Queensland floods: why will nobody talk about climate change?

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JULIA GILLARD, Tony Abbott and Anna Bligh spent much of the Christmas period posing for the cameras in flood-ravaged Queensland. There was plenty of talk about tragedy, the need for compassion and the resilience of the “Australian spirit”.

Yet no political leader dared mention climate change—a major factor in the severity of the floods.

Large areas of Queensland have suffered from routine floods throughout history, but nothing on record matches the scale of the current disaster.

Nobel prize-winning climate scientist David Karoly explained to the ABC:

“We have very variable climate in Australia. What we are seeing… is a change in the pattern of these extremes. There are more hot and more wet extremes in northern Australia and more hot and more dry extremes in southern Australia. That pattern is exactly what we would expect from climate change driven by more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

NASA’s annual climate report called 2010 as the hottest year on record. Only one year in the whole of the 20th century, 1998, was hotter than any year in the 21st.

Global warming is heating up the ocean. The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM’s) annual Australian Climate Statement released on January 5 showed that 2010 sea temperatures in the Asia-Pacific region were the highest on record. More evaporation from warming oceans means higher levels of precipitation in the atmosphere.

Such dramatic shifts in climate fundamentals mean that all “natural” weather events are now in some way influenced by human induced climate change.

The main factor in the current floods is the development of an La Nina weather system in the Pacific Ocean, historically responsible for tropical cyclones and flooding. But as Kevin Trenberth, an IPCC author from New Zealand’s National Centre for Atmospheric Research, explains:

“There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is [more] water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4 per cent extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms”.

The BOM study also shows that in 2010 large areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory had recorded the highest annual rainfall in history, while southwest WA experienced the driest year on record.

Much of Queensland had been waterlogged for months before the floods. A series of tropical cyclones just before Christmas spurred on the flooding.

A petrol station underwater in Queensland. Climate change has been remarkably absent from the media coverage about the floods

It is a situation governments are perfectly aware of.

A report quietly released by the Queensland government in November concluded, “with our changing climate, extreme flooding events are likely to become more intense.” Australia’s chief scientist Penny Sackett released another report that month that concluded the, “frequency and severity of [La Ninas and El Ninos] we do expect to increase.”

Yet both politicians and the corporate media have kept any discussion of climate change out of their response to the floods.

Coal country

Coal is at the heart of Australian capitalism, both as a major export earner and a cheap source of domestic power. Despite the scale of the disaster, questioning the viability of the coal industry is literally unthinkable for the Australian ruling class. Rather than move to cut Queensland’s emissions, Anna Bligh has instead praised Xstrata coal for a $1 million donation to the relief effort.

Massive resources are being deployed to repair infrastructure for 40 Queensland coal mines whose operations have been closed by flooding. The government is very concerned that global coal supply will remain down almost two millions tonnes every week that Queensland stays underwater.

Yet Bligh has taken virtually no steps to prepare communities for the onslaught. In Emerald, a coal-mining town that has boomed over the last decade, whole suburbs were built on a flood plain that is now underwater.

In the regional city of Rockhampton, the council admitted last year that it was relying on an “out of date” flood study and lacked the funding to work on a proper disaster management plan.

Julia Gillard has warned of broader budget cuts following expenditure on flood relief, but there no signs she will cut the $9 billion of annual government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Instead she is preparing to deliver another version of the worse than nothing Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme through the government’s carbon price committee.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s disastrous 2009 bush fires buried submissions from climate scientists. They were not called before the inquiry and their evidence was excluded from the final report. We cannot allow a similar whitewash to take place this time. The climate movement must fight to expose the truth behind the floods and ramp up the campaign for investment in renewable energy.

Paddy Gibson

Website Comments

  1. Daryl Morris
    Reply

    The talk has started build dams. Most likely the reason for the increased severity of the La nina is climate change from humans damaging and controlling the environment. Controlling it through building dams is going to damage nature more. It is not the answer. Lets focus on the problems fossil fuel and destroyed forests.

  2. Linda Dicmanis
    Reply

    Yes – why is everyone, including Bob Brown, silent on the fact that these floods are caused by man-made climate change?

    You reap what you sow.

    We did nothing to stop climate change and this is the result.

    Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to act on climate change than clean up after it?

  3. Zave
    Reply

    It is always sad when life is lost, there was little said about the thousand of animals and plants that died. Climate change is an issue but 80% of the human population are stupid and will deny it especially when it is happening to them. We continue to blame government and business for the issues, but in reality it is as individuals we create the issues when we choose a life of materialistic greed and convenience. This encourages governments and business made up of individuals with similar thoughts to ignore the hard issues created by our life style of convenience. This makes change difficult.

    The oldest civilization, the aborigines, live in Australia for 40000 or more years and understood the weather better then us white man with all our so called intelligence and technology. They were not perfect but they lived in better harmony with this planet. Don’t get me wrong technology is great when it is used properly, but like most tools can also be used to cause harm by stupid humans. The aborigines understood Australia and did not build houses, cities and had the need to surround themselves with as many materialistic objects. The need to protect the stupid human society has turned individuals from intelligent animals that want to live in harmony with their environment to a sickness (ie. a virus, a disease) that is harming the planet. The more we surround our selves with physical needs, (cars, clothes, houses, drugs, cosmetics, etc.) the weaker we are and the more we can loose. The aborigines’ lived with simple tools and if a flood came along were able to move easily to a safe location with little loss.

    In approx 223 years of Europeans being in Australia they have not learnt and changed their ways instead their stupidity has being praised as hardship and resilience. As mentioned above technology is great when it is used wisely so why not build simple environmentally friendly houses in safe areas. Also why do we not control our population density? The 1974 flood was just as bad in magnitude but more people are and will be effected this time because our population increased.

    These are all tough questions. For 80% of humans that are stupid, it is easier for them to bandaid the problem and continue on their destructive path. Most politicians and ruling class are made up off these 80% of stupid humans so why would they talk about the hard questions and address the real problems of climate change and a more intelligent way to live with our home planet Earth.

    On a bit of a side issue, it is funny how humans refer to the earth as a mother. If any body replies to this do not refer to the earth as a mother or a father it is neutral. The Earth is a not a mother or a father it is a sick planet and it is fighting to regain balance. Most human parents have no idea how to raise their children so don’t insult the Earth by labelling it. If human parents knew how to raise their children then the earth wouldn’t be in the state it is in. 80% of humans don’t raise children to care for their home but just reproduce copies of themselves like a virus. The earth is billions of years old and has seeing allot. Most humans have become a disease or virus and like a bad cold the earth will find a way to remove us. It is only time.

    You ask what am I doing about this. Ever since I became an adult I have made choices to protect and maintain the environment around me. I am far for from perfect, I have made mistakes, but always try to improve the way I use the tools around me so as to reduce the effect on the Earth. If I take, my policy is always to try and give back in a positive way.

    Hopefully humans will learn quickly and start acting as individuals and as a group intelligently and live a balanced life on this planet we call home. We do have the intelligence to admit to our mistakes as individuals and as a group and repair the damage using common sense. We can enhance the planet and our lives in a positive way.

  4. Josh Wood
    Reply

    Zave, you need to realise that a lot of the environmental problems we see could be solved or at least mitigated with a socialist economic and political system.

    The problem isn’t that the people are stupid. The problem is that people are living in a particular stage of society, Capitalism, in which the needs of people are secondary to profit. So the Queensland flood disaster is presented as the worst ever, not because of the loss of life (there was serious loss of life), but because of the loss to economic output in mining.

    The economic system conditions the ideas that people have which are reinforced through the media, schools, government and every other aspect of our lives. But the economic system relies on the labour of the billions strong global working class which contrary to news reports is getting stronger. When the class struggle comes the ideas of people will quickly change.

    The floods showed that a large mobilization of people and productive forces can quickly change the situation on the ground. Many people where I live where it was flooded found the response of the many helpers who came to clean up very uplifting and the social atmosphere was very socialist. The problem is that a week from now it will be Capitalism as usual again with everything run according to the profit motive.

    The socialist system can only come about through the struggle of the working class to take over the productive forces in society so that they can be intelligently mobilized according to plans developed democratically. We can then solve and mitigate the many environmental problems using solid scientific thinking unhindered by individualistic profit motives.

    We also see that extreme weather and disasters are happening world wide. In this context it makes sense for us to move beyond nationalism and become internationalist in our thought and action. Unfortunatley the powers that be send out the message that the disaster is all about ‘Queensland’ or ‘Australia’. But actually this disaster is a part of changes which are occuring globally.

    It is in the context of internationalism that we have to be wary of calls for population control in Australia. We need to be internationalist not nationalist. The Australian land mass has to take its fair share of the worlds people. Weather does not respect borders, so why should we?

  5. Zave
    Reply

    Humans are great with using words to shift blame. There is Socialism, Capitalism, Feminism, Masculism and Communism etc. These groups are made of individual people (mostly stupid people) and the attitude of this people creates segregation. It doesn’t matter if you are poor or rich, black or white, even though we claim to be intelligent, humans are very simple in their thinking and the simple fact it is a matter of survival. People as individuals will use Socialism, Capitalism etc to suit their needs and also have taken this one stage further and turned it into greed. Most people use these groups to better their own lives without thought to the planet Earth or others.
    The struggling class are the ones that blindly dig the coal out of the ground and struggle to reach the status of the richer class. If this individual’s gain power under the banner of Socialism, society will not be better off because they will segregate others and cause a power struggle. The question is will individuals that are socialist be able to control the need for individuals that want to increase their physical wealth at the expense of the Earth? What if all individuals that are Socialist want to be wealthy how is the group going to find the resources to make everybody equally wealthy? Do you then call them Capitalists? But the problem still hasn’t being fixed, most humans as individuals under the banner of progress and development will still want more to feed their greed at the expense of the Earth.
    Yes this issue is global, but you do not need to be told that this is a greater issue by some politician to realize the magnitude of the problem. In the end if humans as individuals and as a group do not take care of the environment you will see humans depend more on the basic need for survival and self preservation. Most humans but themselves first before others. The Earth is the foundation for all human creation. When the environment stops giving humans the materials (ie. Coal, oil etc) they need to feed the greedy society they created, you will see the social structures brake down. Allot of Australia’s food production has being affected by the floods. How will this food be replaced?
    Some serious questions need to be asked.
    How are the main needs for survival going to effect the population?
    Do you think Australia or any other continent can support more people?
    Where will they live?
    Where is clean water going to come from for an increased population?
    Where will food be created for the increased population?
    How is the quality of life going to change if you increase the population and everybody wants the same standard of living and are not willing to reduce their physical needs to cater for the increased population?
    Where will you get the natural resources to give the extra population the same standard of living?
    There is an attitude that underdeveloped countries need to develop to the level of developed countries. Why? Shouldn’t developed countries reduce their level of development? Humans talk of economic growth as a good thing, but how are humans going to sustain economic growth when Earth’s resources are depleted and the environment is unstable due to humans population growth, human pollution and human greed.
    Josh it is sometime better to start changing the attitude of individual humans so as to understand and control their physical needs. By doing so it creates a domino effect which will flow into government and businesses. Government and businesses are driven by the needs of the people.
    Example. If humans stop buying junk food then there is no need for places like MacDonald’s etc. It will be better for their health and also for the environment as the will not be a need for the waist that is produced by businesses like MacDonald’s which half the time is left on the ground by stupid people, also the health system will have less pressure on it due to problems with obesity. But if you shut down MacDonald’s franchises stupid humans will still have a need to get junk food so they will go somewhere else to get what they need even though it is bad. This is common senses.

    If the foundation of human society which is individual people is fixed then our overall society will be stronger and we will respect this Earth, ourselves and others.

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