Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Extreme Weather": now playing at a venue near you!

I watched Gardening Australia last night, and was struck by the comments of two of the presenters - one who's been experiencing record dry in the west, and one who's been experiencing record wet in the north of Australia:

JOSH BYRNE: When I laid out my native garden in April of last year, I wasn't expecting it to be the driest winter on record in Perth, followed by the hottest and driest summer on record. [...]

LEONIE NORRINGTON: I created this [garden] bed in preparation for the dry season and optimistically planted some vegies. However in the meantime, Darwin had its biggest wet season on record - more than 3 metres of rain. Sadly none of the vegies I planted survived.


Back in 1991 (which was twenty years ago, for anyone who might be in a time warp) a report on agriculture by the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group was submitted to Australia's then Prime Minister, RJL Hawke.

Page xii of the Preface of that report (which has been sitting on my bookshelf for two decades) yields some pure gold political rhetoric (a.k.a. total bullshit):

"The Prime Minister requested that the deliberations of the Working Group be guided by four fundamental goals to which the Government was firmly committed:
  • improvement of individual and community well-being and welfare that does not impair the welfare of future generations;
  • the provision of equity within and between generations;
  • recognition of the global dimension; and
  • the protection of biological diversity and the maintenance of ecological processes and systems."
I first read the above as an impressionable and idealistic teenager. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry or scream or commit suicide when I think back on how naive and optimistic I was then. But I digress ...

The Working Group's 14 members included scientists, farmers, envioronmentalists, trade unionists, and public servants.

The report's findings are extensive and detailed (the document is 240 pages long, and it covers a range of topics), but, to cut a long story short, the Working Group accepted the IPCC's findings that anthropogenic global warming is real.

The Group turned to scientific studies by the CSIRO to determine the likely effects of greenhouse gases and global warming on Australian agriculture. Some examples of "the nature of changes associated with global warming" that the Working Group highlighted were:

  • an overall increase in heavy rain events over Australia
  • an overall decrease in the number of annual rain days
  • longer and more intense periods of soil aridity over large areas
  • reduced viability of fruit production areas in WA, NSW, and Vic
  • changing and unpredictable climatic patterns
  • a southward movement (to the Southern Ocean) of the climatic conditions in WA that are suitable for wheat growing
  • a worsening of already severe soil degradation problems such as soil erosion and nutrient loss
  • increased frequency and intensity of fires
  • varied regional effects, such as:
    • an increase in annual rainfall in most of northern Australia
    • a decrease in annual rainfall in south-western Australia
Just to repeat myself one more time: these were careful predictions that Australian scientists made more than twenty years ago. This information has been available - in plain English - to our national leaders for twenty years, which covers five Prime Ministers, of both genders, and from both sides of the increasingly flimsy political fence.

But, the frightening reality is that we have now passed the point in time where "record-breaking" extreme weather events are just theoretical: they've already happened in 2009, 2010, and 2011; and my money's on more extreme weather events in 2012 and beyond, both in Australia and across the world.

The reality is that "record-breaking" weather (both wet and dry) is already ruining people's gardens, destroying food production, and, in some cases, it's actually killing people, in a dramatic fashion (I'm thinking of events like the February 2009 "Black Saturday" bushfires in Victoria, and the January 2011 floods in Queensland).

Incidentally, "the rainfall that caused the January 10 2011 flooding in Toowoomba was extreme, with some rain gauge stations recording 500 year to 1000 year rainfall events" according to hydraulic engineer Neil Collins in his recent submission to the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry

And what are we doing about this situation? As a nation, we're bickering like pre-schoolers over the introduction of a measly tax on carbon, which, I might add, we've been pondering for at least 20 years. (The same 1991 report quoted above notes that "a national policy response to global warming which has received some attention is the imposition of a carbon tax" which would "vary according to whether the tax was levied on the production or consumption of fossil fuels" (p.208). Where did this "policy response" go? Straight into the dustbin of history).

I was 17 in 1991, which means I've been actively engaged with issues like climate change for my entire adult life, plus a few years. Now, twenty-something years on, I'm about as cynical as it's possible to be. I certainly can't see this latest flurry of noise amounting to anything more than the usual fart in the wind.

One day I'm sure I'll be wrong in my pessimistic predictions: serious action will finally be taken ... probably at roughly the same time that it's just. too. late.

To all the people who are opposing serious and immediate action on climate change: don't expect your children to thank you. Arseholes.

1 comment:

  1. I can't see how a carbon tax on 250 companies who are being compensated for their hardship is going to make a difference.

    How about the coal that we are sending overseas? How can someone who is serious about climate change allow companies to export large quantities of coal?

    The sentiment is right, the execution poor.