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Feb 4, 2011

Hamilton: Queensland being sacrificed to our inaction

Queensland is being sacrificed to Australia’s and the world’s unwillingness to take global warming seriously.

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Queensland is being sacrificed to Australia’s and the world’s unwillingness to take global warming seriously.

Like the floods, the fearful intensity of Tropical Cyclone Yasi is probably due to the effects of global warming. Yasi has been intensified by the unusually warm sea-surface temperatures of the Western Pacific, warmth that provides the energy and moisture that made Yasi so terrifying, with the combined effects of tempestuous winds, torrential rains and a storm surge.

Last night Professor Ross Garnaut, currently revising and updating his 2008 climate change review for the Gillard government and the multiparty climate change committee, delivered a speech in Melbourne in which he stated that since his 2008 review, the scientific evidence for global warming had become stronger.

Cyclonic events are likely to become “more intense in a hotter world”, he said, and since we are just at the beginning of the warming process “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

To say so is not insensitive, is it not irresponsible, nor is it political. It is simply a statement of the bleeding obvious, at a time when we should be most attuned to it.

The Bureau of Meteorology have said that we have to go back to 1918 to find a cyclone as big as Yasi in Queensland. We would also have to go back to the early 1900s to match a December sea-surface temperature of 1.2°C above the long-term average in the seas beneath Yasi.

It is those seas, warmed by the enhanced greenhouse effect, that drove Yasi, just as they supplied the moisture for the rains that, on top of La Niña, swamped the state over the Christmas-New Year period.


Dr Kevin Trenberth of the US the National Centre for Atmospheric Research explains what is happening globally:

“[T]here is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”

Climate Progress quotes “uber meteorologist” Jeff Masters on the equal hottest year on record, at the end of the hottest decade on record:

“I suspect that crazy weather years like 2010 will become the norm a decade from now, as the climate continues to adjust to the steady build-up of heat-trapping gases we are pumping into the air. Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame.”

Despite the strong science connecting global warming to extreme events in this country — the Queensland and Victorian floods, cyclone Yasi, the Victorian fires and the long drought — Australians don’t really want to know.

It’s not just that those who make the link with climate change are shouted down as insensitive or exaggerating — although there is plenty of that sort of outright denial around — but that ordinary Australians would rather focus on the awfulness of the tragedy and the adequacy of the emergency response than talk about the causes.

Garnaut told journalists yesterday:

”All the measurable impacts are tracking right at the top of the range of possibilities … or in some cases above them … there is no major area, unfortunately, where sceptical views of the science can draw any strength from the peer-reviewed science, the real science, that has been done in the past five years — all of the evidence appears to be in the other direction.”

There is, as always, an alternative view, spouted by commentators who don’t let the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about get in the way of their theories:

Piers Akerman today on the link between extreme weather and climate change:

Those who choose to live and work in tropical Australia, be it Queensland, WA or the Northern Territory, well know what comes with the turf.

Cyclones, floods, crocodiles, poisonous snakes, lethal jellyfish. This is the sort of wild stuff that sends shivers up tourists’ spines and sells books for Bill Bryson.

It is not new however. None of the creepy-crawlies or the smashed homes can be attributed to climate change.

How much damage does the state of Queensland, or the nation as a whole, have to sustain before we take climate change seriously?

*Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University. He is based in Canberra.

Clive Hamilton —

Clive Hamilton

Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University

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134 thoughts on “Hamilton: Queensland being sacrificed to our inaction

  1. Fitz

    @ David Sanderson

    Are you even dafter than Hamilton? “Only then will we be able to stand on the world stage and get other countries to embark on their own transformations.” Who are you kidding. It didn’t need the Copenhagen fiasco to demonstrate that the pipsqueak voices and inevitably tiny physical actions from a country of 22 million people are not going to count when the rulers of billions of people, especially in developing countries, seek to maximise their countries welfare.

    From today’s AFR letters “US President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union message indicated that neither an ETS nor a carbon price were on the US’s climate agenda but that nuclear power was; and that the latest projections by the World Energy Organisation show China’s emissions of greenhouse gases as being twice current levels by 2030.”

    Get real.

    Also, and this applies especially to Hamilton’s latest effusion…

    From a meteorologist friend:

    “Overall the tropical ocean surface temperature during January 2011 was slightly cooler than average (Source: US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).”

    While we know there has been a lot of warming of the earth’s atmosphere, and, probably, ocean during the last 250 years and that CO2 is almost certainly contributing something extra with or without feedback from water vapour effects and cloud albedo, and we can also believe that warmer oceans may add energy to the tropical storms that, nonetheless are not unprecedented in their force since CO2 began to rise significantly, it doesn’t follow that we should be so naive as to take the self-interested statements of Munich Re and other reinsurers as gospel – let alone the scientists who beaver away in small corners of the vast complex whole.

  2. Jonathan Maddox

    … yeah yeah yeah i know, floods, cyclone Larry. But I’m willing to take it all back if there’s yet another category 5 of the same intensity that hits Queensland in a few years… better 2 or 3 more because then you have a trend and some substantiated facts rather than predictions. No matter how reliable the source, they’re still predictions and don’t replace solid facts. Once cyclones of this size become a seasonal norm you can more confidently make a statement like this.

    Simon, this paragraph seems to misunderstand the difference between events and probabilities.

    Every extreme weather event is a “solid fact”, but nothing can ever turn extreme weather into a “seasonal norm” unless you’ve specified what you mean by a season, or a norm.

    Weather in the tropical Pacific has cycles broader than seasons. The relevant cycle here is the ENSO. Some summers it’s strong El Niño (like 1999-2000) and some strong La Niña (like 2010-2011). Most years it’s far milder. The cycles are not timed nicely and regularly like years.

    You would not expect much in the way of cyclones in North Queensland except in a La Niña year. If it’s really strong, you’d expect strong cyclones. I say this not because of any recent weather statistics but because the mechanism whereby a cyclone develops has long been well-understood : still, humid air above a warm, still ocean. It stands to reason (absent any clear explanation as to why it shouldn’t be so) that the warmer and more humid it gets, the more likely you are to get a cyclone and the bigger it’s likely to be. If we weren’t getting them under current conditions, climatologists would then have some explaining to do.

    Meski, “is” or “is not” would imply the existence of solid evidence. You can’t prove causality any better than “it’s what you would expect under the circumstances”. Which is a statement of probability, hence “probably”.

  3. Fitz

    @ David Sanderson
    “Summary of Fitz:
    1. It’s not worth trying to do anything
    2. Anyway, nothing much is happening. It’s only a bunch of dumb scientists – what would they know?”

    That proves one thing I suppose. That it is not worth responding to Sanderson if one hopes that he might actually read and understand what is written and possibly therefore learn something. even about how to read and think clearly.

    @ Jonathon Maddox and Christopher Dunne

    Jonathon Maddox, what a surprise to find relevance on a Crikey blog, actually responds relevantly to my quoting someone of some authority who points to a good source for saying that January average tropical sea surface temperature is below average. At least saying that it is not true of the Western Pacific does sound intelligently relevant (but I’ll come back to it).

    Christopher Dunne, by contrast, doesn’t notice that the fact of the tropical water from which a cyclones water content arose being cooler does create a problem for warmists because the physical connection between CO2 emissions and additional, or is it additionally vigorous? cyclonic activity, is that more heat means more energy and therefore greater power in the cyclone. So, if there is less heat, therefore less energy in the water from which a cyclone arose how does that sit with the supposition that there is a causal link to an unusually vigorous cyclone? I think you are confusing yourself with a woolly-minded conflation of what my correspondent was implying with the argument of those who think that any temporary trend is a contradiction to a theory which proposes some longer term contrary trend.

    But, Jonathon Maddox, your point, even if true, isn’t conclusive of any effect on current Queensland problems of oceanic warming because it would appear to be the local effect that you refer to which is possibly responsible for the current vigour of cyclonic activity and not the general level. Maybe you would say there is a higher base from which local effects can take their starting point but that obviously is a proposition needing testing and may not sit comfortably with the fact that Queensland has experienced comparably great weather events to the recent ones extending back 100 years and more.

    @ Michael R. James

    As you can see I merely quoted someone I regard as a reputable authority rather than quote or cite a documentary source myself and I am glad that someone tried to follow it up if, with reason given than I didn’t even name my source, you wanted to verify it. Clearly you haven’t either verified it or found a reliable contradiction of it – or a way of distinguishng it like Jonathon Maddox – so it says something only about you and your prejudices that you call it crap. I would be delighted to learn that you had some competence in the field of climate science and could give some reliable information on the subject. Evidently you can’t.

    I have cited on another blog a link given by the same meteorologist which is


    From there a graph is extractable I gather, though I haven’t been able to replicate it myself – but have seen the graph – which shows a trend line for tropical ocean sea surface temperature from 1948 to date which indicates a rise of 0.4 degrees in the 62 or 63 years except that the actual end of 2010 temperature is 0.2 degrees below where the trend would take it. For devoted warmists it does create a slight problem as heat energy is the key to vigorous cyclonic activity. As far as I know no one is claiming that Cyclone Jasi built up a head of steam six months ago when the water at its place of origin was exceptionally warm!

  4. Norman Hanscombe

    I’m fully aware, AR/LIZ45, that my posts haven’t displayed any special competence. It’s just that alongside your sad struggles to understand what’s happening in the world, even mediocrity can appear reasonably adequate. It’s possibly selfish of me to be so grateful that I don’t have your psychological needs to project shortcomings onto others, but I’m sure objective observers would understand. I’d have continued longer trying to help you if it hadn’t seemed such a hopelessly impossible goal.

    My hopes to get you thinking a tad more effectively were (in light of your incredibly strong and deeply ingrained defence mechanisms) probably doomed from the beginning; but I believe those same fair observers would agree that I’ve been trying — possibly even extremely trying?

    Via con dios, little munchkins, as you appear to need his/her help more desperately than any of the slow learners I’ve succeeded in helping in the past.

    P.S. I trust you didn’t mind me finishing off above on such a positive note?

    P.P.S. Why not take a leaf out of Moira’s book. She shares your prejudices, but does at least give a hint of understanding that simply abusing those whose views differ, may not be the only possible path, when she implies it may not be enough simply to dismiss opponents instead of trying (presumably whatever your personal limitations may be?) to actually understand WHAT they’re saying and, more importantly, actually develop a coherent refutation of what they’ve actually said. Unless such effort is another bridge far to far for you to tackle?

  5. Norman Hanscombe

    David, I wish, just once, I could have the pleasure of saying you were correct; but alas you’re wrong again. I remember raising the issue with Pop Welding, my favourite primary school teacher, of how standards seemed to have fallen. He agreed, but didn’t think many of my classmates shared my concern. It was only much later that I came across old 6th class primary school Qualifying Certificate exam papers that I realised how much that decline had been. Still, I wouldn’t expect you to know that, so don’t feel bad about it — but please do NOT try to blame your shortcomings on having missed out on now passed opportunities.

    Nor were my teachers usually excited about my presence. On my last day at Primary School my mother [having received a letter to attend] was then asked to take me to the Headmaster’s Office. He apologised for the school NOT having provided an appropriate challenge, which surprised me, because he’d never spoken to me once before that, and I didn’t even know he was aware of my existence. He made another statement which I steadfastly refuse to accept to this day — although encountering people like you has helped explain why he made it. My High School Headmaster spoke to me more frequently, and I agreed then and now with his repeated suggestion that I was wasting my time and might as well leave school; but I DID enjoy those lunch breaks.

    You mustn’t project YOUR thinking onto others, D.S. Not everyone shares your apparent obsession with how well/poorly they’re going. Try to get over your obsessive worries about not doing well. It really isn’t all that important. If you want an interest, a FAR more useful one would be to oppose such outrageous situations as the deleterious effects ‘progressive’ experiments have had on students whose families can’t (to give but one example) buy them marks in assessment assignments. That would be much more valuable than picking on an old pensioner.

    Remember though, that it wouldn’t be excessively selfish of you should you decide first project you’ll tackle will be to attempt your own educational improvement.

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    David, it’s not surprising, of course, but you’re wrong AGAIN. He apologised to my mother, not to me, and in any case (quite apart from the fact I had no great expectations at that time) I was very happy with Pop Welding, who didn’t discourage me from reading interesting books which had nothing to do with school syllabuses, and would often provide stimulating conversation as he accompanied me for a couple of miles as I walked home, because it was on the way to the home of one of his friends who lived not far from my place.

    Thank God, though, I wasn’t encountering (at home, school or work) many who are as sorry an excuse as yourself, or who knows, I might have ended up rating myself almost as highly as you mistakenly imagine I do — and that would be embarrassing to say the least. I have no idea about how “morally depraved” you might think yourself to be, but since this could be another of your defence mechanisms at work, I have a moral duty to say that (based on the evidence of your garbled writings) I’d doubt your assessments in the area of ethics are likely to be all that accurate, so whatever you do, please don’t lose sleep over that issue either.

    Finally, and this is important for your well-being DS, try to remember that no matter what happened in your life to make you so bitter, you’ll be likely to feel better if you can put it all behind, and take your mind off your apparently sad past, by engaging in (say) a not too demanding self-improvement course of some kind.

    Best wishes from someone who can empathise with (some of) your problems.

  7. Syd Walker

    The more I read of Clive Hamilton’s output about climate change the less useful I find it to be.

    In this case, the problem starts with the title “Queensland being sacrificed to our inaction” – and the first sentence which repeats the same naff idea and shows it wasn’t just an editor’s mishap.

    Why is it naff to suggest that “Queensland is being sacrificed”? In short, because it’s one-sided hyperbole. Queensland is part of the world. It’s people and economy are major per-capita contributors to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the global atmposhere. Queensland also experiences some severe extremities of weather but survival rates – by international standards – are fortunately quite high compared with less economically fortunate areas of the world.

    The headline might have been reworked to “Queensland sacrificing itself to climate change”. But I suspect Clive wasn’t game to be so provactive at this time. Hence, perhaps in an effort to knock off a quick article, Clive gives us the “Queensland as victim” narrative (plenty of good short stories have a hero and a villain).

    This facile framework is the skelton on which Clive then hangs his scientific narrative. I don’t argue with the information he presents or his sources. IMHO, human-induced climate change respresents an extremeply serious RISK for humanity – and that’s been clear for more than a couple of decades to those of us paying attention.

    But the operative word is risk. Grown-up debate about climate change is all about probability. Unfortunately, there are plenty of childish people who try to turn it into a running commentary on the weather.

    Most of these folk are sceptical of the threat posed by human-induced climate change. But not all. Clive is a ‘true believer’ who’s also a serial offender in getting a cheap headline out of weather events. It’s time he stopped.

    Whether it’s exceptionally chilly in England this year or rains harder than usual in Queensland, whether Huricane Katrina was worse than usual or polar bears can swim… all these are absurd distractions. Here’s the scoop. Climate change gamblers propose taking a gigantic risk with humanity’s only habitat – based on a hunch that most climate scientists are mistaken. That’s insane – whether Sydney happens to be undergoing record temperatures this week or not.

    For a quarter century or more, sophisticated analysts of the rising level of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the likely impact have been clear that no single weather event can be directly attributable to climate change. It’s time we elevated the level of public discussion. That may be too hard for the likes of Andrew Bolt. It should not be too hard for self-styled ‘public intellectuals’.

  8. Syd Walker

    @ Norman

    My point was precisely that some protagonists – on ‘both sides’ of the climate change debate – confuse the issue by conflating weather commentary with climate change analysis. I do wish they wouldn’t – and FWIW to make it 100% clear I DO take the threat of climate change very seriously indeed.

    I can see why folk like A. Bolt play this game. For them, it’s an easy line of attack. But it ill behoves people trying to advocate effectively in support of action to constrain greenhouse gas emissions. We have risk analysis squarely on our side. Why use a peashooter when we have access to cannon?

    Your brief historical summation left out what for me was the most critical development in the last century: incontrovertable evidence that first made a buzz in the 1980s showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were rising steadily. Our certainty that this was so is largely the result of one man’s work – Charles David Keeling. He established CO2 monitoring in two wilderness sites as far back as 1957. That was the big change: CERTAINTY that we are significantly modifying the atmospheric composition of the planet. No-one seriously disputes it – whereas the implications of this accumulation ARE fiercely disputed.

    In my view, it is appropriate that they are debated. I am glad there are scientists with heterodox views trying to pick holes in the developing IPCC orthodoxy. That’s how science works. It’s very important to get this science right – as right as we can at any one time.

    For this reason I abhor growing usage of the term ‘climate change denier’. There are no ‘deniers’ in intellectual debates. Use of the term is just a rhetorical trick to assert the power of orthodoxy. I’ve noticed that promotion of that unpleasant expression is another of Clive’s habits – he’s been pushing it hard since the idea first got momentum a few years ago.

    We should not distort this complex discussion by reducing it to a debate between ‘believers’ and ‘deniers’. It’s really a debate about risk. We KNOW we’re changing the composition of the atmosphere, significantly and cumulatively. We DON’T know with certainty what the consequences have been – let alone what they will be in the future as the atmospheric composition is changed even more. Most scientists working in this field are worried; a few claim to be unconcerned.

    How much do we want to gamble with our only habitat, given clear alternatives? Would we rather take a more risk-averse approach to living? Those are better questions to grapple with, IMO, than whether Cyclone Yasi can be attributed to climate change. That’s debatable and ultimately of little importance. Rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, by contrast, is not debatable and it MAY be of extreme importance.

    The POSSIBILITY (many say liklihood) that these changes in the atmosphere could trigger catastrophic climate change with devastating consequences for biodiversity and human civilisation should be sufficient to trigger strong action to reduce emissions. That’s thinking long-term. That’s how we need to think.

    If this line of analysis is of any interest please check out ‘Climate change debate: it’s really about RISK’ on my blog and watch Greg Craven’s excellent videos therein.

    Norman Myers, many moons ag, summarised it very well:

    “If we live as if it matters and it doesn’t matter,
    it doesn’t matter.
    If we live as if it doesn’t matter and it matters,
    then it matters…”

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    Don’t judge others by your own limitations, Syd. Admittedly at that time I wasn’t aware people had been talking about it for over half a century already; but it really wasn’t a complex issue if you gave a moment’s thought to what was old hat for anyone who took an interest, however superficial, in how for millions of years carbon had been removed from the atmosphere and converted into fossil fuels which since the industrial revolution had been going back into the atmosphere again at a far faster rate. What first had me thinking about it was the realisation during the War [[ I, not II ]] that resources were being consumed at rates which were unsustainable.

    I was more interested in other issues than I was in this, of course. I’d found Bury’s History of Ancient Greece, for example, so interesting that I’d read it twice at the age of 12; but fortunately you didn’t need to read much to be aware of the significance of the rapid return of CO2 stored in fossil fuel back into the Earth’s atmosphere. I was probably fortunate in that that I’d been able to walk to the Australian Museum regularly since I was in Infants school, and even (if less frequently) to the old Museum of Technology, so that even without books I had the opportunity to further interests which weren’t always covered as well as I’d have liked at school.

    Perhaps you didn’t have such a fortunate working class childhood, or geographically well-placed home, Syd? But don’t blame yourself, will you?

  10. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    @SYD WALKER — Posted Saturday, 5 February 2011 at 2:51 pm
    Your …. “Climate change gamblers propose taking a gigantic risk with humanity’s only habitat – based on a hunch that most climate scientists are mistaken”…. is so right and you should have added “all because they ‘think’ they may have to put there hand in their pocket or ‘miss out’ on a few bucks.

    Clive and you are both right with different approaches and different opinions on incidentals.

    The great tragedy is how little even the current respecters of science appreciate its pains while it groans at the lack of human listening and understanding.

    President JFK, a president who listened to scientific briefings, said in an early significant speech (1961) “…we must take very seriously the warming of our planet……..”.
    When I was 15 years of age in 1961 my soon to become Professor of Medicine in frustration held up placards on the steps of WA’s Parliament House protesting the opening of Australia’s first asbestos mine at Wittenoom.
    Later, when at medical school, I was bemused that he was all alone on those steps (the only Dr that knew – no?) and I discovered that same year (1961) the USA had forced the closure of its last asbestos mine.

    Time passes as you wait for humans to wake up even lifetimes.
    My medical life is a controversy because my so called dead-shit ‘peers’ have always taken for ever to wake up to science but are awake before sleep is over to a profit opportunity.

  11. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    @SYD WALKER — Posted Saturday, 5 February 2011 at 2:51 pm
    The reason why there is a different sense of urgency now compared to a few decades ago (although few in the know feel there is too much value in sharing too much detail) is because 2 or 3 decades ago CO2 measurements were rising but the very helpful natural vegetation absorption (removal, using up) of CO2 was significant (the other using up is dissolving in the ocean which is not helpful) and measurements were revealing that the extraordinary jungles like the Amazon and Indonesian jungles hugely disproportionately absorbed/removed CO2 for some special ‘density’ reason – Amazon, maybe as much as 40% of man’s production.
    These 2 huge CO2 planets suck up devises for over a decade are being cleared and burned to CO2.
    The entire tree planting in the world, suburban or rural since is miniscule in its effectiveness compared to these special jungles.
    So the ‘future picture’ is changing faster than the CO2 measured build up is by a long shot. That is why the little whimpish cries from the ‘knowing’ “it might be too late”.

    @LIZ45 — I have said it before but today its especially true – you’re hot babe.

    The two ‘life’ gasses – O2 and CO2 (one for the animal kingdom and one for the plant kingdom) makes it so silly to call CO2 a pollutant. The better phrase is ‘man is too stupid not to render nature dysfunctional’ for his purposes.

  12. Norman Hanscombe

    “Dr” Harvey M Tarvydas, esq., in 1961 IF your beloved “soon to become Professor of Medicine” was really doing what you say, he was sadly misinformed, because asbestos mines had operated in Australia long before that. Then again, like you, he may not have been well-informed about anything outside his narrow medical field? Don’t, by the way, be so hard on your medical “peers”. While I’m not familiar with what it took to be admitted to courses in Perth in your day, I do know that the entry mark for the Medicine at Sydney Uni [[which presumably wasn’t all that far below the requirements at your Perth based Uni?]] was significantly lower than (for example) the marks needed to obtain a simple English/History Teachers Scholarship. Based on your writing skills as a poster, it doesn’t appear you’d have gained one of the latter, but you may well have scraped into Sydney’s Medical classes.

    Your misinformed “soon to be” professor might have “in frustration held up placards on the steps of WA’s Parliament House protesting the opening of Australia’s first asbestos mine at Wittenoom”; but one hopes that by now he knows it wasn’t Australia’s first asbestos mine, even if you don’t?

    I can’t comment on the accuracy of the date you provide for the closure of the last asbestos mine in the U.S.A., but hope you might for once be right, as it would be an exciting event.

    Nor am I in a position to assess the accuracy of your apparent (according to your post) reiteration of an irrelevant statement re a fellow-poster with whom you presumably see yourself sharing some sort of non-intellectual bond. It does, however, tell us something about how you go about analysing issues when we see you finding it even relevant — let alone important — to say, “you’re hot babe.”

  13. Syd Walker


    Thanks for interesting and amusing comments. I particularly like: “dead-shit ‘peers’ have always taken for ever to wake up to science but are awake before sleep is over to a profit opportunity.” Very quotable. 🙂

    Do you happene to have a source for that interesting quotation by JFK that you mentioned? I couldn’t find it elsewhere via Google.

    I don’t suggest we should never speculate on the link between specific climatic events and climate change. But I think it should be done more sparingly, and when it’s done clearly acknowledged as speculation. It should not be used like a trump card. It’s most unlikely to prove a decisive argument. There will, in all liklihood, be sufficient counter examples (eg. it’s exceptionally cold in London this winter) that ‘opponents’ can use in retaliation. The end result, IMO, is a poor level of debate.

    Of course I agree the situation is more urgent now than it was a generation ago.

    There are signs of hope and the beginnings of appropriate cultural adaptation. A lot more people – including scientists and politicians – are much more aware of the sustainability / climate change issue now than a generation ago – and concerned about current trends. But overall, accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere has continued. Meanwhile, human population growth has been dramatic, along with overall human ‘technometabolism’. Unsurprisingly, biodiversity loss has continued apace.

    We’ve largely wasted a generation of opportunity to take effective risk-averse action. Our planetary Titanic is still steaming fast in a dangerous direction. I’m keen we don’t waste any more time.

    Changing the focus of popular discourse is part of what’s needed, IMO. Much less focus on the vagaries of weather. Much more focus on medium to long-term risk analysis.

    There’s another reason for the latter approach from the point of view of those of us who want effective progress towards genuine sustainability. It opens up worst-case scenarios to serious debate. What happens if the IPCC ‘consensus’ is wrong… in the most unfavourable way imaginable? What if we have GROSSLY underestimated likely negative effects of changing the composition of the atmosphere?

    Actuaries take serious account of the worst that might happen. Day to day business operates (and must operate) on different, more reassuring assumptions.

    I believe debate about sustainability and climate change should be elevated above day to day horizons. It’s best viewed as a long-term, global, strategic imperative, motivated not by spurious certainty but by prudent determination to avoid taking incalculable yet potentially castastrophic risks.

  14. Jonathan Maddox


    Classic La Niña : http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/ml/ocean/sst/anom_anim.html

    Cool upwelling in eastern Pacific wind-driven west along the equator leading to pooling of warm water in the western tropical Pacific and coastal waters of south-east Asia.

    The only reason anyone could claim tropical ocean temperatures were lower than average is because of the large cool band across the eastern Pacific. That band ends exactly where Yasi began.

    Yasi originated around 26th January in the vicinity of Fiji and Tuvalu, close to 178° west, 10° south, near the boundary between blue & yellow in the animation above (meaning temperature was at the seasonal average for that location, which is rather warm already, over 28°C), and moved westwards from there into warmer waters still as it became a severe depression & cyclone. In the last couple of frames you can see a few blue blotches in Yasi’s wake … the cyclone has taken some of the warmth with it up into the atmosphere.

    “The SST anomaly field (degrees C) is the difference between the 50 km nighttime-only SST and the nighttime-only monthly mean SST climatology. The climatology is based on nighttime observations from 1984-1993, with SST observations from the years 1991 and 1992 omitted due to aerosol contamination from the eruption Mt. Pinatubo in June of 1991. ” ( http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/ml/ocean/sst.html )

    … so the baseline for “average” is only 8 years from 1984.

    Extreme weather events have always happened and always will. Climate is our perception of what normal or average means, and hence our perception of what extreme is.

    So … was Yasi as extreme as those early 20th century events, or is it becoming typical in the brave new climate?

    Only time will tell. Climatologists, meteorologists, actuaries and reinsurance companies will happily attempt to answer any forward-looking questions you may have.

  15. Captain Planet


    There was no switch to inorganic fuels.

    Coal is an organic fuel.

    Oil and all of its derivatives are organic fuels.

    What Inorganic fuel are you talking about? Uranium? I’m pretty sure that became a fuel source a long time after the Industrial Revolution.

    You are conceivably the most arrogant and obnoxious individual I have come across in Cyberspace. Your condescension and claims to be an expert on everything are positively odious. If I see you loftily offering to allow others to bask in the glory of your “knowledge” one more time, I think I might be physically ill.

    You are wasting a heap of space and others’ time on unjustified self glorification. I don’t really care how intelligent (you think) you are, despite the fact that you have wasted hundreds of words on this thread alone, extolling your own virtues.

    Please stick to the issue at hand and save the ad hominems and egotism for another forum where it is appropriate.

    So, back to the point…. are you aware of the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry?

    You see, the problem with ignorantly claiming to be an expert at everything, is that you have to be 100 % right, all the time. You would be far better off sticking to making statements of fact about things that you understand, and leave things you don’t understand to others to illuminate. Your peers would actually think MORE of you if you could bring yourself to do this.

    So what inorganic fuels were you talking about again?

  16. Captain Planet

    @ Norman,

    If you continue to stoop to childish insults this conversation is at an end. Grow up.

    I have never heard of the terms “organic” and “inorganic” fuels being “standard” terms which are “routinely used in economic history”. To give you the benefit of the doubt I have searched diligently on the internet and came up with two references:-

    1. On the talk page of wikipedia, where the erroneous use of the terms has been corrected, and
    2. Your own reference right here on Crikey at

    Funnily enough, references correctly identifying Coal and Oil as organic compounds abound.

    There IS the occasional mention of the importance of the substitution of inorganic MATERIALS for organic MATERIALS in several scholarly texts. This means raw materials such as iron, (which IS and inorganic substance) substituting for wood (which is organic). Is it possible you perused something of this kind in the course of your meanderings, and misremembered the details? Certainly seems likely to me.

    The definition of organic vs. inorganic substances has been around a long time. Frankly, I am inclined to believe that your claims to “organic and inorganic fuels” being standard terms in economic history, is a load of nonsense you made up yourself to cover your inadequate knowledge of (yet another subject) you claim to be an expert on.

  17. Norman Hanscombe

    Seaman Planet, calm down. These terms, while not how chemists might make the distinction, were used by economic historians to point to the fact that in the first industrial revolution, fuels such as wood which you could grow and were thus renewable, were replaced by fuels you could not grow, such as coal. They may well have adopted different terminology more recently, but either way, the relevant KEY points I’ve been making with regard to this (even if you have difficulty understanding it) are:

    Renewable resources were replaced by non-renewable resources.
    Without these cheaper, more efficient non-renewable resources, there wouldn’t have been the dramatic breakthroughs brought about in no small way by the industrial revolutions which have taken place.
    Non-renewable resources will run out.
    When that day approaches, our current profligate life styles won’t be able to be maintained.
    This is a problem many don’t want to face.

    I’m not surprised you never heard about how economic historians used the term, but as I gave my texts to the library in late 1974 when I was leaving for a different sort of job, you’ll have to wait until I’m near a library to find a reference for you. [[I’m sure you won’t let me forget?]] I AM surprised, by the way, that you concentrate on the trivial verbal issue of how different disciplines might use a word for different purposes, while you completely miss the main RELEVANT issue re the effects of switching from renewable to the more useful, economic, non-renewable fuels? That’s equivalent to you noticing the bathwater, but missing the baby.

    In the meantime, enjoy your dreams.

    Meski, you’re spot on re how chemistry uses those words. It reminds me why I was never happy when forced to spend time in it, and the instructor, Len Basser, showed no signs of unhappiness when I departed.

  18. Liz45

    @SYD – Like your little poem at the end of your post. It’s true too!

    @CAPTAIN PLANET – you wrote, re Norman – “You are conceivably the most arrogant and obnoxious individual I have come across in Cyberspace. Your condescension and claims to be an expert on everything are positively odious. If I see you loftily offering to allow others to bask in the glory of your “knowledge” one more time, I think I might be physically ill.

    (Thank you and David S etc. It’s not just women who he shows his juvenile behaviour to! I won’t reply these days – it just spurs him on! I find this type of person insufferable. I was married to a person like him once – control freak, arrogant and always right – the only difference is, he’d whack me around the head if I had the audacity to not ‘do as I was told’? )

    The Australian Navy knew the dangers of Asbestos in the 1920’s. There’s considerable evidence that shows, that the major Asbestos mining companies also knew about the dangers – (Asbestos-Work as A Health Hazard – ABD Radio, Background Briefing, 1977 – Matt Peacock.) but covered them up for years, as did their doctors/lawyers etc. A recent book by the same Matt Peacock called, ‘The Killer Company’ is a very good read. I thought I was conversant with James Hardie etc, but the facts in this book are confronting and educational. My mate has asbestosis which is affecting his daily life.

    Isn’t Canada still involved in the mining of asbestos? When Bush was Pres, I think his administration cut back the damages of workers who were dying from asbestos related diseases! Just another disgusting action of this ‘person’?

    @HARVEY – It would appear that Norman doesn’t have a sense of humour either, “babe” reference?

    @MESKI – Didn’t someone make the point, that there’s a difference between climate change and temperatures? Anyone must be able to recognise, that it’s the extreme weather conditions over the past years and certainly past months that just adds to the research of over 1000 scientists? What are you qualifications. I have no problem admitting, that I’m not a scientist, I didn’t study these things at school, but I listen to what these people have been saying for some time now, and I don’t want to take the chance with my grandkids’ future? I don’t have the right to ‘use up’ their future! It’s obscene!

    Last night on Q&A I heard Graham Richardson comment, that he was talking about climate change/wrote a paper on it, in 1988? I recall lots of environmental groups talking about the need to ‘get going’ with renewable energy sources – that was in the 1970’s? It was the push of the environmental vandals(multinationals) that were arguing against the need, in those days! I was involved with Friends of the Earth then!

    If only Australia had started to introduce solar then – even if only for supplying hot water then? My brother had panels on his roof – that was mid to late 60’s? His house stood out! Hardly any other homes had solar in those days. What a shameful mob of govt’s we’ve had since then?

  19. Captain Planet


    Hot water heating makes up around 25 % of household energy usage


    So I am curious as to why you feel that hot water will save “some energy, but not a lot”. A 25 % reduction is pretty significant, even if it is only household usage.

    I personally consider that for large scale CO2 mitigation, Solar Photovoltaic has a bit part to play, but it is not the main attraction. Solar thermal with heat storage, and wind generation on the other hand, are entirely capable of supplying 100 % of Australia’s (and the world’s) power needs for the foreseeable future – see the stationary energy plan here:-


    I am curious why you advocate so enthusiastically for nuclear, which is actually a non – renewable resource? Nuclear has been shown for years to be THE most expensive form of power there is.

    With power prices set to more than double in Australia by 2015, most forms of renewable energy are now going to be cost competitive in their own right, especially solar thermal, wind and biomass.

    So why nuclear? Apart from the convenience that we have 80 % of the world’s uranium :)?

  20. Norman Hanscombe

    Liz45 has to be thanked for the insight into how her (understandable) marital problems still affect what she writes. I now understand why even analysis of her beliefs is seen in a similar manner. On the other hand, she really must try to remember that SAYING you don’t respond isn’t quite the same as really not responding.

    On the other hand, her obessively emotive responses to issues do help explain how misinformed comments re asbestos sneaked into her thread? Or is it (to use the dear lady’s words) “arrogant”, “condescending”, “insufferable”, etc., etc., of me to pass comment based on nothing better than having been personally involved in the asbestos issue debate back before it became of interest to the general public?

    Meski, I wish I thought you were wrong about solar power’s potential being over-rated, because if it were the panacea some think, there’d be far less need to worry about the future; but you’re correct. I’m less optimistic than you, however, re nuclear alternatives, because these non-renewable reserves are but a stop gap measure. And that’s without the problem of emotive nutters, obsessed with denouncing it because (currently) it’s not deemed ‘progressive’ to mention nuclear power.

    Captain Planet [with re-instated rank to not upset you] I’m unclear as to which of the industrial revolutions you refer, but without the use of coal to replace such older methods as water wheels, windmills, charcoal, etc., the first industrial revolution wouldn’t have been possible. Britain had been experiencing such timber shortages that laws were enacted to prevent much of their forests being used to produce charcoal, so that the English Navy didn’t run short of wood for its ships. Until the development of coke, Sweden’s better quality iron ore and large forests had given it an advantage in steel production that it soon lost because of relatively close together, near the surface iron/coal deposits in England. As you know, since I gave away a collection of economic history texts, I can’t give you an appropriate reference — just yet.

    Oil didn’t become relevant until later, but I assume you’d already understand why that would be the case?

    I’m glad, however, that finally you’ve realised it was the rapid return of return to the atmosphere of CO2 which had been removed over millions of years as it was turned into those fossil fuels? That calls for a rousing Q.E.D. — even if, from a strictly mathematical perspective, that term might not be totally appropriate?

    Sadly your ‘interpretation’ that running out of non-renewables caused renewables to appear is nowhere near anything I’ve said. But I’m sure you did your best.

    When I have something to contribute whose significance you can understand, it’s unlikely to be worth saying it. Really.

  21. Liz45

    Norman_ (Yes I know, I’ve bitten? The asbestos issue? I listened to the series of interviews Matt Peacock had with lots of people involved in the asbestos industry in 1977 – in fact, I remember ringing in during the last program with a question about home renovations. I have the book that he compiled out of that weeklong discussion. I’ve read “Killer Company” and I’ve listened to the recent radio discussions – the last one late last year on Radio National! I recorded one and still have it, so I don’t know what aspect of this industry I’m “misinformed” about? I know several people who’ve sadly been diagnosed with asbestos illnesses. I also know, that at least one major company(apart from James Hardie) denied and lied for years – when documents revealed, that those in the leadership roles of the company knew damned well how dangerous it was.

    I also know, that if you go along the Parramatta River, you’ll probably still see areas where asbestos was dumped? (Matt Peacock – “Killer Company”) It’s almost impossible to remove it, and subsequent govts haven’t shown any inclination unless they’re forced to do so, usually due to public outcry!

    I also know, that a local school in my area was closed down for almost a year due to finding asbestos in the building. (It was built in the late 60’s early 70’s)I was also involved in a fight with the dept of housing(on behalf of a young woman with 5 kids) to have one of their houses(built from asbestos sheeting) repaired as it had holes in the walls – dangerous to health, and she was taking a new baby home! I had to get on to her State Member of parlt before I was taken seriously! The house was repaired and repainted!

    Just because someone says I’m “misinformed” doesn’t make it so! Have you read either of the books that I mentioned? Everything that I stated can be substantiated. I suggest that you educate yourself!
    And yes, I’ve wandered from my intentions – but I am knowledgeable about asbestos – each type – blue, brown and white!

  22. Norman Hanscombe

    Liz45, I shall treat your question seriously, even if I haven’t always done that in the past. If any point I make is unclear, it’s not intended, so please let me know.

    The extent to which many involved in its use grossly under-estimated the full nature of the dangers posed by these fibres (which had been around for centuries) isn’t always understood. I’m not sure, for example, that your implication the Australian Navy fully realised in 1920 how dangerous asbestos is, was warranted. More importantly [and I know from talking to Matt Peacock that he was aware of this] there were ‘progressive’ union officials who worked with James Hardies to keep details quiet. A friend who’d been a union’s State Secretary, for example, was unaware of arrangements made with the company by other officials until there was a done deal in place. There were, of course, union officers who fought hard, but were over-ruled. One, a Victorian Officer with whom I didn’t get on, nevertheless had my admiration on one issue which was how he kept raising the asbestos danger, regardless of no support coming his way. Nor were the workers themselves without blame. I gave Peacock a lead to an incident in Melbourne where (despite an intensive campaign against the dangers by the local union) in the mid 70s a union official walked into the plant and found the workers had (unbeknown to the management) actually UN-HOOKED the exhaust system extracting dust, and the air was thick with fibres.

    Sometimes (often?) a story can turn out to be more complex than we want to believe. But on asbestos, LIZ45, I can’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable, so perhaps I’m off target on some aspects.

    David Sanderson, please consider carrying out your overdue promise when you say you will not respond, as although that might be a small contribution to mankind, it would be a marvellous gesture to readers of this blog.

    Captain Planet, ditto, at least until such time as you can mount a less innocuous ‘challenge’.

    Till then, am I right in suspecting that deep down — really deep down — you two don’t always agree with me?

  23. Liz45

    @DAVID S – I know! But this is a subject that I’m well aware of, and is also close to my heart.

    @MESKI – May I suggest that you watch tonight’s Lateline re the number of accidents/incidents and other serious ‘issues’ that have plagued ANSTO, and what’s happened to the whistle blowers who got sick of being ignored – one has been working there for almost 30 years (this would include the old reactor, obviously.) Three workers have been suspended!

    My concerns have been vindicated. Imagine what would happen or could happen if this was a reactor used to produce energy? Bigger reactors, bigger problems and dangers of a huge accident. When there’s a profit margin to be protected, safety is secondary at best. All concerned, except the workers have a vested interest in lying to the public. The Federal body that oversees workplace health and safety issues has written a damning report. You can read the whole sorry saga on the website and watch the 5+minute coverage!

    @NORMAN – you wrote – “But on asbestos, LIZ45, I can’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable, so perhaps I’m off target on some aspects.”

    Yes, but you still felt that you could state thus – “her obessively emotive responses to issues do help explain how misinformed comments re asbestos sneaked into her thread?

    Have you even read either or both of the books written by Matt Peacock. If and when you read “The Killer Company” you’ll find, that yes there were politicians, including Labor ones that either ignored the dangers or worse. You’ll also find out about the so-called doctors who got into bed with the companies that were responsible for killing their workers. YOu’ll find out that Australia leads the world in the number of past deaths, but just as terrifying, future deaths – all asbestos related diseases are an agonising way to die, particularly, mesothelioma! Just horrific!

    You’ll also find, that the majority of workers were lied to, even to the extent of having their medical records tampered with. You’ll also find out, that the greatest threat to Australians now, is via home renevations and again, govts, James Hardie etc not telling people the truth. There should be a campaign of public education, but of course, nobody will sanction that, because when the public finds out they’ve been lied to, they get angry – fancy a hundred or more Bernie Bantons running loose around the country? Shock! Horror!

    The reference to the Navy was reported during the 1977 interviews/discussions and research. We weren’t told about the bags that the asbestos was stored in were later used in the making of carpets, or the many drive ways that had asbestos as the base – this included using asbestos in school yards etc or for fill! How many families are living in homes, where the carpet or the driveway is riddled with white asbestos?

    I vividly recall Matt Peacock saying, that when he had the list of workers at Witternoon, and tried to contact them, too many were either dead or dying; and sometimes their wives and/or kids were too! The number of children who have died over the years is almost too awful to think about – either via their fathers’ work, or being encouraged to play in the stuff that was left lying around! Just amazing! Aboriginal people at one place in NSW also died, as did their family members.

    Read ‘The Killer Company’ then come back and discuss. In the meantime, don’t be so offensive and arrogant about any subject! There are people who just might know as much or more than you do!

    If you put ‘asbestos’ into the search engine on Background Briefing, you’ll find that they’ve covered this subject many times over many years!

    Incidently, if all journalists in this country were as dedicated, honest and thorough as Matt Peacock, we’d all be better informed and honestly so! He’s a good man – and a damned fine journalist!

  24. Norman Hanscombe

    LIZ45, I did at least try to take you seriously. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I WAS involved in the issue before you ‘discovered’ it, and I note you haven’t presented anything to show, for example, that the Navy was aware of the extent of the dangers in 1920, or to illustrate that Peacock believed that just how pernicious asbestos can be, was known in the early days in Australia. I guess you’ll never understand why people don’t inhabit your naïve black and white world.

    Try to understand that to evaluate your modus operandi, it’s not in asbestos which one needs the expertise. Even you must be aware how much your emotions dominate your responses on any issues which motivate you? If not, check with a friend.

    I’ve read on both asbestos dangers and the history of its use, including one of Peacock’s books which, while excellent, apart from filling in detail, it had little which was completely new to me. It certainly isn’t a field in which I need your advice. It’s as you say, horrific, but I’m unconvinced your emotive approaches help much, other than perhaps to make you feel better.

    In 75 I spent time with someone I’d known years before, who was soon to die from asbestosis. He hadn’t even worked in the manufacturing section at Camellia, and yet he was doomed. Does it help him if I become emotively super-charged about it? A year later (as I’ve already told you) workers were ignoring both union warnings and management instructions, as they recklessly unhooked exhausts and flooded the factory with asbestos fibres. Of course that was tragic; but the problem was and still is, a far less simplistic one than you seem to understand. It’s fortunate you didn’t write any of those books.

    Finally, you’re absolutely right when you say, “There are people who just might know as much or more than (I) do!” Asbestos is an area in which there are many such people. But you’ll have to accept that I can see scant evidence that you’re one of them, even if I can’t match your emotive certainties. Certainties which might cause someone less charitable than I am to suggest that it’s you who could be seen as arrogant — with more than a dash of irrelevance.

  25. Liz45

    @NORMAN – Have you read the books that I referred to. Read ‘The Killer Company’? There’s more to this issue than just a conversation with Matt Peacock – his research and books are most informative. As I said, the reference to the Navy is in, ‘Asbestos – Work as a Health Hazard’! Have you read this or listened to any of the Radio National programs. I also know people with the disease, and have accompanied my mate to the Thoracic Specialist etc. I’ve been with him when he had the tests etc. I’ve spoken to a woman whose husband died from asbestos related disease, and she’s been publicly fighting for others ever since. I followed Bernie Banton’s fight with James Hardie etc, and read and listen to whatever I can.

    The original research program was on the ABC Background Briefing in 1977 – I’ve never said that I ‘owned’ the issue, nor do I believe that I know EVERYTHING about it, but I do know a damned lot. The Navy wasn’t the only ‘company’ that knew the dangers and ignored them, putting people’s lives at risk, but like James Hardie, CSR and others had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, and then some still refused to admit the dangers. Our cars used to have asbestos incorporated into the brake lining system. Some countries, including Canada are still involved in the asbestos industry – and are still killing people!

    You’ll find, just my reading ‘The Killer Company’ that there were more so-called ‘decent professionals’ who lied their heads off both in and out of Court (it wasn’t just some union leaders); kept medical information away from workers, and went to court and fought them with great malice on many occasions. There was an ingrained culture of criminal neglect. The Navy, as an employer had the same duty of care to their employees as James Hardie etc – no less! In fact, I’m sitting beside the daughter of a man(at this minute) with asbestosis, who was in the Navy for years! He has already been paid compensation for his disease.

  26. Liz45

    @MESKI – I know what ANSTO is and does. There’s no reason why such behaviours couldn’t happen in a much bigger facility that provides energy! It’s happened before – lots of times!

    The main issues of concern are;

    That this very small reactor(still functions with a reactor ‘core’) is an indication of what the owners, those in charge, govts and their employees will do in order to prevent the public knowing what is going on!

    It also clearly demonstrates that short cuts and other negligent practices will and can take place.

    What will happen to ‘whistleblowers’ – 3 have been suspended – 2 for speaking out, the other over allegations of ‘bullying’ or ???

    One of the main criticisms of nuclear power, certainly in countries like the US/Britain and Scotland are the human errors, short cuts to save money, people not trained properly re OH&S and this led to ‘leaks’ ‘human errors’ cover ups and emphasis on profits etc rather than both worker safety and the safety of the population.

    All persons concerned have a vested interest in not allowing the people to be involved/communicated with etc. There’s been a well indoctrinated view, that ‘we can’t tell the population or they’ll panic? This certainly happened re Chernobyl – from memory, there was a time line that was too long after the incident?

    I suggest you watch ‘Silkwood’ – a true story about the death of Karen Silkwood, a young woman with kids who was killed because she was going to ‘blow the lid’ off the shortcuts at a nuclear facility! This was in the 1970’s – her family received compensation!

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