The Kind of Hope We Need

Bianca Nogrady in Blackheath

Bianca in the bushland on her Blackheath property.

Blackheathen Bianca Nogrady is an award-winning freelance science journalist, author and broadcaster. She reflects on conversations from this year’s Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival and shares what she and her family are doing towards planetary health.

Story and photos by Hamish Dunlop


Key Points:

  • Hope is action
  • Talking and connecting with people is critical to managing the effects of climate change.
  • Communities are what connect bottom-up and top-down strategies.

Bianca Nogrady is an award-winning freelance science journalist. She lives in Blackheath with her husband and children on a property that borders Pope’s Glen. On top of many articles published around the world, she’s written two books: Climate Change: How We Can Get To Carbon Zero and The End: The Human Experience Of Death. The themes of climate change and death might feel like uncomfortable bedfellows, but together they speak to how we can approach all life, with intelligence, dignity and care.

The kind of hope we need

Earlier this year, Bianca moderated a panel at the Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival. The discussion was titled ‘The kind of hope we need’. One of the themes explored by the panellists was action-as-hope. “The idea is that hope isn’t just passive,” Bianca says. “Hope is given life by humans: that was the real emphasis. Communities and community-level initiatives were also identified as being critical to addressing the effects of climate change. Communities are what connect bottom-up and top-down strategies.”

Bianca Nogrady's house in Blackheath

Bianca’s fire-resistant, passive solar home in Blackheath

Bianca’s action-as-hope

Bianca says her family is lucky enough to have the resources to build a fire-resistant house that utilises passive solar – north facing windows – as well as having solar panels on the roof. They don’t have batteries yet, so power-intensive activities such as washing are done during the day when the sun is out.

Bianca has reverse cycle aircon in her office and when the house isn’t warmed enough by the sun, they have a wood burner. The wood burner includes seven tonnes of brick that absorb and radiate heat, making it incredibly efficient.

Wood burning heater

Seven tonnes of brick ensure this wood heater absorbs and radiates heat efficiently

They have a 135,000 litre tank that supplies all the water they need, including drinking water that goes through a double carbon filter. Their electricity supplier provides wholesale rates which means the cost fluctuates throughout the day. Bianca uses this as a way of being conscious about when the best times are to run appliances or to turn things off.

The family also has an Electric Vehicle (EV). Bianca is quick to point out that a couple of years of driving is enough to offset the carbon footprint of an EV. To offset her family’s direct and indirect carbon emissions, she uses Carbon Positive Australia and Climeworks, a company that extracts carbon from the air.

App for choosing most efficient time to use electricity

Power-hungry appliances are run during the day when renewables are pumping into the grid and wholesale rates are lowest

They are fortunate to have a property where a grassy asset protection zone could be established that doubles as kangaroo habitat. Bianca believes in decentralised food production, so she grows vegetables and fruit trees and keeps honeybees. “We have to protect the fruit trees from kangaroos,” she says. “It’s a nice problem to have.

“l try to get into the bush and weed too. Soft broom has come up post the 2019 fire, so I’m pulling that out. I also transplant natives: hakeas, banksias and grevilleas. They’re great for the birds and other pollinators. We have a couple of bird baths including a low one for ducklings and a tree nearby provides safe cover. I feel a responsibility to this land and I do as much as I can.”

Vegies, fruit trees and honeybees in Bianca’s garden

The responsibility of privilege

Bianca is realistic about who can financially contribute. “People who are renting can’t install solar panels and there is a cost-of-living crisis.” She argues that while governments have a role to play in making climate change adaptation equitable, individuals with resources have a responsibility to contribute for all of us. “The reality is that many of the people at the Writers’ Festival, myself included, are insulated by privilege. In my mind, people that can, should go above and beyond.”

Bianca says this might mean installing rooftop solar, buying an electric car, or installing water tanks. But she also thinks social generosity should be a focus. She gives the example of inviting your elderly neighbours into your solar-powered aircon-equipped home in a heatwave. “Of course, you need to get to know your neighbours to be able to do this,” Bianca says. “This is something we should prioritise in our lives: connecting with people.

“We’re going to be facing the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced. I really think the only way we’re going to survive is by looking after each other and working together.” – Bianca Nogrady

Bianca Nogrady at home

Bianca at home in Blackheath

Adaptation and mitigation

Bianca views adaptation strategies as being as important as mitigation ones. “If we give up on mitigation – getting to carbon neutral – then we’re essentially giving up on future generations. But we need to put equal amounts of energy into adaptation. That could be organic matter-fuelled biogas facilities that generate electricity. It could be community batteries and microgrids. In the age of climate uncertainty, it’s these things, on top of what we do individually, that give us a sense of agency and control.”

She says there’s still a real sense that we are not building to adapt. She was part of another discussion at the Writers’ Festival with biodiversity scientist and land manager Peter Ridgeway. “He talked about the heat islands we’re constructing in urban areas such as Penrith: dark surfaces that soak up heat and radiate it. We’re still trying to put people in places where heat and flood are a significant issue and cramming houses together.”

“We can’t live without plants. Trees and shrubs planted strategically can create microclimates that benefit us and the planet.”

Bianca Nogrady  and her book Climate Change: How We Can Get To Carbon Zero

Bianca with her book ‘Climate Change: How We Can Get To Carbon Zero’

Community action

Bianca says that talking with people is an important part of enacting change. “Sharing solutions such as the benefits of water tanks, roof solar and EVs, growing your own food, or having bird baths are places to start. As well as being a writer, I try to engage with people online. One of the points I try to make is that doing things that are good for the planet shouldn’t necessarily be transactional. I think this misses the point that we should act in a way that helps all of us.”

She says councils have a significant role to play and they need to be supported by state and federal governments. “Councils can do a lot of work through their procurement policies and championing projects such as microgrids and community water tanks. Given how the power in Blackheath can be so intermittent, especially during disaster, it would be the perfect place for a microgrid.”

Bianca says in some ways she’s been writing the same stories for 20 years. There is some frustration, but she derives hope from the fact that things are changing at an accelerated rate. “There was a headline the other day about the huge amount of renewable energy in the grid. People are also becoming increasingly aware of the huge challenge we are facing and how they might contribute to a better future.”

As the interview comes to an end, Bianca recalls another question put to the panel at the Writers’ Festival. ‘What do you do when you’re feeling anxious?’ “The answer,” she says, “was take a walk outside. Breath in the scent of eucalyptus oil in the cool air and the fragrance of the earth after rain. Contemplate beauty as it is, here and now. This is about the relationship between our external and internal lives. Being present to beauty, even at it’s most fleeting, holds a flame to hope.”

flowers

“Being present to beauty, even at its most fleeting, holds a flame to hope.” – Bianca Nogrady


Take Action:

  • Do what you can: plant shrubs and trees for pollinators, install solar, be conscious of water use, recycle and reuse, reduce meat consumption.
  • Engage with your community and what’s happening at a community level.
  • Connect to nature! Being present to the beauty around us is a good antidote to climate anxiety.

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Hamish Dunlop

Hamish Dunlop is a writer, visual artist and environmentalist. During his career he has worked in communications, as an academic at UNSW and ACU and more recently in the conservation space. He is currently completing a Diploma in Conservation and Ecosystems Management. He lives on the bush in Medlow Bath and is a passionate bush walker, gardener and cold-water enthusiast.

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