I know it was Earth Day recently in the USA. We're constantly aware of how we can make even more of a difference and I've been thinking about some things that the Aussies have been doing for years.
Shortly before we left the US, the larger grocery stores started selling those green reusable shopping bags. Before that, it was not really, um..appreciated, by check out operators at conventional grocery stores when we would take our own bags to use. Wild Oats, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, sure, but not the Albertsons etc. Those green bags have been in use in Australia for a decade or so. Even my Mum has been using them since they were introduced. There are even some shops here that will not automatically give you a plastic bag if you don't have your own bags - some places will sell you plastic bags, other places provide boxes from their deliveries for you to use.
When I moved to the US, I (and all of my Aussie friends and family) were shocked to find that there were no clothes lines in every backyard, as there is here. And to think I actually got used to the convenience of drying my clothes in the dryer makes me feel like a traitor. Since I've been back, I've been using the clothes line except when we have days and days of rain and we've pretty much run out of clean things to wear.
About a month ago I bought a front loading washing machine at a garage sale for $40. It worked well for a little while then pretty much died. It's ok, I got my money's worth out of it and discovered how wonderful it is to have my own washing machine in the gazebo without having to load everything up and go to the shared laundry and pay $4 per load to wash it and waste time hanging around waiting for it. So when the other machine died, I did some research and found a great deal on a new machine. They even delivered it, set it up and took the old one away. And because it's a water and energy efficient machine, the state govt is giving me a $200 rebate! They offer rebates on a lot of other water and energy saving purchases like rainwater tanks, dual-flush toilets (which have been in all new homes and public restrooms etc for, gee, I don't know..15 years maybe?), shower heads and other similar items.
While I'm mentioning public toilets, I have been really impressed with the shopping centers here who all have several 'parents rooms'. These have private areas for breastfeeding, as well as other chairs or lounges for feeding, or tending to children, change tables, often toys for toddlers/preschoolers to play with while Mum is taking care of the bub, and toilets - often with a "little toilet" as Nicholas likes to call them, as they have child sized toilets. Some have tv's and microwaves as well. Oh, and the shopping centers all seem to have parking just for parents with young children, indicated by a sign with a stroller on it, similar to the way parking for disabled folk is marked.
Ok, I'm getting off track here. Back on to how Aussies are generally pretty earth friendly. You'll see a lot of smaller cars here than you will in the US. Not as many big pick ups and SUV's. Hardly any actually. So petrol is more expensive here, as is the initial price of cars so that has some bearing on it too. Perhaps if those things were cheaper, you would see more of the excess that you do in the US. As a result of the same reasons, the majority of campers are smaller too.
Most homes do not have air con and it would be a rare thing to have reverse cycle ducted heat/cooling. When I was growing up here, in the winter we would put on extra layers and perhaps the gas heater in the evening until we went to bed. But that was a temperate winter, rarely falling below 0 degrees C overnight. In the summer, we would open the windows, maybe put on a box fan if there was no breeze, drink lots of water (or beer for some), get wet under the sprinkler or head out to the beach.
I am amazed by the number of people who have the same goal as us - to get our own bit of land and get self-sufficient, off the grid. I'm seeing more references to ways to be even more energy efficient in mainstream papers and mags when I flick through them while waiting in line at the grocery store or when at the library. Change is happening!