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.