Climate Change vs.
The climate and ecological emergency affects everyone. It is having and will have distinct consequences for outdoor enthusiasts, workers and businesses.
Outdoors people and wild places throughout Australia have already been deeply affected by climate change and these impacts will worsen to a degree dependent how we address the crisis.
Climate change impacts natural environments, biodiversity and our ability to visit and enjoy wild places, affecting outdoor enthusiasts, workers and businesses alike. Increases in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events can increase risks to visitors. Affected areas may be unsuitable for certain activities more often and conducting activities and trips may become more challenging and less predictable. When climate impacts degrade environments, they become less appealing and enriching to visit. We experience grief when outdoor places we love are impacted.
The impacts of climate change are numerous and complex and can affect different areas, environments and activities differently. Below we explore the effects various climate impacts have had and will have on the outdoors.
This article explores some specific impacts to the outdoor community and not the many other consequences of the climate and ecological crisis. To learn more about the emergency, you can check out some of our preferred resources here.
Worsening Bushfire Seasons
As a result of climate change Australia is experiencing longer and more severe bushfire seasons. Australia has warmed by more than 1.4 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, leading to longer and hotter heatwaves and in southern Australia less rainfall during the cool season. Extreme fire danger days have increased. Fire risk will continue to escalate if climate change is not tackled.
Made clear by the 2019-2020 'Black Summer' fire season, worsening bushfire seasons are having profound consequences for outdoor places, enthusiasts, workers and businesses. The ecological impact of the unprecedented fire season was enormous; 3 billion animals are estimated to have been killed, injured or seen their habitat destroyed by the fires.
Many outdoor enthusiasts were largely stuck indoors for months with many national park closures and hazardous air quality. Many of these parks were closed due to active fires within their boundaries. When a bushfire started in Kosciuszko National Park some backcountry visitors had to be evacuated by helicopter. For caution in the face of the horrific fire season, numerous parks and areas were closed during days of total fire ban, before or without experiencing active bushfires. Many national parks or areas of parks remained closed for extended periods (at the time of writing many areas are still closed) as a result of damage. The fires damaged and destroyed national park and other public infrastructure including tracks, campgrounds and visitor centres.
Outdoor businesses incurred serious losses. When relocation was not possible due to widespread fires, trips and activities were cancelled or rescheduled. Property and infrastructure belonging to or used by some outdoor businesses was threatened, damaged or completely destroyed, notably the devastated Selwyn Snow Resort. Significant areas of land essential for outdoor business operations was severely fire affected and not suitable for use for some time after the event, with ongoing affects to businesses.
Increasing Extreme Heat
Average temperatures are increasing globally as a result of climate change. Hot days are getting hotter, and heatwaves are becoming longer and more frequent. 2019 was the hottest year ever recorded in Australia.
Heatwaves are deadly and avoiding heat-related illness is a serious safety consideration for outdoor recreation in hot weather.
Hotter temperatures have already impacted and will increasingly impact activities like bushwalking, running, cycling and mountain biking. In certain places some activities may become unsuitable for more and more of the year. This will be problematic for outdoor enthusiasts, workers and businesses alike.
It's easy to imagine how already hot places like the Northern Territory will be affected by increasing heat both for local people, visitors and outdoor businesses and workers.
Worsening Drought Conditions
Since the 1970s, late autumn and early winter rainfall has decreased by 15% in southeast Australia and Western Australia’s southwest region has experienced a 15% decline in cool season rainfall. Drought conditions in Australia are further exacerbated by an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves caused by climate change. Time spent in drought is expected to increase in the future across southern Australia.
Increased drought conditions will impact the health of natural environments and biodiversity, for example freshwater species, and could make affected outdoor places less attractive to visit. For example, future drying trends in Australia will be most pronounced over the world-renowned biodiversity hotspot, southwest Western Australia.
Drying trends will increasingly affect many of our waterways, with possible consequences for river users including kayakers, rafters and canoers. Climate change will likely increasingly reduce stream flow and water availability in much of Australia, possibly altering the very physical structure and function of iconic rivers like the Mitta Mitta, the Murray and the Murrumbidgee.
Increased water scarcity in outdoor places, could affect our ability to source water in some outdoor places, with impacts for expedition style trips and business operations.
Flooded and Eroded Coasts
Climate change is causing sea levels to rise. Globally sea levels have on average risen by 17 cm over the 20th century. Sea levels through the 21st century are likely to rise by 0.4 to 1.0 m depending on our emissions.
Sea-level rise affects the coast in two ways: by inundation, where seawater floods the land, and by coastal recession, where sandy or otherwise soft shorelines are eroded.
A sea-level rise of just 0.5 m would, on average, mean that a very rare 1-in-a-100 year flood would become common, occurring every few months. It could also involve a potential retreat of sandy shorelines by 25 to 50 m.
Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, storm surges, and coastal flooding can impact coastal areas and coastal activities including surfing, fishing, snorkeling, paddling, hiking and camping. These impacts could result in closures or otherwise affect access to coastal outdoor places and result in irreversible physical changes to coastal places. Sandy beaches are at particular risk.
Many ecosystems including mangroves, saltmarshes, seagrass beds, coastal freshwater habitats and coral reefs are vulnerable to sea-level rise.
More Intense, Damaging Storms
Climate change is fueling more intense and damaging storms, with tropical cyclones, extreme rainfall, and hail and thunderstorms now occurring in an atmosphere with more energy and moisture. Extreme rainfall events are expected to increase in intensity across much of Australia and the frequency of severe thunderstorms will increase in the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane areas. Tropical cyclones are projected to become less frequent but more intense in terms of winds, rainfall and storm surges.
More intense and dangerous storms are an unwelcome consequence of climate change in the outdoors. Severe winds, extreme rainfall and hail and thunderstorms all pose serious safety risks to people in the outdoors. Damaging winds can cause limbs and trees to fall while extreme rain can cause waterways to become flooded, dangerous and impassable. These safety hazards can reduce the suitability for certain activities more often. Storm events can result in park closures and otherwise restrict access to outdoor places.
Severe storm events can damage or destroy public and private infrastructure in the outdoors. Problematic erosion and landslides can result from extreme rainfall. An increased incidence of damaging storms can result in increased insurance premiums, a challenge for outdoor businesses in affected areas like Queensland.
Cyclone Debbie (2017) was the second most expensive cyclone in Australia's history, with an estimated loss of $1.565 billion.
Less Snow, No Snow
Climate change means we have less snow in Australia than we did in the past, and we’ll have less snow in the future. We’re experiencing reduced snow depth, shorter snow seasons, reduced area of snow coverage, and a reduced ability to make snow across our alpine region.
Snow cover in Australia has already declined by more than 30% since 1954.
This lack of snow impacts backcountry and resort users alike, affecting skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and everyone else who likes to spend time in the snow.
These changes to our snow seasons and the associated warming of the Australian alpine will have further environmental consequences in the region including soil erosion, damage to vegetation, reduced water quality, and impacts on native species including the critically endangered mountain pygmy possum.
Mass Extinction and Biodiversity Crisis
Globally and in Australia biodiversity is in peril. About one million plant and animal species globally are threatened with extinction. Today, the combined mass of wild mammals is less than one-quarter of the mass before humans started colonising the planet. Population sizes of animal species have declined by more than two-thirds over the last 50 years. Since the agricultural revolution humans have halved the vegetation biomass.
Threats to biodiversity include habitat loss, climate change, overexploitation, pollution and introduced species.
Climate change has resulted in widespread bleaching and subsequent death of coral, notably in the Great Barrier Reef. At 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, a devastating milestone anticipated to be passed as early as 2034, coral reefs will become practically non-existent.
Reduced biodiversity will affect the experiences of outdoor enthusiasts in all environments. Outdoor workers and businesses may be impacted by a reduced appeal to visitors, for example reduced tourism to coral reefs.
Consequences for Outdoors People
With these impacts set to worsen as global temperatures continue to rise, their effects on the outdoors will become more severe, making this a problem we must urgently address in order to protect our loved outdoor places, pursuits, lifestyles and work. Below we've summarised how the climate impacts above may translate into consequences for outdoor places and people.
Our cherished local and iconic outdoor places will be increasingly hit hard. Without sufficient action to address the climate and ecological crisis our environments and ecosystems are expected to experience reduced biodiversity and extinctions, increased incidence of alien species, affected landscapes and coastlines, altered vegetation, impacts to waterways, ocean acidification and compounding impacts.
Visitors to the outdoors, of all pursuits, will be increasingly impacted by the climate and ecological crisis. We can expect increased closures and reduced ease of access of outdoor places like National Parks, increased safety risks, less suitable conditions more often for various activities, damaged and destroyed public infrastructure, reduced appeal of outdoor places, and feelings of grief and loss.
Outdoor businesses may expect a range of losses as a result of the climate and ecological crisis. Shortened suitable seasons and more frequent unsuitable conditions for certain activities and trips as well as closures and access issues including damaged and unsafe landscapes, can result in closures, cancellations, itinerary changes, rescheduled and relocated operations, trips and activities. Outdoor businesses may experience the financial strain of increased insurance premiums, and a greater need for and reduced access to insurance. Businesses may find their product becomes less appealing as a result of impacts to ecosystems and landscapes. A business's infrastructure may be damaged or destroyed by climate impacts. Public infrastructure relied upon for operations might also be damaged or destroyed. Businesses may also need to adapt to increased safety risks whilst operating in the outdoors.
Many outdoor workers are directly affected by the above impacts faced by their employers. Many workers in outdoor education and tourism work seasonally or casually and may lose employment when their employer experiences losses. Employers may hire or roster less people or cancel work for casual staff.
Where to now?
The challenge ahead is enormous, but everything we love is on the line. We're the sort of people who embrace challenge, seek adventure, know how to take leadership and aren't easily intimated. The world has all the solutions we need to address the climate and ecological crisis - and to even start reversing the damage. The only thing missing? Political will. Luckily, social movements have previously achieved unthinkable outcomes including the vote for women, gay marriage and the end of apartheid. The climate movement is our only chance for citizens like us to turn the tide, solve the crisis, save the world, and protect the outdoors while we're at it. The antidote to despair is action.
Which of these actions will you take next?