I have clear memories of the cyclones I experienced growing up. Deafeningly loud rain; windows flexing in and out as winds test the limits of human manufacturing; and trees bending and snapping like bamboo chopsticks in violent gusts that reached nearly 300 kilometers, or 185 miles, per hour.
I’ve been thinking lately that being inured to extreme climatic events may be contributing to another thing that North Queensland is known for: stubborn denial of climate change.
When you not only accept, but expect, such severe weather events to occur every summer — sometimes numerous times — extremity becomes normalized.
When you view extreme weather events as an impactful but inescapable norm, it’s hard to believe that you could be exacerbating them, let alone do anything to mitigate them.
It sounds strange to suggest that conservatism over climate action in Australia, and particularly North Queensland, comes from a respect of the natural world. There are many factors at play in the political equation — for one, coal mining is the biggest industry in the region.
But I do believe that the collective annual experience with extreme-weather events lessens the shock value of climate change’s existential threats. It makes people view climate change as something they can prepare for and recover from, not something they should prevent or minimize.
There is a certain Romantic beauty to this vision of Mother Nature as a force of awesome power, one that giveth and taketh as she pleases. One of Australia’s most well-known poems, “My Country,” by Dorothea Mackellar, captures this Australian Romanticism:
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.”
There is a certain beauty to the dominant architectural style of Queensland homes. Houses are built on tall stilts, with the assumption that meters-high floodwaters are a real possibility.