Weather and climate are often confused. Weather is the wild storm that roared into Nowra on Friday afternoon, dumping a heap of rain on the city – so much, in fact, that roofs failed and water got into stores like Coles and Kmart. Climate is the sum total of weather, the frequency of storms, heatwaves and wind events over time.
Donald Trump is a master at confusing the two, tweeting about the polar vortex chilling North America as if is were evidence global warming was (excuse the pun) a trumped up figment of his opponents’ imagination. Memories in the presidential Twitterverse are gnat-like – it was only months ago, wildfires were incinerating large swathes of California.
Where weather and climate have converged is in people’s perception about the need to take serious action. Old climate deniers like Tony Abbott are now under serious threat from election challengers who believe his time passed and there is a need for serious and urgent action on an existential global issue.
How serious? So serious in some young people’s minds, they are deciding not to have children, according to reports this week. So serious that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has moved to make coal-fired power stations a thing of the past in her country.
While meteorologists would baulk at describing the recent run of wild storms as symptoms of climate change, they are happy to put some stark statistics in front of us. The hottest January on record is just one of them. Year on year, records for the longest run of hot days are broken. As individuals we feel it as minimum temperatures stay stubbornly warm and we struggle to get the sleep we need. One crisp morning after a southerly change reminds us that things were not always this sticky and hot.
While we’ve been uncomfortable here on the coast, out west it’s been almost unimaginable. Bourke, for instance, with its record number of days over 40 degrees, would be inhabitable for many of us.
Raging bushfires in winter, monsoons in parts of Queensland we previously thought were dry, the massive fish kills in the Murray Darling, the crippling drought across the eastern states – people across the land are focusing more than ever on the cruel dividends of a changing climate.
The challenge for politicians is to convince us they intend to take serious action to address the climate crisis.