Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Bless this Mess and Merry Christmas


Not the usual Christmas display


Not exactly a White Christmas Downunder but it’s raining hard in this little corner of the world. I won’t complain. It’s better than the drought and bushfires of last Christmas. It also makes cooking and eating those traditional Christmas dinners with roasts and doughty puddings a lot more pleasant and appropriate.

Christmas will be more subdued this year. Gatherings will be smaller. There won’t be the great scramble of holiday makers and visitors. The pandemic still stalks the land -Sydney has new outbreaks, mostly courtesy of returning travellers, though we are still better off than many, especially those in the USA and the UK.  Many Australians and others are also still stranded overseas or in quarantine. We hope you’ll manage to catch a bit of Christmas cheer too. Same goes for those still in detention here or elsewhere, those stuck in refugee camps and those who have no home to go to.

If you are wondering why I am in the middle of a muddle this Christmas instead of having a beautifully laid table with carefully curated Christmas decorations, it’s because I am rushing through a couple of short courses at the moment, hoping to find some solutions to our various problems, rather than simply relying on ‘thoughts and prayers.'

We might be a bit light on presents and a bit low on bling, but we wish you

Peace, love and happiness and especially good health

And a much better



Thursday, December 17, 2020

Extreme Weather – 3. Dealing with floods


Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

As I write there are flood warnings out for southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales with many small towns being evacuated and promises of more rain on the way. While there have always been floods, their number and intensity has increased as the world warms. Higher temperatures of both sea and land lead to increased evaporation and increased rainfall and the number of days of heavy rain have increased every decade in line with global warming. Unfortunately Australia has front row seat when it comes to climate change and should serve as a warning to other countries. Should you have doubts take a look at the video "Hell to Highwater" produced by the BBC earlier this year right after the bushfires.*

The number of flood deaths has also been rising, not just here but in the USA as well. It is the second highest cause of death from weather related phenomena after heatwaves. The USA has recoded an average of 86 deaths a year for most of the last thirty years, but by 2018 the average had risen to 100 per year. 

Many of these fatalities could have been avoided. By far the most common reason for them is people being swept away as they attempted to cross flooded creeks and rivers –around fifty per cent in the USA, but as high as 50 out of 68 in Australia.

 The Australian research shows that the risk is higher in places with moderate flood risk and that people in 4WD’s are particularly vulnerable, in part because advertising for such vehicles implies that they can get through where other vehicles can’t. So here is the first rule courtesy of the US Government website:  

If you see floodwaters, TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN



We saw this when a flash flood unexpectedly struck Hobart in May 2018 and in the never – before -seen floods which struck villages in southern Germany and northern France in May 2016.

Don't be tempted - even if the water looks shallow! The road surface underneath could be damaged or non -existent

Image by Linda Russ from Pixabay

Other ways to protect yourself and your family

  • Keep an eye on weather reports and alerts. Be prepared by making a plan beforehand. Look for high ground nearby or go to the highest floor in your building. Get on the roof if necessary, but stay away from closed -in attics. 
  • Evacuate if you are told to do so, well ahead of rising waters. Do not try to leave, once waters begin to rise. 

  •   Do not try to walk or swim through floodwaters either. Even if the currents aren't strong enough to sweep you away, the waters are likely to be contaminated due to sewerage and storm water overflows
  • Don’t drive over bridges in a flood as they can be destabilised by fast moving water
  • If you are already in your car and find yourself being swept along, don’t try to get out unless the car starts to fill with water. If that happens, climb out and stand on the roof.
  • If you see someone in distress in a river – and not just during floods, don’t put your own life at risk. Many people have drowned trying to rescue others. Stay on firm ground and throw the person needing help a rope or try to reach them with a pole, a branch or a plank.
  • Place any valuable items such as antiques in the highest part of the house, along with copies of important documents – insurance papers, land deeds, passports, and personal papers, in a sealed plastic container and carry an electronic version with you.
  • Make sure gutters and drains are clear well before a flood hits
  • Check your insurance policy to make sure you are covered for flood damage
  • Turn off all appliances including computersand electronics and then turn off power and water

·         Afterwards don’t re –enter until told it’s safe to do so. Floodwaters may be contaminated and full of debris. Don’t turn on any electrical appliances as you can be electrocuted especially if standing in water, wearing wet clothing and so on.

The following short video by the ABC has more

See also the excellent US Government Website which has additional advice, especially when dealing with the pandemic at the same time.

Next in this series: Extreme Weather -4 Surviving severe storms, hurricanes and cyclones, though I'm sure we could all do with a bit of Christmas cheer in between

*PS. The bushfire victims such as those in Cobargo are still living in tents despite all the charitable donations and promises of government support!


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Human Rights Day – December 10


It’s the season of Peace and Goodwill and it’s also a frantically busy time of year – it's the end of our the school year, there are concerts, workplace functions, Christmas Holidays to get ready for and  compulsory get – togethers with family and friends. There have also been so many Commemorative days crammed into the last month or so that I have no hope of covering them all. Nevertheless, I will do my best to mention at least a few of these starting with Human Rights Day which was on December 10.

This year’s theme is “Recover Better, “about using the extraordinary involuntary opportunity with which Covid has presented us to improve life for as many people as possible. For those at the back of the class who may be unfamiliar with the concept of Human Rights we’ll start with a brief outline about the origin and content of the Declaration of Human Rights (see video below) and then I would like us to spare a thought for those who are not able to enjoy those rights, particularly those who have been killed or incarcerated for defending the rights of others.




Twelve journalists have been killed this year for telling the truth. According to human rights organisation Global Witness an estimated 1738 environmental activists were murdered between 2002 and 2018 across 50 countries. In 2019 things got even worse, with 212 activists being killed in a single year.  Unfortunately that number is likely to be even higher as many deaths go unreported. Countries in which the highest number of deaths occurred were Colombia (65) and the Philippines (43) and mostly involved conflict over natural resources  -mining, logging or expansion of agribusinesses.

 Many other brave people have also been incarcerated, harassed or sacked just for speaking out. I’m thinking here of people like Zhang Zhan, the 37 year old former lawyer who alerted the world to the Corona Virus outbreak in Wuhan.  She is now in detention, intubated with a feeding tube and with her arms restrained so that she cannot continue with her hunger strike. I also think of the twelve young people who have been imprisoned in Hong Kong, for wanting to continue living in a democracy. 

Then there are the whistle blowers such as Julian Assange, co – founder of WikiLeaks which revealed damaging secrets about war crimes and atrocities and the corruption in Kenya and Tunisia which led to the Arab Spring. He too is still incarcerated and threatened with extradition after ten years of exile and incarceration and closer to home, here in Australia we have David McBride, an ex-soldier himself, who also sits in gaol for  alerting the media to war crimes committed by small number of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, after he had tried all other avenues. By contrast, the soldiers involved in this incident were merely dismissed, something that happens when you steal paper clips from your work, not for ouright crimes like killing non combatants.These are but a few that we know of, named and unnamed who face an uncertain future for standing up for others.

These people need much more than our thoughts and prayers. They need letters to MPs, Petitions, funding if you can afford any because many who speak out also lose their livelihood. You could also donate to the organisations which are working to gain their freedom. At the very least they need letters of appreciation and encouragement.  Here for example is the global petition for Julian Assange and the GoFundMe Page for David McBride

Then there are those currently being persecuted in their own country such as the Uighurs in China and the Rohingya in Myanmar and those in all the many countries currently riven by war. Those fleeing from war, persecution and environmental destruction also need and deserve our help. 

On the subject of  refugees, I want to make special mention of the 300 or so refugees being held in off -shore and on -shore detention in Australia and especially the little Tamil family which had made their home in Biloela, but have now spent 1000 days in isolation and detention on Christmas Island. These people have already proved themselves to be good, hard -working citizens and the little country town and the little country town in which they have been living desperately wants them back. Read their story and sign the petition about this here.

These are by no means the only Human Rights violations. They include things like not being allowed to practice your religion, being discriminated against at work, not being allowed any free time, or when the law is not exercised impartially, but let start with those which involve deprivation of life or liberty, because all other freedoms follow from there.

What can be done when a country breaches International Human Rights Law?

 The most serious crimes such as genocide or war crimes are dealt with by the International Criminal Courts after referral by the UN or the country itself:
When a Country Breaches International Human Rights Law

There are also 184 non profit organisations scattered across 112 Countries. Perhaps the best known among them is Amnesty International which advocates for individuals, investigates breaches, runs campaigns and supports those in prison. Click here are some actions which you can take now. It is also where you can write individual letters of support. Other International organisations include Human Rights Watch and Global Witness but click here for more.  

For organisations which operate in Australia click here 

Within Australia there are groups such as the Refugee Council of Australia which has been very active with respect to the rights of those in detention.

Must go, much to do. Look after yourselves and be kind to others – more soon,



Monday, December 07, 2020

kindly reprinted from The Conversation

Could traditional architecture offer relief from soaring temperatures in the Gulf?

Erwin Bolwidt/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA
Amin Al-Habaibeh, Nottingham Trent University

Temperatures in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran could soar to uninhabitable levels during the course of this century, according to a new study.

Already, places such as Al Ain and Kuwait can experience temperatures of up to 52℃. But the study predicts that the effects of global warming and the increase in greenhouse gases could push the average temperature up to the mid 50℃s or lower 60℃s.

Currently, many residents of the gulf can find refuge in air-conditioned homes, shopping centres and cars. But as temperatures increase, so does the need for cheaper, more sustainable, less energy-intensive ways of staying cool. Fortunately, the region’s past offers a rich source of architectural inspiration.

A history of heat

Historically, the inhabitants of the Gulf were either farmers living near oases in agricultural villages, Bedouins living in tents in the desert, or urban dwellers living in cities. Given the global trend toward urbanisation, it makes sense to take a closer look at how the latter group coped with the heat.

Traditional buildings in the gulf’s cities and villages are designed to maximise shading, reduce thermal gain of the sun radiation, regulate building temperature and enhance air circulation. These effects are achieved through a clever combination of building materials, placement and design.

All natural. Erwin Bolwidt, CC BY-NC-SA

Natural materials such as limestone and mud – in some cases mixed with local desert plants – provide a construction material with the capacity to regulate building temperatures. The material itself is capable of absorbing moisture in humid conditions, which can later evaporate during hot and sunny days to provide a slight cooling effect. And the sandy texture and colour of the buildings reduces both the absorption and emission of radiating heat.

Built close, for comfort. Felibrilu/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Traditional buildings are placed adjacent to one another, with narrow roads and alleyways in between. This means that the ratio of the area exposed to the sun relative to the building’s total volume is minimised, which in turn limits heat increases during the day time.

Many traditional structures feature an internal courtyard, often containing trees and a water well. The courtyard is typically surrounded by rooms or walls on all sides, maximising the area in shadow throughout the day and creating a space for socialising in the evenings. When the sun bears down at midday, the courtyard works as a chimney for the hot air to rise and be replaced by cooler air from the surroundings rooms – this promotes air circulation and creates a cooling effect.

Lattice windows. seier+seier/Flickr, CC BY

Glass is not a common material in traditional buildings. A typical room has two external windows: one very small window, located high up the wall, which is kept open to allow air to circulate and let in natural light. The second is larger, and closed by wooden shutters, with grooves to allow the flow of air inside the room while maintaining privacy. Rooms also have windows towards the internal courtyard for improved cooling. Finally, a mushrabiya – a projecting window with carved wooden latticework, typically located on the upper stories of a building – allowed for better air circulation and a view.

A wind tower. Felibrilu/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Some buildings also have a wind tower, which creates natural ventilation by circulating cool air. The narrow streets allowed them to be covered in most cases by light material from date palm trees to avoid direct sun light. This allowed for better air circulation between streets and courtyards of buildings, via the rooms.

All of these features helped to keep traditional buildings cool. But the question remains, how can we apply them in today’s cities?

Hot, modern buildings

Modern buildings in the Gulf are built predominantly from reflective glass, concrete and asphalt, which means that temperatures really soar during day time, due to high reflection or high absorption and emission of radiated heat.

But with research and improvements in building and pavement materials, designs, urban planning, insulation and the use of renewable energy, cities in the Gulf could maintain a comfortable lifestyle, with a lower level of carbon emission and fossil fuel use.

For example, Masdar city in the United Arab Emirates has attempted to combine some of the lessons learned from the past with modern technologies by increasing shaded areas, creating narrow streets and constructing a wind tower.

The basic function of my patented heat sink. Author provided

The use of insulation would also reduce the need for air conditioning and lower electricity consumption. Meanwhile, natural or new materials which absorb moisture and increase thermal capacity (meaning the material can maintain lower temperatures in higher heats) could regulate heat gain and facilitate the natural cooling process.

I have developed a new patented technology to regulate building temperatures in extremely hot conditions using a heat sink in the ground. The heat sink will allow the ground to exchange heat with the envelope of the building, thereby reducing its thermal gain on hot days.

In recent years, the Gulf countries have sat up and paid attention to renewable energy and sustainability measures. Research and development is expected to progress further in this area if people are to live comfortably at the expected high levels of temperature, while reducing their dependency on fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Read more: Adrian Pitts, professor of sustainable architecture at the University of Huddersfield, looks at the impact on cities.The Conversation

Amin Al-Habaibeh, Professor of Intelligent Engineering Systems, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.