Ecovillage life, roo steaks and solar kings

As Australians become more concerned about climate change, sustainability and loss of social cohesion, many are seeking more environmentally friendly, community-based alternative lifestyles such as those offered by rural and urban ecovillages.

Most of today’s ecovillages feature highly water- and energy-efficient buildings, with bicycle paths, stormwater retention and onsite water treatment on rural sites to replace road and sewerage infrastructure.

Ecovillage resident Elizabeth Heij says that while these close-knit communities provide a safe and supportive environment for children and families, some residents take time to adjust to the collective decision-making and lack of privacy.

These include introverted ‘cultural creatives’ and high-profile people who discover that social status matters less to their ecovillage neighbours than a readiness to participate in working bees and other community activities.

In ecovillages, conflict resolution is the key to success.

“You can get the built environment right, and the environmental objectives right, but if you haven’t ticked that last box of the triple bottom line – the social component – then the whole thing could fall apart,” says the marketing manager of one ecovillage.

ECOS 145 also looks at whether kangaroo meat really is a more sustainable choice for meat-eaters than beef or lamb. A recent UN report found that livestock generate more greenhouse gases (GHG) than the world’s cars and trucks combined.

Replacing cattle and sheep with kangaroos could reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 10 per cent by 2020. This is because cattle and sheep produce methane as they digest their food, and fertilisers used on the pastures they graze create nitrous oxide emissions. Methane and nitrous oxide are potent greenhouse gases.

Some of Australia’s most successful solar energy entrepreneurs are now based overseas, capitalising on booming markets in places like China, Germany and the US. Yet 20–30 years back, Australia was a world leader in solar energy.

ECOS 145 reports on what happened to Australia’s solar energy industry and whether we can catch up with the growing number of countries utilising the sun for power.

One Australian-born entrepreneur, California-based Dr David Mills, believes that Australia, with its ample sunlight and desert spaces could develop a new export economy around renewable resources, building powerlines into Indonesia and South-East Asia from northern Australia and exploring clean power opportunities for the mining and manufacturing industries.

Dr Zhengrong Shi, another former Australian ‘solar king’, who is now based in China, believes we should be exploiting renewable energy and saving coal and gas resources for the future.

“Our coal and gas will become more valuable with time so why sell it off so quickly?” he says.

Dr Shi’s company, Suntech – based in Wuxi city, near Shanghai – has become one of the world’s top 10 solar cell manufacturers. About 80 per cent of its sales are to Germany.

ECOS 145 also reports on:

  • Minke whales – encountering mutual respect: The dwarf minke whales that visit the Great Barrier Reef every year have a peculiar fascination for humans, which is providing a unique opportunity for underwater research and ecotourism
  • Ten Commitments: A behind-the-scenes look at a ground-breaking book, Ten Commitments: Reshaping the Lucky Country’s Environment, in which more than 40 of our top environmental thinkers each identify 10 urgent environmental issues facing our country.
  • Healing by the community spirit: With his book, Blessed Unrest, website and forthcoming film outlining a new ethos for the planet, US environmentalist Paul Hawken has spawned an environmental movement based on global connectivity.
  • Speaking up on Asia Pacific sea-level rise impacts: Green Cross Australia has been firing up the public debate about the humanitarian impacts of climate change in our region.
  • Balancing living standards and environmental pressures: Two sustainability experts explore the notion of ‘decoupling’ economic growth and environmental degradation.
  • The Green RIG – driving eco-education: The story of New Zealand’s ‘fourteen wheels of eco-thunder’ custom-built low-emissions truck and trailer that is taking environmental education around the country.
  • Sustaining our iconic north: Decisions about using northern Australia’s more abundant water supplies to expand or establish new industries will need to be based on a scientific understanding of northern catchments and long-term impacts.

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