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Letters from Downunder


Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

Human history becomes more and more a race
 between education and catastrophe.
                    H. G. Well, The outline of history, 1920

(2/11) Today is the future nightmare. No, the country isn’t broke (not quite), martial law has not been declared ( yet), and good will is still around (just).

As I write this, in mid-January, our wonderful country, Australia, is experiencing the worst floods in history. Seventy five percent of Queensland, (which is approximately one third of the whole country), has been under water. Brisbane, its capitol, a city of over two million people, has been severely damaged, a major food growing area 100 kilometres to the west has been under ten to fifteen feet of water and will take years to recover, while the Darling downs, a high and fertile plateau a little further west has also been inundated. Small towns have been swept away, transportation severely disrupted, and communities totally isolated.

Further north huge tracts of agricultural and grazing land have been ruined, while the the many coal mines in the region have been totally flooded and will not be able to resume production for many, many months. This is, perhaps, the most serious problem of all, as these mines supply 85% of the world’s coking coal. Without this steel cannot be made; it will not only lose some five billion dollars in exports, but dramatically increase the price of this coal, and hence steel.

The damage bill has not yet been ascertained, but best guesses are that it will be in the order of 30-50 million. So far there are thirty confirmed deaths, fifty missing, and hundreds of families and communities devastated.

In Western Victoria, the state in which I lived, the floods have done similar things, with about one quarter of the state inundated. Western New south Wales is similarly affected. All together more than a quarter of the whole country has been severely damaged and will take from weeks to years to put right.

And that is just Australia. Brazil is flooded, fires and drought have struck the middle east, blizzards rip across Europe, some of the warmer parts of your country have snow, there are an unprecedented number of tornadoes and cyclones, and the world’s weather has gone crazy.

The United States is about 10% bigger than Australia - equal if you remove Alaska – but has about fifteen times the number of people – 312.5 million compared to 21.7 million. Our new climate may not spring floods upon you, but whatever transpires, you will be at the mercy of the havoc it brings. It’s a new world of extremes.

What do you expect, when you keep feeding the atmosphere more stuff than it is able to handle? Carbon dioxide, that simple gas made by burning carbon-containing materials, is wonderful in the right amount, and is the thing that allowed us to go from a totally frozen planet to one that had water and could bring forth abundant life, but too much has allowed the heat to build, the ice sheets to melt, the oceans to rise, and help to tangle the weather. Methane, another carbon based greenhouse gas, is emitted by all animals, being a product of digestion.

Here’s the picture: There are close to seven billion people in the world today. Every one emits heat, carbon dioxide and methane. Nearly everyone burns fuel and uses products that burn fuel to make them. Forests, the largest users of carbon dioxide, have been reduced by about 50%.

What we are experiencing is the result.

The whole world is in crisis, and although good intentions are everywhere, no government or agency can cope with the unheard of and unmanageable events. They have happened so fast that no no can grasp their extent. Politicians will say, ‘There was no way to predict this. We knew there was a looming problem, but this? Impossible!’ Yes? Scoff if you will, but major climate change is no longer a point of debate. It is here, and in not going away.

There are many who say this is scaremongering, and can do no good. True, it may well do no good, because the entrenched power brokers and foolish politicians really do have their heads in the sand, but please consider these facts:

These things have happened many times in the past. With flooding as an example. La Nina, the name for the periodic ocean/atmosphere weather phenomenon that cools the eastern and central Pacific, brings wetter than usual weather to many places in the southern hemisphere. It has happened rarely in the past, (last time was 1973-5), but this time is has been accompanied by a new phenomenon, record-high sea surface temperatures.

"The warming we have seen over the past 30-40 years," says Professor Neville Nicholls, meteorologist at Monash university in Australia, "of about half a degree (Celsius) in surface temperatures, has to have an effect on the changing background climate on which such natural variabilities as La NiZa's and El NiZo's operate." Or Professor Ed Blakely, who ran the recovery of New Orleans after Katrina, speaking about our present floods: "We shouldn’t regard this as freakish. We should assume they are going to occur because of climate change." He also urges people to move away from the coastal fringe. Hello, Florida, Mississippi, and all you other coastal states. Plan to move? I hear New Mexico is under populated.

We cannot send the climate to the nuthouse, but we ought to be sending the politicians who have cringed away from taking hard but live-saving decisions, the power brokers and rich-at-all-costs fools who said it would never happen – these are the ones to send to there.

From waterlogged down under,


Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker