As raging bushfires ravaged Queensland’s Granite Belt in 2019, Mike Hayes could do little but watch the crops of his beloved vineyards be destroyed by smoke.
The smoky taste is disastrous for a vintage if it’s not immediately obvious, he explains: “Once you bottle it, about eight months later, it tastes like an ashtray.”
The winemaker from the southern Queensland region bordering New South Wales has worked in vineyards all his life.
In just three years since the bushfires, it has also experienced drought and flooding, not to mention wild storms and extreme temperatures. It’s what he calls “explosive weather conditions”.
“I remember during the drought I would walk to work and not even look at the bush,” Mr Hayes said.
“It was hard to accept the fact that you just saw all the bush dying around you.”
While natural disasters can wreak havoc, Mr Hayes said the longer-term effects of climate change – delayed frosts, hotter summer nights and wilder, more frequent storms – had the biggest impact.
Tired of seeing his work suffer, he takes action. And he says it’s time people across regional Australia did too.
“I strongly believe that we need to change as farmers,” he says.
“All the old farming practices that were pretty common and passed down for 100 years, they will have to change.”
Now a consultant for several wineries in the region, Mr. Hayes is exploring new ways to grow grapes, as well as testing to determine the most resilient varieties to deal with climate change.
This includes switching from French varieties to some Italian vines with buds that flower outside of the spring-summer stormy season.
“We’re looking at all these varieties that are coming in now – the wonderful Italian varieties like fiano, which is very similar to chardonnay and comes from central Italy, vermentino which is an Italian version of sauvignon blanc, montepulciano, it’s a little merlot – like, he says.
“So it’s not like we completely lose styles, we just change our goalposts.”
Mr Hayes said the traditional way of planting vines – with a north-east aspect – was also changing, with farmers opting for south-facing slopes to better cope with the “scorching sun”.
Climate change can impact all sectors
According to climate change experts, this type of adaptation is the key to building resilience.
Lauren Rickards is Co-Head of the Climate Change Transformations Research Program at RMIT University, Melbourne.
She said climate change had the ability to impact all sectors of Australia’s regional economies and communities, from agriculture and tourism to health and population size.
“Climate variability itself, as we know, is getting more and more extreme,” Professor Rickards said.
“Just look at the ongoing floods, if not the Black Summer fires.
“When you put [that and rising temperatures] together… the flux effects become… so bad that we really start having a hard time keeping up with them.
While urban areas are not immune to climate change – especially with coastal erosion and more severe storms – it has the potential to widen the socio-cultural gap that exists between regional areas and cities.
Prof Rickards said adapting to climate change is not just about addressing the immediate challenges of greenhouse gas emissions, but also other inequalities, including access to reliable services and infrastructure.
“In many ways, regional areas are advantaged because they have the capabilities, skills, motivation and social connections that cities can only dream of,” she said.
“But at the same time, things like the ability to rebuild in a timely manner…the ability to access the kinds of health services you might need…existing inequalities can be accentuated.”
What do we need to live well?
Amanda Cahill, who runs consultancy The Next Economy, works with coal mines and fossil fuel-dependent regions across the country to help them transition their economies to greener sources.
According to Dr. Cahill, adaptation and transition require a complete rethinking of the functioning of regional societies.
“It is [asking] what do we need to build system resilience,” she said.
“It’s everything from the question of how insurance works to how we build our households in areas prone to coastal erosion.
“[It’s about using] this opportunity to ensure that we invest in the regions so that they have the health and education services and everything that people need to live well.
How Communities Evolve
Across regional Australia, communities and regions are coming together to adapt how things work.
Locally, Townsville City Council has called for councils to have more powers to block certain developments in high-risk flood zones, while Gladstone Regional Council recently released a roadmap with The Next Economy to help guide the region’s economic transition.
The Local Government Association of Queensland also has a Climate Resilient Councils Group which helps councils plan and respond to challenges and opportunities arising from climate change.
Professor Rickards said it was important that leadership come from rural and regional areas.
“Without a doubt, local government has to be part of it and there is great leadership emerging there, but at the same time they have a lot to do, including picking up the pieces after a climate-related disaster after a disaster. climate-related,” she said.
Professor Rickards said other community groups, the private sector and state and federal governments also had an important role to play.
Ultimately, she said adapting to climate change and investing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions could provide huge opportunities for regional areas.
“…In terms of new industries, innovations, new skills, capabilities and families in rural and regional areas…benefits upon benefits,” she said.
More investment to manage change
But Dr Cahill said more investment was needed in regional areas to ensure that change, especially in regions dependent on sectors such as coal mining, was well managed.
“There are opportunities, especially with all the other industries that can be built with renewable energy,” she said.
“But the question I ask myself is: how are we going to manage this change?
“It’s going to require a lot more intervention in terms of public investment in infrastructure, in services, in training the workforce, to make sure that people are taken care of as things go. change.”
Back on the Granite Belt, Mike Hayes is also busy with the Queensland College of Wine Tourism’s future vineyard program.
“It gives us the opportunity to look a bit ahead and see which varieties can handle climate change in the future,” he said.
“This thing called climate change… it’s time we all stood up and took a hard look at it, adapted and embraced it.
“So we are adopting new techniques and adapting to the future.”
This is the first in a series of articles written by regional ABC teams from Queensland exploring the impacts and opportunities of climate change in their communities.
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