Musings on Green…

From EnvSci Australia – 17 Mar 2012

During the last two weeks we have enjoyed the Melbourne area during a break, journeyed to Canberra to see Parliament, discussed how environment plays into the political process and we now find ourselves in Sydney.  The break allowed us to muse on various “Green” ideas, topics or just free form thoughts.

As we reflect back on our first six weeks in country we ask, “Did we need to journey half-way around the world to appreciate how we are inextricably part of nature and to fully appreciate its wonder, diversity and beauty?”

Yes.  How can we not see a place where over 50% of the plants and animals are endemic – found no where else on the globe?  Along the southern coast of Victoria, the endemism of marine life is estimated at over 90%.  You can’t find that characteristic of life near home.  The country is dry – usually.  The second La Nina year in a row is bringing

Cafes, including Affogato, along Hardware Lane, Melbourne

mild temperature and lots of rainfall to the SE region, which translated means moving from drought into flash flooding.  Australia is perched in a unique climatic zone, so it is highly sensitive to small changes in global climatic cycles.

No.  Our travel makes an impact.  Certainly the 9500+ miles traveled from Minneapolis to Melbourne left a big carbon footprint, as does our coach travel around the country.  Taking lunches, with all their packaging, also leaves behind a substantive energy and materials footprint.  What can we do to change some of this and minimize our impacts?  Last spring one of my EnvSt seniors did an audit of the program for her senior project.  Certainly, one can apply offsets to our air travel or even do work in and around campus to mitigate this.  We have pushed for more reusable containers and seek out eating establishments that have strong relationships to small, local farms.  One of our favorites in Melbourne was the Affogato Cafe, located on Hardware Lane.  The husband-wife team that operates this place were friendly, welcoming and big fans of the United States, especially New York, San Francisco and Memphis.  Yes, they loved the music scene in Tennessee and the eclectic mix playing in the cafe was a delight to experience each day.  The food was simple and delicious.

Another prompt to being green was not too far from our QUEST accommodation on Flinders Lane.  Here you could walk about 30 meters to a few alleys filled with what I will call social, public art.  Graffiti artist alter the visual landscape daily – putting layers of spray paint on top of previous work.  This ever changing scene provides social commentary, highlights cultural differences, and expresses profound personal perspectives.  The spray paint is not very green, but the response of other artists, citizens and tourist make it worth the look.

Graffiti art along alley near Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC.

Graffiti art celebrates cultural influences and people.

The alley squid with painters crates in Melbourne, VIC












It would be difficult not to end a few green musings with policy.  In Australia the federal government does not have environment or environmental issues written specifically into its constitution.  These responsibilities primarily rest with each state government.  What the Commonwealth does have are constitutional provisions for addressing foreign affairs, trade and international financing as specified by the external affairs section of the constitution (Section 51).  Throughout the last 50 years the Commonwealth has been advancing environmental protection largely through being part of international treaties and multi-national environmental declarations.  This was reviewed on a number of occasions by the High Court and subsequent common law gave the federal government more authority in this area.  Our visit to the Commonwealth’s Parliament House was excellent.  We were fortunate to see “question time” in the Parliamentary system (click link for a comparison with the USA).  The images below show the provisional parliament house (white buildings in foreground) and the current parliament house (background with large flag spire and grassed roof).  Inside the colors and materials reflect the Australian palette.  In particular, the color of the House of Representatives is a grayish blue-green; the leaf color many acaias and eucalypts in Australia.  For example, check out the leaf color of Eucalypts globulus (Blue gum) when it is young.

Looking at both the old and current Parliament House from the War Memorial in Canberra, ACT.

A view from the public gallery into the House of Representatives. Note the “front bench” areas for the government and for the opposition.

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