The land of fire and floods
In the wake of the Australian bushfire crisis, zero waste expert Anita Vandyke explores the connection to climate change – and what we can do to support the environment.
Australia battled one of its worst bushfire seasons ever, and the more recent deluge across New South Wales has shown the extremes of Mother Nature. We are living in an era of fire and floods and the link to climate change is complex but undeniable. While much of the "news" about bushfires has fallen off the radar (outside of affected communities), the impact will be felt for months and years to come.
So, I wanted to write an article that was easy to understand and also provides some actionable changes which we can all incorporate into our everyday lives.
The key factors I’ve focused on are temperature increases, dryness and the longer fire season.
The Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO report State of the Climate 2018 includes comprehensive climate modelling that provides a strong, scientific consensus that Australia’s climate has warmed by 1 degree Celsius since 1910. This seemingly small rise in temperate has led to an increased frequency of extreme heat events.
This means that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are directly associated with the rising temperatures that contribute to bushfires. These higher temperatures have also been linked to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, causing our planet to get hotter and hotter.
Most of Australia, up until the recent deluge, has been in drought (and many parts still are). These dry conditions, along with increased average temperatures, create the perfect conditions for bushfires.
Whilst drought is not definitively linked to climate change, there are indirect links which have affected the ongoing lack of rainfall. The Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO have shown that rainfall is trending lower from April to October for south-west and south-east of Australia.
The lack of rainfall is a real issue for farmers and city-siders alike. Strict water restrictions had been placed upon New South Wales residents and water scarcity has become a real issue. Without rain, our land gets dryer. Without rain, we don’t have clean drinking water. Without rain, we can’t put out fires. Water and fire are inextricably linked in the natural world, and any changes to this delicate balance can lead to widespread disaster.
The longer fire season
Bushfire seasons have been getting longer for several years. In 2015, a Climate Council report found that “record breaking spring temperatures in 2015, exacerbated by climate change, have driven an early start to the bushfire season in Australia”. This means that longer and hotter heatwaves provide a greater likelihood of extreme bushfires.
We can see this happening year after year: the hotter temperatures have made fire season earlier and earlier, increasing the risks of bushfires and lengthening the period in which they can occur. As we may recall, bushfires were already plaguing our country in late October 2019 and summer hadn’t even officially started yet.
So, what can we do?
It’s all fair and well to learn more about these apocalyptic conditions, but how can we make a difference in our everyday lives to support the environment?
Besides political activism, or reducing what we buy and waste, two simple but effective options are to reduce electricity and water consumption in the home. Increased electricity load increases the risk of electrical sparks and the risk of bushfires. In the past, Sydney residents have even been asked to reduce their electricity usage to prevent the overload of powerlines triggering bushfires. And excess water usage means that we are wasting precious drinking water in drought conditions.
Here are some practical ways to reduce your usage for both.
Zero waste water
- Put a bucket in your shower. This will capture all the excess water and you can use it for your plants.
- Save your cooking water. When I'm boiling vegetables, I save the water and use it for my garden. You could do the same, or even use it as a base for a broth or stock.
- Take 3-minute showers. The shorter the shower, the better! Set a timer and try your best to keep to the 3-minute rule. If 3 minutes seems too hard, you could start with a higher limit and try to cut the time down 30 seconds each week.
- Choose reusables instead of disposables. Many of the materials we use, such as plastic and clothing material, require a large amount of water to process and manufacture. If you choose secondhand or reusable options, you're preventing the need for virgin materials to be made. There are also a lot of creative ways to reuse items for different purposes. For example, I use old jars for everything from food storage to homemade cleaning products and takeaway juices or coffee. For hot drinks, I wrap rubber bands around the jar to help keep heat in and avoid burning my hands.
Remember, no water = no life. Let's conserve the water we have and not waste it.
Podcast: How to live a zero-waste life on a budget with Anita Vandyke
Zero waste electricity
- Switch it off. Turn off any unused electronics and pull the plug out or switch it off at the power point. Many electrical appliances seep away electricity even when they are not used.
- Lights out. I try to hold an earth hour every night before bed. Switch off all the lights in the house and wind down. If you need some ambient light, you could use candles during this hour instead. (Please be sensible no open flames in danger areas).
- Limit the aircon. With air conditioning in most offices, shopping centres and even some public transport, many of us have become accustomed to it. But instead of switching it on as soon as you get home, try opening windows if there's a breeze or using a fan and save the air conditioning for when you really need it.
- Air dry clothes. Instead of using a dryer, air dry all your items instead. If it is raining, or you don't have a washing line, you could get a washing rack and air dry it indoors.
These are simple measures we can all adopt in our everyday lives to reduce electricity and prevent water waste. Climate change is complex, but changing our habits is simple. Let's all make an effort to live a more planet-friendly life.
Anita Vandyke is a qualified rocket scientist (graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering – Aeronautical Space) and runs a successful Instagram account (@rocket_science) about zero waste living. She currently splits her time between studying medicine in Sydney and living with her husband in San Francisco. She regularly blogs about her passions of zero waste switches, minimalism, travel and all things green living at www.anitavandyke.com. Anita's first book A Zero Waste Life: in thirty days ($19.99) is published by Penguin Random House.
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