). While the car was more convenient, we finally decided to leave the car at home (well actually at the train station). Did our decision really make any difference to the environment? Is the world better off because we chose public transport over the car? Avoiding the car can feel like we are making meaningless gestures. But of course, everybody did this, it would make a big difference.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to the exhibition by public transport was that I want our daughters to see public transport as a normal part of life, and do not automatically think of the car as being the only chose.

In a useful tip sheet on “Talking with children about the environment” the Australian Psychological Society encourages parents to help their children find something positive to do for the environment and to give them hope. Our daughters know that the world faces huge environmental challenges. They know that Cathy and I sometimes feel overwhelmed. But they also know that we are trying to make a difference and working towards social change. They see that every day we take the environment into consideration when we make decisions.

Hopefully this will help them address the paradox of inconsequence.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Sculpture by the Sea – involving the kids
  2. Parenting for a better world
  3. What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?
  4. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  5. Focusing more on parenting for the environment


Chiras, D. (2005). Eco Kids: Raising children who care for the Earth. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

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Sculpture by the Sea – involving the kids

Sculpture by the Sea 2014

That tranquil moment by Stephen Marr

Last weekend we took the kids to see Sculpture by the Sea – a wonderful sculpture exhibition at Bondi Beach. Taking children to this type of event can be challenging – it can be a long day and the kids can get bored. Three years ago when we first took them to this exhibition they were aged 10 and 7, and Cathy had the great idea of keeping them interested by encouraging them to interact with the sculptures. Fortunately it is an exhibition that allows this type of thing (although watch the signs as some say do not touch).

Sculpture by the Sea 2014

Resignation by Michael Purdy

It kept them amused for the five plus hours we were there. We did it again this year, and they were engaged the whole time. After the experience in 2011, they couldn’t wait to see the exhibition again and, as they expected, had a great time.

Sculpture by the Sea 2014

The ascetic by Naidee Changmoh

They probably would have enjoyed the exhibition without the photos, but they would have been less engaged and I’m sure they wouldn’t have enjoyed themselves as much.

Sculpture by the Sea 2014

My house is your home by Ken Unsworth

If you want to see it you only have until Sunday 9 November.

Sculpture by the Sea 2014

Glamarama by Linton Meagher

How do you engage your children in art exhibitions?

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Parenting for a better world
  2. What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?
  3. Focusing more on parenting for the environment
  4. Turning off the taps
  5. Being a father
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The Unconference: a participary, inclusive gathering

The UnconferenceLast week I participated in the second Unconference near Newcastle. According to the Unconference website:

An ‘Unconference’ is a participant-driven gathering. Delegates actively contribute to the agenda sharing lots of dynamic open discussions. Rather than a single speaker at the front of the room presenting PowerPoint slides, there will be ‘Key Agitators’ facilitating conversations and debate.

Theory UAs the quote suggests, it’s a very different experience to a normal conference. Within a framework of Theory U, we used inclusive processes like circle work, world café and open space to explore issues of interest to participants. Essentially we sought to create a space where participants could have meaningful conversations about things that matter. The focus of the three days was shaped by the participants and emerged as we went.

The key agitators (I was one of them) were mainly people who had experience in facilitating these types of processes. Their main role was to help facilitate conversation rather than to provide their expertise on a topic (as is the case with key-note speakers). Because most of the key agitators and most of the participants were connected (by lived experience, or through work or family) with people living with disabilities, this was quite a focus for the conversations.

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Focusing more on parenting for the environment

By a riverI’m about to start shifting the focus of my work (and blogging) from community engagement and community development to parenting and families. I’m also going to be focusing more on environmental sustainability by having a particularly focus on parenting for the environment.

Over the last five years or so my work at the Family Action Centre has focused on working with communities. We’ve shaped my work so that communities have been a clear emphasis in my teaching, research and community involvement. The Family Action Centre, however, is going through some significant changes including establishing the discipline of family studies (and offering Australian’s first Master of Family Studies), and becoming more integrated into the mainstream structures of the University of Newcastle (where we are based). While we recognise the importance of community engagement and community development, in the short term, I need to focus more clearly on families.

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Teachers phoning parents

(Photo by Johnathan Lyman)

(Photo by Johnathan Lyman)

Imagine the difference to school-family relationships if teachers made a phone call to all families at least once a year, not when there were problems, but just to help build connections. I first heard this idea a number of years ago at a workshop on communicating with your school community and, since then, I have heard from a range of teachers who do this on a regular basis.

Some schools, mainly primary schools, expect the classroom teachers (not specialist teachers) to ring families at least once a term to chat about positive things their child is doing in class. In other primary schools the classroom teachers ring families just in term 1 so that the teacher and parents can start building a connection.

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A day of climate action in 162 countries

Last weekend saw rallies around the world call for action on climate change. There were 2646 events in 162 countries.

The momentum is building but unfortunately it takes time. I would love to see Australia hosting rallies the size of the nuclear disarmament ones in the mid 80’s where 100,000s were in the street calling for change. I’m sure it will come.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. A Global Day of Climate Action – 21 September 2014
  2. The Renewable Energy Target
  3. A statistically representative climate change debate
  4. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  5. Consumption and the Transition movement


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A Global Day of Climate Action – 21 September 2014



Today is a Global Day of Climate Action! Millions of people around the world will be calling for urgent action to address climate change. We clearly need leaders who take climate change seriously and who will inspire urgent action.

Unfortunately in Australia, the Federal Government has made Australia the first country in the world to abolish a price on carbon, it has abolished the Climate Commission (an independent body established to advise the Government on the science and economics of carbon pricing), attempted to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Agency (but was blocked in the senate) and is planning to abolish or wind back the Renewable Energy Target (after establishing a review headed by somebody skeptical that climate change is being caused by humans). (For more on the Abbott Government record on the environment see this article by The Guardian.)

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Blue Men: Message to Humanity

Humour can be powerful in getting across a message. This short video is entertaining but also has an important message. I particularly like the line “Please take a moment to locate this planet’s emergency exits. As you can see, there aren’t any.”

Humanity, there are no emergency exits!

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at the following videos (all of which are entertaining while addressing an important issue):

  1. A statistically representative climate change debate
  2. What is organic?
  3. Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA
  4. Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!
  5. The Meatrix
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Food month(s) for our Transition Streets group

Famers market visitTransition Streets addresses five broad areas: energy, water, food, transport and consumption & waste. Food has clearly been the topic that has caught the interest of our group the most. We normally spend a month on each topic, but we’ve spent two interesting months discussing food. There is so much too talk about including:

  • How do we make decisions about what to buy? (E.g., is it better to buy imported organic tomatoes or locally grown non-organic ones?)
  • Where do we shop?
  • How do we minimise food waste?
  • What do we consider important for a healthy diet?
  • How can we encourage our children to eat well?

Some of our group decided to ride our bikes to our local farmers market. Some of us (like Cathy and I) shop there regularly, while some of us had only been a couple of times. As we wandered around we discussed where were good places to buy our fruit and vegetables.

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Reflections on using conversations in a course on community engagement

FSF 2012-34 smallIn the undergraduate online community engagement elective I teach, I introduce students to strengths-based approaches (e.g., asset-based community-driven development and appreciative inquiry). To encourage them to think about the difference between deficit-based questions and strengths-based questions, I ask students to have a conversation with two people. I ask them to ask one person about:

  1. What they think is wrong with their community?
  2. What are the major needs of their community?
  3. What could be done to address these needs?

I ask them to ask the other person about:

  1. What they think are the strengths of their community?
  2. A time they felt their community was at its best?
  3. What they value most about their community?
  4. How they think they could help improve their community?

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