Newcastle Herald Opinion | Climate change the true culprit


It’s common knowledge that the amount of sand on beaches changes over time. In heavy seas, sand is eroded from beaches. In calmer periods, sand is deposited. However, we are entering a new world and can no longer be reassured by the past processes where sand on beaches is replenished.

Projections are that we are likely to see an increase in beach erosion. The recent events at Stockton where the sea came within two metres of a childcare facility are a prime example. 

The culprit behind our receding shores, rising sea levels and increasing extreme weather events is climate change. Yet, disturbingly, articles and subsequent editorial dealing with Stockton’s long-term erosion (NSW government not prepared to fund a groyne at Stockton, January 19, 2018) make no mention of climate change when discussing solutions. Ironically, on the same editorial page there was the story of health professionals getting arrested to stop the Adani coalmine – a mine that will worsen warming.

Climate change is here and now, and we need to start taking it more seriously. Its harmful effects on human health are already being seen. 

There have been calls for local and state governments to act. But what do we expect them to do?

The obvious solution is to shore up the beach to allow more sand to accumulate in front of the facility. However, at best, this is going to be only a temporary solution. And what about the rest of Stockton and any other low lying area in Newcastle or Australia?

The expected rise in sea level is well documented. This can be seen on the government website (ozcoasts.gov.au). The government is fully aware of what is happening. So why are they not taking it seriously? 

I suspect, because it is too hard and goes against too many vested interests.

If the government took global warming seriously it would be urgently changing policy to reduce our emissions as quickly as possible. Seventy-five per cent of NSW electricity still comes from coal-fired power stations. Not only do these cause immediate health issues, they contribute to greenhouse gases and sea level rise.

Nationally, a third of our emissions come from vehicles. How is it possible that public transport is getting harder to use when we need to be using it more? Where are the incentives for us all to be changing to electric vehicles? Where is the money for adequate bike paths? Why does the government spend billions on new roads and neglect bike paths?

Fifteen per cent of our emissions come from food production. Half of Australia’s land surface is devoted to grazing and 11 per cent for cropping. The majority of the cropping is used to produce food for animals. The majority of land clearing is to provide more space for animal grazing. What we eat has a direct effect on climate change. 

The Stockton childcare facility problem is a problem for all of us. There is no easy answer, which is why, I suspect, the government response has been tardy. 

Rising sea levels and more erosion are facts of life we are going to have to manage. To lessen the impact, society must take climate change seriously and make dramatic changes. We need leaders who are willing to make tough decisions. Currently, it is business as usual, which is just not good enough.


John Van Der Kallen is a physician practicing in Newcastle and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

First published in Newcastle Herald on 22 January 2018


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