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Cyclone Yasi and the King’s Speech

Writing from Brisbane, Australia, correspondent Deborah Tabart contemplates Cyclone Yasi, the second extreme, hundred-year weather event to impact the continent in four years.

By Deborah Tabart OAM

Illawarra, Queensland, Wednesday, February 2–It was very hot at Illawarra, and the sun was shining. Last Saturday, I saw a butterfly emerge from the tree that had 16 caterpillars on it when I last wrote. The birds have had a scrumptious meal on the juicy grubs. The wind was slightly up and has been for a few days.

Down here in flood-soaked Brisbane, there was no sign of Yasi, which was a few hours from making landfall on the north Queensland coast. They were expecting winds of 200 miles an hour. Unimaginable. Our leaders say they are not battle weary but battle ready, as if Mother Nature is waging war against our country.

Last night I saw the movie the King’s Speech, telling the story of an Australia speech therapist who helped King George VI stop stammering. The king’s wartime radio broadcasts did much to inspire Britons to rally against Hitler and his armies. I wonder what speeches our leaders will make now, when we urgently need inspiration and resolve. It is one thing to prepare a single nation for war against a clear enemy, but it is quite another to lead the world’s nations to take action against planetary changes triggered by us.

After my visit to Copenhagen last year, and the climate talks, I am certain we are in the throes of climate change. Last year was the hottest on record worldwide. Australia suffered dreadful fires, and now we’re having terrible floods. The romantics, and the ostriches with their heads in the sand, keep quoting the the lines from Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem: ” I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of drought and flooding rains”…

But what’s going on these days is of a different order of magnitude from the normal cycles of dry and wet. Four years ago we had Cyclone Larry. Now it’s Yasi. Two extreme, hundred-year events just four years apart.

To combat Hitler, the Allies we could build fighter aircraft and tanks and battleships and gather the people in boats for D-Day. But climate change is insidious and uncertain, inviting denial and procrastination. It’s too big and worrying to confront, so we go ostrich. What if these hundred-year catastrophes begin happening every year?

“I know that Mother Nature will keep on pushing us, relentlessly, until we listen.”

As I wait to hear the extent of the damage wreaked on my countrymen by Yasi, I know that Mother Nature will keep on pushing us, relentlessly, until we listen. I don’t need more science to convince me of this. Ironically, our Prime Minister has chosen to take away all the major “green” initiatives, like a carbon trading scheme, cash for clunker cars, and solar rebates, because someone must pay for all the damage inflicted by these weather events. We now have a compulsory levy to pay for infrastructural repairs, as we face the task of rebuilding our roads, bridges, powerlines, dams. The cost of food will skyrocket.

I wonder how we could possibly sustain more catastrophes like these.

Thursday, February 3:
Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast at Mission Beach last night, and not one standing tree has a leaf on it. Because there was enough warning and because Queensland’s leaders did a good job of preparing for Yasi, as I write this–thankfully–not one person has died.
We won’t always be able to prepare.

We’re being warned: More fires are coming, and more floods. And they’ll be coming closer together. In Queensland, the banana crops are ruined, cane growers have lost their entire crops, and people who had to rebuild their lives four years ago, will, yet again, have to find the will and the means to rebuild all over again. Given the extent of the damage, I only hope they’ll get the help they need.

In the months and years ahead, we (and by that I don’t just mean Australians, of course) desperately need inspiring speeches, rallying calls to embolden us to think and live differently.

Who will come forward to make them?

Deborah Tabart OAM is the Chief Executive Officer of the Brisbane-based Australian Koala Foundation. Read all the blog posts by Deborah Tabart.