An elderly woman died
on Thursday night after being exposed to bushfire smoke on the tarmac at Canberra Airport.
Air pollution levels in Canberra over the past week have been the highest of any city on Earth – about 20 times the level deemed hazardous for human health. Relatives said the woman had just landed on a flight from Brisbane and suffered respiratory distress when she exited the aircraft.
This was the first recorded death linked to exposure to the toxic bushfire smoke blanketing densely populated urban areas. It won’t be the last
That this fire season, the most hellish the country has ever endured, is a product of catastrophic changes to our climate and ecosystem is undisputed
, despite Scott Morrison’s sickening she’ll-be-right downplaying of the whole thing.
But prolonged and intense fire seasons are not the only things to which we’ll have to adapt as climate change bites. (And it will bite, not matter what we do. Even if every nation was to meet its Paris targets that would merely prevent things getting worse – it wouldn’t undo the damage already done.)
Australians are going to have to get used to a new normal: a hotter, drier, less abundant continent. But as bleak as that sounds, the good news is that there are things we can do to adapt to a less hospitable environment.
Here’s how we can respond to some of the biggest challenges:
Longer and more intense fire seasons
Assuming that Morrison remains incapable or unwilling to take a leadership role on fire responses, the states, who are all far more progressive
than the federal government when it comes to climate change anyway, could professionalise the rural fire services, investing in training programs to transition workers from fossil fuel extraction jobs into fire mitigation and response roles.
We also must be putting First Australians in leadership roles when it comes to managing our ecosystems. As Nat Cromb in IndigenousX
writes about the fires:
“They are the consequence of failing to heed to warnings from First Nations all around this country, failure to indigenise land management and implement it with control of the First Nations that can read country.”
Poor air quality
Reducing the severity of the fire season through better and more proactive fire prevention will help reduce particulate matter in the air but drier, hotter conditions will mean more fires regardless.
The government should also consider introducing a national rebate scheme to encourage all individuals and businesses to purchase air purifiers for homes and offices. Air purifiers can be effective at filtering particulate matter
out of the air, although they’re unsurprisingly hard to find at the moment.
Increased temperatures and heatwaves
We might not be able to stop it getting hotter, but we can be smarter about how we respond to the heat.
Houses and multi-dwelling developments should be designed to maximise insulation and reflect heat, provide green space like rooftop gardens to give shade and produce oxygen, and use water features to cool common areas. The National Construction Code must reflect this
We also need to cool our cities.
Councils have a huge role to play here by reducing traffic flows, decarbonising public transport, creating and maintaining more public parks, planting more trees to provide natural shade and installing more public water bubblers.
Hotter conditions also mean that we need to rethink our work lives. Not only should there be no outside work of any kind during the hottest times of the day, we could consider this crisis an opportunity to explore a move to a four-day working week and more flexible working arrangement for all workers.
If you’ve read Dark Emu
(and you really should have by now because it is superb) you’ll understand how important First Australians’ management of the land was for their agricultural success, and just how destructive the introduction of European techniques, crops and livestock have been to the Australian ecosystem.
Even before the climate began to change our continent, the driest on Earth, was not suited to growing cotton and rearing cattle, both of which are hugely water intensive. Agriculture like this must be dramatically wound back and we must leverage the knowledge of First Australians to transition to an agricultural economy based on native species
And while there’s not much we can do about the rain, there is a lot we can do about how we manage water, including wasting less and capturing and recycling more
, especially in cities where most water is wasted and most rain runs off into the ocean.
of the global reaction to Australia’s bushfire crisis shows just how out-of-touch the Morrison government is, while this piece
from The Intercept
is a fascinating insight into the terrifying choices faced by one holidaying family caught in the panic.