They seem to be surprised and angered that a planning authority has started to react to the projections being made about sea level rise and that their properties appeared on a map of areas that may be affected. A reduction in the value of their properties was the main concern.
The science tells us that impacts from climate change are already happening and there is a limited window to avoid catastrophic impact. The three levels of threat used to map climate change take account of this: the lowest is the unavoidable rise by 2100; the medium level is “in line with recent global emissions and observations of sea-level rise”; and the highest factors in recent warming trends on ice sheet dynamics.
The residents of Old Bar in the Shire of Taree in NSW are already facing the severe consequences of climate change. This month, Radio National’s reported that around 18 to 20 homes were under immediate threat of falling into the sea (Coastal council holding back the tide, Bush Telegraph, April 7, 2014)
Old Bar owners with million-dollar properties are unable to sell them because the threat is immediate. The council is proposing to build a rock wall, known as a revetment, that will cost up to $50 million, a big burden for the council, given its small rate base and a $300 million backlog in infrastructure spending.
Geoscience Australia writes: “Understanding the risks to infrastructure and private property is particularly important for highly populated urban areas”.
Many landowners on Phillip Island have taken a contrary perspective, suggesting planning amendments are not required in Bass Coast because they are for an event that might or might not happen in 75-100 years. This is self-serving and misrepresents the nature of climate change and the consequent sea level rise.
Locally there have been suggestions that the council should engage a consultant to report on what it could do to protect our assets in the face of the predicted risk.
Why are people exposed to sea level change not advocates for preventive action? Why, for example, is there not forceful support for a price on carbon?
Instead there is a call for measures to protect assets once the damage of climate change is done. Calls for sea walls are simplistic and appealing but should be considered in the light of the Old Bar experience. Will they work and how will they be funded? With the extensive coastline in Bass Coast, what areas will be treated?
Like Taree Shire, Bass Coast Shire also faces an infrastructure backlog that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars for urban area upgrades, drainage and paths, and a small rate base. People already complain about the level of rates in Bass Coast. On top of this backlog, how much will be needed to cover the anticipated effects of sea level rise and storm surge?
At a minimum, we should be looking to stop development in areas that will be inundated or become more exposed to storm surges, otherwise we risk being like King Canute who commanded the waves not to break upon his land.
Instead, it’s quite likely we’ll do nothing; rather, we’ll continue to take our advice from shock jocks and people who argue that climate change is not real and who ignore the advice of scientists.
Why do we do this? Climate change is a slowly unfolding environmental disaster. Because it increases the severity of environmental events such as flood and bushfire rather than actually causing them, people with ulterior motives – such as selling coal, oil or real estate – often seek to confuse the situation.
There is a strange quality to the discussion on climate change in Australia. It has a “through the looking glass” flavour. Scientific information is subsumed to sceptical arguments based on faith and convenience. There has been a complete turnaround from the position of solid public opinion and two-party support for action by the first Rudd Government.
Rudd squandered that and Australia now has a federal government that appears determined to undo all initiatives taken to date, including perversely opting for a direct intervention model rather than the market-based approach usually favoured by the Liberal Party.
Tragically, our lack of foresight means we have also lost the opportunity we had, being one of the few economies continuing to function after the GFC, to become a world leader in the global alternative energy industry.
- Australia is one of the top 20 polluting countries in the world and produces more carbon pollution per person than any other developed country in the world.
- Without a comprehensive plan, Australia's emissions are projected to increase by 24 per cent between 2000 and 2020.
- Australia has also committed to reducing its emissions by between 5 and 15 or 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. The 5 per cent target is unconditional. The higher targets are conditional on the extent of international action
- The Australian Government has also committed to a long-term target to cut pollution by 80 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050.