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HomeEarth ScienceClimate change disproportionately affects low-income earners, and inadequate housing in hotter cities...

Climate change disproportionately affects low-income earners, and inadequate housing in hotter cities is a disastrous pairing

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However, political leaders have been inexcusably silent regarding the disproportionate impact of climate change on Australians with low incomes. This is especially true for Western Sydney, which contains approximately 2.5 million people.

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Over the past fifty years, the majority of Sydney’s social housing has been pushed to the west, where temperatures can be up to 10°C hotter than on the coast, which is cooled by a breeze. In the meantime, rapid housing development reduces the tree canopy daily, contributing to the intensification of heat.

This circumstance will perpetuate cycles of disadvantage for decades and future generations. Even if we limit global warming to 1.5°C this century, Western Sydney will still experience fewer than 17 days per year with temperatures exceeding 35°C in 2090.

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Australia requires a more comprehensive, forward-thinking approach to the design of hot cities, one that is capable of adapting to climate change.

Experiencing urban heat now

Low-income communities are more likely to reside in substandard, heat-affected rental housing and have the least ability to afford air conditioning. Additionally, community housing residents may be prohibited from installing air conditioning units.

Our 2016 research revealed that residents expend a great deal of mental and physical energy in the summer to keep their homes livable, while also worrying about the cost of air conditioning.

After interviewing vulnerable groups in Western Sydney, such as senior citizens, disability caregivers, and young mothers in social housing, we discovered that people rely on parental advice to beat the heat.

This includes soaking sheets in water, directing fans to blow air over them and create cool pockets in the home, confining oneself to cooler rooms, and covering windows facing west with blankets or aluminium foil.

This summer’s La Nia weather pattern may have prevented Western Sydney from experiencing sweltering daytime temperatures, but residents had to endure warmer and more humid evenings. Wet conditions and cloud cover inhibit the ability of poorly constructed homes to shed heat, resulting in insomnia.

Many residents of Western Sydney also work from home. Recently, the community organisation Better Renting published a report detailing the effects of substandard housing on worker productivity during the pandemic. It was discovered that those working from home without the means or ability to improve their environments reported being stressed, unable to concentrate, and needing to complete work early during the summer.

Air conditioning can provide relief and is essential for some residents, such as those with disabilities who rely on cool homes and vehicles to survive. However, air conditioning transfers indoor heat to the outdoors, making the outdoor environment more hostile.

Therefore, while air conditioning provides a short-term solution, it does nothing to address the underlying issue.

“Solutions” are insufficient

Social disadvantage highlights the limitations of well-intentioned technical solutions, such as the New South Wales government’s programme to plant five million trees by 2030 and the City of Sydney’s initiative to commit to renewable energy for air conditioning.

These solutions do not go nearly far enough to address the fundamental lack of foresight in urban design and planning.

Young trees, in contrast to older trees, of which many have been cut down to make way for development, require significantly more care to mature through extreme weather. And solar-powered air conditioning will not reverse the compounding effects of urban heat, which, according to research, makes us sedentary, passive, lonely, and insecure because it isolates us indoors.

Indeed, the current trajectory of urban growth in Western Sydney will exacerbate urban heat and its effects, especially as the state government resists mandating lighter-colored roof tiles as a perceived impediment to development. Lighter-colored roof tiles reflect rather than absorb heat, making them a low-hanging fruit for home cooling.

This trajectory will expose future generations of Western Sydney residents to a city that could become uninhabitable for several months. These forecasts may appear bleak, but we cannot afford to disregard them.

Even the newest and most expensive homes built in Western Sydney’s growth areas may become stranded assets in the future, when summer temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit become the norm and the region is subject to regular flooding.

So, what shall we do?

Australian researchers and policymakers are focusing on making cities more “climate-ready.”

While devastating for communities, the recent floods, fires, and other disasters provide valuable insights into design flaws and community-led solutions that have ultimately kept people safe.

We have learned that “climate readiness” cannot be achieved in a piecemeal fashion or in the background of daily life, such as with technologies that operate automatically. It entails observing how the natural and built environments interact, as well as the social practises that contribute to cooler, more habitable futures.

This may involve enrolling communities in the care of young trees around their homes, maintaining breezeways or shade throughout neighbourhoods, cooking outdoors during the summer to reduce indoor temperatures, or shifting social patterns to the cooler hours of the night.

This is encompassed by the “transition design” process, which takes a holistic, long-term approach to urban planning in order to create a sustainable future. This means beginning with what residents want and what they know to be effective, such as creating cool pockets in the home or reaching out to neighbours when heat is approaching.

Planners, designers, and policymakers must connect these social solutions to designs that make them more accessible, manageable, engaging, and secure.

As we struggle to manage energy and adapt homes to changing climates, future aspects of daily life will look drastically different. But we must also acknowledge and preserve what is essential, including reclaiming what has been lost to rapid development.

Longtime residents of Western Sydney may recall a more livable city with shaded pedestrian connections to homes and shops, seating and amenities in parks, and improved access to public transportation.

These fundamental conveniences are a commonwealth that allow us to remain at home in a world that is becoming less hospitable.

 Source: The Conversation

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