Book review:

Body Count

It’s hard to remember now but its only 20 years since there were no such things as emergency warnings in Australia.

When a bushfire broke out people at risk would smell the smoke; feel the heat, maybe receive a call from frantic neighbours.

When flood waters began to rise, people would go down to the riverbanks or bridges, watch and make up their own minds.

Although the Bureau of Meteorology has been forecasting cyclones, storms, and rising water levels for many years, it struggled to distribute the warnings effectively. Many residents of Darwin continued to enjoy Christmas Day as Cyclone Tracy formed up.

Now, with the Australian emergency warning framework in place for most hazards, we come to expect urgent advice from people we trust, with information about the event and how to respond. We expect those agencies to help us with effective mitigation drills.

So it is surprising that in the midst of a catastrophic disaster which is killing thousands of people, maiming and injuring tens of thousands of others, creating irreversible environmental effects and causing untold economic damage, we have not received a warning.

Global warming has crept up on us like carbon monoxide in a cellar – poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless but which can kill you in a matter of moments.

In the absence of a warning, we’re going to have to deal with this grave threat ourselves…and “Body Count – how climate change is killing us,” will be your first handbook.

“After years of delay and denial the Australian public is in the dark about the real dangers of global warming.”

Author Paddy Manning doesn’t try to make the case for climate change or bother with “balanced” or “diversity of relevant opinions,” which would serve to undermine his central narrative – that climate change is already killing people.

In which case your effective global warming warning needs to enable you to put in context what you know about the impending threat, so you can validate, personalise, localise, build understanding; make you believe that the risk is real. (See my book: The Principles of Effective Warnings).Body Count does this by making the link between unsurvivable events, and the people who died trying to respond. People like you and me.

But one of the most powerful actions that will convince us all to respond to the threat – observing the behaviour of others – is undermined by the political debate over whether global warming is real and the time frame in which we have to respond. Body Count’s most devastating anecdote relates not to deaths and heroic struggles, but to the fact that in the Spring of 2019-2020 some of the world’s foremost experts trundled up to warn federal parliament that climate change posed a direct threat to human health…but only a dozen MPs turned up.

In the absence of a warning and under the oppressive gall of those who are deterring many in the community from moving quickly to prepare, this this book might save lives.

Author Paddy Manning has linked climate change to events we know, can see, hear or recall in vivid detail: the tragic deaths of people in bushfires, floods; heatwave; disease and pollution.

He links global warming to the death of more than 20 people in Australia who died thinking they could confront and survive the emergencies they were facing, but only when their community grieved did it become apparent that the hazard had grown out of all proportion to previous events. Manning focuses on people who are as solid as gum trees; community contributors; educated, aware. He doesn’t cast them as helpless victims…they were preparing and fighting. Many called their loved one’s to reassure them…just before they died.

“One thing is clear,” Manning says,”The threats to our health and well being will surprise us.”

“Body Count” details the failure of political leadership which put these people at risk by downplaying the threat or ridiculing those who would do more.

Poignantly Manning lets people have their say. As they mourn their loved ones, many still shake their heads and wonder whether climate change is the main contributing factor. Manning remains sympathetic to this uncertainty, but doesn’t flinch when confronting reality – global warming is already killing people.

The book is relentless and for the most part is bleak, the conclusion of each story given away by the title.

But it contains a chapter titled “Hope,” in which he outlines adaptive mechanisms which are being put in place by some people and institutions; powerful contemporary reviews and reports, mostly at State government level; a new approach to climate change communication (I am mentioned) ; legal action against governments to force recognition; and health interventions.

Climate warrior Dr Bob Brown called the book: “a climate emergency tour de force,” and Dr Kerryn Phelps says “Paddy Manning drives home the deeply personal impact of climate change.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.