Conspiracy Theorists In Byron Bay's Floods Dont Want to Hear About Climate Change

“How can people think that’s not climate change?”
Photo by Dan Peled / Getty Images

Flood victims from Australia’s north-east coast, who in droves now self-identify as “climate refugees”, have converged on a grab-bag of Facebook groups and community message boards to condemn some Byron Bay locals who have taken to calling recent flooding a “manmade” weather event that “definitely isn’t” linked to climate change.


Residents of Byron Bay awoke to find all sorts of businesses and homes underwater in the early hours of Wednesday morning, after more than 250 millimetres of rain were dumped on the region over a 24-hour period. It left the town’s main street submerged beneath at least one metre of floodwater. 

Just five weeks after a “one in 1,000-year” flood devastated Lismore and the towns surrounding it, Byron Bay, just 50 kilometres east, suffered an “unprecedented” climate catastrophe of its own. But its residents weren’t convinced of the cause.

“I don’t know what to believe,” said one local. “It’s interesting the theories behind it, though.” 

Another simply posted an infographic descendent of 2004-era memes that quotes former US defense secretary William S. Cohen on “WEATHER WARFARE”, positing that in 1997 he suggested that some governments were setting off earthquakes remotely using “electromagnetic waves”. 

Others adopted a more hemmed approach to climate denialism, falsely suggesting that the freak flooding event has actually been seen in the region before, wasn’t uncommon, and would happen again, while lambasting more unruly “conspiracy theorists” for failing to meet their rationale.

Residents of towns near the Tweed River, Lismore, and even just north of Byron in Mullumbimby, weren’t impressed. One of them told VICE by DM that she was overwhelmed to see the floods politicised by local conspiracy theorists, just hours after a climate disaster arrived at their doorstep. 


“Can we just have science? Not the Byron bros 🤙🏻 giving their Parkway Drive ‘locals’ flex at the pass or Byron community board. Fuck me. 🙄,” she wrote. 

“I’m a ‘local’ too bro, and have packed up preparing for floods all through my teens, as has my father and grandfather, but never to these extremes or frequency. Hence: climate change.”

She is one of about a dozen locals from nearby towns who have actively condemned the chatter. Another told VICE it was disappointing to have to deal with the “rumbling conspiracy theorists” just one day after a federal budget that saw Treasurer Josh Frydenberg quietly whittle down annual climate spending across clean energy agencies by 35 percent over the next four years.  

According to the Morrison government’s 2022-23 budget papers, the Coalition is expected to cut climate spending from $2 billion next financial year, to $1.9 billion over the next financial year after it, then to $1.5 billion and $1.3 billion in the two years after that. 

It wasn’t made clear where that funding is set to go. Instead, the Morrison government said it will spend a massive $22 billion on low-emissions technology, but that money will be spent over about a decade – a period of time longer than the tenure of most governments. Of course, a decent sum of change is set to be poured into gas and “clean” hydrogen. 

The irony wasn’t lost on flood victims scattered across the northern rivers in temporary housing or caravan parks, who were hoping for a climate spending commitment far more substantial after having so recently suffered at the hands of it. 

Much of the region shares the frustration: “I’m sick of all this prophesying. Can we have a government and society that values/financially backs scientific research and scientific development or projects?!”

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