Just how hot does it have to get before the global frog understands he’s cooking?
Having become used to Australia’s run of record-setting or near-record annual temperatures, it’s somehow been surprising to spend the past month in a dry and increasingly hot Europe.
At the start of July, it was amusing to witness the English carrying on about a London “heatwave” with the temperature hitting 28 degrees Celsius.
I picked up a copy of The Times boarding the plane on Thursday morning. The front page reported Britain expected to set its highest-ever recorded temperature of 38.5 degrees Celsius. Britain’s temperature records go back to the 1600s.
That’s after the bushfire tragedy in Greece, absolutely extraordinary temperatures in Finland above the Arctic Circle, major wildfires in Sweden, even the seemingly immaterial matter of the dust and dead grass in Paris and London parks, all while seeing news reports of Japan’s killer heatwave.
Sometimes a change of scenery can provide fresh perspective. For me, it’s the realisation at the gut level that we are indeed starting to cook.
And it sparks a question: Just how bad does climate change have to be, how obvious the damage, before we collectively take it seriously? How hot does the water have to be before the mythical frog cottons on? How extreme before Tony Abbott apologises for continuing to stir the pro-carbon pot for petty political purpose, before The Australian newspaper stops publishing articles claiming ‘the science isn’t in’?
I feel foolish with the admission that it’s taken being a July tourist in Europe to really get it. Oh, I’ve had a standard, cerebral sort of appreciation of climate change – had it brought home two years ago while writing a piece on how there are no climate deniers among wine grape growers – but it’s another thing to feel it.
With that comes an appreciation of the extreme frustration of the scientists who’ve been trying to warn us – those who could see and understand what the fire, the pot and warming water meant.
At this point, let me publicly salute Peter Hannam who has been tirelessly fighting the good fight in the Fairfax papers, reporting for years now what we don’t quite want to see, suffering slings and arrows from the ignorant along the way. He deserves a Walkley Award for perseverance as well as his body of work.
And so I’m arriving home to find politicians still trading blows about compromises in a compromised national energy policy while trying desperately hard not to even mention the two C words. No, we don’t really get it.
For the deniers, denying has become a matter of dogma, an article of faith. Like fanatics of any cult, they seek each other out for reassurance, denying even what their eyes see. They have moved beyond all relevance.
For the majority of us, the reef can be bleached, glacier melt continue to speed up, the average temperature graphs keep rising, extreme events (yes, sometimes cold extremes) become increasingly common, but we’ll collectively continue to think it’s too hard, too impossible to take really seriously.
How’s the temperature over your side of the pot?