My word, we are such a godawfully idiotic species.

I could only laugh last night as our television networks swarmed all over a Parliamentary committee report – a report by a group of politicians, so that makes it special – about the threat posed by rising sea levels.

The report might have been concerned about the fact that 80% of Australians live within 6m of sea level but it was the people who live within $6m of sea level that they were mostly interested in.

Nine, making a compelling bid for the most facile report of the year (step up reporter Mark Burrows), interviewed some clown living at Collaroy, who declared everything was hunky dory where he was, then gave some airtime to Ian Plimer and promptly declared “the scientists are divided”.

Despite Ian Plimer having the climate science credibility of those Hey Hey blackface blokes, that’s the view of an influential media outlet on climate change – it’s too early to tell.  This sort of thing is infinitely more damaging than whatever The Australian tells its old white rich male readership, because it actually goes to a mass audience.  According to those dribbling halfwits at Nine News, any scientist’s views on climate change will do.  The consensus view of the world’s climate scientists, the depressingly rapid accumulation of data to reinforce it, and the repeated humiliation of Plimer by people who have a clue about climate science, mean nothing.

Still, the tabloid journo instincts couldn’t be restrained – what if all those well-off plonkers living on prime beachfront real estate ended up inundated by rising sea levels?

I know the feeling.  I’ve always been sanguine about rising sea levels.  I can only think of multi-million dollar properties disappearing beneath the waves and offer a glib remark about “position, position, position.”  Maybe it’s a Canberra thing.  Sea levels need to rise by 600 metres to worry us here, and that’s well beyond even Peter Garrett’s wildest projections.

Not everyone can be so sanguine.  Not the owners of beachfront properties, who could see their land reclaimed by the sea in a matter of years, and who are starting to demand that ratepayers and taxpayers pay to protect their homes.

But then, if worst comes to worst, they can always move somewhere else.

What if there was nowhere to move to?  No inland.  No higher ground, no safe place away from the waves?

80% of Australians may live within 6m of sea level but that’s nothing compared to our Pacific neighbours.  They face not the inconvenience of finding new homes for millionaires, but the end of their existence as separate states.  It is starting slowly, with rising salinity, and more damaging storms, and changing vegetation patterns and growing seasons.  Soon it will escalate.  More villages will become uninhabitable.  More people will be displaced internally.  More civil conflict, more fights over resources, will occur.  The “arc of instability” will demand more Australian resources and there’ll be ever-increasing pressure to increase immigration from the Pacific.

That’s what climate change means when your entire country is beachfront property, and it’s not the rich but the poor who live by the sea.

Yes, we’re so much better at understanding problems when we can put a face to them.  Even if we have no sympathy for them, we can understand wealthy beachfront residents worrying – or not – about rising sea levels.  The idea of entire countries disappearing beneath the waves doesn’t punch our buttons in quite the same way.

But it will, eventually.  Sooner or later, our inaction on climate change will exact a price.  Let’s see even the most bigoted xenophobe demand that refugees be “sent back home” when they’ve come here because their home doesn’t exist any more.  Let’s see them turn around the boats when the boats have nowhere to go.

That’ll put the problems of northern beaches millionaires in a bit of perspective.