Climate change skeptics continue to clutch at straws, and come up with excuses for each new drought, fire, flood, cyclone happening in Australia and around the rest of the world.
But every year shows the climate is less stable than the year before. Climate scientists have been saying for years that if we don’t cut our carbon emissions we would get more severe droughts, bushfires, floods and cyclones. And this is exactly what is happening. The droughts of 2002 to 2009 devastated the Murray-Darling Basin and Australian agriculture. The Black Saturday Victorian bushfires of 2009 cost 173 lives and $4.4 billion. The 2011 Queensland and Victorian floods cost 36 lives. The Federal Government is finding $5.6 billion for reconstruction, and the damage to agriculture is over $2 billion and to mining $2.5 billion. Preliminary estimates of the damage from this week’s Cyclone Yasi are $1.5 billion.
These events are regarded as Australia’s worst droughts, worst fires, worst floods, and worst cyclone on record. But thinking about them as one in one hundred year events is foolish and misleading.
If we think these things aren’t going to happen for another hundred years we are living in a fool’s paradise. What the climate science is telling us is that these things are going to happen now much more often, and that future droughts, bushfires, floods and cyclones will be worse than these ones, unless the world cuts its carbon emissions. For example, the journal Nature has found a significant increase in cyclones in the north Atlantic since the 1970s. The warmer the ocean the stronger the cyclones that develop. The Bureau of Meteorology says the sea surface temperature in Australia’s northern tropics was easily at its highest December level in more than 100 years of records last year.
We ignore the lessons of this weather instability at our peril. The cost of the droughts, bushfires, floods and cyclones is massive. It is clear that the costs of inaction on weather instability will exceed the costs of action. We need to stop the rise in carbon emissions in Australia and globally, and reduce Australia’s emissions and global emissions, as fast as we possibly can.
Future generations will not thank us if we bequeath to them a world of Yasis, Lockyer Valley floods, and Black Saturdays.