All I can think of is my grandmother praying: her rosary beads threaded loosely between the base of her palm, forefinger, and thumb. Caught in a five-day storm, she can only watch as the rain fills the gutters, and the river rises beneath her. My grandmother is a kind person, and she prays for the families, businesses and animals being taken by the rising water. She is safe—tucked up high on a hill—but she must watch the community she loves disappear beneath water.
This is where I grew up: a rural town in Northern New South Wales, with my family and friends still local to the area. I was pacing at work and home, checking my social media and the news every hour to make sense of the damage—only switching between the 2022 floods to the Russian-Ukraine war updates to distract myself and stay humbled.
Unable to travel there to help my family and friends because no one had petrol, electricity, medicine, or reception. Resources were scarce and for the first week, only locals and limited SES members were helping with the rescues and clean-up. My sister emptied caskets at the local crematorium and shovelled mud from people’s houses. She called me crying, simply saying ‘I can’t explain the level of destruction.’
I grew up in a flood zone, as quaint as rowing a kayak to the shops was, this feels different. This is climate change and it’s only going to get worse. On top of the existing water damage, there will be worsening financial and environmental impacts. Imagine towns strewn with water-damaged belongings, councils racing to clear it out and people ordering new furniture to fill their homes. Think about the environmental impact of that waste alone?
I have always admired my grandmother’s faith and her belief in the goodness of people. Watching the community come together and provide support for each other was heart-warming. But it made me wonder, what space is left for faith in a time of continual natural disasters with the catalyst being climate change? Over the last twenty years, we have all watched conversations about global warming turn into summits combating climate change. Not fully understanding the effects it was going to have on us and our communities until now.
According to the Australian Climate Council, floods have made the largest economic impact out of any natural disasters over the last decade, and if we don’t curb emissions, it is estimated they will cost the government $60 billion per year by 2060. Aside from the concerning cost, floods affect people’s mental well-being, impact wildlife, encourage mosquito-borne viruses and jeopardise clean drinking water. The problems seem to outweigh the solutions, but according to NASA it is possible to limit our impact and manage the existing effects of climate change.
Except just like the flood clean-up, where do we start in Australia? How do we get our government to stand up and care? We need them to produce more than a hastily written apology for people who have had their homes destroyed by fires and then floods. We need action and leadership. Something I’m losing faith in.