Extract: Two Degrees of Devastation

22 April 2016 Katherine Smyrk

Extract: Two Degrees of Devastation

Illustration by Antra Svarcs

In the latest edition of The Big Issue, we decided to tackle a pretty big issue indeed: climate change. We take a look at what 2°C of warming actually means – not just in terms of the science, but in terms of the everyday impacts on the lives of everyday Australians. Below is an extract of the comprehensive feature in the magazine. For the whole thing, you’ll have to buy a copy from your vendor…


“It just highlights that not having a plan, and not dealing with the issue is not going to help your cause.” – Sharon Pope, City of Lake Macquarie.


Kate Davies lives in Newcastle, in the inner-city suburb of Merewether – a 10-minute walk from the CBD. A year after she bought her house, she got a notice from her insurance company saying they would not be able to insure her anymore because of the risk of flood. The area around her house had been flooded before she bought there – in the infamous 2007 “Pasha Bulker” storms (where the eponymous container ship ran aground on Nobby’s Beach) – and now the whole suburb was deemed high-risk.

“It’s not that low-lying, there’s even hills in the area,” says Davies. “But they decided that it was too risky.” She did manage to insure her property with a larger insurance company, for more money. She says the whole experience was eye-opening for her. “Climate change is clearly occurring, we’ve had two significant events within Newcastle in the last 10 years, so it’s really important to make sure we have flood coverage because we know that’s possible.”

A study published by US-based research group Climate Central found that under a 2°C warming scenario, which is what we are slated to reach by 2030, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide will be hit hard, with an estimated 200,000 homes at risk of going under. A new website, Coastal Risk Australia, uses Google Maps and projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to allow people to see maps showing exactly how sea-level rises will affect their suburb by 2100. The website – which got so much traffic on the day it launched it was impossible to access – has shown that if we continue on the emissions path we are now on, houses and famous landmarks will be underwater in every state and territory except the ACT.

And if you are able to get insurance on your property, the premiums could become crippling. In their 2014 report, Buyers Beware, the Climate Institute found that, at the high end of climate projections, insurance premiums could be expected to increase by up to 92 per cent over the life of a standard 30-year mortgage. In some locations that had been deemed high-risk, insurance companies refused to supply the Climate Institute quotes for the properties. This never happened in testing done in low-risk areas.

The world is set to be 2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels in 14 years’ time. Climate change is happening now, and it’s not just affecting people in remote or extreme areas – the very real impacts of extreme weather, rising sea levels and catapulting insurance costs are hitting average, urban-dwelling Australians already.

But things are being done. The City of Lake Macquarie council has come up with a unique way to tackle this quickly escalating problem for their area. In the words of the councils’ Manager Integrated Planning, Sharon Pope: “It just highlights that not having a plan, and not dealing with the issue is not going to help your cause.”

To find out more detail about how things like extreme weather and insurance premiums could affect you, and to find out about the creative things that are being done to help mitigate the impacts, buy a copy of The Big Issue from your vendor today. 

The beautiful illustrations for this story come from the talented Antra Švarcs.