Next year, I will clock up 50 years as a firefighter. In my line of work, the sound of an alarm always triggers an immediate, coordinated, and focused response. Firefighters are trained to be out the door and at an incident within minutes of the alarm, and to do whatever needs to be done to save lives, property and the environment.
During an emergency, ignoring warnings or reacting slowly can be deadly. Every second matters, and sometimes the cost of any delay can be counted in lives lost, injuries sustained, properties destroyed, and the environment scarred.
When it comes to warnings about the urgent need to act on climate change, the IPCC’s latest report may not have come with blaring sirens and flashing lights, but as the UN Secretary-General said, it is a code red warning for humanity.
Put together by more than 200 scientists from around the world who reviewed thousands of studies, the IPCC update tells us that Australia has warmed by 1.4°C in the past century; heat extremes, droughts, heavy rainfall and floods have all increased due to climate change. Weather extremes like those that drove Australia’s Black Summer fires will become more common, and even more catastrophic fires are inevitable as the planet warms.
Research following Black Summer concluded that the weather that drove the massive fires for months will be “average” by 2040, and “exceedingly cool” by 2060; so rather than an unprecedented outlier, fires like that will become a regular horror show.
The IPCC issued a stark warning: the steps we take from today to phase out coal, oil and gas – the biggest drivers of climate change – and to achieve net zero emissions, will determine whether our children have a liveable future, or one that is incompatible with a functional human society.
Our political leaders and decision makers need to actually read the evidence in this report and understand that we face a profound threat – and that it is their duty to act and to lead.
Heatwaves have killed hundreds in Canada and the Pacific North-west; wildfires scorch the USA, Siberia, Italy, Greece, Canada, Turkey and other countries; and the death toll from unprecedented flooding in China, Germany and other countries mount. But just like the myth about the Roman Emperor Nero, the federal government fiddles while the world burns, and ignores the increasingly dire warnings that we need to act urgently to avoid irreversible damage.