The Guardian • Issue #2001

A reflection on climate change in Western Australia and New South Wales

John Forrest National Park East of Perth on the Darling Range escarpment.

On the 4th of March 2022, West Australian Premier Mark McGowan finally relented on his state’s “hard border” which protected its residents from COVID, and allowed many couped up residents, including myself, to leave their gilded cage to travel to other parts of Australia.

Being a resident of Perth in the southwestern part of Australia, we had sweltered through the hottest summer on record. Many of the previous summers in the past ten years were also among the hottest this state had endured.

Adding to the effect of the heat on the environment was an almost complete absence of rain during the four warm summer months from December to March – Perth recording only 8.4mm to 22nd March, 2022 when this article was written.

In contrast, the city I would be visiting had received a staggering 1063.8 mm over this time. Sydney and other parts of north coastal New South Wales had received record levels of rainfall which triggered the devastating floods that filled our nightly news during this period.

While the record heat and dry of Perth did not make the news in the way the floods did in northern coastal NSW, the fact that Perth still remains a liveable city occurs only as a consequence of the state government building two desalination plants on the southwest coast of WA at Binningup and Kwinana. The latter commenced operation in 2007, and by 2020/21 both plants supplied forty-five per cent of Perth’s water supply. Premier McGowan has announced that a third desalination plant is under active consideration to keep pace with the city’s growing population. Sydney, meanwhile, has a desalination plant that has hardly been used.

As I flew home over the parched southwest of WA I pondered on the remark by Professor Tim Flannery who said in May 2004, “I think there is a fair chance Perth will be the 21st Century’s first ghost metropolis.”

I ran around Centennial Park in Sydney, the greenest I had ever seen it in ten years. Later visiting the Georges River between Moorebank and Liverpool, I could see the detritus from the flooding up to three meters high on fences and trees close to the river. At the Casula Powerhouse a kilometre upstream, I saw that the water had previously risen to just below the nearby viewing platform overlooking the river. Bussing it southwest to Canberra, I noticed that the weight of flooding waters had flattened the high grasses along many a river and stream.

As I flew out of Sydney under heavy cloud laden skies, I pondered the stark difference between the two coasts of this vast land. Once home, I went for a run around John Forrest National Park in the hills east of Perth and noticed the yellowing and browning of the native vegetation as it conserved its moisture in wait for the next heavy rains. Some trees such as the banksia and the jarrah eucalypt that are sensitive to the gradual loss of rainfall – this area-over thirty per cent in forty years are stressed and dying.

I recall the famous second stanza of Dorothy MacKellar’s 1908 poem, My Country, in which on a visit to England she yearns for her Australia as, “a land of droughts and flooding rains.” In 2022, global warming has resulted in these harsh features of Australia’s weather becoming more extreme with increased frequency and severity.

Our land is changing fast due in large part to man-induced changes to our climate, which are preventable if we make the changes necessary in time. If we want a liveable future, we need to reduce emissions and use our resources through increased recycling and reuse and operate our society on a more collective rather than individual basis for the benefit of all, not just the rich few.

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