The Adelaide morgue was already full from the heatwave before the weekend firestorm claimed upward of 200 lives in Victoria. Melbourne rail lines buckled in the heat as the bushfires raged out of control. Meanwhile, more than 60 per cent of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone in the worst floods for more than 30 years.
Australia has experienced bushfires and cyclones since the dawn of time. But in recorded history, we have never seen anything like the heatwave that saw temperatures across southern Australia soar above 40C for days on end. On the Saturday of the firestorm that claimed so many lives, the mercury hit 48C.
While it is be impossible to say whether these particular weather events were caused by climate change, what is clear is that these kinds of extreme weather events will become more frequent and more severe as climate change advances. This week, firestorms in Victoria and floods in Queensland. Next month floods in Bangladesh? Or a cyclone in New Orleans? Or the endless drought in the Murray Darling? What matters is that our climate is changing. The impacts are going to be severe. And we’re running out of time to act.
So often in human affairs, it takes a tragedy to galvanise action. The horrific events of the past week have created a psychic break. The world is different now. The climate has changed. The Government’s pathetic façade of climate policy no longer makes any sense. How can it? Australian’s are dying as a result of extreme weather events.
And a $42 billion stimulus package that doesn’t deliver a massive climate change mitigation and adaptation program isn’t going to make sense either. We’ve been reminded what is important in life, and it isn’t buying more stuff. It is our families, our loved ones, our community. It’s our future.
Next time some politician starts to weasel out of their commitment to take action on climate change, they should be reminded of the tragedy at Marysville. Next time the coal industry is lobbying for policies that will almost certainly see more Australian’s killed in extreme weather events and natural disasters, they should be reminded of Kinglake. These are tragedies that will forever be etched into the nation’s psyche. A testament to the awful power that nature can unleash, as well as to the power of communities to pull together in times of crisis.
But how many more tragedies do we need? Nothing could have prevented what happened last weekend, but what we can still prevent is runaway global warming that would see these kind of events happen far more often. But we are rapidly running out of time.
Climate change makes the global economic crisis look like a Sunday school picnic. We’re looking at a future where our summers don’t just have five days above 40C, but perhaps 20 days or more. But where is the emergency response? Rudd’s climate policy isn’t even serious, let alone sufficient.
Until now, the real leadership on climate change has been coming from the grassroots. An uprising of community climate action groups saw the first national climate action summit take place at the start of the 2009 parliament. More than 150 groups from every state in Australia launched a national campaign for emergency action to avoid the very future that we have witnessed this week.
This growing people’s movement is part of a global tectonic plate that is slowly but surely shifting politics the world over. The question is whether it can overcome the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby in time to avert a climate catastrophe. But the past few days has seen a sudden shift in the other tectonic plate that will define the 21st century - a changing climate and the power of nature with all it’s fury unleashed.
In the past week we have caught a terrifying glimpse of our future on a warming planet. Is it serious enough yet Mr Rudd?
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