New South Wales and Queensland were flooded the same week a major climate report was released. We need to talk about it

As rain fell 10 days ago, residents of a neighboring house in our neighborhood on the outskirts of Brisbane were awakened by a loud creak.

Their newly built house had started rolling down the hill.

The phenomenal amount of rain that had already fallen had caused a landslide that had destabilized the foundations, forcing them to drain in the dark to a shed with flatter ground.

It took two days to be able to make out the carnage – the usually prominent white and yellow house across the valley from our back verandah was obscured by the blinding rain.

When it finally subsided, we could see that the front stairs were gone, the front posts of the house were sprawling down the hill, and the right side of the house was awkwardly sagging, looking over the steep slope.

No doubt they will have to tear down the house and start over.

Records will continue to fall

Mt Glorious just north of Brisbane received over 700 millimeters in 24 hours.

Further north, Maryborough suffered its second major flood in as many months.

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Gympie, used to semi-regular flooding, was under more water than it had been in over 100 years.

The Mary River, which crosses the two towns, was at its highest peak in Gympie since 1893.

In Brisbane, bridges and roadways were flooded. Then entire streets. Nervous residents watched the river flow into other homes every high tide.

Residents of Brookfield, west Brisbane, said they emptied more than 1,000mm of water from rain gauges between Thursday and Sunday.

As the system headed south, some Lismore residents believed they would be safe by taking shelter on or in their rooftops.

But the floodwaters kept rising – record flood markers from 1974 across the city were eclipsed by swelling brown water.

Volunteers in tinnies and jet skis went from rooftop to rooftop, ferrying residents to higher ground. In some cases, they had to exclude people from inside the attic.

The people of Lismore used tinnies to rip neighbors off rooftops.(PAA: Jason O’Brien )

At the time of writing, 16 people had died in Queensland and New South Wales, with that figure likely to rise.

It is the second ‘once in 100 years’ flooding in 11 years in southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales.

Two years ago, these regions were plagued by bushfires.

Descriptors like “rain bomb” are rife as politicians and journalists search for new adjectives to describe the system that dumped more rain on parts of the southeast than the legendary floods of 1974.

As in 2011, the word unprecedented got around a lot.

It may be unprecedented. But it’s not unexpected.

This is the new precedent; the new gift.

And yes, weather systems are variable, rainfall in particular.

Of course, a once-in-100-year event does not guarantee that it will only happen once every 100 years. And yes, this is a La Niña year where the total precipitation is expected to be higher. And yes, we have always had extreme weather conditions.

It will take time for scientists to determine how much climate change has contributed to the devastation this time around.

But this is what climate change looks like. Heavy weather, collapsing records, one extreme after another.

And it will get worse.

Big polluters ‘guilty of arson of our only home’

Climate forecasts indicate that warming will bring more intense storms. A warmer atmosphere is able to transport more moisture before it is released. A warmer ocean carries more energy to power storm systems.

We are only about 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer above pre-industrial levels.

man in suit and mask standing in front of lighted sign COP26
Leaders at the Glasgow summit failed to commit to targets that will keep warming below 2°C this century.( PHIL NOBLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

They had a chance at the Glasgow climate summit last year, but politicians here and abroad will not commit to measures that could continue to warm 2C this century, let alone 1.5°C. Currently, we are expected to cross the 1.5°C threshold shortly after 2030.

As the IPCC pointed out in its 2018 report, the threat of extreme temperature and rainfall – both negative and positive – will continue to increase sharply between 1.5°C and 2°C in parts of the Australia.

This week, the IPCC released its latest report on the impacts of climate change and projected impacts on ecosystems.

Increased area of ​​bushfires, increased tree mortality from drought, longer duration of hot days, loss of agricultural productivity are already being measured in Australia, they reported.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the report as an “atlas of human suffering” and “a damning condemnation of failed climate leadership”.

Flooding caused by intense rain is already Australia’s costliest disaster. The latest IPCC report warned that it will get worse.

Yet amidst all this, the IPCC report barely noted a mention of Canberra.

Silence sustains the status quo

The IPCC has been publishing these reports for 32 years now, publishing more than 60 major reports through 2022.

Since 1990, scientists have warned that a radical shift in our reliance on fossil fuels is needed. At this point, we had time, but not much, up our sleeves.

Our politicians at the time had a good idea of ​​what was at stake. They were warned about climate change during a CSIRO briefing in 1986.

In 1990, then Environment Minister Ros Kelly, under the Hawke government, proposed an emissions target to cabinet.

But over the years, under pressure from the fossil fuel industry and others, commitments have wavered and emissions have increased.

All the while, the predictions of the IPCC and climatologists have become firmer, more refined and more urgent. And now we are beginning to live them.

But governments around the world, including ours, continue to subsidize fossil fuels and bet heavily on unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and continue to point fingers and what is- it on their share of global emissions, instead of just doing their very best to reduce emissions.

It fuels inertia if we follow the sentiment that “now is not the time” to talk about climate change – at times when we all have our hands full to clean up its mess.

Kicking the can down the road has allowed the status quo to get us to where we are today: on borrowed time, with the prospect of surpassing an adaptable 1.5 C of warming virtually a data.

But when we’re not in the middle of a bushfire, flood or drought, we tend to forget the urgency. Other more immediate problems require our attention.

If we’re lucky right now, we might get a reprieve: a few years without major natural disasters, likely exacerbated by global warming.

But as climate scientists and the IPCC continue to warn us, the pauses between extreme events will get shorter. And when disasters come, they will bite harder.

Why should we wait for the next one to talk about it? Or the one after that?

Although images of floods still fill our news reports, it is important to remember that these events do not happen in a vacuum.

Climate change is happening all around us, and now is not the time to avoid the topic.

No dodge, no delay.

It’s time to take it on.