Lessons from Cyclone Jasper

Powerlines downed by Jasper in Port Douglas

Cyclone Jasper wasn’t supposed to hover there, right next to the coastline dumping a metre of rain (two and half times Canberra’s annual rainfall) in just a few days.

Blame the Bureau of Meteorology, of course. The same scientists who have been warning us for decades that the climate has changed because we have pumped too much carbon into the air and that the weather will get more extreme and more unpredictable.

Australia, like most nations, is not prepared for it, either logistically or psychologically. Yes, we get cute stories of neighbours helping out in adversity, but the empty supermarket shelves tell a different story.

That story is one of selfishness, unpreparedness, ignorance, and stupidity.

This December, aside from the cyclone, we had fires in Western Australia, and storms in the south-east. The defence forces have been again distracted from their main job. 

But isn’t it time to either formally say to the defence forces that disaster relief is in fact one of their jobs and resource and structure the defence forces accordingly, with commensurate training. Or set up a separate dedicated disaster force.

I prefer the former on two counts. First, it sends a message that climate change is a matter of national security and the defence forces are the appropriate people to deal with national security. Second, it is a more efficient use of resources.

But the real point is that the natural (or should that be unnatural) disasters are going to be more frequent and more violent. Climate change is not crap and those who went into denial and did nothing about it are as reckless as those who ignore or downplay other threats to national security.

Worse, they have been duped by the selfish fossil-fuel industry which wants to sell and burn as much fossil fuel as quickly as possible for profit, whatever the consequences for future generations.

A time will come, if it is not already here, when the combined efforts of emergency and disaster volunteers and full-timers, the defence force, and neighbours will not be able to cope with multiple, simultaneous climate-exacerbated disasters in a timely way.

By timely, I mean in a way that people, having survived an initial onslaught, do not die unnecessarily while waiting for help – from untreated injury, disease, hunger or thirst. That happens through lack of medical help, food, water, and power.

We should be putting all new powerlines underground and be slowly putting existing overhead lines underground. Overhead lines cause bushfires and make power failure almost inevitable in any high wind or fire.

Houses with solar arrays should be wired so they can access the power if the mains go out. Generators help.

Too many households are unprepared for even minor disasters. In Port Douglas supermarket shelves emptied. People seemingly do not have a reasonable stock of necessities; frozen, canned and dried food; batteries; lamps; jerry cans of drinking water; or good first-aid kits.

This is despite the experience of Covid lockdowns.

Households have to prepare for no power, no water and no medical help for five days, not five minutes. Many people in Port Douglas lost power for several days and the whole town had no or limited water for five days.

Australia’s supply chains are far more fragile than they appear. Just-in-time delivery has replaced warehousing in both manufacturing and retail. The slightest disruption results in instant shortages.

Perhaps Australia’s most significant immediate national-security issue is fuel. Australia imports more than 90 per cent of its fuel. About 70 per cent of that is refined fuel. And 70 per cent of what we refine here is refined from imported crude.

We have little in reserve storage. Middle East and Russian supplies have been affected by war.

So, the transition to electric vehicles is more urgent and move obvious than ever on several counts.

The quicker we can do without as much as possible of the $30 billion worth of fuel we import each year the better. The international demands for action on climate change mean that our $40 billion in coal exports will slowly dry up, whatever Australia’s own position on climate-change action. Without severe reductions in fuel imports our balance of trade will wobble into the red.

The EV transition is one of the bright spots of the year. Despite all of the fossil-fuel and Coalition propaganda, people are not stupid. In 2023 EV purchases jumped from less than 3 per cent to 10 per cent. As friends and relatives who own EVs extoll their virtue, this percentage will rise to saturation in just a few years.

Any advertiser will tell you that personal endorsement will always beat puffery and misleading advertisements. It will be like the take up of digital cameras. Who wants to pay for petrol or film when you don’t have to?

However, a lot of this household resilience costs money and many are being left behind. Renters are being excluded from the solar revolution because there are no incentives for landlords to put solar arrays on dwellings, particularly blocks of units.

An effective way of doing this would be to require owners to provide renters with a certain amount of electricity each year. State Governments have imposed higher standards on landlords, so why not add one more.

The Federal Government will giving indirect support because the solar installations would be tax deductible. Further, before long, landlords and property developers will have to provide charging stations because tenants with EVs will not rent without one.

Worldwide, it will come down to a simple race: whether the greed of the fossil industries and their influence over government policy can be overcome by household economics and household demands for action before the planet gets too uncomfortable to live in.

And – Happy New Year.

Crispin Hull

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 26 December 2023.

4 thoughts on “Lessons from Cyclone Jasper”

  1. Lots of people have lots of great ideas regarding how we could do things better, and there are countless opportunities to do things better…

    Sadly, the reason there are so many opportunities for improvement is that governments have been out of the business of actually governing for decades, because the filthy rich have poisoned the commons. Given sufficient will, it would take decades to turn around, and we don’t have the will or even awareness, and time ran out twenty or thirty years ago anyway. We are completely screwed.

  2. Climate change is definately a national security issue. The ADF has the equipment to provide substantial assets as we see repeatedly in national and regional didasters. Navy has the two large Landing Helicopter Docks and a Landing Ship Dock. These are big, capacious ships readily available for disaster relief. Air Force has heavy lift aircarft such as the C17 and C130 and Army has the large Chinook helicopters. We see these aircraft constantly used for disasters. We don,t need another disaster organisation, we just need all state and federal agecies working together. Most of all we must have mitigation policies such as not building on flood plains.

  3. The most effective way to tackle climate change is to have one less child. This is especially the case in first world countries like Australia as we consume so much. We should stop subsidizing people who have large numbers of children (grandfathered and allowance made for multiple births) and subsidize birth control and family planning.

    We may find that diminishing resources especially oil may fix the problem for us. Modern agriculture has been described as the process of turning oil into food. Without it I can see mass starvation.

  4. The path and movement of Jasper were not influenced by global warming. That depended on the highs, lows, troughs of the weather system. But cyclones form in warm sea water, and, as that sea temperature increases, so will the incidents of cyclones. And for every 1°C increase in atmospheric temperature, the atmospheric moisture increases by 7%. That increase in moisture was dropped by the ex cyclone Jasper low to drown Far North Queensland, and the conditions will only get worse as global warming progresses.

    I almost omitted to mention the fragility of the life of the Great Barrier Reef that is adversely bleached by warmer sea water.

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