Let’s talk about adaptation, Australia

Average conditions are shifting, which means we can expect extreme events to become more frequent. This will be the case even if we are able to work toward curbing our greenhouse gas emissions. However, regardless of whether we can draw a clear causal line between climate change and these disasters, adaptation is still key, particularly in the variable and sometimes dangerous climate that Australia already faces. Bushfires, cyclones, and storms are not unknown to most Australians, and they are destructive every time.

History has three reasons why, though it may seem insensitive, disasters are exactly the time to talk about preparing for and adapting to other extreme events that we may expect to see more often.

Emotion drives change: Disasters will always have a politicised element; suffering and loss can prompt us to make changes to prevent such things in the future. Talking about change when the reality of the tragedy is still in the public mind can help drive action to prevent future repeats.

Economic cost: events in the 2010-11 summer alone cost Australia some AUS$16.5 billion, or $2000 per household, not to mention personal losses. This kind of cost will recur with every disaster. Planning and adapting now could help us reduce that cost.

Stoicism does not equal resilience: A review of disaster case studies from around the world shows people are nearly always underprepared. But the post-event actions are crucial: rather than putting down disasters to part of life in Australia, we need to fight the urge to simply return to normal and think about how to rebuild better, for more resilience: where we build, how and to what standard, what emergency responses are planned, financial and social investment.