Visitors to Australia are often drawn to Sydney and Melbourne or the fabulous beaches of Queensland's Gold Coast. I've always had a soft spot for Adelaide in South Australia, a city built on a human scale.
When I first visited in 1993, I met Mike Rann, a young aboriginal affairs minister in South Australia's Labor government, who later became party leader and then state premier in 2002. In 2003, he outlined ambitious plans to address climate change by moving South Australia into renewable energy.
He also introduced me to the Youth Conservation Corps. Young people in this program are trained to restore land overgrazed by sheep or cattle, plant trees and make wildlife inventories. Rann surprised me by dedicating 45 hectares of reforestation land as Suzuki Forest. I was impressed by the passion and eagerness of the young people, many of them street kids. They believed in what they were doing and it provided a small income to get them off the streets.
My Adelaide visit that year ended at the World of Music and Dance festival, or WOMAD. It's a marvelous annual event where I met Uncle Lewis O'Brien, a Kaurna elder who honoured me with the name Kaurna Mayu (mountain of a man).
Last March, I returned as a guest of WOMADelaide. To my delight, Uncle Lewis once again welcomed us to his country. I also met Ian Hunter, South Australia's environment minister, who boasted of his state's progress in renewable
energy. South Australia gets 40 per cent of its electricity from solar and wind and hopes to reach 50 to 60 per cent within a few years. From my hotel room, I looked down on a factory roof covered in rows of solar panels, which are now mounted on one of every four houses. I also returned to Suzuki Forest and was delighted at the variety and size of plants and trees, and the birds that now flourish among them.
Despite the impressive work in South Australia, most of the country is caught between the terrible reality of climate change — droughts, massive fires and dying reefs — and continued pressure to serve the economy by relying on fossil fuels, including recently approving the world's largest coal mine.
Australia — like much of the world — is in the throes of deciding whether to act seriously to reduce the threat of climate change. South Australia shows that many opportunities exist to do so.