MSU “Down-Under” 2012

Update:  July 16, 2012 – We arrived safely in Adelaide this morning (Monday, July 16) at 11 am South Australia time.  After touring Cleland Wildlife Park and a traditional Aussie BBQ hosted by Flick, most of the group has called it a day.  (From Adelaide, Monday, 8:40 pm)


Welcome to the MSU Sustainable Food, Environment and Social Systems in Australia Study Abroad 2012.

Follow this blog as we travel across Australia learning about sustainability from July 16 – August 11, 2012.

On the right side of the blog screen, you will see the dates of the program with a student day leader’s name.   Click on the individual dates, to view the blog for any particular day.    We also hope that you might submit a question related to sustainability for our group to respond to. If you subscribe to the blog, you will receive an email when the blog is updated.  Despite this reminder, you might want to check back regularly, as we add pictures and comments all the time. Please also note that your first comment must be approved by an instructor before it will post. After that time, you can post comments without an approval.

Thank you and enjoy your virtual travel with us.

We also invite you to visit our program website at: https:\\\course\be\475\australia.


39 responses to “MSU “Down-Under” 2012

  1. What was “BBQ’ed”? The usual? I’m sure it’s going to be a quiet night. Have fun at the market.

  2. I suspect that it’s way too early in the experience to answer these questions yet, but I look forward to hearing your thoughts as the next few weeks progress.

    Will be interesting to hear what the most significant dietary differences are between the US and Australia.

    Curious about what they do differently from an Energy and Water sustainability perspective…

    Most significant social system differences?

    What Australian ideas do you think we should adopt here in the States?

    • Well, so far I havent noticed a significant difference in diets they are pretty similar to our’s in the states. However the labeling used on the foods is different, they use the term energy instead of calories so it has a more positive outlook about food. As far as energy and water conservation I consider them much more aware about conservation. Simple things demonstrate this such as switchs on outlets so energy isn’t being used for things that are plugged in but don’t need to be on. Also many more people use solar energy due to government incentives. Water conservation is a huge effort here, people conserve water in simple ways such as washing all the dishes at once in the sink, having two switchs on the toilets to conserve water, not watering plants or washing cars… Etc. Additionally the cities are set up in a more sustainable design they have green parks all along the roads, they have free bike rentals and free solar paneled buses that go through the city as well. So far we’ve seen some really interesting places that have opened my eyes to simple steps towards becoming more sustainable.

      • rachelkurzeja

        I definitely agree with everything that Miranda said above. Another thing that I noticed that Australia does differently from an energy and water sustainability prespective is the national government has many more incentives for residents to install energy efficient systems. The Australian government gives rebates of up to $500 for the purchase and installation of a new rainwater tank or a greywater treatment system. The Australian government also offers rebates of $1000 to residents for the installation of solar hot water systems. I think that these are amazing incentive for residents to reduce their personal water and energy footprints. I think this is a measure that the United States should definitely consider adopting. The Australian government has also implemented a program called Solar Cities, which has given funding to seven cities to trial new sustainable models for electricity generation and consumption, particularly by using solar panels. Adelaide also has a system of free solar electric buses that loop through the downtown area. This is not only sustainable from the perspective that it is energy efficient and carbon neutral, but it also discourages people from driving to work and around the city. This is definitely something I think the United States should look into doing in major cities as it would reduce carbon emissions, traffic, and noise pollution.

      • Sue Cortese

        Often times, the best steps towards “sustainability” aren’t necessarily ones the require significant amounts of new and expensive technology, but rather a revisiting of earlier/more primitive approaches to life (i.e.: harkening back to days when we didn’t have the wealth, resources, and technology that so many of us have today… when we had to figure out how to get by with less). Have you seen ideas that you believe are worth reconsidering here in the U.S.? What types of cultural changes would need to take place so these ideas could take root and flourish? How do we convince people that these changes are worthwhile?

      • tony cortese

        The U.S. accounts for approximately 5% of the globe’s population, yet we utilize an inordinately higher amount of the globe’s resources. I; like many in the U.S., believe that “sustainability” is incredibly important (water, food, energy, etc…), though I have yet to modify my personal consumption significantly to live a more sustainable lifestyle. You have stated that they apparently have a higher degree of awareness (and willingness?) to live a sustainable lifestyle in what you have seen so far of Australia. Why is that? What type of cultural changes would need to take place here in the U.S. to convince people that these changes are critical and the right thing to do?

      • rachelkurzeja

        One change that I think could be made to increase environmental awareness, and perhaps cause a cultural change, would be to incorporate more lessons about human impacts on the environment into school curriculums. Children tend to be keen learners and teaching them about the impact that they have on the enviornment and what they can do to reduce this impact would be something that they most likely would embrace.

        When we visited Hay School of the Air, I was amazed that a main course in their curriculum was HSIE, Human Society and Its Enviornment. Hay School of the Air teaches children from kindergarten to year 6 and this HSIE class takes the place of a typical social studies class. I thought that this was interesting as I had never heard of HSIE before but when I googled it I came across many lesson plans targeted at primary school children. I think that implementing some of these lessons into a general social studies curriculum would be very beneficial to children and would drastically increase their environmental awareness.

      • tony cortese

        So what exactly is “Vegemite”, have you had any? How is it eaten? How common is it?

      • I’ll let the students share their impressions, but we made sure they tried some before we left for Australia. You would find it at any breakfast bar, just as common as butter here.

  3. …and what might Australia adopt of the USA’s system and culture?

    What type of water management strife and usage tension are there, if any, between the competing Australian states?

    Australia struggles with H20 salinity. Why and what are the issue(s)?

    Do they struggle with H20 levels and costs?

    • There is some tension between the states over water usage. Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia are all disagree over how the river Murray should be used and who technically owns the water flowing down the river since the federal government doesn’t take control. Much of this strife is due to the amount of water allowed to be taken out for irrigation.

    • To answer your question about water salinity… In the Murray River region, where we have been so far, the ground water is naturally very salty. This salty ground water is being pushed up to the surface from constant water pressure from the Murray River. This pressure from the river is a result of the series of locks that have been installed along the river. These locks hinder the natural fluctuations of water flow in the river keeping the water level constant, and there for keeps constant pressure on the ground water to rise to the surface.
      Irrigation is also a problem. There is a lot of wasted water associated with irrigation. This water that is not taken up by plants washes back into the river after it has cycled through the salty ground water. This process contributes to the rising salinity of the river.
      Solving this problem seems to be a political issue that pits industry against environmental initiative. There is a bit of a paradox associated with this issue because ultimately, capping the salinity of the river will help agriculture industry along the river whose fresh water supply is becoming more and more salty. Irrigation is still possible along the Murray while still sustaining its fresh water supply. Currently there is just too much water being pumped through irrigation systems, through the salty ground water, and back into the river.

    • Papa! Greetings from down under! After visiting and talking with different speakers in South Australia, there seems to be a central theme of wanting the Federal Government to step in and take control of the Murray River Water supply. Right now, water rights are handled by the state government, so each state is out to get their citizens the highest percentage of water without thinking of the other states. It seems to be a very competitive way to work towards the greater goal of getting everyone appropriate amounts of water. The desalinization plant was a very cool look at an alternative way to get water. The salt is cleaned out of the water, meaning that fresh water may not be the only source for water in the future. Eat Em Up Tigers Eat Em Up!!

      • Joseph DiLuca

        Ando – great to hear from you. I hope that you are having THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE!!!! I fear that you are going to have to stay there ’til the end of the season because since you left the Tigers have taken 3 of 4 from the LAA and, so far, 2 of 2 from the ChiSox!1st place in the Central, baby!!! I’m in Bflo visiting Mildred in hospital (getting stronger.) Mom and Halle are in Cleveland. Miss you. Take care, Love – Dad!!

      • Adam, don’t mean to barge in on your wonderful trip BUT…Tigers traded Turner and Brantly (lh batting catching prospect) for Infante (2b…remember him?)and Anibel Sanchez RH SP. Sanchez eat up innings, 3.6ERA decent SO/BB issue. We’re making the push, buddy. Oh yeah …NYY are got Ichiro!

      • one love! Good for Ichiro!!!

  4. Is there any major differences on how they irrigate their crops versus how we irrigate our crops?

    • There haven’t been any major differences thus far. We’ve spent a lot of time in South Australia and they due have slight differences. In some cases there is the ability to use gravitational irrigation which as far as I know mid Michigan is unable to due this due to the terrain.

    • Even now that we have visited places in New South Wales and Queensland, haven’t seen much of a difference. During Queensland’s wet season they recieve enough rain to usually avoid irrigation all together. During the dry season they irrigate from Lake Tinaroo or man-made creeks near their farm. Most farms use drip irrigation while some stick to overhead.

  5. Tony, Joe, Barb, Sue and others, thanks for following our program. This is honestly the best family support and participation ever, and you help extend the students’ learning with your insight and questions.

    Put simply, Australia is a lot like the U.S. in many ways, including its use of energy and resources. It ranks right up there with us in terms of using “more than its share” in relation to population. This factor makes it a good example for students in some ways.

    One of the main differences here though is that the environmental situation is more evident, and it is a daily discussion. The U.S. is blessed with many different regions and a lot of natural resources, and although Australia has a lot of mineral wealth, it is mostly desert, poor soils, and drought-ridden. They think about it more because they have to.

  6. Due to the fact that the Australian environmental situation is more evident than in the U.S., I am interested to know if any of the Councils that the group has been meeting with have discussed what grade/age students are taught about the environmental impacts of their daily life choices. As a teacher here in the U.S., I see limited exposure to those issues at an elementary/middle school level, with increased instruction and reflection at highschool/university levels. I’m wondering how this differs with Australian students and how they may be putting their early knowledge of the topics into action.

  7. The salt water discussion is interesting. Makes me think about Michigan and its abundance of fresh water. The state and Nation is in a drought that has crop prices skyrocking. $17 plus soys and $8 plus corn. Has lots of ripple effects to livestock and ethanol issues. Some farmers are being shut down on use of water for irrigation. (colorado I think)

    • Something I’ve found intersting here in regards to the availability of fresh water is that they actually need droughts in order to maintain it. The process of the Murray River’s water level rising and falling allows the salt to be flushed out. The dams and locks that have been put in stem the water flow down the river and don’t allow the salt to be flushed out after a drought. It is interesting to see how the locks and dams, that were put in place to ensure the people along the Murray would have fresh water, in fact are ruining that very same water supply. It’s hard to think of a drought as a good thing, but in this case they are essential to the long term sustainability of water supplies in south Australia and dependent ecosystems around the Murray River.

  8. What are somethings that Australian farmers are doing that our American Farmers suffering from the effects of the drought would benefit from, if put into practice here?

    • Honestly, they aren’t doing much here that isn’t being done somewhere back in the U.S. Also the practices vary widely from one location to the next. They grow different types of crops in certain areas but there is no difference I have seen as far the general care. The main difference would be types of and timing of irrigation, however like I said there is much variance here as there is there even with farmers right next to each other. That was a great question!

  9. Recently in the news they said that with all the Chevy Volts that are in use they have saved a whole tanker (ship) of gas. My question is does Australia promote the use of electric cars?

    • There was a couple of examples of promoting electric cars in Adelaide. The Central Market, which is managed by the city council, has installed an electric car port in its parking ramp so customers can charge their electric cars while shopping for their groceries. The Central Market has also installed a trial fuel cell station in the parking ramp. Also, the mayor of Adelaide has been promoting electric cars by driving one himself and advertising his investment to the public to show how green he is.

      • I thought that the Volt started selling in Australia relatively recently. The Nissan Leaf is horribly overpriced there and needs even more Govt. subsidies than the US currently offers buyers of the Volt here in the US.

  10. There was an example of the city council in Adelaide promoting the use of electric cars. The Central Market (managed by the city council) has installed an electric car port in its parking garage as well as a trial fuel cell center. Also, the mayor of Adelaide drives an electric car, which is something that he likes to advertise about himself amongst the general public to show how green he is.

  11. So, the Platypus… such an interesting Mammal. Did you get to see any? If so, what did you learn about them? What makes them so unique? What is their habitat? How big are they? Do they have natural predators? How do they defend themselves? What do they eat? Are they endangered?

    • I didn’t personally get to see any however a fair number of people in our group did. Paul did tell us about them though, they’re monotremes meaning mammals that lay eggs. They are only found in Australia and Tasmania however they’re not considered endangered. Though, theyre habitats are probably becoming more limited .They’re smaller than most think, they’re only around 17inches long. As far as they’re diet goes they use electro receptors to detect small crustaceans and bugs. I’m not sure what they’re predators are however the males have a spur at the end of they’re tail as a defense mechanism.

  12. Now that the trip is almost over, what was your favorite experience, and why? What if anything will you take away from this trip to incorporate into your life going forward?

    • For me, the best part of the trip was the Great Barrier Reef. It was incredible to see all of the coral, plant, and animal life that have developed over thousands of years, and swimming with a sea turtle and a shark was just surreal. On our way back, too, seeing the whales swimming alongside our boat was very special. It’s the type of thing you see in a movie and can only imagine happening, but we experienced it first-hand, 20 meters away. It was a very rare occurrence and I was so glad to be able to share it with this group of people. It’s difficult to pick one thing I’ve learned from this experience, but moving forward I would say that this trip has really shown me how much of an impact I have on the world, even if I am one of billions. My everyday choices are part of a chain of reactions and there are externalities and consequences with each and every one of them. I’m going to encourage myself to think about each decision I make and try to make positive changes to the world with the simple things, such as recycling, water usage, and consumer choices.

    • Now that our trip is almost over, I would say that my favorite experience was being in Sydney and climbing the Harbour Bridge. Being afraid of heights I was tentative about doing the bridge climb but I am so glad that I did. The view of Sydney Harbour and the cityscape was surreal and I feel I really conquered my fear of heights by climbing the Bridge and learned a lot about myself.

      I have learned a lot on this trip and there are many things that I am going to try to incorporate into my life going forward. The most important of these things to me is to be more politically involved and aware. Before coming to Australia I never gave much thought to politics and I always found myself making excuses for why I did not know more about what is going on in the political realm, especially in local and state politics. Being in Australia has shown me how important it is to know your government officials, especially local and state government officials, as they are the people who determine funding. Over the last few years in Michigan, those who have been elected are not extremely concerned about higher education. This is reflected by the decrease in funding Michigan State is receiving and the increase in tuition. This is very important to me as a student because I have the power to vote for a state representative that puts high importance on higher education, stopping tuition from further increasing. Knowing local government officials is also very important as they control many environmental policies that dictate the sustainability of the local area, such as waste management and runoff policies.

    • I don’t know if I can choose a favorite part! My favorite trip was definitely snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Swimming with sea turtles, sharks, sting rays, and every color of fish was unreal, and as an added bonus we saw hump back whales on our ferry ride home. Finally seeing the reef made me appreciate the diverse and unique habitats found on our planet. When I come home, I am going to try to be more conscious of how my actions affect the ecosystems around me and hopefully I will continue to appreciate the wildlife that is all around me.

  13. What food have you eaten over there that you thought you weren’t going to like and turns out that you did like it? What beverage have you tried that you liked and thought that you wouldn’t? Have you ordered some food/drink thinking it was one thing and later found out that it was something else?

  14. I heard there was a volcano eruption in New Zealand. Have you see any signs of it? Will it interfere with your travel arrangements?

  15. A very interesting aspect of sustainability in Australia has been the sense of community associated with successful implementation of sustainable practices. It is often necessary to form a sense of new identity in order to spur a large group into action towards a common goal. This is a major challenge because it is very hard to change one person’s identity much less an entire city’s, country’s, or even the world’s. The solar city project in Townsville was very successful in establishing this sense of community and common identity, associated with reducing energy and producing clean energy, to encourage change. The project did this through door to door energy assessments, hosting public events, and advertising in the local newspapers. An interesting question is how applicable these type of PR schemes are to larger populations than that of Townsville?

  16. Safe travels to you all… looking forward to seeing you back here in the States!

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