Originally posted on Greenpeace Australia
I’m writing this blog in Brisbane airport hoping to fly back to Sydney, to my great sadness, leaving behind my family and friends in my home state of Queensland. It just didn’t seem appropriate to stay here and contribute to the demand for services/food/water etc, when they become stretched after the flooding peaks. For us Queenslanders, the floods are the biggest disaster we have faced for decades. Thousands of houses are expected to be underwater by the time the flood peaks tomorrow, and officials busily prepare for the expected damage.
I have a very close friend who was visiting her parents in Toowoomba from Alaska, so I went up there on Sunday to spend some time with them. On Monday, the road to Brisbane was looking under threat by rain, but I decided to delay my departure until the early afternoon so that I could spend as much time with them as possible. Then the deluge began. Even though I grew up in the tropics, I’ve never seen so much rainfall in such a small amount of time. We were in the sheltered outdoor section of a restaurant not far from the worst of the devastation. Pretty soon we were sitting in ankle-deep water but still oblivious to what was going on outside. When we left the restaurant, the worst of the flash flood was over but there were still parked cars sitting in several feet of rushing water.
Then I decided that I really should drive to Brisbane, but of course it was too late. There were so many road closures that it took me 45 minutes to drive to the top of the Toowoomba range, a drive that would normally take less than 10 minutes. When I got there I was informed that the range was closed because of landslides, taking me another 45 minutes or so to return to my friend’s house. The time that it took to drive was of course the least of my worries. The devastation was everywhere and when I finally managed to get across town I had to drive along one of the most affected streets. It was a staggering sight – furniture from shops strewn everywhere in pools of dirty water, cars were piled up on the side of the road. The brave and valiant police and emergency workers did a wonderful job directing the traffic and trying to make order out of the chaos.
I tried to get back to Brisbane the following day, but by then Toowoomba was completely cut off by road to all other major towns including Brisbane. I was grateful that I didn’t try and leave Toowoomba before lunch, as I had considered, because it is quite possible I could have been one of the casualties of the devastating flash flood. I am one of the lucky ones. I managed to fly out of Toowoomba today and now I’ve joined the throngs of people who are trying to leave Brisbane before the worst of the flooding hits. While we join together to help those in need and think about disaster mitigation and prevention, it is impossible to think of the Queensland floods without thinking about climate change.
Climatologists predict that with increasing temperatures will come increasing severity and numbers of extreme events. The current record-breaking Queensland floods tragically meet the description of a severe extreme event. Couple that with the widespread flooding that hit Queensland last year, and the year before, and we start to see an unprecedented weather pattern occurring. The impact on the Australian economy is already predicted to be worse than the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the US economy and it is ironic to think that ‘the economy’ is often touted as a reason to not take action to protect our climate. Ironically, the coal industry in Queensland is one of the largest industries to be affected by the flooding, and yet it has been one of the most active in trying to dissuade governmental action on climate change – such as instituting an emissions trading scheme.
Hopefully the current floods will be an unfortunate wakeup call – we won’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment. Protecting our climate has to be the biggest priority for our wellbeing and our economy. When I reflect on the decades that Greenpeace and many other environmental organisations and climatologists have been advocating for action on climate change, the Queensland floods are a reminder that we are beyond the 11th hour for action. Let us hope that decision makers read the current signals our planet is giving us so our carbon emissions are urgently cut. Like communities throughout Queensland who are banding together to support each other in a time of need, Australians and other citizens of the world need to band together now to support our planet.
My heart and well wishes go out to those affected by the devastating floods.
Please join me in doing what we can to support them and consider donating to the Premier’s relief fund RSPCA or finding other ways to help
Linda Selvey, a Queenslander, is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Australia.