gardens

Whither the Weather

I’m back in Australia for a couple of months meeting up with family and friends and to prepare and enact the research phase of my Masters dissertation around climate change adaptation.

It is the festive season and there has been a lot of parties, drinking and catching up on years passed and the tricky question “What are you working on?”  After a drink or two I may end up working through the litany of issues that occupy my thoughts: performance and security of energy provision infrastructure against climate threats, unsustainable building materials and design, social inequality, vulnerability, isolation and an aging population, changed social practices and expectations of warmth and coolth, social norms and air conditioning, existing environmental threats and a rapidly changing climate and governments, industry and populations not sure how or what to respond to. If I am not yet in my cups I say “Heat waves. I’m working with people to develop heatwave plans.”

Having grown up in an Australian Mediterranean climate and now living in continental temperate Europe my cultural experiences and understanding of Austrian climate and its changes are somewhat restricted. That said, the changes in snowfall that have been apparent over the 7 years I have passed in Austria are visible and culturally present. As an Austrian bank teller confided after I queried whether my bank was divesting from fossil fuels, “My children have never built a snowman.” Upper Austrian adaptation plans identify threats to hydroelectric power generation, propose establishing wine regions in the Muhlviertel and also predict radically changed winters and the loss of ski tourism. I tried snowboarding once, but cynically have avoided over-investing in ski culture and equipment.

Returning to my hometown to celebrate Christmas Day with my family for the first time in at years the cultural memories of climate and its new incarnations are stronger. On the 25th the top temperature broke records, reaching 41°C. My memories are that it was often cool at this time of year, in the 20s on the 25th.  The heat that laid us out three days ago is something I always associated as happening in January and February when heatwaves traditionally hit. In central Australia rainfall and flooding led to evacuations. I was reminded of Cyclone Tracy which devastated Darwin on Christmas Eve in 1974.

There has always been extreme weather, but it is changing its patterns.

Two days later and the weather has become tropical: clothing and paper feels moist to the touch. Last night a wonderfully exciting, yet destructive storm came through the state.  My partner and I have been sleeping in my mother and stepfather’s camper trailer and the wind and rain felt deliciously intimate to our tiny protected bubble.

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A Mighty Wind (27 12 2016)


Across the city trees are down and homes and industry are without power. Luckily my Mum’s place still has power, is undamaged and is just very soggy. There are fewer young avocados on the trees though, but the larger fruit has held firm.

Had the power or gas gone out we’d have still been able to cook and have a cuppa (camping gear re-purposed as emergency preparedness). Should water stop flowing there’s a small rainwater tank. There is a productive food garden and pantry full of staple ingredients. My parentals are able bodied, can walk long distances comfortably and own bicycles. The biggest challenge is that despite having rooftop solar, the way grid connected solar panels operate in Australia is such that if the network fails you are often unable to use the energy being operated overhead.
Facebook tells me that some people have internet access on their phone but no ability to make a cup of coffee.
This storm has got me thinking (again) about permaculture and its role in developing resilient societies and how we prepare for disasters whether they be small or large, slow or immediate. I grew up in the hills and black-outs were a regular event in my childhood, but over the decades we have become accustomed to things working and retain memories of governments with the intent _and_ capacity to respond to social need at scale and when required. There is a fine line between being able to do things in good times and troubles and responding to threats with a locked down, isolationist prepper mindset.

How do we design our lives so that they are full and abundant in times of plenty and security, yet provide us with the capacity and knowledge to respond, share and assist in times of scarcity and challenge? Does everyone need to learn permaculture, or do we willing permaculturists work towards designing a world in which the mindset and worldview has shifted so that a transformed and resilient society is normal?  Is that even possible, or should we just focus on growing out own lifeboats?

They are big thoughts which support my research yet can easily distract from the around the more practical and urgent thoughts of _dissertation_ preparedness. Review the proposal, put out a call for participants, make some heatwave plans and analyse the conversations and write it up by June 31st. Then I can think about changing the world.