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Jan 18, 2011

Climate change ... where it fits into the Queensland disaster

Premier Anna Bligh’s Royal Commission and media coverage appears to have given little, if any, explicit consideration of the role of climate change, writes journalist Graham Readfearn.


As Queenslanders continue to wade through the mud, Premier Anna Bligh has started the process of finding answers in the aftermath of the floods by calling a commission of inquiry, but the wide-ranging terms of reference appear to have given little, if any, explicit consideration of the role of climate change.

This is a strange omission, given that only three months ago the state published its latest assessment of the potential impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is also likely to affect extreme rainfall in south-east Queensland,” the report said, adding that “a projected decrease in rainfall across most of Queensland, the projected increase in rainfall intensity could result in more flooding events.”

Among the terms is a request to the commission to make recommendations to improve the “preparation and planning for future flood threats and risks”, particularly when it comes to saving lives.

Last year Queensland had its wettest year on record, but the spring period leading up to the flooding in the Rockhampton and Bundaberg areas and then in Brisbane, was exceptional. The state got 248 millimetres of rainfall — almost triple the statewide long-term average.

A separate Queensland government report into rainfall intensity, commissioned to provide advice to policy makers on inland flooding risks, also agreed that “the available scientific literature indicates this increased rainfall intensity to be in the range of 3%–10% per degree of global warming.”

But if these are the risks for Queensland it doesn’t necessarily implicate climate change in the line-up of suspects likely to be paraded before the public in coming months.

Several climate scientists are already discussing the role of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and how it impacts extreme weather events.

Dr David Jones, head of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, says there will be “a healthy scientific debate in the next few years about the point when the probability of an event was so implausibly small before climate change”.

“The signal-to-noise ratio is so high,” says Dr Jones, referring to the difficulty in picking out the climate change influence among the natural variability of weather and climate.

“The general view is that this is one of the strongest La Nina we have had in modern history where we have data going back to the early 1900s.

“The ocean temperatures last year were the highest on record and we know the oceans around Australia are warming quite quickly and that’s the fuel for the storms and rain events. In 2010 we had the highest humidity on record and July to October was our wettest ever.”

Dr Jones adds: “We have got extreme natural variability in La Nina which makes things confused, but we are seeing signatures of global warming in the climate system over Australia. We have the highest sea-surface temperatures on record with high humidity.

“The potential intensity of rainfall goes up with rising humidity. When people estimate what the likely maximum rainfall that can occur, one variable is the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. That’s well established.”

Professor Matthew England, co-director of University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, is reluctant to explicitly apportion any of the flood crisis to climate change.

But he stresses that “to exclude climate change would be premature”.

Earlier this week, he told Reuters: “I think people will end up concluding that at least some of the intensity of the monsoon in Queensland can be attributed to climate change. The waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon.”

Speaking to Crikey, Professor England explained the waters to the north of Australia have warmed by about 0.5 degrees over the past 50 years.

Those waters are currently about 1.5 degrees warmer than average, he said, so it’s likely that about a third of this warming is due to long-term ocean temperature increases, the remainder due to the normal La Nina cycle.

“The warmth of the waters north of Australia drive our summer monsoon system via evaporation — the warmer the oceans are the greater the resulting moisture content of the atmosphere. In short, a warmer ocean north of Australia means increased monsoon rains.”

Professor England added that over the next 20-30 years, it was predicted that this same ocean region would warm by a further half a degree.

Professor Will Steffen, the science adviser to the Federal Department of Climate Change, has announced he will compile a report on the floods for the Gillard government’s multiparty climate change committee, of which he is a member.

One of Australia’s leading climate researchers, Professor Neville Nicholls, of Monash University and president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, told Crikey that in terms of the impact of climate change on Queensland floods “the simple answer is that we really don’t know”.

He agrees that the core driver of the deluge was the strong La Nina system. “The question is, is [climate change] exacerbating this? I would dearly like to find the answer to that.

“The IPCC has been projecting for a long time that as we get more warming we will get increased heavy rainfall.”

He said not enough studies had been done to have confidence about the role of climate change in single extreme weather events occurring now.

He added: “We should not confuse low confidence to mean that this is not happening. There are good grounds for believing that the warming is already affecting climate and things like heavy rainfall.”

Professor Ron Cox, of the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “The recent flood events in Queensland are a clear indication of the need for improved planning to adapt future development for our settlements and infrastructure. With expanding settlements, extreme weather resulting in emergency situations can be expected to become more frequent with higher temperatures and climate change.”

Dr Caroline Sullivan, associate Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy at Southern Cross University, added climate scientists around the world agreed that “extreme events are a likely outcome arising from climate change”.

She said: “There is currently so much evidence from across the world that global weather patterns are changing, it is not difficult to find many examples of extreme events.

“Let us once and for all learn from this, that climate change is real, and we must act now in a concerted fashion, before nature wreaks further havoc on our pitiful attempts to control it.”


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54 thoughts on “Climate change … where it fits into the Queensland disaster

  1. roscarel

    Q. Why has the term ‘Global Warming” been changed to “Cimate Change”?
    A. Evidence shows the wotld is actually cooling.

    Climate change is real and it began thousands of years ago.

  2. mattsui

    Well done, a balanced and well written article.
    No doubt there will be more flooding in the future.
    Beginning tomorrow with the usual flood of denialist ranting in Crikey’s very own comments ‘n’ c-ups.

  3. Roger Clifton

    Professor England said “a third of this [recent SST] warming is due to long-term ocean temperature increases”.

    That is still pretty serious, when you consider that the top third of the flood water went through your house, the middle third paused in Wivenho Dam, and the remainder went down the river “as normal”.

  4. peter jonson

    If the world really is cooling Roscarel – then shouldn’t we be emitting more CO2 to try and keep the planet habitable?

    I recall we had the issue of “Global Cooling” in the 1970s. How these things constantly changed has got me bamboozled. Is it true that climate was static before the Industrial Age?

  5. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Roscarel, I’m glad you’ve found some thing called a “wotld” and some ‘evidence’ about it. Otherwise I might have felt the need to write you off as a climate change sceptic or worse, a denialist. How can you possibly know what began “thousands of years ago” when you are in denial of what happened a fortnight back?

  6. Flower

    @ Roscarel: A. “Evidence shows the wotld is actually cooling.”

    Well no there is no evidence to show that the world is cooling.

    The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the National Climatic Data Centre advised that:

    “For 2010, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature tied with 2005 as the warmest such period on record and above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). 1998 is the third warmest year-to-date on record, at 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average.”

  7. rodholesgrove

    As far as I am aware Crikey is the only Australian media outlet that has run a serious article on the relationship between the Queensland floods and climate change.

    It seems that it is just not the ‘done thing’ to raise this issue. Barnaby Joyce was recently quoted as saying that to mention the possible relationship would be to “piss people off”. In today’s Canberra Times their political correspondent Ross Peake had an article on Bob Brown’s suggestion that the Coal industry as a contributor to global warming should help pay for the flood damage. Peake suggested that this was a “tasteless” comment, but did not say why.

    As the Crikey article noted the Queensland Government flood inquiry will not look at this relationship.

    Both the State and Federal Governments have been silent on the issue.

    If Governments are not prepared to address this issue then what is the point of doing anything about climate change?

  8. stephen martin

    An interesting article on climate models in the latest edition of New Scientist for those interested ib the subject – well worth a read.

  9. nicolino

    I would like to ask Roscarel where his evidence is that the globe is cooling?Nothing I have read on the subject supports that one.

  10. Roger Clifton

    The President of AMOS has been made to sound as if meteorologists are uncertain about the influence of climate change, although he was trying to answer about this event. A climate expert would be wise to answer a posed question about the cause of a specific event with a prepared answer about the general trend.

    And when a BOM scientist says, “The signal-to-noise ratio is so high”, it is politically strangled talk for “the conclusion is blindingly obvious, you drongo”. We have to remember that these guys have been forbidden to say anything that could be interpreted as a recommendation on policy, such as, “retreat from the sea!”, or “run for your lives!”.

  11. Pinklefty

    Climate change is real. However, the existence and nature of a global long-term trend, as opposed to a short-term aberration, is yet to be established. Rather than dig over the Mediaeval Warm Period, or the much wetter Australia of ten thousand years ago, or the lower ocean levels of that period, or the pernicious influence of fossil fuels, it seems to me to be far more practical to focus on dealing with the sudden appearance of large volumes of water where they may reasonably be expected (rivers, flood plains, etc.). The knowledge that the latest disaster should only be a once-per-century phenomenon is of little comfort to those hit by it.

    Climate change is an unwarranted complication in the present context. The various professors quoted above have been careful to leave themselves escape routes, although I like Neville Nicholls’ honesty: “The simple answer is that we really don’t know.” While we are waiting for a useful answer we may as well stick to civil engineering solutions that will work with, or without, climate change.

  12. Kerry Lovering

    The Bureau of Meteorology chart reveals the number and heights of previous floods in Queensland dating from 1841 and in particular the 1893 flood. Mitigation efforts have reduced the more recent floods to reasonable levels until this one.

    But the real problem is the development of towns and houses on flood plains.
    This is where man made damage is at fault. Nothing to do with carbon dioxide.
    And the insurance companies know this.

  13. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Pink Lefty, you suggest that a “global long term trend is yet to be established.” Isn’t climate science saying that anthropogenic sources are adding so much CO2 and equivalents that global warming and climate change are an inevitable result? As the human population increases and that population’s emissions increase, as they are doing, a LONG TERM TREND IS ESTABLISHED? I don’t know which planet you reside on but on this planet climate is REALLY real and there’s hardly any argument left. Yet still you say,”we may as well stick to civil engineering solutions that will work with, or without, climate change”. So, another coal-fired power station and another dam? Is that your civil engineering solution?

  14. John Bennetts

    QUOTE: “The signal-to-noise ratio is so high,” says Dr Jones, referring to the difficulty in picking out the climate change influence among the natural variability of weather and climate.

    Dear Doctor, the signal-to-noise ratio is actually low, not high. Otherwise, the remainder of your sentence would be nonsense. The signal of climate change is the small thing. The variability of weather events is the noise.

  15. Pinklefty

    Hugh McColl, in the context I employed the terms, “short-term” refers to a couple of hundred years and “long-term” refers to a few thousand years. Geologically, this is reasonable. Long-term trends in the sun’s activity are unknown (and probably unknowable) and carbon dioxide is a form of plant food to which plants readily respond. There is considerable scientific evidence to suggest that this planet has been much warmer in the distant past when there were no humans to disturb anything.

    I cannot see how another coal-fired power station will help anything here, but another dam could well be useful as a flood mitigation device. You may consider building restrictions and construction criteria too. These and other options can all be implemented in this country with a minimum of fuss and concrete results.

    Exactly what approach to A.G.W. (or any other form of global warming) that is likely to work do you think this country can realistically undertake? Copenhagen gave a good indication of how international co-operation is likely to work.

    As I said before, climate change is an unwarranted complication in the present context.

  16. AR

    @ROSCAREL – a lot of skeptics (I use the Septic spelling ask it is those RWDBs whom you parrot) raise this non question. It was Shrub Senior’s flacks who kkept pushing the term ‘change’ insted of the morehhhonest ‘warming’. He was Clinton’s delegate (WTF?!) to the Rio conference in the mid90s who gave us the immortal reasoning (sic!) – “the amerikan lifestyle is not subject to negotiation”. So shove it.
    Where is Tamas, arguing black is white on a flat earth when we need a laugh?

  17. LisaCrago

    WTF…”it’s likely that about a third of this warming is due to long-term ocean temperature increases, the remainder due to the normal La Nina cycle.”

    La Nina is established weather science that fully explains the big wet we are having atm.

    NOT FACT … “it is likely”…bla bla….” about a third…long tern ocean temps”… bla bla…..assuptions based on untested theory

    I think I will stick with the hard science re Southern Oscillation index that La Nina = flooding rain and El Nino = drought
    this has occured at 3 – 7 yr intervals for over 300 years and in extream forms as far back as 10 000 years.
    It is a CLIMATE PATTERN. Proof of a weather pattern not some untested global warming doom and gloom that people are getting funding for and making political milage out of it… The Great Global Warming Swindle
    Ask your little green hearts this. if we have a carbon tax will this weather pattern change for the better and save us all…….of course it bloody well will not.

  18. Flower

    Yes well Queensland had its wettest December on record and it will be interesting to read of the January results. Anthropogenic climate change or not, our eminent scientists should be educating the public on anthropogenic toxic soup runoffs from mine sites. That may jolt the public into reality when they realise that THEY will pay for the remediation of off-site pollution (and very often on-site pollution too as history has proven!)

    No doubt and as we write, toxic wastes from mine sites ( managed by self-regulated hit and run carbon cowboys) are mobilised in Queensland from the flooding, creating hazardous groundwater plumes, contaminating aquifers and potentially the GBR.

    How many tailings dams in Queensland over-flowed during the floods mobilising cyanide and heavy metals? How many fly ash storage ponds overflowed – washed away to contaminate ecosystems , humans and animals? How many tonnes of sulphuric acid polluted streams and rivers and slaughtered fish, flora and aquatic animals?

    They say ten tonnes of dirt are excavated for every tonne of coal. How many tonnes of mine sludge is there in the mud mix?

    Why exclude anthropogenic pollution from A/climate change? One does not need an escape route when one believes that all things are bound together, that all things connect.

    The most environmentally damaging industries in 2008 were utilities; oil and gas producers and industrial metals and mining according to a UN’s report. Those three accounted for an estimated trillion dollars worth of environmental harm for the year. Who will pick up the tab for environmental remediation? “Not us” says the grim reapers. “Not us” says the climate sceptics and industry shills including the silly moo writing above this post who jabbers on about “extream (sic) forms as far back as 10 000 years.”

  19. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Lisacrago, I take it that you think it is a waste of time and money to reduce the amount of CO2 and equivalents that humans pump into the atmosphere? You aren’t clear about this because you also state that you’ll stick with the hard science. The hard science says that atmospheric CO2 is constantly increasing (because humans burn so much carbon and reduce so much global forest cover) and therefore constantly exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Do you agree or have we parted company already?
    One way of reducing CO2 output is to interfere with the economic levers (a completely unscientific activity conducted by politicians and their advisors) to make non-carbon-burning electricity supplies more competitive. A carbon tax instantly provides that interference. Will a slow down or even a plateauing of atmospheric CO2 produce a measurable change in daily weather, let alone global climate, in our lifetimes? Not likely. But perhaps it will give our grandchildren a shot at a decent life.

  20. Ian

    There is one denier here who seems to know a tremendous amount about the El Nino affect going back 10 000 years but next to nothing about climate change. Good on her (I presume)… spent a lifetime studying it have we?

    The deniers comments on this article confirm what I for a long time thought would happen… that is as more and more actual physical evidence builds up that climate change is occurring as predicted (melting glaciers, North Sea, Greenland and Antarctic ice melting, fires in Victory and Russia preceded by consecutive days of record high temperatures in those areas and record floods in Eastern Australia, Pakistan etc) the claim is made that its all part of a natural cycle and not our own doing.

    And don’t forget we’ve only had about 1 degree of average global warming to contend with and there’s a lot more to come. We are doing nothing about that or about any other environmental issue facing us. No number of dams and other expensive engineering solutions are going to get us out of the mess we are in.

  21. LisaCrago

    No Hugh, it is impossible in the geopolitical climate that the world operates in. A carbon tax in Australia will make no difference. Have you been to China lately?

    and for the simpletons like Ian that like to frame the debate like an argument about God…ie use emotive words like denialists, put them selves in the corner and close their eyes to the many many elements both on earth and in our solar system that have a direct effect on our weather patters. It is the fundermentalist AGW advocates with blinkers on that are a real threat to the future of the planet. If carbon did not burn tomorrow do you think the weather would always stay the same? Foolish.

    What is a far bigger threat to the future of the planet is warfare, not the weather, for nature always has and always will serve up the unexpected.

    I deplore people banging their own political AGW drums while bodies are being burried. Shame on you all.

  22. John Bennetts

    If Lisacrago so dislikes the sound of other people’s drums, then why is she giving her own drum such a beating?

  23. Ian


    What, is a “little green heart” may I ask? Presumably not something very complimentary it would seem. If those who see the environmental problems facing our civilization as dire and possibly terminal are, as you say, “little green hearts”, then what are those who stick their heads in the sand and deny it all I wonder? And I mean deny, not question.

    Yes wars are a problem and they will certainly not abate as climate change and resource shortages of all sorts get more severe.

    And if a carbon tax or charge which is a better term for it (being an attempt to put a price on a very real cost being borne by society as a whole but incurred by the emitters) is levied in Australia it may very well have an effect close to zero if the US and its other allies plus developing countries don’t do something themselves, but it has some chance at least of others doing the same. Doing nothing has no chance at all.

    And China; I pity them because they have less than a quarter of the per capita income Australians have. And they are unlikely ever to catch us up either as there are just not enough resources and sinks on this planet to allow them to live as we do. Also China is doing far, far more than we are to tackle the problem and at the same time develop their own renewable energy manufacturing capabilities.

    Did you know that the US is either taking or considering taking China to the WTO because of subsidies it is making available to renewable manufacturers? (I’m not 100% sure of the exact facts here so perhaps someone can expand on this story.)

  24. Flower

    @ LisaCrago “I deplore people banging their own political AGW drums while bodies are being burried (sic). Shame on you all.”

    Errr…. would that be pot – kettle?

    And while Australia mourns for the recently deceased LisaCrago, show some respect for the passing of 40,000 Europeans who were “burried” as a result of a heatwave in 2003 – particularly in France where the heatwave claimed over 14,000 victims.

    And a report published in 2009, by Jim Reeves from the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute for Sustainable Resources stated that the heatwave of early 2009 was responsible for more than 400 deaths in Melbourne and Adelaide, excluding bushfire victims.

    “At the end of the event, both in Melbourne and Adelaide, the morgues were full – they were at capacity and overflowing,” reported Jim Reeves.

    And consider this, oh ye who speaks with forked tongue. There will be very few jobs on a dead planet and none for those wearing the lepers’ bell, shilling for big carbon polluters for the world shall remember them when it’s every nation for itself.

  25. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Lisacrago, you say it is “impossible” to make a carbon tax work in the current global geopolitical environment. What you mean is that it is difficult for small players to make a difference when big players aren’t in the game.
    I say there are parts of the game where we are the only players who will ever be present and the only ones to benefit – one being the internal carbon account for Australia. I don’t need to go to China or the USA to understand how Australia and its citizens need to begin now to make the fairly major changes which we know for absolute certain we need to make.
    We know we are going to make these changes but we are stuck with inertia. We (including you Lisa) think it is impossible, too hard, not fair, whatever for Australia to do something, anything at all, without a cast iron guarantee that China, the USA and other “big emitters” will do the same or more at exactly the same time. Well, get over it. China is already doing its own thing which will reap it huge benefits while the idle rich here (ie. all of us) procrastinate.
    The rebuilding of flood-ravaged Brisbane, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Gympie, country Queensland, Northern Rivers NSW and now country Victoria is a perfect opportunity. Instead of refurnishing 50,000 houses with shiploads of the same China-manufactured stuff from Harvey Norman and A Mart etc (with or without GST) where’s the plan to reassert some semblance of manufacturing in Australia? Tied to renewables? Tied to sustainable planning?
    Bang on a carbon tax now and get the changes made while half the population is wallowing in self pity.

  26. George Mason

    After 1000 of years of warming since the last major Ice Age and 250 years of warming since the coldest period of the Little Ice Age it won’t be surprising if there is another small amount of warming over the next 50 years regardless of the net effect of fossil fuel burning after allowing for the effects of water vapour and clouds.

    But let’s stop the idiotic prattling about it making sense for Australia to stop burning or exporting carbon based fuels except to a fraction of one per cent of Australians who are natural ascetics and hair shirt wearers. There is nothing Australia can do or say to affect what China, India and the US do to our climate (if anything).

    It seems like common sense to suppose that more energy (because more heat) in our atmosphere is likely to intensify major weather events like cyclones but so what? Let’s plan to make the best of something we can’t stop or control.

  27. John Bennetts

    George Mason is one of those who, by ignoring the evidence, has made his contribution to the debate about anthropogenic climate change irrelevant. He brings neither understanding nor rational suggestions.

    Much as I do not really wish to do so, I have come to the opinion that some folk are simply too deluded to be worthy of an argument. Far better to just step around them and carry on, somewhat as one would step around a dog t_rd which is on the path in front of you.

    No hard feelings, George. It’s just that your position and my destination are at odds.

    BTW, it is in no way “idiotic prattling” to suggest that Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal, should reconsider this trade and its effect on the global climate. My position is that such a review is appropriate as a step towards ensuring that our collective actions, as a nation, are not detrimental to the common good of mankind and of the biosphere.

  28. LisaCrago

    I am commenting on Readfearn’s article in which he attempts to use the current floods as proof of the theory of AGW.
    It is too soon to be pushing ones own political arguments while we bury the dead.

    I will openly argue the differences in theory on the many things that lead to changes in weather pattens with people who have open minds, not those who jump to emotive assumptions and call me a ‘denier’ (wtf) .
    and only do so in what I consider to be the right time and place.
    I do not believe that carbon trading is THE ANSWER to all the worlds problems.

    Ian, China really is a worry, they are already controling most of Africa….they are unstoppable, I use the phase ‘little green hearts’ mostly when referring to the Urban ‘greenie’ who does things like buy expensive ‘fairtrade’ sh*t from overseas instead of supporting local industry and think that they are saving the planet by cutting and pasting other peoples work from too many websites to make an argument for anything and arrogantly think they have THE ANSWER and solution to all the worlds problems while hiding behind an imported computer, they love to talk the talk but can’t walk the walk. Me, I ran away from home to save the rainforest about 30+ years ago, and really get the sh*ts when someone votes green and think that is all they have to do to save the planet.
    got it?

    Australia always has had and always will have droughts and flooding rains.

  29. Ian

    GM, I doubt “making the best of something we can’t stop or control” is going to do it – at least as far as future generations are concerned and probably some who are already alive today. Australia is behind and not in front of the rest of the world in its efforts to mitigate climate change. As I have already noted, it is better to try and fail than not try at all – a course that will certainly lead to failure.

    Then there is the question of values. If you don’t care a hoot about the consequences of your own actions to the lives of others, then why not just carry on polluting as normal?

    Australia should be extremely grateful that the rest of the world, in fact, did not think this way and acted to bring down production of the ozone depleting gases – their sacrifices have made our lives a little easier.

    If there is idiotic prattling going on perhaps you should read the post by George Mason – a prime example.

  30. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Lisacrago, you assert that you “…really get the sh*ts when someone votes green and think that is all they have to do to save the planet.” You are pushing a political argument, no?
    But didn’t you say that, “…It is too soon to be pushing ones own political arguments while we bury the dead.” Typical.

  31. Fitz

    @ John Bennetts

    What’s the evidence that George Mason has been “ignoring the evidence”. You give none. Many people I hear with varying degrees of authority on scientific and other relevant matters would agree with him as far as he has gone in that post. And…


    Isn’t George Mason presenting himself with clear values? I.e the typically Australian utilitarian pragmatist. He says we will do no good to our climate, or anyone else’s, by cutting our CO2 emissions even if the IPCC science is right, but, at least by implication, if we are richer we can do more to help ourselves and others who suffer from a warming world. I’m with him. He’s a far more practical altruist than you appear to be. As the world has taken practically no steps of any measurable significance (or likely future signficance on any rational calculation) to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere I don’t know why you think it worthwhile to say that the rest of the world is ahead of us.

    I’m not sure why you think the achievements over ozone are such a big deal when there are thousands of instances of action taken around the world that has benefited all whether compelled by international agreements or just shared self interest. If India and China and the US could be induced to cut greenhouse gas emissions drastically it would probably be a good thing but we have already seen how ridiculous PM Rudd looked at Copenhagen when he apparently took seriously the idea that rulers with responsibility for billions of people are going to take notice of what Australia does or says. If the oceans really do rise then we may be able to help our neighbours, and Bangladeshis, if we are rich enough to look after our aging population, make more well-meaning fruitless efforts to fix Aboriginal disadvantage, support our own feckless and still have something over for those suffering from a warming world.

  32. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Fitz, what George Mason wrote was: “Let’s plan to make the best of something we can’t stop or control.” You are ‘with him’ because you reckon he’s a practical altruist. Deckhands on the Titanic eh?
    There were probably practical altruists on Easter Island once. They probably had difficulty seeing how appeasing the gods or their leaders by cutting down all the trees was not sustainable. They probably thought someone (or thing) would rescue them from their folly. George Mason knows that human burning of fossil fuels is raising atmospheric CO2 beyond naturally occurring variability. He knows what that does to the greenhouse effect and therefore to climate. He knows, and you agree, that things would be more ‘controllable’ if only there could be a “drastic” reduction in that CO2 level. But he’s “practical” because he ‘s sure that humans can’t get it together to globally manage their behaviour. You agree with him. That’s practical altruism.
    You watched Kevin Rudd and the rest stumble at the first serious attempt at global agreement. There will be more stumbles. You and George are content with your altruism because you are in fact selfish. You think the ship’s going down and you don’t want to correct the mistake which is causing it – because you think it’s too hard. You’d rather grab a front row seat and watch while others apply that correction. You could easily be sitting on your arses in the way.

  33. Fitz

    @ Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Rational and, indeed, sound scientific, thinking these days is largely probabilistic. Does it not strike you that the chances of anything Australia does or says affecting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in 10,20, 30,40 or 50 years time in a way which is of any significance to our own climate related welfare or the climate related welfare of any other people is of the order of fractions of one per cent at most? Have you ever seen any evidence which suggests otherwise? If so, chapter and verse please, or maybe you would indicate your willingness to put your money where your opinions are an offer a large bet – which I would almost certainly take.

    So, what money do you invest in doing what, including large climate specific diplomatic teams in countries all over the world (contrary to Kevin Rudd’s cutting of our diplomatic representation abroad) based on having a one in two hundred chance of achieving something useful in some (and what) degree? Surely we should rationally start with saving all the money average households are paying to subsidise wind farms (which are additionally negative in their economic impact if you count the external diseconomies from the blighting of historic properties and landscapes) and solar power generation.

    Richer people and richer countries can do more in using known technology and known engineering and other solutions to problems that might result from continued warming of the atmosphere. And if it turns out that CO2 is not the major cause (but just a minor or modest contributing cause) we will have saved even more money which can be better used.

  34. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Fitz, you and George are completely content to leave the carbon issue the way it is. You think it’s a waste of time to do anything at all. You actually wrote that it would be useful to drastically reduce CO2 but you don’t intend to follow up in any way. In fact you think “… Richer people and richer countries can do more in using known technology and known engineering and other solutions to problems that might result from continued warming of the atmosphere.” Fitz, we are the richest people, in a very rich country. We also happen to be the most extravagantly indulgent carbon abusers in the world. Every single one of us can make minor, painless contributions. We don’t need the Chinese or the Americans to show us how.
    But nothing we do now is going to stop sea level rise in our lifetimes. Nothing. Maybe our grandchildren will be around to see sea level rise taper off. Maybe. But if you and George do nothing and I and 21 million other Australians do nothing (except wait for some clever engineering or spiritual salvation), we can be certain that our grandchildren will watch runaway sea level rises. A metre above current sea level will require some very serious adaptation – much more than you and George are apparently prepared to make. If you are really worried about the blighting of historic properties and landscapes (which I doubt) think about those riverfront properties in Brisbane or harbourside properties in Sydney when sea level has risen a metre. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

  35. John Bennetts

    @ Fitz, Posted Friday, 21 January 2011 at 10:44 am.

    Fitz demands that I “provide the evidence that George Mason has been ‘ignoring the evidence'”.

    I do not propose to even start to play this game. Fitz and George, by taking their seats at the bow of the Titanic in order to view close up the inevitable crash have removed themselves from rational discussion.

    To clarify my position: I am so sure that anthropogenic climate change is a real and present threat to the earth as we know it, that I have decided not to waste my time and effort trying to convince naysayers, who are welcome to do whatever they choose to do. I propose to do whatever I choose to do in response, including to ignore, to challenge, to heckle and to simply “run over the b_stards” as so famously was said by a NSW Premier 30+ years back.

    In 30+ years from now, I imagine that there will be many people agreeing with me and wishing that others had adopted a similar stance.

    Fitz, George and those like them are now simply impediments and onlookers and are not participants in any realistic way in the debate which must be had, which is: How best to manage the future climate and livability of our world, for all species.

  36. LisaCrago

    nice try hugh but no cigar re:

    “Lisacrago, you assert that you “…really get the sh*ts when someone votes green and think that is all they have to do to save the planet.” You are pushing a political argument, no?
    But didn’t you say that, “…It is too soon to be pushing ones own political arguments while we bury the dead.” Typical.”

    It was a direct answer to Ian’s question, who asked what I ment with the pharse ‘little green heart’.
    some people like to make an artform out of misrepresentation, you really need more practice mate.

  37. Ian


    Voting green is the LEAST we can do to save the planet, certainly not all. But as noted by others, it’s really a waste of time debating with so-called “altruists” of the right as one of you lot implied you lot were. There is really no such thing as an altruist right-winger.

  38. Fitz

    @Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    If there is a metre rise in average sea level in the next 60 years because of atmospheric warming from whatever causes I think my grandchildren, being Australians, will thank me most for any efforts I have made to ensure that we haven’t wasted money or futile efforts at mitigation and for learning from the Dutch about coping with serious threats from sea levels above the neighbouring land.

    @ John Bennetts

    If it is true that “I am so sure that anthropogenic climate change is a real and present threat to the earth as we know it,” you are being irresponsible if you don’t seek to convince people to share your faith and also to accept, by rational argument in terms relevant to their values, that the measures you think Australians should take should be made government policy. You are irresponsible because in an already sceptical America fewer and fewer people are expressing concern about AGW and Australia seems to be following suit. Truly distinguished scientists, e.g. a Kyoto Prize winner to name one, and a former Director of the Woods Hole Institute for another, express deep scepticism about the sort of enthusiastic faith you have expressed. You owe it to your cause and those likely to be affected if you are right to make your arguments convincingly. For my part I haven’t seen anything very persuasive concerning the IPCC’s 6 or 7 seriously different models that makes me believe they have an empirical basis for believing that the necessary positive water vapour feedback is sufficient to justify their more alarming forecasts. And still no one has attempted to explain the Roman or Medieval Warm Periods, the drying up of the Great Lakes or the droughts which destroyed the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Yet you want me to believe that some scientists who were never the smart ones in their classes but got on to James Hansen’s bandwagon circa 1988 have answers sufficiently persuasive to justify your arrongant assertive attitude.

  39. Fitz


    “There is really no such thing as an altruist right-winger.” From which it is reasonable to infer that you class yourself as a leftwinger and as morally superior to anyone clearly to the right of centre (by some definition that I would ask about but for wanting to keep things sufficiently simple). That being so, what are the characteristics or attributes that qualify one to the superior status of one who may indeed be altruistic, a left-winger indeed?

  40. John Bennetts

    @ Fitz, Posted Friday, 21 January 2011 at 10:50 pm.

    Fitz, you are wasting your time and effort trying to wave spurious arguments around re climate change, or not. My position is clear: Get out of the way or get run down. Firstly, I owe nothing to you or to a “cause” of your nomination. My argument is simply that I have decided not to argue. As far as I am concerned, there is no need to doubt the basic tenets that global climate change is due primarily to increased release of CO2 and that this is the result of human activity, principally burning of fossil fuels.

    The argument is over. The future of our planet lies not in further nitpicking, but in action no reduce fossil fuel usage.


  41. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Fitz, what exactly did you learn from the Dutch that might be applied at, say, Brisbane or Sydney? You don’t mean a levee do you?

  42. Flower

    Yep – that’s right Fitz and more than 1,200 authors and 2,500 scientific expert reviewers from more than 130 countries who contribute to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report agree with John Bennetts. Furthermore, 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of anthropogenic climate change. That leaves an abysmal 3% on the losers’ side – tsk tsk.

  43. Fitz

    @ John Bennetts

    Don’t you have someone close to you who might mention the incipience of grandiosity? I thought people who spoke with that grand certainty and unwillingness to argue usually had to compete with many others claiming the status of Pople or Napoleon. But you have left open one question. What action are you taking to reduce fossil fuel usage or, if somehow modesty has intruded, what action are you urging on someone with all the scientific, political and personal nous of Kevin Rudd to cause a reduction in the use of fossil fuel which can be calculated to make a significant difference to our or anyone’s future welfare?

    @ Flower

    I refer only to your main departure from relevance. None of what you say, even if true in detail and in substance, would prove that it made sense for Australia to engage in its expensive subsidies for alternative energy or to curtail its use of export of coal at least until there was some credible evidence that others would do enough to make a real difference.

    And that is being charitable about your knowledge of what the IPCC and its supporters and contributors say. There is a great deal of disagreement amongst them, as the recent Royal Society review has emphasised; and the six or seven IPCC models are so ludicrously different in their construction and predictions that they make your average financial consultant who solemnly tells you which companies give you the best economic value added sound credible.

    @Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    If you think you know about protection against storms and tides tell me how much coastline in Australia or its hinterland would need protection if the average sea level rose by the most often predicted amount for 2100, namely 50 cm or the one metre I conceded for the sake of argument. And tell me you couldn’t devise pretty good protection and compensation, especially given the warning that one with your special foresight can rely on, by spending a tenth of the money proposed for spending on the NBN over a few decades. If you have any land, by the way, that is affected by councils in Gippsland forbidding residential development on it because of the danger of future sea level rises I’ll happily buy it from you for market price plus 10 per cent. Mind you, I would expect to make a huge profit because, even if the sea level did rise, my development would be on stilts in a wetland. And, if the rise in sea level was negligble my gain would be even greater.

  44. John Bennetts

    @ Fitz:

    You seem to be convinced that there is no action that individuals and single nations can take which will lead towards a secure future. By secure, I mean security of energy, of water, of food supplies, and military security.

    Read this book. Published only this month and receiving strong reviews already, it is available for free on-line. http://www.earth-policy.org/books/wote

    Then, you may begin to understand what you can do and why. What I might do in the face of these global threats is irrelevant to you. I do what I can, as perhaps you will also once you have thought deeply on the subject.

  45. Flower

    “Truly distinguished scientists, e.g. a Kyoto Prize winner to name one, and a former Director of the Woods Hole Institute for another, express deep scepticism about the sort of enthusiastic faith you have expressed…….And that is being charitable about your knowledge of what the IPCC and its supporters and contributors say. There is a great deal of disagreement amongst them, as the recent Royal Society review has emphasised.”

    Fitz – Your pattern of argument and conclusions are invalid. In ethical debate contributors desist from referring to faceless and nameless persons to substantiate their claims in the hope that their opponents are so gullible that they will swallow the bait.

    Who are these nameless “distinguished” scientists to whom you refer Fitz – the massive total of two – their identities obscured? Have you plagiarized the absurd fabrications peddled by infamous bloggers – the denialists who, like gossiping house fraus, spread scurrilous disinformation from street to street, state to state and nation to nation?

    You claim that the Royal Society has emphasized a “great” deal of disagreement among IPCC contributors and their supporters? That claim is maliciously false and had you read the RS report, as you implied, you would find no such thing. In fact the report elaborates on the uncertainties in anthropogenic climate change – uncertainties with which a discerning public were well acquainted through perusing the IPCC reports.

    Excerpts from the Royal Society – Climate Change – A summary of the science:

    “There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the last half century. This warming trend is expected to continue as are changes in precipitation over the long term in many regions. Further and more rapid increases in sea level are likely which will have profound implications for coastal communities and ecosystems.

    ‘Various lines of evidence point strongly to human activity being the main reason for the recent increase, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) with smaller contributions from land-use changes and cement manufacture.

    “It is not possible to determine exactly how much the Earth will warm or exactly how the climate will change in the future, but careful estimates of potential changes and associated uncertainties have been made. Scientists continue to work to narrow these areas of uncertainty.”

    The Royal Society link provided on request or google excerpts verbatim.

  46. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Fitz, on the question of “how much coastline would need protection….etc” – the answer is ‘a lot’. But just look at a couple of metropolitan areas. Look at Brisbane, which we all have done in the past fortnight. On a king tide, a good one, parts of Brisbane flood slightly. It’s a hassle but no big deal. Add a metre and see what happens. Lots of houses and industrial areas flooded. Now, create some sort of protective levee or dyke (in the Dutch style). Do the earthworks go in the river or on the private land? Does it all get done at once or only when everyone agrees? Who pays – the state, Commonwealth (ie all taxpayers) or each individual, property by property? Sound complicated? Well it is. And Copenhagen was a million times more complicated. But sooner or later we will learn to cooperate globally and we will find a way through all this stuff. Read Flannery’s latest – he’s having a go. So are plenty of others – many who obviously have no time to be frigging around in some blog space.

  47. Fitz

    @ John Bennetts

    Thanks for the link. This appears to be the nub of it
    “The alternative to business as usual, Plan B calls for cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020. This will allow us to prevent the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, already at 384 parts per million (ppm), from exceeding 400 ppm, thus keeping future global temperature rise to a minimum.

    Cutting CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2020 will take a worldwide mobilization at wartime speed. First, investing in energy efficiency will allow us to keep global energy demand from increasing.Then we can cut carbon emissions by one third by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources for electricity and heat production. A further 14 percent drop comes from restructuring our transportation systems and reducing coal and oil use in industry. Ending net deforestation worldwide can cut CO2 emissions another 16 percent. Last, planting trees and managing soils to sequester carbon can absorb 17 percent of our current emissions.

    None of these initiatives depends on new technologies. We know what needs to be done to reduce CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2020. All that is needed now is leadership.”

    But it ain’t going to happen so I hope that people for whom the price of electricity matters won’t be having more subsidies for misguided “alternative energy” projects built in to the price they pay for electricity. And I hope we won’t stop doing what we do at lower cost than the rest of the world and which is going to happen somewhere anyway.


    If you want names try John McCarthy for the Kyoto Prize winner and Paul Gross for the former head of the Woods Hole Istitute. There are many others, especially amongst those who aren’t trying to get on the gravy train of government funds.

    @Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Well it seems neither of us have an accurate idea of what it would cost to protect people against rising oceans as the trend emerged as confirmed and significant. But it would make sense to find out before vast amounts of money are spend fruitlessly on that or anything else to do with climate change.

    Flannery, a palaeontologist with an engaging personality, but why should one treat him as any kind of authority on climate change, its causes or its consequences – let alone the economic logic of taking any specific action?

  48. John Bennetts

    @ Fitz:

    “It ain’t going to happen”.

    That’s where we differ. “It”, by which I take it that you mean global warming, climate change, rising sea levels and so forth… well, Fitz, it is indeed happening, and at accelerating and well documented rates.

    That’s why I choose not to debate climate change point by point with you. Your position is so wrong-headed as to be not worth my time and effort. You are part of a vanishing minority, an impediment, a nuisance, but certainly not part of a worthy opposition.

    The opponents I chose to engage with are those who have accepted reality and the science which supports it. There is some point in engaging with those who differ regarding matters of technique, policies and priorities, but no point wasting time on those who are wedded to unreality.

    To start that far back is not friggin’ on at this stage of the game. It is the equivalent of arguing a pre-Copernican universe. It could be done, but there is no longer any point.

  49. Fitz

    @ John Bennetts

    On the run replying to your first sentence…. You seem to suffer from tunnel vision. I would have thought the “It” obviously referred to Plan B. And indeed it won’t happen. I’d bet big time on that.

  50. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Fitz, you wrote: “Well it seems neither of us have an accurate idea of what it would cost to protect people against rising oceans as the trend emerged as confirmed and significant. But it would make sense to find out before vast amounts of money are spend fruitlessly on that or anything else to do with climate change.”
    OK. Here’s a scenario. A large Australian city cops a monumental flood which is going to cost some billions to fix – if we follow the tried and true Australian model for re-construction. The do-nothing option, currently being followed, will see several billion (in some form or other) spent in making the city more or less the same as it was before (and before that, and before that) – with no really serious attempt to change the way things are done or the outcomes desired. Some of the Commonwealth money will come from a special levy or tax. It could be called a flood levy but it could just as easily be called a carbon tax. The Australian government could introduce a carbon tax (say $20 / tonne for CO2 or other emissions) and use the first income from that tax to fix the floods in that city – a state capital for instance.. Then as the next ‘natural disaster’ occurred the funds being held in that fund from the carbon tax could be directed towards that disaster and or into whatever climate change support scheme the government thought appropriate. Of course the tax would be on ‘industry’ – mining, petroleum, electricity generation – and each of them would pass on the carbon tax to their customers – effectively the entire population – through the bowser, electricity bills, building costs etc. In other words, taxpayers pick up the tab – as it should be.
    The point I’m trying to make is that in the case of the Brisbane floods, no government can wait until they know (accurately) how much it is going to cost, before they start spending. The bloody ‘inquiry’ won’t be finished for a year. We, ie. each level of government, need a signal which engages everyone, equally, at the same moment. Brisbane could be rebuilt with the 22nd century in mind, using a carbon tax which, directly or indirectly, we all pay.
    Bring it on I say!

  51. Flower

    “If you want names try John McCarthy for the Kyoto Prize winner and Paul Gross for the former head of the Woods Hole Istitute”.

    Why thank you so much Fitz for revealing the names of the gentlemen you claim are climate sceptics and where you implied they have credentials in climate science.

    1. John McCarthy – Born 1927. Computer Scientist. Awarded the Kyoto Prize in 1988 for Advanced Technology for major contributions to the advancement of Artificial Intelligence. No credentials in climate science. Wrote:

    “It still may turn out that CO2 emissions are giving rise to substantial global warming and that is harmful. I think nothing very costly will be done unless and until actual harm is experienced. In that case, what can be done? As I have read more about climate change, I have become convinced that I cannot learn enough about the subject to be entitled to an opinion on my own.”

    2. Paul R Gross – biologist and author. Left Woods Hole Institute in 1988. Has written on evolutionary biology and “polemics” on creationism and intelligent design including the assault on science by creationists. Zero papers on climate change – zero comments on climate change:

    “Success of intelligent design testifies merely to the power of money, public relations, and politics to convince the millions of the rectitude of what is in fact baloney.”

    Fitz you’re even worse than I suspected. What village did you say you were from?

  52. Fitz


    You write with such certainty. Have you not considered that people can have private correspondence that one does not quote without care or express authority, and which one wouldn’t seek to do for anonymous bloggers? I have no more hope for blogging with you than that you might learn to be less certain about matters on which you have no good reason to express the certainties that you do. A question I would like you to consider is which scientists qualify as “climate scientists” and which of them deserve to be accorded the authority of a McCarthy in computer networking or artificial intelligence or a Feynman in physics? My impression is that the good hard scientists are not to be found amongst those claiming that equivalent expertise is to be found in a collection of disciplines so various and diffuse as “climate science”. It may be unfair to hold the James Hansens to the same standards as astrophysicists or geologists or chemists but the fact seems to be that there is little empirical verification of the immportant propositions of “climate science” (i.e. important for the purpose of AGW questions). So the IPCC publishes a whole lot of very different models giving very different predictions and they all purport to model warming which has been happening for many years, but not one of them has stood up to rigorous empirical testing.

  53. John Bennetts


    “It” may be Plan B or it may be whatever you want it to be.

    That it in fact your whole point… you are determined to be a slippery B, full of spittle and cr_p about anything and nothing at all, changing the focus each time the heat is applied and holding yourself totally above reproach.

    See, mate, that is what I was getting at when I said that argument with you and your ilk is not worth the breath. You are so keen to impress yourself that you forget that the written word is useful only when it is comprehended by others.

    Flower has comprehensively undone you regarding the qualifications and publicly expressed opinions of those who you have chosen to hide. What an insult you turned out to be… the two experts you offered up turn out to be expert at something else and not to hold the opinions which you put in their mouths.

    I know that it is rude to engage in person to person discussion in an open forum such as this, but your performance in this column has been worthy of special mention. OK, some humans are delusional. Some even appoint themselves master of their own bathtub. You are both of these things and more.

    The hide of you, to denigrate the whole body of knowledge of climate science and those who have contributed their expertise and knowledge to developing this metadisclipline, with the throwaway about it not being hard science. That sort of crap talk was old fashioned and unacceptable back in the 1970’s. 40 years later, you have not realised that it is not only bad manners but also simply quite incorrect to hold such an opinion about those who choose to work in disciplines other than physics and chemistry. You, Fritz, are a slow learner and a no learner with a closed mind. As I have said before, that is exactly why there is no point arguing the science with you.

    One final comment about the moral rectitude of your stance. You are happy to drag others into your game via misquotes, but hide behind anonymity. Come on out. Display your full name and credentials, so that we may assess whether you measure up to your own standards. But of course you won’t, because you are chucking your spears from behind the cover of anonymity, afraid to face your accusers. I, for one, would like to read your peer reviewed papers on the subject of climate science. Or, for that matter, any kind of science, hard or soft.

    Back to Plan B. Yes, I agree with you that Plan B is unlikely to be implemented. That was never my point. The issue is whether we inhabitants of this world will, Easter Islander-like, destroy the environment which gives us sustenance, shelter, security and delight, or shall we carry on with our heads in the sand (or up our ar_e) as we drive towards a bleak future?

    Plan B (Dear reader: follow the link above if you don’t know what I am on about.) is a very determined effort by over 1000 folk to devise a path to a better future. I respect their efforts even though I do not agree with them 100%.

  54. John Bennetts

    From today’s ABC news comes another quote to add to the list:

    A Professor of Global Change says Australia will see a higher incidence of extreme weather events like the flooding in Queensland.

    Professor Peter Grace from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) says greenhouse gases and global warning are contributing factors, whether people want to accept it or not.

    He says it will not happen tomorrow, but it will happen in the years to come and people will come to know major flooding.

    “We will have an increased frequency of quite major events similar to what we had – particularly the flooding event in south-east Queensland,” he said.

    “It means a bipartisan approach to climate change.

    “Without that we are not going to go much further in terms of preparing ourselves for climate change in the future.” UNQUOTE

    Another knowledgeable person advocating action – in this case, adaptation, while Plan B is aimed at avoidance of climate change. Inaction is the path to the worst outcome.

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