What are we to make of politicians and commentators blaming this year’s floods on the Morrison government?
Hyper-partisanship explains some of it, especially approaching a federal election. Albanese’s small-target strategy is to agree with Morrison on policy but channel disaffection to discredit him on implementation. Labor implies, after the fact, that it would have acted sooner and done better.
Emergencies are state government responsibilities in the first instance. So are the organisations that first respond to them – police, emergency services, paramedics, and hospitals. The states can ask for help, but Canberra only has money and the Australian Defence Forces. The left commentariat say help should be offered, assume it wasn’t, and blame Morrison. The slagging matches between Premiers and the Prime Minister on whether requests were made or offers refused are unedifying.
Governments ‘blame shift’ when disaster strikes, but are loath to admit being overwhelmed, ask for help, and cede some control until the last minute. Morrison rightly points out that the Australian Defence Force is ‘not available on a moment’s notice’. And the hindsight experts do not have to make decisions in real-time based on limited information.
Morrison was also right to lower expectations that government could eliminate the impact on people and communities of large-scale natural disasters like these floods while sympathising with their frustration, anger, and disappointment that it can’t.
Some people have developed a collective intolerance to personal responsibility and community sensibility. They believe it is the government’s job to protect them from any harm at all costs. They want to be infants to Big Nanny government. And there are many in government who think its role is exactly that – to be Big Nanny – keeping everyone safe out of an abundance of caution and restricting everyone’s freedom to do so. The Covid pandemic both demonstrated and accelerated this safetyism. It’s frustrating for those of us who want to be adults.
Then there are the voices who blame Morrison’s climate change policies, or alleged lack of them.
Waleed Aly, in The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday, March 11, was astonished by Morrison’s admission that these disasters are making Australia harder to live in because ‘it has come a decade late, and only once political realities had nudged the Coalition sufficiently that it felt compelled to adopt a net zero target’.
Voices of Wentworth candidate Allegra Spender Tweeted on March 8 that:
‘Three years ago we had historic drought. Two years ago we had historic bushfires. Now we have historic floods – and still no urgency from a federal government holding onto Tony Abbott’s 2030 emissions target.’
But the oceans have about 1,000 times the heat content of the atmosphere. That’s why our droughts-and-flooding-rains cycle, noticed a century ago by Dorothea MacKellar, is caused by changes in ocean currents. For Australia’s East Coast, this is primarily the Pacific’s El Niño and La Niña cycle. The droughts and flooding rains are not caused by the weak effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the atmosphere’s temperature, even though they are accumulating.
Nor are the current floods unprecedented – a term so overused it’s as if nothing ever happened before. This 2022 flood peaked at 13.80 metres at Windsor, but the record flood of 1867 was metres higher at 19.18 metres. That was well before anthropogenic climate change, but also before the modern dams were built. The second-largest flood was in 1961, after the Warragamba dam was built, and peaked at 14.5 metres at Windsor, still higher than this year’s inundation. SES Region Controller Peter Cinque explained in 2017:
‘Many people think that Warragamba Dam stops flooding in the valley. However there have been 29 significant floods in Windsor since the dam was built including the second largest flood on record in 1961.’
What is unprecedented is the number of people now living in these flood plains – and planning is a local and state government responsibility. To illustrate the scale of the 1867 record flood, the SES assessed for its 150th anniversary in 2017 that:
‘If a flood similar to the 1867 flood occurred today, around 90,000 people would need to be evacuated, an estimated 12,000 homes would be impacted and the damage bill would be approximately $5 billion.’
This year’s flooding is not in the least bit unprecedented and is not due to climate change. The heavy rain comes with La Niña. A NSW government fact sheet explains why it causes the floods:
‘Most river valleys tend to widen as they approach the sea. This is not the case in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River. Narrow sandstone gorges between Sackville and Brooklyn create natural choke points. The floodwaters from the five major tributaries back up and rise rapidly, causing deep and widespread flooding across the floodplain.’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is confident temperatures are rising, and reasonably confident this is in part due to the emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities. But the temperature increases are very gradual – around 1.5 °C since pre-industrial times, which is about a factor of ten less than the temperature change in a typical 24-hour period. It may be insidious, but it’s imperceptible. That’s why activists make ‘natural disasters demonstrate climate change’ an article of their apocalyptic faith. The IPCC is much less sure, and others question it.
Nevertheless, climate activists have linked natural disasters to climate change in the minds of many Australians. They have also deceived many with their mantra that climate change can be stopped and reversed if we stop using fossil fuels and make a rapid switch to a renewables-only energy system. Green-but-realistic engineering polymath Professor Vaclav Smil says:
‘The complete decarbonization of the global energy supply will be an extremely challenging undertaking of an unprecedented scale and complexity that will not be accomplished—even in the case of sustained, dedicated and extraordinarily costly commitment—in a matter of a few decades.’
But climate activists like Tim Flannery and politicians like Greens leader Adam Bandt promote the lie that the rapid transition to renewables is stymied only by government inaction backed by the fossil fuel lobby. It is now an article of the warmist faith that a natural disaster equals climate change equals continued use of fossil fuels equals climate inaction by government. For the warmist faithful, bad weather really is caused by bad government. To them, it’s literally all Morrison’s fault.
Dr Michael Green has a PhD in Systems Engineering.
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