One of life’s greatest pleasures for young and old is going outside to play, especially in a country with so much good weather as Australia. However, it is alarming to think that this is becoming an increasingly fraught pastime due to the changing temperatures of our environment.
Especially for children, outdoor play is necessary for a huge amount of reasons. It provides relaxation and sensory nourishment that help with emotional regulation and brain development. It’s somewhere to use imagination and ingenuity to create new games and take risks, well away from delicate tech and trinkets. It’s also where they connect with the natural environment and develop a sense of care and curiosity for mighty trees and tiny minibeasts.
Just think of how families in lockdown have struggled to entertain their kids when the option to go to outside to the playground is removed. In regards to health, in 2017–18, around 1 in 4 (24%) Australian children aged 5–14 were overweight (17%) or obese (7.7%). As a community, we need these spaces to be available and safe. So what’s the problem with going outside?
From a temperature perspective, kids are experiencing very different childhoods to the ones we enjoyed as children.
Increased extreme weather events are creating summer (and often in other seasons) conditions that make it dangerous to touch play equipment as it reaches up to 80 degrees Celcius surface temperature. A six year old today has lived through four of the five hottest years in Australia since records started being kept. Their life has been dominated by drought, and they know all about bushfires, as temperature records continue to break.
And the solution is not simply to crank up the air conditioning as things get hotter. We can’t just use more and more energy and bunker down indoors – that simply contributes to the pollution problem that got us here in the first place.
But wait, doesn’t solar provide never-ending clean energy?
Solar energy is a key part of the solution.
Solar energy is without a doubt going to be crucial in providing sustainable, clean power throughout Australia and the world. As of 31 December 2020, more than 2.66 million, or 21 percent, of Australian households have rooftop solar PV. This means Australia has the highest uptake of solar globally.
This does not, however, mean that we can continue ramping up energy consumption as we have been, fuelled by renewables, and not make a change to our lifestyles. Australian-specific resources are going to be essential to help us adapt as individuals, in our homes and gardens, as we travel and socialise.
When it comes to our playgrounds and urban centres, city planners need to stop building hot suburbs – concrete clusters that absorb heat and make our kindys, schools, workplaces, and homes thoroughly uncomfortable. A study has shown that for every 1˚C increase in annual average classroom temperature, there follows a 2% loss in learning outcomes. Kids learn less in uncomfortably hot spaces.
If we continue to use fossil fuels the way we currently do, by the time a child born today turns 30, the entire Barrier Reef will likely be facing bleaching events every year. When they turn 50, they’ll be regularly experiencing “deadly threshold” days, beyond which humans struggle to survive due to life-threatening heat and humidity. Sydney and Melbourne will be facing summers where temperatures top 50 degrees.
There has to be a dedicated combination of multiple strategies to slow down and stabilise global warming and climate change. We can stop things getting worse, but the time to act is now.
Solar panels to save the Australian summer.
Aussie kids should always be able to look forward to summer, not dread it. One of the many strategies child care centres and schools should consider is solar power.
Installing solar panels on a roof decreases summer temperatures by around 30%, reducing the need for air conditioning and turns absorbed heat into energy, reducing energy bills. Solar panels benefit you by keeping you more comfortable, reducing your energy bill by up to 80%, and ensuring you’re running your electronics on clean, renewable energy.
Not bad for taking one step!
When we know better, we can do better, and it all starts with taking one step at a time towards better.