Heat waves and extreme heat can cause heat related illnesses from heat rashes to heat stroke. Existing medical conditions can be exacerbated by heat include heat disease, diabetes, respiratory or circulatory illnesses or mental illnesses. There is lots of information about how heat impacts our health. We’ve collected some resources for you here:
On Tuesday 11 May over three dozen community members from across Western Sydney met in Blacktown to join the conversation on the health impacts of rising temperatures. The two main speakers for the evening were Dr Kim Loo, NSW Chair of Doctors for the Environment, Riverstone GP and newly elected member of the NSW Australian Medical Association Committee, and Dr Andrew Melito of Kildare Medical Centre, long time Western Sydney resident and Wiradjuri man.
The attendees heard that extreme heat can have significant health impacts for people of all ages. The impacts of heat can be wide ranging, from respiratory distress, pressure on heart function and circulation, to mental health and anxiety. Vulnerable members of our community at in the most danger during heatwaves, but even healthy people can be impacted by heat exhaustion or mental fatigue caused by sleeplessness. Dr Melito spoke specifically about his passion for Aboriginal and community health and how heat impacts that community.
You can find the slides for Dr Kim Loo’s presentation here:
The audience contributed engaging questions. They raised local issues including the construction of the Western Sydney Airport, planned garbage incinerators in the Blacktown area, energy efficiency in homes, and the need to cool down classrooms for students in our hottest suburbs. Audience members also added notes with issues they care about or want more attention on.
Some of the solutions to extreme urban heat are large and complex policy issues, but many of the solutions raised at the meeting could be implemented simply. Increasing awareness of the health impacts of heat will help communities protect themselves and know the warning signs for heat stroke. If we start with planting trees, creating more shade, using renewable energy for affordable air conditioning, using cooler materials and installing water features, we will be able to cool our suburbs and prevent heat related diseases. These community priorities are a good place to start as we take on the more complex challenges of making our cities more liveable, sustainable and equitable.
On the 2nd of May 2021, twenty-five people gathered in Campbelltown for the Sweltering Cities South West Sydney community meeting. The passionate residents shared their great vision for a liveable, healthy, sustainable and equitable local community. They discussed the biggest challenges that come from living in hot suburbs with rising temperatures, as well as the solutions they feel best meet the community’s needs.
The biggest issues related to extreme heat and rising temperatures locally were:
Transport. Many people were frustrated that South West Sydney still has to deal with old hot trains and bus stops without shelters. People discussed the health impacts of having to stand in the sun to wait for a bus without shelter or a seat. There is also too much air pollution from cars and trucks.
Housing. Hot homes are a big health risk. We need higher standards for energy efficiency and passive cooling so people don’t have to rely on air conditioning.
Not enough support for the most vulnerable. Heat impacts the elderly, people with disabilities, people with health conditions and poorer people. We aren’t doing enough to make sure people are safe during heatwaves.
Unsustainable or bad planning resulting in more urban heat islands that are dangerously hot in summer. Dark surfaces, concrete and treeless streets are increasing temperatures.
There are big impacts on the natural environment, including our lakes and rivers, native animals and green spaces. There is too much deforestation.
It’s difficult for the community to contribute to building a better suburb. Many participants said that they had contributed to many government consultations but don’t feel listened to. They want to participate in sustainable development but feel shut out.
Schools are too hot and under resourced. Kids struggle to learn in hot classrooms and some areas are impacted much more than others.
The solutions the community propose are:
A planning system that creates liveable, green, and nice suburbs that people can be proud of. People should be able to have a voice in the planning process.
A transportation system that supports all residents. People want green transportation that won’t contribute to air pollution.
The environment and the community should be put first.
Bus shelters and cool trains should be mandatory.
Sustainable principles for development that include low pollution, access to water, trees and green space, and local jobs.
Better funding for schools for cool buildings, play and learning spaces.
Invest in technology for renewable energy powered transport and homes.
Health services to support people who struggle in the heat.
Climate action to stop rising temperatures.
Transparency in the use of public funds and the government approval process.
We think that when decision makers are looking for ways to mitigate and adapt to rising temperatures they should start with these great ideas. The next steps are for us to continue working together for a more equitable and sustainable planning system, climate action and funding to support communities in our hottest suburbs. We’re going to take these challenges and solutions to the candidates in the upcoming NSW Local Government election, and to the NSW Planning Minister. Representatives will hear first hand about the community health impacts of rising temperatures and urban heat islands.
“Almost one-third of Sydney residents leave their homes to cool down during hot weather, while 55 per cent of people do not turn on their airconditioners because of the cost of energy bills.
A survey of how people cope with hot weather found nearly half of all apartment dwellers leave their homes for a cooler location such as a shopping centre, cinema or library, compared to 27 per cent of people who live in houses.
The survey conducted by the community-based Sweltering Cities found 62 per cent of people aged 25-34 did not turn on airconditioning at home because of concerns about cost.
Amanda Forbes lives in a three-level townhouse in North Parramatta with her husband Jake, daughter Harriet and brother Grant.
Ms Forbes said it was difficult to cool her home because there was so much open space and no awning over the back sliding doors meant “the sun just directly pours into the house”.
“The vertical blinds which most renters would be familiar with do nothing in terms of reducing the amount of heat that can come into the house,” she said.”
“Emma Bacon, founder of community group Sweltering Cities, said homes in Sydney had not been built to deal with the rising temperatures caused by climate change.
“Too many houses in Australia haven’t been built to keep cool without aircon in the extreme heat of our summers,” she said.
“They aren’t insulated well enough, or aren’t designed to take advantage of cross breeze, have dark surfaces that attract and absorb heat, or don’t have trees to provide shade or cool the land around the house.
“You’ll see new suburbs with houses barely metres apart with almost no eaves.”
Corrie Diamond said she was “dreading” the summer after a couple of days of hot weather last month left her in discomfort and unable to sleep.
“I wrapped myself in a damp towel with ice cubes,” she said. “This helped for a little bit, but I was melting and felt really uncomfortable.””
This may seem like just a good excuse to go to the beach, but as the planet warms and summers become longer and less bearable, heatwaves are coming to represent an existential threat to Australian suburbs.
Already, heat kills more people in Australia than any other natural disaster, including floods, cyclones and bushfires.
Now, faced with the prospect of 50-degree-plus summers, experts say highly urbanised parts of Australia may become unliveable within decades.
The race is on to re-imagine, redesign and rebuild the Australian suburb.”
“A project called Sweltering Cities is surveying residents to hear what it’s like to live, work and travel around Western Sydney on days of extreme heat.
The responses so far paint a scary picture, says Emma Bacon, who’s running the survey.
“The amount of people who use the word ‘dread’ with me about summer is shocking,” she says.
“Overwhelmingly, they’re saying political parties should have policies to address the heat in the city.””