On Climate Catastrophe by Ed Thexton (part 2)

Coastal erosion at Inverloch

​(Continuing an edited article from the Bass Coast Post)

I fled from the risk of fire into the waiting arms of a flood risk.  With little coastal experience I viewed the model as a conceptual event.  With accumulated observations and experience, I populate the concept with data.  Credibility is given to concept.  Hence the worry. Before Black Saturday, the mantra was “Prepare, stay and defend your property or leave early”. The emphasis was reminiscent of war.  In Strathewen it was so many of the most vulnerable, women and their kids included, who suffered when the prevailing catch phrases were played out to their final, tragic conclusion. The mantra changed in the light of Black Saturday. Catastrophes are not the domain of business as usual.

Stepping back from bushfire to the coastal risk.  A crowded coast, Bass Strait, 1800 kilometres of exposure.  We have the people, we have the risk, and we have the scale.

We need to transfer something from the revisionism of bushfire risk management to coastal risk management.  Perhaps look at strategic withdrawal rather than confrontation or mitigation.  I’ve never really understood some past real estate approvals.  How were the negative consequences ignored?  Was a collective blind eye turned?  Perhaps the embodiment of the term “privatising the profits and socialising the losses. It’s worth noting that in NSW political donations from developers are banned.

At the heart of coastal risk exposure are regulations that govern where people live.  In an advanced western democracy, this is almost the exclusive preserve of those with money.  Yet when disaster strikes, it’s more likely to be the less well off, the young, the old and less able who suffer disproportionately. As a step forward perhaps we should invert the process and learn to speak and formulate laws from their perspective.  Locally, for example, look at it from the perspective of how the least able will cope if houses are built in a particular location with exposure to potential risks, particularly extreme events. 

The trauma of risk exposure goes far beyond the relative few personally affected.  We are part of a society.  We have the capability to intervene, in language and action. There is no better example than the approach we have taken to dealing with road safety. Back in 1969, and for most of my life, the language of road death was “road toll”.  Carnage was masked.  This year it’s 165, so far, out of 6.4 million.   

Reading Black Saturday has made the intervening decade disappear for me, such is the power of a catastrophe close to home.  The subtitle Not the End of the Story is a call to the future. I take it as a call for our society, Bass Coast Shire included, to build on the changes forced by Black Saturday and those learned from averting road trauma; to change the language; to stop pretending; to squarely face up to scientific probability; and to avoid the impending calamity coming to a coast near you.

For the full article go here.