Sustainability in Tasmania

There is a large amount of skepticism in the United States about sustainable practices, both due to the financial aspects and the effectiveness. While I knew that there were many countries that had taken a number of steps towards sustainability and climate change mitigation, I’m not really sure what I expected of Tasmania.

I knew Tasmania was wild; a state of Australia which boasts an incredible appreciation for nature by preserving just under half of its land area. There are areas of Tasmania that are incredibly remote, rarely explored by humans.

Living sustainably on this dynamic, sensitive planet is incredibly important for the maintenance of vital ecosystems and Earth processes. The goal of sustainability is to ensure that future generations will have access to resources of the same, or greater, quantity and quality that our generation has access to. Being a Sustainability Minor at DU, I immediately noticed the steps that Tasmania has taken towards sustainability.

There were two things that really caught my attention in the first couple weeks of my stay: solar panels and rainwater tanks.  Every small town here has at least a few buildings with solar panels. In Hobart, the capital of the state, you can see solar panels perched on roofs in almost any direction, in every part of the city.  As for the rainwater tanks, I actually wasn’t sure what the tanks were when I first saw them because I had never seen a rainwater tank.  Moreover, I’ve never seen so many tanks of that size and abundance. There is even a Rainwater Harvesting Association of Australia, which promotes rainwater collection and works to maintain guidelines in Australia.  It doesn’t surprise me that rainwater collection is so popular, given the country’s history with drought.

What also caught my eye was the switches on the power outlets and the half-flush option on the toilets.  The switches on the power outlets allow you to cut off power going to the device that is plugged into the outlet.  This extremely useful, as it eliminates the wasted vampire power, otherwise known as standby power.  In terms of the toilets, during my time here (about 3.5 months), I have only seen two toilets that do not have the half-flush option.  Even some really old toilets have the half-flush option.  Yet another water-saving initiative implemented by Australian.

Aside from appliances, I have noticed that most homes are small in Tasmania. Granted, Tasmania is a small state comprising of just over a half-million people who like to keep it simple, but I personally believe that it is out of the ordinary to have such a great number of small homes.  Intentional or not, this practice is inherently saving energy and reducing the amount of building materials needed.  It is important to note that homes and buildings don’t seem to be properly insulated, which increases energy usage. After researching the subject, I found that there are several articles written recently about Australia’s insulation problem.

There are so many great sustainable practices in Tasmania, but I have noticed a few select items that could be improved upon.  For one, reusable water bottles are not popular here.  This may be due to the lack of public water fountains and bottle filling stations.  In fact, during one of my first days of class, I walked all around the Geography building looking for a water fountain to fill my Nalgene up.  I was surprised to see so many plastic water bottles being bought and used.  Interestingly enough, some people actually reuse their plastic water bottles for a few days.

Additionally, Tasmania is lacking an adequate amount of bike lanes.  When I first arrived, I bought a bike so that I didn’t have to take the hour walk from accommodations to my classes.  I’m not an avid bike rider, so I’m not always comfortable biking without bike lanes.  Despite this, biking around is a popular practice here, even with the massive hills.  But I do believe that more bike lanes, as well as the addition of bike racks to the buses, will encourage more people to bike to and from work and school.

Overall, I’d say Tasmania is a pretty sustainable state.  I think Australia, as a whole, has taken on a lot of sustainable practices.  There is definitely room for improvement, but that’s with every other country in the world, too.

Tasmania, give yourself a pat on the back for this one.

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Traveling While Abroad: Make It Easy on Yourself

I’d say, for the most part, that I’m a pretty organized, prepared person. I always have important documents in one place, I “measure twice, cut once” in every situation, and I’m the queen of “what if.” Extra socks? Check. Have I packed a reading book, music, cards, and a coloring book in case I get bored? You betcha – even though I’ll never get bored enough to get through all of those items. Usually, I’m prepared with items of actual importance too, i.e. a copy of my online visa.

Cut to mid-semester break. For the past month, I’ve been planning a two-part trip: 4 days in Cairns, Australia and 5 days in Dunedin, New Zealand. In preparation, I printed out all of my flight information, as I’m more inclined to have physical copies of things, rather than electronic copies. Although I had only printed these out to keep dates and flight times straight in my head in the days leading up to my trip, I decided to shove them in my bag as I flew out the door to catch my first flight. Technically, I didn’t actually need my flight information – these weren’t my tickets and I had my flight numbers on my phone ready for check-in.

My experience in Cairns and traveling to Cairns was delightful. No issues, lots of sunshine and warmth (finally – a day above 60 F), and a great reunion with a friend from DU. But leaving Cairns took a bit more effort and involved enough frustration for me to learn a little travel lesson.

My friend and I showed up to Cairns International Airport relatively early in the morning. Sleepy-eyed and deprived of coffee, I walked up to the Virgin Australia counter to get my ticket and check my bag. A few seconds after handing my passport to the woman at the counter, she began to ask me questions about my travels. I was a bit surprised, as I would only expect to be interrogated at customs, but nonetheless I answered. She asked me why I was in Australia, my plans for New Zealand, and other standard questions directed towards international travelers. Following this, she asked me for my flight itinerary. Perfect. My flight information will come in handy for this. But she then asked, “Ma’am, when will you be reentering Australia?” In my sleepy state, I struggled to answer.

“Um…I fly back on the 2nd”, I answered. She gave me a weird look and replied, “The 2nd of October?”. Shoot! *palm to face moment* This is when I wished I had gone to sleep earlier or bought coffee that morning.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that. I meant the 12th…the 12th of September. I guess I just forgot to put the 1 in front of the 2.” I smiled as my cheeks turned red in embarrassment. It was obvious she wasn’t very happy with me, and it didn’t get better when she asked for my visa and I told her it was an online visa. She then proceeded to make me pull up my visa on my computer and finally handed me my ticket.

I learned a few travel lessons from this. One, always have your flight itinerary – having that definitely made this situation better. Two, always have a copy of your visa, even if it’s an online visa. If you don’t want to carry that around, then you better be able to access it with your phone, computer, or tablet. Three, make sure your brain is awake when you go to the airport. This is especially important so you can remember the simple things, like what dates you’re reentering a country that has graciously taken you in.

In the moment, I was a bit flustered, but I know the Virgin Australia representative was just doing her job and enforcing the law. Thank you, Australia, for letting me be absent-minded every once in a while.