Posts Tagged queensland

Give us a break on the climate science denial

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.” Read the rest of this entry »
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Premier Newman Can Do Climate Science Denial

JUST in case anyone was in any doubt, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman reminded Australia earlier this week that his state was most certainly “in the coal business” and that protecting the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t come before fossil fuel exports.

But as well as being “in the coal business”, it appears that Premier Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell are taking their first steps into the business of climate science denial.

Minister Powell repeated a statement he had made to ABC’s Radio National that he was not convinced that humans were having an impact on climate change, a position which immediately puts him at odds with every national scientific academy in the world, the advice from his own chief scientist and the position of the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the United Nations.

While Minister Powell made a point of saying that the environment should be protected (what else could the environment minister say, after all) his boss, Premier Campbell Newman, decided his minister’s view on climate change was “refreshing“. I’d choose a different word.

As reported in the Brisbane Times, Mr Powell said his views were “fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population” as if this was a valid excuse.

Fortunately in this case, the general public are not the ones studying the complex nature of positive feedbacks in the climate system or taking meticulous observations of global temperatures to find we’ve just had the warmest decade since records began as levels of heat in the atmosphere and oceans continues to climb.

The Premier’s “scepticism” comes down to ignorance of the scientific process and entirely unrealistic expectations of the climate science community. Take these quotes as exhibits.

I mean, the sea level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years… we don’t know what the impacts are precisely. We don’t. The scientists don’t…. But in terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change, anybody who says they know is having a lend of you, and it’s about time people started to tell the truth… We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here, the scientists don’t know and there’s a lot of scientists arguing about the actual precise impacts.

Newman’s statements might seem reasonable to the majority of Queenslanders disengaged from the climate change issue, but they show an abject failure to understand how climate change science works.

Take the Premier’s mention of sea level rise. Of course the projections have changed in the last 15 years, because the issue of sea level rise isn’t yet a closed book. Few scientific endeavours ever are. Sea level rise projections in the last IPCC report came from research which took place around 2005. Depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level would be between 18 and 59 cm higher by the end of this century than it was in 2000, but the report had a very important caveat.

The projections do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, therefore the upper values of the ranges are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise. They include a contribution from increased Greenland and Antarctic ice flow at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but this could increase or decrease in the future.

In other words, there was still lots of work to be done to give policy makers and planners a better idea of what to expect. And there was still uncertainties that could push the sea level to much higher levels. Today, as the research effort has continued, even the most conservative climate scientists talk of sea level rises of a metre or more.

The Queensland Government’s own Office of Climate Change, which Premier Newman is in the process of closing, outlined the impact of sea level rise on the state in it’s “Climate Change in Queensland” report two years ago. A half metre rise in sea level would likely increase the chances of extreme events such as flooding from occuring once every 100 years to several times a year. As a former mayor of Brisbane, which experience devastating floods a little over a year ago, you might think the Premier may have taken some interest.

Being the complex system that our world’s climate is, the estimates of how high temperatures will go, how high sea levels will rise, how rainfall will change or how many extreme heatwaves and super-cyclones we might get, always come with an uncertainty range. Anyone who has ever read a peer-reviewed climate science paper knows this.

Hinting that we should be waiting until we’re 100 per cent sure what will happen before we take firm action, is a bit like saying you’re happy to drive your car at double the speed limits because no-one can say for sure that you’ll definitely crash. And while everyone has heard the stories of a grandparent who smoked 50 cigarettes a day and lived until they were 90, most people acknowledge that smoking massively increases your chances of dying of cancer.

Perhaps the Premier’s statements are instead an attempt to offset his own cognitive dissonance – the sick feeling that you get inside when you try and hold two conflicting positions simultaneously.

Because if the Premier does believe, as he also said, that “we’re using non-renewable resources and we need to change our ways” then how can he also proudly declare that Queensland is “in the coal business” while dismissing a UNESCO report criticising the coal and gas export infrastructure being built alongside the Great Barrier Reef, risking its World Heritage status?

In 2009 while then Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman – known as Can Do Campbell – was busily pushing his green credentials, the Labor opposition accused him of being a “climate change sceptic” without providing much evidence.

After all, his council had a “Plan for Action on Climate Change and Energy” and a “Climate Change and Energy Taskforce”. Newman was determined to make Brisbane Australia’s most sustainable city, said the United Nations Environment Programme, by running low-emissions buses, planting trees, having a bike share program and buying renewable energy.

The then Lord Mayor even launched the Green Heart City Smart scheme, with its ubiquitous “I [green heart] Brisbane” catchphrase and branding.

It seems now though, that Mr Newman’s heart is conflicted with coal and climate science denial.

Pic: Flickr/dale.n

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Catching up on old-ish news

Double yolker actionIT’S been a frantic few weeks, so just time to share some recent links of mine.

First up, I had a look at the phenomenon of the “conservative white male” effect which is a bit like the greenhouse gas effect, in that seemingly the more of it you release, the worse things get.

I also took a look at the new climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement, and their various links to conservative white males like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and pretty much every climate denier that’s ever stalked the corridors of a free market think-tank. Oh, and they share a PR firm with the Church of Scientology and The Exclusive Brethren.

On the Brisbane Times and across the rest of the Fairfax network, I previewed a court case about to close in Queensland which is hearing a challenge against a huge coal mine development by Xstrata. Over the mine’s lifetime, the coal burned will see about 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases added to the planet’s atmosphere. If you’re following Australia’s carbon tax debate, then this cancels out the Government’s five per cent cut about seven times over.

Also on the Brisbane Times, a look at a report from The Climate Institute into the mental health issues related to extreme weather events like floods, droughts, bushfires and cyclones. If you take your climate science from climate scientists, then you’ll know that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increase the chances of events such as these happening more often (or in the case of cyclones, there could be less of them, but the ones we do get will probably be bigger and meaner).

Oh, and one of my chickens laid that egg. Disappointingly, there was no dinosaur inside.

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Nice bit of gas-powered Churnalism

THERE’S a new service over in the UK set up by the Media Standards Trust which allows the public to check for cases of “Churnalism”.

Churnalism, says the trust, is “a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added”.

Using the free Churnalism website, you can paste text from a press release into a box. The service then goes off and finds any news articles that resemble the text of the press release – articles suspected of being “churn”.

The site lets you see the press release placed side-by-side against the original and gives a percentage of how much of the release was cut-and-pasted and how many characters overlap.

In the last few days, they’ve added a service where you can do this exercise in reverse and search news outlets against press releases from some companies and government agencies.

For example, the site suspects that in the last three years 495 articles in The Guardian online may be churn. The Daily Mail online scores more than 700.

Now obviously, there are lots of occasions when there’s nothing at all wrong with a press release being churned. The trust points out that

Some press releases are clearly in the public interest (medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures and so on). But even in these cases, it is better that people should know what press release the article is based on than for the source of the article to remain hidden.

Unfortunately,the site is only available in the UK but you can rest assured there’s plenty of churnalism that goes on in Australia too. Some of it is harmless, but some of it is clearly not.

Which brings me to a recent article which appeared online in the Gladstone Observer and an almost identical story which appeared online in the Toowoomba Chronicle – both news sites owned by APN News & Media.

The story reported how the Queensland Gas Company had stopped work on clearing land for a coal seam gas  pipeline because “environmental plans for soil and species management have not been approved”, the report said. A serious issue no doubt and well worth the time of an APN journalist in reporting it. After all, QGC has reported it is spending $15 billion on the project which the delay was part of.

There were quotes from “QGC senior vice president Jim Knudsen” who explained the company didn’t believe their work so far had caused any  ”adverse impact on protected plants and animals”.

I asked QGC if they had issued a press release into the incident. They said they had and they sent me a copy. It’s now here online. Well, you’ve guessed the rest.

The story on the Towoomba site was almost identical to the press release, with only 5 words of the original 251-word press release changed. They didn’t even bother to write their own headline. “QGC stops work on pipeline”.

The Gladstone Observer story was identical, except for the addition of a 13 word intro popped on the top of the text. The rest of the story was a complete and unchanged cut-and-paste from the QGC release.

Why am I worried about this? Because a news outlet should not be just a distribution service for a major corporation, especially one which is drilling 6000 wells and laying more than 700 kilometres of pipeline in the areas being served by the news outlet.

I know regional newspapers have resources issues but surely its online readers should have been made aware that the story printed on its website was just a cut-and-pasted press release?

Good on QGC for admitting the breach, but you can only hope that the print versions of the Gladstone Observer and the Toowoomba Chronicle do better.

You can make the comparison between the two stories for yourself if you keep reading. I recently wrote a feature on some of the concerns related to the Coal Seam Gas industry on ABC Environment.

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Floods, climate and a “tiny” bit of coal outrage

AS the floods in Queensland and Victoria gushed through homes, businesses and streets leaving tragedy behind, all of that murky water and grime sent moral compasses and other measures of taste and decency spinning and covorting in all directions.

What outrages you, or anyone else, depends on which way your moral, political or ideological compass tends to point. Talking about building dams or the role of climate change while people are suffering could enrage some people while for others, it could simply drift by unnoticed on the media floodwaters.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown’s assertion that the floods in Queensland were caused in part by the coal industry is a classic case in point. He made the statement on Sunday 16 January, well after the majority of floodwaters in Queensland had subsided but before the communities of Toowoomba and Grantham had begun to bury their dead. Brown said the coal industry should be picking up some of the clean-up bill for future extreme weather events.

Ralph Hillman, executive director the Australian Coal Association (ACA), responded by saying that in any case, the emissions from domestically-mined coal in Australia made only a “tiny” contribution to world emissions of greenhouse gases. If tiny is a postulated 2.5 per cent of the world’s entire emissions from fossil fuels, then tiny it is. But more on that later.

Brown was accused by some, including Resources Minister Stephen Robertson, of using the floods to make a political point. Several mining companies and industry groups including Macarthur Coal, Xstrata, the ACA and the Minerals Council of Australia expressed outrage but some could not pass up the chance to make a political point of their own. Chairman of Macarthur Coal Keith DeLacy branded Brown as “irrelevant to mainstream Australia”.

It was time to pull together, commentators said, rather than start pointing the finger of blame or making political points. Yet in the days preceding Senator Brown’s comments, there had been plenty of wagging fingers.

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Climate change and the Queensland floods

A version of this feature appeared first as part of Crikey‘s daily email.

IN QUEENSLAND, many – but not all – are well into the dirty job of sifting through the acrid mud and rubble for belongings, insurance certificates and hope.

If they’re not doing it already, in the coming months many will also be hoping to find some answers to that short but ever-so-complex question, why?

Premier Anna Bligh has started the process already, calling a Royal Commission with a wide-ranging terms of reference.

Among those terms, is a request the commission make recommendations to improve the “preparation and planning for future flood threats and risks” particularly when it comes to saving lives.

Unarguably the source for the flooding experienced in Queensland and now in parts of Victoria was persistent, record-breaking, heavy rain.

In 2010 Queensland had its wettest year on record, but the spring period leading up to the flooding in the Rockhampton and Bundaberg areas and then in Brisbane, was exceptional. The state got 248 mm of rainfall – almost triple the state-wide long term average.

But Premier Bligh’s Royal Commission and media coverage appears to have given little, if any, explicit consideration of the role of climate change.

This is a strange omission, given that only three months ago the State published its latest assessment of the potential impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is also likely to affect extreme rainfall in south-east Queensland,” the report said, adding that “a projected decrease in rainfall across most of Queensland, the projected increase in rainfall intensity could result in more flooding events”.

A separate Queensland Government report into rainfall intensity, commissioned to provide advice to policy makers on inland flooding risks, also agreed that “the available scientific literature indicates this increased rainfall intensity to be in the range of 3–10 per cent per degree of global warming.”

But if these are the risks for Queensland in the future it doesn’t necessarily implicate climate change in the line-up of suspects likely to be paraded before the public in coming months.

Yet a number of climate scientists are already discussing the role of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and how it impacts extreme weather events.

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