Western Australia is Burning

WA is burning. Will Perth be the first city in Australia to be abandoned because of climate change? The first city in the world?

Apparently, if you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps back out straight away. However, if you put it in cold water and slowly heat the water up the frog will be boiled alive (please do not try this).

Environmentalists and climate change experts have been warning us for 30-40 years that it is not just the increase in global temperatures we will need to cope with but it will also be the frequency of our extreme weather events that increases too.

Perth, the state capital, is drying out.

Perth, WA resides in a beautiful, though brittle environment. It is irrefutable, Perth is drying out. Our brittle landscape is becoming more so, exemplified by our rainfall. Perth’s average annual rainfall has fallen from 845 mm (1876-2016) to 727 mm (1994-2019) – (see http://www.watercorporation.com.au) and more concerning is the historical trend that shows it steadily declining since the 1930s (see http://www.waclimate.net).

Perth is growing.

Perth’s population has grown from 311,000 in 1950 to over 2 million in 2022 (see https://www.macrotrends.net/cities/206172/perth/population) and it is boldly predicted to reach 4.3 million by 2046, surpassing Brisbane as the 3rd largest city in Australia (see https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au). With our declining annual rainfall, it is easy to see why our increasing population has stretched our water resources to the point that Perth’s water supply now comes from desalinated seawater (45%), groundwater (40%) and only 11% from dams (see http://www.watercorporation.com.au). Only massive technological intervention now prevents Perth from running out of water and there is major concern that our underground aquifers are also depleting. Without reversing this trend, one wonders what this situation will be in another 20 years?

Perth is heating up.

To make matters worse, Perth is heating up. This summer, since December 1 we’ve had 24 days over 35°C, 19 days over 38°C and incredibly, 13 days above 40°C including 6 record-breaking, consecutive days from January 18-23 over 40°C (see http://www.bom.gov.au). Forty plus degree weather is not new to Perth with a highest ever maximum of 46.2°C recorded on 23 February, 1991. However, with 13 days above 40°C already this summer, easily eclipsing the previous record of 7 days over 40°C, and another 3 weeks of February remaining, statistically our hottest month, our climatic situation is very concerning.

Societally, we are failing on many fronts.

With bushfires continuing to blaze around the state reflecting the drying landscape we need to do more, now. We cannot afford to wait. For the first time I can recall (I’m 53) we are seeing black cockatoos in our neighbourhood, about 15 km north of the Perth CBD. At dinner with friends at their home recently, nearly 15 km south of the CBD, they remarked of the same observation. Why? No doubt their natural habitat is being depleted and these hungry birds are searching further and wider to find food.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Modern cities are heat sinks.

Walking our dogs, especially on very hot days, it is so pleasing to reach the park and to find it degrees cooler. The grass feels cold to our bare feet. This contrasts with what we observe when walking on the roads and sidewalks, which, even late at night are still radiating considerable heat. City growth has resulted in our bushland being replaced with houses, paving, and roads all of which retain noticeably more summer heat than do trees, bushes, and grasses. While it is not surprising that maximum temperatures for south-western WA have warmed by an average of 1.4°C since 1910, it is the increase in average minimum temperatures of 1-1.5°C that I am more concerned with. It is becoming harder to sleep in hot weather without running air-conditioners all night that in turn increases our carbon footprint.

How then can Perth continue to grow as predicted, without becoming a massive heat sink? New ways of co-existing together with nature are needed. Without more greenery around our homes and better urban planning for new and existing suburbs our problems will continue to exacerbate.

We are overdue for a re-think

We are well overdue for an enormous re-think about how we build our homes and create our suburbs or soon Perth may well be too hot and too dry to be liveable.

Do we need to ban black concrete roof tiles and stop laying massively wide bitumen roads in our suburbs that radiate heat long into the night? Is it time to stop building houses on top of each other and paving our entire yards, allowing no room to grow trees, shrubs, and grasses? Rather, do we need to be more innovative and create cooling micro-climates around our urban communities?

Wicked problems require diverse solutions.

These are wicked (very complex) problems that require diverse solutions, and together, we can implement many small changes that will add up to big changes.

Of course, if you think climate change is a fallacy and you don’t care about what’s coming, “Don’t Look Up.” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbIxYm3mKzI)

I am starting the conversation, and I’d love to know what you think.

Contact me today to discover how leadership coaching would elevate your ability to influence and empower people around you to regenerate our environment.