• Chris 'Schmitty' Smith

From bushfires to floods: climate change is happening in my backyard

There was something darkly comic about the floods in the Hawkesbury area last week. People residing in the area witnessed the unprecedented experience of the recently fire burnt grounds being inundated by flood water.

It’s a region still negotiating its place in the public consciousness as the ‘out-skirts of Sydney’, and last week we truly felt that pinch, with most residents cut off from accessing the city – except for those rare units, like my mum, who took on the 4.5 hour trip up the mountain, across to Katoomba and down the Great Western highway – just to get to work.

To add to insult to injury, the Hawkesbury was also battered by hail stones the size of small cats (or to be more accurate, the size of the flies out here) in mid-January, making the floods the third state announced catastrophe in three months for this area alone. And we’ve seen similar bundles of catastrophe dished out across the entire country.

Image: Supplied.

Locals on both sides of the Hawkesbury watched on in amazement as the North Richmond bridge was breached for the first time since 1992 (to put that into perspective, that’s the first time that’s happened in my entire lifetime), knowing that only a little over month prior they battled the world’s largest forest fire from a single ignition point (Gospers Mountain Fire – 512,000 hectares).

Image: supplied.

Sure, bushfires are commonplace in an Australian summer, as Deputy PM Michael McMormack, who was acting PM at the time of the fires, tried to assure the nation. And sure, the Hawkesbury area isn’t exactly flood-proof, but the severity of these events went far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. This is no normal fire season; it’s a worrying preview of what’s to come.

The Australian meteorology site predicted that February was going to be Richmond’s wettest month in recorded history, one month after recording its second hottest month in its recorded history (0.1 degree off its record). How is that possible? The mercury climbed to 47.4 on Jan 4th, making Richmond the second hottest place in the world on that day, beaten only by neighbouring city Penrith (48.9).

All of this occurred the same day the Australian cricket team sweltered through the 2nd day of a test match that was supposed to ease our climate anxiety.

While watching David Warner towelling up teenage bowlers was meant to act as some kind of national morale boosting exercise, for me (one of the biggest cricket lovers you’ll meet) it was too hard to avoid what was happening in my community: a showcase of the rapidly polarising effects of climate change in a confined area.

Now, I’m certainly no climate expert, but I will stake all reputational capital that the data-driven, evidence-based insights conducted by the Bureau of Meteorology and other climate scientists is an accurate source to go off.

The experts have long said that Australia will be the first to feel the effects of climate change, and here it is. Sea surface temperatures are rising, the frequency and duration of heatwaves are increasing, intense rainfall is occurring in smaller windows and snow depths are dwindling.

But what are our leaders doing about it? It often feels like action around finding a solution to our climate crisis is a political flex rather than a necessary and critical action that needs to be taken.

Image: supplied.

The government proposes measures and talks about emission reductions but these largely feel like creative narrative to avoid political defeat, which in turn delays any meaningful change.

On Monday, independent MP Zali Steggall called for a conscience vote on an upcoming private members bill, committing Australia to a 0 net emissions bill by 2050. It’s important to note that it’s not 0 emissions but zero NET emissions, meaning we have to find a way to absorb the emissions another way.

The bill is tabled for Parliament for the 23rd of March. It will be interesting to see the outcomes from this.

Barnaby Joyce recently said that “the fact people think Australia can change the climate is absurd”. And to be fair, I kind of agree with him; it has to be a global, collective effort. Australia accounts for nearly 2% of the overall world emissions (which is incredibly high per capita), but China – home to over 20% of the world’s population – remains as the world’s largest carbon emitter. The entire world needs to come together for this and on a local scale, we need to start lobbying our local MPs and forcing them to be brave and act. You can use this letter template created by Anna Richardson if you need an idea of where to start.

We can’t just follow what others have done before. We must begin transitioning into an economic and environmental model that would be the first of its kind, led by our generation.

Many argue change will pose threats to our current overall economic position, however, adaptation is required if we are to influence the rest of the world.

Politicians continue to protect their policies, refusing to give into political defeat, but if we’re just looking at it from a business case perspective, the economic hits taken from these constant states of emergency far outweigh the income from coal-dependent policies.

While I’ve previously enjoyed mocking the political arm wrestle of “it’s not my problem, it’s yours”, now it’s just getting ridiculous. How much more will we have to endure before politicians and those in the community who sit on different sides of the fence call a ceasefire and do something about the problem?

If you want to sign a petition in support of the Climate Change Bill and learn how to follow up with your local MP to ensure its passed, head to climatenow.com.au.

Chris 'Schmitty' Smith is a self-proclaimed country boy residing at the base of the Blue Mountains in the town of Kurrajong. This dinky-die wombat holds many hidden talents, such as drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and is the unofficial tallest short bloke in Australia. No one that meets this true blue knacker dislikes him. So throw your Budgie Smugglers go have a chinwag with a bloke that puts the stray in straya.

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