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Solartaxi in Canberra: Washing Machines in a Spin08.02.2008

Tags: Australia       Comments: 0

Picture of the day


The Solar Taxi has arrived in Canberra, said to be the bike capital as well as the political capital of Australia. Louis Palmer doesn’t see many bikes, but he does discover some committed environmental activists who are using old washing machines to get their message across.


“Welcome to Australia’s bike capital. The temperature almost never drops below 10 degrees and almost never gets above 35 degrees Celsius here", says Andrew, who is helping us out in Canberra. We try out a stretch of Canberra’s 250 kilometres of bike path but I notice that we have it almost entirely to ourselves. "Most people drive to work, even if it’s only two kilometres away", says Andrew. "Then they get on their bikes in the evenings for fitness." CYCLISTS AND CLIMATE ACTIVISTSAndrew, an engineer, dreams of building a motorised solar-powered bike but the Australian bureaucracy is making his project impossible. "You can’t put a motor with more than 200 watts output on a bike and that’s much too little, so I’d rather stay on my mountain bike", he says. The state does however make sure that every cyclist wears a helmet. If the police find you riding a bike without one you’ll have to pay a fine of 50 dollars, or about 30 euros. In the evening Andrew drives the Solar Taxi up to the Parliament building, but a helmeted policeman on a bike chases us away. The law is the law. No stopping in front of Parliament allowed and that goes for the Solar Taxi too.

Sun And a Landscape Like a Postcard

An empty highway winds over the hills from Canberra to Cooma. It’s hard to believe this is Australia’s capital. Today the sun peeks through the clouds for the first time in days but despite the recent heaviest rains in five years, the landscape is still completely brown. In Cooma our hosts Cynthia and Rudi greet us with an ample barbeque and a caravan in the garden for us to sleep in. Next morning the road curves steeply down the Snowy Mountains through temperate rainforest to Pambula on the coast. My film crew is with me again for the first time since Sydney and the landscape we’re travelling through is as beautiful as a postcard. Erik, our filmmaker from Berlin, rejoined the team in Sydney and has also brought his girlfriend Laura along. Laura is a primate researcher working with orang-utans in Borneo and she’s also going to help us to make the film and track down kangaroos and koalas in Australia.

A Cyclone of Washing Machines

In Pambula we’re warmly welcomed to Karl and Lis’ house, where we can also replenish the Solar Taxi with solar energy from their garage roof. I’m invited to the local RSL (Returned Soldiers’ League) that evening to talk to the representatives of a unique citizens’ initiative. Lots of the people from the Merimbula and Bega area have got together to form a network called "Clean Energy For Eternity". Derek tells me that the whole thing got going through word of mouth and people encouraging others to join in. "The fireman, the local electrician, the logger from over the hill – lots of people wanted to take a stand and do something about climate change. We had a drought here for four years, the likes of which we’d never seen before. It was frightening! We wanted to do something."

Derek proudly shows me a calendar. "See that cyclone in the paddock? Those are 1,000 old washing machines that we found in the town and recycled and set up in form of a cyclone. The washing machine stands for cleanliness and the cyclone symbolises catastrophic climate change."

Fraser, a local councillor, adds, "We’re the first community in Australia to set the goal of halving energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2020. We’re also building a solar power plant as big as a football field and we want all the surf clubs in Australia to run on solar energy."



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