Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home Resources Nature and Society, Journal of the Frank Fenner Foundation 2003 Nature & Society - February/March 2003

Nature & Society - February/March 2003

The Forum's Journal

Isn�t it interesting that adversity so often brings out the best in people? In the aftermath of Canberra�s fires stories abounded of real heroism, cooperation, kindness and generosity. Similar stories can be told by those old enough to have memories of World War II in Britain and even in Australia, memories of communities working together.

In �The Carpet Wars�, a new book about Afghanistan where conditions are so terrible, and children slaving to make carpets may be their families� only breadwinners, the author also stresses the kindness and generosity of people, despite their poverty. Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro, in their thought-provoking book �Five Past Midnight in Bhopal� not only chronicled the cost-cutting measures that led a formerly safety-conscious company to prepare the way for the frightful disaster in 1984. They also chronicled the lives of the destitute people who made their homes in the bustees around Bhopal. These people were amazingly resourceful and made a surprisingly rich community life despite a complete lack of facilities, insufficient food, and an almost total lack of material possessions. Returning travellers have often commented on the generosity and happiness of people in some of the poorest countries.

This is not to say that everyone displays such good qualities when times are tough. Each disaster also brings its stories of the looter, the profiteer who capitalises on others� problems. Obviously most people have a bit of both sides in their nature; we can all be altruistic at times, mean at others. Fortunately our good side seems to come to the fore in bad times. Extended periods of prosperity seem to make us careless of others� suffering. It almost seems that we would be happier and better people if we were better acquainted with adversity.

We should not need disaster to spur cooperative effort. There are other causes that could do the trick. There is one great trial, that if we rise to meet it, could inspire this cooperative effort. It is the environment, which is in need, worldwide, of just such an effort. We know that, by the day, our soils are getting poorer, water resources more stretched, animals and plants more threatened. We also know that we are the cause of these woes.

We do not need a war on the environment, that is really what has been going on for a long time. We do not need a war for the environment; that would be against ourselves. War rarely provides an answer, whether against drugs, crime or other peoples. What we do need is governments prepared to put as much effort into saving the environment as they currently put into waging a war. We also need altruism and cooperation to solve the problem. We need to understand ourselves and the consequences of our actions, and we need to motivate ourselves to change before a worse crisis is upon us. What will spur us to action? Maybe the current drought and the fires will spur Australians, at least, to get moving.

The combination of drought, high temperatures, strong winds and lightning strikes that has given us such a frightening fire season, has not been �freakish� in any real sense. It is a combination which has occurred repeatedly in Australia and will do so for the foreseeable future. Aridity is Australia�s natural state, whether we call it drought or not. The occasional wet year boosts the average annual rainfall and gives us a false idea of how much rain we can expect. Given the rising temperatures that are likely as human influence on the climate gathers pace, such conditions will be more frequent. It is time Australians worked harder at reducing fossil fuel usage locally and around the world.

As the drought has taught us, we can manage with less water. We can learn to use water more wisely. It does not hurt us to do so. We can learn to make do with less in other fields, too.

There are many technological aids that we can use to reduce our impact on the environment. We can use grey water rather than drinking-standard water for many uses. We can have concrete that absorbs carbon dioxide, coatings on car radiators or paving stones that break down smog-causing chemicals. We can improve the efficiency of engines and build passive solar buildings. All these measures help but even using every technology available or proposed would not provide a complete fix for what we have done and continue to do to the environment. We also have to change our attitudes and behaviours. We have to really understand that using fossil fuels, however efficiently, releases into the atmosphere carbon that has been stored underground for millions of years. Inevitably this will change the composition of the atmosphere. We have to understand that we can, and will, deplete fisheries to a point of no return. We must realise that extinction is for keeps (despite any idea of cloning the Thylacine), and that we are in danger of turning a surprisingly habitable and interesting planet into something much less hospitable.

We also can see from many examples that material possessions mean very little when it comes to the crunch. For a fulfilling life we need kind, considerate and supportive human relationships, a caring community, social capital. Call it what you will, it is more important for the quality of life than anything money can buy.

Back to Top

Forthcoming NSF meetings

19 Feb.

Murray May - Aviation Travel Futures

A background paper on this issue appeared in our Oct/Nov issue. At this meeting Murray will enlarge on the topic, with discussion of the issues involved.

19 Mar.

Andreas Luzzi - The Hydrogen Economy

Andreas is an operating agent of the International Energy Agency Hydrogen Implementing Agreement. He will address issues in the production, storage, transport and utilisation of hydrogen locally and internationally. He says hydrogen is already produced in vast quantities for industry and is set to play a very important role in satisfying our energy needs.

16 April.

Helen James - The politics of sustainable development in Myanmar

Helen James will focus on the reform program outlined in Myanmar Agenda 21, the implications of land tenure arrangements, priority given to agricultural development, poverty alleviation strategies, and conservation of natural resources. She will discuss the linkages between political, economic and social reforms in Myanmar.

Back to Top

ISOS on the Internet

Nature and Society Forum has joined forces with three other community-based voluntary organisations to ensure that information and debate on the urgent and practical issues of sustainability are made available as widely as possible through the internet to people in all walks of life. Our co-organisers are Australia 21, Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) and the Australian Collaboration (an association of peak bodies including the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Consumers� Association, the Australian Councils of Social Service and Overseas Aid, the National Council of Churches and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission).

The ISOS internet conference will run over nine months, from February to October 2003, culminating in a face to face meeting in November to integrate the outcome. Each month will be started with a keynote paper by an Australian expert in the field, followed by up to nine selected contributions from registrants. If you wish to contribute a paper it must be submitted by email and be no more than 1500 words, with a summary of no more than 150 words and no more than 10 suggestions for further reading. The February debate, on Water is already available on the website, as is Tony McMichael�s keynote for the March debate on Human Health and Wellbeing.

The registration fee is modest - $50 for nine months ($35 for concession card holders) or $10 per single month. So enroll now to ensure that your participation contributes to a widespread community-based opinion to influence decision makers on sustainability.

Bryan Furnass, ISOS conference co-organiser

Back to Top

Vaginal lemon juice, contraception and AIDS control

Marie Stopes, the great pioneer of female contraception once recommended inserting a slice of lemon into the vagina as a pre-coital spermicide. This has scientific support from work reported by Roger Short from the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the University of Melbourne. Roger and his colleagues found that a 20% concentration of lemon juice in fresh human ejaculate irreversibly immobilised 100% of spermatozoa in less than 30 seconds. Moreover, a 10% concentration of lemon juice was enough to quickly kill the HIV virus.

This work clearly needs some widespread clinical trials and ethical considerations, but it was well received at the 14th International AIDS conference in Barcelona and at AIDS conferences in Cape Town. A group calling themselves the Lemon-AIDS has been formed, headed by Rob Moody, director of Victorian Health, to promote the idea.

If this initiative finds widespread community acceptance it would fulfill NSF principles for cultural change, namely using a readily available harmless natural substance to achieve both birth control and death control with negligible cost to the consumer.

Bryan Furnass

Back to Top

Where to now?

As most members know, the lovely site NSF occupied in Weston is no more, being one of the victims of the fire storm that devastated parts of Canberra on 18th January. However, like the phoenix, NSF is already rising from the ashes. We have been offered temporary accommodation by the nearby horticultural campus of CIT. Our office has been set up already and evening discussion meetings will be held there, too.

After the fire Gabrielle Williams, our office manager, had our phone line diverted to her home number and kept the office running using her own equipment. We owe her many thanks for her initiative and dedication.

John Schooneveldt, Frank Fenner, Stephen Boyden and others also went straight into action seeking replacement accommodation for the immediate future and longer term. Like everyone else who lost their home, NSF has lost many precious things, including our library which held many books donated or lent by members. We lost all our paper and electronic records, with the exception of the back up disk for recent financial records. Gabrielle has managed to retrieve most of our address list, but it is possible that some members have slipped off it. If you know other members, please check to see whether they are receiving our emails and/or snail mail.

We are seeking help from members who have kept copies of journals, occasional papers, annual reports, minutes of meetings and so on. We would appreciate donations of such items to help us build up our history again.

Several associated organisations shared the Heysen Street Building with us, the Australian National Biocentre of course, but also Australia 21 and AELA (Australian Ecolabelling Association). They also lost almost everything and share our predicament. We hope to be able to provide some of them with a little desk space, as well as sympathy. We also offer our sympathy to Gosta and Pauline Lynga who lost their home and everything in it. The Lyngas have always lived by their beliefs, and so they are part of the solar-building group, Phoenix.

Fortunately the electronic conference In Search of Sustainability (ISOS) can go ahead as planned.

Back to Top

Advice to rebuilders

  • Nature and Society Forum (Design Group)
  • Alternative Technology Association
  • ANZ Solar Energy Society

A paper prepared by members of the above groups to give some preliminary guide to those wishing to rebuild after the bushfire of 18 Jan 2003.

It aims at improved housing comfort, fire safety & environmental concerns.

Despite the catastrophic upheaval of your life, rebuilding presents a unique opportunity to improve your lifestyle in terms of using the benefits of new technology and new science which has become available since your house was originally built.

For example:

  • It is now possible to keep a house interior under 27� C when external temperatures are in the mid-30s, without the need for air conditioning
  • It is now possible to heat a house for most of the time in winter from free solar heat with minimal input from fossil fuelled energy
  • It is now possible to generate a high percentage (if not all) of reasonable, domestic electrical needs from solar energy
  • It is now possible to obtain all of our domestic hot water from solar energy
  • It is now possible on sunny days in winter to have sunshine in every habitable room at the same time, during all sunshine hours
  • It should now be economically possible to close up a house, remain safe inside and protect one�s family & belongings during a bushfire if attention is paid to sound ecological design
  • It should now be possible to balance most of our domestic water needs using rainwater only - people in the bush have to do it.

Pie in the sky ? Not so, providing you are prepared to reassess your values, look critically at your real needs and your expectations - and design in an integrated way.

A more detailed look at some of the elements of your house may help you to assess your needs.

It would seem that the intense radiant heat entering windows was largely responsible for the vaporisation of many artificial surfaces & materials such as plastic finishes on furniture and on timber floors, wall panelling, plastic based paints, glues & adhesives contributed to the explosions that were heard by many people. It seems very likely that this may have been the start of many fires which would rapidly have spread up into the roof space.

This should make us reconsider how to make the ceiling and the roof structure more fire-resistant.

The fire has shown how vulnerable a wooden truss roof, battens and plasterboard ceilings are in a fire. Once the flash point was reached there was little that could be done for a lightweight, flammable wooden roof structure which would have been extremely hot and tinder dry.

It is significant that on several sites the metal tray roofs, although buckled, were largely in one piece with some degree of structural integrity and air tightness. This is better than having hundreds of broken clay and cement tiles which only enabled the entry of oxygen to fuel the fire. This gives an edge to metal roof decking in future.

Timber framed roofs absorb a lot of labour in their erection - trusses, roofing and ceiling battens, sarking, plasterboard ceilings etc., so any alternative should aim at reducing this labour. Although higher in embodied energy, steel as a structural material would seem to have several advantages in a short duration, intense fire.

Another disadvantage of the traditional roof spaces we have come to accept is that on sunny winter days they are usually several degrees warmer than the living spaces underneath. We have never taken advantage of this fact in heating our houses in winter. Perhaps now is the appropriate time to consider a more integrated approach which utilises this heat?

The pitch of our traditional roofs has usually been determined by the type of roof covering - tiles or metal decking - usually 25� down to about 4�. This should now be reconsidered as new solar collecting technology is seemingly best placed on our roofs and requires angles of up to 35� for increased efficiency in collection.

This should be a serious consideration in roof design as we should all be trying to make our own individual electricity through photovoltaic arrays to reduce atmospheric pollution from our generating stations - a prime cause of climate change leading to increased temperatures & bushfires - it is all linked. The pitch of a PV roof would also suit hot water absorbing panels - again saving fossil fuelled electricity.

A further factor about the form of roofs is that gabled pitched roofs facing within 30� east or west of north are much more efficient in allowing rectangular PV arrays and hot water absorbers. Hipped roofs have become very complicated in recent years with many valleys, making it difficult to place any effective size of photovoltaic system.

To assist this requirement (now or in the future) the house plan would be more appropriate as a simple rectangle with a gabled roof facing approximately north.

A very new advance in PV technology is the development of integrated PV surfaces with metal tray decking, thus making one building technique do two jobs - and it reduces cost. This is more efficient, labour saving and a contributor to a more beautiful streetscape - a factor not uppermost in your minds at this particular moment , but one which is of some significance in the long run. Please bear it in mind.

This integrated PV/decking has two disadvantages that the usual non-integrated PV panels do not have. In absorbing the sun�s heat to create electricity the panels radiate the heat component downwards, but, at the same time create shade underneath so that summer sun does not enter into the roof space. This ventilated space is very valuable - so how can we take advantage of this radiated heat with an integrated PV decking?

By placing a second metal tray under the PV tray we can collect the hot air and use it in our living spaces in winter - see the attached drawing. Summer heat collected by this duct would be ventilated through the gable ends, preventing its entry into the house

External roof sprinklers
If you are really concerned about fire striking again and have a swimming pool or a large tank as a source of water, then it should almost be mandatory to install a non-electric pump to supply rotating sprinklers on the ridge of the roof. These are most effective.

For many years we have been given no alternative by the housing industry to brick cavity walls or brick veneer with the bricks outside. CSIRO research has shown that both these methods have thermal disadvantages, making little contribution to summer cooling or winter warmth freely available from the sun.

Remnants of the fire show that many brick walls have remained standing (although cracked and often dangerous) and all timberwork inside the house has disappeared.

There are a few alternatives that rebuilders might consider as fire & thermally efficient resistant:

  1. Traditional brick cavity wall with cavity insulation, - fireproof outside, good mass capacity inside with insulation to prevent heat transfer both ways. Cement bricks are to be preferred as having lower embodied energy which is environmentally important. (much less use of fossil fuels in their manufacture)
  2. Adobe blocks, not common here but a very good choice
  3. Concrete jacketed walls (ideal, but not a technique which is readily available in the ACT)
  4. Reverse brick veneer - bricks on the inside to provide mass which moderates internal temperatures in summer and winter. Protected fire resistant external insulation would be needed to protect the steel studding behind. Given this it would be a good choice with known technology.

Large glass areas on north elevations are useful for solar gain in winter, but the corollary is that the potential ingress of radiation during an intense fire is a major factor in a house catching fire. From an environmental point of view we should certainly be taking advantage of the free heat intake and the cheerfulness of sunshine on a cold day - a factor we might well be reluctant to give up in the face of an event as rare as 1 in 100 years.

Windows are an indispensable asset, so my attitude is that we should be prepared to protect them during the rare events by means of reflective metal shutters that can be built in or with a series of panels that can be stored in the garage & hung in front of the glass & frames during emergency periods. It would be a fairly expensive exercise, but I suspect that the loose panels would be the cheaper option. Some research should be carried out on alternatives.

From the experience of the recent fire the protection would need to withstand some severe winds, so suction as well as pressure will have to be considered.

Clerestory windows to permit the entry of sunshine into southern rooms are again an entry point for fire and will need the same protection , which is not difficult - just costly.

Apart from northern windows collecting winter sun to heat your interiors, consider the installation of fixed reflectors outside your southern windows to use the winter sun to maximum advantage. They contribute many kilowatt hours of heat into a room for very little capital cost and require absolutely no maintenance or adjustment. It is then possible to have winter sun in every room in the house. Ring 6286 6134 if you wish to see these reflectors in action during the heating season.

Traditional timber floors with ventilated spaces below may well be a fire hazard, but I suspect they are rather low on the scale as fire generators. From a heat loss point of view they are very inefficient in winter and rebuilders should really consider installing on-ground concrete floor slabs to improve the floor�s thermal efficiency & to guarantee its safety in a fire situation. Although I have no evidence from this fire I know from previous personal experience that a concrete slab floor remains generally intact and gives a good base for speedy rebuilding. This also reduces the rebuilding cost.

The main problem with a timber floor could well be the large area of volatile synthetic finish and, if an older type of particle board substrate was used a large volume of volatile binder could have exacerbated the explosion possibility.

It should be mandatory for every house to collect its own water supply with tanks placed near every down pipe and for each of us to adopt a new mindset which regards every drop of water as extremely precious. The tanks could be used for separate purposes - one for very clean potable water, (near the kitchen), another, larger, tank for non-potable uses such as washing & supplying the WCs or the garden. There is a need for under-the-eaves tanks to obtain a head sufficient for the WCs and the internal taps, otherwise small submersible 12v pumps may have to be used which slightly complicates the operating systems - but not impossibly so. Some rectangular, under-the-eaves tanks are now available.

Grey Water
Conserving this valuable water for a second use should again be mandatory and it can be done with low-level rectangular tanks outside the kitchen window (for sink waste and possibly rainwater as well) or by way of a reed bed system in the garden which cleans the water and supplies the vegetable garden.

You should certainly consider collecting all bath, shower, basins, washing machine & tub outflows for the purpose of watering the garden - but do you really need a dishwashing machine? The levels on your land may or may not favour the use of grey water in this way so it would be wise to consult the specialists in this area. The ACT government has issued a pamphlet guide to the safe re-use of grey water.

In starting almost from the beginning again, give some thought to installing waterless toilets. They do require careful design consideration and specialist advice should again be sought. They have some advantages in that they do not consume valuable water and they eventually produce a rich compost for the garden. If properly installed with appropriate ventilation they do not smell.

Otherwise, if using traditional WCs then consider supplying the cisterns with rainwater from tanks (see Water above).

A difficult issue is whether or not to use the existing drainage lines which are most likely intact. If you are simply replacing the house you had before then this problem does not arise, but if you are taking the opportunity to redesign the house then it would be more economical to link into the existing system. However, as this is a once only chance to improve on the house you had before then this opportunity should have a high priority.

In years to come you will have forgotten the cost, but a missed opportunity also carries a high mental cost. Only you can decide, based on your circumstances.

Stormwater (ground run-off) and garden design
Especially in the construction days ahead and when re-establishing the garden, give careful thought to contouring and swales on slopes to minimise run-off of heavy rain with its consequent scouring, erosion and loss of nutritious soil. Try to retain any water in settlement ponds which could be quite decorative, wet or dry.

Choice of fire resistant trees and bushes around the house now becomes critical as previously we rarely gave any thought to this aspect, let alone their shading potential in summer and their transparency to sunshine in winter. The eucalypt is not a suitable tree for suburban gardens and as a tall evergreen tree can be a real problem in relation to shading of photovoltaic arrays and hot water absorbers on roofs. Do not be tempted to place tall trees on your southern boundary in the thought that they will not shade your roof absorbers - they will certainly shade your southern neighbour�s roof and give rise to neighbourly unpleasantness in future. Tall trees, even 100m away from your house could create problems in this coming solar age, so please be considerate.

There are several deciduous trees which are more suitable. I have a great fondness for the deciduous Box Elder, acer negundo, a maple of about 10m height which provides desirable moist green shade in summer and which permits the sun to shine through to northern windows and the garden in winter. It is unfortunate that this tree has been declared a weed by somebody who has given no consideration to its virtues in the coming solar age.

The shading characteristics of bushes are not so much of a problem, but deciduous vines are very useful on eastern and western walls, minimising heat penetration to walls. Boston Ivy is a particularly good vine, being self clinging & giving extremely good shade in summer. It does not invade brick joints like English Ivy, but it can make repainting a bit more difficult.

Their natural deciduous movements are so beautifully timed for our convenience - it is a wonderfully symbiotic relationship and it�s all free !

If we are all to make some impact on the damaging effect of climate change it is absolutely essential that we understand the cause & effect relationship our actions of daily living are having on our fragile landscape.

Land clearing has had a detrimental effect on our rainfall patterns & caused massive salting of our productive land.

We cannot continue taking from our land without putting something back and this implies a change in our lifestyles to minimise our �footprint� which is one of the largest in the world.

Reducing, re-using and recycling our wastes into resources is very important, using free natural energies instead of fossil fuelled (coal, oil, wood and natural gas).

Members of the societies contributing to this guide have been putting some of these principles into effect in their own homes over several years and, by trial and error, have learned from experience. Several of their houses were open to the public on the Solar House Day last September.

They are willing to show you what they have achieved and share their knowledge.

We have quickly formed a Phoenix Group to give initial advice on a voluntary basis with no strings attached as we feel it is critical for you to start off in the right direction. In this way you can take advantage of the new science and technology now available to you.

If you wish to learn more, please ring Derek Wrigley 6286 6134 in the first instance so that he can point you to the most suitable person who is willing to advise and /or show what they have achieved. If there is a large demand then we may organise a more public event.

There is much to learn & we are happy to help.

Derek Wrigley OAM

Coordinator, Phoenix Group (associated with Nature & Society Forum, Alternative Technology Association and ANZ Solar Energy Society)

Tel & fax : 6286 6134
2 / 72 Shackleton Circuit, Mawson, ACT 6207
Email :

Back to Top

Letter to the Editor

Dear Jenny,

In the October/November 2002 issue you included an item on Greenfleet. You also included some comments by Gosta Lynga which throw some doubt on the value of tree planting as a carbon sink to compensate for the CO2 released by driving cars. I, too, have doubts about the value of motorists absolving their consciences by paying to plant trees rather than reducing their driving.

As well, my personal experience has shown that there are better ways of achieving our much needed tree regeneration than through the Greenfleet program. I suggest that anyone who wants to help with revegetation do so directly through a Landcare or Bushcare group which has a holistic program. In my opinion it would be far more effective if governments supporting Greenfleet channelled the same amount of money directly into Landcare groups or Greening Australia.

I am President of the Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group which is assisting the Parks and Conservation Service to re-establish bush on the Boboyan pine plantation site. There have been two Greenfleet plantings in our area. The first one, in 2000, was of 30,000 seedlings and was reasonably successful, with about a 70% survival rate. In 2001 Greenfleet wanted to plant many more seedlings and 50,000 seedlings were grown in small pots. When only 15,000 had been planted and no agreement had been reached on how the remainder should be put in the ground, Greenfleet made public statements that all 50,000 had been planted. In the end something like 30,000 were actually planted and survival rates were very low, down to about one in 20 in parts of the area. It would be interesting to know what survival rate is allowed for in Greenfleet�s calculation that $30 will establish 17 trees. The $30 does not include a charge for planting; Greenfleet has an arrangement with Scouts Australia so volunteers do that.

Your item stated Greenfleet �choose local varieties and tend them so they will grow successfully.� Greenfleet does not tend the plantings. As you can imagine, the only tending such a large number of seedlings can receive is that they are placed in a protected area, preferably where a volunteer group is working which can then tidy up the tree guards which blow away. The local varieties are chosen by the local organisation responsible for managing that piece of land, in our case by the Namadgi Park management. Although local varieties were used, in the 2001 planting, due to lack of continuity of staffing, they were not sorted for planting in the most appropriate sites.

I personally think that Greenfleet is driven by the need to plant large numbers of trees so that they can generate publicity which will then give them the funds to plant large numbers of trees again. Although some care is taken to negotiate with local organisations, the numbers are too great and funds too small for adequate care. Greater final success could almost certainly be achieved through a direct seeding program, but then one could not say one had planted so many trees.

Eleanor Stodart

Back to Top

The ROCKS Redevelopment Proposal

Gabrielle Breen

Section 21 and its surrounds is a block of land in West Civic offering the opportunity for innovative, sustainable urban development. The site is home to a coalition of community groups known as ROCKS - Residents of Childers and Kingsley Streets, who provide a wide range of activities and services in education, healthy living, recreation, advocacy and research.

The Nature and Society Forum is a member of ROCKS through the Conservation Council, and several NSF members have made significant contributions to the Proposal. Other ROCKS groups include: Canberra and South East Region Environment Centre; Canberra Pensioners Club; Canberra Dance Theatre; Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS); Permaculture ACT; Photo Access; and The Food Co-op.

The Proposal Over the past two years ROCKS has worked hard and consulted widely, to produce the ROCKS Redevelopment Proposal, which was launched in late November 2002. The proposal envisages a showcase multi-purpose development achieved by collaborative partnerships between government, business, university and community organisations.

The development would:

  • reflect leading edge environmental practices;
  • accommodate existing and future community groups;
  • cater for business and commercial initiatives;
  • house university and related knowledge industry ventures;
  • provide low cost and other residential accommodation; and
  • retain public open spaces.

What would this mean in practice?

For the community, office space and a resource centre for existing and future groups, a whole foods cooperative and caf�, artistic and cultural facilities and a childcare centre, are just a few of the options.

For business, opportunities could encompass space for small businesses - especially those involved in environment and alternative technologies and information technology. The site could also house a national and regional environment tourist information centre, a native plant nursery, offices for health practitioners and an environment agency shop front.

Suggestions for educational facilities have included a new facility for the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (CRES), offices for the ANU�s National Institute for Environment and an office for the Australian Association for Environmental Education. Another proposal is for locating the National Information, Communication Technology Australia (NICTA) on the site.

Affordable and adaptable residential facilities are also proposed, including a mix of living and working units for individuals, couples and families, and co-housing, integrating autonomous private dwellings with shared utilities and recreational facilities. Public open spaces would link buildings.

The ROCKS community has been liaising with the National Centre for Sustainability (Australian National Biocentre) for the past few years, due to our many common interests and goals. We hope that this year we can continue to support each other in our respective projects.

To find out more about the redevelopment, or to download the ROCKS Redevelopment Proposal, visit the ROCKS website at, or contact Gabrielle Breen on 0421 822 217 or


Back to Top


Unions and the Environment
This, the tenth paper in the Tela series, argues that the �jobs versus the environment� debate is misleading and flawed. The crisis in both unemployment levels and environmental degradation has been exacerbated by the tendency of corporations to overuse resources and underutilise labour. The authors examine the record of union action on environmental matters and assess the potential for developing �jobs and environment� tactics.

The authors are Verity Burgmann, of the University of Melbourne, with Colin McNaughton, Monash University and Jennifer Penney, Green Jobs Strategies, Canada.

The Tela series explores the relationships between the environment, economy and society. The series is an initiative of the Australian Conservation Foundation with each paper co-sponsored by another organisation. The second sponsor of �Unions and the Environment� published in June 2002, was the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

All Tela papers are available on

Every year about 1,700,000,000 tonnes of Portland cement are produced, a quarter of a tonne per person on earth. The conversion of chalk or limestone to cement releases a lot of carbon dioxide, and the energy needed to heat the kilns to 1450 oC releases still more. For every tonne of cement produced a tonne of CO2 enters the atmosphere, accounting for about seven percent of total man-made emissions.

John Harrison of Hobart thinks this can be changed. His firm TecEco has developed an �eco-cement� based on magnesium carbonate, which produces less CO2 and needs kilns operating at 650 o C. The resulting cement is more durable than the Portland variety, and during its �lifetime� will soak up CO2 at the rate of 0.4 tonnes per tonne of concrete. What is more, organic waste such as sawdust, plastic and rubber can be incorporated in the concrete, without it losing strength, locking away even more carbon.

New Scientist, 13 July 02

Smog Eaters
Car manufacturers Volvo and Nissan have started to coat car radiators with a catalyst that converts ozone to oxygen. Mitsubishi have found that a fine film of titanium dioxide on paving stones, walls and buildings speeds up the breakdown of nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhausts into nitrogen and oxygen.

In Japan, the coated paving stones are in use in over fifty towns. In Hong Kong, in areas where the paving has been installed, it is estimated that it removes up to 90 percent of the nitrogen oxides that trigger smog.

New Scientist, 13 July 02

Aeroplane Aerosols
Climate scientists have been puzzled as to why, when global temperatures have been rising over the last fifty years, rates of evaporation have been falling, and continue to do so. This puzzle was solved in the wake of the terrorist attack in the USA in September 2001, when 10,000 commercial aircraft were grounded for three days.

Scientists at the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting analysed American temperature records for the period. They found that the difference between the maximum and minimum temperatures increased by two degrees on the plane-free days, and decreased when flying was resumed.

Just like natural clouds, aerosols emitted by planes scatter light and reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. Although higher temperatures would increase evaporation, a reduction in sunlight reduces evaporation.

Australasian Science January/February 2003

Bird Baffler
Fishing firms operating out of the USA and Australia are interested in a sea-going scarecrow invented by New Zealander Keith Brady. The scarecrow, or baffler, has long arms, to widen the beam of a boat, and carries dangling red plastic cones. It takes only minutes to set up and can be left in place to do its job for the entire trip. Sea birds, confused by the baffler, remain out of harm�s way, not scavenging in the fishing gear trailing behind the vessel.

The Canberra Times, 23 December 2002

Back to Top