In the land Down Under, the everyday realities of water and energy conservation appear to be just a way of life, but in fact, they are a series of forced practicalities necessitated by the realities of geographic positioning, climate change and public health policy.
On a recent trip to Australia, we were blown away by the wonder and beauty of Oz. After getting used to seeing the major differences on a daily basis (cars driving on the left side of the road and the cost of a Diet Coke, to name a couple), I began to notice the more subtle differences that pale in comparison to the majesty of the Sydney Opera House but speak of everyday life.
We were offered a rare opportunity as tourists to spend some time at a Bush Camp in Mudgee, New South Wales. The simplicity of the campsite was fabulous. Electricity was provided by a generator and the water supply came from two onsite cisterns.
Australia’s most recent drought began in 2003 and is referred to as the “Big Dry”, according to the Attorney General’s office of the Australian Government. Since the first recorded draught in 1791 there hasn’t been a single decade when some part of Australia has not been in draught. It’s the driest continent outside of Antarctica.
Mudgee just happens to be located within the Murray-Darling Basin. The basin’s 150 plus waterways support an agricultural industry, are home to 16 internationally recognized wetlands and supply water to millions of Australians. By 2007, water flows in the Murray-Darling were at 5 percent of their average and Australia’s largest damns were as low as 15 percent.
In July 2008, the Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Water Reform placed restrictions on the use of water and in some cases put quantitative limits on household water consumption. Rainwater tanks and water efficient shower heads became compulsory.
The Big Dry was officially declared over in May of last year but hot, dry conditions continue to plague the country.
One common sight no matter where you go in suburban Australia is the backyard clothes line. In fact, one of Australia’s most recognized icons is the Hill’s Hoist. Lance Hill built his first model in 1945 and based it on the original rotary clothes hoist patented by Gilbert Toyne in 1925.
The Hill’s Hoist became an Australian icon out of necessity: the amount of energy required to run the dryer and the cost of that energy. In New South Wales (where Sydney is located), the cost of energy has seen a rapid increase during the past two years.
According to an Australian government website, the average quarterly cost to run a clothes dryer just once per week is $39 with an average rate of 35 cents per kilowatt hour. The average rate in the North Carolina is less than half that of Australia’s.
Hanging your wash out to dry is not popular at all in the United States, and in many neighborhoods, is banned by the governing Homeowners Association. Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, co-sponsored a bill this past year that would prohibit counties or Homeowners Associations from forbidding clotheslines. The bill did not pass.
Only three states – Florida, Hawaii and Utah – currently have specific laws that protect the homeowner’s right to use clotheslines.
While in Brisbane, a city of 2.1 million people, we discovered a jewel on the Brisbane River - the City Botanic Gardens. Within its walls are bamboo groves, sculpture gardens, a mangrove boardwalk, ornamental ponds and a long, lazy riverfront uninterrupted by the city’s high rise buildings.
Also within the Botanic Gardens you’ll find rigid, walled, puncture resistant containers in bright yellow designed specifically for needles.
Recognizing that needles, or sharps, were going to become a public health issue, state governments in Australia began passing requirements relating to used hypodermic needles and syringes as early as 1965.
In Queensland, where Brisbane is located, the Environment Protection (Waste Management) Regulation 2000, Part 2 states in s8 that a person must not unlawfully dispose of litter at a place approved by the Commissioner of Health and the Commissioner of Police. The penalty is 20 units, or $2,000 (AUS).
North Carolina is equally as beautiful as Australia and fortunately we are blessed with a favorable geographic location and temperate climate. With so many practical ways to save money, energy and public health, do we really want to wait until our resources are endangered before making any changes to our everyday lives?