Category Archives: Yasi

Political fires: climate debate shifting in Australia, not to Abbott’s liking

Historians have long appreciated the weather can have a profound impact on the course of events.

A spring drought on eve of the French Revolution pushed up food prices, and was the final spark that pushed a hungry populace to revolt. Two bitterly cold winters destroyed the imperial ambitions of both Napoleon and Hitler in Russia. In the thirteenth century a “divine wind” saved the Japanese from Mongol invasion.

The weather can be both capricious and unpredictable, especially when it wrecks havoc upon the ambitious plans of generals and politicians. The weather can rob would-be emperors of certain victories.

Given humanity has now loaded the dice for more extreme weather events by continuing to alter the planet’s atmosphere and climate, it is virtually certain increasing political disruption will follow extreme weather events with greater frequency.

This is the lesson both the Abbott government and Australian population are now learning.

The Abbott government was elected on the promise of dismantling the price on carbon introduced by the previous Labor government. Helped by a vicious anti-Labor and anti-science campaign by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, they cruised into office promising a government of grownups.

But then New South Wales burned, changing the political landscape.

Very quickly Abbott and News Corp lost control of the climate change narrative. Desperate to disavow any links between the extraordinary fires and climate change, Abbott and his Environment Minister Greg Hunt fumbled badly in trying to control the message. According to both these men the fires could not, would not and should not be linked to the science.

To their frustration the public refused to listen and made the obvious connections.

Abbott simply dismissed the connection, and came across as stubborn and intractable. Day-by-day, Abbott is looking increasingly uncertain and strangely timid in office. His infamous bovver boy and mischief-making style is proving ill-suited for the role of Prime Minister. When he can’t attack, he freezes like a deer in headlights.  

Greg Hunt became an international laughing-stock with his now infamous “I looked it up on Wikipedia” comments.

Thanks to the fires, everyone is talking about climate change.

We need to appreciate the profound shift taking place in the Australian climate debate, and how the NSW fires are contributing to this.

Bare in mind these fires follow the flooding and Tasmanian fires of late 2012 and early 2013. These fires follow the battering New York took during Hurricane Sandy. These fires follow Cyclone Yasi. These fires follow the holocaust that killed almost 200 Victorians during Black Saturday in 2009.

A pattern is emerging, and people are noticing the climate regime has shifted. This fact is intuitively understood and accepted by the public who are often the victims of such events. Watching your home burn, your town flooded or choking on the acrid smoke of the fires that have drifted into the heart of Sydney will put to rest most people’s lingering scepticism.

For this reason both Abbott and Hunt are furiously stating they accept the science. Abbott may think climate change is “crap”, but it is now unacceptable for the PM to state this belief in public.

Those fighting the sceptic movement can take heart that climate change denial in Australia is a spent political force, consigned to the margins and conspiracy theory enthusiasts. 

However the events of this week are also a harbinger of the shape fires and political disruption to come.

In discussing the politics of climate change in Australia we’ve focused almost solely on the policies (or lack thereof) of the major parties and the Greens.

We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time dissecting and critiquing the role of the media. We’ve also convinced ourselves the future of the carbon price is dependent on the makeup of the Senate and the voting behaviors of the micro-parties.

Partisans on both sides of the debate have assumed the debate was about careful messaging, well-considered opinion pieces in the major dailies and peppering the media with sound bites.

But no one has talked about the weather and it’s potential to disrupt and reshape Australian politics.

Generals and conquerors in the past have learnt through bitter defeat the climate can wipe out entire armies, fleets and political ambitions. We’ve forgotten these lessons from history.

However the fires of NSW has taught us history is back with a fiery vengeance.

History is roaring back into life in the shape of a firestorm, laying waste to vast tracts of the bush, rural communities and the ambitions of the Prime Minister.

Those who forget the impact of extreme weather events on politics are doomed to fall prey to its unpredictable nature.

Just ask the Prime Minister.

To attribute, or not to attribute: that is no longer the question

Things that scare me: redux

How many of readers recall early 2011 when cyclone Yasi struck Brisbane?

At least 35 people died in floods across New South Wales and Queensland. The resulting rains and floods costed the Australian economy approximately $10 billion.

Or the flooding suburbs in Melbourne, which I captured on video. So extreme were these events that it caused one member of the Bureau of Meteorology to exclaim: “We’ve never seen anything like it in Australia”

Perhaps you may recall early 2011 fires raged in Western Australia (Black Sunday), while Sydney experienced a record seven-day heat wave.

Across the globe soaring temperatures saw record rains flood two-thirds of Pakistan, while at the same time fires raged across Russia.

Or perhaps your memory goes back to the 2010 records floods in China killed close to 400 people, destroying 1.3 millions homes and caused $54USD billion in damage?

Perhaps some might remember the fires that ripped through Israel in an event called that nations worst natural disaster in history?

Of course there where the floods in Niger and the record rain in the US that saw Nashville inundated.

Indeed in September 2010 I wrote about the things that scared me about the coming Australian summer:

Thus with 2010 looking like being the hottest year record, I think we should be deeply concerned about the coming bushfire season.

As noted by the IPCC, with rising temperatures Australia could be subjected to more floods and catastrophic fires…I earnestly hope some advanced planning is taking place.

While let me reiterate my concerns for the coming Australian summer of 2012-13.

I’m not claiming any prescience, just noting the obvious fact an increase in CO2 that traps more heat, raises temperatures and fuels more extreme weather events.

It makes sense because the science is pretty fucking solid.

The attribution debate is over

Back in 2010 and early 2011 “sensible” voices cautioned about attributing these events to climate change.  This is the so called “attribution” question, and we’re cautioned to not make simple linkages between a flood here and climate change: fair enough.

I recall Michael Tobis writing for the now defunct “Only in it for the gold” asking that very question in 2010 reflecting on the Russian heat wave:

But right now I feel like hazarding a guess. As far as I understand, nothing like this has happened before in Moscow….

…The formerly remarkable heat wave of 2001, then, is “the sort of thing we’ll see more of” with global warming. But it may turn out reasonable, in the end, to say “the Russian heat wave of 2010 is the first disaster unequivocally attributable to anthropogenic climate change.”

Tentative, hedging and qualifying like a good scientist and commentator on this issue should.

Still the blogger Eli at Rabett Run said Michael was asking a “scary question”, noting sardonically:

As Dirty Harry would say, at some point the bunnies have to ask not if the dice are loaded, but if the 44 Magnum is.

Picture the clathrate gun hypothesis playing the role in Eli’s similes of bunnies playing with 44 Magnums. Go on click that link –but only if you’re prepared for the possibilities of loosing sleep.

On second thoughts, you will lose sleep.

So let me state this: it is now pointless wrangling over the question of whether or not to attribute individual events to climate change.

Reality makes that debate redundant.

We’re here: we’ve arrived at the point in history when our species has engineered a new climate. The point we knew was coming – that was inevitable – if we did nothing.  

Slouching towards the Anthropocene

Let’s recap the past few months shall we?

The North American heat wave with 40,000 temperature records broken; six million displaced in India due to monsoon rains, 150 dead in Russia as several months worth of rain falls in a matter of hours; Arctic and Greenland ice loss…

Need I go on?

It’s unfolding as if climate change was real… funny that huh?

I was going to muse on what this all means, but I’ve already did that in August 2010 in the post “Welcome to the Anthropocene”:

Being a blogger frees me from the usual reticence and qualified statements scientists usually (for good reason) make.

I may appear very foolish for saying this, but its time to call it: we’ve well and truly passed a threshold.

Call it climate change, or global warming. Or perhaps you could rename the planet as Bill McKibben suggests (Eaarth). Actually the name really doesn’t matter.

This is the new normal.

Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, there’s more than enough warming “in the pipe” for future “climate disruption”.

The Greenland ice sheet?

Most likely gone.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Most likely gone.

2010 is the year in which the climate news is getting worse: hottest year on record; the ocean’s phytoplankton dying off; the Russian heat wave; the floods in Pakistan (2).

Welcome to the anthropocene.

That’s the thing about the climate change debate. You end up saying the same thing over, and over again. Though who listens is another question…

Famously, one scientist called the climate an angry beast, and that our activities are provoking it. Permit me to run with that metaphor and repurpose the final lines of “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards the Bethlehem to be born?

And what a beast climate change is: slowly, almost methodically it slouches into perception and our lives.

There will come a time when all of us will be forced to stare into face of the beast, aghast and transfixed, like Saturn’s sons staring into the gaping maw of their father.

Canary in the coal mine part 2: Perth fires “out of control” and threaten homes; Victoria reels from floods

Children scream at their father to evacuate (The Australian)

While the Eastern seaboard is being flooded, in Perth they are battling fires. Residents we’re given just 20 minutes to flee from fires:

PEOPLE were given just 20 minutes’ warning that a rapidly moving bushfire would hit their homes yesterday, as a blaze swept through Perth’s southeastern suburbs, destroying or damaging at least 40 houses and threatening 100 more.

Firefighters tackled two massive fronts, which ignited at opposite ends of the city, after a hot spell and strong winds pushed the bushfires out of control.

Many homes in Roleystone and Kelmscott, on the city’s southeastern fringe, were ablaze.

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority said 40 homes were last night confirmed destroyed or damaged. There were unconfirmed reports that up to 60 properties had caught fire as the flames moved rapidly, generating massive plumes of smoke.

At least 12 people have been hospitalised with smoke inhalation.

On the northeastern fringe of the city, around the suburbs of Millendon, Brigadoon, Baskerville and Red Hill, another blaze threatened homes and more than 100 people were evacuated.

Thankfully there has been no loss of life, however we could see the number of homes lost climb:

“We haven’t had loss of life. We are grateful for that but certainly there’s a lot of trauma that goes with it.”

Mr McMillan said neither of the big fires are under control, and unpredictable and strong winds are expected this morning.

“Our struggle will remain until we get some respite in these unusual weather conditions,” he said.

“It’s just the strength of the easterly winds. They were at damaging strength two days ago and they have maintained the consistency.”

Relocation centres have been set up near both fires and residents of a nursing home in Kelmscott have been evacuated to a shopping centre.

Many roads have been closed in threatened areas and residents who have left will not be allowed back until the all-clear is given.

Photographer Paul Pichugin captures the intensity of the fires around Perth:



Perth Hills on fire (Source: Paul Pichugin)


While Perth burns, Victoria drowns

As I noted in previous posts, the floods in Victoria are unprecedented. The transport network has been thrown in chaos:

VICTORIANS are being urged to be patient and prepare for long delays when they return to work and school today, with authorities warning flood-damaged and closed roads could make this morning’s commute difficult.

Police, SES and VicRoads have asked drivers to consider leaving earlier or much later than usual this morning to help mitigate delays caused by road closures.

The impact of road closures would be worsened with tens of thousands of students returning to school.

Despite the rain knocking out ten train lines on Friday night, Metro said the damage had been repaired over the weekend and the network was running at full capacity today.

The badly disrupted Sandringham line was re-opened yesterday at 4.30pm and repairs to 10 damaged trains were finally completed. A V/Line spokeswoman said services returned to normal yesterday and were running on schedule this morning.

But as the morning peak hour began on the city’s roads today, VicRoads warned of major disruptions.

I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain.

Australia is the canary in the coal mine.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Being a blogger frees me from the usual reticence and qualified statements scientists usually (for good reason) make.

I may appear very foolish for saying this, but its time to call it: we’ve well and truly passed a threshold.

Call it climate change, or global warming. Or perhaps you could rename the planet as Bill McKibben suggests (Eaarth). Actually the name really doesn’t matter.

This is the new normal.

Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, there’s more than enough warming “in the pipe” for future “climate disruption”.

The Greenland ice sheet?

Most likely gone.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Most likely gone.

The Long Reach of Yasi Part 2: BoM “We’ve never seen anything like this in Australia”; more towns evacuated as residents forced to flee

Hard to believe, but such was the force of Cyclone Yasi that is playing havoc with Victoria’s weather. The Bureau of Meteorology calls it “unprecedented“:

Across the state, about 4500 homes were still without power last night. Mr Baillieu urged those in need of help to wait patiently. ”This is a difficult rain event. It’s been widespread across Victoria and the SES are doing the best they can to support those with requests for assistance,” he said.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Terry Ryan said the ”unprecedented” movement of cyclone Yasi inland to the Northern Territory, combined with a longer cloud band caused by ex-cyclone Anthony, had produced a humid and unstable air mass over Victoria. ”We’ve never seen anything like it in Australia,” he said.

The impact of the storms have been quite severe:

State Emergency Service crews were stretched to the limit with almost 6000 calls for help, including 4100 in Melbourne, by yesterday afternoon.

A 26-year-old British tourist remained in a critical condition with serious head injuries, after a gum tree fell on her tent at the Crystal Brook Tourist Park in Doncaster East, just after midnight yesterday. Almost 100 people were rescued across the state, including 60 people from vehicles trapped in flash flooding. Three teenage boys were forced to cling to a telegraph pole in a swollen creek while waiting for rescuers at Pakenham.

The Alfred hospital was forced to relocate patients and close several operating theatres because of flooding. More than 40 elderly residents had to be evacuated from nursing homes at Mentone, Narre Warren and Werribee.

Flash flooding in Melbourne’s west and south-east closed the Monash Freeway and Princes Highway, causing traffic jams up to 10 kilometres long. Several train lines were closed.

The cause:

VICTORIA has been lashed by the tail of cyclone Yasi, producing severe storms and torrential rain.

The moist air from Yasi, downgraded from a cyclone to a tropical low after its winds eased below gale force, was dragged south in an arc from Queensland’s north-west, through Alice Springs and as far south as Melbourne.

A large cold front heading north cooled the warm monsoonal air and caused huge cloudbursts that dumped up to 200 millimetres of rain in just two hours over Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Moisture remaining from cyclone Anthony was also hanging over the state and contributed to the deluge.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Stephen King said the weather was unusual for Melbourne.

My video captured some of it’s force, my own local area was hit hard.

Carlisle Street, my local area turned “into a river” according to shop owners I talked to yesterday.

Owners of the Balaclava Fresh Centre, people I’ve been shopping with for over ten years, spent a sleepless night protecting their stock from flood waters. Both the local Coles and Safeway were forced to close due to rain damage to their buildings.

The places I grew up…

I’m a “Dandy Boy”, I spent most of my first 25 years of my life in Dandenong.

And now the suburb I grew up in has experienced flooding:

Source: Herald Sun

According to the BoM:

The Dandenong Creek catchment has received rainfall averaging about 147mm since 09:00am yesterday.

The water level of the Dandenong Creek at Rowville (Police Road retarding basin) has exceeded the Moderate flood level of 5m. Given no further rainfall, water level at the basin is likely to peak close to the major flood level of 5.5m this evening.

Roads and low lying areas adjacent to the waterway are still affected by flooding. Please check VicRoads website for roads affected by flooding.

Dandenong Creek is a tiny string of water that trickles it way through the area. Calling it a “creek” was local “in joke”, given it was on the most unattractive and degraded water ways I’ve seen. The “Mighty Dandenong” could barely live up to it’s name as a creek.

And now it has roared to life, flooding the area.

More towns evacuated

If it wasn’t bad enough, more towns are being evacuated across the state. The Herald Sun reports:

THOUSANDS of people were given two hours to get out of their homes as fast-rising floodwaters last night threatened to engulf four country towns.

The State Emergency Service said it had told more than 6000 residents of Koo-wee-rup, Iona, Bayles and Cora Lynn in Gippsland to grab their pets, medicine, photographs and three days’ clothes and flee to emergency centres in Cranbourne and Pakenham.

The warning came as the Lower Bunyip River swelled dangerously upriver, and was tipped to peak at more than 7.2m in the early hours of today.

A ferocious dump of rain caused by Queensland’s tropical cyclones Yasi and Anthony swept across Victoria, flooding dozens of homes from Melbourne to Mildura, closing hundreds of roads, inundating schools and churches and leaving a damage bill approaching an estimated $100 million.

I’ve lived in Melbourne all my life, and I’ve seen fire and rain.

I remember Ash Wednesday, Black Saturday and the floods, droughts and extreme weather events. We’ve always had them – Australians understand just how harsh our climate can be.

But this?

This is different.

Everywhere I go people are talking:

“Is this climate change?”

These floods aren’t abstract to me.

The places I grew up, visited and now live in are witnessing unprecedented rains and flooding.

Further resources

Images sourced: The Age; Herald Sun

Into the light: Yasi, no deaths or injuries

$60 a box... yes, a box

I’m currently interstate working I’m catching the news when I can.

The good news… no reported deaths or serious injuries.

The extent of the damage is hard to judge…obviously it is far to early to get a full picture.

Yasi has moved further inland, and has been downgraded to category four.

However, it remains a threat.

Scattered facts I’ve picked up:

  • Sugar and banana industry is going to suffer badly; I heard one farmer on the radio say banana production will be out for nine months
  • Overnight, bananas went from $16 a box to $60
  • Mission Beach, a place I holidayed at last year seems to be have coped the full brunt of it. I loved the place, the people and the café owners I spent talking too

Any news about the Mission Beach would be appreciated.

I’ll throw it open to readers to post links/updated information… just cut and paste and post here.

Data dump guys – I’ll let it all through.


Mike @ WtD

Cyclone Yasi may be worst in FNQ history; hospitals and islands evacuated; fears of major flooding; Queensland wrecked end-to-end

The size of this storm is immense…”

One of the largest cyclones in the history of Queensland is about to slam into the north of state:

Cyclone Yasi will hit the north Queensland coast with greater ferocity than devastating Cyclone Larry, according to Premier Anna Bligh.

Thousands of residents, as well as patients at Cairns hospital, face the prospect of evacuations today as the huge storm front bears down.

Latest modelling indicates the cyclone has moved slightly north and is now due to cross the coast between Tully and Lucinda, about 140 kilometres north of Townsville.

The evacuations have  begun:

Cairns hospitals could be evacuated later today, with hundreds of patients facing the prospect of being ferried to Brisbane by the defence force.

Premier Bligh said the Cairns Base Hospital, located on the esplanade, currently had 300 in-patients and could be at risk from a storm surge.

“We are now looking seriously at an evacuation of Cairns Base Hospital,” she told reporters today.

Ms Bligh said the Australian Defence Force was planning to carry the patients to Brisbane by Hercules later today.

“It’s a very big exercise,” she said. “Some patients may be able to return home earlier than they planned, others may need to be evacuated.”

Ms Bligh said Cairns Private Hospital, which had 60 patients, may also need to be evacuated.

There was capacity in Brisbane hospitals to look after the patients, but some elective surgery may need to be cancelled.

Mandatory evacuations of residents have been flagged in the Cairns area and south of there.

Airports and coal terminals are being closed:

“…Townsville and Cairns Airports are currently open and fully operational, but both are expected to close in the next 24 hours.

Most of the flights to Brisbane today have sold out, with reports of huge price spikes for one-way ticket prices.

Coal terminals have been shut at Bowen and Mackay. The only coal port open is Gladstone, in central Queensland, where seven ships are due to be loaded. There are about 50 bulk coal carriers anchored off the Dalrymple Bay terminal near Mackay that will travel out to sea to ride out the cyclone.”

Queensland is a state that is being wrecked end-to-end.

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