I recently joined an on-line consultation session run by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
The focus was on how we see our community in 2050.
There were about 60 people on the Zoom which was supported by a program that allowed us to enter our responses in real time to questions such as, 'What words would you use to describe our community in 2050?'
'Green, natural, vibrant, inclusive, caring, prosperous, sustainable', painted the picture of a mid-century garden of Eden, echoing how we see our region now, in 2020.
Just one word, 'resilient', hinted that at least some people thought perhaps the reality may be a little different. I added another, 'coping'.
Coping with what they wanted to know. Coping with climate change came as no surprise to most participants since this type of consultation tends to attract more informed people committed to positive change. But the reaction from council staff raised a concern. 'Surely we will have beaten this by then and it will all be over'.
I know this view is widely-held in our community.
So who is right? Let the science speak.
By 2050 the climate will have changed, the weather become more unpredictable than ever, and extreme events more common. Our homes, and the infrastructure provided by Council will frequently be inundated by high-intensity rainfall and floods.
A warmer atmosphere holds more water and by 2050 the atmosphere will be holding a lot more water. As the ocean also warms, tropical cyclones will reach south into New South Wales.
When it's not raining, the climate modelling predicts longer, drier, more severe droughts, recalling the one we had in 2018-2019 when we nearly ran out of water. In many places, water will run out.
Heatwaves and mega bushfires resulting from a planet warmed to at least 2 degrees above normal will kill people directly, and many more in less direct ways, particularly older and more vulnerable people in our society.
The destructive advance of coastal retreat due to rising sea levels and giant storms will be evident along the coastline. Affected properties will need to be bought out depending on when they were acquired.
The value of any property bought since the first climate warnings became public knowledge in the mid-2000s will be discounted heavily.
A rise in climate refugees needing homes, and interruptions to the food supply chain will characterise life in 2050.
Business failures due to climate impacts will be more common and by 2050 the tourism industry will be in a perilous state. There will be no healthy coral reefs and summers will be spent indoors to escape the blistering heat.
While prediction is difficult, all this is highly likely by 2050, based on the science. However, climate scientists are split on just how bad it will get and whether there is now any chance at all of limiting the impacts of climate change by 2050.
One thing is certain, we must both mitigate and adapt, and this must be reflected in policy responses now and in all planning for the future.
To return to the question, have we left it too late? Some scientists do indeed say it's now too late, that human activity has destabilised the planetary system by a global warming many times greater than the natural cycles.
Tipping points are already being triggered at just a 1 degree increase over pre-industrial temperatures and these will continue to warm the planet and set off further tipping points.
Warming will continue until a new stable temperature is reached. That point is not known and will likely depend on the final amount of human-induced warming we generate.
And this offers hope. Cut the emissions, stabilize the temperature and limit the impacts. Still bad but not catastrophic. But to get there we need to act now, with urgency, a clear focus and determination.
Big changes have to be made and there is no time to lose.
This is why we need our council, all councils, and all governments, to acknowledge that we are now entering a climate crisis. By 2050, we must cut emissions to zero, electrify all energy and transport using renewable sources and storage systems, and transition our workforce to industries of the twenty-first century.
Delay is destiny. Green, natural, vibrant, inclusive, caring, prosperous, and sustainable. Or barely coping?