Thursday, November 30, 2006

Berry Rotary

We just had the most wonderful Rotary weekend! I'd been invited to speak at the Rotary club of Berry-Gerringong along with another scholar here, Dharini from the UK, and the club hosted us for three days of sightseeing. I expected the weekend to be fun but it surpassed all expectations!
We took the train to get there and were met by two Rotarians who spent the day showing us around the area. We went to a local park and saw Fitzroy Falls (below) and went on a walk and then on a drive through Kangaroo Valley, and had a stop for some shopping in the little town of Kangaroo Valley (where we visited a little pottery shop and acquired a new teapot and four teacups with leaves on them and treefrogs in relief climbing up the sides of the cups and sitting on the lid of the teapot - some of you will know of our love for handthrown teapots...) Then it was on to tea with more local Rotarians and a bit of down time before speaking at the club.

Fitzroy Falls

The meeting was great and again I was very pleased with the positive reaction to my research and the overall environmental awareness of the members. It seems that there is a real buildup across the country right now and Australians are identifying climate change and environmental threats as the most pressing issue facing the future of Australia. Appropriate given the Stern Report identifying Australia as the country that would be most seriously affected by climate change given the predominance of primary industry (agriculture and mining, both of which are heavily dependent on water in a country known for drought conditions). Climate change would further impact water supply, hence a sense of urgency (in citizens, NOT the Howard administration) to address climate change.

Brian and I stayed with the current club president, Noel Marshall, who lived for about 30 years in the US as an engineer in Silicone Valley. We all got along terrifically as he is very interested in sustainable housing design and has solar hot water heating and rain catchment for his entire water supply. Here's Dharini, Noel and I at the club meeting.

The next two days were just as jam packed as the first and we felt like royalty. On Friday we were treated to a private ocean cruise on a rescue boat, operated by who else but a local Rotarian. Then we went to a little town called Kiama on the coast where I spotted dolphins in the bay! My first sighting ever....

Captain Jenn

Then the next morning we were treated to nice long four hour bushwalk with another club member, Col, up to a place called the Drawing Room Rocks. They drove us to catch the bus absolutely exhausted which I'm sure was their goal from the beginning!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sustainability Research

I have been meaning to give a better description of my research here, so here is a good summary from my thesis abstract and info I put together for the Rotary district conference.

Awareness and concern about environmental issues has grown rapidly in recent decades. In 2004, 57% of Australians age 18 and over (8.6 million) stated that they were concerned about environmental problems. However, I'm not convinced that awareness is enough because relatively little action is being taken individually or collectively to solve environmental problems. Out of those 8.6 million people concerned about the environment, only 13% formally registered an environmental concern (via a letter, telephone, demonstration, signed petition or some other means), and 29% donated time or money to protect the environment. But 65% of people with environmental concerns took neither of these actions (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004).

What is needed, I would argue, is widespread "ecological literacy" as a handful of well trained environmental professionals will not be enough to effectively "manage" the planet. It is the collective impact of all of our actions that lead to depleted resources and global warming. So by ecological literacy, I am referring to not only knowledge and awareness, but skills and ability to take action based on one's knowledge. That is what is lacking. Beyond awareness, people need concrete examples of how to minimize their impacts on the environment as well as institutions and infrastructure that support and encourage a sustainable lifestyle.

My research is looking at ecological literacy within the university setting, which is often referred to as Education for Sustainability. At a basic level, I am looking at whether undergraduates at the ANU are familiar with the concepts of environmental sustainability, if they have heard about the concept in their coursework, and whether they think that it is relevant to their lives and field of study. And further, I am looking at what factors lead them to environmentally responsible behavior. Is hearing about environmental issues in a classroom enough to make them take the bus to campus or buy locally grown food? I am guessing that hearing about environmental problems is not enough by itself, but it is of course, the beginning of ecological literacy.

As a bit of background the ANU along with hundreds of other universities worldwide have signed the Talloires Declaration, a ten point action plan on how to move toward becoming a more sustainable campus. One of those points is to educate students about the concepts of sustainability.

In order to see if this is happening, I've just completed a survey of undergraduates at the ANU and while I don't have answers to all of my research questions yet, here are some of the interesting preliminary results. 73% of respondents think that all students should be exposed to the concepts of sustainability through formal education but, only 28% think that there is adequate teaching of such issues in their coursework. This represents a great opportunity for universities, as institutions that educate society's future leaders, to increase the awareness, knowledge, and technologies to create an environmentally sustainable future.

The more I read about these issues, the more I think that I should become an environmental psychologist because these behavior change issues and how people become good environmental citizens are so interesting! I'll be working on this thesis until February and I'm about halfway through the essay at the moment....its going really well!

Sustainability Learning Community Organic Garden

Plans to start an organic garden on campus are finally coming together! We just received official approval from the university to go ahead with the garden. So last Monday we had a working bee to get the beds prepared. We have a really lovely site overlooking the lake in an unused back lot of the university, behind a university childcare facility.

We offered pancakes and eggs to anyone who wanted to come out for the working bee and started the day at 8am. We decided to put the bed in a large abandoned sandbox as it already had wooden edging to act as the box for the garden. Its about six feet by ten feet and we'll only have the one bed at first as an experimental plot. So we dug out a fair bit of the sand and pulled out the weeds and then the university garden crew delivered compost mixed with topsoil. Then we built a rabbit fence out of chicken wire about a meter outside of the bed. Had a bbq lunch and finished at three! Now we'll be ready to plant the seedlings we've started in pots in a few weeks when exams are finished and everyone has a a bit more time on their hands.

Here are a few photos.

Before (child care center in background)

The daycare kids come to visit. We hope to have them involved with starting their own seeds and helping with the garden where possible.

After. Okay not terribly exciting...yet!