‘Australia is getting hotter and our weather more extreme’
COP21: The climate and me: An Irishman in Tasmania
Philip Lynch: ‘While destructive catastrophic bushfires raged near the cities of Perth and Adelaide recently, we’ve endured a cold snap that brought snow 400 metres above sea level. We even had hailstones pinging on our veranda last week.’
The climate and me: The UN climate change conference, COP21, is currently underway in Paris. Each day over the course of the two-week summit, Irish people living in regions most affected by climate change worldwide will share their observations.
Climate change is a vexed topic in Australia. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, many politicians and journalists remain sceptical that it’s an undeniable reality. It seems too many Australians prefer just to focus on economic prosperity, and to hell with the environment.
This recalcitrance may also be because Australians resent being lectured to by external agencies. After all, we’ve rejected, out of hand, the blunt concerns the United Nation’s Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees expressed about our shameful treatment of asylum seekers who arrive on our shores.
Any criticism on our economy’s reliance on coal production doesn’t go down very well with big business. Environmentalists believe Australia is simply lagging behind the rest of the developed world with regard to investing in renewable energies. Subsidies for domestic solar energy have been phased out. Our per capita emissions remain among the highest among all major countries,
But the evidence is stark. Australia is getting hotter and our weather is more extreme. According to our national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), extreme weather, specifically floods and drought, will become our new norm.
In many regions of Australia, droughts are driving farmers to absolute despair, and bankruptcy. The Murray-Darling basin, the country’s largest and most significant waterway, has been severely depleted. The city of Melbourne, whose population is 4.5 million and growing, has built a billion dollar desalination plant due to dwindling water levels in its reservoirs. Even our magnificent and iconic Great Barrier Reef is under threat from coral bleaching, as a direct consequence of an increase in water temperature.
Just a scant 240km below mainland Australia, in Tasmania where I live, we may escape the worst of climate change. Tassie enjoys a more temperate climate than much of mainland Australia. While destructive catastrophic bushfires raged near the cities of Perth and Adelaide recently, we’ve endured a cold snap that brought snow 400 metres above sea level. We even had hailstones pinging on our veranda last week. It is odd weather, just a few days shy of summer here.
But even in Tasmania, the burgeoning salmon farming industry will most likely suffer with even the smallest increase in ocean temperature. Farmers in central Tasmania, after an unusually dry winter and spring, have to deal with an unprecedented drought. Wine grape production is expected to be enhanced by an increase in the temperature. Tasmania’s coastal areas can expect erosion and king tides. In some parts of the island, entire beaches have already been washed away.
There is a skerrick of hope that our politicians are starting to soften their scepticism on climate change. In a stark reversal of form - unlike the United Nations climate change talks in Warsaw in 2013, when no-one from cabinet attended - this time our environment minister, foreign minister and prime minister are attending the Climate Change summit in Paris. Fingers crossed they will return emboldened.
Philip Lynch is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration from Tasmania.