Flooding in Bundaberg, January 2013. Credit Instagram/ABC News

“GIVE me a break,” said the premier of the Australian state of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell when asked if recent devastating floods might have something to do with climate change.

“Let’s not turn this near disaster, this episode that has damaged so many properties and other things, farm properties and other things, into some politically correct debate about climate change,” said Mr O’Farrell.

Let’s just all reach for the “pause” button for a second.

Mr O’Farrell now thinks the issue of climate change is one of “political correctness” which sits alongside debates about the appropriate language to describe homosexuals or whether Christmas trees might offend one religious group above another.

Not to degrade those important debates, but political correctness doesn’t flood thousands of people’s homes, threaten water and food supplies or machine-gun the economy leaving a scattering of billion dollar-sized bullet holes.

The flooding concentrated in Queensland has so far killed six people, devastated several towns and cities and thousands of people’s homes, in particular in Bundaberg, and sparked food supply fears after crop damage.

The disaster has come just weeks after the longest and most widespread extreme heatwave in Australia’s recorded history, causing life and livelihood-threatening bush fires. In all likelihood, January 2013 will turn out to be Australia’s hottest ever month on record. Queensland still remembers the 2011 floods which put a dent in the country’s GDP of an estimated $30 billion.

Mr O’Farrell’s fellow Liberal, Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott, was similarly dismissive of climate change when he was asked by a journalist if he thought that climate change had played any role in the recent floods. He broadened his answer to include the role of climate change in droughts and fires.

“Droughts, fires, floods have been a part of this country’s experience since records were kept,” Mr Abbott said. “Now, I think that climate change is real and humanity does make a contribution and we must have a strong and effective policy to deal with it, but I don’t think anyone could credibly say that this kind of thing has only happened since man made carbon dioxide increases started.”Abbott is right that no-one could credibly say that we didn’t have floods, droughts and fires before CO2 increases started. Not only could no-one credibly say it, but no-one actually hassaid it. This is one of those arguments known as a “strawman” and this one has extra cheese.

The lack of credibility lies in the position of Mr Abbott and his Liberal counterpart Premier O’Farrell. Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said the pair were “not fit to be leaders… if they’re not going to have the courage to face what’s coming and do something about it.”To make matters worse, Mr Abbott has seen fit to appoint human-caused climate change denier and wind-energy sceptic Maurice Newman, a former chairman of the ABC and executive chairmen of Deutsche Bank in Australia, to head his party’s business advisory council. Newman dismisses advocates for action on climate change as “self-deluded” people blindly following a new religion.Presumably his advice on business policy will be to ignore the current and future risks of climate change, which is surely an article of blind faith if ever there was one.

Dismissing the work of scientists and agencies such as the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, NOAA, NASA, the UK’s Met Office, the Royal Society and countless other institutions who inform policy makers is similarly reckless.

So what do scientific studies have to say about climate change and floods and fires? Studies have shown that by pouring extra CO2 into the atmosphere, you can expect to see an increase in extreme heat, large bushfires, the intensity of storms and the flooding events, economic hardship and loss of life that go with them.

Most recently, a new scientific paper accepted in December for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal Geophysical Research (Updated analyses of temperature and precipitation extreme indices since the beginning of the twentieth century: The HadEX2 dataset : Donat et al ) finds the predicted increase in intense rainfall events is already happening.

After analysing 11,000 rain gauges on land across the planet, the study , which I have seen, has found more places are experiencing an increase in extreme rainfall and this was happening more often.

separate study published last year in Science has also found that the water cycle (the one you learned about in school where the rain falls, evaporates, forms clouds and falls as rain) has also been intensifying over the oceans, with the water cycle accelerating.

Australia has been pummelled by extreme weather of all types in recent years and it’s a trend which, in all probability, will continue. Getting to grips with the consequences of climate change is no more an exercise in political correctness or alarmism than Barack Obama’s desire to tackle gun laws after the Sandy Hook school massacre.

When scientists and researchers read and hear how their work is interpreted or denied by some political leaders, you have to wonder what their response would be.

Perhaps, to borrow Mr O’Farrell’s words, “Give me a break” might be some of the milder responses.

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