This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
So you think this is bad. A run of days with temperatures up to 13 degrees above the September average. Schools on the Far South Coast of NSW closed because of the extreme heat and catastrophic fire danger. Uncomfortable as it is, it's nothing compared to what Phoenix in Arizona endured at the height of the northern summer.
In July, 17 days of temperatures on or above 46 degrees were recorded in Phoenix. Thirty-one straight days delivered temperatures over 43 degrees. An elderly woman who fell out of her wheelchair sustained serious burns to her legs. A man working in his backyard collapsed from heat exhaustion and fell onto concrete. His burns were so serious he required extensive skin grafts.
"Even those who deny that we're in the midst of a climate crisis can't deny the impact that extreme heat is having on Americans," President Joe Biden said in July. "Americans like an elderly woman in Phoenix who fell out of her wheelchair and, after five minutes on the ground, had third-degree burns. Third-degree burns."
Arizona is hot enough during the summer. But add to that a warming climate and poor city planning and it's only going to get worse. In 1950 the city covered roughly 44 square kilometres. It now sprawls over 1295 square kilometres. As neighbourhoods went up in the rush to build, trees came down. Heat-absorbing asphalt was laid down to accommodate the cars. Now, 1.4 million residents live in an urban heat island which is four degrees hotter than it should be.
Serves them right for choosing to live in the desert, I hear you mutter. But their experiences should serve as a warning for our own big cities, which are under extreme pressure to build up, not out - to become denser.
A report in The New York Times reveals how Singapore - just 137km north of the equator - is taking steps to cool down its urban centre as it faces soaring temperatures.
Like boomtowns around the world, and packed into a small land area, Singapore embraced the rush to build up. Trouble is, densely packed highrise traps heat during the day. Buildings form canyons which restrict air flow, essentially recirculating hot air. Air conditioners cool the apartments but the hot air they expel heats the surrounding outside areas.
Now it's looking to nature to cool things down. Gardens are being planted on rooftops and between apartment blocks. The trees shade the buildings and release moisture into the air. Increasingly, urban trees are being considered part of the essential infrastructure. Light reflective paint is used on rooftops where gardens can't be grown. Buildings are better designed, with airflow and aspect to the sun considered.
As premiers Minns and Andrews race to address the housing crisis, curbing the planning powers of local governments to stop development, they need to convince us they are not greenlighting poorly designed apartment blocks that will make neighbourhoods unliveable in years to come. That they are not addressing today's problem only to make tomorrow's worse.
And they should also rein in the developers on the city fringes who have for years been allowed to clearfell subdivisions to make treeless suburbs that bake in summer.
If you think it's hot now, spare a thought for the residents of Penrith who endured a 48.9 degree day in January 2020, making their neighbourhood the hottest place on earth.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Should trees and gardens be a mandatory component of new housing developments? Should developers be prevented from clearfelling entire subdivisions? Are you comfortable with local councils having their planning powers restricted? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoy The Echidna, forward it to a friend so they can sign up, too.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Owners of an Alfa Romeo hybrid SUV have been warned to contact the manufacturer after the discovery of a defect that "may result in a vehicle fire". Alfa Romeo's Tonale hybrid electric SUV is the latest vehicle subject to a recall after the discovery of a fault that could "increase the risk of injury or death" to its occupants.
- A Newcastle woman shot in the chest with a bean bag round during an attempted arrest died after it entered her body, striking her heart, NSW police have confirmed. The incident has prompted a temporary halt to use of the non-lethal option while a review is undertaken.
- The Bureau of Meteorology has declared an El Nino weather pattern. This means hot, dry conditions and elevated fire risks.
THEY SAID IT: "I plant a lot of trees. I am a great believer in planting things for future generations. I loathe the now culture where you just live for today." - Penelope Keith
YOU SAID IT: With plenty of free time now he's on the backbench, Scott Morrison is writing a religious book about his faith in God and God's faith in him.
Lee writes: "I am a Christian. However, I would not take advice from ScoMo. I think his God who told him to seize power from his mates, lie to the public and do his worst for the most disadvantaged; is not the same God I worship."
"I was no Morrison fan myself," writes Ross, "but the media and the teeth-gnashing brigade made too much of his going overseas and not 'holding a hose'. You all forgot (conveniently?) several years before during the devastating floods in North Queensland that saw tens of thousand heads of cattle drowned that an emergency services boss at the scene reckoned that one of the biggest pains in the butt is when politicians drop in for a photo op which means we stop what we're doing to greet them. Surely what he said is correct and when there is an emergency/catastrophe politicians would play a better role by keeping out of the way and allowing those on the ground to accept their support as a given."
Arthur writes: "Lack of rain is far more distressing than heat. Perhaps we could ask Scott Morrison to pray for rain. To see deciduous trees not yet sprouting new growth is very worrying. Our river is about to stop flowing. The cattle have done a good job in reducing grass fire risk but a green field is much more pleasant than a brown, dusty one. Scott Morrison's book may reveal a few more secrets but I will wait for a second hand copy rather than rushing out to buy it."
"Sadly, there is nothing to say," writes Alan. "ScoMo said it all. He missed the human touch in Hawaii on fires. He insulted fire victims, lost touch with climate change, couldn't listen to the fire safety experts, but he found time to dehumanise refugees on boats. He found time to invite his friend Brian to a very important lunch in America. I won't be buying his book."
John writes: "Reminds me of the old Gore Vidal quote: 'I think there should be a constitutional amendment making it impossible for anyone to be president who believes in an afterlife.'"
"Why did I think of that incredible seer Graham Greene's The Ministry of Fear while reading your comments?" writes Old Donald. "Is it because, given half a chance, the Christian you focus on might have fitted quite well into Greene's setting? I think it was Bernard Shaw who remarked that Christianity might work but that it has never been tried - well, John, that's probably still very true today, and especially amongst its more confident and smug proclaimants."
Sue writes: "My bushfire plan is much the same as it was when I developed it in 2019, but I have mentally started the checklist of what to pack and check where it all is. I live in the southernmost suburbs of the ACT and we have been on high alert for the last two major fires but so far, so good, for us at any rate. Would I accept spiritual advice from Scotty? No way! Writing a book is his last chance to make a plea for any public acceptance and I am surprised that any publisher would take the risk. The only person Scotty believes in is himself. Really enjoyed David's cartoon."
"It was bad enough reading about the Presbyterian Church refusing to hold Welcome to Country or even Acknowledgement to Country for Aboriginal people but this? When will this failed Liberal politician leave Parliament and learn what has happened to this country on his watch and accept the real threat of climate change? Just yesterday I was reminded of the terrible events at Mallacoota of January 2020 when a woman described her experience of those fires and building a bunker on her rural property for future safety. I was holding the hose in my Chapman front yard in January 2003 when the fires ravaged South Canberra until the police told me to evacuate. We arrived safely at Phillip College and stayed with friends for a few days until allowed back to check the damage."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.