Just What the Hell Is Going on With This Wild Weather?

Wild weather

Is oscillating between fire and flood the new normal?

Australia is set to experience some of the coldest temperatures we’ve seen in years, with Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania looking at 4 to 8 degrees in the morning this week.

Weather warnings are in place for much of the southeast as a very strong cold front moves through the country that will keep temperatures below 10 degrees in Melbourne for the next few days. Northern parts of the state will be hitting negative 4.

This comes after severe flooding across Sydney, the third time in so many months, that wiped out more than $1 billion worth of agriculture and is set to heavily impact the cost of food.

At the same time, Europe is quite literally melting as the continent is ravaged by wildfires. The UK has smashed all previous heat records by several degrees as the country sweltered under 41-degree temperatures. Heatwaves are set to continue throughout the summer making life very difficult and considerably more sticky for people and places resolutely not designed for the heat.

In a widely shared clip from dumpster-fire British TV network, GB News, anchors mocked meteorologist John Hammond for extolling the seriousness of the current heatwave in the UK.

“I think there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of excess deaths,” Hammond said of the looming temperature rise.

“Oh John, I want us to be happy about the weather! I don’t know whether something’s happened to meteorologists to make you all a little bit fatalistic and harbingers of doom… haven’t we always had hot weather?,” news anchor Beverely Turner replied, giving real Don’t Look Up vibes.

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Indeed, what could possibly have happened to people studying climate data to make them all a bit pessimistic?

While it’s impossible to attribute any one weather event to climate change, we’ve had warnings for decades that climate change is going to make the weather more extreme. We know, for example, that the La Nina system, which is set to drench the east coast for a third consecutive year, has been aggravated by rising sea level temperatures. Mass bleaching events of the Great Barrier Reef can also be linked to rising temperatures, as can the Black Summer bushfires that ravaged much of the country just over two years ago.

Extreme weather events, like the current cold snap and the endless rain, are, quite simply, here to stay because we didn’t do what we needed to when we needed to do it. Even the CSIRO has basically told us to forget any previous expectations of what ‘seasons’ mean in Australia.

To add weight to that sneaking suspicion that we may have cooked it, a recent ‘State of the Environment’ report commissioned every five years by the government has found that Australia’s ecological systems are in a shocking state of decline, with nineteen ecosystems on the brink of collapse.

The report, which was submitted to the previous Morrison government, was delayed in publication until after the election. It documents the fact that our country has more species extinctions than anywhere else on the planet, and that all but one category of the environment looked at is rated as “poor.”

Chief author of the report, Professor Emeea Johnston, told the ABC that this environmental breakdown is largely the new normal for Australia.

“In previous reports, we’ve been largely talking about the impacts of climate in the future tense,” she said. “In this report, there’s a stark contrast because we are now documenting widespread impacts of climate change.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek laid the blame at the feet of the previous administration, saying that the report “tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment, and of a decade of government inaction and willful ignorance.”

Which is all well and good and fair enough, but what are we actually going to do about it? Australia, and the rest of the world, appear to be shifting from the anticipation of climate collapse to living through it.

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What Australia Is Doing About Climate Change

The new Albanese government recently upped its commitment on climate to change by promising to cut emissions by 43% of 2005 levels by 2030. This is a vast increase on the previous target of 25-28% and certainly in the right direction.

(We’re not going to go into the concept of locked-in heating here, but suffice to say that lower emissions aren’t going to do anything about rising temperatures for at least a decade.)

While big actions like this are necessary, they’re a bit of a drop in the ocean when you take into consideration that Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal on the planet. If you factor in the emissions of burning all that coal in, Australia becomes one of the top polluting countries on Earth.

This is why Pacific nations, at a recent meeting of national leaders, have begged Australia to end its “fossil fuel addiction.” Leaders have called for urgent action from us, the biggest player in the region, saying that even the upped 43% target is “far from adequate.”

Albanese faces a particularly difficult challenge in trying to scrap coal, move onto renewables, and lower emissions while manning an economy that is inextricably reliant on digging up and selling fossil fuels.

Plibersek, while lamenting the new environmental report, also has to make the decision over whether or not to approve 27 coal mine developments, based on applications submitted to the government. 13 new coal mines and 14 extensions have been referred to the government for permission.

The Greens, for their part, have said that they are willing to back Albanese’s new 43% target in Parliament as long as the government scraps all of these new expansions and applications. This is in spite of them wanting a 75% reduction and the fact that the target has no legal binding or requirements for the government to do anything.

On a more upbeat note, states are moving quickly to adopt renewable energy sources and technology. Tasmania has been entirely run on renewable energy since 2020 and is hoping to double its production by 2040 to export clean energy to the mainland. South Australia is not far behind while other states, like Victoria and NSW, are in an arms race to rapidly expand electric vehicle capabilities.

While there are certainly silver linings here, and the fight is far from over, for now at least, getting used to and adapting to the climate change that has already arrived is the best thing we can do. Mitigating and minimising further increases ought to be our number one priority for the future.

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