The hell to high water state the Australian continent finds itself in imparts new poignancy to climate change, which many people still regard as a distant scenario.

It has long been predicted that global warming will manifest itself through a series of extreme weather events, the result of high energy cyclons generated over warming ocean water, rising air plumes over land and increasing temperature contrasts between evaporating cloud masses and continental warm air currents.

Close connections are documented between global warming trends and the increased frequency of heat waves (IPCC AR4 2007):

…In the last 50 years for the land areas sampled, there has been a significant decrease in the annual occurrence of cold nights and a significant increase in the annual occurrence of warm nights. Decreases in the occurrence of cold days and increases in hot days, while widespread, are generally less marked. The distributions of minimum and maximum temperatures have not only shifted to higher values, consistent with overall warming, but the cold extremes have warmed more than the warm extremes over the last 50 years. More warm extremes imply an increased frequency of heat waves.

Estimates based on the European heat wave of 2003 read from the instrumental record since 1851 indicate the mean summer temperature was exceeded in 2003, very likely due to anthropogenic gas emissions which doubled the risk of a heat wave exceeding the threshold magnitude.

Increased evaporation over warming seas results in cyclones, desiccated high-wind terrains become prey to fires, risks identified by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, stating:

The study is based in south-east Australia, an area projected to become hotter and drier under climate change. In south-east Australia, since 1950: (1) rainfall has decreased; (2) droughts have become more severe; (3) the number of extremely hot days has risen. A key finding of this study is that an increase in fire-weather risk is likely at most sites in 2020 and 2050, including the average number of days when the Forest Fire Danger Risk rating is very high or extreme.

Recognizing the risk, the Victorian Premier Brumby is planning a Royal Commission which may yet raise question regarding the ridiculous carbon emission targets nominated by the Rudd-Wong-Garrett Government, with potential differences reminiscent of the Schwarzenegger-Bush climate change conflict.

In view of similar fire hazards in California, where drought, heat, electrical storms and 60-year-old forest-management policies have all contributed to a threat of fire that exists every moment for residents of the most populous U.S. state. Firefighters are currently battling three wind-whipped blazes that have burned hundreds of homes near Los Angeles.

The rate of natural disasters, including floods, storms, heat waves, cold waves and droughts increased by about three-fold from 1950-1970 to 1985-2000, with economic losses up to $120 billion per year in 1995.

Climate experts from across the world will gather in Copenhagen next month to agree to a stark message to policy makers, which they hope will break the political deadlock on efforts to curb rising temperatures.

The meeting follows “disturbing” studies that suggest global warming could strike harder and faster than expected. The evidence in hand suggests the time tables for climate change are now telescoped, from centuries, to decades and even multi-year scale.

Peter Fray

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