Last Monday The Climate Institute’s released its latest report on the real costs of inaction of climate change “Climate of Suffering”.  It has evoked some disappointing but predictable responses. “Wallowing in Doom and Gloom” ran The Australian’s editorial comment (August 31). Even Bjorn Lomborg, the internationally renowned “sceptical environmentalist” has chipped in, clearly without reading the report, suggesting that it is an “extreme reaction” to draw a link between cutting carbon emissions and mental health objectives.

Far from wallowing in gloom and doom, this report has been scrupulously reviewed and researched and was launched by Professor Ian Hickie, of the Brain & Mind Research Institute, with support from the Australian Psychological Society’s Dr Susie Burke, and other leading mental and public health advocates.

The report is intended to provide a reminder about the real costs of inaction on climate change. These costs are human costs. They are social costs. They are economic costs.

The report, and The Climate Institute, is careful about attributing recent extreme events to climate change. But there can be no denying that we have experienced events such as the unprecedented fire weather conditions in Victoria and unusually powerful cyclones. The point is that CSIRO and other scientists predict an increase in extreme weather events in coming years if serious action is not taken to tackle accelerating climate change.  Carbon pollution from human activity being the main cause of recent accelerated climate change.

The resilience of Australians in the face of extreme weather events is indeed, as The Australian points out, a great resource. Australians have on many occasions magnificently drawn from the well of that resource. This report highlights, however, that this is not an inexhaustible resource to be recklessly managed.

The report carefully brings this to light with case studies of survivors experience from the Kinglake bushfires, cyclones in Queensland and from the drought in western NSW and Victoria.

One of these includes the story of Daryl Taylor, from the Kinglake bushfires, who said “our local community volunteers of community organisation were incredible in the aftermath of the disaster tackling massive challenges head on. I have never before witnessed so many enduring selfless acts of profound leadership. But it is now apparent that many groups have lost momentum and are losing key leaders, as passionate people finally turn their hands and minds to the mammoth task of rebuilding, or withdraw completely from social commitments because of absolute exhaustion. Too often now, there is no one around to fill the void leaving greater burden on those who persevere.”

Daryl goes on to note “it would be negligent of us, as a society not to learn from this and other events and prepare and plan accordingly. We have a duty to do this even if there is some short term ‘hip pocket pain’.”

Another of the case studies Dr Allan Dale, from Innisfail, notes, as does the report, that while there may be fewer cyclones making land under climate change  they are likely to be stronger. He speaks of the fear that communities experienced during cyclone Yasi itself but says that for communities such as his, what comes after “is perhaps more traumatic”.

“Living for years in a slowly recovering and devastated built and natural environment brings its own downers. Slowly, post-disaster trauma gathered its community toll. Once proud businesses called it a day.” Dr Dale goes on to say that it is vital we learn from what has happened and use this to help address a major gap in the current public debate about climate change and how we should respond to it.

It’s all well and good to bask in the glow of Australians great capacity for resilience. It is, however, insulting for those who are on the front line and surviving extreme weather events, to pretend that this resilience is all that’s required and she’ll be right mate. It needs far greater thought, respect and dignity than we have seen to date in Australia.

This goes both to the support and space provided for those communities, and the services that are needed for them, but also to the urgency in taking action here, and with other nations globally, to help prevent the worst impacts of unmitigated climate change by reducing our economy’s dependence on pollution.

The Climate Institute is proud of this research and the focus it puts on the risks of further delay and inaction.  Our vision is for a resilient Australia prospering in a low carbon global economy, participating fully and fairly in international climate-change solutions.  It is an inherently optimistic vision but we must all face up to the actions necessary to achieve it.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey