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.

Continue reading “Climate change and the Queensland floods”

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Top Aussie carbonators and old men

ABC Carbon has just published a list of the 50 people in Australia contributing the most to awareness and action on climate change, conservation and green issues.

The list, which excludes journalists and politicians (there’s going to be another list of those types soon), has everything from world famous actresses to local campaigners, business people, scientists and activists, and a few who blur the lines.

Ken Hickson, author of the book ABC of Carbon and the excellent ABC Carbon newsletter, asked me to help review and shorten the long list of nominees – a process which made me realise just how many people really are trying to make a positive difference.

Boiling this list down a bit further, I’d be picking out the likes of the massive-brained author Clive Hamilton, the courageous climate activist Anna Keenan and Professor Will Steffen, the science advisor to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

I’ve just finished reading Clive’s book Requiem For A Species which examines why civilisation has failed to act on climate change and how, not to put too fine a point on it, we should all forget the notion of being able to “beat” climate change. You can buy a copy of Clive’s book all over the place, but in a plug for a local company you can also order it from Sustainable Insight.

Anna Keenan is a young women for whom I have the utmost admiration. No commitment issues for Anna, who managed a 40-day hunger strike in the run up to, and during, the ill-fated Copenhagen climate change conference. Here’s a blog she wrote for me in the middle of that ordeal.

A few weeks ago, Professor Will Steffen was brave enough to say publicly what most other climate scientists must surely be saying privately all the time when he described the manufactured debate over climate change to be “infantile”. Here’s a great profile of the Professor here, on The Age.

And now to the second bit of the headline for this blog (look up there), the bit about old men, because they came up in a seminar I attended last night hosted by Professor Steffen.

His main 45-minute speech covered the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to research on climate change adaptation, but it was an off-the-cuff remark made during questions which prompted the biggest round of applause of the evening.

He was talking about the general need for everyone in Australia to be innovative in finding ways to adapt to climate change. And why isn’t this happening now?

There’s a blockage caused by old men who largely block innovation.

So there you go. We can now add “old men” to the list of climate change foes which includes fossil fuels, money, consumerism and political cowardice.

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