Thursday, June 21, 2007

Winter Solstice

Today is the winter solstice ie. the shortest day of the year when we in the southern hemisphere are tilted furthest away from the sun. You folks in the northern hemisphere, being tilted closest to the sun, are enjoying the longest day of the year. While this is technically the beginning of winter for us, the days really only get longer from here. It's pretty close to dark when we cycle home at 5pm and I'll look forward to our evening walks in daylight once again.

More campus media about the World Environment Day Great Green Debate here!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fuzzy Neighbors

As mentioned in a previous post, the Lyneham high school is right out our back door. The school has a fairly large garden and keeps two sheep! Here are some photos of our fuzziest neighbors whom we greet every time we step out of our back gate.

We have tried to feed them several times and they've always turned up their noses and shunned our carrots or greens. Today as we approached them, they trotted over and were exceptionally friendly. We plucked up some of the grass on the outside of their pen (the same stuff as inside their pen) and they ate it out of our hands with glee. Guess they needed some company today.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Week in a Nutshell

Monday, as mentioned previously, was the Queen’s birthday (or rather, the celebration of the Queen’s birthday) so it was a four day work week. Yippie! So Tuesday seemed like Monday and I was feeling accordingly misplaced the rest of the week. Had a nice lunch on Tuesday with a new book discussion group I’ve joined called The Porpoise Pool (not quite sure why) where we discussed Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, a biography of a guy who worked for an international consulting firm whose explicit goal was to convince developing countries to accept gigantic development loans, thereby padding the pockets of US contracting companies (Halliburton and friends, for example) and forever indebting said countries to the US who then take advantage of access to natural resources and ensure political support. Disturbing and depressing though perhaps enlightening and not surprising.

The afternoon was a bit more inspiring as I joined 4200 other folks to see the Dalai Lama speak at the Australian Institute of Sport. He was his jovial and giggling usual self as he shared his timeless message of joy and compassion.

Thursday evening was the opening of the second of a series of art exhibitions that a friend has been working on featuring active transport i.e. bicycling, walking etc. This exhibition featured 8-12 year olds art depicting active transport and why it’s better for the planet than cars. Lots of depictions of solar powered flying gadgets but my favorite one was a simple black and white background of hills and trees with a pathway of rainbow colored footprints across the bottom of the page. I suspect someone mentioned the concept of an ecological footprint to them.

Friday was a full day research workshop where all of the researchers in the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society presented a five minute summary of their current research projects. Interesting but tedious. After work, Brian and I went to an International Students Valedictory Graduation Celebration featuring undergraduate and postgraduate valedictory speeches and cocktails with the Vice Chancellor. Speeches weren’t particularly inspiring but Brian and I had the chance to chat with VC afterwards for ten minutes or so. He was the one who approved and funded my current project so he actually remembered me (well, the piece of paper about me that briefly crossed his desk) and we had quite a nice chat about renewable technologies, carbon accounting and greywater use for campus lawns. He seems very tuned in to environmental issues and has been providing the bucks to back it up.

Did I mention that I graduate on Friday July 13th? I have an extra ticket... :)

Oh, and its been raining for much of the end of the week, which is terrific considering how dry it has been for some time now. But I have to say that cycling to work in freezing temperatures in the rain is not the most pleasant commute. And my rain pants are leaking. Online shopping here I come…

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Queen's Birthday

Tomorrow is a pubic holiday, the Queen’s birthday and so we are relishing the three day weekend. I can’t imagine that this is a very significant holiday for very many people. In fact the only thing notable about it that I can detect (outside of the day off of work) is the fact that this is the only time of the year when the public (in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) anyway) is legally allowed to buy and use fireworks. We suspect that this is the only way to actually get people to “celebrate” the occasion. So the fun thing about this is that there are random fireworks going off around the city. We usually go out for about an hour long walk each evening (in the dark these days) and the last few nights’ walks have treated us to unexpected fireworks displays. Quite a show just in our backyard as we are flanked by a large playing field belonging to the Lyneham high school. I can hear the cracking and popping and sizzling as I type….

World Environment Day Great Green Debate

Tuesday June 5th was World Environment Day 2007 and to mark the day the Sustainability Learning Community hosted the ANUs Second Annual Great Green Debate.

Planning this event has basically been my life for the last several weeks and to be honest, I'm a little surprised that it all managed to come together so successfully given the crunch I found myself in to line up speakers in a timely manner. That said, it was a fabulous event if I do say so myself. We planned a formal dinner for sixty people including students, faculty, staff, the panelists and other invited guests including some of our panelists from last year. This gives students a chance to network with professionals and interact with their lecturers outside of the classroom. Pre- and post-dinner drinks gave everyone time to socialize before the panel began at 8pm.

The topic we chose was "Securing Our Water Future: Social Change or Technological Innovation?" I'm very pleased with the panel line-up which included:

Senator Rachel Siewert
Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia

Professor Quentin Grafton
ANU Crawford School of Economics & Government

Professor Patrick Troy
ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society

Wendy McIntyre
Australian Research Centre for Water in Society (ARCWIS)

Dr Tom Hatton
Director, Water for a Healthy Country Flagship Research Program (CSIRO)

Panel Chair:
Professor Will Steffen
Director, Fenner School of Environment and Society

The nature of the water crisis was discussed (and whether or not there really is one or if we might just need to rethink water usage is such a dry country) and a range of topics on how to solve it including water restrictions, recycling water, better governance and abandoning the water carried sewage system for one in favour of composting toilets. Lots of interesting discussion followed as you can imagine!

Lots of positive feedback from guests – I'm still feeling a little warm and fuzzy from all of the praise we received! It's fun to be part of starting a tradition…

Monday, June 04, 2007


A recent landscape rehabilitation and biodiversity project on campus got us a bit of media attention both from campus media and the Canberra Times. The Weeds, Wetlands and Wildlife project was a collaboration between the biodiversity officer of ANUgreen, Gardens and Grounds, my Sustainability Learning Community (SLC) and several student groups. It was a huge success with lots of students showing up at lunchtime to help remove invasive species.

And tomorrow night is the Sustainability Learning Community’s Second Annual Great Green Debate for World Environment Day. Drinks and a formal dinner for sixty people followed by a panel discussion on securing Australia’s water future with a pretty impressive panel if I do say so myself. Will let you know how it goes!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Worms and Parrots

We set up our worm farm today using mostly finished compost and damp shredded office paper as bedding. After carving several rows of holes into the Styrofoam box, we dumped in the bucket of worms (purchased from a worm breeder who delivered them to campus for me – 1000 worms cost $25) and buried our kitchen scraps from the last few days. Covered the whole lot with damp papers and put the lid on. Go to work little guys!

As we were setting up the farm we noticed a king parrot sitting in the tree in above us. Upon closer inspection we realized there were four of them, which is notable as we’ve never seen them in our yard before. I see them on campus quite a bit, but never at home. In fact, the other day I saw seven of them sitting in the tree outside my office window.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Worms and Pasta

I can't believe it’s Friday already! It’s the end of semester for students and I feel pretty lucky at the moment because I get all the joys of being part of the university without having to submit assignments! Of course, I have a giant to-do list but there’s generally less pressure and none of that end-of-semester torment.

Tonight I planned an end of semester celebration for the Sustainability Learning Community members. We were donated a worm farm for composting and we set it up this evening. After our worm workshop we had a fabulous dinner of pasta with sauce made by one of the members from the tomatoes we harvested recently from our campus garden. Had garlic toast and pasta and chai afterwards. It was such fun! Some photos of the evening below…

Preparing the worm bedding

Dinner at the Environment Centre – homemade pasta sauce from our tomato harvest!

I bought 3000 worms for the project and kept 1000 for myself. This weekend Brian and I will be setting up our own worm farm at home. Brian is already experimenting with two compost piles outdoors, one enclosed in a black plastic bin and one an open heap. Both are coming along nicely and getting quite hot. Planning for some gardening in the spring. Our worms will live in a Styrofoam box with a lid in the walkway between our house and our neighbors. We are looking forward to the joys of worm parenting!