What kind of world do you want to live in?
Many people hope for their own home with a secure fence around it and a car in the driveway. Their occupation might be in an office and, on the weekends, they might tend their garden or take the dogs for a run or take a drive with the family. Others might prefer a flat in a block of units that doesn't need any house or yard maintenance. At night, they might meet friends in the pub and, during their working hours, they might be a waiter in a hotel restaurant or someone who travels a lot for their job.
Whatever kind of 'world' you want to make for yourself - if you live in Far North Queensland, you live in a very special part of Australia - a very special part of the world, in fact. Many settlers to Cairns claim that they moved here for the natural environment and the climate. However, the environment gets less and less noticed as the struggles of daily life become top priority - the time it takes many to find work, permanent casuals, fluctuating/seasonal unemployment rate, rising food, rent and vehicle running costs, worsening economy, etc. Depending on your exact circumstances, Cairns can be a difficult place to live even though we are rewarded daily by the richness of the spectacular local environment.
While everyone is busy trying to make a living, the environment has been changing. Locally, the wildlife that used to share our yards has been thinning out and pushed out (or run over!). Diseases are killing our frogs AND cane toads. Mass deaths of wildlife are in the news almost every single day now and droughts are getting stronger and stronger. While it is not yet a household word, geo-engineering (stratospheric injection) is taking its tool on biodiversity.
All these events are not flukes and they aren't going to fix themselves. Serious actions are going to be needed to repair what we've trashed. On a local scale, Cairns has some real problems to fix and we can all do something to help. Get your whole family involved. This will be educational for your children and it will teach them better ways to live for their future.
At first you might think about the Central Swamp, the Freshwater Lakes areas and the hillslopes but this is not enough. Our climate is tropical which means that the sun is very strong and heat builds up quickly and there is more of it to be reflected back up. We found out just how strong in 2001 when we had hardly any cloud cover from December to March and the summer sun beat down on us with a vengence. The weather guage at the airport may have said 33 or 34 degrees but the reality was that much of Cairns was more like 38 and 39 degrees. When we had the heatwave at the end of November, the airport guage said 43.6C but down at Edmonton, it would have been 47C or higher and at least 15,000 spectacled flying-foxes dropped dead.
A lot of heat is absorbed by cement, bitumen and rooves. During the drought, it didn't matter how much water you might have thrown on the the garden - some plants just shrivelled up and died from excessive heat. When clouds did move in occasionally and the rain started to fall, it often evaporated as soon as or before it even hit the ground. As the clouds moved past the Cairns 'hot spot', the rain fell so the areas surrounding Cairns (while still way short on normal falls) got more rain than Cairns did. This is called a microclimate where landscape is so modified that it can cause changes to local weather.
There has been a lot of development in Cairns and a drive around the various suburbs will reveal how many new estates and blocks of units are under construction right now with more planned. The melaleuca/pandanus seasonally inundated swamp habitat - although officially recognised as a threatened habitat type - has already been significantly bulldozed on the northern beaches. Despite its status, a remaining 60 hectare site between Palm Cove and Clifton Beach is under development. Unfortunately, when we went up to Palm Cove to survey in 2001, 99% of the frogs in that suburb were found in the Juniper and adjacent Argentea development sites.
The previous and current town planning schemes for Cairns also revised the minimum residential block size from its prior 700 sqm to 300 sqm. This is so small, your neighbour's roof can be as close as a metre from your roof. In our tropical humid climate, this block size is totally inappropriate and its shortcomings are described in the tropic humid climate considerations under the AMCORD Guidelines for Residential Housing - a document which is supposed to be used as guide for Queensland councils but, unfortunately, is not a mandatory requirement.
One of the main problems with this block size is that it is too small for shade trees so the entire house must be airconditioned. Most residents end up planting palms as these will fit in the smallest of spaces. However, palms do not provide sufficient shade or water uptake (and do not constitute a habitat for wildlife). The result is more water run-off and a much greater demand for electricity to keep the house cool. The lack of proper vegetation helps worsen the global warming scenario locally but the excessive electricity consumption directly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Much of Australia's electricity is generated by coal and even mining giant Rio Tinto acknowledges that coal contributes even more Greenhouse gases than oil!
So what can you do about the vegetation? Consider the following actions:
Considering that we have a seasonal climate which sees millions of litres of rainwater flow past us to the sea (when we are getting a proper wet season, that is), the Cairns basin seems more like a desert during the dry. We have a hard time releasing frogs to the suburbs they came from when they have recovered during the dry season. There are a lot of cement drains and a few creeks criss-crossing Cairns but these are usually tidal so they are unsuitable for animals which depend on freshwater (like frogs). Even the ones further above sea level do not hold water permanently through the dry anymore. The drought of 2000-03 caused biological and structural changes to the region's soils so they no longer hold water long enough and are dry soon after rain has stopped. The more heat and sun we are exposed to, the more water we need.
On the other hand, when we are in LaNina conditions, there is too much water which is actively encouraged to disappear down drains and out to sea, carrying with it all kinds of crap we put on the soil such as pesticides, herbicides, fertlizers, etc. There is a distinct lack of rainwater tanks in Cairns' residential housing, Cairns is now taking water from surrounding catchments where that water is needed by those who live there and the environments located there.
So what can be done about the water? Consider these actions:
While each of these things only saves a little water, the savings add up over time and that's just at your house. If half of the 57,000 households in Cairns enacted all these small actions to save water, it would make a real difference to the water levels in Copperlode Dam (and the size of your water bill from council). Combined with water storage tanks, this would save councils (and ultimately you, the rate payer) the massive expenses associated with increasing storage capacity. Another advantage of the water savings is the increased awareness you will have about the water you use and ways to make it last longer.
It is hard to know what long term effects droughts and habitat loss creates but two of the greatest threats to insects and frogs are the use of the neonicotinoid group of chemicals and geo-engineering (refered to as 'chemtrails' in the past). Already, we suspect that changes have occured to the microbial content of the soil and this might be what is causing the widespread nervous system condition which turned up in local frogs in July 2002. Since then, the frog population has suffered a severe blow and even the toads are being killed off by this disease (suspected to be a species of Fusarium). Even worse, we suspect that this disease might not be confined to amphibians and may also be capable of killing reptiles and snakes but we haven't received the specimens to test - only the phone calls.
Droughts, vegetation loss, and toxins have caused a dramatic reducion in insect numbers and, as the base level of the food chain, a loss at this level can have a dramatic impact all the way up the chain as well as have an effet on insect pollinated crops. Insects are heavily depended upon as food by frogs and toads, some reptiles and snakes, many bird species and microbats. The competition for bugs is intense because of the drought (and every dry season) and this lack of food stresses animals, especially the frogs. They demonstate this stress by becoming highly susceptible to disease.
In addition to what happens to the environment because of global processes, people are also having a dramatic impact on insect numbers because of the rampant use of insecticides and herbicides in their yards. When the insects aren't being poisoned, they are losing their food supply as each big tree gets cut down.