As the tide gently rises to lap around my ankles I shuffle up the beach. Sometimes I keep reading and simply adjust my improvised perch. I adjust easily. But if I heard screams and saw a big wave suddenly looming I guess I would scream too then abandon everything (except a baby or my granny) and run for the trees.
What can we do to plan for climate change? Living in the ‘sunburnt’ country, Australia, a lot of our responses are ingrained into the culture. We don’t go to the beach in the heat of the day. We squint unless we wear sunscreen, hats, sunglasses. This protective plan and now instinctive.
Right now we are sitting at the high-point of the El Nino cycle in what is predicted to be the hottest year on record. The fire season started with fury on the first day of spring and the equipment our nation shares with other nations to combat fire is still being used in southern USA at the tail end of their fire season. The spring days have already been over 45c/113F and summer is yet to shine upon us.
At what temperature will my house become unbearable to live in? At what temperature will my shade-giving plants give up? How can I sleep more comfortably? And what changes can I put in place without great cost? Before I trap myself in one space all day by installing an airconditioner I need to know my options. Before I agree to a huge electricity burden and depend upon repair costs [which will simply make the planet even hotter] I’d like to explore the world’s-best sustainable, inexpensive, low-tech solutions.
- Temperature: People who live with high temperatures have different work and play habits. If you live in a hot dry region like Coober Pedy, you might enjoy a cool retreat underground or under your house. If you live in a humid hot space, the palms that catch breezes and other shade plants will thrive. You will aim to build up off the ground, put in breeze traps and deep eaves to shade all the walls but let the breeze through.
- Make sure you have a good water supply. With a good permaculture design, you will catch and use any rain, condensation and underground water. When we catch water with a network of designed swales, we can cool the garden. A cool garden can be designed to direct and cool the breezes entering the home.
- Get the right building materials. In a dry hot region we want thick walls to block out the sun, in more humid areas we choose materials that don’t store heat through the night. Some shades can serve several functions. A shutter can be a work of art or double up as a solar dryer or fire-protection panel. You could put the solar panel angled to the sun over the wall or window as a great power generating shade, roof or eave. With the right design you can collect breezes and provide shade. Some plants such as grapes, choko and passionfruit are really quick to provide shade and can be cut back easily later.
- Drive your home or workspace like you would operate a ship. Set up sails to catch breezes, limit indoor heat sources ie. ovens, deflect radiated heat. Monitor and control the natural energies in the home. ie. In homes that are well insulated it might be best to keep it locked up until the afternoon. Some homes are called earth-ships because they are designed to fit with the landscape and be able to be operated to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Some structure such as Wollongong University SBRC and Illawarra Flame House are so well designed that they are self-governing.
- Experiment with new living and work habits. We can try working, cooking and eating outside. It could be cheaper to install insect screens than a year of air-conditioning. Do active tasks like gardening in the cool of the evening. It can be cheaper to run a light at night than to ignore a task until winter. Perform quieter tasks like office work during summer and active tasks in autumn. Enjoy an old fashioned siesta to give you energy to work in the evening.
- Get creative and sharing. Creative minds adapt quicker and can enjoy the challenge of problem-solving. A change can feel like a holiday and our efforts today, successful or not, will help everyone in the future.