Ejo #130 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Chris Diprose

I first met my friend Chris in 1995 when I was living with The Boys (shoutout to Andy, Matty and Mike) in a share-house called Delmore Mews. One day this tall, lanky 19 year old rookie cop just turned up and became part of the furniture (I’m assuming one of the guys invited him over, but who really knows, it was so many years ago 😉). Twenty five years later, we’re still in each other’s lives (and you might even recognise him from our big Vietnam motorcycle adventure of 2012). It’s funny, when you’ve known someone that long, you see them change and evolve and grow. Over the years I’ve watched Chris metamorphose many times, but a common thread in all of his evolutions has been his intensity and commitment to whatever he sets his mind to do. We may not always see eye to eye on everything, but something I’ve always admired about him is that he puts in the hours, he puts in the work and he goes all-in on whatever he focusses on. And I find that extraordinary. Which is why I wanted to talk to him for this ejo.

So Chris, you weren’t in the police force for very long before you moved into computer programming. And I’ve always been fascinated by how you then pivoted that into building a very successful online sex toy store. Walk me through the full three acts of that business.
So, I started out programming in 1998, and in 2006 I went travelling for a year. While I was away I got interested in search engine optimisation (SEO), which is structuring and marketing your website in such a way as to harness the traffic from search engines. When I returned from overseas I got more heavily interested in that, and it led me to work for a digital agency, as head of their Online Marketing, working with Honda, Bunnings, Myer and the like, to help them with their SEO strategy. When you’re helping other companies really push their brands, driving traffic to their websites, it’s not such a long jump to think, maybe I should be doing this for my own business.

So, I first started an online business with a good friend of mine, Pip, selling UGG boots. We grew the business so quickly that our boot supplier, Emu, actually withdrew supply of boots to our little company because they were worried about the impact our huge orders would have on the physical shops in the UK that were buying the same product. So one of Pip’s other friends bought my share (I made a bit of a profit from it) and they went on to manufacture their own brand.

After this experience I was thinking, “What is the most highly sought after product online?” Actually, it’s two things, more closely related than one might think! Baby stuff, and sex toys. Baby stuff includes clothing (which can be problematic for online sales due to sizing) and prams. Sex toys, in comparison, are small, light, discreet and people want them delivered. The choice was obvious to me. I started the business and quickly grew it to be in a very dominant position. We were #1 for all major terms in the search engines. We had big numbers of web traffic and sales. We were turning over large volumes of orders, and had around 8-10 employees at one point.

I did that for more than 12 years, and achieved so much running that business. It was an amazing time, and I swore I’d never work for anyone ever again. You should never say never! January 2020 rolled around, and I was on a plane back from Europe and business wasn’t doing great. The two biggest sex toy retailers in the world were now in the Australian market, they were importing container loads of product from their bases in the US and UK, they were undercutting me on prices with some products being sold below my wholesale cost price, and they were leveraging their big marketing power to push smaller players like me out of the market.

So yeah, in January of this year on that plane home I decided enough is enough. Time to draw a line under it, and try to find a role doing the same job for a larger company. Covid-19 put a pause on all of that, but I’ve been hunting on and off since March and meanwhile spending heaps of time with my son, running home-school, cooking, cleaning and trying to do my part for our house. Oh, if anyone knows of a position for Head of Digital or eCommerce Director, let me know!!

In my last ejo, you mentioned your health wake-up call which happened eight years ago when the doctor prescribed you statins. I can’t remember you ever being 40kg overweight, but your physique now is definitely closer to what you looked like when I first met you all those years ago. What happened in between?
I think because I’m 6’4″ I just didn’t seem that big. But I was 112cm around the belly, and 115kg on the scales. It wasn’t like it happened in one day. It was a slow creep in weight, every year adding a bit more, and a bit more, until whammo, I was “technically” obese. My BMI tipped into the 30 range, and then a few blood tests later the doctor was saying, “I think we might need to put you on statins”. Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, it happens because people wear their bodies down. It’s hormonal, and if you tax those hormones enough, you start to stack it on. I actually have a picture on the shelf from my graduation day at the Police Academy. I’m trimmer, and probably fitter now than I was back then. Much healthier too.

So tell us about the changes that you’ve made to your diet over the last eight years.
Holy moly, where do I start? So, about eight years ago I just started trying to eat more healthily. That meant cutting out fast food and eating more vegetables. I ate well, I ate organic, and I ate good home cooked foods from the food pyramid. So what happened? I put on more weight and ended up with a herniated belly button, insomnia, anxiety, inflamed glands on my neck and the back of my head, headaches every week, plus a whole raft of other health issues.

About five years ago, my wife Nicole and I watched “That Sugar Film” and I read the books “Pure White and Deadly” and “Sweet Poison”. Immediately after watching the movie we ditched all added sugar. Overall though, it wasn’t enough. I was still eating bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. These are the backbone of all weight gain problems, not table sugar specifically. Sugar and treats are obvious, but those four foods are core staples in the food pyramid (which, in my opinion, is so flawed it should probably be inverted). I kept reading many more books, and I managed to convince Nicole that we should try a low carb, ketogenic diet. And that massively improved everything. It was the step I needed to take to improve my health, and it worked 90%. It jumped my knowledge and understanding up a huge notch, and made dramatic improvements in all of my health markers, but more importantly I felt better – I felt more alive, more energetic, my brain fog lifted and there were plenty of other benefits. One year ago, after reading more and more, and thinking about things logically, from an evolutionary perspective, from a nature point of view, we went 100% carnivore. We now eat only animal products, and I have to say this last step sealed the deal, it nailed the final 10% of body and brain improvements. I’m now a 78-79cm waist, and I weigh 75-76kg on the scale.

I know some people think, wow that’s restrictive, or weird, but everything that goes into my mouth is simply delicious. Sure I do miss some things sometimes, but then I have some bacon and… well, it’s bacon, enough said. I’m not saying we’re so chaste that we don’t have dessert; sometimes, we do. But we recognise how we feel afterwards, and that we should probably try and avoid it in future.

I think there are many diets out there, that remove a lot of the foods that are toxins and you can survive on those diets long term, and probably live a great life, but ultimately we rest firmly on the shoulders of our ancestors for what our body thrives on. The difference is survive versus thrive. When did humans start eating meat? Approximately 3.5 million years ago. When did we start monocropping agriculture and eating grains? About 11,000 years ago. Evolution is interesting. We haven’t always eaten modern fruit, rice, bread, potatoes or pasta. So why are these bad? The upshot is that our body breaks down all of these foods into sugar; and sugar spikes insulin in our body. When you have insulin circulating in your body, any fat you have ingested in that same meal gets stored in your adipose tissue, and while you continue to feed your carbohydrate addiction, you’ll keep holding onto that fat, stacking on more and more over time. Possibly the worst thing someone can do is eat several high carbohydrate meals per day, but unfortunately that is precisely what dietary guidelines tell us to do. The interesting thing in my particular journey is that I eat nearly the same amount of calories that I used to eat, but I weigh 40kg less. It kind of makes you realise that calories, in terms of human nutrition, aren’t very informative. I should also note that weight loss has nothing to do with exercise. I did less exercise in losing that 40kg than I did before.

You grow, butcher and make a lot of the food that you eat, right? Tell us more about that.
Yes I do. I avoid all of the additives and processes that food from supermarkets goes through to reach the shelf, and stay there for months without refrigeration. Not all food is created equal and if you judge a food by price alone then you are missing the point of what healthy food really is – that’s not to say healthy food is more expensive, I personally save heaps of money by buying bulk and preparing my own food, but I always buy the best quality ingredients. I like to know where my food comes from, how it was produced and grown, and I like to know what it is made from precisely. Why? If we find that we are overweight, sick or unhealthy, then it is most likely linked directly to the inputs we have going into our body, and in my opinion 95% of that is food related. People don’t realise that getting older doesn’t mean you need to be fat, tired, unfit, anxious, sleep deprived or foggy minded. These are not normal, and you don’t need medications to “fix” them. The path of pharmaceuticals, as a solution, is a lifetime sentence of medication after medication, without end. The big pharmaceutical companies are not interested in curing your ills, they want you as a lifetime customer.

By self-analysing and correcting your path with a healthy diet of the most nutrient dense food you can buy, you get yourself off that conveyor belt to misery, you take control of your life, you liberate yourself from the clutches of the pharmaceutical industry. Why does this matter? People see their doctor maybe once or twice a year (if lucky), for about 15 minutes at a time. Doctors have little clue about you, about your health and at best, after pleasantries, they have 12 minutes to solve your ills. They take some blood tests and have no concept or understanding about what caused any of the issues that might crop up in those blood tests. The doctor won’t ask you what you eat, even though, as I said before, we have so few inputs that 95% of ill health has to come back to food and what you put in your mouth. So what, you might say? The doc said I’m fine. Well, yes, you’re fine until you’re not fine. You might be surviving, and you may or may not get sick. Or sometimes (like some friends of ours) you get that stage 4 cancer diagnosis, and given less than 12 months to live.

A while back, when I started thinking more deeply about health, I took it upon myself to study the leading causes of death. If I’m going to die of something, then I want to know as much as I can about it, and find out if there are ways that I can mitigate, or prevent it. The leading five causes of death in Australia? Coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, cancer and diabetes. How much do you know about them? And, why should you care? Death seems so far in the future. But the facts show that over the course of our lives 50% of us will get cancer, 13% will get coronary heart disease (and 50% of those will die from it), 35% will get diabetes, half of us will get Alzheimer’s and 40% of us are obese. We might well live to a ripe old age, but the last 20 years of our lives will be sick with disability.

One thing that these ills have in common is that they are all driven by chronic inflammation. In simple terms, inflammation is when your body is unable to differentiate good cells from bad, putting your body into a constant state of attacking itself. This is all driven by the inputs that we have going into our body, that confuse and distract our immune system. Imagine you’re in your castle circa 1066, and an army walks up to the front gate and starts attacking you. Meanwhile another army walks up to your western flank, and then your eastern flank. Your immune system is now forced into fighting battles on three fronts, on an ongoing basis, forever. Forces and defences are divided. Is it any wonder that the immune system might then miss the single assassin who scales the southern wall, that single cancer cell which is left unnoticed and is able to enter the castle and assassinate the king.

So, viewed from that lens of knowing we have very few inputs (with a huge impact), then it makes perfect sense that I’d want to know what is going in, and knowing that it’s the best I can possibly get – and making my own is the only way to do that. Fortunately, the best foods are produced at home, from quality ingredients, so I choose to do that. Over the last few years I’ve learned how to make many different kinds of cheeses: ricotta, hard cheese, soft cheese. I make salamis, prosciutto, and pancetta. I make Greek style yogurt, I have butchered a steer, a lamb and a pig in the past, and I’ll continue to do things like that. I plan to get a gun licence, to hunt deer and possibly slaughter and butcher a steer myself. In the past, I have also made sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and sourdough bread, but these all went by the wayside when we turned carnivore. I also make chicken liver pâté, I smoke many different meats (bacon, brisket, burgers, sausages, etc.), and I bought a griddle not that long ago, which gets a big workout every day for burgers. We also have a lot of berry plants and fruit trees, for those occasional desserts.

Another aspect to this is, what are we evolved to eat? Are we evolved to eat apples, which were only cultivated 5000 years ago? That equates to just a minute on the evolutionary clock. Apples used to be small, sour and unpalatable, but they have been cultivated in the last few hundred years to be big and sweet. Are we evolved to eat that? Bananas are five times bigger and sweeter than they were even just 300 years ago. Are we evolved to eat that?

Now consider meat, which is the reason we came down from the trees 3.5 million years ago. Our brains grew, and we evolved to hunt animals. Are we to believe that our oldest food, the food our brain evolved with, is to be lower on the list of things to eat than bananas, wheat, corn, soy or pea-protein? According to the food pyramid, it is. That doesn’t make sense to me. The question I ask is, are we adapted to thrive on those foods, or are we capable of just surviving on them? A great resource on the topic of what humans are designed to eat is Dr. Barry Groves.

So, what does a typical day of eating look like for you?
Around 10am I eat my main meal, which is typically 600g of ground beef in six burgers, on the griddle. It’s all local, regenerative beef. Then, eight eggs yolks, raw; local and direct from the farmer. Also 100g of homemade chicken liver pâté made from local chickens, free range, organic and no soy.

At around 2-3pm I whisk up the egg whites that I didn’t eat at brekky, and I turn them into meringue (no sugar or anything else added). They’re probably too plain for those who eat sugar normally, but they’re awesome to me. On some days, if I’m still hungry I might also have a bunch of chicken wings. Or some homemade scotch eggs, or some sausages, or bacon, or salami or cold cuts (I made smoked brisket the other day, nom nom), or maybe some more burgers or other animal product.

Do you think you’ll continue to eat like this for the rest of your life?
The other side to this question is what would be the consequences of returning to the way I ate before? Pretty dire if you ask me. At every point in my diet, as I’ve moved more towards animal-only foods, I’ve become healthier. And at this point I’ve never been healthier, never felt better, never been fitter, never been stronger, never been able to put on muscle so quickly or easily, never recovered from physical exertion so quickly, never had a clearer mind or been more calm. I cannot see myself changing the way I eat, I eat like a king! Having said that, I am not so dogmatic as to think that my way is the only way, or that I am the only healthy person. But I do know what is working for me. I’ve found a comfortable spot, I listen to my body and how it responds to foods, and I react accordingly. I do occasionally have non-animal food that really adversely affects me, and that simply reinforces the need to avoid it.

You mentioned something while we were chatting for the “(It’s Easy) Bein’ Green” ejo that intrigued me and I’m curious to learn more about that, if that’s OK. You said, “To explain the natural carbon cycle and why cows can save us – that’s another ejo unto itself”. What did you mean by that?
Okay, so I’ll explain this in simple terms. Cows are bad, right? Most people think so anyway. They produce methane, therefore we should stop, or reduce, eating meat. But the reality of the situation couldn’t be further from the truth. Cows can, and are the only proven way to, sequester carbon back into the soil, which is the best way to lock it back up.

Why is cow-produced methane/carbon not as bad as thought? The oil and fossil fuels that we dig up from the ground have no natural way to be sequestered back into it. These are simply dug up from where they were sequestered 50 million years ago, and they are burned and released into the atmosphere. There are no simple or natural pathways for that 50 million year old carbon to be stored back in the ground where it came from. It’s just added to the carbon in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, herbivores like cows and sheep are part of a natural carbon cycle, which means that when used in combination with their natural environment they are carbon negative (or at the very worst carbon neutral). A cow cannot produce more carbon (methane) than it consumes; it only produces what was already stored in that grass. If cattle populations remain stable, and the cattle are fed grass (their natural diet) then it is impossible to be net positive methane/carbon.

OK, I’m not entirely sure I understand how that works. Can you break it down for me?
Okay, so the rumen on a cow is a digestion tank, it is simply a vat that contains the plant material chewed and swallowed by the cow as well as a whole bunch of bacteria (which the cow has a symbiotic relationship with). That bacteria breaks down the fibre and plant material, and then through the process of moving through the four chambers, the cow’s stomach consumes the bacteria. Believe it or not, cows don’t actually live on grass, they live on the bacteria. Their diet actually yields about 60% fat, which is amazing because grass contains practically 0% fat. And the bacteria inside the cow’s rumen is identical to the bacteria that digest and consume organic material outside of the rumen, out on the field, under trees, in grasslands and all around us.

So, no matter if the cow eats the grass or if we leave the grass to be consumed by bacteria those same gases contained within the grass are released into the atmosphere. The bonuses of running that grass through the cow is that we produce food, we produce high nutrient fertilisers (urine and manure), we produce soil (undigested fibre and plant material), and we do this in an environment where other animals are welcome and can thrive. Leaving the grass on the ground does nothing to sequester the carbon contained within the grass back into the soil. The grass just sits on top of the ground, it decomposes, and those gases are released into the atmosphere. If however the cow chews and trims the top of the grass, then the grass plant has to root prune, meaning that the plant selects some of its roots to “shut off” and rot in the ground. It no longer has the need for so many roots, and that equals carbon now being stored in the soil. Basically, cows eating grass equals carbon sequestration, and if managed properly can become a huge carbon sink.

Sustainability is no longer a saviour for our environment. We need to have ways to regenerate our land, and regenerate our soil. We only have about 30-50 years of harvests left in our croplands. I hope that sinks in; 30 years of wheat left, and that’s it. And, 90% of current arable land is already in use, so we cannot simply move to the next field and just start doing the same thing again. The current growth of crops is utterly dependent on NPK fertiliser, produced with fossil fuels – which is unsustainable. When you eat corn, soy, wheat, peas and oats, that’s all grown with petrol. Without that fossil fuel you would not be able to produce the crop in our modern food systems.

What we need to do is change the way we think about soil. Were it not for soil we would not exist. That 15cm of topsoil surrounding our planet is why there is life on earth, and why we are able to live. Soil grows our plants, it filters our water and it provides carbon storage to keep our atmospheric temperature stable. Soil is a living organism, with billions of living things in every teaspoon of it.

One of the biggest criticisms of cows being on pasture is that they degrade the land, and this is why proper management with regenerative agriculture is so important. It keeps the cattle moving, not allowing them enough time in one place to degrade the soil. It mimics nature, in that the cattle eat the grass, drop urine and manure, and then move on within a matter of days. This is how predator and prey work; the predator keeps the prey moving, not allowing it to stay in one spot for too long. Unfortunately most of the big predators are gone, and so we need to step in and move cows in paddocks frequently. This is regenerative agriculture, and combined with crop production it fertilises the soil for crops, produces beef and sequesters more carbon in the soil than is emitted.

When you talk about sequestering carbon, the first thing that comes into my mind is trees.
Trees burn. The roots of plants don’t. A tree stores most of its carbon above ground, and when you have the 2019 tinder-dry conditions that we experienced in Australia and California, then you end up with a years’ worth of Australia’s carbon emissions being burned into the atmosphere in four months – just from those trees burning. And that’s on top of our usual power generation and fossil fuel burning emissions. Prairie grasslands sequester their carbon into the soil with root pruning, root exudates and soil life. So, if a fire sweeps through a grassland, sure the top of the grass gets burned, but soon enough that grass is growing again and is often refreshed and renewed, with more vigour. Grass is far more efficient in growing than trees, and grass is far more efficient in storing carbon than trees. Perennial grasses penetrate the soil deeply, allowing for more water storage, more resilience and better drought resistance for land. Forests and trees have their place, but they are not the solution to sequestering carbon in the soil, and they are not fast enough, nor bankable enough, long term. Grasslands coupled with cattle are our bankable, and proven, way to sequester carbon back into the soil, regenerate those soils, regenerate landscapes and feed people.

People might rightly ask the question, so how can I use this information? Well, if you want to be good for the planet then you need to buy local, buy directly from farmers, buy in-season food, buy food that helps improve the environment (regenerative beef, chicken, eggs) and recognise that food which is grown overseas or far away is not only grown with fossil fuels but also needs to be transported to your location, and is likely grown in ways that you have no control over.

OK, but if everyone were to buy local there wouldn’t be enough to go around, would there? How can we fix the problem of supply, without the farmers having to increase their output to the point that the quality of their produce is compromised. It seems like the huge number of people that need to be fed on earth make it difficult to escape that cycle.
There are a couple of fallacies here. That more natural growing practices are somehow less productive, and that we need to produce more food to feed the world. Regenerative agriculture land is actually more productive because it can be stacked and utilised in non-traditional cropping seasons for other food production, e.g. grazing animals in the off season. Not only that, the soil is also more productive and is known to produce more bushels per acre than non-regenerative agriculture land. The current methods are leading to collapse, where croplands will no longer be usable. So, how can we continue doing the same thing? That’s the very definition of insanity!

A factory-farm setup, where animals are crowded into pens, fed feed and then marched off to a slaughter house, is arguably one of the most destructive production systems. While you might only see the small spaces the animals are kept in, and as exploitative as they are, they are only part of the picture. In that factory-farm, the steer are fed corn because it fattens them up the fastest. That corn is grown in a monocrop environment (and, as Jared Diamond puts it, the single most destructive thing humans ever did to the planet was inventing the plough). They kill all the animals on that land, they churn up the soil, they grow annual plants that again ruin the soil, they spray the crops with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, they shoot any large predators, they poison mice, and then when they harvest the crop they leave nowhere safe for any of these animals to live, so predators (like snakes or birds of prey) finish off the ones that are left.

And, not only that, cattle aren’t even evolved to eat corn. The animals get sick, and if they were fed corn for much more than a few months they would likely die of some kind of illness anyway. Meanwhile in a regenerative farm, the steer is on grass, eating its natural food, in its natural environment, with no stresses. It’s not standing in its own manure day after day, it’s healthy, and it doesn’t need hormone and disease shots. Sure it takes about two to three months longer to grow to a mature size steer ready for slaughter, but you’re seeing the entire system all in one place. This environment encourages other animals, and the soil flourishes with life. And the cows are about as close to their natural evolved environment as they can possibly be. Then they have one single bad moment on one single day, when they are killed and turned into the most nutrient dense food on the planet.

Farmers already feed the world. But a lot of that food goes to countries that don’t need it, and waste it. There are countless examples of poor countries shipping their main staple of cropped food to rich Western countries because it can be sold for more money than locally. This is food inequality, and it’s not sustainable. There is already enough food in this world to feed everyone, in fact we can probably feed up to ten billion people without any increase in production. We just have to waste less, and give food to the right places.

My question is, knowing this, how can we continue to do things the existing way? How can anyone continue to support that kind of system? We have to escape that cycle of thinking that humans are smarter than nature, of thinking that we know better, that we can improve on nature and spray chemicals and fossil fuels on things to defeat nature. We cannot defeat nature, and it’s complete hubris to think that we can. Most wheat is sprayed with pesticide right before harvest to make it dry up and to make it easier for processing. Yum! Rice is sprayed several times during growing. A strawberry typically has over 40 different chemical compounds on it while sitting on the supermarket shelf. If you’re not buying spray-free, then all grains, fruit and vegetables that you consume have numerous pesticides, insecticides and herbicides on them. So do we keep producing food this way or do we look for ways to produce foods that are safer and better for humans, while regenerating the environment? Nature has shown us the way, we just need to get off the chemical bandwagon and observe nature, mimic the ways it produces food. There is a better way, it’s productive, it’s beyond sustainable and it’s already being practised by many producers. We, as consumers, just need to make those smart choices to choose to reward the farmers and ranchers who are producing food in a way that benefits our environment and produces quality nutrient dense food.

There is a sense, to me, of huge cognitive dissonance when it comes to what people eat, and the effect it has on the planet. It seems like it’s easier to just not worry about it, and to live in ignorant bliss. How frustrated do you get?
Cognitive dissonance implies that people have investigated, and then ignored, the facts in reaching a conclusion counter to all logic. Everyone wants to believe their way is right, that they cannot be wrong. A vegan will see plant-based food on their plate and think that no animal died for them to eat it. That this makes them the best human being they can be, a force for good. Unfortunately life is vastly more complicated than that, and just because you don’t see an animal product on your plate doesn’t mean many animals didn’t die to grow that plant food. The truth is that growing and eating vegetables, grains and fruit results in far more death than eating animals as your main food source.

I don’t think it’s cognitive dissonance on the part of most people though, I think it’s just not understanding, or really needing to understand. “Everyone knows oats are a healthy breakfast!” “Fruit juice is so healthy!” Why bother investigating that oats turn into sugar, if your doctor hasn’t told you that you’re a diabetic? Why bother finding out that those oats are grown in monocrops, and how many animals died to grow them? Why investigate cholesterol if your doctor hasn’t uttered the words, “We might need to put you on a statin”? But it makes sense that people need to be prodded, or pushed into change. For instance, the food pyramid must be right, yeah? I mean, experts investigated it and produced a pyramid of food. Most people don’t realise how much impact lobbyists, bad science and politics had in producing that dodgy food pyramid. Most people don’t know that for 99.999% of human history we have never eaten so many carbohydrates. And then there’s all the crap nutritional “knowledge” out there. That all calories are equal, saturated fat is bad, fruit and vegetables are necessary, cholesterol is bad, you need fibre, you can be a healthy vegan and plenty more.

I just don’t give much of a hoot what others think, or what they do. On social media, I used to debate vegans. I don’t do that anymore. Now, when I think about commenting online, I try and live by the Warhol quote, “When people are ready to, they change. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them”. We all live such privileged lives, in such a privileged country, and it’s easy to forget that we are all a part of nature, we are just animals and because of that we have weaknesses. One of those is our inbuilt desire for certain foods, and unfortunately there are many companies and forces working against us, against our health, trying to manipulate us into eating their foods.

So, it’s not frustrating for me per se. Everyone has to live their own life, and live it the way that they want to. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their own set of facts. I guess my ideas might sound like fringe theories or concepts to some, but all of what I’ve said about diet is being practised by many thousands of doctors with great success for their patients, and what I’ve said about farming methods is being practised at large scale with great success by thousands of farmers around the world. These are not new concepts, they are old concepts being practiced in the modern era.

So this has been a pretty intense, but really informative chat. Thank you Chris. For those who are interested in learning more, can you recommend some resources for people to read up on?
Watch Allan Savory’s TED Talk. Read “Dirt to Soil”, by Gabe Brown, “Sacred Cow”, by Diana Rogers, “Cows Save the Planet”, by Judith Schwartz, “Defending Beef”, by Nicolette Hahn Niman, “The Vegetarian Myth”, by Lierre Keith, “A New Green History of the World”, by Clive Ponting, “Guns, Germs and Steel”, by Jared Diamond and “On Eating Meat”, by Matthew Evans.

Happy and healthy.

Ejo #129 – (It’s Easy) Bein’ Green

My friends Andrew and Chris were recently talking about all the work they’d done to their homes in an effort to make less of an impact on the environment. I’d been aware that they were pretty clued up about this kind of stuff but I was blown away to learn exactly how much they knew. I asked them if they would be interested in sharing the wealth of knowledge and experience they’ve amassed over the years with all of you, and they both said yes. You’re welcome, readers!!!

Chryss: So let’s get started with what people can do to reduce their energy consumption in the home.

Chris:  I think home efficiency first, including draught-proofing, double glazing, etc. Then maybe electrification; convert to an all-electric home including solar, heat pumps, aircon, heating and hot water.  Efficiency can be very cheaply done and have massive wins.  Whereas changing the house to all-electric is more of an investment.

Andrew: For house efficiency, draught-proofing is #1.  It’s very cheap, and will payback in a year.  Glazing; there are millions of types.  Maximum reduction is replacing the entire window (with either double or triple glaze) but it’s also highest in cost.  Best value for money in glazing is window insulation film.  The average house uses 40% energy for heating, 30% for lighting and 30% on the rest.  A well designed house basically chops the heating by 80%, the lighting by 70% and leaves the rest.

Think about reducing your consumption of energy.  Use the house like in the old days, open the windows at night and in the morning for fresh and cool air, and shut them during the day.  This costs zero dollars, but equals big comfort.  If you want to spend maximum dollars for maximum return, get a high coefficient of performance aircon.  High COP means that for each unit of electricity consumed from the grid, you generate five or six units from your aircon/heat pump/fridge etc.  Solar panels are a no-brainer in Australia.  You can payback in four years for most people in Melbourne now.  Which is a pretty nuts return on investment.  Plus you become more sustainable.  It wakes people up to what the hell they are consuming when they look at an app and see all the things chewing the electricity. 

So, the order in “bang for buck” is draught-proofing, then lighting, then curtains/blinds, then windows.  All of these are ‘passive’ improvements so they don’t use energy to be beneficial.  Also they can’t really break or become obsolete.  Then you can move towards energy efficient equipment. There’s no need to buy new, but just replace old appliances with the latest; things like fridge, induction stove, etc. (exceptions to this are getting rid of plasma TVs, or replacing an old dryer with a heat pump dryer – these are immediately beneficial).  Even the new kettles that can boil just one cup.  This is the important bit.   

Then you go active. With aircon, proper LED lights, a heat pump if you have cash for hot water, otherwise use solar hot water.  Then you reduce external inputs to the house.  Get solar panels.  As Chris said, if you can get off gas that’s great (I haven’t succeeded so far). 

Chris: Another thing is shading.  You can use natural elements to shade walls.  For example, a new house around the corner from me has a north-facing, double-storey, single width, BLACK brick wall, with NO insulation.  Talk about crazy.  Now, if they mounted a huge trellis over that wall, and grew a passionfruit plant, or grapevines, we’d have three things in great play.  Shading for a huge heat sink to prevent the wall from getting the sun, we’ve put in plants to help absorb CO2, and, the kicker, we’re growing delicious, home-grown food.  People often think of high tech when, really, we can use nature to our advantage in so many ways.  For example, in Coober Pedy they build houses underground. 

It “feels” more natural to work in harmony with nature than to fight against it with, for example, pesticides, herbicides, mono-cropping, etc.  But for betterment of self and the planet I like the word stewardship as it elicits a desire to look after something for a short period of time (our life), to pass on a better world to future generations.  We are stewards of the planet, which means we should be embracing appropriate technologies that allow that.  Sure, allow modern life to remain in place and to advance, but also embrace nature and natural processes that have been around for millions of years.  For instance, why make a CO2 capturing machine, which is highly complex, when you could just plant a forest??  Or, just use cows to restore soil, restore nature, and consequently capture carbon, and feed us at the same time.

Andrew:  I mean I could go to town on it all, but it will just bore people and turn them off. I have read the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and actually worked with clients on trading carbon credits etc. so I do have some clue, but there’s still plenty to learn. 

Chris:  I don’t think people are that interested though, are they?  Solar, sure.  It’s perfunctory though; buy solar panels, move on with your life.  Big efficiency, lifestyle changes, lowering CO2, those are the much bigger life changes needed.  As Andrew said, no one is truly really engaged with those.  Or maybe they are, I dunno.  It’s a very big topic, way beyond solar.  Our goal should be reversing our impact on the planet.  Our goal with solar is to make our current lifestyle sustainable, but unfortunately if we sustained our current level of use of everything, we’d be toast.  Precious metals are being depleted at rates that simply can’t be sustained more than 30-40 years.  Arguably, our most valuable asset, top soil, has about 30 seasons left.  Instead of sustainable, the thing we need to think about now is regenerative. I think it’s important to point out that lifestyle change is needed, and that simply adding solar isn’t a “Well, I’ve got solar. I’m done now” proposition.  My perspective is that solar is but one of many steps we can take to address our impact.

Andrew: Learning about all of the things you can do, I realised that different elements can be prioritised; whether it’s reduced energy bills, more self-reliance, less carbon emissions or just a sense of shared help for others. Any step people take is a step in the positive direction!

Chris: It would be good to explain the “why” though.  People can make all the changes their wallet desires, but the “why” behind the change might put things into perspective and inspire more?  Long lasting change, that is. Solar panels and generation of electricity is pretty much a commodity.  It will save people money over five years, so it’s an easy sell.  As is cutting gas and going to an all-electric house.  Try convincing anyone they need a drop toilet though.

Chryss: Can I ask you both to talk me through your own personal journeys of how you arrived to where you are now, in terms of your commitment.  I’ve known you both for nearly 25 years, and I can’t remember you being this interested in saving the environment back in the day.  So how did you both get to this point?  Also, do you think that becoming parents has amplified it at all?

Chris: About eight years ago I went on a health journey that started with, “You need to take statins”.  After researching that and deciding I didn’t actually need them, I ended up learning a lot more about food, and health.  I lost 40kg, and 33cm off the belly, cured a lot of other ills I didn’t even know I had, and I am now in the best health of my life.  Part of that health journey led me into looking at food, and resulted in me doing a course in permaculture, which is about sustainable living, sustainable lifestyles, growing food, and living a life more in line with nature.

We need to be able to pass on a better world to our children (or to future generations, for those without kids).  This doesn’t mean sacrificing modern lifestyle – it’s just about being more mindful, and making positive informed changes.  Sure having my own child has maybe brought that to bear a little more, but I’d like to think I care enough about everyone else that I would have made those changes anyway. 

Andrew: So I got into what I call acting sustainably in a very slow fashion, starting as a teenager, thinking about why the snow in the mountains was greater or lesser each year.  I read STARK by Ben Elton as a late teenager, and later the IPCC, which is the entity that publishes the climate change research and the various consolidated scientific models on this.  I was focused on what the impact would be in the various places that I cared for (Melbourne, France, the mountains). 

I also disliked the very emotive language used (little did I know how pervasive it would become).  This was early 2000s, before Al Gore etc., and I wanted to get to the analysis sitting under it, to protect myself and my investments.  Since becoming a father, this has not changed, I believe.  The action that I take will not make one bit of difference.  I am doing it to simply say to myself that I did something to reduce my impact on the world, and also to reduce my financial risks (i.e. if I have lower electricity costs, then I need less income/salary to live day-to-day). 

ChryssWhat exactly have you guys done to your homes?  And why?  Could you please go into as much detail as you can.

Chris:  I’ve converted my entire home from using gas and electricity to an all-electric house.  We completely decommissioned the gas.  In place of the gas central heating, gas hot water and gas cooktop (which are all very inefficient) I’ve installed a 6.6kw solar system, heat pump (often called reverse cycle) heating and cooling in each room and a heat pump hot water system (which heats during the middle of the day only).  For a couple of years we had a portable IKEA induction cooktop simply positioned on top of the unused gas cooktop, but recently we bought a new oven stovetop with induction built in. Those portable IKEA induction cooktops are excellent though, as a temporary measure, for $59.  By switching from gas to electricity it did several things.  We’re safer, as gas leaks account for a LOT of the methane in the atmosphere and can often leak into the house.  We also ditched the connection fee for gas, leaving us with a single, low connection fee for electricity (with Tango Energy, which also has a low kwh charge, and a good feed-in tariff). 

In addition to those things I personally sealed up the house, making a priority of draught-proofing.  This was the first step I took in improving my home efficiency.  Any gaps in walls, floors, doors and windows got either a tight silicone strip or a silicone seal, to ensure no air leaks.  I also sealed up all the internal air vents, all the internal central heating vents and all the gaps behind appliances and under sinks.  Building contractors just smack holes in walls for wires and plumbing, so sealing up these big gaps is crucial to efficiency.  Check your entire building envelope for air gaps!  I also sealed up all the chimney cavities with cut up bits of foam mattress bought from Clark Rubber. 

We use to have on-demand gas hot water.  A stored heat pump hot water system is by far the most efficient when used in combination with solar.  I know some dudes who did in-depth analysis on all of the hot water heat pumps, and Sanden was the winner so we got that.  We only heat between 12pm and 2pm (peak solar times), and it’s perfect hot water at any time of day.  We bought other new appliances too.  We now have four Mitsubishi reverse cycle coolers/heaters.  The old dishwasher, washing machine, large commercial freezer, oven and cooktop, kitchen extraction fan, light fittings, wall/kitchen and bathroom fans were all replaced with low energy efficient versions (with backdraft protection, to prevent air leaks).  We reduced the number of appliances needing power.  We turn them off, replaced them, or just got rid of them. 

I replaced all the windows in the north facing kitchen area with double glazing myself, and even managed to feature in the ReNew Magazine a couple of times with my home handyman work.  We invested in a full roof replacement, using lighter coloured Colorbond sheets, and we installed R6 roof insulation (due to limited space we used foil lined foam panels specifically designed for cathedral ceiling spaces).  We installed a 6.6kw solar system, fed back into the grid to effectively use the mains grid as a “battery” so we can draw back when there is no sunlight, and to minimise costs.  For about five months of the year we have zero electricity costs, for another four months it’s about 50% and the three months over winter it’s about 10% fed back into the grid.  We’re on track to pay off our solar in less than four years. 

Outside, I put in plants that provide shade for north and west facing walls in summer.  These produce food (grape, raspberry, kiwi berry), draw CO2 from the atmosphere, and they look pretty.  I installed a measured irrigation drip system with a solar powered pump for efficient use of water, a 3000 litre water tank for rain water collection and I also diverted all downpipes to the water tank.  We got a bee hive to pollinate our plants and also to provide honey (not that we eat it, but we can trade with it or give it away).  I removed all the non-productive plants, for example the 15 metre lilly pilly plants at the rear of property, and replaced them with three apple trees, three pear trees and other productive food plants, allowing more sunlight to the backyard, for us.  We grow a lot of our own berries and fruits in water-efficient wicking beds (hundreds of plants in total).  It’s no secret that a LOT of the food we buy is one of the biggest carbon footprints.  For instance, where did that banana come from? And where was that Coles/Woolies bread made?  Where was the soy in that Bonsoy milk grown?  So one of the biggest things we can do to reduce our impact is to buy local, in-season produce, and direct from farmers.  For example, the beef I buy is from a farmer I know who is less than 100km from my house.  We can reduce our own fossil fuel use, but we also have to consider first, second or third hand usage too!

Finally, we grow azolla, a plant that draws nitrogen from the atmosphere and turns it into a great fertiliser, while being a great habitat for water animals.  Also, bees can land on it and get water without drowning.  We also grow comfrey, another nitrogen fixing plant used as fertiliser (both of these mean I don’t need to import fertilisers, and it’s all organic) and we keep all organic material (cardboard, kitchen scraps etc.) for the garden.  There are lots of ways to be efficient beyond just electricity, but all have an impact on either energy use, or conservation.

Chryss: Andrew, how about you? 

Andrew:  My list is in priority order, meaning bang for buck, and not necessarily the order I actually did it chronologically.  Bang for buck meaning maximum reduction in energy costs/liveability factor for minimum cost.  I personally believe this is the only way to get people to move, which is slightly different to Chris’ view (I mean, I agree with his view, I just don’t think that other people will behave altruistically.  I don’t behave altruistically so why should I expect others to).

Draught-proofing and sealing up gaps.  I paid someone to come to the house and do this professionally.  It cost me 1,200AUD.  The person put dropdown seals on all the doors, filled in around all the windows, put draught stoppers in the bathroom exhaust fan, and silicon sealant in various gas wall vents.  Payback on this is probably a year or so in winter heating bill reduction (our house was leaky, and still is)

LED lighting.  First we replaced bulbs with LED globes.  This works and is cheap to do. Everyone can start with this and reduce the lighting part of their bill by maybe 60-70%.  It causes some heat loss due to the design of bulbs though, so I ultimately replaced them with full LED units (these have a computer inside the unit and are fully sealed so no leaks from your roof, which is a big deal with heat loss).

Roof insulation.  Hot air rises. Melbourne is a heating dominated climate so we need to focus on improving heat retention.  I put R6 insulation in the roof (actually R4 plus another lot of R2).

Solar panels.  We paid way too much for very high end solar panels (with a slightly tricky install due to shadowing).  Nevertheless, my panels output crazy amounts of kw.  I have 8kw of panels, which means that for three months of the year I get paid, three months I pay nothing, and six months I pay a bit (we still use a lot of electricity).  I installed a lot of panels, partly because whoever buys the house after us will always need a lot.  Current payback period is about four years.

Underfloor heating.  We replaced ducted with underfloor heating.  This is NOT economic.  I mean it’s 20% cheaper than the gas-ducted heating to run. But we will never recoup the installation cost.  It was installed for allergy and comfort reasons.  It’s very pleasant to have the house at one temperature, and a smart sensor means it switches off when it’s not needed.  We also installed underfloor insulation (though there’s no need to do this unless you do something like underfloor heating).

Double glazing.  We paid a lot of money for very well sealed double glazed units from Paarhammer.  We could only afford to do the bedrooms.  We like very quiet bedrooms so it was a key element.  There is a good firm called Thermawood that can replace just the glass, keeping your wooden frame, which saves a fair bit and is quite useful for Melbourne houses.

Induction cooktop.  This is good for cooking.  Modern ones are much better than the previous models (we still have both gas and induction).

Dryer.  Obviously the best option is to dry your laundry outside.  But if you are going to have a dryer (and we do), then buy a heat pump dryer.  These use fridge technology in reverse, are very mild on clothes and use very little energy

Heating/cooling.  Similarly, install reverse cycle air-conditioning for the same reasons (it uses fridge technology, which means that each 1kw you consume gives you 6-7kw of cooling/heating).

Pool pump.  Install one with variable speed pump and auto chlorinator.  We don’t have a pool, for environmental reasons (and they are a complete schlep to maintain).  But if you do, installing these reduces electrical and chemical usage.

I mean there’s lots of other things I have done that I don’t want to bore you with.  For example, I bought a thermal camera (which plugs into an iPhone) to see where gaps are.  I bought a meter to track consumption, planted trees, I’m riding my bike more, not buying replacement stuff.  The old reduce, reuse, recycle (in that order).  But there are still large errors in my behaviour.  I am happy to fly (which, by far, has the biggest CO2 impact).  I still use gas (as the cost to move to underfloor electric is astronomical).  I still buy food from France.  Hence I am not comfortable to say anything to anyone.  Any step that someone takes is great as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how small. 

Chryss: Seriously impressive guys.  Hats off to you both.  Now here are some questions that I’ve fielded from people who are interested in making changes but don’t know where to start. 

What size unit would we need to cover our average daily energy usage?

Chris: You’d need to check your electricity bill to work that out, but my personal view is to maximise solar generation on your roof.  I think most of the deals going around now are about $2000 for a 6.6kw system (after rebate). This is about 20-22 panels, so that’s fair chunk of roof.  I have a 6.6kw system, 22 panels.  This gives us five months electricity bill free, about four years payback.  Current deals pay back in two years.

Andrew:  Divide your daily bill by 3.5 so, for example, 35kwh of usage would need 10kw of panels. To be clear you will (in Melbourne anyway) generate 1.5x your panel size in winter and 5.5x in peak summer.  Chris is right though. Panels are so cheap you should just get the maximum size that fits on roof, given labour versus panel costs.  IKEA have a good offer at the moment.  Payback period on that, assuming all self-consumption, is about two and a half years. Assuming just feed in tariff is five years.  You get a return on your cash of around 30%p.a. for the self-consumption version.  That’s not bad to feel good about your impact on the environment.

Is the additional cost of the top quality solar cells worth it for the extended warranty (25 years versus 10 years)?

Chris:  Not sure I have an opinion on the warranty (I’d probably say top of the range is never, in any technology, the best bang for buck), but I will say this; most package deal systems out there use Tier 1 panels, e.g. Jinko Tier 1, and they come with 25 years warranty anyway. 

Andrew:  Yes and no.  Focus on what percentage the panels are scheduled to generate after ten years.  Also better quality panels will have lower reduced losses if temperature is higher (look for a low temperature coefficient).  If you want maximum output, generally it’s easier to just add more panels.  The key to keep cost down is to check if you have any shadowing due to chimney/trees etc.  If you do, then you need to look into optimisers or microinverters, which are mini computers that optimise the output of each panel if there is shading (if you don’t have them, then in one line of panels you can only produce at the lowest output of any of the panels, which can significantly chop your output).

What kind of solar panels are good, and why?  What inverters would you recommend?

Chris:  I recommend Tier 1 manufacturer, with a moderate panel.  I wouldn’t choose the most efficient, but probably 3rd or 4th down in the range (about 330w).  Like all tech, don’t bother with the top of the range – it will pay you back, but it will be a much longer timeframe.  I’m sure Andrew will touch on this, but a decent panel with Enphase microinverters is probably considered the “best” but only because it handles shading, and partial solar generation.  If you don’t have much shading, like me and unlike Andrew, then you can get good Tier 1 panels with a string inverter, and you end up producing just as much (maybe more as there is less wiring) pound for pound than more expensive options.  The price difference in setup?  We’re talking $15k+ versus around $2k.  Shading on the roof is the factor in determining this.

Andrew:  Bang. Nothing to add. 

Any idea what impact solar panels have on roofing?  For instance new Colorbond roofs state that the warranty ill be invalidated if solar panels are installed.  Any idea why?

Chris:  I don’t know.  They pull up screws in your roof, and attach the frame through those same holes, so there are no extra holes.  The impact solar panels do have, a very positive impact in my opinion, is that they provide shading on your roof.  The sun never hits the sunniest parts of your roof, so this keeps your roof from getting as hot, and thus lowers your cooling requirements!  Win-win.

Andrew:  Agree.  If you get a decent installer, there is no problem as they mount on a frame (having said that I have tiles, so I don’t have specific experience).  One thing I’d suggest is to make sure you put as many panels west facing.  You can thank me later.  But generally put as many panels as you can fit on.

How much more would we need, if we wanted to charge an electric vehicle every day?

Chris:  Good question.  I’m not sure I have the specific answer as it varies by the amount of charge/energy you use in the car, and when you’re charging it.  If we go back to the previous point, get the most number of solar panels/setup you can afford, and use the electricity you generate to power everything you need during the day, feeding back into the grid any excess so you can draw back electricity when you need it over night.  I’m presuming electric cars would be charged over night, so, yeah, you’ll need to be feeding back into the grid as much as possible.  From a pure energy view point, in a Nissan Leaf, if you charged in the middle of the day, then for the 10kwh needed for 100km travel, you’d likely need a 2.5kw solar system just for that single car.  The same car to charge in winter, you’d need a 25kw solar panel system – in Melbourne anyway.  There are so many factors, and too little detail in the question to fully answer though.

Andrew:  From the reading I have done, you will struggle to have enough excess to charge your electric vehicle.  A Tesla car battery is 75kwh.  So on its own, it needs say 20kw of panels to charge from empty.

How much do we reduce our carbon impact on the environment with an electric vehicle charged by solar rather than from the grid?

Chris:  Damn, that’s a complicated one.  Probably less that you might think.  Your panels are made of plastic, silicone, glass, etc.  They are manufactured in China, transported here, trucked around, and need to be replaced every 20 years.  Compare that to charging from the grid in Melbourne, which is now becoming more and more wind and solar powered every day.  It’s easy right now, home solar is better.  But it’s a tough call what the lower impact will be in five years.  I suspect in the next ten years there will be very little difference in environmental impact, grid versus home solar.  But you will find home solar electricity is cheaper/free.

Andrew:  Large losses due to transmission mean home production is always better.  For instance, 100kw produced in Mildura might only be 30kw by the time it hits your meter, due to losses in the power lines and transformers.  Electric vehicle versus petrol?  A simpler car means less to break down, less replacement costs/maintenance.  The main one is battery recyclability and degradation.  Petrol cars are very efficient.  Honestly, the analysis I’ve read is that for an identical car, EV versus petrol, you would be better to buy the petrol car and buy CO2 credits with the saving.  That doesn’t get you the green status symbol though.

Should we get a battery?  

Chris:  A battery is not worthwhile at present.  The economics don’t work out well.  Better to treat the grid as your “battery” by feeding back into it with your solar setup, and drawing back from the grid at times when your solar setup isn’t providing all the energy you need.  Batteries are not worth it on several levels.  

The big advantage of a battery would be being able to use power when it’s dark, and selling power at a better time of day (though there’s no flex pricing at the moment), and if you were completely off-grid as the only option. The downside is that batteries degrade more quickly than panels and need to be replaced, they contain toxic chemicals (so if my goal is to improve the environment, this conflicts), and ultimately you will still need a grid connection as backup, as we use more power than we generate over winter months, meaning the connection fee is fixed.  Until there are some significant improvements in battery technology I think this is probably a good compromise.

Andrew:  I agree with Chris on the economics. I also agree that recyclability of batteries is terrible at moment.  Actually charging at night helps stabilise the network (it doesn’t help climate change but it does reduce instability, and hence the possible need for extra gas-powered quick-start plants).  You’d need the Tesla battery price to be $7000 installed, for the economics to work in Melbourne.  It would need to be half the price, or prices need to vary intraday by 20-30% more than they do currently.  Basically a way better to spend the $12k of a Tesla battery is on reducing your household leakage. For example, there are houses out there that can keep warm with only human heat (and sun, during the day).  Hence the only consumption at night is for lights, and that’s tiny.

Is it better to have solar panels or get electricity from green energy companies like AGL Green Energy.

Chris:  With a two year payback on a 6.6kw system priced at $2100 after rebate, with a life span of 20-25 years, get solar.  It’s a no-brainer.

Andrew:  As per above, economically.  And also note that buying green power costs you more and doesn’t change the retailer behaviour.  It is actually cheaper for them to source renewables now, so you’re paying them to do something they would do anyway.

Ejo #128 – BLM: How To Be An Ally

When you take the time to learn about African American history as a white person, it can be empowering. How? Well, you realise how we got to where we are, to this tipping point in history. You realise the part that we’ve all played in the subjugation of Black people. You realise that their subjugation is so ingrained in our way of life that, unless you are subject to it, it’s actually difficult to see it. This realisation can give you the power to effect change. Yes, you, the white person who actually gives a shit, can make a difference.

And it starts with acknowledging your white privilege, acknowledging that we live in a society in which white people are born with (and continually given) advantage. And that black people are born with (and continually dealt) disadvantage. Being able to admit that is a great first step. Racism is a system, and the hostility that exists between white and Black people isn’t just a symptom of that. It’s a design feature. The default “race” being white is also a deliberate component (check out Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to see exactly how).

A lot of people misunderstand the meaning of the term “white privilege”, imagining that because they’ve had to endure hardship (despite being white) that it doesn’t exist, that it’s some kind of a liberal construct. But white privilege isn’t the same as regular ol’ privilege. It’s not the same as class privilege, or economic privilege or academic, political or social privilege. To be blunt, it is the privilege of being insulated from racial stress. That’s all it is – but that is huge. It’s a very powerful thing to possess, whether you’re aware that you possess it or not. If you are white, regardless of your situation in life (even if you are the poorest white person on earth) you have white privilege. You cannot renounce it. You cannot give it away. You cannot ever lose it. You are born with it, and you will die with it.

I challenge anyone to watch the full video of Derek Chauvin crushing the life from George Floyd’s body and tell me there isn’t a race problem in America. The policeman, knowing he is being filmed, casually looks into the camera, pressing his knee onto George’s neck. And he does it so indifferently, with one hand in his pocket.  The way you would deflate an air mattress, just waiting for all the air to be squeezed out. He continued to push his knee down, three long minutes after his fellow cops had ascertained that there was no longer a pulse, in a show of…. what? Superiority? Dominance? It is terrifying that people exist in this world that can hold such little regard for human life (even more terrifying that they’re given a badge and a gun). It is devastating that Black lives are deemed so insignificant that they can be murdered on film by people who barely bat an eyelid while doing it. The reason “Black lives matter” is a thing and “all lives matter” is bullshit is that it’s the Black lives that are routinely and casually being taken by cops in this way. As Barack Obama recently said, “Black lives matter – no more, but no less”.

When I decided to actively get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, after George Floyd was murdered, I had no idea where to turn for information on how I could help. I didn’t know the best way to become an ally. But I knew that I wanted to be one. My only resources were social media, predominantly Instagram and Twitter. I wanted guidance. I wanted to be told exactly what to do to help. But guess what, it doesn’t work that way.

We cannot expect marginalised people to educate us about the injustices of racism. How fucking entitled is that? We need to do our own research. We need to find out ourselves how we got to this place. And then we need to figure out ourselves what we can do to to get out of it. We need to put in the leg work. And I’m so sorry, but the work will be difficult. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be challenging, even for the most progressive amongst us. Because we need to somehow wrap our heads around something that we usually don’t ever have to think about, something as taken for granted as breathing. As Dr. Camara Jones says, “It’s difficult for us to recognise any system of inequity that is privileging us”.  Because that is our version of normal. But it’s time to wake up to the fact that our version of normal is messed up.

So, the responsibility to fight racism absolutely does NOT lie with Black people. It is the perpetrators, the enablers and people like you and me, people who have inherent advantage in the system, that need to do the work. And if you are white, that means you. Racism might directly affect Black people, but it’s something that infects us all. You are infected. I am infected. Racism is our problem to solve, and we need a cure, now. For the sake of humanity.

America’s obsession with individualism has fostered a culture in which people are able to rationalise extracting themselves from the collective. “No, I’m not a racist, and therefore I am not part of this problem”. But when everyone believes that, the problem becomes impossible to address, let alone fix. As white people, as part of that larger collective, we need to look inward, even if we don’t think we are racist (hell, even if we aren’t racist). We need to look inside and acknowledge that the very fabric of the society we are a part of is structured in a racist way. And then we have to change that. And that may mean changing ourselves. And that’s OK. Because the status quo is fucked. Society is broken. We can’t change racists one at a time. We need to change the system that teaches and allows and encourages people to be racist, whether they realise they’re doing it or not. And it will take time, but it’s worth the effort, and we have to start now. Black history is white history too. We are all part of it. We are living it, right now. How will future generations come to look at us and the role that we played in this historic moment?

Our silence, our inaction and our passivity is not benign. Being open-minded and progressive does not absolve you or me from the embedded racism of the world in which we all live. Non-racism is no longer enough (it never was enough, but OK, we can’t change the past). All of us now actively have to be anti-racist. As OluTimehin Adegbeye writes in The Correspondent, “To be anti-racist is to actively promote black safety, black prosperity, black health, black innocence, black freedom, black wellbeing and black life”. Does that seem like something you can do? I hope so.  But if not, perhaps you need to ask yourself, why not?

Anti-racism doesn’t mean repudiating Blackness.  It doesn’t mean that we are all the same.  Because we’re not.  We must acknowledge the differences, celebrating Blackness as something unique and wonderful and of equal value to whiteness.  Saying you don’t see colour doesn’t mean you’re anti-racist.  It simply sends the message that you choose to not see, or acknowledge, the sustained and violent degradation that’s been passed down to Black people through generations of imposed suffering and adversity. Let’s not whitewash and filter out the colour of someone’s skin as inconsequential.

Black people have never recovered from being enslaved. Humanity never recovered. To this day, the spectre of slavery casts a putrid shadow over the shiny façade of the United States of America. Black people have had to claw their way up every single step and still, they are always collectively below the ladder than whites who have had to expend no energy, no effort and no thought to their place. People like you and me. Who may not even be aware that we are on a ladder, or that a ladder even exists. The system just sets us there, on the upper rungs. And we get used to that, and some of us never even bother to look down. And that just sucks.

But you want to help.  Here’s how.  First and foremost we must read. We must learn about our terrible history, the one that they don’t teach in schools.  We need to teach our children how to be allies, no-one else is going to do it.  We must learn more about the key figures who have furthered the movement – from slavery to segregation, through the momentous civil rights movement of the 60s to the battle that is being fought right now.  We need to know the names of those who devoted their lives, sometimes sacrificing them, in making a stand.  Those who said no.  Those who said enough.  There is so much that we don’t know.  So much we should know.  So let’s start reading, right now. Even if you can spare just ten minutes a day, there are resources that can point you in the right direction.

Then, we listen.  We listen to Black voices and we hear what they have to say.  Even if we don’t like what they’re saying.  We don’t argue.  These voices have been muted for so long, it’s time to just step back and listen.

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Be prepared to be schooled, be prepared to be wrong, be prepared to do what it takes.

Donate.  Give money to the BLM organisation.  These are the people on the frontline, working tirelessly to transform the system from the inside, through legislation, through policy, through governance.  Every cent helps.  Donate to the victims.  Donate to the protestors, to Black owned business.

Protest.  Not everyone can get involved in protests, but if you are able to, it’s a great way to add your voice to the symphony.  Turn up when they need you to turn up.  Be there.  Of course we’re still in the middle of a pandemic so be cautious about joining in.  Don’t forget to wear your mask. And of course we’re still at the tail-end of a Trump administration.  Don’t put your own personal safety at risk.  Be there, but be safe.

Make amends, co-sign reparations.  Find out the best way for you to do that.  It will be different for everyone, but the deep and sustained injustices that Black people have endured must be mended.

As Nafeez Ahmed optimistically posits in his article, dismantling the system into which racism is inextricably woven isn’t just a matter of focussing on giving Black people equality. We are way past that. The last four hundred years have been spent building a complex society and way of life where our environment, our financial markets, our culture as a human race, our very existence is framed and tarnished by racism. It’s time to smash that system, as we head towards a reckoning. To borrow a phrase used by the organisers of BLM, now we transform. Now, as a species, we evolve, we move forward, we do better. Now, finally, we do right.