Climate change: heat is on to find solutions

Record hot days are becoming the great Australian blight and we can't ignore the changing conditions, writes Nicholas Stuart.

It's really no surprise it has been hot. That's summer. What is significant is the way it brings home the reality of climate change. For anyone unconcerned about the extreme urgency of dealing with this crisis, I suggest you go to the television guide for exciting revelations about the latest series of Downton Abbey.

Ah, that's better. It's not wise to discuss grown-up concepts in front of those who can't grasp reality. Of course, this shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of Labor's so-called "answer". The idea that countries, well, politicians, would come together and accept necessary slashing of carbon emissions was always a joke. The reason is obvious. The proposed solutions depend on self-sacrifice, but everyone was too busy measuring what they were forgoing to focus on the need to tackle the problem.

Heat wave: While Aussie summers will always be hot, politicians can't deny that climate change is here.
Heat wave: While Aussie summers will always be hot, politicians can't deny that climate change is here. Photo: Glenn Campbell

The Labor government made the mistake of pandering to those who believed nobody needed to change their behaviour. Neither Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard told the truth; both pretended global agreement was possible and could be achieved without ruffling a single hair on any voter's head.

And the biggest stupidity of all - the most outrageous, egregious, mind-boggling confirmation that the party had become focused on dealing with the political problem rather than the real one as the world burned - was the suggestion that our coal exports would somehow be accounted for by China. People there were expected to accept the need to diminish their own living standards so that ours could remain untouched.

Australia couldn't come together over this issue: what chance was there that the world would agree to take action?

Take something as simple as the damage to the environment by aeroplane emissions. If some individuals refuse to limit a seemingly insatiable desire to jet about the country, why should anyone else?

Politicians of all persuasions have treated us as fools, incapable of recognising the logical inconsistency between pledging to tackle climate change and planning for a massive expansion of Sydney's airport capacity. Even when handed an opportunity to win some votes by investigating the fast-rail option, Labor steered for the rocks, promising to build more capacity. The party had a seemingly ineluctable desire to plunge to disaster.

The critical need is for action because climate change is here. The flailing arms and unrelieved predictions of doom from the likes of Tim Flannery didn't help his cause at all. Playing to the converted is no way to accomplish the sort of behavioural change required.

Start, first, by understanding the scale of the problem. What makes this hot patch frightening is that it hasn't been accompanied by a high over the Great Australian Bight. This (I'm told, by people who know about these things) is the normal cause of the ''Great Summer Heat'', but not this time. There's been no El Nino to exacerbate things. Record hot days is increasing at three times the rate of cold days and things will get worse.

We can't pretend to accurately predict the future. This doesn't mean that because of the scale of the problem, nothing can be done. It's important to continue seeking an international response but action can be taken to reduce the impact. This is something that should appeal even to Tony Abbott.

Most measures that are needed hark back to old ideas of "nation building" - they are about independence and resilience, proactively engaging with the world instead of waiting for things to happen. They are, if you like, redolent of traditional Liberal Party ideology, stressing the responsibility of the individual to take action.

But far more than that, this is a national emergency and it will require sacrifices. Every individual, every business has a responsibility to source electricity from the sun. There should be a solar array on every roof.

The second issue is water management, especially dealing with Australia's geography to lift productivity of the precious resource.

I'm not convinced that flooding Lake Eyre with seawater would turn central Australia into a nirvana that would be the answer to all our problems. But the important thing is to be looking at solutions on this scale. Now.

Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.