On Climate Catastrophe by Ed Thexton (part 1)

(Edited article from the Bass Coast Post)

A few weeks ago, at the Inverloch library I picked up Black Saturday – Not the End of the Story by Peg Fraser, a cultural history of a small place, Strathewen, with an extraordinary story… A decade after the trauma of Black Saturday, I’m in Inverloch.  Why Inverloch?  For one, it’s not the Yarra Valley, where I was born and raised and where we had a few acres and intended to build.  There are not the tight, winding, timber-bound, inescapable roads; not the poor sight lines, not the completely avoidable stress of the bad fire days.  Inverloch is home now, 400 metres from Bass Strait.  Our safe haven by the sea.

I reflect on home, security and safety.  I turn my mind back, to the still fresh recollections of that day a decade ago.  In the months and particularly the week preceding that Saturday afternoon the State was baked to a crisp.  I remember, the Premier warning on the Friday that Saturday would be the worst day in Victoria’s history. On Black Saturday, an energy intensity scaled at an estimated 1500 Hiroshima a-bombs was unleashed on Victoria with Strathewen receiving just a bit of it. Lives and decades of endeavour were blown into irrelevancy in moments.

How much forewarning – a morning of horrible dry, brutal winds and searing temperatures – is enough? Why didn’t sensible, competent people just get out of there? Why did one in ten people in that place not live out the afternoon? In this context what does forewarning mean?  Strathewen received a short, intense onslaught coming together as a consequence of locality, topography, and climate – general and localised – coupled with imprecise communications on the day.

So here we sit on a creek in a low-lying part of Inverloch on the edge of Bass Strait.  Topography makes us vulnerable.  We have the warnings in science. Why do we act as if nothing is happening or ever likely to happen?  Why don’t we factor in the most basic of precautionary principles when we go to buy or build in this locality? My own research, nearly 10 years ago, told me that sea level rise was of sufficient concern for the Government to have developed an accessible interactive map of sea flooding around the margins of Anderson Inlet. One of only a few places in Victoria.  I bought in the knowledge that with a water rise of five metres we would be in trouble.

Human catastrophes are not the product of isolated factors; they are, as on Black Saturday, the product of factors acting in concert, if only for a moment.  A gathering storm rather than a bolt out of a blue sky.  In catastrophic circumstances, scale compounds.  Survival often depends on the grace of good fortune. A sea level rise of centimetres may seem trivial but factor in a rain-soaked catchment with flooding rains, a king tide, a ferocious wind driving a large swell from the wrong direction.  Add in blocked drains or erosion, and suddenly five metres is surpassed, probably as much from land as from sea flooding. With the living room flooding, who’s going to stop and taste for salt?

To be continued. For the full article go here.