This semester, my wonderful study abroad group, Hobart and William Smith/Union College (HWS/U), has traveled to Lamington National Park and Girraween National Park, and will go to Heron Island in early November. Conservation is an issue that pervades these national parks and Brisbane’s inner city. It transforms Australia into an ordered, clean, and government-regulated city. By regulating natural forests, Lamington and Girraween’s pristine ecosystems have remained appreciably untouched. Although humans have invaded the once untouched forests by creating a walking track or trail through the forest, the park rangers definitely do not consider those modifications to be a significant harm to the whole of the forest. The motivating drive that contributes to the success of these national parks is its economic (driven by tourism; people like us!) and social (people want to save the wild animals and plants) feasibility.
Lamington is a rainforest dominated by a closed canopy and the sounds of hundreds of birds. They participate daily in the dawn chorus- whip birds, pied currawongs, crimson rosella, and catbirds that call out beginning in the early hours of the morning and throughout the day. While at Girraween, we watched the streams run through massive granite formations stacked on top of each other, and felt through our skins the climate of aridity, marked by an abundance of Eucalyptus trees. Girraween reminds me of learning about Australia’s El Nino in Terrestrial Ecology class. El Nino is a period of bone-dry and rainless weather caused by a high pressure system that pervades over central Australia. To experience this in person really involves conserving water since none falls from the sky, leaving the land parched. Thus, conservation in Australia really is key, starting with the basic needs of humans: water and energy.
At University of Queensland (UQ), water conservation efforts are found in the restroom facilities which all include electronic “cyclone” hand dryers, as well as around campus where there are many water fountains with signs that encourage students to use their own reusable water bottles. This is especially true as I have seen many students toting around their own hard plastic water bottles.
On the topic of energy, around campus and also citywide, electrical outlets (or what Aussies call power points) have on and off switches. This is an amazing invention, since you do not have to keep ripping out the power cord to prevent ghost power draws or to keep your waffle-maker from overheating (which I did once before I knew of the flip switch).
For transportation, there are two main ways of getting around the city quickly. These methods also happen to be environmentally friendly: buses and bikes. Brisbane city buses are highly efficient, which encourages less people to use their personal vehicles. Students can use the bus transportation system to go anywhere within the 20 zones of Brisbane, reaching all the way to the Sunshine and Gold Coast. The buses also have their own designated bus lanes. I initially thought building roads for only one type of vehicle would be a significant disadvantage, taking up a lot of space that could be used to build parks or buildings. In retrospect, the bike lanes are used by many every day and are a much better way of getting around the inner city than a car. Bike lanes are also a prominent part of Brisbane’s transportation system. Around the Brisbane River, there are bike lanes that cross bridges and go under overpasses. Moreover, in more suburban areas of the city there are marked bike lanes that run alongside regular car lanes, thus producing the breed of bikers, including me! An added benefit is that it helps keep me in shape as my alternative to running.
Composting, recycling, and dividing waste are also key components of Australia’s conservation methods. The dining facilities at UQ are adamant about decreasing the amount of waste that they produce by using color-coded trash “rubbish” bins to sort the waste into compost, trimmings, and recyclables. The streets everywhere are extremely clean because of this, unless the waste receptacles are in remote areas that are less accessible, such as Mount Coot Tha’s summit café, which was not clean at all, but it is the top of Brisbane’s highest peak.
These environmental efforts have modernized the look of Brisbane, and I believe the government and UQ have done a good job of offsetting the impact of the massive human population of the city (50,000 people alone are at UQ). These efforts provide proper bike and bus transportation lanes, water conservation, and clean streets that dictate a modern look for others in the world to follow.
Conservation in Australia has much to do with the government making small changes. I see propaganda that reminds Australians to make the correct moral decision by using our resources efficiently, for the benefit of everyone. Seeing this approach, I think our attitudes are part of the reason change is slow in America. Also in Australia, their climate is hot and dry, and it is a strong motivator to take measures to conserve water. I feel that America is decades behind, but I believe that in time, we will learn to have more efficiency and less extravagance with our resources.
I will definitely take a habit of conservation back home with me from Australia, especially since I am taking a sustainability class here. We have talked about these issues in class and compared them to our own habits by maintaining biweekly food logs. We have also expressed our knowledge about certain conservation topics, such as fish sustainability, in in-class presentations.
Specifically, I will take back shorter showers, using less plastic, biking as a mode of transportation, and continuing the use of separate bins in the U.S.. I will also try not to buy as many packaged foods, but rather in bulk size.
And a final note is if we take care of the environment, it will positively change how we view ourselves as the future eaters.