What Do Sydney and Other Cities Have in Common? Dust
Opinion: What Do Sydney and Other Cities Have in Common? Dust
By Dr Malini Sur and Dr Eric Kerr (National University of Singapore).
Sydney and its suburbs have been enveloped in haze over the past few days. The haze is a mixture of bushfire smoke and dust blown in from western New South Wales. As particles move from rural locations, like Gospers Mountain in this case, they make grey cities.
In Australia, dust blurs the distinction between the bush and the city. Elsewhere it blurs the farmlands with the concrete jungles, and nation-states with regions.
Spiralling dust challenges our usual ways of thinking about bush, farm, industry, rich city and poor city divides. It travels across geographical and socioeconomic boundaries. There is no easy way to stop it.
A dust storm hit Mildura in northwestern Victoria this week.
Dust’s composition and unfettered mobility make it a global epidemic. Once airborne, dust spares no one in its path. It sits in the lungs of cities and citizens. It is stubbornly difficult to eradicate.
Dust is also generated from within cities, particularly from construction sites. Regulatory bodies seek to contain these sites within enclosures. Where the regulatory frameworks are weak, environmental bodies impose fines.
Today, talk of smoke, haze and smog is common to the world’s cities. Once dust settles, we become habituated to it. Dust resides in landscapes and humans. And dust tells stories about historical wrongs.
In the early 1930s, overcultivation of wheat on the Great Plains of the US created the Dust Bowl. Overploughing, poor land management and severe drought left the topsoil exposed. Spring winds picked up this loose soil, resulting in “black blizzards”.
‘Black blizzards’ added to the misery of inhabitants of the impoverished Dust Bowl.
What makes dust harder to reckon with in our imaginations is that its particles are almost invisible and its source is generally unknown. It is an amalgam of an uncountable number of sources, often from many different countries and producers.
Whether resulting from geological events, deforestation, construction or some indeterminate combination of each, our inability to pinpoint dust’s source makes climate accountability extremely difficult.
A key focus for cities now and in the future is to think about how we manage dust, the plans and practices we put in place to limit dust creation and contain its spread.