Drought, fires, floods and storms are ravaging Australia. Where can we find hope and connection? | Arnagretta Hunter

Oe are at the start of a few crazy decades. An unprecedented century. “Rising extreme weather events” – a prediction made by climatologists over the past few decades, is now playing out before us.

Drought, fires, floods and storms are increasingly severe, with devastating consequences around the world. The language of 1.5-2C global warming does not begin to describe the future. From climate science, we understand that the frequency of extreme events will increase and the extremes will become more extreme.

“The unprecedented is no reason not to be prepared,” said the royal commission on national disaster arrangements.

The 2020 report reflected the disasters of 2019-20 – a devastating drought on Australia’s east coast and a summer when apocalyptic skies turned normal in New South Wales and Victoria, as millions of we were breathing air polluted with destruction, as our natural environment was consumed by fires that would not be extinguished.

The unprecedented wave of events continued after Black Summer.

Hailstorms in the ACT were a fierce distraction after the smoke. Many buildings and vehicles are still damaged. And then came the big new challenge of a global pandemic of a highly infectious disease, the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2. The need to protect ourselves and our loved ones has shown us how much human behavior can change in a short time.

The devastating floods in Queensland and northern New South Wales up until last summer were an intense taster of the east coast floods that happened, are happening and are still expected.

Three years after the royal commission, the “unprecedented” is not over with us.

There is more heat in our overall atmosphere and therefore more energy. Intense weather events are the most obvious manifestation of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past hundred years.

So while the novelty has worn off, the “unprecedented events” aren’t going away any time soon. There is more to come, more than we have ever faced before. Extreme weather conditions, disruptions to the air, food and water we need and the places we live.

The social, political and economic changes that accompany these environmental disasters will give rise to geopolitical tensions. This is the century to appreciate the mix of catastrophic risk that surrounds us and the interdependence of risk and opportunity.

As we move from challenge to crisis to catastrophic risk, we need scientists and experts to share knowledge and learn quickly.

It was environmental scientists who warned of the risks to come in 2019 as Black Summer unfolded. They are scientists and public health experts who have helped fight Covid-19. Scientists and those with in-depth knowledge are essential.

We also need imagination.

Although science and expertise are key elements in preparing for the unprecedented, we cannot prepare for the future without imagination, allowing our minds to explore events we have not faced before. The Evidence Base of Our Past provides a platform for discussion, but is incomplete without space for imagination, collaboration, and sharing.


Imagination comes through thinking and talking – sharing ideas from different places. Simply acknowledging its power in shaping our future is an important start. She is encouraged by collaboration, creativity and new ideas.

In the midst of a disaster, it’s hard to plan and even harder to imagine the altered future to come. Creating space for collaboration and caring within communities is a key ingredient for our future.

Hope is also an important tool for resilience.

Hope, joy and connection, creativity and play are synergized with imagination. These elements help confront fear, which is essential when looking at the challenges that loom on the horizon in our sometimes dystopian future. It is the imagination that allows us not only to face challenges, but also to shape solutions and imagine a hopeful future.

The extreme weather conditions in our world will shape this century.

Imagination, collaboration and caring are key elements of adaptation in these difficult times. There’s never been a more important time to foster community conversation.

This is how we will shape our best future together.

Dr Arnagretta Hunter is a Cardiologist and Physician, and Human Futures Researcher at the Australian National University

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