On plumbers and one in 100 year disasters

Sydney got pummelled this week. Weather and dumping rain so fierce it was dubbed a one in 100 year event in some places. Snow in the Blue Mountains. October. Vicious fires in October a year ago.

In Glebe, the home of The Fifth Estate, the storm water pipe blocked and the flood waters were millimetres from entering the house. The office was safe several steps uphill and protected by a steep gradient built by a country builder who wanted to do things that would last for 100 years. Or more.

Alas the plumbing tradie wasn’t thinking 100 years for anything. More like a few months at best. He insisted a 90 millimetre storm-pipe was sufficient. “What about climate change and torrential downpours that will come?”

“Love, this will be fine. Trust me.”

And so it was to the bucketing, knee deep in water, as fast as we could to save the house.

What happens to the electrical power points when the water comes in? Do we get electrocuted? No-one knew.

Finally we realised this could go on all night and our feet freezing, muscles aching, non-stop sirens from emergency vehicles telling us the SES was busy with other things, we called the 24-hour private plumber. Who advertises a no call out fee but wants payment over the phone by credit card in advance. Oh yes, and it’s no call out fee during business hours. Tonight it will be $480 to start then and $220 per 15 minutes thereafter. It takes him an hour to clear the drains.

He “goes easy” and charges $1350 including GST. “I’ve got a wife and kids at home. The missus isn’t happy. But what do you do, this is a trade and it’s past midnight.”

Plumbers will inherit the earth, we say. Along with all other extreme jobs.

A few hours later there was a warning issued from the Reserve Bank deputy Governor warning of another one in 100 year “violent” disruption to the market. This time financial. We called the superannuation company to understand precisely the risk profile between its cash option and fixed interest. The salesman who called back did his best to say the Guvnor was pandering to newspaper sales without saying so. “Trust me love, (well, he didn’t say “love” but the tone was identical to the plumber’s), markets go up and they go down, you have to think of your risk profile and long term view, and besides the last big drop before the GFC was in the 1920s”.

Yes but the economies of the world have been papering over the empty paper assets with pump priming ever since, we say. We’re living on borrowed time.

“OK, we’ll keep the money there. But what about your exposure to coal? I want to know what option I can chose that will not have coal in it.”

“Oh that’s outside my field. We have special information pack and expert advisers,” he says.

“OK, I’ll take a look.”

“Oh it’s not online. We can send it. And do you want me to get an expert advisers to call you?”

Ah the quiet disclosure, only if you ask.

“Yes,” we say.

Days later, there’s still no call.

Meanwhile the hysterics on coal and mining divestment by the Australian National University with its tiny $16 million parcel in seven mining companies, continues to engulf the Treasurer and now the Prime Minister who said coal was good for humanity and stopped just short of ingesting some in a glass to prove it.

Though he did something just as dangerous and shook fisticuffs at the Russian President.

Such a brave man we have as our leader. Truly a once in 100 year phenomenon. If only he was on our side.

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