Climate change alarmism has moved firmly into the realms of science-fiction with a piece in the Los Angeles Times claiming that Australia is being ravaged by “drought, fires, killer heat waves, wildlife extinction and mosquito-borne illness.” The headline screams: “What will global warming look like? Scientists point to Australia.”
Australia is allegedly — because of climate change — a horrible example of where the whole world is heading: beset by “prolonged drought and deadly bushfires to the south,” monsoon flooding, legions of suiciding farmers and other portents of apocalypse.
In rural Victoria alone, it is claimed, one farmer a week commits suicide, generally by hanging. “But they are not made public,” one informant says. Funny about that. Inquests are always public and country newspapers are not backward about attending them when they occur.
Let’s get a couple of inconvenient truths out of the way before looking at the rest of this story.
Yes, Australia has had deadly bushfires in the south-east recently, with more than 170 people killed. While there have been bushfires every summer, a major reason why the recent ones were particularly bad seems to have been that political pressure from city-based green groups prevented undergrowth being cleared by controlled burning so that it built up. Nothing to do with climate change, only stupid, ignorant, meddling, and in the event homicidal, Greens and politically-correct officialdom.
Wildlife extinction? The biggest threats to native wildlife in recent times apart from these fires have been imported predators including foxes, cats, and rats and land-clearing for farming and livestock. While this has been unfortunate, it has had nothing to do with climate change.
Killer heat waves? It has been estimated by the Earth Policy Institute (July 26, 2006) that 52,000 people died in Europe in the summer heat wave of 2003, including about 18,000 in Italy, 15,000 in France and 2,500 in Britain. There has been nothing remotely like that in Australia, ever. Most Australians live in the big coastal cities and their response to a heat wave is to either turn up the air-conditioning or go to the beach. Certainly the heat can be gross in the outback and in places like Marble Bar and the mining towns in the north and inland, but it always has been and those who live there know about it. Mosquitoes have been around in certain areas for a long time too.
Which leaves us with droughts and floods, or rather “monsoon flooding” in the L.A. Times‘s list of climate-change doom. Australia has always had floods and droughts. The patriotic Australian poem “My Country,” written in 1904, begins “I love a sunburnt country…of droughts and flooding rains…” There is “monsoonal flooding” because the northern part of Australia happens to be tropical monsoonal and flooding rains occur regularly every year. Many of the great rivers marked on the map are either dry or torrents. Lake Eyre in South Australia varies between being an inland sea covering hundreds of square miles and a vast dry salt-flat.
As for drought, much of Australia has always been dry, arid country. It was a dry, arid country when white settlers arrived in 1788, which is why, with an area not much less than the continental United States, it has a population of only about 21 million.
The areas of reliable rainfall have been known since the 19th century. Farming outside them has always been a gamble. It has paid off sometimes and sometimes it hasn’t. Drought has been a constant factor in the background of Australian farming beyond such limits as Goyder’s Rainfall Line. Australian literature, for as long as Australia has had a literature, has been full of references to drought. Thus the poet Will Oglivie, born in 1869, wrote a long time before anyone spoke of global warming:
My road is fenced with the bleached, white bones
And strewn with the blind, white sand,
Beside me a suffering, dumb world moans
On the breast of a lonely land.
On the rim of the world the lightnings play,
The heat-waves quiver and dance,
And the breath of the wind is a sword to slay
And the sunbeams each a lance.
The New York Times reported, not during the present climate-change furor but in 1899: “Drought in the inland districts of New South Wales is causing ruin among farmers. The rivers in the country are drying up because of the great heat.” Oh, and the same story reported floods as well. Australia has always had a variable climate.
The Australian poet and Catholic priest Monsignor P.J. Hartigan (“John O’Brien”) sent up the preoccupation with drought and doom-saying in the poem “Said Hanrahan,” published in 1921. It is relevant enough to the present panic-mongering to be worth quoting here at some length. A group of farmers are standing about outside a church on Sunday morning, gloomily discussing the drought:
And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain …
“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune …
And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop…”
The Los Angeles Times story also reported breathlessly that “With few skeptics among them, Australians appear to be coming to an awakening. Adapt to a rapidly shifting climate and soon …”
Actually, the skeptics are very numerous. One of the principal scientific authorities quoted in the story, actually a paleontologist, not a climatologist, has had his predictions widely questioned — in 2005 he claimed Sydney’s dams could run out of water in 2007.
The story goes on to claim that “Every Capital in Australia’s eight States and territories is operating under considerable water restrictions.” This is simply not true. And where there are water restrictions, this is not at all unusual at the end of the southern hemisphere summer. There is a claim that “In some cities, such as Brisbane, residents drink recycled water, a process nicknamed ‘toilet to tap’.”
Yeah, sure. Actually such a scheme was considered for Brisbane and dropped last November without ever being put into operation. The L.A. Times story appears to have been written, as one commentator on Tim Blair’s weblog put it, by someone who thinks Mad Max II is a documentary.