Mar 4, 2022: Disasters of Our Own Design

What did we expect? (Source: Australian Defence Force)

While I have great sympathy for all of the people who have been devastated by the recent floods and by the fires before that, there’s a hard-edged part of me that wants to ask, “What did you expect?”

Here in Australia we continue to build more and more homes in flood plains and in (or close to) bushland. And then we seem shocked and appalled when some of those homes disappear under water or burn to the ground.

We should not have been building there in the first place!

Natural habitats around the world are disappearing at truly alarming rates and hundreds, probably thousands of other species are facing extinction. How about we leave the remaining natural ecosystems for them? And floodplains typically have the best soil and water, making them the best places to grow food. I made a typo a second ago and wrote ‘foodplains’ instead of ‘floodplains’. But maybe that’s what we should start calling them. Then we might think twice about building houses all over them.

I know we’ve been content to import a lot of our food for about the last fifty years. But the recent supply chain disruptions have made it clear that, if we want to be resilient as a nation (and as local communities), we have to head back towards providing for our own needs right here. And that means, among many other things, preserving our best agricultural land for when we need it.

In any case we might not have a choice. Before too long I think insurance companies are going to stop insuring homes in areas at risk of flood, fire and sea-level rise. And governments are going to have to stop allowing more of them to be built. Even the Liberal Party are starting to openly accept that climate change is forcing our hand (as this article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald shows)

‘Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Andrew Hall said data gathered since 2015 showed 2 to 3 per cent of homes are now in frequent flood zones and 15 per cent were susceptible to flood.’

Australians need to have an honest conversation about where and how people build homes. The taxpayer and the ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge, catastrophic damage events.’

‘Mr Hall said the increasing financial toll of fires, floods, cyclones and hail was evidence of the changing climate.’

I can see how we could potentially legislate away from floods, fires and sea-level rise but how on earth can we deal with cyclones and hail events? I guess we have to build stronger homes as well.

And perhaps we’ll start valuing bushland as natural habitat, floodplains as prime agricultural land and stop building in either one of them.

Hilariously, it’s a bloke who was appointed by Scott Morrison, the Coal-Man, who is telling us all to ‘Face reality’.

I notice there’s no mention in the article of the fact that the Liberal Party has been denying climate change for decades which has added to a culture, across all levels of government, of ignoring the possible effects of extreme weather events and allowing development in so many places that should have been left alone.

In any case, it’s about time we woke up and started changing the way we have been doing things. And that means BOTH preparing for the effects of climate change AND doing our best to limit those effects by minimising our carbon emissions and other unsustainable practices.

And, while we’re at it, it’s about time we started taking responsibility for our own decisions. If you build in the bush or in a flood plain, don’t complain if your house burns down or floats away.

I have dear friends who were burned out in 2019 and, to their everlasting credit, despite severe PTSD and financial stress, have rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt their lives through sheer grit, hard work and determination. And they have rebuilt in such a way that their home and business are MUCH better protected and less likely to burn again when the next fire comes through… which it will… and probably worse than the last one.

We’ve been warned.

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