Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Last Things First

Finally on my way! I'm one of the last students to leave the states, but it has been well worth the wait. May in Arkansas is NOT to be missed!

I can't think of a better way to spend my last full day stateside: Woke up blissfully cocooned in a hammock deep in the Ozarks, went on an adventure to a magical waterfall with my sister, successfully dealt with my first flat tire (on a dirt road in the middle of a national forest, nonetheless!), drove back to Little Rock bathed in my last gorgeous Arkansas sunset with the windows down singing 90s music at the top of my lungs with the aforementioned lovely sister, and topped it all off with parting drinks at Pizza D's amongst a gaggle of my favorite people!

While hanging around in my hammock this week I finished Bill Bryson's "In A Sunburned Country," which was a rather successful attempt at capitalizing on the travel-literature-devouring flocks that descended upon Sydney for the 2000 Olympic games. As expected, it became a NY Times Bestseller.

Though it is 10 years out of date, I imagine that most of the content still rings true. Here's a bit of an introduction to Australia from Bryson with updated statistics from me in brackets:

We pay shamefully scant attention to our dear cousins Down Under-- not entirely without reason, of course. Its population-- just over 18 million [over 22 million in 2011]-- is small by world standards, and as an economic entity it ranks about level with Illinois [now higher, but still ranks below Turkey and Indonesia on the GDP chart]. Its sports are of little interest to us. From time to time it sends us useful things-- opals, merino wool, Errol Flynn, the boomerang-- but nothing we can't actually do without. Above all, Australia doesn't misbehave. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn't have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner.
WHY, you might be asking yourself, knowing this did Acadia choose to go there? Why not Honduras or Vietnam or Botswana?

For one, Bryson is of course giving only a very simplified, one-sided view. In many ways-- environmentally especially-- Australia is on the edge of crisis. For example, a climate science professor who lived in Australia for many years suggested that I visit the Great Barrier Reef before it's too late. Another good example is the reason that I'm here: serious water issues.

Twelve years of drought have plagued industry and communities in south-eastern Australia. Some view the drought as the first in a series of extreme weather events that will occur on the continent as climate change worsens. The Murray-Darling river system, which provides water for the country’s most intensive agricultural land, now fails to reach the sea 40 percent of the time. In addition to the human systems under stress, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has identified Australian ecosystems as “potentially the most fragile” on earth in the face of the threat.

I will be working with two government agencies-- one at the national level and one at the state level in Queensland-- to review their past efforts to engage communities and industries in comprehensive water planning, research best practices from other places around the world, and assist in developing new, more inclusive strategies. Though it is easy to think that such desperately-needed water planning should be "efficiently" laid out by scientists and officials, in reality the sustainability of the system will lie in how effectively all voices are brought to the table to develop consensus and make difficult decisions.

I know it's easy to pay lip service to topics like community engagement and consensus-building, but I hope you will bear with me as I explore them more this summer (winter?) and hopefully provide some interesting insights from my process.

(the absolutely most favorite Australian farewell/closing statement ever)

1 comment:

  1. Water crisis in Australia, sounds like a huge job. I'll be following.