With each passing year, the consequences of climate change become more obvious and serious
by NOEL G de SOUZA
There appear to be ever-continuing problems of bush fires and flooding in Australia. These are leading to the conclusion that these mishaps are annually recurring problems. Such problems did occur in the past, but with neither the same intensity nor the same frequency. Currently (late January and February 2013) there are floods, cyclones (including several devastating tornadoes or twisters) and bush fires occurring simultaneously.
Maps which formerly indicated once-in-a-hundred-years flooding problems now need to be revised to almost once-in-a-year-or-two intensity. The floods in the Lockyer Valley in Queensland occurred in 2011 and in 2013. That these problems stem from climate change is something almost no-one dares to deny today.
There have been extraordinary rainfall statistics for daily rainfall in Queensland with some areas receiving 600mm to 800mm in a single day! The rain converted roads and small creeks into swollen rivers. In Bundaberg, one of the most badly hit areas, numerous people have had to be rescued by helicopters from rooftops.
Perhaps the maligned scientists who kept futilely warning us about climatic change for over a decade, could have the last laugh. But they are not laughing at all. The scientists are awed and saddened about how right they were, how much worse and how much earlier than expected these problems have eventuated. This was evident in the talk given by the chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Dr Rajendra Pachauri a few weeks ago in Tasmania.
Climate change sceptics have been proven wrong, but their personal attacks on climate change scientists continue nonetheless, and relentlessly so. Christopher Booker, writing in the Telegraph, says that the Inter-Academy report into the IPCC, led by Rajendra Pachauri, “tiptoes around a mighty elephant in the room”. Now Booker says of the Nobel Prize being jointly awarded to The IPCC and Al Gore (former Vice-president of the USA): “Does this not all add up to the most bizarre and outrageous scandal in the history of the world?”
The problems of the Queensland floods can neither be blamed on its former premier Anna Bligh, nor on the current incumbent Campbell Newman. They have become the unfortunate politicians who have had to face humankind’s great disasters; these disasters contrast with the current freezing temperatures in Britain and the middle and eastern states of the USA.
The summer disasters in Australia are also in contrast to the monsoons lands of Asia. Whilst in Australia we swelter in temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees, in some places such as northern India, mist and rains are seen with freezing temperatures even below 0 degrees centigrade.
The lessons from previous floods in Queensland have only been partially learned. According to insurance companies, residents who had been affected in the floods of 2011 changed their policies to cover flood damage. That had not been the case earlier, and many lost possible insurance compensation. Flood insurance is good for the residents, but it does create a dent in the insurance companies’ finances.
In contrast to the ceaseless onslaught of the elements on humans and animals, the events have, by far and large, brought out the best amongst humans. Much of the work done by organisations like the Red Cross and Rural Fire Brigades includes volunteers who have given selfless service; they have endured sleepless nights and considerable fatigue to ensure that the situation does not further deteriorate. People in general working side-by-side have brought out the best of human nature in Australian society. Neighbours have cared for children and their mothers. They have ensured that the limited supplies of food and water are fairly shared.
The army has been drafted to help. This hasalso happened in India.
The armed forces can be trained to become a civil emergency force. Helicopter rescues of persons on rooftops, such as in Bundaberg, has become the norm during intense flooding.
Australia with its plentiful deposits of metals and energy ironically lacks adequate water supplies. There may be considerable water in floods but it is contaminated with sewage and other detritus and it is not fit to drink. Floods and fires have also resulted in damage to agriculture. Vegetable food supplies are being hit. For example, Queensland which is a major supplier of several fruits (mangoes, pineapple and bananas) and vegetables (lettuce and avocado), will find it difficult to supply these fresh products. Sugar production will also be reduced because of cyclone damage to sugar plantations. Heavy rainfall has hampered coal production, and along with minerals like uranium, mining has been hampered in northern Australia due to mine flooding. Coal exports go to Asia, including to India which is a major buyer.
Amongst other mitigation measures, budgets should set aside substantial yearly amounts to deal with climatic emergencies given their frequency.