Inured to Climate Change in North Queensland
The region has come to expect powerful cyclones to wreak havoc, and that may be why many there arent concerned about environmental action. Tape up the windows, fill the bathtub and sinks with drinking water, secure loose objects outdoors, hunker down and hope for the best. These are the lessons that I and other children in North Queensland learned for dealing with cyclones, whose season runs from January to April in Australias tropical north. As the Indigenous people of North Queensland knew, the expansive region has a wet season (summer) and a dry season (winter). The Yirrganydji of Far North Queensland separate the wet season, or kurrabana, into two minor seasons: jawarranyji, or storm time, which runs from November to January, and jimburralji, or cyclone time, from January to May. As I told my partner, who was born in Sydney, You get a week or two of winter, then its lovely, then it gets hot and humid, then it rains, and then the cyclones come. Growing up next to the Great Barrier Reef, as I did, has many benefits. Im thankful for the wild childhood I enjoyed, especially now that I live in Melbourne. I grew up free-range, in the outdoors. I spent many a sun-filled day water-skiing, camping or playing on the beach in the back of our house, a sandy expanse that sometimes had more nesting turtles than people on it. But growing up next to a tropical reef that is a UNESCO world heritage site brings challenges. When low pressure systems move across the warm Pacific waters to the east of Australia, they can intensify and turn into tropical cyclones. As the oceans get warmer, cyclones are expected to become more frequent and more severe. The federal Bureau of Meteorology has declared that this Australian summer will be defined by a La Nina weather system, when warm water is pushed toward the western parts of the Pacific Ocean. Warmer waters cause greater levels of evaporation, and therefore more rain. In Australias tropics, this translates to more cyclones. On average, nine to 11 tropical cyclones develop around Australia each summer, with about four making landfall. The bureau is predicting an average to slightly above average number of cyclones this year. Children in other countries may be familiar with having a snow day off from school. In 2006, I got a week off school after the campus went underwater when Severe Tropical Cyclone Larry made landfall as a Category 5 storm. I quickly realized that this was not the stroke of good luck it first seemed. I was stuck indoors in the damp heat, without power and often without internet or phone service. Some of my friends houses flooded. One had water pouring through the windows, like on a sinking ship. I have clear memories of the cyclones I experienced growing up. Deafeningly loud rain; windows flexing in and out as winds test the limits of human manufacturing; and trees bending and snapping like bamboo chopsticks in violent gusts that reached nearly 300 kilometers, or 185 miles, per hour. Ive been thinking lately that being inured to extreme climatic events may be contributing to another thing that North Queensland is known for: stubborn denial of climate change. When you not only accept, but expect, such severe weather events to occur every summer sometimes numerous times extremity becomes normalized. When you view extreme weather events as an impactful but inescapable norm, its hard to believe that you could be exacerbating them, let alone do anything to mitigate them. It sounds strange to suggest that conservatism over climate action in Australia, and particularly North Queensland, comes from a respect of the natural world. There are many factors at play in the political equation for one, coal mining is the biggest industry in the region. But I do believe that the collective annual experience with extreme-weather events lessens the shock value of climate changes existential threats. It makes people view climate change as something they can prepare for and recover from, not something they should prevent or minimize. There is a certain Romantic beauty to this vision of Mother Nature as a force of awesome power, one that giveth and taketh as she pleases. One of Australias most well-known poems, My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar, captures this Australian Romanticism: I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. There is a certain beauty to the dominant architectural style of Queensland homes. Houses are built on tall stilts, with the assumption that meters-high floodwaters are a real possibility. There is a certain complacency to such attitudes of resignation, too. Because, as the effects of climate change become more severe, Romantic ideals and wooden houses on stilts will not be enough to keep the lapping, existential realities of climate change at bay. Now for our stories of the week. Ash from a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific nation presents risks to drinking water and air quality, experts say. Quantifying them in real time is a challenge. A proposal, and the rapid retreat that followed, both elicited waggish mockery and highlighted a serious economic problem. After a huge volcanic eruption severed the island countrys lone connection to the global internet, a difficult repair job, delving deep into the ocean, lies ahead. The French authorities say that players must be vaccinated to compete in the French Open, the next of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Our map shows the death and damage that the Tongan government reported in the days after the eruption triggered a tsunami that battered the island nation. For conservatives, the country has become a symbol of coronavirus tyranny. Aid workers risk bringing in a virus Tonga has so far kept out. But there are more immediate problems, as its government confirmed in its first statement since the disaster. Novak Djokovics deportation from Australia over his vaccination status could signal future difficulties in his quest to win a record 21st tennis Grand Slam title. After Novak Djokovics immigration troubles, he is gone, but dont worry: Plenty of other stars and story lines are ready for the spotlight. In the tennis stars homeland, even those who didnt support his decision to remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus said that he had been mistreated. Novak Djokovic lost to a government with powerful laws, determined to make an example out of him. The sport is very stressful, and many professionals had to often manage their anxiety alone. Now the tours provide help. Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, is at the center of some of the most divisive debates of the pandemic: Individual versus community, science versus quackery. The move to deport Novak Djokovic is not just an exercise of Australian law. It represents an enforcement of collectivist values against an athlete who sought to play by his own rules. A military report warned that striking the giant structure could cause tens of thousands of deaths. As Germany observes the anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, witnesses of the Nazi era are dying and antisemitism is resurgent in Europe and the United States. Gang Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering, was arrested a year ago, accused of concealing his affiliations with Chinese government institutions. Dressed head to toe in plastic, Modou Fall is a familiar sight in Dakar. But however playful his costume, his goal couldnt be more serious: ridding the capital of the scourge of plastic bags. Enjoying the Australia Letter? or forward to a friend. For more Australia coverage and discussion, start your day with your local and join us in our .