What does climate change mean for you?

What does climate change mean for you?

Climate change is often talked about at a macro level, which is understandable given the inherent scale of the issue. Unfortunately, this approach neglects many intricacies relevant for individuals, such as personal financial, job-related and lifestyle implications. Visualisation and the actual consequences for an individual are tools that can better convey the urgency of climate change. Not only can a swathe of statistics and facts seem dizzying, they ought to be contextualised more, such as emissions reductions in the context of total national emissions. Better context will improve understanding on the extent of the schemes and projects being looked at. I hope these practices can become more widespread in our media platforms, government reports and discussions among the public.

How will climate change affect an average Australian’s life?

Australia’s climate is projected to become drier, overall, with more extreme weather events and conditions. [1] Unfortunately, the summer temperatures are projected to increase more than winter temperatures. The already hot summers will become even hotter while our cold winters will not be that much warmer. More extreme temperatures and heatwaves mean more people, especially the elderly and ill, are susceptible to heatstroke. The human cost is deplorable and regrettable. Additional consequences include the extra strain on the healthcare system and less enjoyment of the outdoors for the general population; after all, there is no way to air condition the entire outdoor environment. Drier conditions across Australia’s east and south will reduce farming output, likely raising food prices and detrimentally impacting the lowest income groups. Communities dependent on farming will see a significant income loss, and governments in those areas will struggle to meet their communities’ needs with a weaker tax base. [1] Clearly, climate change is not confined to affecting only poorer developing nations.

Beyond this, researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science’s analysed  that trillions of dollars could be lost from the degradation of infrastructure. [2] In a highly globalised economy, even if other countries were footing a large proportion of these losses, opportunities and prospects would still be diminished here, at home, from the reduced potential for cross-border economic activity. Consider too that seaside barriers necessary to protect against rising sea levels would also place a higher tax burden on Australians. Seawalls like these at Brighton Beach (image below) will have to be fortified and heightened in the coming years. To cope with the new extremes, modifications and repairs as well as new infrastructure altogether will be required. These expenses mean less wealth will be available to be spent on improving living standards.

Ultimately these material losses will lead to profound onslaughts on people’s wellbeing. Consider what it really means to have a house flooded. Imagine the putrid smells of the inundating waters, the hours of back-breaking labour to clean-up and the divestment of your overseas trip’s funds into recovery. When such disasters are becoming more frequent and more intense [3], the reality of an increasing suffering surrounds us. Think back to the farming communities who face a harsher environment. Agriculture becoming unsustainable for some of them is a possibility. It will be tough to have to move out, not just from a financial perspective, but also from less tangible angles like those of culture and community. Lastly, shocks to the global economy will decrease business for firms and workers in Australia. The resultant uncertainty may induce worry and anxiety. Many people from all segments of society will be hurt by climate change.

Image Source: ABC News and Heritage Victoria

What is there for you to do?

In addition to greener consumer behaviour and political activism, these are some other practices to consider.

Greenwashing occurs when trivially small environmentally friendly practices are done to appear climate conscious. It is therefore ideal to be prudent about how the proposed green initiative compares against all the other operations’ emissions of a company or organisation.

Divesting funds away from companies whose climate attitudes you don’t agree with into companies you find more agreeable is a sizeable way to make a statement as an individual. Voting with your money can be achieved through changing banks, superannuation funds or personal investment decisions.

Lastly, we will benefit from bringing a climate conscious attitude into the future careers we enter. Many of you reading this article may aspire to be key decision makers in important sectors and will together be able to strengthen the culture of sustainability and responsibility. Here, I am making a call for kindness and empathy, because yes, I believe these traits are important, yet a climate conscious attitude is also about pragmatism and wariness of the climate change risks – not just for your own sake, but also for the future generations. For the damage of today’s emissions will extend far past 2100. [4] Surely we should aim to leave a better legacy so that we are not viewed with disdain and disgust by those who come after us.

[1] Climate Change Impacts and Risk Management – A Guide to Business and Government. Taken from https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/21c04298-db93-47a6-a6b0-eaaaae9ef8e4/files/risk-management.pdf

[2] Climate Change Could Wipe Out Up To $25 Trillion Worldwide. Taken from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2016/04/04/climate-change-could-wipe-out-assets-worth-more-than-the-economy-of-brazil/#1f8de73250ea

[3] Climate change impacts: “For Australia, heatwaves, fires, floods, and southern Australian droughts are all expected to become more frequent and more intense in the coming decades.” Taken from https://www.publish.csiro.au/ebook/chapter/CSIRO_CC_Chapter%204

[4] The Effects of Climate Change. Taken from https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/