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Byron Shire
June 20, 2024

Imagine a climate resilient Byron Shire

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View of Mt Chincogan. Photo Jean S Renouf.

Jean S Renouf

As Extinction Rebellion protested peacefully in Mullumbimby recently to hold the Byron Shire Council accountable to its stated commitment to action on clime change (having declared a climate emergency in October 2018), I wonder what a climate resilient Byron Shire might look like.

David Attenborough recently slammed Australia for inaction on climate change at the British Parliament and recalled that ‘Australia is already facing some of the most extreme manifestations of climate change’. Given the 2018-2019 ‘angriest summer’ ever, when Australia was the hottest place on Earth and where more than 200 weather-event records were broken, this doesn’t come as a surprise.

On the east coast of Australia, from south of Sydney to north of Rockhampton, the projections for the coming years and decades by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology are dire. They anticipate an increase of the average temperature in all seasons, meaning more hot days and longer warm spells; a decrease in winter rainfall but an increased intensity of extreme daily rainfall events; a harsher fire-generating climate; and a significant rise in sea-levels.

In other words, from Ocean Shores to Upper Main Arm, from Byron Bay to Mullumbimby to Federal we should brace for more floods, bushfires, heatwaves, droughts, coastal erosion, and more cyclones and storms. It would be a mistake to assume that the climate of the past will continue into the future as these climate hazards could occur simultaneously or in quick succession. Indeed, hotter temperatures can exacerbate prolonged droughts which increase the risk of wildfires, strengthen cyclones, and increase extreme rainfall.

Photo Jean S Renouf.

A different future

This will mean increased food and water insecurity, more weather and climate related diseases ranging from heat stress to malaria and dengue, more extinction of our wildlife, and damage to infrastructure, as well as less productivity as people struggle to work in the heat. And of course, no one knows how people are going to react to such drastic changes, so social unrest may be possible too, especially if global and regional migrations of scales never seen before in history, are poorly planned for.

Which begs the question of what a climate resilient Byron shire would look like. What does it mean for a place to be ‘resilient’ to climate change anyway? Minimally, it refers to how well a place can adapt to, and recover from, the disruptive climactic events. We’re not simply talking about physical infrastructure here, but also the heart and soul of communities as they seek to contend with what is already unfolding. What’s required is a wholesale appraisal of our existing systems, networks and practices. Minimally, we require attention to the following:

  • Social cohesion and consultation: a community which is well aware of the changing climate and consequences, cohesive and supportive of its most vulnerable members. A community where each household has planned for contingencies with the support of our institutions, and which is regularly consulted and informed by its leaders.
  • Leadership, planning, and resources: elected and non-elected leaders, including politicians and emergency services, alongside community, business, youth, religious and spiritual leaders; an understanding of the risks associated with the climate crisis, promptly devised strategic plans to adapt for these alongside with the community and appropriate resource allocation.
  • Resilient infrastructures: including protection and regeneration of natural infrastructures such as forests, mangroves, flood plains or sand dunes, and human-made infrastructures such as water tanks and drains, and an effective public transport system.
  • Survival basics – such as shelter, access to water and sanitation, food, energy, and health services.

Photo Carly Renouf.

Innovative solutions

Above all, a resilient Byron shire would be guided by a shared understanding of the unprecedented scale of the challenge and unite around a common vision. Current gaps and needs need to be identified and local entrepreneurs and community leaders invited to develop innovative solutions, creating new livelihoods and income streams in the process.

A Climate Resilience Centre where the shire’s resilience efforts would be agreed, coordinated, overseen and supported should be created. It would also launch an assessment of the current efforts to tackle climate change, from emissions reductions (eg Zero Emissions Byron, COREM, etc) to community awareness raising and adaptation (e.g. Ngara Institute, Ocean Shores Community Association, etc.) as well as of the vulnerabilities of the different community members. The centre would also identity and support shelters for the community to gather in times of need, and provide training and equipment to help homes and businesses prepare for natural disasters, as well as first aid and basic life support.

The many emotional and spiritual dimensions of this wicked problem would have been given respectful attention. People would have been able to grieve the end of the world as we know it and offered means for coping.

Social cohesion would be further built through street or neighbourhood community activities, intergenerational sharing and learning, nature and arts projects, men’s (and women’s) shed style home retrofitting businesses as well as radical acts of kindness (where each of us decisively step out of our comfort zone to care for others) leading to a compassionate community. The farmers’ markets would host an annual Harvest Festival, which would draw the whole town together to cook and celebrate good locally-grown food.

Every household, business and institution would collect their own rainwater, have access to some shared ‘water banks’ or have off-grid, water condensers that create drinking water. They would also be energy independent using their own, or shared, locally-produced, renewable energies.

The shire would be self-sufficient in terms of basic food needs, with multiple community gardens, food forests, lawns transformed into veggie gardens, indoor vertical gardens, sustainable regenerative agriculture and fishing practices, and farm-to-plate type business models. A food hub would link local producers to local retailers, processors and other food markets and include a permanent market site, cafe, commercial kitchen and food processing facilities. It would also support multiple activities such as the sharing of knowledge in land management and production techniques as well as energy and nutrient recovery via composting and biogas generation.

The community would have assessed and decided what to do with flood-prone houses and buildings, including retrofitting or relocating them. For those properties needing relocation, an inclusive, sustainable retreat plan would have been devised and implemented together.

Ecological conservation and restoration would be the new normal, increasing biodiversity, afforestation and reforestation, bushfire reduction, green infrastructures (shade trees, green roofs, etc), ecological corridors, seed banks, community-based natural resource management, and more.

When it comes to the engineered and built environment, sea walls and coast protection structures, flood levees and culverts would have been considered and installed if necessary, alongside water storage, improved drainage and sewage works, flood and cyclone shelters, storm and waste management, transport and road infrastructure adaptation and floating house.

Photo Jean S Renouf.

Reinvigorate the local economy

Public transport would be promoted and supported, and the city infrastructures would provide water, shade, cycling routes, resting spots and safety.

Non-violent community safety and security would be strengthened through a network of ethically driven and trained carers and protectors, who would focus in particular on supporting vulnerable people.

The local economy would be regenerative and organised as closed cycles, helping businesses increase profitability by reducing raw material and waste disposal cost, reducing carbon emission and making their by-products a source of revenue to be bought by other businesses. The Byron dollar would have been created as a local currency, helping to support the local economy and perhaps even designed in a way to support universal basic income.

Of course, all of this needs funding. To start with, existing global climate finance and impact investments could be sought to develop local-level resilience projects. Then, by orienting planning around resilience practices, the shire could uncover new efficiencies in investments to achieve multiple benefits.

I acknowledge that climate change remains a divisive issue in Australia and we need to create new ways of living and working in our community. I don’t have all the answers but I know there is no cavalry coming to the rescue. The good news is that a lot of inspiring projects are already happening. However, community education and engagement are vitally important. Creating a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice could be part of it as it would ensure genuine community ownership. The Byron Shire Council should now consider a series of public meetings to begin to address the specific challenges presented by the climate crisis. We are all in it together.


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13 COMMENTS

  1. Great article!
    I definitely agree that the transition is about empowering individuals and local communities. The Citizen’s assembly is a good way to do it.
    It’s also important to build local food, energy and housing security, so systems for the local harvesting, storage and distribution of food water and energy are essential.

  2. Sorry, but the climate and the sea levels appear to be exactly the same as they were when I was a young man in the 1950s and 60s.
    Yes, islands are sinking and so is Bangkok, the world atlas does naturally change shape.
    I wish people would complain about pollution which is not debatable and that would incorporate any climate change that might be happening.

  3. Un-natural pollution is the grand-daddy of all.
    Coal, gas & oil demands lead to mega bucks
    & the run-off of our sugar farms create more
    problems. As for Adani our gentlemen pollies
    & sisters need to take a long hike. Embarrass
    -ing bunch. Reminds me of the song “sixteen
    tons” I owe my soul to the Company’s store.

  4. Great vision Jean. I’m in! PS didn’t identify energy self-sufficiency/ security? Lets get the citizen’s assembly in place and get on with it.

  5. One can put up solar panels, grow food, plant trees and reduce automobile use BUT unless Australians quit FLYING all around the world, none of these ‘local measures’ will actually reduce our carbon footprint. On a recent Forestry field trip to Vietnam, the students were forced to calculate the carbon offset and it was quite alarming. Even accounting for the carbon savings with the current project of tree plantings on the Vietnamese hillsides, each student accrued a massive carbon debt due to jet fuel alone (not counting in-country transportation).

  6. Okay. So who needs to fly. The big Q pilots & staff
    – along with the smaller carriers can get additional
    day jobs. The public stopped writing letters so
    mail carrying once a fortnight is good enough for
    me. Travellers? There’s no place like home. When
    the going’s tough the tough get going. Futurism
    can take care of itself since we’re overloaded with
    the rubbish. Time for becoming human again.

  7. The climate changes will create climate refugees, loss of farmland and increasingly authoritarian governments. Upcoming financial crises and probable wars will add more stress, and propaganda to divert us from the profiteers who suck out resilient communities with taxes, phony superannuation, cumulative interest payments which add up to 40 % plus of our efforts, resources and emissions. Essentially we are wasting a huge percent of our time and stuff to make a tiny percent of the world rich and powerful.
    Saving the biosphere will need more than local adaptation. It will require massive change in saving investment and public banking.
    Our quickest solution is an international effort to plant a trillion trees, to use modern water technology to irrigate them and grow drought resistant crops. We also need to develop skills in leadership and listening and effective meetings.
    The article reads like a localization plea without enough discussion of farming, technology or small business, let alone the need for systemic change. We must stop the haemorrhages of environmental wealth towards the central power accumulation.

  8. This is article id a checklist of adaptation techniques. It barely mentions the major drivers of rural disadvantage, of eclogical gouging and inequality. Adressing these will have a much greater impact than reactive measures such as water tanks and growing spinach. As long as the financial. System sucks true wealth upwards Byron shire will remain poor, as our mortgages and embedded interest payments vacuum up 40% plus of our efforts and emissions. Yes, we need more local selfsufficiency but we need to be able to counterract the propoganda and autocracy that will flow from financial collapse predicted by the IMF and ready to make local and public banking central to a new sustainable world.

  9. You’ve covered a lot of ground. I couldn’t hope to cover all your suggestions. Many good points, do don’t get me wrong if I pick up on a few that I violently disagree with.
    1. Who are this ‘community’ that will decide this or that, & how will decisions be made? Well-meaning attempts in the past included the ‘Community Consultation & Participation Committee’ formed after the 1995 Council elections. This was a talkfest of about 40 members that, apart from producing voluminous minutes, achieved very little over a year or so of its existence. In a representative democracy, someone has to make hard decisions that don’t please all the people all the time. I think we’re moving into a phase where our political reps/leaders are gonna have to exrcise some tough love. Every elector must try to select candidates not only on the policies they espouse. They must ascertain whether the candidate has integrity, empathy, good listening skills & brains.
    2. Rock walls on beaches? Planned retreat is the only affordable &, more importantly, socially just approach to coastal erosion. With sea level rise & increased likeliehood of severe weather, it is even less appropriate to spent public money enhancing or protecting a percieved private asset. We can’t afford to spend money fighting Nature.
    3. Our biggest problem is our wealth & our ignorance of how to have a happy & fulfilling life consuming less. Sure there is diversity, but most people haven’t got a clue how luxurious life in Australia is.
    4. It is virtually impossible to build an inexpensive, low impact house. This is partly due to planning laws that produce peverse outcomes, but also because of the various trades involved in construction & servicing (including off-site infrastructure like sewers. water supply, roads, garbage) that rely on regulations & patronage to make a lot of money.

  10. Perhaps a radical plan would be to cancel all mortages, pay out the bank loans at cost, ignore public debt as it really won’t matter a damn down the extinction track and this is a sovereign currency country anyway. With no household mortage debt and grants for tiny houses for those with no home and compulsory purchase of rented properties at market price net of gross rent received over the last 5 years, everyone would have a place. Then they can participate in a local economy, a local market and barter system. The govt would essentially have bought out the Australian property market. Prices will in any cases fall to zero in many inland places but people can choose to move soon, not later. Local areas would essentially be attractive only on the basis of the quality of their community life. I don’t think this will happen by policy choice. It will happen in the end through institutional collapse and that will serve no purpose at all.

  11. Thanks Jean, for starting this discussion about how we might become a resilient Byron Shire community in the face of world affecting forces. And I agree that resilience best starts at home, building community response-ability for creating the essentials for a good life for ourselves, our children and those who will be here in the future. You have raised many of the essential needs we have to address and there are so many and more yet to come.
    Liz Elliot is correct in pointing out the threats posed by the monetary system and there are other major movers and shakers, political, financial, corporate, geoengineers etc. with their capacity to impact us. We do need to be aware of these and seek to collaborate with others of like mind further afield so as to do what we can to reign in their power; But we will best be able to do th from as secure, self-reliant and healthy a home-base as we can create and sustain. If we don’t need them/it to ensure our wellbeing they have less power over us
    The challenges are great and many and responses need to be, wherever possible, multi-faceted, integrated and strategically planned, so as to most efficiently use our available resources, in particular our human resources, their expertise, time and effort. Looking for multiple need satisfiers as the barefoot economist, Manfred Max-Neef called those responses that address more than one need at a time and to get things done in the right order and in a timely way, using for example Gantt charts that show the dependency relationships between activities and current schedule status.
    We must take on this great work as a community, a half-hearted effort, leaving it to the dedicated few won’t do it. We do need to be on an all-out warlike footing in terms of everyone focussed on the common goal of ensuring our survival on our way to a thriving future. That future is there just waiting for us to act together for the good, the wellbeing, of all. Developing that community spirit, I believe is the priority because without that it will be very difficult to generate the commitment of the able to establish the scale and effectiveness of the kind of self-government that is required to do what the current ‘government as usual’ cannot be expected to achieve. This must truly be the people taking care of themselves.
    Rather than enable people “to grieve the end of the world as we know it and offer means for coping” let’s gather together to celebrate our commitment to building the New World that will replace the already dying, past-it’s-use-by-date, old world.
    There is much more to be said on this but not here now. Yes, we do need A Citizen’s Assembly or People’s Assembly as our dedicated sister, Katherine Dawn calls it in her, The Earth Holocracy Proposal. (Google it up)

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