Remember climate change? COVID has shown that sometimes you need a heap of evidence to prove the obvious. With these adventures, seeing is believing.
Heading out into nature used to be a way to switch off from the realities of daily life. Get out of mobile range and enjoy the serenity, free from memes with cats and increasingly bleak world news.
Except some of the bleakest world news we’re facing – climate change – is getting more and more apparent whenever we head outdoors. Whether it’s a lack of water when hiking, shorter snow seasons, drier canyons or just more blazing hot days, climate change isn’t just a theoretical danger anymore.
This became especially clear when bushfires hit Australia this season. The fires affected most people along the East Coast – and plenty beyond – in some way. Nearly 20 million hectares burned, destroying forest and homes, killing an estimated one billion animals, and blanketing parts of NSW, ACT and Victoria, including Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, in thick smoke for days at a time.
For many people in cities, this was their first personal brush with the reality of climate change.
The only potential positive in all this is that it’s making more people think, and hopefully act, on climate change. So maybe now is the time to take your climate change denying uncle – or any climate skeptic in your life – on some outdoor adventures that will show them how the world is changing. It’ll likely do more to shift their thinking than a decade of Christmas dinner debates.
Here are five adventures to get you started.
Diving and Snorkelling
The classic example of climate change in the ocean is coral bleaching. Even Andrew Bolt probably knows deep down he doesn’t have much longer if he wants to see the Great Barrier Reef. But it’s not just coral that’s affected. Off the east coast of Tasmania the oceans are warming at around four times the global average. Incredible underwater forests of giant kelp that divers could explore just a few years ago, have nearly disappeared.
Try taking your climate change denying uncle somewhere with a visibly fragile ecosystem, like Heron Island. It’s still a remarkable place to visit with coral, turtles laying eggs in the sand, sharks, rays and extensive birdlife, but it’s easy to see how each element relies on the other. If the corals die, the fish will starve or leave. Without fish, the birds will starve, and without birds to fertilise the sandy ground, the trees will die.
Climate change means drier conditions and more bushfires in canyoning meccas like the Blue Mountains and Wollemi National Parks – think less impressive waterfalls and murkier swims in canyons. But climate change also means more extreme rainfall events. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, ‘As the climate warms, heavy rainfall is expected to become more intense, based on the physical relationship between temperature and the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere.’
Rainfall on its own can cause flash flooding in canyons, but after fire or drought the risk increases. Fat Canyoners explain, ‘Factors like bushfires or severe droughts can also change the ability of a catchment to hold back water, as the existence of less organic material reduces how much rain is absorbed before running off.’
Water surging through canyons also risks washing in debris or washing out regrowth and vegetation, damaging the delicate ecosystem.
Don’t take climate change deniers (or anyone else) out on dangerous conditions, of course (no matter how annoying they were at Christmas). Take them through a Blue Mountains classic canyon like Butterbox or Claustral when they’re open and safe. If they love the experience and want to keep canyoning, it won’t take long for them to realise the limitations climate extremes put on the activity.
Mountaineers in NZ and beyond are some of the adventurers most acutely aware of climate change. Retreating glaciers, increased rock and ice fall as terrain becomes less stable, widening crevasses, thinner snow and ice cover on mountains, and shorter seasons are already very visible.
Recent bushfires even sprinkled ash on NZ glaciers, turning them brown and sparking fears of dramatically accelerated melting – darker colours absorb heat, so the darker a glacier gets the more vulnerable it becomes. #feedbackloop.
While mountaineering might be too ambitious of an adventure for the climate change denier in your life, Australian snow is affected too. Climate change here means snowfall will decrease and snowmelt will increase. Average snow depth has already reduced, and snow seasons tend to end earlier. A slight temperature increase can turn snow into rain, which doesn’t just mean that it doesn’t add to snow cover – it washes away snow that’s already there.
Take your uncle backcountry skiing in the Snowy Mountains. You can go hut to hut all the way from Kosciusko to Kiandra if you’re keen. In the backcountry there are no snow machines to keep the slopes covered (and even artificial snow gets more expensive to maintain as temperatures increase). If it doesn’t snow or the snow melts, you’ll be trudging through the mud.
While occasional heavier rainfall is likely to get more extreme as a consequence of climate change, overall large parts of Australia will get hotter and drier.
Hiking, especially multi-day hikes in scorching heat, are pretty rough. In some parts of Australia it’s easier than others to just wait for a cooler weather window – anything in central or northern Australia might not fare so well with an extra degree or two. Drier weather can also mean it becomes necessary to carry more water if creeks or other water sources become less reliable.
Try taking your favourite climate denier hiking in the Budawangs (once it opens again). You’ll see recent fire damage, a few creeks that may or may not be running for you to fill up water bottles – and incredible scenery from the top of The Castle and through Monolith Valley.
Camping in a National Park
National parks close during bushfires, and bushfires like the ones we’ve just seen may become a regular fixture of summer as hotter, drier weather becomes the norm. This could lead to regular park closures which could change how national park-loving Aussies approach their summer holidays.
Even now that the fires are out, many parks across the country are still closed, and may remain that way for months due to hazards such as falling dead trees and to allow regeneration.
Try asking your climate change denying relatives to come camping over Easter. Then ask them to find a national park that’s open, and let them sift through the long list of park closures before finding something suitable.
This all just skims the surface. If you want to get more serious, do a bit of research and drop locally specific details into the conversation about the impact on biodiversity, the predictions for the future if climate change isn’t halted, and the best way to protect the environment you’re in.
Any adventure you can take a ‘climate skeptic’ on will only help. If they see the effects of climate change, it makes it real for them. And even if you avoid the most visible impacts of climate change and simply have a great time, you’ll be fostering a connection to the natural environment that may well coax their desire to protect it.
Feature photo by Chris Firth