“Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians all understand that by lowering a flag we acknowledge that something has died or that something is dying. It is a symbol of mourning. There are so many people who are feeling anguish.”
An Aboriginal woman from Victoria is hoping that First Nations people and organisations around the nation will join her university in flying Indigenous flags at half mast, to acknowledge the grief Aboriginal people are feeling at the destruction of Country from Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.
Associate Professor Gabrielle Fletcher is a Gundungurra woman from the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. She’s also a Professor in Indigenous Studies and the Director of the Institute for Koorie Education at Deakin University in Melbourne.
“To lose Country, in this way, is a particular grief for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s a messy grief,” Associate Professor Fletcher told New Matilda.
“It’s more in sorrow than anger, it’s mourning. You could say it’s ‘Sorry business’ in a way.
“As a collective, this symbolic gesture may provide somewhere for all Australians to leave parts of this despair.
“It’s also a reflection of the immense grief of guilt where we feel a kind of irresponsible helplessness – our sense of the abandonment of our cultural obligations to Care for Country.”
Deakin University is already flying the Aboriginal flag at half mast today, after a request from Associate Professor Fletcher this week to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Iain Martin, with the gesture receiving “overwhelming” support from Deakin faculty and students.
Professor Fletcher is hoping it might spread across the nation, and that “these lowered symbolic fabrics become the message sticks for urgent change”.
“Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians all understand that by lowering a flag we acknowledge that something has died or that something is dying. It is a symbol of mourning. There are so many people who are feeling anguish.”
Assoc Prof Fletcher said the scale of the loss felt by First Nations people was enormous, and it wasn’t just restricted to the land and its animals.
“Country moves beyond landscape, allotment, vista or wildlife as stand-alone components. It is also place, Ancestors, shadows, mist, warble, maps and vapour,” she said.
“When Aboriginal People lose Country to this scale we lose Knowledge, Ways, Forms, Spirit and Healing – these are a complex interconnection, where everything has its place to teach, feel, show and speak.
“With each loss we slip further away from understanding who we are, and how we fit – this is the ultimate death in many respects.”
Assoc Prof Fletcher acknowledged there were some positives to come out of the fire crisis, beyond waking people up to the realities our nation faces.
“People are starting to recognise and acknowledge the validity and value of Indigenous Knowledges, and ways of knowing, being and doing. It’s been an uncomfortable discovery for some.”
Assoc Prof Fletcher hopes that other organisations follow suit and lower their Aboriginal flags in the aftermath of the bushfire emergency.
“I think this action symbolically describes the collective realisation that we’ve lost so much more than what can be seen and is a true wake-up call.” Professor Fletcher said.
“On behalf of the Institute of Koorie Education, I thank Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin for his support in this unprecedented gesture.”
If you’re supporting this story on social media, please use the hashtag: #HalfMastForMyCountry
Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.
At least 80% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area and more than 50% of the Gondwana world heritage rainforests have burned in Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.
The scale of the disaster is such that it could affect the diversity of eucalypts for which the Blue Mountains world heritage area is recognised, said John Merson, the executive director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute.
The data is based on a Guardian Australia analysis of areas burned in New South Wales and Queensland and was confirmed by the NSW government.
Guardian Australia reported in December that 20% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area had been affected by fire in the early months of the crisis.
Four times that amount has now burned in what Merson said were fires of a scale that “has never happened before”.
“This is totally, totally unique. As everybody keeps saying, it’s unprecedented,” he said.
The Blue Mountains world heritage area covers one million hectares of national park and bushland and is dominated by temperate eucalypt forest.
The area is renowned for the diversity of its vegetation and is home to about a third of the world’s eucalypt species.
While most are fire-adapted and can regenerate, many of the species depend on long intervals between fires, Merson said.
“We had a very large fire in 2013. It’s only six years after that,” he said.
“The eucalypts can be very badly reduced in diversity if fires come through in too short and intense intervals. Their numbers will virtually collapse.”
He said the full impact on tree species and wildlife would not be known until more assessments were done as fire grounds became accessible.
But there are concerns about the effect on breeding and feeding habitats for species including the spotted-tail quoll and the brush-tailed rock-wallaby.
The fires have also burnt swamp communities that release water slowly and are important water resources. They flow into streams that feed into Sydney’s water supply and provide water for wildlife.
It was revealed this week that a rescue mission by NSW fire crews was able to save the only known natural grove of Wollemi pines, so-called “dinosaur trees” that fossil records show existed up to 200m years ago.
Merson said the fires had entered areas that had not burnt previously and the need for the rescue mission was indicative of the intensity of the fires in the region.
Play Video0:55 Prehistoric Wollemi pines saved by firefighters from Australia’s bushfires – video
Graham said his area had experienced some rain in recent weeks but there were now concerns that sediment washed into the Bellinger River has affected the food sources for the critically endangered Bellinger River snapping turtle.
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said understanding the impact of the fires on both world heritage areas was a priority.
“Analysis will improve as the forests becomes safe to enter and the smoke clears, enabling accurate satellite and aerial imagery to help guide our assessment and on work on ground,” he said.
He said both regions contained a mixture of forest types, some of which was adapted for fire, but others that were more sensitive to fire, such as dense rainforest.
Jess Abrahams, the nature campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation, said climate change was hitting Australia’s world heritage areas “very hard”.
“We have witnessed consecutive years of devastating coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, while global heating has been described as a catastrophic risk to the Wet Tropics and Shark Bay world heritage areas,” he said.
“It’s really upsetting to see how much of the Blue Mountains world heritage area has been burnt.
“This is a place many Australians know and love. It has significant Indigenous cultural values and is home to a number of rare and threatened species.”
Photo: Penrith farmlands in December 2009: From Farmlands to Suburbia in 10 Years
TEMPERATURES rise dramatically in urban environments during heat waves from the west.
Compounded by thermal mass and poor city design.
PENRITH has become hotter because of the thermal mass from overdevelopment … the “heat island effect”.
Collecting not only pollution but all the heat from the entire city of Sydney in a basin bounded to the east by the Pacific Ocean and to the south, west and north by elevated terrain.
AND … it is evident that Penrith is becoming a thermal mass wasteland due to the higher density rezoning, motorways, airport construction along with the removal of trees (less than 6% of the Cumberland Plain Woodland remains!), and loss of farmlands …. vegetation!
SUSTAINABILITY would be about adapting … following this disaster of overdevelopment … some might go as far to say that Sydney needs to be bulldozed … redesigned once the awfulizers, the mafia of developers are done with Sydney and run off with Billions in their pockets.
The image from April 2018 shows the completed construction with rows of identical homes. Photo: Nearmap.com.au
BUSHFIRE and NATURAL HAZARDS CRC
“Heatwaves are dangerous and have killed more people in Australia than all other climate related disasters combined.
Urban environments are considered especially vulnerable to heatwaves due to the Urban Heat Island effect. Increasing death rates from heatwaves are predicted to become one of Australia’s most detrimental impacts of climate change (IPPC 2014) with major implications for emergency services and public policy development.
The catastrophic dimensions of heatwave mortality are not spread evenly across society but are concentrated among specific population groups. Older people, especially women, are overrepresented in heatwave related excess mortality statistics internationally.
Using a critical perspective, this paper aims to present a literature review exploring current research on social vulnerability of older women during urban heatwaves. It will illustrate how heatwave vulnerability is largely socially constructed through the intersection of deeply entrenched gender inequality with systemic socio-economic disadvantage.
The review will highlight the need for heatwave intervention to be guided by a social justice perspective, to avoid older, poorer women becoming the shock absorbers of the climate crisis.
This paper is part of my PhD research project at Monash University:
‘Denaturalising heatwaves: gendered social vulnerabilities in urban heatwaves and the use of public cool spaces as a primary heat health measure’. The research has ethics approval.”
‘ … … I hope it’ll recover. I hope that Indigenous knowledge & expertise takes precedence in the forward management of natural environments. This requires Indigenous people & systems leading the process, not being tacked on, or our knowledges excerpted & cropped into failing models ‘
Strength from perpetual grief: how Aboriginal people experience the bushfire crisis
Jessica WeirSenior Research Fellow, Western Sydney University
Vanessa CavanaghAssociate Lecturer, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong
How do you support people forever attached to a landscape after an inferno tears through their homelands: decimating native food sources, burning through ancient scarred trees and destroying ancestral and totemic plants and animals?
The fact is, the experience of Aboriginal peoples in the fire crisis engulfing much of Australia is vastly different to non-Indigenous peoples.
Colonial legacies of eradication, dispossession, assimilation and racism continue to impact the lived realities of Aboriginal peoples. Added to this is the widespread exclusion of our peoples from accessing and managing traditional homelands. These factors compound the trauma of these unprecedented fires.
As Australia picks up the pieces from these fires, it’s more important than ever to understand the unique grief Aboriginal peoples experience. Only through this understanding can effective strategies be put in place to support our communities to recover.
Aboriginal peoples live with a sense of perpetual grief. It stems from the as-yet-unresolved matter of the invasion and subsequent colonisation of our homelands.
While there are many instances of colonial trauma inflicted upon Aboriginal peoples – including the removal of children and the suppression of culture, ceremony and language – dispossession of Country remains paramount. Dispossessing people of their lands is a hallmark of colonisation.
Australian laws have changed to partially return Aboriginal peoples’ lands and waters, and Aboriginal people have made their best efforts to advocate for more effective management of Country. But despite this, the majority of our peoples have been consigned to the margins in managing our homelands.
Oliver Costello is chief executive of Firesticks Alliance, an Indigenous-led network that aims to re-invigorate cultural burning. As he puts it:
Since colonisation, many Indigenous people have been removed from their land, and their cultural fire management practices have been constrained by authorities, informed by Western views of fire and land management.
In this way, settler-colonialism is not historical, but a lived experience. And the growing reality of climate change adds to these anxieties.
It’s also important to recognise that our people grieve not only for our communities, but for our non-human relations. Aboriginal peoples’ cultural identity comes from the land.
As such, Aboriginal cultural lives and livelihoods continue to be tied to the land, including landscape features such as waterholes, valleys and mountains, as well as native animals and plants.
The decimation caused by the fires deeply impacts the existence of Aboriginal peoples and in the most severe hit areas, threatens Aboriginal groups as distinct cultural beings attached to the land. As The Guardian’s Indigenous affairs editor Lorena Allam recently wrote:
Like you, I’ve watched in anguish and horror as fire lays waste to precious Yuin land, taking everything with it – lives, homes, animals, trees – but for First Nations people it is also burning up our memories, our sacred places, all the things which make us who we are.
For Aboriginal people then, who live with the trauma of dispossession and neglect and now, the trauma of catastrophic fire, our grief is immeasurably different to that of non-Indigenous people.
Bushfire recovery must consider culture
As we come to terms with the fires’ devastation, Australia must turn its gaze to recovery. The field of community recovery offers valuable insights into how groups of people can come together and move forward after disasters.
But an examination of research and commentary in this area reveals how poorly non-Indigenous Australia (and indeed, the international field of community recovery) understands the needs of Aboriginal people.
The definition of “community” is not explicitly addressed, and thus is taken as a single socio-cultural group of people.
But research in Australia and overseas has demonstrated that for Aboriginal people, healing from trauma – whether historical or contemporary – is a cultural and spiritual process and inherently tied to land.
The culture-neutral standpoint in community recovery research as yet does not acknowledge these differences. Without considering the historical, political and cultural contexts that continue to define the lives of Aboriginal peoples, responses to the crisis may be inadequate and inappropriate.
Resilience in the face of ongoing trauma
The long-term effects of colonisation has meant Aboriginal communities are (for better or worse) accustomed to living with catastrophic changes to their societies and lands, adjusting and adapting to keep functioning.
Experts consider these resilience traits as integral for communities to survive and recover from natural disasters.
In this way, the resilience of Aboriginal communities fashioned through centuries of colonisation, coupled with adequate support, means Aboriginal communities in fire-affected areas are well placed to not only recover, but to do so quickly.
This is a salient lesson for agencies and other non-government organisations entrusted to lead the disaster recovery process.
The community characteristics that enable effective and timely community recovery, such as close social links and shared histories, already exist in the Aboriginal communities affected.
The agency in charge of leading the recovery in bushfire-affected areas must begin respectfully and appropriately. And they must be equipped with the basic knowledge of our peoples’ different circumstances.
It’s important to note this isn’t “special treatment”. Instead, it recognises that policy and practice must be fit-for-purpose and, at the very least, not do further harm.
10 Thankfully no one was hurt here & it’s not where we currently live thus have the comforts of home, & knowing that others are not so lucky. I Shared this experience with my kids & their cousin who was evacuated from his home on sth cst. Son asked if the bush will grow back
11 I hope it’ll recover. I hope that Indigenous knowledge & expertise takes precedence in the forward management of natural environments. This requires Indigenous people & systems leading the process, not being tacked on, or our knowledges excerpted & cropped into failing models
If agencies and non-government organisations responsible for leading the recovery from these fires aren’t well-prepared, they risk inflicting new trauma on Aboriginal communities.
The National Disability Insurance Agency offers an example of how to engage with Aboriginal people in culturally sensitive ways. This includes thinking about Country, culture and community, and working with each community’s values and customs to establish respectful, trusting relationships.
The new bushfire recovery agency must use a similar strategy. This would acknowledge both the historical experiences of Aboriginal peoples and our inherent strengths as communities that have not only survived, but remain connected to our homelands.
In this way, perhaps the bushfire crisis might have some positive longer-term outcomes, opening new doors to collaboration with Aboriginal people, drawing on our strengths and values and prioritising our unique interests.
The Conversation serves society by making knowledge accessible to everyone, not just a select few. Our only agenda is a better informed public. If you care about what we do please make a donation now and help secure our future.
*The move has sparked demands from Labor, the Greens and independent MPs for the government to protect households from higher water bills to fund the expansion, given it stands to pocket $2.5 billion in dividends from Sydney Water between 2018 and 2021.
*“This is money that should have been directed to major water recycling projects, water efficiency and fixing the * city’s leaking pipes,” independent upper house MP Justin Field said.
Water Minister Melinda Pavey, who has said it is important to minimise customer bills, said on Thursday that an increase in bills “has to be a consideration”.
“If you’re building infrastructure, it does have an impact on bills,” she told ABC Radio.
Stuart Khan, a water expert at the University of NSW, agreed consumers would inevitably face higher bills to cover the cost of the expansion and ongoing operation of the plant.
The government has asked the state’s pricing regulator to investigate prices needed over the longer term to recover the capital cost of expanding the desalination plant.
*Professor Khan said the expansion was the “right way to go”, given the $2.3 billion investment in the plant a decade ago when it was built.
“We have already laid the ground work for it. The expansion of the desalination plant is the only realistic option at this point,” he said.
*A significant increase in the amount of water pumped from the Shoalhaven, south of Sydney, was expensive and energy intensive, given the large distance and topography, while recycling water from treatment plants was a longer-term option, he said.
While the plant could be expanded within about a year if Sydney was about to run dry, Professor Khan said it was likely to take about two years to complete.
Greens upper house MP Cate Faehrmann said the need to turn to desalination options had arisen because of the government’sreluctance to introduce tougher water restrictions and to look at broader water recycling options last year, when it was warned of an impending water crisis.
The Berejiklian government will fast-track an expansion of Sydney’s desalination plant, which will double it in sizeto provide more than 30 per cent of the city’s drinking water.
With dam levels dropping to 43 per cent on Wednesday, NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey has directed the operators of the plant to prepare for an expansion “as quickly as practicable”.
Ms Pavey said the expansion of the plant in Kurnell, in Sydney’s south, was a “key element in protecting Sydney’s water security”.
“The expansion of the plant should be undertaken as quickly as practicable and in a prudent and efficient manner to deliver at least an additional 250 megalitres of drinking water per day averaged over a 12-month period,” Ms Pavey said.
Ms Pavey said securing water supplies for the city was critical.
“We need to be as prepared as we can so we aren’t left flat-footed should this drought continue – which is why we are looking at this as one of Sydney’s insurance policies,” she said.
“We have never seen dam levels drop this fast in Sydney, so we need to move as fast to shore up our supply.”
The pricing regulator has also been asked to investigate the pricing impact of the expansion, as dam levels dropped to 43.1 per cent on Wednesday.
*In a letter to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), Ms Pavey said the desalination expansion was touted in the state government’s 2017 metropolitan water plan.
Ms Pavey said it was important to ensure water bills do not rise. “We need to make sure we do this in a prudent and transparent way to minimise customer bills which is why I have written to IPART to do this review,” she said.
But the expansion will come three years earlier than anticipated in that plan, the blueprint for water in Greater Sydney that was developed before the crippling drought.
The plan says “stage 2 detailed planning” for the expansion of the plant should start when dam levels drop to 45 per cent and construction should start when levels are as low as 35 per cent.
The total water storage across greater Sydney is at 43.1 per cent, but dams are depleting at a faster rate than during the Millennium Drought, when levels plummeted to 33.8 per cent in February 2007.
“Sydney’s desalination plant can be increased in size if water supplies need a significant boost in the future,” the plan says.
“In the unlikely event that the region experiences an extreme drought, the capacity of the desalination plant can be doubled. This will increase water production from 90 billion to 180 billion litres a year.”
The plan says there are a “series of trigger levels for augmenting the Sydney Desalination Plant”.
“This staged approach means that the final decision to construct the augmented plant can be delayed until absolutely necessary, allowing time for it to rain and the dam levels to recover.”
A government source said it was likely a desalination plant would also be built in the Illawarra.
HYDROPANELS will eliminate the need for prohibitively expensive AND ENVIRONMENTALLY damaging plants for Desalinated Water …
FOR anyone who questions the viability of water produced by HYDROPANELS … this comment from a CAAN Contributor:
‘My dehumidifier is producing litres of water with humidity over 80% (atm 84% 10 January 2020) it needs to be on. I am putting it on the garden. Free water.’
SHARE to ensure WE keep what remains of our family budgets and quality of life in Australia … so that we maintain our independence from the Harbourside Huxters, the Banksters and pollies having signed an ‘historic’ memorandum of understanding on water cooperation back in November 2019 between Israel and NSW … that appears to have been set up by Baird back in 2016!
PLEASE FORWARD this to your local MPs and Political Party Candidates …
View: A ‘historic’ memorandum of understanding on water cooperation was signed this week between Israel and New South Wales.
Water is one of the world’s most precious resources.
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HOW TO FIND WATER WHEN YOU’RE STUCK IN THE DESERT
US-based company Zero Mass Water creates Source hydropanels that use sunlight and air to produce drinking water, and regional towns throughout Australia have been tapping into its benefits.
Zero Mass Water founder and CEO Cody Friesen told Business Insider Australia the idea was to create “the world’s first fully disintermediated, infrastructure-free source of water” which doesn’t require electricity or a pipe input.
When coming up with the hydropanels, Friesen said the company started to think about how it can apply the principles of renewable energy – using local resources and sunlight to produce things in a sustainable way – and how it can do for water what solar did for electricity.
“What we end up with inside of SOURCE hydropanels is effectively distilled water,” he said. “We’re distilling that water vapour off of those materials and we make absolutely pure water.”
Inside the panels, the water goes through a mineral block which adds minerals such as calcium and magnesium to give the water a “soft mouthfeel” and a “crisp finish”.
Friesen said it takes roughly 15 minutes to set up the panel and after about a half an hour it will start producing drinkable water.
He added that for the first time, the panels are “making renewable water that doesn’t invoke an extractive process and [is] not taking water from somebody else.”
Friesen, who did his PhD in materials science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), explained that his background is in renewable energy. He said that when people talk about renewables, a lot of them focus on renewable electricity.
“I think everybody, when they say renewable energy, what they really mean is renewable electricity,” he said. “But the reality is that only about 20% of the global energy mix [goes into] electricity. 80% is transportation and embedded energy in the stuff we buy, the food we eat and the water we drink.”
And what exactly is embedded energy? Friesen uses the example of a drinking glass.
“It started out as sand, the sand had to be refined, melted, made into glass beads and then eventually formed into this glass. So all of that supply chain and all that transportation, all the things that were happening, that’s energy at each of the steps.”
Friesen added, “In fact, the embedded energy in the food we eat is far bigger than [our] electricity needs. The embedded energy in water is huge.”
Friesen explained there’s a deep connection between energy and water – for example, the use of desalination plants which remove salt from water to make it drinkable. But in order for people to become more resilient in terms of climate change, companies like Zero Mass Water “have to get much more aggressive about decoupling traditional energy sources from our water.”
Zero Mass Water in Australia
Source Hydropanels are available in 34 countries including Australia.
Zero Mass Water has installed panels regional and rural areas in Australia including Murrurundi in New South Wales and Thulimbah, 15km north of Stanthorpe in Queensland. It also has them at schools such as the Cunnamulla State School in Queensland.
In addition to that, the company has worked with Indigenous communities such as those on Stradbroke Island – also known by the Indigenous name Minjerribah. Zero Mass Water installed an array of 30 panels at the Island’s community centre, which will produce more than 3000 litres of water a month.
Friesen believed the Source panels aren’t just a sustainable way of getting clean water, but also a way to reduce plastic and protect Indigenous land.
“Minjerribah is a World Heritage Site, a beautiful preserved island right there off of Brisbane – and yet tourists show up and they buy bottled water, and then you have a plastics problem,” Friesen said.
“So honouring Indigenous peoples is not just about going in to see their land and their places, but also in returning in some way to a more sustainable way forward. More sustainable doesn’t mean less, necessarily. More sustainable means making decisions and using the technology at our fingertips to… make progress.”
In 2019, Aussie NBA basketball player Patty Mills partnered with Zero Mass Water to donate panels to remote Indigenous communities. Mills’ organisation, The Community Water Project, together with National Basketball Players Association and Australian Indigenous Basketball brought hydropanel arrays to six remote communities in Australia.
Friesen speaks passionately about supporting Indigenous communities through this technology. Upon winning the 2019 $US500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention, he said at the time he would donate it to a Conservation International project that provides clean drinking water to a community in Colombia using Source Hyrdopanels.
“I set out to develop a technology that really would provide social equity and ultimately lift people up,” Friesen said. “And now for us, our ability to do that in a real way is, you know, awesome.”
While Friesen doesn’t see Zero Mass Water as having competitors per se, he said its “incumbents” are bottled water, filtration and rainwater catchment systems.
“Our vision is to perfect water for every person, every place,” Friesen said. “We have the technology that entitles us to that crazy vision. The technology can do that. Now it’s about us executing.”
LOOKS like the ‘Western Sydney Burn’ is a consequence of very pooor policies …
WITH high thermal mass from high-rise Precincts … the so-called ‘Smart Cities’ for developers coffers to overflow and NSW INC collecting stamp duty taxes …
Dr Sebastian Pfautsch:
“I wouldn’t be surprised to find 50-plus degrees somewhere in Penrith this summer, because the weather station has already recorded 48.3, and that’s at the weather station site. We could see 52, 53, 54 degrees in some locations, just because of the way that the urban matrix is configured, where you have very little green space, where you have retained heat that helps to accelerate and accumulate heatwave temperatures.”
Extreme measures: An ecologist’s urban sensors show us just how hot Western Sydney is getting
Dr Sebastian Pfautsch is working with Penrith City Council to quantify temperatures in what is fast becoming one of the world’s hottest cities. His hope? An urgent change in the way we design our cities.
Foreground: You graduated from the University of Freiburg, Germany, in 2007 with a Phd in Forest Ecosystem Science.
How does someone interested in forest ecology end up installing heat sensors in the city?
Sebastian Pfautsch: My specialty is understanding trees and their water transport system, and therefore their cooling capacity, in relation to climate change, summer drought and heatwaves. Now I’m using all this fundamental knowledge to apply it to the real world; going out and installing temperature sensors in trees, to compare how different species can help reduce urban heat.
We started with this research looking at tree canopies in early learning centres for kids. We looked at the amount and quality of shade in those outdoor play spaces, which can influence the amount of time you can spend outside. We know that climate change conditions mean that you have hotter summers. That in itself creates a problem when you want to play outdoors, because you have less time available to you; you can only play in the early morning and maybe in the late afternoon, when it’s cooled down again. If you design a play space with no shade or the wrong materials, then you create a place that cannot be used for long. In the morning it heats up very quickly, stores the heat throughout the day and only cools down very slowly in the afternoon and early evening. So you then create a problem on top of climate warming where you have even less time available for the kids to engage in play and exercise.
That small project exploded into full-scale research programs called ‘Cool Schools’ and ‘Cool Playgrounds’. I also look at car parks and all sorts of different locations in urban space where trees may not exist, to find strategies to cool these places down. In playgrounds I measure up to 100 degrees Celsius surface temperature. In car parks I see up to 80 degrees surface temperature. And of course, that layer of bitumen in the carparks has a huge thermal mass and only re-radiates the heat very slowly, contributing to the Urban Heat Island Effect, most notably at night.
Foreground:How do trees’ water transport systems help to cool urban spaces?
Sebastian Pfautsch: Evaporative cooling happens during that physical transformation from the liquid state of water to the gaseous state of water. That transformation, which takes place in the leaf, uses energy. This energy is provided by solar radiation. So, when water is transpired from a leaf, the leaf is cooled, and this cooling helps to bring air temperatures down. That is the cooling benefit you get when the tree has water to support transpiration.
Heat becomes an issue in summer, and during this time we also have very little water available. That means trees shut down their transpiration stream to preserve water, so they don’t suffer from what we call hydraulic collapse. The water menisci that span from the roots, where trees take up water from the soil, to the leaves, where they transpire, are like little rubber bands. The hotter the air and the less water in the soil, the harder is the pull. You can stretch the menisci, but if you overstretch, they snap. It’s very difficult for a tree to repair that damage, so for prevention they just shut down transpiration, therefore don’t lose any more water. But for urban space that of course also means that evaporative cooling stops. Shading is then the only benefit that you get.
Now, take the whole greater Sydney basin at the moment. It’s absolutely bone dry out there. That means you have very, very little benefit from evaporative cooling, which has far reaching implications, much more than local shade, as evaporative cooling cools the air and not just the surface. Therefore, evaporative cooling is reaching far beyond your actual tree.
*Foreground: Is the solution to urban heat problems simply planting more trees?
*Sebastian Pfautsch: No. At the moment, it’s the Premier’s priority to get five million trees into the Greater Sydney Basin by 2030. Well, planting five million trees is very difficult, just to find the space, but keeping them alive to develop a large crown is even more difficult. Then knowing if we run into dry summers, they will just not provide any transpirative cooling benefits. It raises a lot of questions. Just think about what it means to grow these additional trees under the current water restrictions. Every new tree in the ground is super, but tackling urban heat requires more.
*We know that green infrastructure is vital when you want to provide a livable climate for a place like Western Sydney. Without trees, summer heat just becomes unbearable. In the new developments out West, you have blocks that are nearly completely covered by houses with black roofs. There’s simply no space to grow a meaningful canopy. This situation means we need to rethink how we plan, build and live. *
*Foreground:So it’s fair to say you’re less than enthusiastic about the way Western Sydney is currently developing?
Sebastian Pfautsch: Just look into other countries where traditionally you had hot climates. People would never ever put a black roof on their house. It’s just completely opposite from what logic would tell you. I’m doing quite a bit of research using thermal cameras on unmanned aerial vehicles, drones. You can just see these black roof constructions everywhere. It’s a fashion more than any understanding of what’s actually happening to your microclimate when you build like that. The house heats up much quicker, it stores more heat, and because you have no space for trees, there is little natural cooling.
You end up with a large electricity bill because you need to run the air conditioning a lot. As everyone is doing exactly that, the additional heat vented from A/C systems does certainly not help to cool your suburb.
*There is cool roof technology available. You can have whatever roof material you want and then just paint it in this reflective paint that reduces the absorption of infrared radiation. We’re using this type of technology also on roads and car parks these days. So, this stuff is available, but nobody out west is putting it on. *
Foreground:Tell us a little bit about your work with Penrith City Council. What’s driving this project?
Sebastian Pfautsch: Penrith is the hottest place in the greater Sydney area. They only have one weather station available to them, which is out at the Sailing and Regatta Stadium, so it’s close to water plus a lot of open green space. And that’s where the official measurements for temperature for Penrith come from. I know from my previous studies with Parramatta, Cumberland, Campbelltown, that once you move away from those weather stations and you get into urban space, where you have hard surfaces, buildings, traffic, and so on, you have very different temperatures. We saw that you could have discrepancies of up to 22 more days above 40 degrees recorded in urban space compared to a weather station from the Bureau of Meteorology.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find 50-plus degrees somewhere in Penrith this summer, because the weather station has already recorded 48.3, and that’s at the weather station site. We could see 52, 53, 54 degrees in some locations, just because of the way that the urban matrix is configured, where you have very little green space, where you have retained heat that helps to accelerate and accumulate heatwave temperatures. I recorded a heatwave in Campbeltown at the end of last year where you had nine consecutive days above 38 degrees, from the 25th of December to the second of January 2019. And that was last year, which wasn’t an extraordinarily hot summer. But this coming summer might be.
We are excited to get to show some of our research at the Cooling the City Masterclass event. Our research and the event are parts of the larger strategy by Penrith Council to raise awareness around the serious impacts heat has on so many aspects of urban life.
Foreground:What are you hoping to achieve with your Penrith project?
*Sebastian Pfautsch: To really wake people up, make them aware of the dangerous levels of heat we are already exposing ourselves to, and then use that information to have a go at how we build in the West. Because once they see the evidence, people will hopefully start to think about what they’re locking themselves into.
*The way we develop western Sydney at the moment can’t continue. All of these developments use the same principle of squeezing as many free-standing houses as possible into a limited space.
CAAN: THE Greenfields Housing Code of lots as tiny as 200M2 X 6M wide and the Medium Density Housing Code with as many as 10 terraces on a 600M2 lot! Bigger profits for developers … with a large client base from overseas ,,,
*Sebastian Pfautsch:Where space is very expensive, you chop it up into little blocks. You have very little space left for gardens or communal green space. You have lots of space that you plaster with concrete or bitumen. You provide, for example, walkways in each of those new developments, on both sides of the streets. But nobody’s walking there anymore – it’s too hot!
So why do we need two sides with walkways? Could we just have one, and then make the other green again?
The data that we collected for Cumberland is already used to inform their master plan and the development control plan. Campbelltown is using the findings from the report that I presented to them for their strategic planning.
I would like to see councils starting to advertise ‘cool zones’, urban areas dominated by green infrastructure. I put this in these reports as a recommendation, to increase public awareness of the cooling value of parks and other green space.
Foreground:So how would we go about getting more water into the landscape in these urban environments?
Sebastian Pfautsch: There’s a big push towards water sensitive urban design and opening up surfacesinstead of providing more and more impervious surfaces.
*You can do that for example in carparks and driveways by using compacted sandstone or other porous materials instead of bitumen, which allows water to seep through and become available for plants.
In the middle of streets, you can have green spaces and angle the street towards those green spaces, so that when you have water runoff, it actually flows into the areas where you want to grow plants, including trees. Currently runoff flows to the curb and down the drainage system.
Of course, we very quickly run into problems again when it comes to regulations, because road safety, for example, is a big issue when planting trees. There are certain minimum distances that you have to keep. So it’s very difficult to shade a four lane street with big canopy trees. Yet we know that streets are contributing massively to the Urban Heat Island Effect. These are issues that we need to talk about. We need people to have a solid understanding of the current situation, its complexity, and then start to move towards informed decisions that provide real cooling.
*We want to settle another 1.8 million people out in Western Sydney. There’s a clear conflict for water. But I keep saying we just need to think smarter about how we keep that water in Western Sydney. Sponge city is a nice graphic word for this way of thinking. On average, we still get seven to eight hundred millimetres of annual rainfall in the Sydney basin. Climate change predictions say that this overall amount will not change.
*Now we need to find ways to keep the water where it falls instead of channeling it out of the city. That would mean with 800 millimetres of water available, we can grow as many trees as we want. That’s not a problem. The question is much more about conflict for space. When you want to put 1.8 million people in, where will the space be left for trees? *
We can already see the pressure from development that is exerted on the Western Sydney Parklands or on the South Creek system.
*How we solve this problem is a matter of public demand and also political will, because we know that urban development will make the place hotter. *
Providing canopy will be vital to just prevent the materials themselves – roofs, walls, walkways, streets and so on – from heating up during the day, and allowing the air to cool at night.
We also need to implement water sensitive urban design and be serious about it, not just dibble dabble around here and there. Have a whole suburb that you develop to incorporate water sensitive urban design from the very beginning.
*Urban planners and architects are looking to build very large systems underground that can hold stormwater instead of losing it into drainage systems.
*What keeps us from making it compulsory that every new large carpark needs to use this technology? We have a lot of useful technology available. People need to apply it.
Coming back to trees, it is fact that we still see a net canopy decline across the Greater Sydney Basin, even with all the councils pushing for more green infrastructure.
This paradox situation is the result of development and because of mature trees being cut down on private properties. Trees get cut down, left, right and centre because they’re not valued in the way that I think is necessary in a world with a heating climate. Large trees reduce urban heat by cooling and shading. Let’s get serious in valuing that. Retain large trees and help young ones to develop quickly. As summers will only become hotter we will need every square metre of canopy in Sydney.
GEE! Back in about 2014 there were reports about PENRITH being a ‘HEAT SINK’ …
DESPITE this, of course, the push for GROWTH continues … with more Visa Workers and Foreign Home Buyers … the City having been REZONED for higher density … high thermal mass of concrete, bricks and tiles (glass) as the Cumberland Plain Woodland disappears …
NOT to mention, of course, WSA flying in more Foreign Home Buyers … will that mean more temperature records?