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Ways to deal with disaster season without the trillion-dollar price tag

By Graham Young - posted Wednesday, 13 December 2023

It’s now officially summer in Australia, which is also, semi-officially, the season of fire, droughts, cyclones (hurricanes), and floods.

So queue the summer litanies demanding the federal government do more to limit CO2 emissions.

Indeed, my home state of Queensland has already had its first outbreak of bushfires with firies battling 420 fires and 32 houses in the township of Tara, which was almost burnt to the ground.


Now we’re looking at our first cyclone of the season, Jasper, currently within 600 kilometres off the coast and heading inbound.

Both these events are unseasonably early, so I expect the climate flagellants to be even more shrill than ever.

The idea that curtailing Australia’s emissions can control extreme weather events doesn’t make much sense to me. Not only have we had these natural disasters since a time before even the Aborigines arrived here, but climate change has made very little difference to them.

The weather has been quite fine down under

We had worse forest fires in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1939, we had the Black Friday Bushfires which burned 2 million hectares, and had the highest per capita death rate of any fire in Australia’s history, with over 1,300 homes burned and 3,700 buildings burned or damaged. The soot made it all the way to New Zealand.

When it comes to floods, 1974 was the year with the greatest rainfall, half a century ago, and the second half of the 20th century was wetter than the first half, so droughts haven’t been too prevalent either.

Cyclones are also on the decline. Again, the 70s were the high-water mark. So the imminent Cyclone Jasper probably won’t have too many stormy siblings this year.

All-in-all it seems that climate change has actually been rather good for the Lucky Country.

But how do you fight against a popular narrative, now being pumped up by COP28?

Especially when the “'We’ll all be rooned,’ said Hanrahan” chorus can be used to drive climate-cautious Liberal prime ministers from office—take a bow, John Howard and Scott Morrison.

And then on top of that Australia contributes only 1 percent to world CO2 emissions.

China will increase its emissions by more than our entire 391 million tonnes of CO2 in around 10 months.

The futility in trying to control the weather by reducing Australia's emissions is driven home by the latest report from the Energy Information Agency in the United States which predicts fossil fuel emissions rising through 2050.

If the level of natural disasters we are currently experiencing is driven by CO2 emissions, then we need to get used to it.

And instead of unrealistically demanding politicians to do more about emissions, when they are doing as much as they possibly can and are often trying to do more, we should be looking at resilience and adaptation.

Take a look at weather forecasting

Some of that resilience could be quite technical, in the shape of better weather forecasting.

Recently, Australian farmers slaughtered a huge proportion of their flocks of sheep because the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has been forecasting drought off the back of an El Nino.

The price of lamb and mutton at the farmgate has taken a huge tumble, but not all farmers slaughtered their herds—some invested in their own, apparently more accurate, weather forecasts and have been benefiting from the rains that arrived rather than drought.

Recently Google’s AI weather forecasting system, GraphCast, outperformed in a trial the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMRF) 90 percent of the time.

ECMRF was using a Global Climate Model (GCM), the same type of system that is used to forecast climate change 100 years into the future! GraphCast runs on a simple desktop.

So we could start with reforming the BoM, which has long been criticised for poor data practices, and climate alarmism.

We can try to drought- and flood-proof our towns

Anticipating what is going to happen is only part of the battle. We know, with a 100 percent probability, that we will be hit with droughts, floods, fires, and cyclones. So let’s build resilience into the system.

For droughts, more water storage is an absolute necessity. Australia is a dry continent, but there are lots of opportunities to build dams.

In my hometown of Brisbane, we haven’t built a major dam since 1985, but the population then was 1.242 million. Now it is just over double that size at 2.505 million.

Rather than build dams, where solar energy does the work of evaporating and desalinating sea water and dropping it in dam catchments at literally no cost, the state has instead invested in desalination plants which use costly human-produced energy to do much the same thing.

Recently, the state government eviscerated a planned dam at regional Urannah for pumped-hydro production only, even though the full dam would have opened up a whole new agricultural area.

This was a deal to ensure that the flourishing Great Barrier Reef wasn’t listed as “endangered” by UNESCO.

(Ironically the Great Barrier Reef’s greatest risk isn’t inland dams, which would actually inhibit run-off, but cyclones like Jasper, which not only cause run-off but do much more damage by smashing corals with cyclonic seas.)

There is also a profit opportunity for Australia in drought as we are champion dry-land farmers, pioneering minimum till techniques, and developing and breeding plants and animals that are drought resistant. This is expertise with an export potential.

Resilience doesn’t just mean resisting damage, it can also mean turning it to advantage.

Floods also need water storage which can be used to moderate the flow of water down watercourses.

Before the Europeans arrived in my town of Brisbane, there were floods much larger than any since. The evidence was there in the form of debris which the first explorers saw way up trees towards the mouth of the river.

We can also do better in how we build our houses so that even when they are in flood plains they can survive.

Brick and concrete construction with tiles will survive a flood, and higher floor heights will preserve upper storeys where inhabitants, pets, and furniture can shelter.

We can embrace fire as part of nature's cycle

Fires like floods are unavoidable, and some foolish people are always going to put their property at risk by nestling it into the bush.

But we have never done enough to manage the overall risk by properly tending our native forests in reaction to conservationists calling for them to be left pristine.

What many conservationists fail to understand is that the Australian bush has been managed for millennia. By just leaving it alone, we let it revert to a dangerous state it hasn’t been in for maybe 40,000 years.

Aborigines managed the land with frequent cool burns so that it aided their hunting.

Captain Cook noted the smoke from bushfires all the way up the coast in 1770, a year that we know was very wet because he mistook the generally brownish hills of eastern Australia for the green hills of Wales and called the place New South Wales.

We invest far too little into controlled burns, and as a result, bushfires run out of control, particularly when a dry season follows several wet ones and there is a huge build-up of fuel.

Cyclones are actually the least of our problems. Most houses these days are built to a standard that withstands cyclones.

When Darwin was flattened in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy, it was a city of cheap jerry-built fibro houses on stilts.

As a youngster, two years after Tracy, I remember driving through suburbs with forests of housing stumps, with the houses they supported totally blown away. That is not the Darwin of today.

While insurance companies talk up the scope of their losses, or potential losses, when it comes to cyclones, they have been decreasing over the last 50 years at least.

When insurers are threatening to make whole areas of the country uninsurable, they are just talking their book, and politicians are right to threaten them with regulation.

We also need better transport infrastructure for cyclones, like flood-free roads—there is a crossover between cyclones and floods—with many towns unable to be serviced for weeks if a cyclone crosses the coast in the wrong place.

A modest investment compared to changing our society

All these things cost modest amounts of money compared to what we are pouring into the “energy transition” and could be financed by a modest diversion of funds from that.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the transition is going to take much longer than politicians have envisaged, so we can afford to do both.

But in other news, in a post to his Substack, Roger Pielke Jr suggests we could drastically lower CO2 emissions by turning the 5 percent of coal-fired power stations which are responsible for 73 percent of CO2 emissions from global electricity into nuclear ones. That’s 150 stations.

The estimated cost is somewhere between $450 billion and $3 trillion.

At the moment, Australia on its own will need to commit $1.5 trillion in the next 10 years to meet our net zero by 2050 commitment, according to NetZero Australia, to have a much smaller impact on global emissions.




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This article was first published by the Epoch Times.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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