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HomeIssue 10Heatwaves need to be treated as emergencies: Cr Cocking

Heatwaves need to be treated as emergencies: Cr Cocking

p2610 Heatwave pool ASTC 660

Above: Escaping the sustained heat during January, youngsters enjoy the town pool. Photo from the monthly report to the Town Council by the Alice Springs Aquatic and Leisure Centre. There were 2,290 more visits to the pool this January than in the same month last year.

Unlike for floods and fires, heatwaves are not treated as an emergency in the Northern Territory.
This is despite acknowledgement by the Northern Territory Emergency Service that heatwaves are “perhaps our most under-rated and least studied natural hazard”.
A statement on their web page continues:
“During the 20th century, heatwaves have probably caused more deaths in Australia than any other natural hazard.  A single heatwave in southern Australia once resulted in 437 deaths and seriously affected many thousands.  Heat can also cause expensive livestock and crop losses, as well as damage to roads, railways, bridges, etc.”
During the record-breaking heatwave this summer in Central Australia – 15 consecutive days with temperatures over 42 – government response was limited to advice, for example, on the Emergency Service and Secure NT web pages and a Secure NT alert on Facebook, says Councillor Jimmy Cocking.
He thinks it’s time that changed.
At last night’s Town Council committees meeting, he proposed a motion on the issue to take to the Local Government Association of the NT ( LGANT) meeting in April; deadline for motions, 22 February.
It was straightforward: “That LGANT call on the Northern Territory Government to support the development of Emergency Management Plans for heatwaves to reduce the risk to life and livelihoods in both regional and urban areas.”
Such plans are developed under the Emergency Management Act, he explained. They become a tool for government services under the Act, kicking in when the emergency occurs.
Emergency is defined in the Act as “an event that requires a significant coordinated response using the combined resources of the Territory and non-government entities within the Territory”.
Emergency plans are provided for in the Act at Territory-wide, regional and local area levels.
p2610 Heatwvae Secute NT 400Other jurisdictions have plans for responding to heatwaves as emergencies. Cr Cocking provided examples from Victoria and NSW, both with a focus on local government responses and both acknowledging the potentially fatal consequences of heatwaves.
In Victoria, for example, an unprecedented statewide heatwave in January 2009 led to 374 additional deaths in comparison to same period in the previous five years.
Left: Facebook advice from Secure NT during the heatwave.
People particularly at risk in a heatwave, as the NT Emergency Service points out, are “young children; the elderly; those with alcohol, weight or health problems; and people on medications/drugs that have a drying effect or reduce perspiration.”
Both the Victorian and NSW guidelines also pointed to the expected increase in the frequency and intensity of periods of extreme heat across Australia in the future.
“The record breaking heatwaves this summer in Central Australia has seen at least one person perish and an unknown number of people suffer heat stress throughout December and January,” said Cr Cocking in the notes to his motion.
“The Northern Territory has a large disparity between Territorians’ capacity to cool their homes. Many people have suffered this summer without air conditioning and some without even having fans.
“The increasing threat of regular and intensified heatwaves will exacerbate existing social, health, economic and ecological issues faced by Territorians.
“Local government is a key service provider to communities in the Territory and has a duty to act under the Local Government Act to reduce the risks of hazards to the community.
“Heatwaves are predicted to increase in both intensity and duration across Australia and particularly in Central and Northern Australia as our climate continues to be damaged by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.
“It is almost certain that the Northern Territory will continue to have record breaking heatwaves until emissions are reined in globally.
“Heatwaves in other jurisdictions have been the subject of municipal level emergency planning and management responses, not so in the NT.
“The Northern Territory is on the frontline of global warming as we all have felt this summer. Local communities and visitors to the NT will benefit from action taken to reduce the risk to life from increasing intensity and duration of heatwaves which are predicted to occur with high degrees of certainty.”
Sounds like a no-brainer to try to get action on this, as one step towards the adaptations that all communities and jurisdictions  are going to have to make. But Cr Cocking encountered resistance.
Mayor Damien Ryan, who is president of LGANT, couldn’t see how the motion would fit in with existing LGANT policy, referring particularly to LGANT policy statement 7.12 on Climate Change.
This is what it says:
7.12. Climate Change

  1. LGANT recognises that the global climate is changing as a consequence of increased concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, and that these increased concentrations are largely the result of human activities and industrialisation.

(b) LGANT acknowledges that:
• there is still debate and uncertainty with existing climate change science
• uncertainty is not a reason for inaction or delay of action
• the “Precautionary Principle” should be included in any consideration of climate change science.
(c) LGANT supports councils addressing climate change in their strategic planning frameworks because of the legal, indemnity, budgetary, asset management, infrastructure, planning and environmental implications for councils.
(d) LGANT calls upon the Federal and Territory governments to develop appropriate policy and legislative frameworks to allow councils to make decisions and responses to climate change without prejudice or undue risk exposure.
(e) LGANT supports councils receiving appropriate levels of funding and resourcing assistance to meet urgent climate change mitigation and adaptation requirements for the short and long term protection and benefit of their communities.
Mayor Ryan saw Cr Cocking’s motion as more appropriate for health services. He repeated that it needed to work in with existing LGANT policies, especially regarding climate change and adaptation to it.
He said the motion talked about plans, but his concern was that it didn’t give direction. He would support it if it made reference to policy 7.12.
Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson took the common sense step of suggesting the addition of that reference to the motion, and Cr Glen Auricht suggested adding also the words “and resource funding”.
Although he didn’t agree with everything Cr Cocking had said, Cr Auricht said he would support the motion.
Cr Jacinta Price, however, said she could not support it on the basis of the following sentence in the notes: “It is almost certain that the Northern Territory will continue to have record breaking heatwaves until emissions are reined in globally.” That, she said,  was based on “an assumption”.
Voting of course was on the motion, not the notes, as Cr Eli Melky pointed out, but Cr Cocking said he was happy to withdraw the sentence if that would get Cr Price’s vote.
He needed unanimous support for the motion to go forward on the basis of a vote at a committee meeting, necessary in this case because of the deadline for motions. (At Ordinary meetings, a majority will do.) He finally got it.
Cr Jamie de Brenni from the chair, who had said earlier that he favoured discussion of the issue by LGANT, congratulated the room: “I think that is a good outcome.”


  1. So, Cr Price is on the record as a climate change denier.
    Tell that to the women and children whom you “champion” and who have suffered through this summer.
    They will continue to do so in a future you argue is based on just “an assumption”.
    Tell that to the animals dying in their hundreds in this Central Australian summer … not to mention summers to come.
    Can’t wait for you to justify your climate change denialism in the coming election.

  2. Chiara: Climate change deniers have equal rights with climate change alarmists to place their arguments in the public arena.
    In the olden days King Canute believed as sovereign ruler that he could control the forces of nature.
    He found out to his great disappointment that he could not do so. And got very wet feet in the bargain when he tried to command the tides.
    Alarmists believe that humans can alter and change the climate, just as King Canute believed. Deniers say they can’t. Both sides are entitled to their beliefs.
    Whether it is alarmists blaming people’s suffering in the Alice heat on anthropogenic causes or deniers saying it is the natural cycle is a difference of opinionated debate that will be with us until hell freezes over (so to speak).
    As the meerkat says in the tellie ad: “Simples!”

  3. @John Bell
    Of course, “(c)limate change deniers have equal rights with climate change alarmists to place their arguments in the public arena”, but having that right does not equal the power of arguing from an evidence base–for which anthropogenic causation is overwhelming. Having an “entitled” belief does not make that belief correct in the real, non-flat-earth, world.
    Your reference to King Canute is supremely amusing. It is the climate change denialists who dispute the rise in sea levels due to climate change. I guess that makes Cr Price something of a King, or Queen, Canute as she tries to turn back the tide of evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, given trends towards hotter and drier conditions in central Australia, Cr Price is unlikely to get “very wet feet”!

  4. @ Ali Corcoran: “The power of arguing from an evidence base–for which anthropogenic causation is overwhelming. Having an ‘entitled’ belief does not make that belief correct in the real, non-flat-earth, world.”
    To put King or Queen Canute into perspective.
    Four centuries ago, the overwhelming consensus was that earth was, indeed, flat. The “real world” of the day. Then along came Galileo.
    In the same vein when overwhelming argument was that the sun revolved around the earth, along came Copernicus.
    In essence, the Canute story is an analogy for mankind’s assumed superior knowledge over nature.
    To say that man’s ever-refutable consensus evidence proves man’s superior influence over nature is open to challenge.
    That is not only Jacinta’s right. The history of eminent precedent tends to make her position highly credible.

  5. @ John Bell: Bellie, I don’t want to alarm you but I deny your use of the King Canute story.
    What the King was doing was demonstrating to his nobles that he could not hold back the tide, no matter how much he commanded it.
    He was illustrating to them the limits of temporal power, as opposed to the spiritual. Fact checking always useful.

  6. I believe in climate change. It has been going on for 4.5+ billion years.
    Look at the MacDonnell Range which is Precambrian. Precambrian is only about 500+ million years.
    I left the Centre about 10 years ago after spending over 40 years in the NT.
    I don’t know Cr Jimmy Cocking but I bet he is a water watermelon.
    In 1965 there were few airconditioned cars or houses in The Centre but they were the days when men were men and ladies were happy.

  7. Jimmy Cocking is right: It is almost certain that Central Australia will continue to have record-breaking heatwaves.
    When you consider that records deemed accurate by the Bureau of Meteorology have only been kept for much less than a century, it would be as unlikely that we never have another record-breaking heatwave as it is that we have never had worse heatwaves in the past, heatwaves which have either not been recorded or are not deemed accurate.
    The abuse of statistics to create a false or frightening impression is unfortunately a common practice even by taxpayer-funded bodies (no reflection on Mr Cocking).
    It is also very unlikely that we will never have record-breaking cold spells, either here or elsewhere (as North Americans can testify).
    Jacinta Price, however, can be forgiven for assuming that Jimmy Cocking is making his call on the basis of climate models and recent experience (although he may simply be trading on his knowledge of probability).
    Accusing Ms Price of being a climate change denier is a deliberate abuse of the language.
    It is plain dishonest to label as “deniers” those who are uncertain about the extent of climate change, the relative importance of different factors in causing it, or the likelihood that it will continue at the same rate or in the same direction.
    But of course it is well known that the term was cynically borrowed from recent history because “climate change sceptic” was considered too benign a term to apply to heretics who dared to question official claims.
    Who would think twice about expressing an opinion if the worst someone could call you is a “sceptic”?
    Meanwhile, Mr Sharp is being overly pedantic in picking on Mr Bell for his King Canute analogy.
    Whether he meant to or not, Canute demonstrated that humans can not control the tide.
    It is not unreasonable to consider that, similarly, they cannot control the climate.
    Whether or not they can remains to be convincingly proved.

  8. I am amazed at how quickly the Alice Springs commentariat moved the discussion from council’s unanimous decision “That LGANT call on the Northern Territory Government to support the development of Emergency Management Plans for heatwaves to reduce the risk to life and livelihoods in both regional and urban areas.”, to a round circle debate about the validity of climate change. One fact that cannot denied is the growing concern that Australian voters have with politicians that still question the science and are happy to gamble with the futures of our children’s and grand-children. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle?

  9. Dom: You claim to be amazed that people are having a discussion about climate change in this particular context, but by having a dig at “politicians that still question the science and are happy to gamble with the futures of our children’s and grand-children” you are joining in the discussion – even if it is only to [disagree with] people with whom you don’t agree and appeal to authority rather than address any of the points raised in the discussion.
    You also evoke the precautionary principal, but it is unclear from your post whether that is in relation to emergency plans for heatwaves or climate change itself.
    If it is the former, then of course it is a good idea for authorities to back such plans, as long as the money they spend in doing so is used effectively.
    If it is the latter, we also need to consider the precautionary principal in relation to the economy and the effect that the draconian measures proposed to eliminate carbon emissions in developed countries could have on people less well-off than you or I.
    The Laborers’ International Union of North America recently responded to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “green new deal” by evoking the precautionary principal with somewhat less impractical idealism than is the current fashion: “We enthusiastically support real measures to move toward a carbon-free energy future. We also believe in science, which dictates that we will never reach that goal without lower-carbon bridge fuels such as natural gas and carbon-free fuels such as nuclear power. According to the resolution, a ‘Green New Deal’ would require every car to be electric-powered and ban all fossil fuels, among other proposals. It is difficult to take this unrealistic manifesto seriously, but the economic and social devastation it would cause if it moves forward is serious and real.”

  10. @ Dave. I apply the precautionary principle in regard to both heatwaves and carbon emissions.
    After many years of reading on the subject, I also have no more time to waste upon endless “discussions” and climate change deniers.
    We need action and we need it now. I stand by my previous post.

  11. @ Domenico. So many people whom you loosely call “deniers” agree with you that action is to be taken to reduce pollution yet disagree strongly with you and those who are loosely termed “alarmists” on the anthropogenic percentage cause of impending catastrophic global warming. And on how to deal with the problem. So both sides are tired of arguing.
    However, all scientific argy bargy and arguments of methodology aside, there are serious ethical issues in the debate on catastrophic global warming that will not go away or be silenced.
    A major ethical issue for me is this question: How can any alarmist in government or oppositiin or in the general public morally justify the continued sale of fossil fuel coal to other countries?
    It seems to be hypocrisy writ large to me.


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