Amid catastrophic floods politicians blame ‘Mother nature’

March 4, 2022
Lismore. Photo: Aidan Ricketts

“We know how to deal with floods in Lismore,” resident Aidan Ricketts said in an appeal for climate action, adding: “This flood is different … the scale is beyond all records or memories; it’s a 2.5 metre surge over anything we’ve ever seen or predicted”.

As Ricketts rescued stranded neighbours, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was busy deflecting. “We didn’t know that was going to happen,” she said. “This is Mother Nature … I can’t control Mother nature.”

Scientists have said for decades that catastrophic events, including floods, are more likely as the world becomes hotter. Australian National University professor Mark Howden told The Guardian on February 28 that “embedded in this [flood] event” is the climate crisis because rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures increase the intensity of storms.

“It’s more likely you’re going to see this in the future with climate change because of the warmer atmosphere, and the ability to hold more moisture in the warmer atmosphere,” he said.

While Palaszczuk pretends to be listening, she has courted Adani’s Galilee Basin coal mine, even stripping Native Title rights from the dissenting Traditional Owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou people. She granted Adani favourable water deals and maintains a cosy relationship with its CEOs. Her Labor government has approved 18 new coal mines.

Similarly, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has described the floods as a “one in 1000-year event”. Experts quickly rejected that claim.

Neither of the major parties is taking the climate crisis seriously enough: both are failing us by refusing to rapidly phase out fossil fuels and bring carbon emissions down to zero at emergency speed.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest dire warning on climate the same day as the annoyed Palaszczuk blamed Mother Nature. Its authors repeated that human-induced climate change is already affecting the lives of billions of people and that people and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments … It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

The report said the world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C. Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements, it said.

More heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals, the report noted. These weather extremes are happening simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage.

“They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.”

To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

It stressed that there was insufficient effort devoted to helping people adapt. “So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “I’ve seen many scientific reports in my time but nothing like this. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone now! Many ecosystems are at the point of no return now!”

“The facts are undeniable,” he said adding that the “abdication of leadership is criminal”.

Almost comically, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton sought to pass the buck, launching an appeal for flood victims despite having a disaster relief fund of around $5 billion. Meanwhile, fossil fuel industries receive public subsidies of between $10 billion and $29 billion a year.

Commenting on the floods Professor Mark Howden, ​​vice-chair of the IPCC working group and director of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions said the climate crisis was “embedded in this event” as inflated ocean and atmospheric temperatures increased the intensity of major storms. “It’s more likely you’re going to see this in the future with climate change because of the warmer atmosphere, and the ability to hold more moisture in the warmer atmosphere.”

The flood clean-up in NSW and Queensland is well underway because, as is usual in times of crisis, ordinary people are rising to the challenge. Governments, however, will have to be forced to. School Strike 4 Climate has called a global strike for March 25. The good news is that there new indications that if enough global greenhouse emissions are cut fast enough, warming can be slowed faster than previously thought.

[The Socialist Alliance and Green Left office in Brisbane was seriously affected by flooding. Donations to replace equipment can be made via BSB: 064 128, Acct: 1013 2292: “Flood appeal”.]

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