On one particularly wild day, in the nearby village of Dunoon, they recorded the second highest daily rainfall ever recorded in NSW, dumping 775 mm in 24 hours. That’s more than Melbourne gets in a year. The devastating result being unprecedented flooding and total destruction throughout the region.
Thankfully, Zero Co HQ was spared, along with our founders Mike Smith and his wife Alyssa’s new place in Mullumbimby, which had flood waters lapping at their top step. Unfortunately, their neighbours weren’t as lucky.
So, with phones and internet crippled, the Zero Co team pivoted from office-goers to emergency clean-up crew. We took to the streets of Mullum, prepped with gumboots, gloves, squeegees and shovels, ready to help untrash our backyard.
When we arrived, some of the waters were still knee deep and mud was absolutely everywhere. It’s crazy to think that something as soothing, and life-giving, as rain could cause so much damage.
Our time was well spent assisting locals with whatever they needed. One arvo, that meant running a free BBQ for the neighbourhood, but mostly it was physically intensive work, ripping up carpets and carrying waterlogged furniture, appliances, mattresses and other possessions to the footpath.
As the days progressed, the streets looked more and more like a tip. It was so heartbreaking. Some residents were able to show their gratitude, but the vast majority were still in shock. Their whole world, home, livelihoods carried to the curb by strangers.
Despite the trauma and tragedy, the community spirit and unity was awe-inspiring. People from all over, banding together for a common cause. It was so humbling to witness the compassion, selflessness and grit. True old school Aussie spirit in action.
Changing The Future
So where do we go from here? Our team might be back at our desks, and the obvious signs of the floods are beginning to recede, but the long-term physical and emotional impacts aren’t yet clear. And an even bigger concern remains – now it feels like it’s no longer a question of if there’ll be another flood this bad again, but when.
Climate change is expected to make extreme weather events increasingly severe. Why? Because of global warming. In the case of floods, it increasingly means that whenever it rains, it’ll pour.
This heavier precipitation is due to “atmospheric rivers”, which are flowing columns of condensed water vapour in the air, responsible for producing heavy rain. When they make landfall and hit more mountainous terrain, the water vapour cools and down she comes. Most of the time, atmospheric rivers bring vital rainfall to Australia, but more recently the volume has reached extreme levels.
"The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future." Hans-Otto Pörtner
La Niña (a shifting pattern that brings wetter weather) has exacerbated the damage wrought by atmospheric rivers, because many regions are already soaked. November 2021 was Australia's wettest November since national records began in 1900, so when the atmospheric rivers hit Qld and NSW in February and March 2022, the earth was already saturated and couldn’t take anymore.
It gets worse. The planet’s currently on track for 2.7℃ of warming by the end of the century, so the chance of similar weather events will become more likely. We’re used to speaking about climate change like it’s something that’s going to happen in the future. In reality, we’re in it right now and need to act soon to stop what’s already in motion.
Back in Mullumbimby (and around the region) thousands of tonnes of wreckage in the streets has to go somewhere and the most pressing environmental concern is landfill. As organic matter decomposes, methane gas is released and methane is 84 times more effective at absorbing the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide, making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
Obviously, the bigger issues at hand are all humanitarian, but as we start the long process of recovery, this disaster has highlighted the importance of making informed decisions about our consumption. What we buy and discard has to go somewhere. What we consume costs resources, which contribute to climate change. All these things become hyper apparent when you see our collective garbage and waste spread across towns and cities and throughout our waterways and beaches. This is the problem Zero Co is fighting against.
There’s a lot to digest and come to terms with as individuals and as a community. We can and will rebuild, but the inconvenient truth is this is just the beginning if we don’t make radical change. It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime.
Let’s do this!
Laura Cooper, Head of Customer Happiness
Want To Help?
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