Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rotary District 9710 Conference

I just had a great weekend at the Rotary District 9710 conference!

I was asked to be the guest speaker at the Rotary Foundation Luncheon on Saturday and it was really an excellent experience! It was by far the best speech that I have ever given (and to over one hundred people). I spoke about my relationship to Rotary, the importance of the Foundation's educational programs, my studies and research at the ANU, and my future goals.

The response to the speech was very positive and I am continually impressed by the level of Australian's understanding of and respect for environmental issues. I've been asked into several clubs to speak as a result of the talk, and into a local high school classroom!

As I said in my speech, the more I learn about Rotary, the more impressed and inspired I become by the generosity and enthusiasm for service displayed by Rotarians around the world. The international nature of Rotary gives me hope when I think of the global issues we face because solutions to environmental problems must extend beyond borders. Educational programs like the Ambassadorial Scholarships are so important because they allow collaboration with international colleagues on global issues.

In my speech I suggested that clubs do more to promote the Preserve Planet Earth Initiative of Rotary by considering some of the following activities:
  • creating urban gardens and green spaces
  • recognizing local businesses that have implemented environmentally sound practices
  • supporting environmental education programs
  • encouraging sustainable transport and energy policies

I also suggested that given the fundamental nature of protecting planetary life support systems and the natural resource base upon which human well-being depends, pursuing environmental sustainability could be the next initiative of Rotary International! The current international initiative of eradicating polio from the world has almost been accomplished!

So thanks to District 9710 for a lovely weekend and a lot of inspiration!

Tackling Global Warming Cheaper Than Ignoring It

Have you seen An Inconvenient Truth yet? As I said before, if you haven't seen it, stop what you are doing and get to the nearest theatre! And I might add that Who Killed the Electric Car would also be more than worth your while.

Can we finally agree that climate change is no longer a debate?

Economist Sir Nicholas Stern has concluded that mitigating global warming could cost around 1% of global GDP if spent immediately, but that ignoring the problem could cost between 5% and 20% of global GDP. The 700-page study represents the first major report on climate change from an economist rather than a scientist. I think its a little strange that a collective group of 2500 scientists have been jumping up and down warning of climate change (the issue is no longer even debated by scientists), but it takes an economist to get people (and some governments) to take notice.

Stern's report calls for the introduction of green taxes and carbon trading schemes as soon as possible, and calls on the international community to sign a new pact on greenhouse emissions by next year. The UK government is taking the report seriously and both major parties are proposing new green taxes. Stern points out, however, that any action will only be effective if truly global.

John Howard has taken the mature stance of "we won't do it unless everybody else does it first." And the US, the world's biggest greenhouse polluter has referred to the report as a "contribution to the body of knowledge on climate change" while Tony Blair has said that the last remaining argument for inaction in the face of climate change has been demolished.

So folks, now is the time to make some noise. Show your support for sustainable transport and energy policies, demand a new administration, write letters, make phone calls, tell your friends and join the International Day of Action on Climate Change.

I'd like my kids to have a healthy planet and its up to us to prevent governments with ties to big oil and corporations with zero sense of social responsibility from spoiling that future.

Border Searches for Sandwich Spread?

Rumors have been in circulation as of late that the ever popular Australian yeasty spread Vegemite has been banned from the US because it contains folate, a B vitamin approved as an additive for just a few foods, including breakfast cereals.

While media reports have claimed that American border officials were confiscating Vegemite from Australians as they entered the US, the FDA insists that there is no ban on Vegemite.

Apparently commercial import of Vegemite has been banned for some time because of the folate content, but travelers are free to bring Vegemite into the country for personal use.

Good thing...that could have been the end of friendly relations between Australia and the US.

Friday, October 20, 2006


We just joined the ANU Mountaineering Club so that we can go kayaking on a regular basis. Thursday evening we went out on Lake Burley Griffin and paddled around with the group for an hour or so. On the lake is the place to be to see the sun set! The group will meet every Tuesday and Thursday for an evening paddle and we're looking forward to it as the days get warmer. Next week we're taking the boats into the pool to learn to roll before being able to go on longer sea kayaking trips in the coming months.

Oh, and the Rotary District Conference is next weekend in Bateman's Bay, a lovely holiday town on the coast, and I'm the speaker for the Rotary Foundation Fundraising Lunch. Not feeling nervous about it amazingly enough...not sure if that's a function of becoming more comfortable with public speaking or just not having the time to think too much about it!

ANU Ranked 16th in the World!

The London newspaper, The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) ranks the top twenty universities in the world and ANU is number sixteen!

Guess I made a good choice! The full list is available here....


One really cool thing that's happening here right now is coming out of the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems where they've developed a new type of solar cell called the "Sliver Cell" which uses dramatically less silicon (2 wafers to produce 140 watts of power as opposed to the 60 needed in conventional solar panel). As silicon is the most expensive component of solar panels, this could make them much more affordable. New applications could also include:
  • Transparent Sliver Cell panes to replace building windows
  • Flexible, roll-up solar panels
  • Solar powered aircraft, satellite and surveillance systems

Monday, October 02, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Run, don’t walk, to the nearest theater and see this movie!

To sum up its importance, Roger Ebert wrote: “In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.”


Sunday, October 01, 2006

va•ca•tion: a time of respite

The McMillin’s came to visit for two weeks in early September including Brian’s parents, sister and niece. I had a two week mid-semester holiday and we both really needed to recharge our batteries and not think about work and studies for a while. And of course, it was wonderful to see faces from home midway through our stay here.

Jenn and Teagan on Mt. Ainslie

Just after the above photo was taken we went to find some kangaroos, or hop-hops as Teagan affectionately named them. We spent the first couple days showing the family around our favorite spots in Canberra including Lake Burley Griffin, Mount Ainslie and our favorite pubs. Then we got in the car and drove halfway to Melbourne, spending the night in the gourmet food and wine region of Milawa. Visited a fabulous winery, Brown Brothers, and an apiary/meadery with mead nowhere near as good as that from Warblers Roost Meadery :) Wondering what mead is? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mead

Then off to Melbourne with our first stop being Phillip Island and the Koala Conservatory. This was perhaps one of the best parts of the trip because we got to view a koala up close in its natural habitat.

The conservatory has elevated boardwalks so you can see the koalas (usually sleeping) in the trees. While we were there though, a mama with a baby on her back climbed down out of a tree and walked along the whole length of the railing as we followed along giggling with glee. Did I mention that they are absolutely adorable?

That same evening we went to the Penguin Parade where you sit on the beach and at dusk watch the little penguins come out of the sea from their day of fishing to return to their burrows. They are so fascinating as the waddle ashore in little groups squeaking to each other and being social before they return to the next solitary day of fishing. Here’s a photo, but it’s not mine, as you are not allowed to take pictures.

The next day we met up with our friend Chris in Melbourne and drove out on the Great Ocean Road, which stretches along the southeastern Victorian coast. The road covers some of the most photogenic coastline in the world, because of its dramatic natural rock formations. The following photo is of Heather and I at the Twelve Apostles, a series of limestone stacks just off the shore of Port Campbell National Park.

After spending the night in Port Campbell we drove back to Melbourne and spent an evening there before flying to Cairns the next day. Cairns is in far north Queensland so we really covered some territory in this trip!

We spent the next week in Port Douglas in a lovely three bedroom townhouse privately owned by a local couple who were fabulous hosts. They helped us arrange our travel and were always there to wave goodbye and welcome us back from our days of sightseeing.

We were staying just off of Four Mile beach in Port Douglas, a tourist town that reminded us of Lahaina, Maui where we lived for a winter.

Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas

We spent a day in the outer Great Barrier Reef where we all got to go snorkeling and Carl, Heather, Brian and I all tried scuba diving for the first time. Great fun as you can imagine and the reef was spectacular!

The next day we drove up into the Daintree and Cape Tribulation where two World Heritage sites meet. Here one of the oldest rainforests on the planet, the Daintree, meets the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef. The Daintree Rainforest contains 30% of the frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia and 65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species. 20% of bird species in the country can be found in this area. All of this diversity is contained within an area that takes up 0.2% of the landmass of Australia.

We took a cruise on a solar powered boat up the Daintree River looking for saltwater crocodiles and saw mostly small ones, the oldest being about six years old and still pretty small.

We also visited the Daintree Tea Plantation and had a tour of this family run tea farm. Brian and I are becoming quite the tea connoisseurs so it was really fun to see how the tea is harvested, dried, oxidized and sorted. We think our next big journey may be a trip around the world in search of the best teas!

There was a day of horseback riding on the beach and through the Daintree rainforest. My horse Bo, tried to eat everything in sight so I was constantly yelling at him to stop and keep moving as directed by our guide.

Heather, Jenn, Jan and Brian

Our second to last day in Port Douglas started off with Breakfast with the Birds at The Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary. This was great as all these tropical birds come and poke around while you’re eating. Here’s me with two Rainbow Lorikeets.

Our last day in far north Queensland was spent on a gondola traveling over the Daintree Rainforest to get to the village of Kuranda for an afternoon of wandering. We returned via the scenic railway with some fabulous views of waterfalls and a great stop where a guide explained the “bush tucker” and medicines of the Aboriginal people.

From Cairns we flew to Sydney where we had two days to explore the city before the McMillins flew home. We went to the Sydney aquarium which was the best aquarium we’d seen and spent the last day riding around on the Sydney Explorer bus, seeing the sights of the city (including the opera house) and feeling pretty exhausted as you can imagine.

Sydney Opera House

So there you have it…the highlights of our trip around eastern Australia. It seems like we did so much but when you think about it, this place is so huge that you can barely make a tiny dent in two weeks. But we tried!

Australasian Campuses Toward Sustainability

If you are still reading, then I imagine that you like me enough to hear about my recent trip to the Australasian Campuses Toward Sustainability (ACTS) conference in Ballarat, Victoria. After we returned from the above holiday, I had two days before getting back on a plane and flying to Melbourne for this conference.

It was actually a great experience and I met lots of people involved in sustainability initiatives in campuses around the country. I presented a paper entitled Learning Communities: Toward a New Model of Education for Sustainability in Higher Education describing my initial research last semester on how to get the concepts of sustainability to all undergraduate students. Hoping that this will lead to a published paper. I’ll talk more about this and my current research project at a later date because I’ve already rambled on enough I think!