Year

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities

Abstract

Climates are changing, yet how these changes will affect individuals in their everyday lives is unclear. In climate change research, weather and climate (change) have largely been represented quantitatively. Such representations offer individuals, societies and institutions limited tangible explanation of future climate change, impeding efforts to develop and implement effective climate change responses. In order to comprehend the realities of climate change and potential adaptation capacities, research must recognise how individuals and societies currently relate to weather in context of everyday life.

This thesis contributes to research on weather relations by exploring the role of weather in everyday life in Australia. Conceptualising the everyday as a compilation of practices, this thesis examines practices relating to transport, work, domestic heating and cooling, household chores, food and leisure. Advancing a concept of ‘weather-ways’, the thesis closely observes how individuals experience weather and respond accordingly by adjusting daily practices. Specifically, in exploring weather-ways, this thesis: 1) documents how weather is experienced and responded to, in order to understand current and future weather relations; 2) identifies weather response strategies, including practice elements that limit or afford resource-effective strategies, so as to recognise individuals’ inherent capacity to respond to micro-scale climate change; and 3) examines air-conditioning as a specific form of weather relation and response strategy, with the aim of contributing to future efforts to reduce technological dependence.

To document and understand the different weather-ways that exist within Australia’s diverse climate, two study areas were selected – tropical Darwin and temperate Melbourne. The weather-ways of 16 Darwin participants and 20 Melbourne participants were recorded. In response to concerns over the capacity of conventional methodological approaches to generate insights into the intricacies of weather and everyday life, two serial methodological approaches were employed – diary-photographs and interviews with a short-term retrospect. To inform future research, the capacities of both approaches are assessed as part of this thesis.

Documented weather-ways illustrate the integral role weather plays in participants’ everyday lives. Participants’ weather experiences support assertions that thermal comfort exists beyond narrow comfort conceptualisations. Furthermore, findings show that comfort is not only irreducible to degree of temperature, but is a reflection of temperature duration and the presence, temporality and intensity of other weather elements such as humidity, wind, cloud cover and rain. Personal circumstances and performed practices are also central to how weather is experienced. Between participants’ comfortable and uncomfortable weather and air conditioning experiences, acceptable ‘manageable’ conditions emerged. Manageable conditions draw attention to a problematic comfort/discomfort dichotomy within previous engineering and architectural research. Potential approaches to overcome restrictive conceptualisations and practices of comfort are deliberated.

Weather response strategies adopted by participants in both study areas were diverse. These included personal, environmental, technical and spatiotemporal adjustments in addition to an equally important but previously overlooked strategy - tolerance. The extent and effectiveness of participants’ response strategies were demonstrated during the extreme yet seemingly everyday events of Cyclone Carlos. In closely examining weather responses, factors that limited or afforded resource-efficient strategies were identified. Factors included the provision of outdoor living spaces in Darwin, and secure and authorised outdoor clotheslines in Melbourne, both of which reduced the need for resource-intensive devices. The importance of regularly exercising response strategies was also evident from participants’ accounts.

Participants’ air-conditioning experiences and practices were spatially contingent. In the workplace, discomfort was regularly recorded, while in the home and car, air-conditioning was generally used sparingly. While international concerns over air-conditioning ‘addiction’ appear premature (Cândido et al. 2010), potential issues relating to current and future trends were discernable. Issues related to: peak-energy demands; limited knowledge of effective resourceindependent response strategies; climate inappropriate or poorly maintained infrastructure; gendered expectations of corporate attire; and the conceptualisation of the car as a space to escape everyday environmental, financial and acclimatisation concerns. These issues point towards potential avenues to intercept escalating air-conditioning usage in Australia.

Weather-ways recorded in this thesis further knowledge of current everyday weather relations. Results emphasise the willingness of participants to remain engaged with weather and its changes and their capacity to respond with limited resource reliance. Findings can contribute to future research pursuing greater comprehension of the daily realities of climate change, and avenues to support and promote a lower carbon society.

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