Congratulations on surviving the holidays.

If your life is anything like mine, the holidays hold the potential for exquisitely painful conversations with friends or relatives that don’t exactly share your world view. Climate-change deniers tend to seek me out at parties with eggnog on their breath and confrontation in their eyes.

A favorite greeting goes like this: “Hi, Mike. Happy holidays. Why should we in the US put our economy at risk to stop this so-called climate change when the rest of the world is doing nothing but buying cars and building power plants?”

This year, fortunately, I was hiding out in Australia for the holidays. And from what I could see, there is no debate about climate change Down Under.

Aussies “get” environmental stewardship. It helps that the coastal landscape is fabulously beautiful and 70% of the population lives within a boomerang’s toss of the surrounding oceans. And the many thousand unique plant and animal species on this isolated island continent are central to the national identity (see furry wallaby in photo above). And there’s that Great Barrier Reef out there . . .

But a travelling architect with eyes open can gather empirical evidence: I didn’t see a single incandescent light bulb anywhere. I looked. Every toilet I saw was dual-flush. Landscape plantings are drought-resistant, indigenous, and gorgeous. Outside the major cities, homes have signs on their fences that say “bore (well) water in use” or “tank (cisterned) water in use” so people don’t think their neighbors are sprinkling precious drinking water on the jacarandas. Everyone takes three-minute showers. Everyone recycles. Litter is non-existent. Cars are small. Public transportation is widespread and well-used.

And bear in mind: Australia is huge. Its land mass is 95% the size of the continental United States. It’s the world’s 12th largest economy. Its government is a messy constitutional monarchy with three Federal branches, a bicameral Parliament, a Prime Minister AND a queen, and six states with their own governments.

A recipe for gridlock and inaction? Nope. With pressure from recent catastrophic droughts, the threat of sea-level rise, and increasingly active citizens’ groups like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition andRising Tide Australia, the country’s leaders are listening. In 2012, Australia joined the EU and 37 countries at the Doha climate talks in agreeing to a second round of Kyoto greenhouse gas emission reductions. Australia joined China in becoming among the first nations in the world to enact a national carbon tax. called this decision one of 2012’s “strongest efforts to curtail climate change pollution”.

Naturally, Aussie Architects are on board as well. The Australian Institute of Architects is a charter-member of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, the nation’s most influential consortium of sustainability organizations. The Green Building Council of Australia, a non-profit membership-based organization, administers the Green Star rating system for buildings and communities that is “transforming Australia’s built environment”. While in Sydney, we walked by a big commercial office building with a “now leasing” sign that boasted about the property’s “3.5-Star NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) Energy rating”. (A national building energy rating system?? What would it take??)

And what did I just Tweet today? Rooftop-generated solar power in Australia is now less than half the cost of grid-source power. Why? Not because it’s sunny year-round in Adelaide (it’s not), but because the government offers Renewable Energy Certificates for residential rooftop PVs equal to about 68 cents per watt. Why? Because mainstreaming rooftop PVs lessens peak energy demands and reduces Australia’s national CO2 emissions.

In short: Australians are rightfully very concerned about global warming and sea level rise. They have modified their personal behavior accordingly, and have demanded that their government take action. And it has.

So there you go, mates. This is what Commitment really looks like. Aussies get it. We should, too.

This post originally appeared on the blog of Principal Mike Davis, FAIA.

Published Jan 08, 2013