How you can reduce your climate change impact?

Earlier this week I dashed off a rather prickly post about getting angry with yourself about climate change flavoured heavily by the current bushfire situation in Australia. It was, in part, a reaction to the fact that I was going out for the 8th day straight to help the NSW Rural Fire Service as an SES volunteer. I was up to 100 % days for the year! While my role is in support and I am never in any real danger, it has been stressful and tiring, albeit overwhelmingly self-affirming. I am proud of myself that I am ABLE to be helpful in a second-line role.

I challenged you to make a contribution to reduce your impact on the climate. These actions will, of course, be too late for this particular crisis, but we need to start somewhere!

Here are a few suggestions.

Get politically active

As individuals, we can make changes to our life that will have an impact, but the big guns are held by the government.  They are the ones who decide whether we keep digging up coal and burning it or invest in renewables.  You, however, have the power to decide who is in government, so my first suggestion is to become more politically active. In Australia, we have a working democracy, and we get who we vote for. But unlike America and other places, we don’t vote for our Prime Minister. We vote for the party they represent.The Prime Minister can be removed without a change of government.

Make sure your local member knows what you think about their policies.  ALL of their policies. I am not going to tell you who to vote for because these fires have been a long time coming and are not the responsibility of one or the other of governments we have had. (Without going down too much of a rabbit hole when you think of it, it has been a growing issue ever since we placed more value on wealth than our environment… but that’s another story)

Ten things you can do to reduce your climate change impact

David Suzuki has been agitating for action in a moderate and persuasive way for a long time.  This site is easy to read and provides a very digestible listicle of the ten things you can do to make a start on reducing your impact on climate change.

Steel Street - Cringila
Stop and think about your impact

What’s the one ‘big’ thing you can do to reduce climate change impact?

The most useful thing you can do is not going to seem so palatable to many of you. It is to have one less child.  The per annum reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide by having one fewer child is estimated at 23,770 – 117,700 kg compared to 5 kg for using reusable shopping bags. (Source: Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024). Reducing the number of children reduces the number of resources they will use over their lifetime.

This article ranks personal actions as being high, moderate or low impact. 

It is an open-source, peer-reviewed article. You will need to download it to read the whole thing. I suggest you skip through to the tables that list the categories.

In summary, here are the high impact actions YOU can take

High Impact actions individuals can take for climate change reduction

  1. Have one less child
  2. Live car-free
  3. Avoid one flight
  4. Purchase green energy
  5. Reduce the effects of driving (eg with a more efficient car)
  6. Eat a plant-based diet

Moderate Impact actions individuals can take.

These moderate impact actions reduce carbon dioxide in the range of  0 – 370 kg/annum each. These actions are not painful at all. I bet you do some to a certain extent already but don’t sit on your hands, tackle some more!

  1. Home heating/cooling efficiency
  2. Install solar panels
  3. Use public transport or walk/bike as much as possible
  4. Buy energy-efficient products
  5. Conserve energy
  6. Reduce food waste
  7. Reduce consumption
  8. Reuse
  9. Recycle
  10. Eat local

Low Impact actions individuals can take.

These low impact actions reduce carbon dioxide in the range of  6 – 60 kg/annum each but if you do them all that’s a good start and if EVERYONE did them all that would be BIG!!!  For instance, if all 24 million Australian’s did these simple things it would add up to 1,440,000,000 kg of CO2!

  1. Conserve water – eg. run a full dishwasher
  2. Eliminate unnecessary travel
  3. Minimise waste
  4. Plant a tree
  5. Compost
  6. Purchase carbon credits
  7. Reduce lawn mowing
  8. Ecotourism
  9. Keep backyard chickens – I wish I could!! 🙂
  10. Buy bona fide eco-label products
  11. Calculate your home’s footprint (I’ll research this one some more to find out how and what they mean)

How many can you tick off? Even if you can tick off many of the things on these lists already, don’t get complacent.

Encourage others!

Conserve more!

Walk more!

Use less!

 

 

 

 

 

Australia is burning. What are you going to do about it?

Koalas and kangaroos are being incinerated in front of our eyes. Not to mention the snakes, birds, wombats and less “cuddly” creatures that call our bush home.

The sky is smoky. Sometimes it smells, other times it doesn’t.

Elton John donated a cool mill (in US dollars or pounds I hope!) Pink has chucked in $500K as well. Russell didn’t go to the Golden Globes because he was preparing his home for the onslaught of fire in the area where he lives.

“Scomo”, as we rather unfondly refer to our current Prime Minister smells more than the rotting carcasses of the animals trapped by the heat.

Meanwhile some of us are volunteering as front line fire fighters or as support to those front-liners. Some of us are making wraps for burnt animals. Some of us are donating physical goods, food and water. Schools are getting stationary packs together for the kids in communities that have been destroyed.

Many of us are angry at our politicians and their inaction. Many of us are angry at the media who are misleading us.  But we should be angry at ourselves too. We have a working democracy. We voted these people

in. We allowed them to change the media ownership rules. We allowed them to not fund NSWRFS or the NWPS by not voting them out.

Was it just complacency? Or were we swayed by the fact that we expect “others” to fix the climate. The climate is not going to change by government action alone. Of course, that is crucial but what are YOU going to do to do your bit?

It’s going to take a whole lot more than reusable shopping bags to fix this problem. What changes are you prepared to make?

 

 

 

 

Fires on the NSW South Coast (Part 2)

The day of the disaster

(Posted on location)

On Friday, I posted about my feeling of foreboding as we approached a weather day that would bring worst-case scenario conditions to the south coast of NSW. It was going to be hot, windy and with low humidity. I hoped that somehow, the (actually) reliable Bureau of Meteorology had got it wrong.

They didn’t.

The temperature on the fire ground near where I am stationed varied from 34 to 44C. The prediction for wind speed and humidity were on course. Penrith near Sydney, would, by the end of the day, record the highest temperature in the WORLD clocking up 48.9C (120F)

The mood in the EMC started off tense but confident. Calls came in at a steady but manageable pace. The Comms team had time to make coffee or grab a comfort break without interrupting the necessary logging of team movements. At 11:30 the pace began to speed up. The 000 call Centre began diverting two or three messages at a time, then four.

By 12:30 we were not keeping up with the computer logging system and it was causing frustration when it “refreshed” at frequent and more inconvenient intervals. By 13:15 it was totally unmanageable. Thank goodness for pen and paper!

The EMC staff and volunteers hummed with a beam of activity focused on the goal of getting resources to the spot fires that were beginning to break out. The pattern of multiple calls for nearby locations broken suddenly by a call from a more distant area. Flying embers were doing their evil work. Flame heights were getting higher and higher. Twenty-metre sheets eclipsed by 40 to 50 m monsters.

Then the dreaded message

RED RED RED

Significant fire impacting Bendalong Road

Get the (water) bombers NOW!

Close the road!

The room became silent, people clustered around the comms station. The wheels ticked and the orders came

Get everything up! 

People in their colourful tabards went about their duties calmly but quickly. No-one ran, no one panicked. They were trained for this. The police organised the road closures, the aviation ops team launched all available assets and fire crews were diverted from other positions. If the fire travelled too far from Bendalong Road, the township of Tabourie Lake would be no more.

Then a few minutes later

EMERGENCY EMERGENCY 

No other radio call can stop a room dead in its tracks as quickly as these words do.

A crew was about to be overrun by fire.

Shelter in place

Activate your fire plans

It was unclear exactly what “place” they were in. As tense seconds passed there was radio silence. Nothing. It was still. The crowd around the radio was leaning in, wishing they could squeeze themselves into the microphone and pull the trapped crew through the airwaves. We waited, hoping to hear something from that microphone. Seconds more ticked past.

The ops manager hailed the crew. Nothing. He hailed again.

A breath sucking pause later and the crew’s Captain responded. 

All safe, the fire had passed.

The collective gasp and back-slapping continued for a split-second and then everyone returned to the duties of controlling a huge fire hunting down a town.

Support was dispatched to the crew and apart from a minor burn, there were no physical injuries. By the end of the day, two more firefighters and three civilians had been taken to hospital and two appliances damaged. But, by nightfall no homes had fallen, A few outbuildings here or there, but no-one’s house. (As far as I know)

The relentless heat of the day was squashed by the southerly. A southerly can be a blessing for those hoping to escape the heat of the day but an ill omen for firefighters. The gusty southerly winds that come with the cool front bring thunderstorms. In the microclimate that develops around a firestorm, these thunderstorms form pyrocumulonimbus clouds which rumble like a regular thunderstorm but suck up the embers and dump them down kilometres ahead of the main fire front but bring no rain.

The southerly did come and it did stir up the fire but my shift had ended so I don’t know what went on in the EMC. I don’t know what happened to the crews I had been tracking during the day. I hoped they had got home for a sleep. I hoped no more had been hurt.

I walked around town with my camera in the quiet, eerie dim light as the southerly pushed smoke into the town and turned it into a pool of orange dread. I wandered for a few hours breathing in the smoke, thinking I shouldn’t, but fascinated by those clouds.

Looking from the showground north of Nowra

I couldn’t sleep. I worried about the people whose fates I had not been able to follow. The ones who had gone to hospital and who were later (unbeknown to me) released to go home to their families. I worried about the team who had been bathed in fire. They might not be hurt but how would their dreams be tonight? Could they rest? Did they have someone to hold them and listen to their story?

 

The lookout at the showground was crowded

As I logged on for my shift this morning, I learned that the two fire fronts north of Nowra had merged and that the southern fire near Tabourie was still active. Crews would need to be in two places at once again.

Today was my last day at the EMC. I’ll drive home tomorrow. The weather was much more benign today. Cool and windless. Overcast with real clouds and not just smoke, the humidity rising to 100%. The fire continued, but today it was not as ferocious. At least it was not hunting towns. It had other assets in sight. We had a full comms team and I probably didn’t need to be there. I’m glad I was. The easier pace allowed me to calm down and get things into a better perspective. Bad things happen in big fires. People do die and one person did yesterday in a fire not too far from “ours”. But today no-one died, a little bit of rain fell and the firefighters got to have a rest. The fire will burn for many more days and it will probably flare up to be another raging dragon unless significant rain falls.  I will watch it from afar as others take my place to relieve the local crews who become more and more exhausted.

As I left the Centre, I had to wait as a stream of volunteers from Queensland’s Rural Fire Service unloaded from a bus. Their big boots dragging a little and their full kit bags wheeling along behind them. They were weary but energetic. They’ll get a good sleep tonight and will be ready to assist in the morning. I guess I am tired but that stream of yellow and green,  brought a tear to my eye. They’re a long way from home but I bet like me, they felt privileged to be able to help.

 

Fires on the NSW South Coast

For the last three days I have been working in the Emergency Management Centre in Nowra ( 2 hours south of Sydney) as a communications officer. I’ll be there for another three days. As a volunteer, I don’t expect or want to be paid. I volunteer for two reasons, to help others and help myself. Volunteering is one of the sure fire ways to boost your own mental health and wellbeing. I’m no hero or saint, I’m just practical!

The twelve hour shifts have me taking messages from 000 (Australia’s equivalent to 911) and delivering them to the operations officer who then decides which fire teams will be dispatched and what other resources will be required.

As well as 000 calls, we meticulously log the movements of the various appliances as they move from place to place.

The voice in the head set declares:

Fire Com Fire Com this is {insert unit name here}

Go ahead {Unit name}

We are proceeding from the X Station to the Y Staging Area at {location}

Received {Unit name} Fire Coms Clear at 16:08

The words are precise to ensure the meaning is clear. The word “proceeding” is important. Emergency vehicles “proceed” when they are just driving normally. They must get permission to “respond” under lights and sirens.

The transaction is then logged both in a written book and in a computer-based time log. The radio messages are recorded. The time log is then available to the State Operations team in close to real time, so they can oversee the various operations around the State. If we have not heard from someone for a while, we will do a “welfare check”.

The written log has numbered pages, each log book must be kept. This means that if there is an enquiry after the event, the log entries can be checked to help determine what happened and why. It’s a heavy responsibility.

We also answer really important questions for crews like where they can get lunch!

The two big rooms that house the EMC are awash with high-vis uniforms and colourful tabards. Tabards are like waistcoats with the role of the person in large letters emblazoned on the back and front. The Incident Controller, Operations Manager, Public Liaison Officer, Animal Welfare. Catering, of course. There is a tabard for every role. It makes it easy for anyone to know who is who because not everyone who is here is from the Rural Fire Service even if this is their “party”.

There are clusters of people from the Police, Fire and Rescue NSW, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance, Endeavour Energy workers ( to cut and restore the power to burnt power poles) National Parks and Wildlife, the Defence Force and more like me, in Orange from the State Emergency Service. We all work side by side to put the jigsaw together without losing any pieces.

For the past three days, the weather has been kind and the mood in the EMC was calm but wary. The relatively low temperatures and light winds have meant that crews have been able to do some back burning and to create containment lines. Holiday makers have been able to get home and the long lines of traffic seen yesterday have depleted, giving the police less grief. There has been a steady stream of lovely food brought in by towns’ people supporting our efforts.

But today is the day before D-day. Disaster day. The forecast is grim. 44C (111F) and low humidity. The light northerly winds of the morning will be whirled around by a strong southerly in the afternoon. It is likely to be another day like New Year’s Eve when more than 100 homes were destroyed, whole towns razed and people died.

img_2705

 

I hope the Bureau of Meteorology has it wrong. The fire crews and all the rest of us will be doing our best but there are only so many fire trucks and only so many people who can do the work. Please follow their instructions. Please don’t go through road blocks. Please don’t light fires. Please make your decision to stay or leave early and please take care, not risks.