I’m back from Australia, where my wife and I spent a month visiting family. By the time we left, the catastrophic floods of Queensland were making their way through New South Wales back of Sydney, and were occurring to a degree unprecedented in recorded history in Victoria State as well, outside of Melbourne on the south coast. Australia has always been a place of cyclical floods and droughts. Now, however, the cycles are faster and over the top. The fires of two years ago amid record heat, 12 years of drought punctuated by the occasional cyclonic deluge, and now this. The water along Australia’s east coast is three degrees warmer than it’s ever been, feeding the rains. Officially this is a “100-year-storm,” although the last comparable one was in 1974, and cyclones are whizzing by and meteorologists are warning that the place could be hit again this very season which still has two months to go.
And Australia is not alone, as the climate scientists were pointing out. There was the record flood in Pakistan in 2010, a record heat wave in Russia that killed tens of thousands and ruined grain crops, plus floods of unusual severity in California, Tennessee, Indonesia and now Brazil. Meanwhile, 2010 was a record wet year worldwide and the second hottest recorded, despite the unusual cold snaps in the Northern Hemisphere — the 34th year running that temperatures have been hotter than the 20th-century average. Seventeen countries broke their heat records in 2010. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. The tenth was 1998. And more. As Australia tallies up a cost estimated at $20 billion and rising, some even larger questions arise. Queensland is one of the world’s breadbaskets. The world price of wheat went up as the floods hit. After Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere, concerns about the security of the world food supply is rising.
There was much bravado about how Queenslanders are tough and always rise again, but how many times can you be wiped out, by either flood or drought, before farming becomes impossible? How many will not return? And how much is this an image for the world as it gets hit harder by extreme weather? And here’s another twist. A poll showed that only 27 per cent of rural Australians believed in climate change — 48 per cent in the cities. I find this odd, since I hardly know anybody here in western Nova Scotia who doesn’t say that “the weather is screwed” or some such expression. The facts of science are that both greenhouse gases and temperatures have risen since the Industrial Revolution, and the gases have been shown to trap heat. The first climate models of the early 1970s have been dead on — predicting a global rise of a half-degree over 30 years, with worse to come even if carbon emissions are stabilized.
True, like tobacco and cancer, the connection isn’t logically absolute. But the margin left to believe that global warming is a socialist plot (Stephen Harper some 10 years ago), or caused by sunspots (debunked regularly), or long-term cycles that have nothing to do with us, or little green men from space, is vanishingly small. Nevertheless, denial is a fact of life. We of the dominant Western world can’t deal with the fact that much of what we have been calling progress for the past several centuries is actually turning against us. We don’t want to believe the 99 per cent obvious. That’s why the blogosphere’s wizards of denial can pick one little anomaly in a vast body of scientific research and sucker the world media into turning the whole thing into a spectacle of denial, as they did with the spurious “climategate” affair of 2009. It’s what most of us want to hear.
Australia, whose wealth is mainly in mining along with agriculture, is a big denier. So is Canada, with its tar sands-plus economy. So, significantly, one of Harper’s “accomplishments” in his five years as prime minister has been to turn the Environment Department into a joke and to be a troublemaker at the Kyoto-round of conferences. Not that they were going anywhere anyway. At what stage of climate mayhem are we going to get it? I get home to Atlantic Canada to find that unusual storms have lashed these shores, eating at the coast. Insofar as the question of what to allow in terms of building along the shore is in the air, here’s some wisdom from Brisbane, a city of some two million where most of the images of wild flooding you saw on TV came from. The Brisbane river winds through the lower town, creating much prime riverside real estate. The press unearthed a 1999 engineer’s report that had warned against development in these areas because of the risk of flooding. It was snuffed by city council at the behest of developers, who went ahead and built what you saw under water. Lesson learned, or not?
By: Ralph Surette, who is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County. This article was originally published in The Chronicle Herald. Source>>
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