Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Frying Pan Down Under

It's odd many climate sceptics come out of OZ, since it's being impacted right now by the climate change. Getting hot is the direction of that change and for Australia hotter is big trouble. Mark Lynas explains.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark - a few comments.

Australia does have its share of contrarians and denialists. Weather like in many places in the world is a popular topic down under for good reason - Australia has some of highest climate variability in the world thanks to El Nino and other influences. It's a very on-off environment - a famous poet describing it as a "sunburnt country or droughts and flooding rains".

The Australian public has a high level of understanding of the broad aspects of climate change. Federal politicians in power a different issue.

Australia undertakes a significant amount of resesarch in climate variability (CV) and anthropogenic global warming (climate change)(AGW), through organisations such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Greenhouse Office, and many individual states have their own regionally focussed climate change and greenhouse programs (e.g. Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia). Australia contubutes to many international programs such as the WMO and IPCC processes.

Like the USA, Australia is a highly urbanised society very dependent on the motor car, air travel and a lifestyle provided by electrical appliances and air-conditioning.

Coal exports and uranium mining for export are big business. Despite having abundant sunshine, the baseload underpinning for electricity is coal fired power with some new gas systems now being commissioned.

Australia with 20 million people is only 1.4% of the global emissions. If you turned us off totally it would make little difference.

AGW in terms of increasing maximum and minimum temperatures are demonstrated as well as a reduction in the diurnal temperature range.

But that's where it gets difficult and I have to advise you of the science limits.

It is is very difficult to assess whether the current extreme drought in south-eastern Australia, south-west Western Australia, south-west Queensland, and the Brisbane River urban water supply catchments in south-east Queensland are due to AGW, ongoing CV or a mixture of the two.

Furthermore there are possible anthropogenic influences afoot such as changes in the polar vortex around Antarctica affecting southern hemisphere circulation, including reducing rainfall in Australia. But this being due to the ozone hole more than conventional global warming.

We have had El Nino events in 2002 and 2006 but the IPCC are guarded about whether AGW will increase EL Nino severity or frequency.

Coral cores and long 10,000 year climate model runs suggest that very bad back to back droughts can occur "naturally". And indeed more severely than we recently arrived Europeans have currently endured.

This current drought maybe worst on record in some areas now surpassing the infamous Federation drought of 1895-1902.

There is evidence that high temperatures attributed to AGW exacerbated the 2002 drought.

The 1 in 1000 number was throw-away line after a national Minister's briefing that has gotten more press than it should. Not withstanding, that the drought is severe affecting the Murray Darling river system and many urban capital city water supplies.

However I think we should be most cautious in suggesting that this IS DEFINITELY caused by AGW.

Given the high CV we may not know excactly for another 40 years.

But that leaves us in a very interesting risk management position does it not? And a very interesting economic position with reliance on coal and uranium exports, a baseload power system based on coal, long transport distances internally with Australia, and indeed the ANZUS alliance !

I don't need to remind you that Australia has historically been one of the USA's strongest allies and global friends. However does that make us fall into line too readily for the sake of wider issues.

Greenhouse is one of these issues.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Well Luke much of that is true, but this isn't your standard either/or dichotomy as the contrarians paint it. Don't fall for that unlessyou are one, at which point it won't matter because you can just paint it off to uncertainty. No on eis discounting currents and El Nino anywhere. It's factored in already.

We're partners alright, but lately in crime of two sorts. This is one of those footdragging business strategies. We're a bad example but have new leadership so this is going to change. I suggest OZ does too and set an example instead of a bad one. Don't downplay the science. We have it and it's real. Waiting 40 years for you lot to be certain isn't necessary.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not a contrarian nor denialist and am very interested and supportive of the AGW science.

There are now science issues with anthropogenic effects with postdate the IPCC TAR i.e. new science - but that's a small point.

The science to unambiguously nail the current Australian drought as a climate change (definitely 100%) does not exist. A major reason against is that such multi-year events and worse exist in the historical record. Major reasons for making a case are speculation on already increases in El Nino frequency, increased temperatures exacerbating evaporative demand in drought, reductiosn in rainfall from very few coast-crossing tropical cyclones on the east coast, and the southern annular mode/ozone/ Antarctica issues.

So you can argue the toss back and forth but I don't think you'll get a serious climate scientist to say "yes it's definitive that the current Australian drought is AGW".

If you go too hard on this you're a sitting duck for a well judged contrarian attack on science facts. You would need some longer time scale trend information to do so.

Of course by the time we have that trend information (in 40 years say) it will be too late and the atmospheric CO2 increase will be fixed in - i.e. we'll be stuck with whatever it is. Hence my comment about "it's an interesting risk management situation we find ourselves in".

But we also have some dilemmas - the Australian government won't take down a multi-billion dollar coal export business nor scuttle the economy overnight by restructuring its baseload power systems or punitive carbon taxes. (Don't see me as supporting this position but more stating simply the political reality). Votes follow economic prosperity first and environment second. John Howard is popular for delivering (or by good luck in the cycles) providing/presiding over a period of exceptional economic growth, stability, low interest rates and increased property prices.

Also of interest for Australian agriculture is that climate change will benefit north America more than ourselves. Consider EL Nino being generally devastating for us but beneficial rainfall wise for a fair part of the USA. Some extra temperature in your US wheat belt and the Canadian wheat belt with some additional atmospheric CO2 will drive up your wheat yields with better photosynthesis while ours whither in drought. (if El Nino is affected by AGW).

Ironic eh? And who produces most of the climate changing CO2 - you guys ! (OK heaps more than us).

And historically ozone destroying CFCs for that matter as well which is also changing southern hemisphere circulation patterns.

All this while US protectionist agricultural policies protect your producers from our competitive agricultural exports.

And of course while Howard is all the way with LBJ with Bush(*) you guys and even hypocritically Exxon are pouring megabucks into alternative energy research. When the tide turns to a Democrat president, when Bush and the neocons have departed, I think you guys will go all out on CO2 reducing technologies. While we're sitting on our old decrepit CO2 producing coal plant.

Like good capitalists I'm sure you'll then sell us the carbon clean technology whatever it is (at a price !) while we languish in drought much of which is not our own making, still suffering protectionist US trade policies on agriculture.

So we wonder where going "all the way with the USA" may be leading in both Iraq and climate change.

(*) After a Cabinet meeting on 20 January 1966, Robert Gordon Menzies, who was reluctant to involve Australia in Vietnam, suddenly and unexpectedly resigned after 17 years as Prime Minister of Australia, nominating as his successor then Treasurer Harold Holt. Holt announced almost immediately that Australia was to go ‘all the way with LBJ’ [then US President Lyndon Baines Johnson] into the Vietnam War. At that crucial point Australia severed ties with Britain and the British Commonwealth, and hitched itself behind the stagecoach of the United States of America. Australia has been going ‘all the way with LBJ’ ever since.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

They aren't putting jack squat into alternative energy research. That's the point of the denial. They're funding denial.

That won't have much hearing room now that we've taken away their rubber stamp. Australia is prone to drought, any rise in the GMP is going to have some effect. It affects areas in different ways.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

"So we wonder where going "all the way with the USA" may be leading in both Iraq and climate change."

Currently the wrong way. That's Al Gore's point. And mine.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes agree that Exxon has been involved in denialist activity.

By alternative energy I meant geosequestration and their Stanford research investment. As consummate capitalists I still think they're hedging their bets. Trying to make the "old ways" hang on as long as possible but an "escape hatch" for future business.

Pity about the planet !

8:36 PM  

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