Bureaucrats, scientists, special interest groups and academics keen on making a dollar from disaster have discovered a new scam lately. They’ve started warning of “one in a hundred year” events – droughts, floods and fires.
It’s great for the pen pushers. They rock up to their ministers with a warning about one in a hundred year events and they’re guaranteed to get their dough. Their masters know it’s great for them, too. They’re guaranteed a good run in the media. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the greatest maxim of Australian journalism. Hypothetical disasters are great to cover. There are no nasty facts to get in the way and you don’t need to leave your desk.
Unfortunately, one of our leading historians has come along to rain on the drought. Geoffrey Blainey has offered his thoughts on the situation in his home state of Victoria.
“We forget that farming is almost a crisis industry,” he writes. He offers a historian’s perspective on the weather in the Herald Sun:
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We are told, again and again, that Australia’s annual rainfall is now the lowest in its history.
This is nonsense. Reliable nation-wide rainfall records only go back to 1900. What was Australia’s worst year for rainfall since then?
The worst year was 1902, followed by 1905. Victoria suffered severely from that Federation Drought, prevailing from about 1894 to 1902…
That drought came to an end, but it hovered. In Victoria, the whole era from 1890 to 1945 was relatively dry.
It was then followed by a wetter era running for at least 30 years.
He also offers some perspectives on politicians:
Part of the present concern, and even desperation, comes from our own failures, especially in state politics. By 1980, we had inherited a great network of reservoirs. After that we rarely added to them, though the population grew and the irrigated acres expanded.
The severity of the drought, in short the scarcity of reservoir water, is partly our own fault. How did this strange trend happen?
It’s a simple story. The people in NSW, SA and Victoria, who had known the terrible Federation Drought and the subsequent dry years, wisely resolved to dam water, at heavy expense…
From the 1930s to the 1970s, the governments built new dams and enlarged old dams on an impressive scale. The water dammed in Victoria was quickly multiplied scores and scores of times and more.
There was one hitch. We all wanted very cheap water and we got away with it.
Consumption of water in rural and urban areas leapt.
As a result, the new and old reservoirs were half-emptied more quickly than they should have been…
Blainey is correct. Much of our present situation with water is due to the failure of state politicians to invest in infrastructure.
Ironically, much of the problem is also due to their failure to send a proper price signal to consumers, too – to put a cost on water that would lower consumption, lower demand for infrastructure but also provide funds that could help pay for its appropriate expansion.
But it’s much easier for politicians and parasites on the public purse to talk of one in a hundred year events. No-one is to blame for them – but they require urgent spending. Now.