The 2023-2024 summer is bringing particularly hot, dry El Niño conditions. This means lower risk of floods like we saw in 2022, and higher risk of heatwaves. This is especially worrying because heatwaves are the most deadly of all environmental disasters, killing more Australians than floods, fires and storms combined.
Heat-related deaths in Brisbane are set to increase fivefold by 2050, and Ryan is not immune: suburbs like Taringa, Paddington, Kenmore, Bellbowrie and Keperra have been identified as high risk areas.
As the Greens’ federal spokesperson for Transport, Infrastructure and Sustainable Cities, I have been calling for the government to create a national heatwave plan, and developing ideas as part of Greens policy. And as your local MP, it’s important to me that I help where I can to provide information and support for those at risk in our local area. I’ve included all of this below.
We need a national heatwave plan
Preparing for heatwaves means reducing their likelihood, mitigating risk, and being ready to respond if the worst comes. I’ve called on the government to create a national plan to address the many factors that are involved – here’s some of my suggestions.
Mandate sustainable housing design – black roofs, lack of good ventilation, and non-insulating windows increase indoor heat significantly. Energy efficient design should be mandated in new developments, accompanied by a plan to retrofit existing residences, including rentals, over time.
Expand tree coverage – areas with few or no shade trees are up to 7 degrees hotter than areas with significant canopy coverage, yet large areas of suburbs in Brisbane are sorely lacking proper shade trees. Not only does it cool the general area, but it’s easier and safer to get around shady streets than hot, over-concreted ones. Governments should collaborate on a mass greening to ensure all suburbs have cool, shady streets.
No new coal and gas – the first step in real climate action is to stop pouring fuel on the fire. The government has approved 5 new coal mines this year, and gives $10.5 billion each year in subsidies to fossil fuels, accelerating global warming. New coal and gas approvals should be banned, and we can redirect those subsidies to disaster preparedness.
Financial assistance – it’s hard to look after yourself if you’re struggling to pay the bills. People worried about not being able to afford the power bill won’t switch on the aircon. Easy-to-access government supports would save lives during heatwaves.
Emergency response – emergency departments and services are underfunded and often can’t sustain the major influxes that come in disasters like heatwaves. We need to double funding to emergency services, expand public hospital capacity, and create an outreach army to reach vulnerable people during a heatwave.
Cheap, publicly owned renewables – heatwaves bring the risk of brownouts and blackouts. Urgently increasing our capacity to generate and store renewable energy means cheaper and more reliable power, so people can afford to have the fan or aircon on without dangerous outages.
Local infrastructure and capacity – the west side needs significantly more public libraries, pools and community centres to act as heatwave refuges, and more sheltered bus stops. We need more bushfire escape routes, and local firefighting capacity in areas like Moggill and Brookfield.
Cool and accessible transport alternatives – too many bus stops on the west side don’t have a proper shelter, making it dangerous to wait around in the heat. But when the buses are infrequent and poorly connected, the waiting time and distance to walk adds up. Just another reason why public transport should be free, frequent, accessible and well-connected.
What you can do
It’s important to have a plan for what to do and where you can go in a heatwave. Keeping cool and hydrated are crucial, especially at night and when you’re sleeping. Ventilate your house as much as possible by opening windows that aren’t letting in direct sunlight, but close curtains or blinds to block windows facing the sun.
In extreme heat, try to drink 2-3L of water per day – that’s at least 8 cups – even if you aren’t particularly thirsty. Alcohol and caffeine can be dehydrating, so make sure enough of your intake is plain water. A slice of citrus can make water more appealing if you’re struggling to drink enough.
Surgical or cloth masks don’t filter out smoke or fine particles, so in bushfire conditions, protect yourself from smoke by wearing a P2 or N95 face mask when outside. My office has plenty of these masks available, so please pop in and grab some if you're struggling to find any.
If you’re able to, it’s good to check in on neighbours, particularly any vulnerable people in your community. Heatwaves can cause power outages, so offering a neighbour a cool glass of water could be crucial.
Things to check:
- Register for the Bureau of Meteorology Weather app to receive warnings for upcoming weather events
- Understand the risk that might be posed to your health in a heatwave event
- Check in with any friends or neighbours who may be at risk, and see if you can help each other prepare.
- Register for the Brisbane Severe Weather Alert service
- If you have pets, read up on tips for caring for animals during summer
- If you or your friends and family have a disability, check out this emergency preparedness resource written by Queenslanders with Disability Network
Where you can go
Many don’t have access to air-conditioning or adequate airflow in their homes, and rising energy costs means people struggling to pay the bills are less likely to run the air-con even when they need to. That’s why it’s so important that our cities have adequate public spaces where people can go to get out of the heat. This includes libraries, pools, and community centres. You could also check out your closest parks to see if they have adequate shaded areas that could be cooler than being inside on a hot day.
Pop into my office!
My office is open 9am-5pm on weekdays for anyone who wants to pop in, have a cool, airconditioned space, some cold-water and some wifi for a few hours, so please pop in if you need this kind of space! The address is 188 Moggill Rd, Taringa, and it's close to both the Taringa train station and bus stops on Moggill Rd.
Kenmore Village, 9 Brookfield Road
Mt Coot-tha Library
Brisbane Botanic Gardens, 152 Mt Coot-tha Road, Toowong
Indooroopilly Shopping Centre Level 4, 322 Moggill Road, Indooroopilly
87 Amarina Avenue, Ashgrove
37 Heliopolis Parade, Mitchelton
14 Caroline Street, Paddington
47 Birkin Road, Bellbowrie