Time is running out for a climate adaptation plan

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Our politicians have been too slow to act on a plan to deal with the climate emergency (Image by Dan Jensen)

While the climate-deniers in power continue to burn our country, they still have no contingency plan to help those affected, writes Chad Satterlee.

THE POSSIBILITY that the effects of climate change could be more extreme and materialise much sooner than expected was never hypothetical. At the end of the last ice age, it is estimated that temperatures in some regions of the world spiked between five and 15 degrees celsius in just a few decades.

Catastrophic climate conditions have already arrived in Australia. With a growing sense that the events of the last few weeks could be the new normal, dealing with the immediate effects of climate change may take increasing priority over historically unsuccessful emissions reduction efforts. 

It is striking that Australia has no unified climate adaptation plan. 

Our bushfires are escalating in number and intensity. Given this reality, leaving individuals to enact their own bushfire survival plans again and again seems inadequate. In light of successive governments upholding policies designed to discourage asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea, where is the plan to permanently move residents out of areas surrounded by highly flammable material? 

As for people who cannot afford to move, consider that tens of millions of Chinese relocated from the countryside to newly constructed cities in a few decades. The task required here seems well within our collective imagination and capacity in comparison. 

Even if people are moved, fires will continue to worsen air pollution in cities and more and larger fires will need to be put out over time. 

Our fire and rescue authorities are saying that they face a shortfall of water-bombing aircraft. These currently each cost around $2.5 million a year to lease. Even as the costs of fire-fighting escalate, there is no reason why we cannot afford as many of these as we need.

Few military generals in history have been unable to deploy a necessary weapon during a war due to some artificial budget constraint. The enemy, like wildfire, does not wait for fiscal surplus. 

Delhi’s recent distribution of five million masks to school children in response to toxic air pollution may need to be taken up as best practice in Australia. Enhanced and accessible indoor facilities including for exercise, as well as better and earlier warnings and protections for those susceptible to respiratory issues, should also be planned for. 

These are just a few matters of relevance, before we even get to responses to heat stress (cooler living spaces), or the erratic intensity of droughts (innovative measures to ensure food and water security), storms (systematic storm-proofing of property) and floods (moving communities to higher ground where necessary).

All of this will require a great deal of resources and coordination. While governments, both State and Federal, have been much too slow to act, politicians interested in keeping their jobs could conceivably be motivated to do so by increasingly engaged voters

At the same time, the market has failed to respond anywhere near adequately and it is hard to see it doing so. The private sector-led installation of the flood-proofing infrastructure Brisbane needs is nowhere to be seen.

When warmer temperatures melt arctic ice, sun-reflecting white layers on that ice disappear, causing more heat to be absorbed by darker surfaces, a further rise in temperature and a further melting of ice. A number of chain reactions operate like this in the climate system. There could be many more that have not yet been discovered and that could behave in unanticipated ways. 

Under some scenarios, changes could be so rapid that even attempts to adapt could become impractical. We haven’t a moment to lose.

Chad Satterlee is an Australia-based political economist.

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