Climate Change

Stephen Lake


Climate change is real.
On balance, it's probable that very few people have the expertise to discuss these sort of issues in detail. In many parts of life we defer to experts - physician, plumber, lawyer or computer technician. We generally accept their advice as they know more than we do. If the matter is serious then a second opinion is obtained.

In science there’s peer review, where the results of the study or hypotheses are reviewed by experts in that field. Sometimes results are combined into metaanalysis, where a large number of studies are combined. This is what IPCC has done.

Science at the cutting edge is always contentious and is often viewed with disdain by those with a vested interest or a lack of understanding. It happened with the suggestion that the earth was round (it is), and again when the proposal that the sun was at the centre of the planets, not the earth. Eventually the truth will emerge.

The consequences for doing or not doing something need to be considered. If only one egg is put in the cake instead of two it’s of little long-term import. A campfire on a hot, dry, windy day could be fatal. The chance of needing a seat belt is minimal, but we all wear them. At least we should. Why? If that one chance in 10 000 arises and we don’t have a seat belt on then there could be dire results. You don’t expect to get lost or have an accident, but you should let someone know before you go, and many parties carry a PLB, GPS and mobile phone.

This is where we are at with climate change. Forget to a large extent the science. Forget the vested interests and political moves. Forget fudged figures. Forget the extremists of all persuasions. Just focus on one thing.

If there is indeed global warming and we do nothing it will be much harder for our children and their children. I’m not prepared to take the risk. Is there anyone here who is prepared to gamble with the lives of their children and grandchildren? This is real. About 200 people died in a six day Victorian heatwave last summer, twice the normal number. This heatwave was similar to Mildura. Imagine what it will be like if this climate is the norm.

So, hands up. Who is prepared to gamble with their children’s lives?

Is there anyone here who is prepared to gamble with the lives of their children and grandchildren?

The impact

This depends on location. The Darwin snow season will not be affected by climate change, and I can't envisage rising sea levels to be a problem at Pelion Gap.

Water is essential for life. One major consequence of climate change is that precipitation will happen in the wrong place, time or amount. Slow steady rain is good, but not if it’s over oceans. Having a month of precipitation in a few days will lead to flooding. In general, water sources are drying. This is not noticeable at lower levels, but is very apparent at higher altitudes. In my state, Victoria, a number of places that had water from small creeks are no longer running. This will affect where parties camp, and more experienced walkers will change their routes. Less experienced walkers will find that their campsites have no water, with no contingency plan. In most cases there will hopefully be only a day of discomfort, until the next water source is reached. However, it could be that in very hot weather there will be dehydration and heat-related medical conditions.

In 2013-14 there were bushfires. These and days of very high temperatures limit the bushwalking season. Chris Towers, President Bushwalking Australia, says:
“In states such as Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland there is a defined and somewhat short bushwalking season that is primarily determined by the seasons, i.e., weather. With increasing temperatures the bushwalking season in these states is likely to become even shorter, and it is also possible that a bushwalking season may become necessary in the remaining states. Many bushwalking clubs, and indeed many bushwalkers will curtail or cancel walks due to high temperatures and extreme weather events, so with climate change increasing temperatures and the frequency and scale of severe weather events the opportunity to bushwalk with be compromised.”

Was the heat an outlier or a taste of things to come?

Last summer there was snow on Tasmanian peaks, followed by days of very hot weather. Care needs to be made with observations such as this, as they should be viewed in the context of several years. Was the heat an outlier or a taste of things to come? I don’t know.


Like life, there are many uncertainties in bushwalking, just probabilities. I can’t say for sure that I’ll need a map, but consider it highly probable. It’s necessary to consider the likelihood of what may and may not happen, and plan accordingly. In some parts of Australia, and the world for that matter, more extreme weather will probably lead to variations the current bushwalking or ski touring season.

It used to be that skiing was from the end of June to the middle of October, with a final trip on Cup Day, first Tuesday in November, in the Snowy Mountains. Whilst ski seasons vary, in general they are shorter now than was the case when I started skiing in the mid-70s.

Climate Commission

The Climate Commission advises that “The nature of heatwaves has already changed in many parts of Australia. Over the period 1971-2008, the duration and frequency of heatwaves have increased, and the hottest days during a heatwave have become even hotter."

The Commission advises that “Projections indicate there may be an increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones in the more intense categories (3-5), however a decrease in the total number of cyclones. By 2030, projections show that there may be a 60 per cent increase in severe storm intensity and a 140 per cent
increase by 2070. Projections also indicate that tropical cyclones are moving southward as sea surface temperatures increase. There is some evidence to suggest the zone in which cyclones form and decay may change by around 100 kilometres during this century.”

Projections indi-cate there may be an increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones...

Queensland rainfall intensity is projected to increase, whilst total Queensland rainfall will be stable or decrease. A higher intensity means that more flooding is probable.

So Queensland will have hotter summers, and stronger cyclones. Combine this with tidal surge and the Great Barrier Reef wither-ing and there's good reason to be concerned about the economy, let alone the outdoor enthusiast. Will a bushwalker be more reticent to go out in hotter windier conditions? Probably.


Climate change will require modification to how we conduct our walks, ski trips and climbs. It’s probable that the places that are hot now in summer will have a seasonal recreational shift. Climbing at Arapiles in summer will probably be less common. This will be gradual, with slow change.

I once thought that all I had to do to win an argument was to state the facts, as logic will win. This is not so. In too many instances ideology pervades clear thinking to such an extent that reason is not enough. Further, there are often higher priorities which push conservation down the agenda.

One thing that nearly all people can appreciate is money. Link conservation to money and the message will be appreciated. Farms no longer viable, higher food prices. Low- lying areas under water, billions of dollars lost and the economy ruined. Higher domestic energy costs due to hotter climate. Complementing money, ask if people are prepared to take the chance with their children paying the price for our inaction.

For many years my tag line has been Conservation is good economics. Trust me: I'm an investor, with all income from investing. Make the conservation-economics link.

Conservation is good economics

Votes can send a strong message to sway our politicians out of their short-term election cycle thinking. This is not just a
surge of letters and emails now, but a con-stant drip. There’s a plaque at The Chasm on the Milford Track, NZ:

The Chasm
The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with liberal allowance of time.
Henry David Thoreau

The writer has been walking, rock climbing, skiing and mountaineering for over 40 years, mostly in south east Australia. He was chairman and president of two bush-walking clubs, and was on Bushwalking Victoria Search and Rescue. He has strong conservation views. In a previous life he was managing printing for a large entity, and has written for and sub-edited a number of publications. Now semiretired he is an investor, and rates a good year as when he loses less than the year before.

A slow drip of action can erode ideology. If all readers wrote just one email for every trip they did, and maybe gently spread conservation values to others, our children would have a better chance of surviving.Climate change links are listed below.


To check out the impact of climate change on Australia’s alpine areas - Garner 2008, check the following link: 25734E0016A131/WebObj/01-JAlpineareas/$-File/01-J%20Alpine%20areas.pdf

Other climate change links: Weather%20%20Climate%20Change%20Enqui-ry.pdf 20120917-262m5.html