Meet Casey X. She was born in Alice Springs Hospital on October 13, 2018.
She came into the world screaming, before projectile-vomiting over the hospital floor and falling asleep.
Today — October 13, 2040 — she’s 22, and still lives in Alice Springs. But she’s been thinking more and more about leaving.
Extreme hot days in Alice Springs hit 48 degrees Celsius — nearly 3C hotter than on her first birthday. And heatwaves last much longer.
In the year she was born, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that by today, the world would be 1.5C* warmer than it was before the industrial revolution.
Which didn’t sound like much, except that was a global average.
It didn’t capture the extremes in places like Alice Springs.
To save on power, she only cranks her aircon when it gets over 35C. But she’s still got it running more than 110 days a year — about 20 more than she would have in the decade she was born.
In Australia’s five largest cities, 475 people die from heat-related deaths each year — more than double the year she was born.
When she flicks over to the weather from reruns of Spicks and Spicks, there’s fewer regional towns on the map than she remembers.
Australia has a new hottest temperature record: 53C at Marble Bar.
Alice Springs is in the middle of a heatwave.
Keeping things alive in the garden at these temperatures is next to impossible. Plants are pushed beyond their thresholds and die from heat shock. The animals that eat them go soon after.
She was 14 the last time the Todd River flowed. But when it did it was a raging torrent.
Apparently that’s a thing. Hot air can hold more moisture. So it takes longer for it to get saturated enough to rain. But when it does …
Mostly though, it’s just dry. Alice was already hot and dry, so it doesn’t really have anywhere to go but hotter and drier.
Cotton crops along the Murray-Darling in southern Queensland and New South Wales aren’t planted when there’s long drought. And the wheat belt suffers.
Russia’s wheat industry is going gangbusters though. Good for them.
Harder growing conditions and lower productivity in Australia means Casey is paying a premium for a beer and a loaf of bread in bad years.
Her one true love, coffee, is also getting expensive.
And most of the smaller cropping fruits and vegetables she buys from the supermarket, like tomatoes and lettuce, are grown in temperature-controlled greenhouses.
Planning an escape
Casey loves the NT, but it’s getting harder to live here.
She could move to Tasmania with everyone else — but it’s cold. It still snows in Hobart, and in Victoria and New South Wales.
When there’s a cold snap or a big dump of snow, commentators point to it as proof that climate change has been exaggerated.
The ski fields still have good and bad years.
Perth is tempting. It has about 36 days above 35C each year. Adelaide has about 26.
Sydney only has about 5 days above 35C, but its heatwaves are bad. The record in Penrith is just under 50C.
Moving to Darwin is out of the question. So is north Queensland. It’s too hot and there’s no jobs in hospitality. Tourism is suffering along with the reef.
Most of the reef is dead or dying in the north. Some of the hardier coral species have survived, but the diversity and colour are gone and no-one wants to snorkel in algae.
There’s still some OK patches of reef further south, but if warming goes up to 2C, scientists say it’s all going to go.
To escape the heat, moving to south-east Queensland seems like her best option.
It’s a choice between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, but deadly Irukandji jellyfish are showing up more often in the summer on the Sunshine Coast.
Experts are still arguing over whether that’s the new norm or just a bad run.
The Gold Coast it is.
Life’s not a beach
Being close to the ocean is cooler, and there’s really cheap real estate right on the water.
But not everything’s peachy on the Gold Coast either.
Like many towns all around Australia’s coastline, low-lying Gold Coast houses are already being swamped during high-tide storm surges.
If warming gets to 2C, sea levels will be up to 87cm higher than they were when she was born.
So she’ll stick to renting. Yeah, the real estate’s cheap — but house insurance isn’t.
Noosa copped the brunt of a category three cyclone a few years ago.
A big storm surge on the Gold Coast, with sea levels already getting higher, would swamp thousands of houses.
The house she checks out on the beach in Burleigh Heads is next door to a fish and chips shop.
On the menu there’s a bunch of farmed fish like barramundi but no reef fish.
There’s not really any commercial reef fishing anymore. Most of the fish have gone with the coral.
But on the news they’re saying that more tropical fish are showing up as far south as Victoria.
What’s another half a degree?
Most of the changes that have happened in Casey’s lifetime haven’t affected her too much. Definitely not as much as some other people.
People on islands in the South Pacific have had it pretty bad.
But she fears what will happen if the predictions about 2C play out.
The Arctic nearly had its first ice-free summer recently. If the world hits 2C of warming, that’s supposed to happen around once every 10 years.
And people are starting to worry about refugees. At 2C they say there’ll be 10 million more people affected by sea level rise.
On Casey’s television, a scientist and a politician are arguing. Just about everything gets worse at 2C, according to the scientist.
It’ll be about 2C hotter on the hot days than it already is, he says, and each year twice as many people will die from heat stress in Australia’s capital cities
She’s glad she left Alice Springs.
The scientist says they’ve starting getting malaria cases in Cairns, and someone had dengue in Townsville.
And under 2C, even the reefs in the south will go, he says.
But the politician says he’s an alarmist.
“It’s only half a degree. How bad can it get?”
This story is a hypothetical scenario, based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, released on October 8, 2018, Incheon, Korea.
*The IPCC forecasts that warming is likely to reach 1.5C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 if it continues at the current trajectory.
Extreme hot days in mid-latitudes are projected to warm by up to 3C at global warming of 1.5C and about 4C at 2C.
Sea levels are projected to rise by between 26-77cm by 2100 for 1.5C warming, and an extra 10cm for 2C warming. Sea level is projected to continue to rise beyond 2100, even if warming is stabilised at 1.5C.
**51cm is the mean of the high and low forecasts for sea level rise in 2100 under 1.5C warming.
Heat wave data comes from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).
Additional information is taken from interviews with Professor David Ellsworth (UWS), Professor David Tissue (UWS), Dr Jatin Kala (Murdoch), Richard Kidd (AMA) and an IPCC briefing with Professor Ove Hoegh Guldberg (UQ), Professor Peter Newman (Curtin), Professor Mark Howden (ANU), Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward (Canterbury), and information from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website.
Flood mapping from Coastal Risk 2100 is based on the year 2100 and a high tide sea level increase of 0.74m.