Change.org: agent for good or profit?

Some time in early 2015 some members of our local community group, Lockyer Community Action Inc. organised a petition on Change.org for a campaign we were running.

At the time those who set it up, and some of those who signed on to our petition, expressed some concern about the apparently money-oriented nature of the interaction.

At the time I recognised the feeling of unease about the way, some time after I’d signed a petition I’d frequently get an email with a message like:

You signed this petition. Help it reach 25,000 signatures.
Share this petition
or promote it by contributing $5 or more

Over the intervening couple of years that feeling has increased, but it’s only today that I finally decided to do something about it.  I googled “what is change.org?” and got a range of views on the organisation, with probably the majority pointing out that it is a “for-profit” organisation, rather than the “not-for-profit” that many people assume (a misunderstanding which the Change organisation doesn’t seem to do much to counteract).

Ben Rattray founded Change.org in 2007 and in 2010 it adopted its current petition mode.  Since then it has become one of the biggest sites on the Web for anyone seeking to pressure politicians, corporations or others with a public shame campaign.

How does it make its money?  According to Forbes.com in 2012, “Change.org charges groups for the privilege of sponsoring petitions that are matched to users who have similar interests. For example, when a person signs a petition about education and clicks “submit,” a box pops up and shows five sponsored petitions on education to also sign. If a user leaves a box checked that says “Keep me updated on this campaign and others,” the sponsor can then send e-mails directly to that person. It’s not clear from the check box that your e-mail address is being sold to a not-for-profit.”

And, or course, then there are the $5 donations that users are asked to provide to help promote the cause they signed up for.  I’ve always thought that was a bit strange.  You are in the business of helping people to create effective petitions and to spread them to a wide audience, so why do you need a $5 donation from me to make it more effective – and how will you do it?  That’s never explained.

The Forbes.com article in 2012 said that at that time Change.org had 300 paying clients, including Sierra Club, Credo Wireless and Amnesty International.

On their website Change.org explain that the business “is a social enterprise and a certified B Corporation. B Corporations are held to high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency set by B Lab, an independent certifying group.”

They also publish a list of ways in which they make their money.  But I bet you never saw a link to that information on one of their web pages asking you to donate to promote a petition.

The Widipedia entry on B Corporations and their certification points out that “The B-Lab certification is a third party standard requiring companies to meet social sustainability and environmental performance standards, meet accountability standards, and to be transparent to the public according to the score they receive on the assessment. B-Lab certification applies to the whole company across all product lines and issue areas. For-profits of all legal business structures are eligible for certification.”

Read that last sentence again.

Soooo … have I changed my feeling of unease about Change.org’s business model?  No, but I now have a clearer understanding of what it is.

Will I continue to sign Change.org petitions?  Yes, when it is something that I feel is important and after I have carefully examined the petition and the body behind it and am comfortable that it is not “green-washing” of something unacceptable.

Will I “donate” (=pay) Change.org to promote a petition I have signed.  No.  Never have and never will.  But I won’t judge you if you do, because I think that there are trade-offs involved in so many of the social and commercial transactions we all have to make every day, and we each have the right to make our own judgements.

 

Dragon Fruit – poles or beams?

I hope Glenda doesn’t mind my moving her comment into a new blog post to make sure her ideas are visible to more people.  I know that many people don’t scan comments to blogs unless they are really interested in the topic under discussion.  Glenda says:

Hi thanks for your update on the dragons, I am at Minden and have also had a lot of activity with my plants I have so far counted 60 buds over 3 dragon poles and have so far had approx 15 flowers that opened,I also I have 5 fruit that are developing at a very rapid rate. I did very little pruning this year because of the long cool season I missed the opportunity as I did not want any further damage from frosts, my dragons have really been powering on and all of my buds are on old growth so far, I have given my plants a good soaking with “seasol” liquid fertiliser and today I am going to throw a handful of blood and bone around the base just to give them a bit of an edge. I have 6 new poles with the red flesh variety but I doubt that I will see any flowers this year, actually I am a bit disappointed with these plants as they seem to be a bit retarded with their growth so far, maybe next year for them. I am really looking forward to the plants peak in budding however my worst fear is that fruit fly will get the taste for the fruit, have you had any trouble in this area, I have read that fruit fly can be a problem. Like you I seem to have lots of ants that seem to be all over the buds so I am hoping that they deter the fruit fly ( your thought would be appreciated).

Here’s my reply:

That’s interesting about your already having 60 buds over three poles – I assume that is three plants?  I made the mistake of following advice that the red variety grow better on a horizontal beam whereas the white ones grow better on poles with “spreader” frames at the top.  The decision was also influenced by wanting to try growing them in a shadehouse and on a heugelklultur base.

If you are not sure what heugelkultur/hugelkultur is have a look at this site.  There are plenty of other sites on the net, but this one explains it well and is not too far from what we have done here.  I’ve been meaning to write something about the design of our beds, but every time I start I run up against the fact that while I was  I was too busy and too dirty and sweaty to stop digging and get the camera.

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A general schematic of a heugelkultur mound incorporating a trench

Anyway, back to poles vs beams.  Our three plants are growing up the posts supporting two horizontal beams, each about 1.5-2m long. – see photo below  This doesn’t provide anything like the support for growing lots of branches that three posts with frames would have done.  I’m pretty sure this is why Glenda has 60 buds to our 29 (Glenda I’d love to have a photo of your poles to use here).

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Beam trellis – in two sections (you can just make out the second section on the left).  This started out as one long beam, but that restricted access to the back of the garden too much so I cut out a section.  The area under the straw is the newly created heugelkultur bed – the area to the left under sweet potato was done about 12 months earlier.  The heaps of soil on the left have been dug and sieved from the 2nd Huegelkultur Shadehouse. Date of this photo is July 2013.

Other factors?

There is only about 20km between our properties, though Glenda might have an edge over our poor and stony sandstone soil.

The climate is pretty much the same, with the biggest difference being that because we are on a high ridge we never get frosts – the cool air slides off the ridge into the valley before the temperature gets down to frost level.

Another difference is that we are growing one of the deep red varieties, whereas I assume from what Glenda says she has a white variety.  The two varieties may have different numbers of fruit in our climate.

And of course, our garden has been pretty much neglected while we have been fighting the motocross facility proposal for the last two years.  I haven’t made a single batch of compost in that time.

Regarding fruit fly, we have never had a fruit fly problem with out Dragon Fruit.  I suspect that the thick skin offers some protection.  It’s also interesting that the parrots have not yet attacked our Dragon Fruit.  The shadehouse is not closed in, but only has 30% shadecloth draped over the frame and down to the blue batten you can see in the photo above.  Normally the parrots would find any interesting fruit in this sort of structure.

 

Pruning Dragon Fruit

I have to admit that I have not found good information anywhere on how to prune Dragon Fruit.  What I am going to tell you here is a result of my own “trial and error” approach over several years.  It seems to work for me, but who knows whether there is a better approach that I don’t know about that might yield a whole lot more production.

Our plants are around 4 years old and last year they produced over 40 fruit (I stopped keeping records after 40, so the total could have been over 50).  Probably because of our cool and dry winters our Dragon Fruit go dormant in the winter, with very little new growth and no flowers.  Fruit is produced between January and June.

Three days after flowering

Three days after flowering

We had the first bud on our three plants on 6 December, and it flowered on 18 December this year, though I didn’t get around to photographing it until yesterday (21st).  This was three weeks earlier than the first flowering last year.

On the 20th I carefully counted all the buds that had appeared since the 6th – in two weeks we had gone from one bud to 29.

These plants were partially pruned in November, but then I got too busy to finish the job.  But this has given me the chance to think about the effect the pruning might have had on bud location, though this is all guess work and observation – no evidence-based theory here.

A range of buds, from just appeared to on the way to flowering

A range of buds, from just appeared to on the way to flowering.  Note the ants on the bud.

What I am seeing this year is similar to what I have observed in other years.  The most buds (by far) appear on downward growing branches.  In addition, there are far more buds on branches that have been pruned (whether the pruning was done by chopping off the branch through the green section or cutting it off at a node) than on un-pruned branches.

As you can see in the photo above, ants take a great deal of interest in the buds, but they do not seem to do them any harm.  I suspect that the buds exude something that is useful to the ants, and maybe in return the ants discourage insects that may be harmful to the bud.  Does anyone have any information on this?

The photos below show buds formed near the pruning point, however not all of the buds on a pruned branch are this close to the pruning point.  Nevertheless, as I said above, by far the most buds are on pruned branches.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the pruned branch has grown some more branches at the pruning point.  Many of the branches I pruned in November have done this, but they still have buds on the pruned section – and not on the new, un-pruned branches.

Another factor to think about (maybe before you plan your Dragon Fruit planting) is whether you will grow them on poles with spreader frames on top or horizontal beams.  You can see a short discussion here.

If you are just starting out with Dragon Fruit, remember that they should not be pruned until they are at least one year old, and ideally not until they have had one good flowering and fruiting season.

Would you like to share your pruning techniques here, along with your observations on the results?

If you are looking for more information on Dragon Fruit, have a look at the links at the end of the this post from the end of 2014.  And if you want to see the layout of our vege garden have a look at the two plans in this post. The first shows how the vege garden fits into the overall plan on our narrow ridge top.  Scroll down for a more detailed plan of the vege garden.  The Dragon Fruit are growing in Hugelkultur Shadehouse No.1.

p1060446_crop-small

Branch pruned at the node

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Bud a few days old. The ants seem to take an interest in them right from the time they form

A bud right at the pruning point

A bud right at the pruning point – chopped through the green section

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Branch pruned by chopping through the green section

Gas heating, cooking to be phased out: Dutch government plans

 The use of gas to cook and for heating will be phased out in the Netherlands under the government’s new energy strategy up to 2050.
The Energieagenda policy document, published on Wednesday, states that gas firms will no longer be required to connect households to the gas supply and that no new gas infrastructure will be developed. Instead homes and offices will be heated by surplus heat generated by industry and waste incineration as well as from geothermal sources. Cooking will be done on electric hobs.
The Energieagenda is a follow up to the energy agreement reached in 2013 between the government, industry, lobby groups and unions. That agreement set out a programme to ensure 16% of Dutch energy requirements are met from sustainable sources by 2023.
Now, in order to meet the agreement reached in Paris last year, CO2 emissions must be reduced to almost zero by 2050, Kamp says. In an interview with the NRC, Kamp said that the shift to a gas-free society will happen gradually. Some seven million households are currently connected to the gas grid.
Other measures in the new plan involve phasing out the use of non-sustainable fuels in the transport sector, more investment in cycling and measures to boost solar and wind power generation by individual households. The plan also envisages that all new cars in the Netherlands will be powered by sustainable sources from 2035.
Cost estimates for the switch currently vary so much that the government has commissioned extra research to assess the financial implications of the plan. They will be published mid 2017.

Last month Amsterdam city council published a plan to rid the city of gas-fired cooking and central heating by 2050. Next year, the aim is to remove 10,000 housing corporation homes from the gas network, city alderman Abdeluheb Choho said. In addition, two new residential areas are already being built without links to the gas network.

The above article is re-posted from DutchNews.nl   where it appeared on Wednesday 7 December 2016

This is only one small demonstration of the lack of information available to the Australian population about what other countries are doing.  The Commonwealth and State governments make the most of this to try to convince us that what they are doing is in line with the rest of the world, when the reality is that we are one of the global laggards in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Cuckoo Wasps – some of nature’s artworks

More Lockyer Valley wildlife

Large Cuckoo Wasp – Stilbum cyanurum (Vinegar Hill)

Some of the most spectacular wildlife in the Lockyer Valley isn’t necessarily the big stuff like kanagroos, koalas or kookaburras.  The small stuff can be absolutely entrancing.

The Large Cuckoo Wasp above is one example.  It was found dead on the floor in our house (hence the bits of detritus caught up in its exoskeleton).  Before you start thinking that we are a bit casual with our housekeeping, the critter itself is less than 20mm long, so the “fluff” is actually fairly minute particles.  Having said that this species is so small, it is known as the Large Cuckoo Wasp, which suggests that in general Cuckoo Wasps are pretty small insects.

Just how small they are can be seen in the image below.

20160103_Cuckoo Wasp_GFC_P1000969_small

The individual in the photo at the top of this page is on the right here. The one on the left is a different species (one of the two shown below). This Australian 20 cent coin has a diameter of 28mm.

The females of these wasps parasitise the nests of mud wasps, laying their egg in the mud nest next to that of the host species.  If they are discovered in the nest they roll into a ball like an armadillo, to protect themselves from the sting of their much larger host with the armour plates of their outer skeleton.  It seems to be a common feature of Cuckoo Wasps that the surface of the exoskeleton is pitted; perhaps to increase its strength, or to foil the probing sting of an angry mud wasp?  The defensive posture is often also used if they are threatened in some other way – such as a human trying to capture them.

The “appendage” at the rear is the ovipositor, used for laying eggs.  I’m curious about the structure of this ovipositor – you’d think that an insect that just lays its egg in the open nest of another wasp wouldn’t need something as robust as this to do the job.  Some other species of parasitic wasp have large teeth on the ovipositor in order to ‘drill’ through wood to reach their host(1).  For example, in the sawflies the ovipositor is saw-like and is used to insert the eggs into plant leaves, stems or wood(2).  Is this a relic from a previous evolutionary stage?

Large Cuckoo Wasps feed on the nectar of flowers in the woodlands, heaths and urban areas which are their habitat.

For a beautiful image of this species, have a look at this shot from Stanley and Kaisa Breeden.

After we found the second, smaller Cuckoo Wasp (dead on a window ledge in the house), and than another small one, I contacted Ken Walker at Museum Victoria and offered to send him the specimens to be identified.  Ken was happy to do this and to send me photos of the specimens.

Not only did Ken take fantastic photos, he also spent a lot of time cleaning up all the dust and debris off the specimens and then “relaxing” them so that they could be properly displayed.  Compare the photo on the left immediately below to the one at the top of this post – they are the same specimen.

Here are some of his photos.  These are photos of the most “diagnostic” parts of the bodies.  The scale bars for the whole body photos are 5mm for the top photo and 2mm for each of the others.

Stilbum cyanurum

Stilbum cyanurum (Photo Ken Walker)

Praestochrysis lusca

Praestochrysis lusca (Photo Ken Walker)

 

Chrysis lincea

Chrysis lincea (Photo Ken Walker)

You can find more about this species at the following links:

http://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_parawasps/CuckooWasp.htm

https://baynature.org/articles/the-cuckoo-wasp-a-gorgeous-parasite/

http://anic.ento.csiro.au/insectfamilies/biota_details.aspx?OrderID=27447&BiotaID=29790&PageID=families

(1) http://bugs.bio.usyd.edu.au/learning/resources/Entomology/externalMorphology/imagePages/ovipositor.html

(2) http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Insects/Wasps+and+bees

http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/60098

Thanks to Ken Walker from Museum Victoria for his willing assistance with identifying these species, and for the many other times when he has provided helpful advice on invertebrate wildlife.  Ken is the driving force behind Bowerbird, a huge job which he undertakes in addition to his many other duties, and he manages to produce the monthly issue of the Bowerbird Bugle newsletter.

Whose SEQ Regional Plan?

Quite a few people from the community groups Lockyer Community Action Inc. and Lockyer Uplands Catchments Inc. went to the consultation meeting on the draft SEQ Regional Plan last month.

The first surprise was that there was not to be any presentation about the background, objectives, structure or process leading up to the production of the draft.  Instead, the public were to be provided with “consultations” with individual planners.  A novel idea, but it would have been much more useful had we been provided with an overview of the draft from the planner responsible for preparing the document.

The second surprise came when we were led into the meeting room and introduced to a planner by one of the “ushers” who had been issuing numbers to the public in the foyer – she told us that we had a limit of 10 minutes with the planner.

Despite the planner my partner and I were paired up with doing her best, many of our questions were outside of her field of involvement in the preparation of the draft plan, so we didn’t really get satisfactory answers to our questions and certainly did not have a usefully informative discussion on the topics of concern to us.

The others in our group came away from their meetings with very similar feelings.

It was with some delight that I came across the article below in today’s issue of The Conversation – it pretty much sums up my misgivings about the consultation process, the preparation of the plan, and the general thrust of its content.

Overall, the issues below are illustrative of my general impression from a number of exchanges with different arms of the State government in the last year that we are not being well served by this government, and that their priorities are much more aligned with those of developers and industry.

Here’s the article:

ShapingSEQ regional plan gives ‘stakeholders’ a bigger say than citizens

Brian Feeney, The University of Queensland

Special interest groups have had much more influence than the wider community on the new regional plan for Southeast Queensland. A draft of the plan, ShapingSEQ, was recently released for comment. Prior input from the wider community was limited to submitting “thought bubbles” about the region without having the benefit of any report card on how the previous plan had performed.

This process did not accurately gauge community concerns and submitters were not a representative sample. Perhaps it gave people the feeling they’d “had a say”. The process just as likely reinforced cynicism about government consultation.

Regional planning in Southeast Queensland began in the early 1990s when councils in the region signed up to the Regional Framework for Growth Management. This was a non-binding set of guidelines promoted by the state government to manage land-use change.

Subsequently, this framework evolved into a statutory regional plan in 2005. It is noteworthy that consultation in the lead-up to the 2005 plan included the public release of discussion papers with options for the region’s future.

The initial focus was very much on getting southeast Queensland councils to accept the need for regional planning. At that time, the role of the wider community was relatively minor.

A 1990 meeting of representatives from government, business, trade unions, professional groups and community organisations was an important impetus for starting the regional planning process. This “stakeholder” model of community engagement has been the dominant form of consultation ever since.

Stakeholders or citizens?

Stakeholders have particular vested interests – such as protecting the environment, promoting a business sector, or advancing a government agency’s agenda.

Preparation of the 2016 draft plan involved several of these stakeholder “reference groups”. Participants in these groups were there to advocate for the organisation they represent, often making it more difficult to find “outside-the-box” solutions.

Consultation by negotiating with stakeholders is consistent with the dominant view that explicitly pursuing the public interest is less important than growing the economy. Consequently, an “issue management” approach has been taken, with stakeholders “competing” for influence over which development regulations are put in place. Within this worldview, trade-offs between stakeholders usually take place in a “growth first” framework.

An alternative is to promote informed deliberation by citizens who don’t represent particular interests. The Perth Dialogue with the City process shows how this “citizen” approach can work.

This was a process of engagement with a large group of demographically representative Perth citizens. They were provided with relevant in-depth information before their deliberations about the city’s future.

Wide consultation overdue

It has been at least ten years since there was either an open performance review of southeast Queensland regional planning, or consultation with the wider community on options for the region’s future. Engagement with the wider community is particularly important now for a couple of reasons.

First, the 2016 draft plan claims to have a 50-year vision horizon, compared to the previous plan’s 20 years. Because of this change, the wider community should have been engaged in developing this new vision rather than being presented with a fait accompli in the draft plan.


The ShapingSEQ draft plan seems to have more of a ‘growth first’ approach than the 2009 regional plan.
Queensland Government

Second, the draft plan represents a significant change of focus from the previous 2009 plan. That plan aimed to reduce the region’s ecological footprint and mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the 2016 draft seems to be adopting a more “growth first” approach.

It is noteworthy that virtually all references to climate change in this new draft are about adapting to change rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These significant changes should have been widely debated before the draft plan was prepared.

Independent report card needed

For a debate on future directions to be genuine, the community needs an independent, comprehensive report card on how things are tracking.

The draft plan has ten indicators, some of which show modest improvement. However, other indicators, such as housing affordability and loss of biodiversity, have gone backwards. And koala numbers continue to decline.

The report card should also acknowledge that Australia (including southeast Queensland) has one of the worst records for resource use and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output of any developed country.

Moving beyond ‘predict and provide’

The draft plan largely takes a basic “provide land for the predicted demand” approach, which assumes that regional planning is a type of technical process best left to the experts.

However, regional planning always involves trade-offs between different economic, social and environmental values. These should be openly discussed through genuine community engagement.

By not providing opportunities for such engagement, the draft plan has failed to give the community a real say in the region’s future.


ShapingSEQ is open for community feedback by formal submission until midnight, Friday, March 3 2017.

The Conversation

Brian Feeney, Urban Planning Researcher, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Snap Send Solve – “attention LVRC I’ve seen a problem”

I wonder how many people in the Lockyer Valley Regional Council area (where we live in the western part of South East Queensland) are aware that the Council accepts notification of issues on the Snap Send Solve app.

snapsendsolve

I’d never heard of this app until an audience member at a recent presentation by Cr Jim McDonald on the Council’s environmental policies and programs asked whether the Council used it.  They do.

Have a look on the Council website:  http://www.lockyervalley.qld.gov.au/our-council/about-council/Pages/Council-Apps.aspx and at the SnapSendSolve website.

The app works on iPhones and Android phones and is available free from the Apple App Store and for Google Play.

Send us a comment on your experience with it and how the Council responds.  And please share this post with other residents in the Valley.  Since the last elections we have a much more responsive Council and it’s important to maximise the opportunities for better government that this presents by increasing our communications with them.

If you don’t live in the Lockyer Valley, this app is widely used in Australia.  Their website claims over 600 “authorities” here and in New Zealand use it and that they have more than 60,000 users.