Of drought and flooding rain

Tropical Cyclone Yasi, Feb 2011It would be a mistake to say that the recent dramatic weather events in Queensland and elsewhere are proof of climate change – or even that they have been caused by climate change. The mass of data gathered around the world over many years is proof of climate change: a single event, ore even two or three, is not. What the scientific models predict of climate change is not a simple overall warming, but increased extreme weather patterns of all sorts. As David Karoly of Melbourne University put it recently, Australia has always been a land of drought and flooding rain: climate change means it is becoming a land of more drought and more flooding rain.

Andrew Bolt argues in a blog in The Herald Sun that more rain fell in the 1974 floods in Queensland than in the 2011 floods, and uses this to deny that climate change has anything to do with the current crop of disasters.  After TC Yasi, no doubt he will point to the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy at the end of 1974 as further “proof” that climate change is not happening. But it’s irrelevant. We know that we get floods and cyclones from time to time and some of them are extreme. On a year-by-year basis there isn’t much pattern, but over decades we can detect trends in the number of events. Greenpeace reported recently that overall there were just as many tropical cyclones around the world in the 1970s as there were in the most recent decade: but the number of category 4 and 5 cyclones has doubled.

The costs and disruption to normal life that these events have caused are also something that Australians should be familiar with. Perhaps we should have an ongoing fund to provide for reconstruction: perhaps we should simply take it in our stride. But the recent devastation in SE Queensland and now in the tropical north is a reminder, and a taste of what will become more frequent, bigger and more expensive disruptions to our comfortable way of life. Those who fret about the cost of any measures taken to combat climate change, or who argue that “warmists” would drive us back to the horse and buggy era – if not back to living in caves – should consider the cost of doing nothing.

This is why Julia Gillard’s recent announcement of massive cuts to carbon abatement programs is exactly the wrong response. In any enterprise, when something goes wrong, we need not only to fix up the problem, but to seek the cause and take steps to prevent it recurring. The Prime Minister speaks of a price on carbon, but there is no sign of it yet: and while some of the carbon abatement programs were less than effective, this widespread slashing sends a strong signal that the Federal Government still doesn’t really plan to show any leadership, locally or globally, in climate change reduction.

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