Compared to Sydney and northern Tasmania, we came through the weekend’s violent weather relatively unscathed. But that does not mean we should return to our state of complacency when it comes to climate change and the weather experts predict it will generate.
Images of expensive Sydney real estate tumbling into the sea, of surf clubs that have withstood the elements for a century being hammered by giant waves, should hold our attention, even if they are not strictly local.
It was only last August a similar weather event – an east coast low which is, in effect, a cyclone – battered our part of the world, causing extensive damage and disruption.
This time around, the damage was not as extreme. Mind you, the loss of the gantry at Bawley Point was greeted with a palpable sense of grief by readers who have tumbled or fished off it over the years.
However, climatologists have been warning for years that extreme weather will become more routine as the sea and air temperatures rise. That means more frequent east coast lows like the one we have just endured and heavier, less predictable rain events.
Whether you believe climate change is man made or not has become immaterial because the data is in. The planet is warming at a much more alarming rate than was previously predicted and here on the coast we are destined to experience the weather effects that trend will generate.
The sight of giant waves sending mountains of spray over the tops of cliffs in Sydney, crashing over breakwalls in Coffs Harbour and smashing into beachside buildings in Cronulla and Coogee foretell a future in which the certainties we enjoy today are eroded and our coastal lifestyle carries much more risk.
This is not doomsaying; it is a reality with which the world is finally coming to terms if still too slowly and reluctantly.
At the local level, this new future will have to involve changes to planning laws, limiting the development on low lying land and on the absolute beachfront. It will mean infrastructure such as drainage systems will have to be overhauled to enable it cope with extreme rain events and storm surges.
And personally, if we are to slow the rate of climate change, it will mean all of us changing the way we live, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, recycling our waste, weaning ourselves off broad-acre farming practices that add to greenhouse gases.
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