Careening from floods to drought is like going from car crash to cancer, according to a striking new study offering insights into rural Australians’ experiences of the changing climate.
The qualitative University of Sydney research explored life in 4 rural and regional farming communities in NSW hit by floods and drought over the preceding 5 years.
It’s a rare insight into the lived experience of climate extremes on the land, and makes for powerful reading, with recurring themes of financial and emotional stress and anxiety, fear and loss.
Farmers spoke of the talismanic importance of weather, holding the fortunes of families and entire communities in its balance.
(It) all revolves around the weather out here. The whole thing. Whether it is … the economics of the farmer, whether he makes any money or not and then the people who rely on us to be a success and then of course … the emotional side, the mental side … what happens when you go broke, what happens with the social fall-out from the lack of success, family relationships, problems.
You can tell it has rained when you walk down the street in a small rural community … people’s personality changes … people are happy … they are out and about and they are talking … as it gets drier and drier you can see people withdrawing, some physically … and people stop spending.
Some spoke to the researchers of children who had been raised in a drought and never seen rain now fearing and having nightmares about the wet.
I keep saying that the flood was like a car crash … it bangs and something has hit you. A drought is like a cancer … it just keeps on going and sometimes the recovery is nearly worse than what you have gone through.
Others spoke of losing everything, and the unthinkable prospect of being forced off land farmed by their families for 100 years.
I might end up getting a gun out and blowing my head off ‘cause … just what would I do? I would go insane. So if I lose my farm, it would cost me a marriage … not because she’s going to leave me, but because I won’t be fit to live with. What am I going to do? I’ll go insane. I just can’t. I don’t even like holidays. I don’t even like fishing
It makes for salient reading, with a group of prominent Australians including rugby player David Pocock and author Richard Flanagan on Tuesday penning an open letter to world leaders asking them to discuss banning new coalmines and mine expansions at December’s Paris climate talks.
On the same day, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull named a new Chief Scientist – prominent nuclear energy advocate Dr Alan Finkel – who drives an electric car and has a zero-emissions home.
However, Turnbull dismissed the calls for an end to coal, saying it was and would long remain the single largest element of the global energy mix.