Just don’t call him an environmentalist

I was recently in Queensland visiting family and caught up with my Dad and step-mum for a few days. My Dad’s a straight-talking feller. He’ll tell you in no short terms that he doesn’t agree with those environmentalists and greenies. He doesn’t really like them much…

While we were there he reminded me how the three large water tanks they have on site provide all the water they need, year round pretty much. He complained that he was still having to pay council for “the pipes that run past my front door”, as he’s now off the grid for water supply.

Whenever we go fishing he’s very careful to make sure our catch meets the size limits set by government. If something is even close to undersize, it goes back in. He laments the big fishers’ impact on his local fishing grounds, and gets antsy when he spots local fisherman flaunting the rules. He’s friendly with the local patrols, while quietly cursing the Government for introducing Marine Protected Areas.

He’ll often suggest we go for a drive in his Toyota 4WD (on it’s third engine rebuild) around the local area (the Redlands Shire) and talk us through the changes he’s seen as this once rural farming area, with rich, volcanic red soil, is converted into suburban estates, townhouses and apartments. He’ll tell you about the farmers of the area, past and present, and how this productive, now peri-urban, land is being lost to developers. (He’ll also quip that they can’t afford to run the car as much as they used too…)

We’ll walk around his property and he’ll show us with (justifiable) pride the vegetable plot, the fruit trees, the mangoes coming into season, the massive avocado trees, the pineapples, the strawberries. Each season he notes he doesn’t have enough friends with which to share the abundant produce that comes off the land. (Thinking about this I’m lamenting not taking more photos when we were there…)

He shares an anecdote about how a friend got the water in the local creek, which runs through the bushland to the back of his property, tested for pollution and sent the results to his local member. He’ll mention how the recently released government report failed to mention his creek in it’s “report card” and how he and his friend took it to the local media resulting in pressure being applied and the figures being followed up by the local member.

While we’re sitting watching (his 80″ LCD behemoth1 of a) TV he’ll explain how they turn everything off of standby using a remote switch device, and explain with pride how efficient the consultant found their kettle. He explains how they’ve saved a lot on their energy bill (which is about 1/3rd what is being touted in the mainstream press as an “average” bill).

He demonstrated the in-home energy monitor that helps them to work out where their energy usage has gone. He’ll lament how the compact fluoros he installed don’t dim, and how the Government’s impending ban on new electric hot water heaters has forced him to go out and buy one now for when this one reaches its end of life. And don’t get him started on that carbon tax.

My life partner Angela ascribes many of my aspirations and environmental awareness to my Dad’s influence. I have to agree (and something that I’m proud to say). My Dad has more “environmentally friendly” features to his property than I could even dream of achieving. And, as is probably apparent, he’s full of contradictions (as we all are).

Just don’t call him an environmentalist. Or a greenie. He just wouldn’t stand for it…

  1. I actually don’t know what size it is, but it’s bloody huge…

Home water savings a drop in the ocean

The Age: Home savings virtually negligible: expert.

At a water seminar held at Woodford music festival, the dude giving the talk indicated that around 70% of water used in Australia was for irrigation and agriculture.

This highlights one of the big frustrations for me, wanting to live more sustainably. I know, some of the time, that the savings are much smaller than those that could be achieved if business (or government) stepped up to the plate.

My take on it is similar to Mr Byron’s:

“One of the good things about these small gestures is they indicate public interest and buy-in, that is the public care about this issue, they’re concerned about it, and they want to help.

“That’s terrific for when it gets to the really serious stage, and we really need to do something that involves a little bit of pain, the public is already onside,” he said.

“But these little gestures will not even get us close to where we want go. If every man, woman and child in Australia was to do it, the difference in water use would be negligible.

“The problem is the big actions carry with them a pretty big tag, but rather than bite the bullet and adopt some of the big changes needed, we’re told to be satisfied with making these symbolic gestures.”

What do you think?

Recycled water

A couple of quick things that bug me about the recycled water “debate”.

  1. Sewage water is not the only water that can be recycled;
  2. That said, sewage water can be treated to be better than tap water;
  3. We don’t need to drink the result – it can be used for industrial use, or of non-potable uses (toilets, watering gardens etc.)

We keep seeing headlines that say “we’d be prepared to drink recycled sewage”, but that’s only one small part of the story. Even so, 75%+ of Australian’s would accept it according to the polls. Other reports show recycling is cheaper than desalination.

Regardless of what happens with desalination plants we need to start recycling, and the state governments need to start taking action now. Legislating that new buildings, especially apartments, be double piped is an important start. That means that new buildings will be ready for recycling – properly separating grey-water from sewage, and allowing recycled water to be used for non-potable purposes. (Being piped to support rain water tanks also would be an even better option.)

At the time of construction, the additional cost will be much lower than retrofitting – which is one of the reasons cited for not going ahead with recycling at present. Remove that barrier for the future. I suspect that the costs will be quite low – possibly a few thousand dollars for most dwellings. Does anyone know how much it would cost?

Even if the cost was a bit more than that, the government could even subsidise it in some way (by reducing rates for a period or with a simple cash incentive) – putting $$ up-front for a reduced cost down the line.

I do hope the debate moves on from here. Recycling must be part of the solution. Governments need to get serious, and stop wasting money on desalination plants that its own advisors say will be more expensive and less effective than recycling.

Update: Vincenze makes another good point – drinking water is only a small part of the water we use – and ends with this fun tidbit: “We should recycle water, but not pee.” Indeed 😉