A tale of one ordinary Aussie bloke and his family doing their bit for the planet and going green on a budget.
Gavin Webber was born in Loxton, South Australia, in 1964. He lived and worked on his parents’ dairy farm in Loxton North and, as a kid, would play in the orchard next to their farmhouse. He and his brother Jim would climb a massive apricot tree and scoff as many as they could before their tummies burst. Picking oranges (Navel and Valencia) without getting pricked by the thorns was another one of their crazy games. On the farm, Gavin’s family grew lemons, apples, quince, figs, pears, nectarines, peaches and almonds. “All the trees were irrigated and it seemed we were never without fruit. We even made the mistake of trying to eat a quince raw. Yuck! So horrible!”
At 16, Gavin joined the Royal Australian Navy and worked as a radio operator, serving in the first Gulf War onboard HMAS Adelaide. After 20 years of service, he left the Navy in July 2000 and is now employed at a major financial institution in its information technology risk management department. Gavin and his wife Kim have four children: Adam, 22, Amy, 20, Megan, 18, and young Ben, 10. In August 2000, the family moved to Melton West where they still live. Gavin is an ordinary Australian who had a “green epiphany”, then bought a hybrid car, planted a large organic vegetable garden, went totally solar for hot water and electricity, established compost bins and a worm farm and lowered the family’s consumption. Gavin now rides a bike and they harvest rainwater and raise chickens, all in the effort to reduce their carbon footprint and make a difference for generations to come.
The Webbers were not always such good friends of the environment, though. “I was a conspicuous consumer, just like everyone else,” says Gavin, “as were the rest of my family, until September 2006.” Before the family went green, they were like most people, totally unaware of the impact of their actions on the fragile planet, never giving a second thought to how much energy they used. Owners of two cars, they shopped at the supermarket like everyone else and Gavin drove to Melbourne each day for work. All their kitchen waste went into landfill and they didn’t have much of a garden. They certainly didn’t grow vegetables and Gavin was forever mowing the lawn. “We were wasteful and didn’t give a hoot about the environment in any shape or form. I thought it was all for hippies and that all protesters should go and get a job. Now I am that ‘hippie’ and love a good climatechange protest!” September 2006 was when it all started to turn around for Gavin, after watching the movie An Inconvenient Truth in which former US presidential candidate Al Gore portrayed the growing risk of climate crisis. A wave of emotion came over Gavin and he spent the rest of that afternoon analysing what actions he could take. There was no way he was going to put as much carbon into the atmosphere as he had been, knowing what he now knew.
He tried to explain his feelings to his family, but no one understood what he was on about. Gavin couldn’t find a single person who knew what the ramifications were of the human race warming the planet above the historical high of 280ppm of carbon dioxide. He went to bed tired and confused but determined to do something, still not really knowing what that would be. “An amazing day, in retrospect. I call this day my Green Epiphany,” he says. Today, Gavin is the founder and president of the Melton Sustainable Living Group, with 15 active likeminded members. The group was established in March 2009 and has been raising local awareness about climate change, peak oil and how to live lightly on the planet. Since 2009, Gavin has been a member of the Alternate Technology Association as well. Passionate about renewable energy, he is also a member of the Diggers Club and loves growing heirloom vegetables. Gavin’s mum and dad, too, have small vegie patches and live the simple life, plus all his siblings are into growing their own food in whatever way they can. “One of my brothers is just getting solar panels installed on his house as we speak,” says Gavin proudly. All the members of the Melton Sustainable Living Group try to live as lightly on the planet as possible in our modern age. They are all very passionate about what they do; most have rainwater tanks and vegie patches.
From consumer to campaigner:
Before he saw the green light, Gavin had found it hard to unwind each day, his head swimming with so much stuff that he wasn’t in touch with his surroundings and was sometimes out of tune with the wonderful people he shared his life with. He certainly wasn’t across the plight of the planet, blissfully unaware of his impact on it and its ecosystems. He would buy the latest consumer and electronic goods, annually upgrade his PC to a faster model and get the latest computer games to spend endless hours of his free time on. Gavin worked hard and long in his quest to earn more money so he could afford more material possessions in the vain hope that they would bring him satisfaction and fulfilment. None of it worked, of course, but as with many other people stuck in the rat race chasing our consumerist tails, it seemed to him that it was as good as it gets, even though his credit card balances went through the roof and he was living beyond his means. “No one wants to be unfulfilled in life and, sadly, many of us are still looking for that ‘something’ that is missing,” says Gavin.
After his epiphany, Gavin’s family at first thought he had lost the plot. But they found that their husband and father began to talk about more interesting things and made them think about what challenged their own understanding of how civilisation worked. Gavin had found a purpose other than the daily grind of work. Not only did he feel fully connected to his family, which brought him great joy, but he began to feel connected to the earth through his gardening endeavours. “Growing your own food is one of the most uplifting and spiritual things I have ever done — and certainly one of the most fulfilling,” he enthuses. All the things Gavin and his family have done over the past two years have brought them closer as they have spent more meaningful time together and have stressed less about work.
On the subject of synthetic fertilisers/ chemicals versus the organic approach, Gavin says, “I do not think the ‘green revolution’ or genetically modified organisms have been good for the environment. It is not the brave new world everyone thinks it is. Sure, we have managed to take the human race from 1 billion in 1900 to the current 6.8 billion due to the use of fossil fuel-based fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, but at what cost? “Most farms have soil that resembles a sandy sponge that farmers have to pour more chemicals on each year to make their produce grow as well as in the previous season. Also, if GMOs are released into the general farming community, as has been happening, cross-pollination with organically grown crops will occur. So goodbye organic farming. “I love organic farming! It is as nature intended. I am a firm believer in organic food. There is nothing quite like digging your own homemade compost into your garden beds and using worm-wee tea to fertilise your produce. Why can’t we humans just leave well enough alone! Very few of us, it seems, learn from our past mistakes.”
He offers a picture of what our mindless consumption is leading to: “We are all travelling on a speeding train with no brakes that will soon come to the end of the tracks in a massive crash. The current Western lifestyle that most strive for is destroying our world and many other species in the process. “The Copenhagen Accord, as the final document drawn up in the negotiations at COP15, is the most loosely worded, nonbinding, waste of two years of negotiations I have ever read! It contains a bunch of face-saving paragraphs that state the bleeding obvious without any legally binding global GHG emissions reduction targets. It is a licence for the developed nations to continue with business as usual and a death sentence for low-lying countries and island nations. Which country, besides the large emitting nations who brokered the deal, would actually sign the accord? “If this is the best our world leaders can do, it is time to seriously think about taking action ourselves by way of our only real voice. That voice is our vote in the next national election in our respective countries. After all, political will is a renewable resource! “The fact that life as we know it will no longer exist with 2°C of warming is obviously lost on some of these so-called leaders [who see] the economies of their countries are far more important than the future of life on earth. Maybe they think they can find another habitable planet to escape to and leave the rest of us behind to suffer the full effects of catastrophic climate change.
He lays the blame squarely with those who need to keep us all on the consumerist path for their own economic existence, never mind what it may mean for everyone’s physical existence. “I really believe that the corporations and vested interests have taken over the reins of global power and that the United Nations is not so united and is a farcical shell of an organisation — especially now that we have failed to reach a fair, ambitious and binding agreement. “I really expected better. I feel gutted and betrayed, as do billions of others. It has made me even more determined to educate others as to what a difference they can make on a personal level. Maybe, that way, our leaders will get the message.
Gavin’s 5 tips for going green on a budget:
1. Try energy efficiency first. It doesn’t cost anything to turn off a light when you are not in the room, or to turn the heating down a few degrees in winter. In summer, use a fan instead of the air-conditioner. You’ll save a small fortune.
2. Buy energy-efficient appliances when old ones break. Lights are simple now the government has banned incandescent bulbs, but look for the energy-rating sticker on major appliances. The more stars, the better.
3. Grow your own food. Growing vegies is easy. Read a few books on the subject at the local library or visit a friend or relative for tips. Embrace permaculture, as it’s a self-sustaining method of food production to suit most sized properties. You will not only rediscover the real taste of fruit and vegetables, but you will save on the hip pocket as well.
4. Chickens are great pets. Not only are they cheap to buy and set up, but they are among the few pets that actually pay for themselves in the form of daily fresh eggs.
5. If you’re thinking about any green makeover for your place, get a free home audit via the government Home Sustainability Assessment. You may be eligible for the Green Loans Program.
For more information visit www.greeningofgavin.com