This has been a very different type of summer for Canberra. As the summer school holidays draw to an end, many parents will be reflecting on a holiday period full of drama that has left many feeling tired and worried. There are many wondering if this was a one-off experience or the type of summer we might have again.
Many Canberra families are used to a particular summer pattern. If you have school-aged kids, the pace towards the end of the year can be frenetic. This often creates a frantic dash as the end of the year events cascade and means that many families end up doing an exhausted limp to the end of the school year.
Given this, a long lazy relaxed summer is an important part of the yearly rhythm. Even while many families struggle to manage the juggle of not enough holiday leave to cover school breaks, it often creates a different vibe with the family and different, more relaxed, family patterns. In the past, summer for many has meant different routines – nights on the back deck eating alfresco dinners, trips to a favourite piece of heaven down the NSW south coast, hanging out with friends at the local pool, and walks around the lake.
This summer many of these routines have been replaced by a distressing new summer reality. It’s a reality in which children swap stories about their bushfire induced evacuation, cancelled holidays and weeks of being unable to go outside due to smoke and extreme temperatures. It’s one in which we hesitate before wishing people a happy new year due to our concern about their summer experience. It’s one in which it has become normal to go out and see people walking the streets with face masks and facilities closed due to weather events.
While there has been lots of talk about the fact that this summer season is unprecedented, there hasn’t been a lot of time to think about what this all means in relation to our future lives and changes we need to make to be better prepared and able to respond to these extreme events and emergencies. This is not surprising given we are still living through a live emergency with plenty of risks still ahead of us this summer. However, as our federal leaders try to deflect attention from the scientific reality that much of this is due to human-induced climate change, we will need to find a time to consider what it means to be living through a climate emergency. This will include considering the action we can take to mitigate climate changes and how we can make changes to ensure we maintain livability in our city.
As a community we will need to think through what this means for us and our expectations about our summer period in the city. We need to think about what supports we need to put in place for our paid and volunteer firefighters who have been battling fires within our borders and beyond for months and months. We need to consider how we better support the community services and volunteers who have been providing emergency support for those directly affected over a period when people have expectations around rest and relaxation. We need to support long-term rehabilitation of our natural environment and the wildlife within it that have been devastated, with over a quarter of the ACT already burnt in this latest bushfire emergency. As important, we need to work out what we can do as a community to respond to the underlying decisions that are driving accelerating climate change.
While here in the ACT we have committed to doing our bit to respond to climate change, we need to continue to act – at an individual, household, community and national level to respond to climate change and do all we can to make sure this type of summer is not the norm.
Rebecca is an ACT Greens candidate running in the seat of Kurrajong in the 2020 ACT Territory election.
What do you think we need to do to ensure that this summer of extreme weather events, bushfire emergencies and hazardous smoke events does not become part of our normal life in Canberra?