Climate Change Minister Penny Wong created a stir recently when she warned that global warming could have a massive impact on Bondi Beach, the Sunshine Coast and Bells Beach.
“Many of our sandy beaches could erode away or recede up to hundreds of meters over the coming century,” she said.
Next morning, The Australian printed a front page story with a photograph of a senior Bondi resident who was quoted saying: “Now and again, you get king tides around Christmas time, but it’s just the ebbs and flows, I think.” Another longtime swimmer was quoted saying he had noticed no change to the beach over several decades.
But former Waverley mayor George Newhouse said Minister Wong was right and criticised what he described as “ill informed anecdotal comments” in the media.
“Of course the beach looks normal,” he said. “That’s because council spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year restoring serious damage caused by wild storms and tidal inundation and the effects of climate change.”
Mr Newhouse said that during his term as mayor the council was forced to spend over $60,000 on one weekend’s storm damage, and that evidence indicated climate driven damage was increasing: “We have had water lapping at the edge of the promenade and that inundation is set to increase as a result of global warming.”
The human rights lawyer said the current scientific prediction was for more than a one-metre rise by 2100, but that Bondi was well above sea level and houses or shops would not be directly affected by sea level rises.
He said there would be more serious flooding in other parts of the coast. “You’re more likely to see houses falling into the sea at Narrabeen and Byron, but in Bondi and Coogee it will be the loss of the beaches that will be the problem,” he said.
“When there are waves lapping over the seawall and no sand, going to Bondi Beach is not going to be the same. You’re not going to get 40,000 people on the beach on a hot summer’s day.”
As mayor in 2007, Mr Newhouse installed a marker at the children’s pool at Bondi. “The Climate Change Marker shows the rise of sea water levels over the next 30 to 90 years. The beach shoreline is receding. Anyone interested in the real impacts of climate change on Bondi should see it,” he said.
“I can’t believe that the anecdotal comments of beachgoers is being used by climate change skeptics to argue the case when there are facts on the ground to prove otherwise.”
Wentworth MP Malcolm Turnbull agrees there is need for immediate action, despite the December leadership change that saw the skeptics reverse the Coalition’s climate policy.
He says that sea level rises this century could be much higher than previously forecast and could become a problem for all coastal communities.
Mr Turnbull said the problem was that storm surges would erode beaches further.
“Waverley Council is taking a risk management approach and is undertaking a coastal hazards survey to assess the areas of greatest vulnerability. I commend Mayor Sally Betts for doing so,” he said.
Waverley Council’s Environmental Action Report states in its summary: “It is now widely accepted by the international scientific community that decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be taken … Waverley residents have confirmed that our residents demand government action to safeguard our environmental future.”
But Cr Betts is annoyed that Bondi has been targeted.
“It makes me furious that every time anybody wants to get publicity, they think they can add the words ‘Bondi Beach’ and the article gets on the front page,” she said.
“We know the people of Waverley are concerned about climate change and they are happy for us to have very high targets. They understand these targets could result in their rates going up. We asked very specific questions about our targets and a lot of people said ‘can’t you make them higher?’”
The mayor agreed big storms were common at Bondi, and said sometimes they could take most of the sand off the beach but it always returned to its normal level.
“I think Waverley residents are well educated and understand these issues. We do need to change the way we do things. We need to adapt, to take climate change seriously,” Cr Betts said.
“But the most important thing we need to change is our building practices; better design for climate, solar heating and cooling, less energy expensive materials and better town planning.”
– BY JEREMY BROWN