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Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (March) 2020

Published: March, 2020

Is it getting too hot for our mob?

Climate change in Central Australia

JUST as experts predicted Australia’s catastrophic bush fires of this summer decades ago, they also agree that poor communities around the world will be the most vulnerable in a hotter, drier and more unpredictable climate.

Aboriginal people in remote communities will be among the hardest hit. In Central Australia, climate records continue to be broken. In January 2019, meteorologists declared the driest summer ever in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, while 2018 was the hottest on record in Central Australia, with 55 days above 40 degrees.

And those new records were reached a decade earlier than the national science agency had predicted. “Climate change is getting worse,” Rodney Katatuna, from Titjikala, said. Other elders complained that their houses are already too hot for people to sleep in and that their kids find it hard to stay awake at school.

“We can’t go and sit outside. We have to go at night to sit down with the families. Climate change is true,” former Kintore teacher, Irene Nangala, told the Guardian online news service.

Ms Nangala said people don’t want to move to town but Mr Katatuna is thinking about leaving the region. “It’s going to get too hard for ngurraritja to live in the desert soon. I might shift somewhere when the desert dries up – up north, down south.”

"Without action to stop climate change, people may be forced to leave their country,” the Central Land Council’s head of policy, Josie Douglas, said.

“Climate change is a clear and present threat to the survival of our people and their culture,” she told the Guardian. Living in “unbearable concrete hot boxes” doesn’t help.

“People resort to sleeping outside, or cramming everybody into the coolest room, with all the well-known consequences for the spread of diseases.”

“It’s also common for people to sleep in shifts, with young people roaming the streets at night where they get into trouble, and sleeping during the day when they should be at school.”

“You can sometimes see people in communities hosing the outside of their Besser brick walls with garden hoses to keep cool despite the water shortages – that’s how desperate they are.”

Members of the CLC have called on the government to provide air conditioners for all new and refurbished houses. “Air conditioning is an essential item in the desert, not a luxury,” explained Dr Douglas. Yet houses in remote communities and town camps often come with “a hole where the aircon unit should be and they are told to buy it themselves”.

As a member of a steering committee for the National Agreement on Remote Housing, the CLC has a chance to advocate for better house design and to ask questions. The now-disbanded Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre made recommendations more than a decade ago about how to make desert houses more energy-efficient and communities more resilient.

“Making sure houses are built with the right orientation and have passive cooling and a white roof cost almost nothing,” Dr Douglas said. “We would like to know how many of these research findings have been implemented in our region.”

There is no shortage of home-grown solutions, and the catastrophic fires across Australia have made many realise that the original inhabitants may have some of the answers.

“People are already mitigating climate change through traditional burning and they are investing their income to install solar power, plant bush tucker gardens in communities and operate swimming pools,” she said. Indigenousland management, in particular cool season burning, is on everyone’s lips, although many confuse it with hazard reduction and forget the cultural element. However, Dr Douglas believes “all that counts for little in the face of the lack of climate leadership”.

Global heating has made the scale of the bushfires around the nation much more devastating, yet Australia could have avoided them if it had “done a lot more much earlier”, according to economist Ross Garnaut.

“The tragedy has been building over a long time,” he told the ABC. In 2008, Professor Garnaut reviewed the impact of climate change in Australia and predicted that the nation would face a more frequent and intense fire season by 2020.

He warned the situation would continue to worsen without global action to cut the gases produced by burning coal, gas and oil. “Things will continue to get worse until the world 

has zero net emissions of greenhouse gases.” Professor Garnaut said that rather than harming the economy, going emissionsfree would give Australia a chance of becoming an “energy superpower” that continues to profit from its minerals. In this zero-emissions world, Australia would stop shipping minerals overseas but process them locally using renewable energy - the power of the sun, wind and water.

“The way you make steel in a zero-emissions economy is using renewable energy to make hydrogen, to make steel, instead of using coal,” he told the ABC.

“The way you make aluminium in a zeroemissions world economy is to use renewable energy to turn bauxite and aluminium oxide into aluminium metal.

“Australia is by far the biggest exporter of aluminium ores and iron ores, [and] when the world is producing aluminium and iron without emissions, we’ll be the place that’s done. It will be positive for the economy,” he said.

If we stretch his vision from using renewable energy to using local workers from remote communities near where the minerals are mined everyone could be a winner