the goss, ian smissen, pete smissen, radioactive wildfires, chernobyl wildfire, plastic-eating enzymes

AE 672 – The Goss: Radioactive Wildfires & Plastic-Eating Enzymes

Learn Australian English in this episode of the Goss where we talk about covid-19 in Aus, radioactive wildfires, and plastic-eating enzymes.

Transcript of AE 672 - The Goss: Radioactive Wildfires & Plastic-Eating Enzymes

What's up, you mob? Welcome to this episode of The Goss, where I sit down with my father, sit down with my old man and talk about this week's goss. The news, current affairs, what's going on in our lives. Everything like that. So these episodes are all about talking about a wide range of different topics to allow you guys to hear all sorts of different vocabulary, to form your own opinions about these topics as well. And to hear conversations, natural conversations, amongst native speakers of English and how we interact with one another.

Now, if you guys want access to the full videos, the full episodes, the full transcripts, as well as the premium podcast player so that you can listen to the episode and read the text at the same time, don't forget to sign up for the premium podcast at, and you will also get access to all of that and more if you join the academy, which includes hundreds of courses, three times weekly classes with a real English teacher amongst many other things. So guys, go check that out. In today's episode, which has been split up into two episodes, so you probably get one this week and one next week, we talk about a wide, wide range of different topics.

We talk about family history and a really interesting story in my family with my father and his parents, how they met. And yeah, I'll let you listen to that story. It's a very interesting one. We talk about New Zealand's prime minister and why she is probably the best prime minister in the Western world. We talk about pokies and why they have been shut in Australia and how much money they're saving people every single day at the moment whilst they're closed. We talk about Chernobyl and there was a massive fire near Chernobyl causing radiation levels to increase like crazy.

We also talk about a mutant enzyme that is being used now to break down plastic bottles and help recycle plastics. We also touch on a few of these covered stories as they're sort of happening in and amongst these other stories we talk about. And then lastly, we talk about a supermarket boss from the supermarket chain called Drakes in South Australia and what he did when a certain hoarder asked for a refund for 5000 rolls of toilet paper. Anyway, guys, without any further ado, let's get into this episode, kick the kookaburra and let her rip.

Before I get into the other stories that I had here, that's just made me think about covid and how many different laws are being implemented by different countries around the world. Are you worried at all about countries like ours, Australia, implementing certain restrictive laws that will then later not be repealed?

Not so much restrictive laws. But one of the stories I was going to throw in was this idea that the government have come up with an act that came out of Singapore, an act that will by Bluetooth connections, will trace your social connections even if you are not physically touching, speaking to, having anything else to do with people. But if you're in the same proximity and Bluetooth has a distance thing of only ten or fifteen meters, there may be more in the right conditions.

This was an app that effectively read your Bluetooth to see how many other phones were around you that stayed within 15 minutes. So it had to have stayed within contact for 15 minutes and then it would register it and the government could use that to track people you've come in contact if you end up having covid, right?

Yeah. Yeah, that's it. And Singapore, which is a much more restricted state, in state in the loosest sense than Australia is, only had a 20% uptake and the Australian government are coming out saying, look, you know, we think this will only work if we have a 40% uptake, but we would encourage everybody to do it.

Go and fuck yourselves! There is no chance.

I know. And that's... I just said... Jo and I, your mother and I were talking about this last night when it came up on the news. And I said, "There's only one answer to this. It's two words. Three of the letters are F and you can fill in the rest." There is no chance. I reckon they'll be surprised if we get 4%, let alone 40% of Australians taking this up. And it's one of those things where it's a technical solution to a problem that doesn't exist. And so this is how you get... And all due respect to my IT and engineering friends, this is the solution you get when you give an engineer or an I.T. engineer a problem.

They take all of the social aspect out of it and they come up with an IT solution. "Yep, we understand Bluetooth. Here's a way that we'll do it and we understand our apps. We'll write an app that will just suck all of your Bluetooth data out and make contacts with it. As long as everybody is registered we'll know exactly who you came in proximity with ever." And ideally, that's a nice way of saying, "We need to know if somebody is infected with covid then who did they come in contact with over the last two weeks? And being able to tell." Nice idea, but you cannot impose such an enormous privacy violation on people.

Talk about 1984, right? Just big brother watching you.

And even if it was reasonable in this extreme circumstance, and I can't imagine a circumstance that could be much more extreme than the one we're currently in with regard to disease, even if it were reasonable then, how's this going to be turned off? Yes. Are you going to... Does deleting the app help? Are they actually plugging something into your phone, and this is a bit conspiracy theorist, but if you can write an app that'll do it, you can write an app that'll suck that code straight into the phone and you can delete the app and it's still doing the same thing. Your first year IT student would be able to do that.

Well you wonder, too, you know, if we're having these conversations in countries like Australia, what is going on in places like China and Russia and some of these more authoritarian countries where the government has carte blanche to enter whatever he wants and just, you know, deal with it. Yeah, so you worry because it was... There are certain things that we've talked about in the past. I think the foreign car tax that was brought in because they... I think the Australian government didn't want the cars that were being built in Australia, the companies that worked here, to be directly affected by imports.

After the car industry in Australia is completely closed down and everything is built overseas those car imports are still on all of the foreign cars.

We're still paying the same tax.

Yeah. Any car, I think it's... Once it's above $60,000 it's pretty much $90,000.

You can't buy a car for $70,000 in Australia.

So are there any things that could come in that you're worried about that would affect life after this?

I'm actually... Other than things like the app where it's not so much laws because laws can always be changed. You have another election and the laws will get changed. It's more the acceptance of the, and apologies to George Orwell, the big brother approach to government of monitoring their citizens and violating privacy that seem to be acceptable under extreme circumstances but once those extreme circumstances go away, those things just don't disappear. They just became the norm. That's what I'm more worried about. Much less worried about legislation. In terms of general behaviour and stuff, it will be... 'Interesting' is probably an understatement, but it will be interesting to see what happens with just general behaviour.

Well, I was going to ask you that, too. How much do you think this pandemic is going to change the way in which societies interact within themselves? Because I was listening to... What's his name? He was on Joe Rogan recently. He's an atheist from the US. Ah, Michael Shermer.

Oh, yeah.

All right. So Michael Shermer was on Joe Rogan recently talking about this and he was talking about some research that was done on societies who are loose versus tight societies. So a society like Japan is a very tight society. Germany is a very tight society where people conform to the rules. They do as they're expected. And, you know, there's kind of these tight rules throughout society that everyone conform to. Loose society's sort of the opposite. So Australia's relatively loose, in terms of being relaxed. And he was bringing up a lot of information about that and how tighter societies that, say, don't hug and kiss one another.

And they have these, you know, Japan, they bow to one another. They're handling the virus better and that this may bleed on into the future in terms of how our societies now react to this. And you may end up with a shift towards tighter societies. So what do you think will happen in the wake of coronavirus in terms of human behaviour or social and cultural aspects of different societies?

Yeah, it's... I think it's going to most affect people who are children and teenagers in terms of their behaviour because this event is going to have had a much more significant effect on their view of life than it does for you and particularly for people of my age. In general, we're all being treated the same. But if go back and imagine if this had happened when you were in, say, primary school, the effect that this has had, you can't go to school anymore. That every time you see anything, people are talking about, "Don't go near other people. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Don't touch your face."

to interrupt you there. I was almost brought to tears the other day by watching a video of a nurse or a doctor coming home from work and his son runs up to him, wanting to give him a hug. And he can't. He's like, "No, no, no." And then he breaks down crying on the ground. And you're just like, "Oh man." It's just brutal.

So I think it's going to have an effect, and not necessarily a good effect, at least in the short to medium term, but in the longer term, I think it will be... P.Z. Myres used to joke about, you know, if they were writing Ten Commandments, where was 'wash your hands' as one of them? Moses got it wrong. Yeah, I think that just general idea of things that we can just do as a habit to reduce the transmission of disease, yeah, I think it'll just become habit in children. I think children are just going to wash their hands more, as an example. I think the other thing that it may do, and probably not in the long term, because these shock things tend to have an effect for a short term, but not necessarily forever, is that people will realise what they can give up and what they can live without.

You know. If you're sitting at home, you're not out spending money. Now, this is going to affect our economy as well, but you're not buying things that you don't need. You'll work out, "What do I need to survive?" is now going to be obvious to you. Whereas previously, you know, people treated luxuries as requirements for survival.

So you think this is kind of winding people back in and getting them to focus on what's really important? So that's a positive aspect...

Yeah. Well, I think are the negative effects are going to be that there will be a lot less social contact. I mean, we are social beings. We're social animals. There have been studies done for 100 years or more about the positive effects of touch and hugging. And if people are much more reluctant to do that, I mean, you know, you and I hug when we greet each other and when we part. I'm sure you do, and I know I do do that to lots of other people as well. We'll be more reluctant to do that.

This ties in with the tight and loose societies because you see societies like Germany and Japan. And to us, they seem very cold and not very loving and friendly and looser societies seem to be the opposite, where they tend to be very affectionate, very open and very loving. It's the same with like Estonia. I remember my friends from Estonia coming to Australia and getting acclimated to culture here and how they were always like, "It's so weird seeing people smile at you and wave at you in the street who don't know you or, you know, just being loud and saying hello and stuff like that." They go home and no one does that. You're seen as a freak if you smile or look anyone in the eye in the street.

Those cultural things are interesting. And this is an aside, but when I was a child and walking around the streets of Melbourne and even then we had lots of non-European people living in Melbourne and watching Indian men, for instance, as in from the country India, would walk down the street holding hands. And that was just what they did. There was no implication of any other sexuality in there. It was just... That's what they did. And Chinese girls, they walked round in groups, all holding hands and you just don't see even Australians doing that.

And it's so... I remember being at university and being like, "God, there's a lot of Asian lesbians here." My friends are like, "They're just friends!"

They're just friends. That's what they do. I think that's going to be one of the consequences. I think there's, and I'm yet to decide whether this is going to be a positive or a negative, because the cynic in me says it's a positive, the realist in me says that it's probably a negative, and that is the distrust we are going to have for governments. Not just our own, but governments around the world. There are some governments, and we've already spoken about Jacinda Arden, Please, Jacinda, retire, resign. And we'll have you in Australia.

Jacinda Ardern aside, there have been very few governments, federal governments... Governments or countries who have handled this well. South Korea probably is an example of one who has handled it extremely well to the point where, and again, it's hardly a surprise the way they're that tight society again. But they also... They're the most technologically advanced country in the world and that's what they rely on. And they rely on their people and their technology. And as soon as this came in, they just... They didn't impose isolations on people. They didn't impose this sort of 1.5 metre social distancing or any of that sort of stuff. They just said, "We're going to test everybody." And they rapidly developed testing protocols and just put them out.

So everybody knew who had the virus. And so it was... When we look at what's happened in Italy, in Spain, in the UK, in the United States, who knows what's happening in China. I think we've always had a fairly cynical view of China, so take them out of the equation.

Why do they do that? I think... You would imagine that the CCP, the government of China, would do that because they want to maintain control. Not just internally, but externally, right?


They don't want to lose face.

Yeah, they don't... Firstly, there's a cultural thing that they don't want to lose face. And that's a huge thing in Asian culture, is... It used to be the gag of, and I've only been to Hong Kong twice, but used to be the gag when you go to Hong Kong is don't ask anybody for directions because they will never tell you that they don't know. They'll just point somewhere and... Because they would rather lie to you then tell you they don't know.

It's so funny because my way would be, "Make sure that you..." It's probably because I'm a scientist as well. But it's the... Acknowledge what you don't know so that you don't look like an idiot when you get it wrong and people can point out that you're wrong. That's why I think people get really irritated with scientific answers quite a lot, especially in the media, with science communication, because they'll use a lot of these, I think quite often adverbs and adjectives to say they're unsure about certain things or it's probable, it's likely, it's possible. And it's because they've been trained not to be definitive, because you're almost certainly get it wrong.

And the media wants absolutes.

They A) they want an answer and B) they'd rather it was the wrong answer because then it becomes a controversy and then it's news. Good news is not news.

We can move on.

What do you think? What are you afraid of?

In terms of the virus?

No, not the virus itself, but the outcomes of... Let's assume that we all get over this, and we will one way or another. As a society we will get over this.

My biggest fear would be that it has a lasting change in terms of how people interact with one another and see one another, because you already feel this walking down the street of just like, "Oof. Be careful. Oh, they got too close to me", and I don't like seeing that in myself, you know, I kind of... I miss... Maybe it was ignorant though, and it is harmful to some extent not having that sort of appreciation for the fact that people transmit colds and diseases that way. But it was kind of a nice place to... Kind of like, you know, back in your day, I imagine, when kids could go out and play in the street at the age of five without supervision. And you were kind of like, "You know, yeah, whatever. They'll be fine."

And then you have, you know, a handful of stories of children going missing or being murdered or paedophiles and all of a sudden no one lets their kids outside unsupervised until the age of 13 or 14, even though statistically the problem isn't actually any greater and if anything, it's probably less than it was back then.


But you have this fear that's there, right. And not even just the fear, the judgement and condemnation from other people if you do that.

I've just been writing my chapter of the family history story and writing about... And I've used the line in one paragraph of, "The most common question in our house was 'What's for dinner?' The second most common question was 'Can we go to the beach?'"


Because we lived in a beachside suburb and within walking distance of the beach. I remember at the age of 8, mum would just say, "Yes. Off you go." And so my friends and I would just go to the beach and, you know, jump on our bikes 9 or 10 and go haring around the cliff tops and yeah, general creating havoc. There's no chance that even when you're 8 years old, if you'd said, "Can I go to the beach?" I would've said, "Yes, I'll take you." There never would have been, "Yeah, just grab your surfboard and run off down the beach." You were 8 years old when we lived here.

Do you feel sorry that that's the case?

I do. I understand why it's happened. And I would feel horrified...

It comes back to something though, too, where you can only imagine... Okay, so imagine that 99 out of 100 times it's going to be fine. But there's that one time that it isn't. How will I live with myself if that happens?

Exactly. But at the same time, I look back on my childhood very fondly of effectively having the beach as my backyard. And I can't imagine a childhood without that. But you didn't have that childhood even when you were growing up at the same age in the forest. We wouldn't let you... "Oh yeah. Just go down to the forest by yourself."

No chance.

No. Anyway...

Radiation levels rise as a fire burns through Chernobyl's former nuclear power plant, or at least close to it. Not through - near.

There'd be a whole lot of radiation fallout that'll be buried in the ground that is now being released as just by thermal...

Well it's in the stuff that's burning so it just gets sent up into the atmosphere. But there's a large forest fire in an area surrounding the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and it's raised radiation levels to really dangerous levels. It's been going for 10 days. They've had hundreds of firefighters, planes and helicopters trying to put it out. And it got within two kilometres of the power plant and it was believed to have been lit. I don't know if it was intentionally by two different people or that they were just idiots and were burning grass and then couldn't put it out. But it was human; Human caused, obviously. And it's a radiation risk that's been, you know, causing these excessive levels of radiation. I wanted to ask you why is a fire around a decommissioned nuclear power plant a problem?

Well, I think you've just answered the question yourself. This is not just a decommissioned nuclear power plant. This one was never decommissioned.

It was self-decommissioned.

Yeah, exactly.

So do you want to talk about that first, I guess, sorry to interrupt you. The year's 1986 and Chernobyl melts down. What was that experience like for you learning about that? What happened?

Well, yeah, it was the thing on the news every night. It wasn't quite covid-19, because there were other stories, but it was the first line on the news for months. Yeah. When it was actually happening, we didn't hear much about it because very little information was getting out of Russia, The Soviet Union at the time.

The USSR, right?

Yeah. But we were hearing about it and then there were two or three events around the world at about the same time, which never got to the point of Chernobyl, but... So it had been on the radar of news of 'Nuclear power has a negative side. And this is the risk of the things going wrong in a power plant.'

It's so frustrating, though, right, because you... Have you seen the TV show Chernobyl?

Yeah, I have.

So I watched that. But then I also watch the breakdown of the TV show to see how accurate it was. Because the ironic thing is they have a woman on the show who's the scientist...

She representing a whole lot of people.

She was representing about 20 different people and they're like, "Yeah, we're not going to have that many characters." But it just goes to show that whole show effectively shed a light on how much ignorance and arrogance caused this thing in the first place. And then the cover up was effectively based on the fear of people under the Soviet Union, the leaders just not wanting to be the bearer of bad news to their person above them who effectively would just say, you know, "This is not a problem, this will not be a problem. You're going to deal with this or you're dead." And it seems somewhat reminiscent, right, of China and the covid virus, where these authoritarian groups are just hoping that they can just squash something that's not going to be a big problem, and it's like, "If it is later, we'll deal with it." But what happened when that came out? Did you guys like at first just think, "Oh, there's been this horrible accident," and then find out what happened or did it take years for the truth to come out?

No, it was pretty obvious what was happening within days and weeks in a sense of... It has taken years and decades to get to the real truth of... Because a lot of the individuals who were directly involved died very quickly by exposure and a lot of the others were just shuffled off into prisons in Siberia, ostensibly because they screwed up, but the real reason, as you said, was it's a cover up.

It's so fucking annoying because you watch the TV show and you just see how many heroes there were.


You watch the docos and you see how many of these Ukrainians threw themselves into eternity by going and doing something to try and save the lives of their countrymen, like the miners who had to go...

They were told they were going to die and they volunteered anyway.

Well, that's it. And you're just like... And the firefighters, you know, you're just like, "Jesus Christ." And they were all dead within days or weeks.

Yeah. And look, there's an aside to the original question about the dangers of nuclear power plants and fire but I think there's a side to human nature that is unfathomable outside of those sort of emergencies. If you look at September 11, where you have police and firepeople... I'm getting emotional just talking about it.

I remember...

Running into buildings, knowing they're going to die but hoping to save people.

Yeah. Well, we lost 400, right? Or America lost 400 in the buildings who were just trying to save people...

Who weren't in the buildings to start with. They went in after it had happened. And so I think there are those elements of people just look at it and go, "It's my time, you know, step up." Funnily enough, there aren't many politicians who would do the same. They're the ones running down the back door and shredding the documentation on the way out the building.

And they showed that with Chernobyl. I think it tended to be the average Joe was doing the saving.

Oh it was. It was the normal guys who were...

And the guys at the top were just trying to make sure they save their job. Yeah, but yeah, it is crazy in terms of the fallout.

Well this is the fallout of the fallout now because we've got the... This is not burning things that were directly affected, obviously, because anything that was directly affected was wiped out. But this is fallout. There's radiation that's sitting in the soil that is now being incorporated into plants. But also it's radiation that sitting in the soil. You burn the things on top of the soil, you're heating up the ground and you're going to start to get your particulates in the air that are coming from the ashes.

That was a big problem, wasn't it? The reactor blew the lid off, effectively. So what happened was, from memory, that the core had carbon tips or something on them so that when they were pushed into the into the core or whatever. The uranium rods, they had carbon on the end, it caused an explosion because I think there was liquid or something that was inside of the carbon.

I can't remember the details.

And so that's what caused the physical explosion, not a nuclear explosion, which ended up spraying this nuclear material everywhere.

And it was not a nuclear explosion. It wasn't a bomb that went off. It was effectively a fire in the plant that ended up damaging the plant so that we had nuclear material being released and there was in the end there was a partial meltdown of nuclear reactor.

And you want to describe what exactly is the meltdown? It is that all of the uranium they had there is just not being cooled down? It just heating up. Heating up. Heating up.

Exactly. So you end up with that. The meltdown is the precursor, well, it's a slow explosion effectively. You don't get that huge explosion with the mushroom cloud.

The most insane thing about Chernobyl was the fact that they had this... You had all of the uranium melting down and it was exposed to the air above it so that all of this material was just being, this radioactive material, was just being projected out into the atmosphere. I think there was the story of people going to the bridge to watch the explosion at night. And every single person who went to the bridge, kilometres away, died within weeks from just being that close. And so it's almost like coronavirus.

They're upwind.

So they were inhaling it and it was touching their skin and everything. But it's like... It's crazy. It is sort of like coronavirus in terms of you can't see it, but it's having this kind of effect. But then they had to pour concrete and sand and all this stuff on top.

They did.

And they had to use lots and lots of helicopters.

And the helicopter pilots died.

Yeah. And they had to use... The only way... They were trying to come up with robots to get all of the chunks of uranium off the roof and throw that into the melting down...


And they realised they weren't going to be able to do it with a robot because the radiation I think was destroying the electronics. And so they had to actually get seven thousand men or something, I think to do one minute each with a shovel on the roof. And that was something like their lifetime's worth of radiation exposure in that minute. But they... Yeah. Props to them. They end up getting it, you know, fairly dealt with. Putting concrete all over it, buried and it's somewhat safe. But the surrounding area is laced with radiation. The soils there, the animals have it in them. The plants have it in them. And so you can't have anyone living there for hundreds of years, right?

Well, it'll be thousands of years. The half life of those by-products is tens of thousands of years so.

Anyway, yeah, it's a crazy story, but it's funny how much it's probably going to keep coming up in the news for decades to come, right. One way or another.

Of course it will. It's one of those things that it's the... It's the worst nuclear accident we have ever had. And so it's the... As soon as anybody mentions nuclear accident, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the American version of it, which didn't have the same effect. It didn't happen, but it was in danger of being even worse. They just pop up straight away. So it's the old lazy news editor who just goes, "Oh, nuclear accident. Let's have a bit of footage of Chernobyl."

So two more stories before we finish up. Scientists create mutant enzyme that recycles plastic bottles in hours. Did you see this story?

Yeah, I saw that. I saw that. That's a really interesting one, because you got to look at this and go, "Yeah. They've created this enzyme that does this. But how are they going to incorporate it into things and what is that actually going to end up doing?" So it's a great idea.

Yeah, well, it's the company 'Carbios,' or 'Carbios' and they created a bacterial enzyme that they found in a bacteria from compost that makes high quality... That they can use to make high quality bottles. The problem was that when... Recycling bottles in the past, once recycled plastic isn't high-quality enough to be used to make bottles again, apparently.

No, it's used in other lower quality things like...

Clothes, carpets.

Yeah. You know, decking. The equivalent of timber, plastic timber and stuff they make out of it.

Yeah. And so these guys ended up... I think they were looking at 100,000 different microorganisms to look for candidates that were making enzymes to help them recycle plastics. And they found this one that had been found in 2012. That was some sort of leaf compost bug but it had been forgotten. They analysed the enzyme and then they started introducing different mutations to improve its ability to break down PET, which is the enzyme... Not the enzyme...

PET's the plastic.

Polyethylene Terephthalate.

It's the one that we use in most packaging plastics, things like plastic bottles and, you know, those sort of things. And it's one that gets mostly recycled.

Yeah, exactly. So they made it stable at seventy two degrees Celsius, the perfect temperature for fast degradation. And they use the enzyme to break down a ton of bottle plastic, 90% in just 10 hours. So the bottles can then be ground up and heated and that's when the enzymes are added and they can then re-use it. But I thought this reminded me so much of the blue economy that I was telling you about, as opposed to green, where you're... How would you differentiate between the two? Blue is all about recycling things. Looking for waste and turning it into something...

Turning it into a positive, a new product. Whereas the green is about reduction as much as anything else.

Yeah. And so it reminded me a lot about that, where people are turning to, "Okay, what are the waste products that we have in the world and how can we use them in a positive way to generate money?" Effectively, right. Like to let capitalism work its way on them. So I thought it was very cool that we had found a way. What do you think is sort of ahead in terms of our future with plastics? Is this the only way out in terms of cleaning up the environment when we have... The sea is effectively filled from the deepest trench to the surface of the ocean, there's plastic in probably every single litre of water.

Yeah. Those sort of technological solutions are clearly the only ones because without having a completely radical change in the way our economy works, we're not going to just suddenly go, "Oh, we're not going to use plastic anymore." Because we're so tied to it. The horse has bolted. So the solution is going to be a technical, logical solution to either improve its recyclability or to actually break it down. I mean, plastic is just polycarbonate, you know, it's carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and a couple of other elements. So we should be able to find in this case a biological solution, but we should be able to find a solution that would break it down.


We can break it down to carbon dioxide and water. We're going to end up with a way of operating in the world that doesn't mean that we have to... The only solution is just to throw it away.

Well, you wonder if someone is going to just create something, a business, a product that ends up capitalising on all of this waste plastic and... Like oil was a by-product of bacteria and plants that had been fossilised and pushed on the ground for millions and millions of years. You wonder when we have decades and decades and decades of plastic that's just been forced into the ocean and someone can suddenly harness that and turn that into profit.

Something else. Yeah. And that's the blue solution versus the green solution. And I think they're both going to be useful. So that blue solution is let's find a way of profiting from the waste. And so it is worth somebody going to the rivers, the oceans, the garbage tips and actually taking the plastic, because...

Then you're incentivising cleaning, as well, right?

You are. I think the green solution to it is let's stop using plastic for some things. It's my irritation with the, you know, the 15 cent fine, effectively, we have on using plastic supermarket bags. Yeah, it's a farce as a green solution because there's no such thing as a single use plastic bag, you know, the old very fine plastic bags that people used to use. Almost everybody I knew used them for... As garbage bags. Put them in your rubbish bin. And if we collect it we throw it out. Which we are still encouraged to do by our garbage collectors. They don't want us just throwing refuse into the garbage bin because their entire collection mechanism relies on having a few clumps of well organised garbage in your bin, not just this mass that's been sitting there and festering for a week, which they would never get out of the bin in a hurry. And so what they've done is said, "Well, we'll stop people using those," and by all means, get rid of plastic bags. I have no problem with that. But what they've replaced them with for 15 cents, you can now buy one that is higher quality plastic, which means it actually takes longer to break down.

It's probably the equivalent of about 10 to 20 of those single-use plastic bags.

And the real irritant for it is that you can make hemp or bamboo based pseudo plastic cheaper than you can make these other plastic bags but we don't have the technology in Australia. And guess where these other plastic bags come from. We import them.

They're from Germany, right?


Ones from Germany and ones from Korea, I think. But... And so you just sit there and go, "Why didn't we put the energy..." I'd be happy to pay 50 cents a bag if they were completely recyclable, as in biologically recyclable. If I could just throw it in my compost when I was finished with it as a bamboo or hemp based thing. And the irony is that bamboo and hemp based bags are much more sturdy. You can reuse them a lot more than these other so-called reusable plastic bags you use twice and they fall apart.

Well the incentives were just in the wrong place, right? Because it was the government just saying, "We need to get rid of these plastic bags," but not saying, "We need a better solution." They were just like, "Well, these are just suddenly illegal," It was marketing. "We've done a good thing by saying, 'You can't use plastic bags anymore."and it doesn't solve the problem.

Well, and it's the same thing... And it's the same thing for me. I'm like, "Alright, whatever. I'll buy... I'll pay the forty five cents and have three of these plastic bags." Then when I get home I'm like, "Well I've got a hundred of them so I'll just throw these straight in the trash." I just have too many. I'm not taking them back to the supermarket because forty five cents, I'll just pay to not have to carry these things around in a car with me.

And again it's just a convenience. And part of that is just our culture and our society. When I was a kid growing up, plastic bags didn't exist. The plastic bag head was a woven netting plastic bag that you would use for years. And mostly they were string bags and occasionally a plastic one would surface, but you would use them for years. But we just simply... A) we didn't have supermarkets so you didn't do the volume of shopping that we tend to do. People used to just have carry bags or little trolleys that they would walk up and down to the supermarket and go home with. And we also had a lot of bulk products. So say your Vegemite jar up in the background there with your pencils in it.

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah, exactly. We had... Yes, you could go buy Vegemite in a jar at the grocery store as it was, before we had supermarkets. But once you bought one you didn't go buy another one. You went to what we used to call the bulk store and they would just have bulk Vegemitef that they would fill your Vegemite jar of peanut butter jar or your honey jar or a jam jar and so on with. And so having a glass jar was a prised thing that you would reuse it and reuse it, reuse it. We used to buy we used to get milk in bottles and those milk bottles were used thousands of times. They were not single use bottle of milk that you then threw away. So our drink bottles, our soft drink bottles, were glass and they got reused.

When do you think society made that change over, especially in terms of things like phones which have effectively turned into, you know, the way that we use things like jars here where they are single use in terms of I have the phone for a few years. It breaks, I throw it out and I got a new one. I don't repair it. Why... Was there big significant change in your lifetime from having these reusable things to when it suddenly was that you... Everything was disposable?

Here's my conspiracy theory on how this happened. And it's only a conspiracy theory because I have no evidence for it.


Japan losing the Second World War. So losing that, losing the war and effectively being taken over by America to get them back on their feet, and the Japanese being the society that they are, they realise that the only way that we're ever going to get back on their feet was to become the world's cheapest manufacturer of high quality goods. And so what it meant was that we didn't have to repair anything anymore because the Japanese made better stuff than we already had, cheaper than we could pay for it to be repaired. And so that's how we ended up with a whole lot of things that... I remember that my parents' toaster that they had when I was a child, it was one of those, and you probably can't remember, it was one of those things with a little flip side things that you just... There was this little lever.

I've seen that before but never used one.

Yeah. And it had two toasting elements inside it.

Yeah. And you're supposed to put the bread in, you put the bread on the outside and flick it up.

You literally put it, in turn the toaster on. You knew it was ready when it was smoking. So you had to keep checking it, or you knew vaguely how much time it took and so on. It was a completely manual process. But my parents, the toaster they in the house when I was a child, my mother had inherited from her mother. So it was already old when I was a child and when mum died and we moved out, she was still using that toaster. So this toaster must have been 60 or 70 years old at the time. And I remember I replaced the elements in them twice during the time that I lived in about a 25 year period. I replaced these... One of the elements; they'd burn out, obviously.

Like a light bulb.

Like a light bulb.

An old light bulb.

Yes. And they cost me about 50 cents to replace. And it was about a 30 second job. And any idiot like me could do it. You didn't need to call an electrician. You didn't need to send it off to be repaired. All of that sort of stuff happened. As soon as though it became, you know... And eventually they became rarer and rarer and rarer because very few people had those things. So you couldn't just... Once one broke, you couldn't just go down to the local hardware store and say, "Oh, can I have a toaster element?" "Oh, what brand of toaster do you have?" "There's no brand of toaster, they're all the bloody same. Just give me the element." And so then it was, "Oh well that's going to cost you $20 because, you know, we've only get one in stock and it's been sitting there for ten years."

And so then you could go down to the local, you know, cheap appliance store and buy a pop-up toaster for $10. So why would you repair the old crappy one for 20? And so that was the cycle that we got into as that... It was cheaper to buy new than it was to repair.

And it's sort of annoying because it's happened here now. And I mean, you know, I'm as much to blame as anyone else because I'm the same and ultimately it comes down to... Where can you even go now to get high quality stuff that you can repair because everything's so cheap that you're not going to go out of your way to find someone to do it because it costs more money in terms of your time. So if my toaster breaks, it's much easier for me to just go to Kmart, buy a $10 toaster, as opposed to "How do I get this repaired?" I'll learn online. I'll find someone to do it. I'll buy the parts. You know, that's just hours and hours and hours of wasted time.

Yeah. And look...

But our society now is based on this this use and dispose of...

It is. But it's a positive feedback loop because we are now commercially sucked into that vortex because it's of interest of value to companies that are producing these things to make them have built in redundancy. The phone is a good example. You're always going to get a bigger and better. Bigger not necessarily now because Apple are going back to the slightly cheaper and slightly smaller, but you're always going to get a better version coming out. So as technology improves there is an obvious built in marketing that people are going to want to have it. But washing machines are a good example. A washing machine is a washing machine. Again, my parents had the same washing machine for my entire life. We're just going... I only talk about this one because we've got it tomorrow; I've got a repairman coming into the... I'm assuming it'll be a man, a repair person coming in to look at our washing machine that's just stop working.

But washing machines used to last forever and there was an industry in repairing washing machines. It took me four or five phone calls to get a person to come and look at this on. Most of them just went, "Nah, not interested."

Not going to make enough money.

Well, not to make... And it's also that now the things are just irreparable. It's not that we don't have the technology or we don't have the ability, and the manufacturing ability has got so good at making solid state items that it's just, well, "If I'm going to repair this, I've just got to pull out this entire unit and plug another one in," which is what will happen tomorrow.

It's interesting, right, because it's like we've overcomplicated our lives. And this is the sort of issue that we have in Australia with a lot of these fancy import German cars, right, is that they're good if you can buy them brand new with a massive tax on them from the government that's no longer applicable.

And then you sell them before the warranty runs out because you know they're going to break down.

Or after it has, yeah. But then after that... I don't even think it's necessarily that they're going to break down any more than anyone else, but that it costs so much more to repair them once they break down because the parts, the complexity in them is so high, they have so many different sensors in them for heated seats, for this and that and fuel injection, that if any one of those goes wrong, there's a problem with the car and it needs to be replaced, even if it wasn't going to do any damage to the car in terms of driving it, it's going to stop the car from running and say, "You need a repair this now." And the parts that you need to get come from, you know, way, way, way, away overseas in Germany or something that you have to import.

So it'll be interesting to see if in the future there is this movement back to really high quality, simplified products that we can use. And I think bringing it back to family history, one of the main jobs in our family, I'm not sure if it was yours or mum's, was a scissor-putterer-together.

That was mum's side. This person spent their entire life in a cutlery factory putting scissors together because it was their job.

People would buy a pair of scissors...

And have them for life.

Yeah, you don't... There was a repair, right, of scissors or if they were...

But the repair of scissors was just a sharpener. Even in my time, I worked at a hardware store. My first official job that I had I worked Saturday mornings in a hardware store and people would bring their knives and their scissors in, and we would send them off to a person who was... That was they did. They sharpened knives and scissors. Yeah, but you bought a pair of scissors, it would last a lifetime because it was made out of high quality stainless steel. Now you buy them out of this cheap aluminium alloy and they don't even work in the first place, and if they do they fall apart in two days.

And the problem is that companies have realised, like Apple, that it's much better to sell multiple products repeatedly to the same customer, than one good high quality product once.

Oh yeah. Yeah. Would you... If somebody... If Apple came out and said, "You can pay ten thousand dollars for a phone and it will last you for the rest of your life. Or you can pay two thousand dollars for the latest one." Which would you buy?

That's it.

Nobody would pay ten thousand dollars for a phone. But in 10 years time, they will have spent ten thousand dollars on phones and they will still have the latest one.

I think it's going to be one of those things where maybe they have to move towards subscriptions, which, you know, just be like, "Pay $1,000 a year and we'll just upgrade it constantly for you."

And I'm sure I wasn't... I was hardly unique in this, I predicted the smart phone thing about five years before they came out in that it was perfectly obvious that once we actually had small mobile devices, that were originally were just phones and then you could text on them, then it was obvious that they were going to be far more useful for everything but telecommunications. And so I think we are now getting to the point where... And Apple came up with it.

Well, they first started with iPods, right. And then they merged them.

They merged them. And they merged them and they put a camera in them so that you had a sound replaying device, a camera and a phone. But you could also... The phone was smart because you could also then build little apps, little applications to go and work in them. The next thing that will happen is that Apple and Google and others who are producing these devices will actually become telecommunications companies. The problem at the moment is that we have two arms of it. It's a problem in a sense of where we go in the future. It's possibly not a problem in terms of creating oligopolies of these things where we have two or three groups controlling the whole thing...

So like what? Coles and Woolies in Australia? The supermarket chains?

Exactly. But if we get to the point where we have a provider of devices that is also your telecommunications network provider, then effectively what you're doing is you're buying a subscription to the telecommunications network and they will simply give you the device to operate on that network. Then they're going to be producing the best possible network, not producing the best possible device because the devices are going to be easy.

And this is what we have with the Internet, right. And modems, you no longer really have to buy a modem. It's just included in the price. And they send it to you, right. Whereas back in the day you had to buy the modem and then get a subscription.

Puppies and kittens story.

Yeah, go for it.

You can choose. I got two. Do you want penguins or siphonophores?

What are siphonophores?

You've just chosen, haven't you?

We can do both.

Yeah, we can do both. All right. We'll do siphonophores first. Siphonophores are a group of Cnidarians, like related to jellyfish. And there was a news story that came out this week that scientists exploring the deep sea off Australia's coast have discovered as many as blah, blah, blah. But what they've discovered is the world's longest animal. So a siphonophore has tentacles. They're little... They're effectively a colony of small animals all joined together. But things like the Portuguese man of war, which most people will be familiar with, that's a siphonophore. But this one, they have estimated that the tentacles can be up to 46 metres long. And so they're claiming it's the world's longest animal, which is a pretty cool story. And it's a deep sea animal in the Western Australian Indian Ocean deep canyons.

Yeah, they're crazy. Cnideria's one of these just full on weird groups of animals, right. They're some of the most... What would you call them? Primitive animals. They technically have eyes, right. But they don't have brains. So they have eyes that they can sense light and dark. I think box jellyfish, one of the most toxic animals in the world that lives in Queensland, and this is where I think if you go past what? Is it like Mackay or so, and above that...

Effectively you get into the tropics.

They... I think they come into the shallows. Is it during... Maybe they come into the shallows at night when it's dark and they go out during the day or vice versa because it's part of their sort of feeding cycle in order to find fish. But that they can do that, but they don't have a brain.

No. And they have these nematophores, they're called, these stinging cells and they feed by stinging you and they all do it. Some of them are much less effective on us than others. And others are, like the box jellyfish, are so toxic that they'll kill you.

Well, and it depends. I think you still have to get something like six or seven feet worth of stinging tentacle touching your skin to get a deadly shot.


And it's probably just that you get so much that your heart just stops. I was doing some research on these recently, and I would love to learn more about the evolution of a nematocyst or a nematophore, the cell that is effectively this cell that is a harpoon with a tail on it that connects to the cell, but it's inverted. And the harpoon rope is kind of like twined up, you know, with the harpoon in the centre. And when it senses living organism, so it's not even that it just gets touched, but it senses another living organism, it fires that harpoon. And so you have tentacles with millions of these cells that have harpoons on them. And that's how they grab on to their prey.

And they're attached to poison... Not glands.

They inject venom at the same time.

... Venom into you.

Yeah, it's insane.

So that was one story. And the Penguins one. And this is a story out of South Africa where there are some South African penguins that have been coming up to Boulder Beach, which is a bit like the equivalent, it's not quite as developed, but it's a bit like the equivalent of the Penguin Parade that we have on Phillip Island where people go and watch these penguins, you know, and the penguins just hang around on the beach.

What species is this of penguins? They're the black and white ones? I mean, all penguins are sort of black and white, but I've forgotten... Because remember that photo that I have in my kitchen that I bought. I think that's from South Africa.

It's not the little penguin, which they have there as well. I can't remember the name. But it's Spheniscus demersus, but I can't remember the common name. So they've been o this little bit... And they normally breed in offshore islands but they are breeding around this location around Boulder Beach because it's effectively treated like an island because the little peninsula that's it's on, which is just south of Cape Town, has got urban areas, suburban areas completely surrounding it, which effectively creates a barrier to the typical predators that they would have like links us and baboons, that would come and kill the penguins.

Kill the penguins? Imagine being killed by a baboon as a penguin.

It'd rip you apart.

Having to watch out for monkeys.

Yeah, so... So the species is now in decline and it's becoming... Rapidly heading to extinction. And so they've found a... There's a national park a few hundred kilometres away in a very similar sort of environment that they have transported some of these penguins over to and sort of decided to create a breeding colony. But in order to keep them happy and keep them friendly there, they've built these concrete penguins and they're putting these little concrete penguin structures all around the place so that when a new penguin comes up on the beach, they feel like there's other penguins around so it's a cool place to be.

Do they paint them?

Yeah, they paint them on to look like a penguin! And I think... That's also something, that they've built a little microphone, little speakers and things in there to make the sounds of a penguin so that it feels like a penguin colony when new penguins come there.

So they have to try and do that for a single generation to keep them coming back to that location and after that, they can remove these concrete penguins. Too funny. The very last story I had was the supermarket boss from a supermarket chain called Drakes in South Australia has effectively told a customer to fuck off when he asked for a refund for the 5,000 rolls of toilet paper and the 150 1-litre sanitiser bottles that he'd bought and that eBay had stopped anyone being able to sell that stuff. So I wanted to talk to you about this ultimately, at the end here, because it blows my mind. Watching a lot of these hoarding videos, it seems like that it's a very cultural thing. And I was wanting to sort of dig into this a little and understand a bit more about why we see so many sort of first generation foreigners behaving in this way.

There are definitely a lot of Australians that do, but I haven't seen much in the way of people trying to make active businesses out of it or, say, completely filling their house with heaps of stuff, whereas I've seen a lot of, it seems like, foreigners that have come to Australia and live here now. Say, Asians that are going into stores and buying a lot of baby formula and then sending it back to Asian countries. There was an Iranian guy that I saw who had literally filled his house with oil, with rice, with toilet paper, with everything. Like his entire house was just full. And I was just wondering, what do you think it is? Do you think it is that people have come from countries where there was a lot of scarcity and that this is just a manifestation of how they were brought up in their own countries? It's like when you can get that stuff that you need, get it, because someone else will if you don't. Why are there those differences between Western cultures? For the most part, there are definitely Western cultural people who do that, but it doesn't tend to be a very widespread kind of behaviour or cultural practice here.

I think, and I'll talk about an extreme example in a minute, but I think you're right. I think it does come down to... You're an immigrant coming into a new country. You've come from, and typically you would come to a place like Australia because it's offering you a better life. You're more likely to have a job, you're more likely to have a better standard of living, blah, blah, blah. And so that your natural behaviour is to, when you see an opportunity to get something, you'll get it, because it's scarce where you've come from. So I think you've nailed that one in terms of where it comes from. But in the recent examples, I think you're right in terms of... Certainly the things that we're having publicised, they are the ones that we come across.

And again, it just reiterate, it's not all immigrants that do this. It seems to be a stereotype that keeps popping up on the news where there'll be a Turkish woman...

And this is my this is my African gang stereotype. Again, as soon as it's a stereotype, it's the easy news editor that just goes for that one again.

Well you start seeing that pattern all the time, right.

Yeah. And so that's the story that you'll look for. You're not going to go out and get the Fred and Betty Smith who are living down the road doing the same thing because nobody's interested in that. What they're more interested in is, "Oh, here are these immigrants who are doing this thing," because then it becomes a negative story. Whereas if Fred and Betty were doing, we would pity them. And so it's... I think I hold the news media in a bit of that... It's not that these things are not happening. They're not making up the stories. They're just a little bit selective on the ones that they tell. Yeah, but there's also an element of... Look, I don't think we have too many of in Australia, but the survivalist mentality, it certainly seems to be a thing in America, of a very small proportion of the population who are...

And they tend to also be the conspiracy theorists who will go out and hoard everything and they build bunkers under their house and things that... Come the apocalypse, we'll go and live in our house and be in the bunker and we'll have two years supply of everything we need. And so it's not just immigrants in Australia in the covid virus. I think there is an element of humanity that just says, you know, "I'm going to look after myself first." And it's that conspiracy theorist side of the survivalist, but I think it's the same mentality of people who have come from a culture in an environment where scarcity is the norm for them.


When they suddenly have an opportunity and they can see scarcity coming, then they will take that opportunity to take care of themselves. It's a natural reaction.

Well, it's difficult because you... There's so much going on there, I guess, in terms of people don't want to criticise anyone who isn't of the same ethnic group because you're seen as being racist when ultimately it's not really about anyone's race. It's about cultural practice and cultural behaviours that, you know, wouldn't be acceptable for anyone else in society. And so you want to kind of treat everyone equally, but it becomes a little difficult to do without someone calling you out and just straw-manning you. The other thing is, is it tied with in-group out-group preference? Well, in-group preference and the size of the in-group, because I feel, and this is probably tied in with scarcity, that it's almost a luxury for us as Westerners that we live in the society that we do, that our in-group tends to be very big so that we do favour people that we don't even know.

We will try and stop this sort of behaviour of hoarding. It's not every single man for himself. You know, screw everyone else. It's more, "We're all in this together. We all need to take care of one another." But if you've come from countries where you're at war or you have these issues, your in-group tends to be your family or it tends to be your ethnic group or your religious group, whereas in Australia, for me at least, I don't really feel like I can say that the people from Queensland aren't in my group or the people of a different race who are immigrants still here in Australia aren't really of my group. I kind of see it as like, "Well, we're all Australians, we're all in this together. So I need to try and treat everyone equally."

Yeah, I think that is. And it's the same thing. It's, you know, if you've come from somewhere where... It might not even be a cultural thing, it's not necessarily that people from other countries and what we would call other cultures are naturally going to behave like this. I think it is that socio-economic immigrant behaviour, regardless of where you've come from, and it could be if you came from a slum suburb out in East Los Angeles and came to Australia, I'm sure you'd behave the same way. It doesn't... It's not that, you know, you've come from a completely different ethnic culture. You've just come from a different socio-economic culture where, as you say, things are scarce and they might not even be scarce in the world for you, but they are scarce in that you don't have availability or availability of access to them. And then when you now do have and all of a sudden there is this thing coming over the horizon that says, "Oh, I might run out of toilet paper, I might need to have a week's supply of food, then, well, if I need a week supply, why not get a month's supply?"

All right, Dad, I think there's definitely two episodes in that one. Thanks for coming on.

We'll have to have a little break, I think some stage so you can catch up.

Yeah, that's it.

Maybe we just make a few short ones. A few highlights.

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's it. Just two minute nutshell reviews.

Two Minute Noodles variety.

Thanks for coming on guys. Thanks for enjoying it. And thanks, dad.

Thanks, Pete. Thanks, everyone.

See you.

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