Monday, July 30, 2012

Australia: alien and desiccated

Bell Rd, Halifax, near the Museum of
Natural History
I've a column for ABC Environment today, 'Our alien and desiccated home'.

Having returned from Halifax, Nova Scotia, I'm reflecting on our dry country--and how we are not yet adapted to it. A sample:
The Canadians, as one might expect, are not particularly water-wise, having some of the highest consumption in the OECD, including agricultural and industrial use. Residential consumption is also high. Halifax residents used 365 litres of water per person per day in 2006, next to Melbourne's 277 in 2007. And our use has dropped since then, with tighter water restrictions. In the last week of June this year, Melburnians used less than 140 litres per person. This is symbolised by the humble toilet: Canadian bowls brim with water, often using more than 13 litres per flush. Porcelain thrones Down Under use only three to six.
But before we congratulate ourselves, we could still do better. And not just Melburnians, but all Australians. Research published in the Australian Journal of Water Resources, undertaken by Dolnicar and Hurlimann, found that Australians have good attitudes to water conservation, but these don't necessarily translate into voluntary practice. Our outlooks and daily rituals have progressed impressively since the 80s, but we are still more likely to adopt easy or mandatory measures than to accept "financial burden or inconvenience". 
In other words, we genuinely recognise the importance of water conservation, but this is not necessarily a priority. Last summer, for example, hot weather and looser water restrictions saw water use in Melbourne rising from 140 litres to 200 litres per person in January and February. Still low next to our friends in North America, but ultimately unsustainable in a parched state.

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