Climate change attacks like a brutal enemy

Our Future || Climate change attacks like a brutal enemy

Environment
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I have come out of retirement to take on the most important job of my life - coordinating the recovery of my community at Conjola on the NSW South Coast after...

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I have come out of retirement to take on the most important job of my life - coordinating the recovery of my community at Conjola on the NSW South Coast after it was savaged by fire on New Year's Eve.

Three people in our area died that day, almost 100 families lost their homes, and our beautiful forests have been destroyed. Much of the wildlife has disappeared. My wife Lindy and I were lucky, our home was spared.

For the past two months I have worked night and day with a dedicated team of fellow volunteers to support our community, which can involve navigating local bureaucracy, deploying mental health specialists, or even organising visits by sporting heroes.

Two months on, our community is still traumatised, but we are soldiering on with recovery. Severe flooding a few weeks ago hampered our efforts, cutting off access for mental health counsellors and volunteer helpers, who are so critical to assisting local residents. The floods also caused power outages and further damaged properties and infrastructure.

Read more: Fire mapping to aid recovery of national parks

I was asked to coordinate Conjola's recovery because of my 40 years' experience in defence and emergency services, including a stint as the inaugural commissioner of the then ACT Emergency Services Authority (now Agency).

In all my decades in the military and emergency services, I have never seen an enemy as dangerous as climate change. The fires and floods that hit our communities this summer were not normal. Despite decades of warnings from scientists, we were not prepared.

Our community in the Conjola area will get through this. We are a tough, united lot who take care of each other in difficult times. We have a long road ahead of us.

Right now, our most immediate needs are for council to clean up destroyed buildings, especially those with asbestos; approval for our infrastructure rebuilding plans; and the continued provision of mental health counsellors in our local community.

But for our safety and peace of mind, we need climate action too.

We have long known the science that burning coal, oil, and gas is the biggest driver of climate change. But for too long, our politicians have ignored the problem. It's our federal government's job now, to recognise the major role Australia plays in curbing dangerous climate change and to do something about it.

Major General (Ret) Peter Dunn, is a Lake Conjola resident, former commissioner of the ACT Emergency Services Agency, and a member of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action.

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