Many have described the recent catastrophic floods affecting the east coast of Australia as a ‘once in a century’ event, yet climate disasters in the land down under are accelerating, much to the dismay of scientists who have been sounding the alarm for years. As Australians brace themselves for this latest crisis many are asking whether summertime flooding will become the norm, and what if anything can be done to avoid this fate?

Over the past week cities across the eastern states of Australia have been hit with torrential downpours of rain, smashing record levels of rainfall and besieging towns with a delude of flooding, leading to several deaths and many becoming homeless.

Though the worst appears to have passed for now, rescue and repair operations are still ongoing. So how did a country famously known for its heat and warm weather end up facing late summer floods, and what can be done to combat this in future?

The Experts Tried To Warn Us

They say the start of every catastrophic horror movie usually begins with scientists attempting to warn the public and law makers of impending doom. In this instance, it was leading climate scientists screaming into the void that is government and organisational inaction.

Last week the IPCC released a report detailing the worsening impact of planetary climate change, including the increased risk of flooding, water-borne disease and damage to global marine ecosystems. Also, as recently as last year the local scientific community warned that rising temperatures attributed to climate change would invariably lead to worsening environmental outcomes for Australia, including an increase in bushfires and flooding. Reeling from sequential catastrophes, Australia has endured apocalyptic bushfires between 2019 and 2020, followed by an ongoing global pandemic, and now torrential rains and mass flooding.

If anything, these are ‘precented times’ we are living through.

During each of these events, out of touch policy makers have labelled the situation as ‘once in a hundred years’ or ‘unprecedented’, only they are not. In the last two decades we’ve faced multiple viruses (MERS, SARS, Ebola, COVID-19) which have threatened public health, several bushfires (the 2003 Canberra blazes and 2008/09 Black Saturday fires) and record flooding at least once a year since 2000. Combined, these events have claimed thousands of deaths, left an even greater number homeless and killed countless scores of native wildlife.

If anything, these are ‘precented times’ we are living through.

Why Is This Happening

Australia’s weather is influenced by a pattern of variable temperate conditions known as El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). As the name implies, this weather pattern switches between two phases. The first, El Niño, usually dictates warmer events whilst its counterpart, La Niña, reverses the situation and provides cooling of the same areas. Australia is currently experiencing the latter, with the last extended period of cooler conditions also leading to extensive flooding along the eastern seaboard.

So how does climate change cause flooding? Well, the warmer atmosphere gets, the more moisture is created, leading to heavier rainfalls, more water in the environment producing even more evaporation, leading to a greater uptake of water vapour and thus the cycle continues. As temperatures climb the natural cycle of rainfall becomes faster, leading to flash flooding events most recently seen in New South Wales and Queensland.

The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology, the central department chiefly responsible for providing weather forecasting services to the nation, notes that El Niño can be triggered by substantially warmer than average sea temperatures – in turn resulting in heavy rainfall across central and eastern Australia. At this stage it should surprise no one that recent reports, including those provided by the IPCC, indicate that earth’s global temperature is set to rise by over 2°C, a dire outlook for communities impacted by the ongoing climate crisis in Australia.

In short, rising temperatures mean we should be prepared to hear about ‘record flooding’ in Australia and other oceanic nationss in the years ahead if sufficient action is not taken.

What Can Be Done

Despite the worsening conditions, we can still make a difference. Though Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed nations to the impact of climate change, we are therefore set to benefit massively as the world transitions toward a carbon neutral future. Setting emissions targets that are in line with or better than the commitment of other nations not only positions Australia as a leader in ecological conservation but also contribute to the preservation of our local environment.

However, short term thinking will cost you in the long run. The federal government has just announced an AUD $560 million dollar support package to provide relief to communities and local councils devastated by the current flood emergencies. As important as it is to help those in times of crisis, it is equally logical to draw conclusions between the current government’s lack of adequate policy in response to climate crisis, and the predictable rising cost in support packages and environmental disasters to come. In fact, Australia’s continued reliance on coal coupled with a refusal to improve its 2030 emissions targets has led the country to be ranked 59th of 64 countries on the independent Climate Change Performance Index.

Now more than ever, it is time for actionable and realistic steps to be implemented in order to halt the increasing impact of climate change. And with this latest natural disaster, the eyes of the world are watching.

How You Can Help

Outside of reducing your own energy consumption, choosing more environmentally friendly products and services, and petitioning the government to do more on climate change, there are several ways you can help organisations who are providing critical support to those impacted by the floods:

Random acts of kindness also go a long way.