Yolanda assessing damage from Tropical Cyclone Haruna in Madagascar in 2013
Yolanda assessing damage from Tropical Cyclone Haruna in Madagascar in 2013

First steps into climate action easier than you think

I've been on the front line responding to cyclones, floods, droughts and epidemics.

I've worked long and hard to help communities and governments prepare for and respond to disasters in Queensland, and internationally, for the United Nations.

But it was discovering one thing that woke me up to the scale of the threat we are facing. On the current climate trajectory, by the end of the century there is a 76% chance of simultaneous failures of maize crops globally.

I have been part of efforts to stop famines, and it's terrifying. When crops failed, I've helped affected countries ensure food insecurity in the country didn't escalate out of control, leading to famines or even conflict.

The people I helped to survive and the improvements I helped deliver will be totally overwhelmed by having competing food crises.

So, even if my children grow up in a world where they manage to be okay in a warming climate, they'll be helpless against cascading waves of catastrophe elsewhere.

Looking at my babe in arms and the curious toddler tugging at my skirt, I have wondered what I'll say to them when they ask what I did to stop climate change... before it was too late. Because we're the first generation to see the effects of climate change -- and the last who can actually do something about it.

When my youngest was a baby, I was an exhausted mum with limited capacity to take on something that would sap my energy.

But I was already being drained by the anxiety of my kids growing up in a warming world. So I stood on a corner holding a climate change sign outside a local school wearing a jacket, pearls and with my 3-month-old son in a baby carrier.

I got thumbs up in support but was also heckled as a 'greenie'. I overcame the discomfort by whispering to my son: 'I only care what YOU think'.

While breastfeeding at home, I sent postcards and emails to my State and Federal MPs, to the local mayor and councilors. I've met with my State MP and continue correspondence with councilors. And I've made changes in consumer habits and our diets, and became more involved with our community.

I started a group Sunshine Coast Parents for Climate Action. With another local mum, I began running a market stall, shared information in the local paper and set up a monthly 'Climate Coffee' session.

We identified climate-friendly candidates for local elections; I spoke at local Rotary Clubs and we encouraged parents to switch their superannuation away from funds who invested in fossil fuels. And importantly, we offered support on how to talk to kids about climate change.

I've seen and heard that most of the community is concerned, anxious or downright alarmed about climate change. People accept the science but many haven't taken any steps towards action.

But it's these people -- it is us, you and me -- who hold the key to political and social shifts around climate action. The act of doing transforms negative feelings into positive community outcomes.

An excellent first step would be to support AP4CA's Solar our Schools campaign - asking the Federal Government to fund solar and batteries on every Australian school and early learning centre.

It's an all-round win - massive cost savings for schools and childcare centres; local job creation; reduced carbon emissions and learning opportunities. It's as simple as adding your name to an open letter and after this first step, it's easier to do more.

As an expert on emergencies, it was my job to push governments to go beyond business as usual. Climate change is THE emergency.