Make no mistake: these floods are climate change playing out in real time

Time to adapt: the flooding in Lismore this week. Credit:Elise Derwin

Horrifically, as we are seeing in these unspeakable events, people die. People lose their loved ones. Others lose their homes or their pets. The environment gets slammed. All kinds of inequality magnify these effects, and these effects in turn magnify inequalities. This is why climate change is known as a “threat multiplier”.

We know this. What we often fail to recognise is that all of these impacts intersect with each other, making them all worse. In the months after such spectacular disasters, people who are left homeless and/or without a livelihood often suffer acute and long-term physical and mental ill-health.

Communities and the networks of supportive relationships they provide can be torn apart as people move away, leaving those who remain more isolated and vulnerable to experiencing the post-traumatic stress that often lives in the wake of such disasters. But all “recovery” efforts – whether rebuilding physical infrastructure, or rebuilding community – require healthy people.

These floods can no longer be accurately described as a “one in 1000-year” event, as suggested by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. It is just five years since Lismore’s last catastrophic flooding event, and just a decade since Brisbane’s notorious 2011 floods. But neither are they “the new normal”, given the escalating changes. In our intensifying climate, heroic ideals of “rebuilding” and “recovery” will not always be possible.

Not only do the varied impacts of individual extreme weather events interact with each other, they compound upon legacies of loss, trauma, disruption and incapacitation that have come (not that long) before.

Many people affected by the current floods have also suffered through recent climate-related extreme events, including previous floods, storms, heatwaves and the Black Summer fires. Because they are still dealing with the lingering effects of these other manifestations of a changing climate, including serious financial costs, this means the current floods are even more consequential for them.

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