Climate Change
February 18, 2020

Australia in a Time of Trauma

For the next month, I’ll be in Australia, returning to the island continent for the 11th time, and to the four cities in which I have spoken over the last two decades – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

In the past I’ve talked mainly about Vancouver, particularly about urban design and how we accommodate growth.  (Our Commonwealth cousins love exchanging views and advice on our similar cities.)

But this time, I’m there to ask the people I meet one particular question: How is Australia changing now that climate change is your new reality?  How are Australians changing?

I’m not the only outsider to be asking questions like that.

 From Damien Cave, the Australian bureau chief for the New York Times:

“We have seen …the unfolding wings of climate change,” said Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker … in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise. …

In interviews all over the fire zone since September, it’s been clear that Australians are reconsidering far more than energy and emissions. They are stumbling toward new ways of living: Housing, holiday travel, work, leisure, food and water are all being reconsidered. …

Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity: a life lived outdoors, an international role where the country “punches above its weight,” and an emphasis on egalitarianism that, according to some historians, is rooted in Australia’s settlement by convicts. …

Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned.

It’s “a place of childhood vacations and dreams,” as one of Australia’s great novelists, Thomas Keneally, recently wrote.

Tourists in Lake Conjola, a popular vacation destination, took refuge on a beach on New Year’s Eve.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s most famous tech billionaire, called it part of a broader awakening.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes said Australia could seize the moment and become a leader in climate innovation. Ms. Wallworth, the filmmaker, echoed that sentiment: What if the country’s leaders did not run from the problem of climate change, but instead harnessed the country’s desire to act?

“If only our leaders would call on us and say, ‘Look, this is a turning point moment for us; the natural world in Australia, that’s our cathedral, and it’s burning — our land and the animals we love are being killed,’” she said. …

Near a bus stop, I met Bob Gallagher, 71, a retired state employee with thick white hair. He felt strongly that the criticism of Mr. Morrison for not doing enough about climate change was unfair.

“The first thing the government needs to do is run the economy,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I just don’t understand what these climate change people want.”

I asked him to imagine a version of Ms. Wallworth’s dream — an Australia with a prime minister who shouted to the world: “What we all love, this unique country, is being destroyed by inaction. We’ll punch above our weight, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.”

Mr. Gallagher listened without interrupting. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I could support that.”

Full article here.

 

For the next month, I’ll be Instagramming my way across Aus (pricetags) and sending interviews back to be posted on PriceTalks and the blog.

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Ian Robertson found one solution in Paris.  From Euroactiv:

In Paris, as in many European cities, the number of cars is declining, which is leaving a vast amount of underground car parks empty. With its start-up project called “La Caverne”, Cycloponics is reclaiming these urban territories and using them as a way of growing plenty of organic vegetables. …

At Porte de la Chapelle in Paris, the two have set up a 3,500 m2 urban farm located underground, in a former car park. …  Gertz and Champagnat responded to call for tenders from Paris, whose empty car parks were squatted by consumers and crack dealers. It’s been more than two years now since ‘organic has replaced crack’, and about fifteen jobs have been created. …

 

 

Small packets of water-soluble, sterilised and packaged straw are hung from floor to ceiling, and the mushrooms grow through tiny holes. Everything is calculated to ensure their optimal growth. The air is saturated with moisture, the endives grow in the dark, and the mushrooms get a few LED lights.

But the car park has definite advantages over the limestone cavities usually used to grow mushrooms, as there is a permanent and precise control of the weather, as well as better thermal stability. …  Farming in car parks also makes it possible to better resist the climate crisis. Parasites and other insects, for instance, are rather rare in the subsoil, even if endive tubers and straw bought outside can also be vectors of diseases, such as sclerotinia, which destroyed part of this year’s endive harvest. …

“In Paris, as in many European capitals, people no longer have cars, there are too many parking lots, especially in the poorest districts. But we also visited unused car parks on the Champs-Elysée. It would be possible to do something about it!” according to the entrepreneurs.

Full article here.

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Time has run out for the Harper Strategy on climate change.

I like to give Stephen Harper credit for this strategy because, in his trips to the Arctic, he so well exemplified it.  (I wrote about it in 2014, and again here🙂

If the goal is to keep climate change off the public agenda, the most effective strategy is not the ‘hard denialist’ strategy of rejection but the soft strategy of omission: saying as little as possible, preferably nothing, to keep the topic off the agenda.

As previously noted, that was the brilliance of Prime Minister Harper’s ninth Arctic trip in August, as observed by Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe:

“Nowhere in Canada is the impact of climate change more increasingly evident than the North. And yet, the words ‘climate change’ are never heard from Mr. Harper in the North, as if the idea they connote are so distasteful that he cannot bring himself to utter them.”

No denial, just no recognition.  And hence a standard for others in power to follow, whether politicians, business people or editors: serious people don’t have serious public concerns about climate change, so that decisions today need not take into account tomorrow’s probable reality.

The strategy works only so long as nothing too serious happens too frequently.  That results in fear, and then anger, and then bad things politically.  And then you have to say something.  If you have nothing substantial to say about climate change – because the whole strategy was never to do anything substantial – then you’re in trouble.  As George Bush quickly discovered in his indifferent response to Hurricane Katrina.

And as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison just found out.

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Amidst the Australian bushfires – an image too sad to seem real:  a firefigher and a koala, watching their forests burn next to a vineyard.

Apparently it is all too real. From a Guardian blog:

… the photo was taken at Lobethal on Friday while protecting homes. Two koalas wandered out of the bush seeking assistance.

“Up behind us there were a couple of houses under threat so we were working to protect them from ember attack and the firefront and they stepped out of the bush seeking help,” he said.

Adams said it was common for koalas to seek help from firefighters in these situations. The koalas were given water and moved to a safer location. Firefighters lost track of them and they were eventually forced to pull out of the property.

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In Building a Resilient Tomorrow, Alice Hill and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz have put together a superb primer on responding to the impacts of climate change. …

Particularly gripping is chapter 9, which focuses on relocating people in harm’s way. For years, the issue of displacement and relocation was something of a taboo subject in international climate debates, both because it is so sensitive and because solutions are not readily apparent. …

“Of all the hard lessons in this book, managing climate migration may be the hardest,” they argue …  “[t]he earlier we start, the easier, and less costly, and less traumatic building resilience will be.”

They don’t need to use the future tense anymore.

From the New York Times – Among the World’s Most Dire Places: This California Homeless Camp

 

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The posts today are like the weather: gloomy, but it’s the environment we live in.

The Washington Post just featured this report: The Arctic may have crossed key threshold, emitting billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback.

Mike Brown, who was a member of Vancouver’s Clouds of Change Task force 30 years ago (the first report by a municipality on climate change), has been doing analysis and raising questions with respect to Canada’s permafrost (and our responsibility) with urgency and trepidation.

Here is his update:

An article from the Washington Post is making its rounds today. Permafrost thaw has made the mainstream!

It refers to two reports* about the state of affairs.  Each says that there’s evidence that the annual net emissions (thaw in winter months minus growth in summer months) from the permafrost are now about .6 Pg of Carbon.  Here is a quote from the NOAA Arctic Report:

“ . . .  suggests that carbon release in the cold season offsets net carbon uptake during the growing season (derived from models) such that the region as a whole could already be a source of 0.6 Pg C per year to the atmosphere.”

Here is what the reports don’t mention.

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That head has to be a contender for a ‘most boring headline’ contest, right up there with the previous winner: ‘Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.’  Every word a snoozer, including ‘an’ and ‘for.’

For bonus points, it’s about a pumping station!

What makes the project worthy of attention is this:  “Although the pump station had a budget of $4.17 million through the provincial grant, the project actually came in $600,000 under budget.”

So what happened to the $600,000 they didn’t spend?

“Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced at the pump opening that the leftover funds would stay in the District of Kent for drainage.”

Kent saves money; Kent gets to keep money.

Here’s the part of the province we’re talking about:

This is a very soggy place; it was where the great flood of 1948 began.  Indeed, the District of Kent was incorporated … “for the reason of being able to borrow money so they could get drainage work done,” the mayor said. “It’s been something that we’ve always been working on for 125 years, and more than likely well into the future.”

Oh yeah, “well into the future” – as places like this are impacted by climate change in numerous and devastating ways.  The infrastructure costs to adapt and mitigate are going to be massive.  By rewarding Kent for making its millions go further, the Province is setting a precedent and sending a message: stretching dollars on infrastructure to deal with climate change is going to be worth your while.

 

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Last week I attended the International Road Safety Symposium that was hosted by UBC’s Integrated Safety and Advanced Mobility Bureau as well as by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This team brought in practitioners from Australia and the Netherlands, where policy work and research mirrors or is ahead of our local policy. A mix of physicians,  police officers , engineers and consultants presented and debated current issues and trends in road safety and active transportation, providing a very thoughtful discussion on how to make streets and roads safer for all users.

Speaker Dr. Fred Wegman is an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology and is the individual credited with the development of the “safe systems” approach, “based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network.”

It was Fred  that described the tremendous gains in the Netherlands where there has been a 49 percent reduction in fatalities/serious injuries with the safe systems approach. He also noted the importance of reducing speed as a basic tenet for safety, and that politically elected officials would not be reducing speed to save lives, but would be doing it for basic sustainability reasons. And tied into a greener, cleaner environment and the future, such speed reductions would be accepted nationally.

We didn’t need to wait long to hear the result of Fred’s prediction. The BBC News has just reported that  in 2020 “the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis” 

This information is still confidential, but the disclosed report suggests that the current speed limit of up to 130 km/h would be allowed only in  the night hours.

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