Drought, bushfires and now the Coronavirus. The Hunter’s economy is being hit from all sides. The impact of the drought on our growers and producers has been significant. Some towns have run out of water. Our rivers are struggling. Our vignerons have lost their vintage to smoke taint. Our tourism industry has lost thousands of customers because visitors have had their own lives disrupted, or they’ve chosen not to visit an area hit so hard by heat and fire. Now, the Government has put up the “no entry” sign for visitors from China due to the Coronavirus. Taken together, these things are going to impact on our local economy for a long time to come. And sadly, none of the above problems are yet behind us.
In the past when we thought and talked about structural change in our economy our minds turned to the decline in traditional industries and the emergence and embrace of new, more modern sectors. But now we need to be asking ourselves about our exposure to changing weather patterns, how we can adapt to them, and how we build further economic diversity.
Sure, the weather may settle and return to “normal”. But what if it doesn’t? If there is any chance at all the weather will remain this challenging, surely we need to prepare for it.
Much of the debate to date has been focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s important, as long as the policies adopted are sensible and don’t unnecessarily destroy jobs. I’m all for meaningful action on that front. But the calls to do more to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas levels are not made to fix anything today, next year or even in five years. No, they come from the goal to keep global warming below two degrees greater than pre-industrial levels. That’s a crucial cause because if we fail to do so, what we’ve seen this summer could look like a walk in the park.
But we have to also deal with the immediate challenges the changing weather patterns are throwing-up right now. We need to grow more serious about how we use and store our precious water resources. People on the land will need help in their efforts to adapt to a more challenging climate. Government will need to invest in new infrastructure projects both to help us adapt and to reduce our reliance on industries most affected by unpredictable and wild weather patterns. We’ll need better strategies for bush fire mitigation.
To do all of this, we need a plan from the Government, but sadly we don’t have one. We‘ve had media releases, press conferences and a financial grant here and there. But there is no overarching, comprehensive, coherent national plan. We need one and we need it soon!