This festive period it has felt like climate change has collided with my life in a very personal way.
Christmas started with me reporting on flooding and torrential rain at Gatwick airport. Like any weather event it’s impossible to say it’s directly caused by climate change, but the trend is for more extreme weather and that’s certainly what locals experienced in late December.
The next day I flew out of that soaked airport for Christmas with my in-laws here in Australia and was watching with growing horror the spiralling bushfire crisis.
Now I am sitting here, lungs struggling with the smoke, in the centre of that disaster, reflecting on how the dire predictions of climate change scientists are coming to pass; more drought, more extreme temperatures, more flooding.
There’s no doubt there are other factors behind these bushfires; the protection of large swathes of forest has meant ‘hazard reduction’ of the bush, where leaf matter and twigs are cleared or burnt in a controlled way, has not happened leaving the forest full of fuel. But there is also no denying the three year drought which has left the bush tinder dry, and the blistering temperatures which we saw touching 50 degrees celsius.
These climatic aberrations have supercharged this disaster. And while we’ve had a few drops of rain recently, it’s not enough to halt the infernos. We’ve talked to people who have lived here for 50 years who’ve never seen anything like this. The impact on people here is devastating. The death toll is rising every day, more than 1,500 homes have been razed, and an area three times the size of Wales has been left charred.
It’s resulted in an ecological catastrophe which may mean Australia is never quite the same again. Millions of animals have perished, endangered species have been dealt a twin hammer blow of losing habitat and numbers. But what I find most astonishing is the climate change denial that is so prevalent here.
Despite the unfolding nightmare on their doorstep, with one of their closest neighbours Indonesia experiencing terrible floods, it’s all too common to hear people saying climate change is rubbish or it’s got no part in this tragedy.
What’s also been astounding, is the actions of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been widely condemned for his failure to step up and show leadership through the worst humanitarian disaster the country has seen in decades.
While people were mourning their dead and assessing the damage on New Year’s Day, Scott Morrison was hosting a garden party posing for photos with the Australian cricket team. That after he was off on holiday in Hawaii.
Finally now, 3,000 army reservists have been called up and $2 billion dollars has been promised to help rebuild, but his political capital has been badly eroded.
The fires have finally abated temporarily, but this is just a lull before the temperatures and winds return later this week.
And don’t forget, this is only the beginning of the ‘fire season’ - one which if weather extremes continue, may result in more mayhem for people, animals and the environment here.