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Actions speak loudly

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday March 21, 2011

It is possible to make a difference, just ask Clean Up Australia Day's Ian Kiernan, writes Nick Galvin. In 1987, yachtsman Ian Kiernan sailed solo around the world. It was an extraordinary achievement but it was overshadowed by what Kiernan saw during his 156 days at sea.Almost everywhere, the oceans were full of pollution and rubbish.Rather than being overawed, the former builder decided to do something about it.In 1989, he organised the first Clean Up Sydney Harbour Day, inspiring more than 40,000 people to remove rubbish from in and around the harbour.Twenty-one years later, Clean Up Australia is the nation's largest community-based environmental event, annually mobilising armies of volunteers.It's an inspiring story that shows just what one determined person can do to make a big dent in a problem that seems overwhelming.EVERY BIT HELPSFrom pollution to deforestation and declining fish stocks to overpopulation, every day the news is full of stories of environmental problems. And above it all hovers the biggest threat of all - global warming. It's all too easy to throw up your hands in despair at the sheer scale of the problems, giving up before you even start. And it can make small, personal actions like recycling and composting seem pretty pointless. But they are not.WHERE TO STARTThink about how you interact with the environment, look at basic things such as how you travel to school and what you eat.For instance, do you mostly eat fruit and vegetables grown nearby or do you tend to go for packaged food from overseas? Are you driven to school when you could ride, walk or take public transport?Then you might consider your school community's impact on the environment, says Denise Boyd, from the Australian Conservation Foundation."For instance, does the school have a garden," she says. "Could they be growing some food and vegetables to eat in the school canteen or to be given to a local hospice?"Another point to consider is, does your school have water tanks and solar panels?COMMUNITIESHow can your school community team up with other schools, groups or businesses to reduce your combined impact on the environment?"When you scratch the surface you realise it's not just about you as an individual but it's about how you interact with your own and other communities," Boyd says. "We can share our ideas with people in other communities who may have found innovative ways to do things and what looks like a massive problem, like climate change or declining water supplies, suddenly looks more manageable."Of course, there are limits to what you can achieve personally or as a group and that is where politics comes in. "Start getting interested in what your local politicians have to say about what you are interested in," Boyd says.You could invite local politicians to speak at your school. "It should be a two-way conversation and you should be able to ask questions," Boyd says. "If you don't think that you have got a good answer and you don't agree with them, then that's OK and you can let them know that, as long as it is done respectfully."Visit to download Herald Education's free classroom activity based on this article. Suitable for Stages 3 to 5.CLEAN SWEEPThis year on Clean Up Australia Day (March 6) more than 500,000 volunteers turned out to collect more than 16,000 tonnes of rubbish, taking the total amount of junk cleaned up beyond 250,000 tonnes.SOME OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGNSTHE FRANKLIN DAMIn 1978, plans were announced to build a dam on Tasmania's Franklin River. After a five-year campaign that included mass letter writing, protests and a blockade, the dam was scrapped.THE MADRID PROTOCOLIn 1998, after pressure from Australia and other countries, the Madrid Protocol came into force declaring Antarctica off limits for any mining or mineral exploitation. It has been designated a "natural reserve, devoted to peace and science".SAVING THE OZONE LAYERThe ozone layer in the Earth's atmosphere absorbs much of the sun's ultraviolet rays and is vital to life on our planet. Chemicals called CFCs, used in fridges and aerosols, were seriously damaging the layer until an international treaty phased out the production of CFCs in the mid-1990s. Scientists now believe the ozone layer is repairing itself.GREEN BANSIn the 1970s, building unions helped save many historic parts of Sydney by refusing to work on the development projects. Among areas that were saved were The Rocks and large parts of the Botanic Gardens.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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