Record heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, rainfall, coastal erosion can all be expected in Australia in the near-term, reports the country’s Climate Commission. According to this esteemed group of climate scientists, the increased extreme weather events are courtesy of man-made climate change.
I must admit what really stood out to me after reading the Climate Commission’s most comprehensive evaluation of climate change’s effects on Australia was the report’s use of the seemingly non-descript term energetic climate.
It’s not that the facts aren’t important. People need to know the number of record heat days has doubled since 1960; heavy rainfall is increasing globally, which led to Queensland experiencing record-breaking floods in 2010 and 2011; between 1997 and 2011 dam levels for Sydney and Melbourne dropped 40% causing serious water restrictions; between 1973 and 2010 the Forest Fire Danger Index increased significantly at 16 of Australia’s 38 weather stations with none reporting a decrease, a strong indicator of increased bushfires country-wide. Even more, all of these extreme weather events have cost the country billions of dollars.
Yes, the data presents a bleak picture, especially when the Commission states:
“There is a high risk that extreme weather events like heat waves, heavy rainfall, bushfires and cyclones will become even more intense in Australia over the coming decades.”
With concerted, strong action, we can gradually slow the effects of climate change that are growing in intensity, the group says.
Yet, this is not a new story. For years, scientists across the world have come to the same conclusions. The only thing that seems to have changed is the urgency of their tone: we must act, now.
This is what made the term energetic climate jump out for me. It reframes climate change into a more accessible form for the public. It informs us that climate change is not just “global warming,” but actually encompasses much more. It is the over-arching way in which we describe the earth’s climate becoming exponentially more dynamic and active. This activity shows up in many forms of extreme weather events not just warmer ones, but more pervasively: floods, hurricanes, cyclones, heavy rainfall, drought, cold snaps, and rising sea levels.
The term climate change does not hold the same power. In order for climate action to take place, people must feel its effects in their own community and be able to see their relationship to similar events in different places. Then it becomes the shared story for everyone. Uncovering the facts is only part of the story; communicating and connecting them is the other.
The facts have been laid out, study after study. Nevertheless, we still choose just to dip our toes into solving the problem. And, in some cases, we move away from taking any action. Canada, my homeland, provides a remarkable example of climate ambivalence.
After serving as a global example for environmental action, over the last decade, the Great White North has pulled a complete policy reversal. The country has slowly morphed into a petro-state, eroding its environmental principles, including international agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, along the way. Last week, Canada became the first nation to pull out of a United Nations convention to fight droughts across the world. This comes just a year and half after the country walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, the most comprehensive global climate agreement to date.
Every UN nation — 194 countries and the European Union — is currently part to this agreement. Canada is setting a shocking precedent of climate ambivalence at a time when strong leadership is what is needed the most.
All of us live in a world governed by a climate whose energy is becoming more dynamic and expressive by the year; if we really “got” that, I wonder if we’d stand for inaction or regressive actions such as Canada’s withdrawal from the UN drought convention?
The climate is becoming more energetic, while Canada looks to be taking some pretty strong sleeping pills.