Published 24 May 2018
For a few years now, I have wanted to write a ‘good news’ blog, because in amongst all the doom and gloom about climate change, both in the mitigation and adaptation space, some positive stories do emerge. Particularly, I wanted to write about fun and positive stories in environmental politics, like the Montreal Protocol, the Antarctic Treaty and negotiations around Hans Island in the Arctic. However, after attending the NCCARF Climate Adaptation 2018 conference, with over 400 other climate adaptation researchers and practitioners, four positive ‘good news’ stories emerged.
I want to start by acknowledging that the state of our climate is a dire situation, and I don’t want this post to justify inaction, however, no one can be effective in researching and working in the climate space if they don’t sometimes take the time to reflect on the positives. So, grab a cup of tea, and take 10 minutes to allow yourself to hear some good news.
The ‘Cooling Communities’ initiative is a wonderful example of how local government can change the lives of their residents through increasing resilience, reducing emissions and reducing costs in a highly practical, achievable and replicable way. As Kathryn Skidmore and Mike Collins presented the initiative at the conference, their passion and enthusiasm spread throughout the room.
Moreland City Council and Moreland Energy Foundation’s (MEFL) ‘Cooling Communities’ project aimed to understand the actions required to mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) for vulnerable social housing residents. A concept central to the project was that UHIE impacts are not equally felt, and even newer social housing developments are not built to keep residents safe and comfortable.
The project retrofitted ten social housing properties, to improve their resilience to heat. This included insulating roofs, planting trees in backyards and installing water tanks to water the plants. Residents have experienced various positive social outcomes including increased comfort, better sleep, and social inclusion from more visits from family and friends.
Although the project found that the state of social housing is inadequate under climate change, I see this as a ‘good news’ story because Kathryn and Mike showed that lives can be improved if building and planning regulations accommodate for the UHIE.
You can read the Cooling Communities Final Report here.
Islands of Resilience
In a presentation on building community resilience in Masig, in the Torres Strait, Hilda Mosby and John Rainbird from the Torres Strait Regional Authority Board told us about the issues facing the region, including concerns around sea-level rise, erosion, population growth in neighbouring countries putting pressure on marine food stocks, and pollution from mining and development.
Hilda told the story of when the dams reached a dangerously low level of 10%, instead of waiting to be advised on what to do, and taking advice from government officials, the community took it into their own hands. Hilda and others spoke to members of the community and to local businesses, requesting that they use less water. Before long, the dam levels were back up to 70%.
This story illustrates, among other things, what can happen when communities are connected and how connected communities lead to more resilient communities that are able to respond when a shock or stress comes.
You can read about Masig’s climate adaptation and resilience building initiatives here.
Many people I spoke to at the conference mentioned that Mark Crosweller’s Keynote and his presentation on the ‘Working ethically across knowledge and action for climate change adaptation’ panel were a couple of their highlights.
Mark, as the former Director General of Emergency Management Australia, brought to the conference not only a deep understanding of disaster management and resilience but a refreshing and inspiring passion for ethics, justice, philosophy and especially compassion.
Mark shared that “disasters are just as much a matter of the head as the heart”, highlighting two principles in disaster risk reduction; that the greatest success measure is the upholding of the community’s trust and confidence and that the greatest mission is the reduction of human suffering. Mark shared stories of when he put his ethical beliefs before anything else when responding to crises and is currently undertaking a PhD on “the ethical premise of leading people through the adversity and loss of disasters”.
Mark is now leading the newly formed ‘National Resilience Taskforce’ which aims to reduce the impacts of natural disasters on the Australian community. I feel hopeful about the future of the Taskforce in Mark’s hands, given his experience in the field, and commitment to justice and compassion.
You can read about the Taskforce here.
Personal Resilience and Self Care
I was excited to see the organisers of the conference place emphasis on personal resilience, self-care and maintaining motivation when working in the climate space.
At the pre-conference, early careers professional workshop, CSIRO’s Mark Stafford Smith and Future Earth’s Tayanah O’Donnell led a discussion on ‘staying positive in a changing world’. We shared our ways of remaining motivated, including seeking help when we need it, taking the time to do the things we enjoy, thinking of the positive developments in the space and talking to colleagues about our concerns.
Taking what we learnt from this discussion, a selection of early career professionals was offered the chance to speak at the opening plenary on behalf of the early career professionals. In our plenary speech, we encouraged conference attendees to think back to why they started working in the climate adaptation space, to start a dialogue of encouragement. Conference attendees shared their reasons for getting into the climate adaptation space using the #MyClimateWhy hashtag on Twitter.
If you would like to access resources on how to look after yourself, while looking after the world, check out the Psychology for a Safe Climate.
I encourage you to look into some of these wonderful projects and initiatives that were discussed at Climate Adaptation 2018. Hopefully, these ‘good news’ stories have inspired you to continue to do the work that you do. Working in the climate space can be daunting but taking the time to acknowledge progress when it is made will help us maintain motivation and drive meaningful change.
Alice Simpson-Young is a 2018 Honours Research Fellow with the Sydney Environment Institute. She has a Bachelors of Science, and Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Environmental Studies and Government and International Relations from the University of Sydney and is currently undertaking Honours in the Department of Government and International Relations. Alice’s research aims to explore Sydney and Melbourne’s Resilience Strategies, to understand to what extent environmental justice, vulnerability and social resilience are incorporated.