Story by Emmjay
It’s a beautiful winter’s day here in Sydney. Sunny with a forecast top of 17 degrees.
And perhaps an odd time to talk about climate change, but it’s a good day to take a breath and broaden our horizon on the topic.
When talk of climate change comes up – as it always does when we experience a scorcher of a day, when the drought goes on forever and we see on the News floods and fires destroying huge chunks of the planet and the lives of local people, we see these stark manifestations as the totality of climate change.
But there are many more subtle changes that can slip by relatively unnoticed – sometimes experienced by a comparatively small percentage of the population.
I would like to mention just one. Its main expression is that climate change and adapting to it is an extremely costly exercise. Like a trillions of dollars exercise that we are quietly paying for without perhaps any awareness – (beyond the fact that we suddenly don’t seem to be able to resource other public goods like universities, schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and workers and fair and equitable treatment of indigenous Australians and asylum seekers).
You might recall some of those graphic images of crazy warped railway tracks from the last few mega heat waves that hit Central Victoria. This is a classic example of important infrastructure that was just not engineered for extreme temperatures. T
Hopetoun, 400km north-west of Melbourne so far has clocked up the Victorian record max of 48.8 degrees – at the airport – where meteorology records are typically the most accurate. That was in 2009.
Australia’s record maximum temperature was taken at Oodnadatta in South Australia in 1960 – it was 50.7 degrees. And as stressful as that must have been, it’s not in the same league as the second highest world max temperature of 52 degrees recorded last week at the eponymously named Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Which for your interest set the standing max world record of 54.4 degrees – in 1913.
Also, for your interest, 54 degrees is a temperature you could find inside a medium rare steak – or for vegans, a lentil burger.
But back to the point of this little composition. These kinds of temperatures can and do trash important infrastructure and add squillions to the cost of building new “climate accommodating” roads and bridges etc. Not to mention liveable housing.
Personal experience – I once flew into Wagga Wagga and it was hot enough to melt the tarmac. The plane landed and so much tar stuck to the tyres, the plane was grounded until they could change the wheels and get the tar off – and allow the runway to solidify again. On reflection that sounds pretty dangerous. Glad to be here.
Think about this. When state and federal governments decided to pour your tax dollars and mine into upgrading the Pacific Highway up the East Coast of Australia, the engineers had to design hundreds of kilometres of concrete roads and bridges that must be able to expand and contract like a giant concertina. Just the design effort alone is expensive; actually building climate-resistant roads is mind-bogglingly expensive. Like hundreds of millions of dollars per kilometre.
So, next time critics talk about the cost of changing to low carbon energy, let’s also think about the cost of not doing so. And then we can think about why cane toads are heading south along with tropical diseases creeping south and impacting animal and plant health – and the cost of dealing with those.