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article imageOp-Ed: Stay cool or die — Grim warnings in Australia, but solutions too

By Paul Wallis     Jan 24, 2021 in Environment
Sydney - Global warming is real enough when you’re trying to exist in 40C plus temperatures. In Australia, it’s now seen as a real physical threat, and people are looking at better options.
Australia is a hot place in summer. What’s new is the use of the word “uninhabitable” as a risk assessment. Projected future temperatures of 50C are unlikely to be funny. Previous heat waves have generated massive bushfires, warped rail tracks, and the actual heat has been unusual to say the least.
At this point, any ambiguity about climate change has long since ceased in the real world. Things are well past the point of any type of normality. The heat is amplifying a lot of well-known existing issues. In the Outback, heat does kill people, regularly. Kangaroos won’t even eat in extreme heat, because digestion wastes water. Water evaporates rapidly in the air. The rocky deserts store heat in the stone, creating sustained weather patterns fed by released heat.
The economic effects of serious heat are also tricky. Droughts, like the recent drought, the worst on record, even worse than the Great Depression drought, gutted agriculture. Added pressure on health services hardly helped.
The human effects aren’t exactly subtle. Opening a door in 40C plus heat is exactly like opening an oven door. Add to this zero humidity, and winds coming in off the deserts. Heat stress can be fatal. It can cause a range of problems, from heart stress to heat exhaustion. We’re talking about millions of people exposed to this level of risk.
Managing heat? It can be done.
That’s likely to change, so researchers are looking at a lot of different ways of managing the problems.
Some of the ideas proposed for Sydney are pretty practical:
• Light-reflecting roofs
• Painting roads with heat-reflecting materials
• Underground bunkers and supermarkets
• Heat risk rating system
• Increasing tree canopy
• Irrigation to support trees in cooling the environment (Some issues here.)
• More green space to counteract the heat sink effects of cities
• “Solar gardens” to deliver more power for air conditioning for lower income groups (Electricity in Australia is ridiculously overpriced.)
• Much better insulation for housing in general
• Heat mitigation resources for planners and developers
Problems with heat mitigation issues, quick overview
• Underground: The “underground” idea is an Australian classic. Coober Pedy in South Australia is an opal-mining town which is entirely underground. This solution works. The issue here is scale; how much of Australia could move underground? We’re talking about huge areas like western Sydney, where the heat is blocked by ocean breezes only about halfway to the city’s western outskirts. Western Sydney gets incredibly hot. The need is to focus on managing the large numbers of exposed people and infrastructure required. It’s doable, but only in an unknown timeframe.
• Trees and irrigation needs: This problem’s quite a bit easier. Micro-mist and drip irrigation can deliver water very efficiently without waste through evaporation. This is also the low-cost option.
• Green space: Almost a no-brainer. The old city layouts date back 200 years and creating green space while reconfiguring the old city infrastructure should be a top priority, particularly now.
• Water storage: Australia’s endless and endlessly ignored studies of water storage have shown that evaporation is one of the major causes of loss of stored water. Nothing at all has been done about that. Covered or underground storage is required, but of course that takes time. Storing an piping water from the monsoon season up north could also do a lot, as could rainwater harvesting.
• Managing heat from deserts: The rocky and sandy deserts are major heat sinks. They generate a lot of heat for long periods of time. Covering and insulating those regions would be a big job, but well worth it.
The politics of heat
The useless non-debate about climate change has achieved nothing. Nothing was done. This is the result. We have nations going underwater off our coasts, and serious risks from sea level rise for our major cities.
Political parties have found it expedient to follow the corporate line. Meanwhile, climate-related predictions have come true. Most of the predictions underestimated the speed of change and the effects.
The cumulated delays will have serious cost effects, economically and in terms of quality of life. What should be done should be done now, not 10 years down the track. We’ve already seen what a monster drought can do. The big bushfires in 2019 were truly catastrophic.
Is it really that hard to see the obvious? It seems to be. Australia’s politicians tend to follow, rather than lead. They’ll adapt foreign ideas for managing issues, but not local ideas. This may be peer pressure, or some other infantile response, but it’s quite useless and always too late in most cases.
Even at imbecile level, there’s no credible reason to delay taking proper pre-emptive action against proven future risks. The time available to waste has been wasted. There’s still no sense of urgency, let alone decisive action, coming from Canberra.
Put it this way – Any constructive measures taken now will be far cheaper and more effective than belated political prize-giving exercises in the future. Clear enough?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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