As the Illawarra stares down the possibility of a catastrophic summer, with temperature records already broken in a spring heatwave, Australia's leading environmentalist and Austinmer resident has cautioned there remains a gap between knowledge and action on climate change.
But, Professor Tim Flannery told a conference of environmental educators at the University of Wollongong on Tuesday, September 26, there is hope that action will catch up.
Professor Flannery said the results of climate change were already with us, and were getting worse.
"If you look around the world just in this year, you see the way climate is driving events through the northern hemisphere with unprecedented bushfires and floods," he said.
"We had a heatwave just last week, spring temperatures getting up to 36 degrees [in Western Sydney] and people are quite apprehensive about what the summer might bring."
Emergency services are warning residents to get ready, particularly after the Bureau of Meteorology declared an El Nino weather event, signalling a hot and dry summer ahead, but even if the region is able to avoid the catastrophic bushfires of Black Summer, Professor Flannery - chief councillor at the Climate Council - highlighted that the damage from climate change has already set in.
"Those changes are now well embedded in the climate system. CO2, the gas that drives the heating in our climate system, takes about 20 years to reach its full warming potential."
Australia was already losing flora and fauna species at a fast rate, with some of those losses directly attributable to climate change, Professor Flannery said.
"We've seen those extinctions begin already, and I have very little doubt we'll see more."
Despite this evidence, Professor Flannery said not enough action was being taken at higher levels of government to address global warming, but that it was possible to avoid catastrophe.
"It's a matter of people waking up one morning, saying this is the most important thing, this is what we need to do, because none of these problems are insoluble. We could be 100 per cent by 2030 if we took a war footing and just did it."
Fellow Austinmer resident and Renew Australia founder Saul Griffith has been calling on the Australian government and governments overseas to use powers set aside for times of conflict to fight a war against global heating.
While this repositioning could be applied to a number of different areas in the fight against climate change, Professor Flannery said for the immediate response, there were actions the Illawarra could take.
"Individuals need to take some action, particularly in their own homes for bushfires, but the biggest thing is the heat impact from a potential heatwave," he said.
"Heatwaves are the biggest killers of people, so are health services up to scratch?"
Amid the alarming outlook, an audience member asked how Professor Flannery remained upbeat, particularly after he was publicly sacked when the Abbott government shut down the Climate Commission in one of its first acts after being elected in 2013.
In the ten years since that occurred, Professor Flannery said the political environment had shifted profoundly, following changes in community sentiment.
"There's been societal change," he said. "We have changed the narrative, and even the politics of climate change, in a way that you couldn't have even imagined 10 years ago.
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