Saturday, April 25, 2009

Doom from on the road.....

A scarier, colder vision of the climate change future
Bob Beale
April 25, 2009

So the sea ice around Antarctica is growing, not shrinking. Hurrah! We're all saved from the misguided, mistaken and self-interested prognostications of those fiendish, bearded, white-coated climate scientists.

Er, no. The sea ice in Antarctica is growing because of the hole in the ozone layer, not because the planet is getting cooler. It's a localised effect, not a planet-wide phenomenon. If it was, the Arctic ice cap would not be shrinking.

In any case, we've banned CFCs, the chemicals that created the ozone hole, so as it gradually repairs, the Antarctic sea ice will shrink again. Likewise, all the soot, dust, smoke, aerosols and aircraft exhaust we've been pumping out have dimmed the atmosphere a little.

In short, science says the muck we have put into the atmosphere has been masking the long-term warming trend. As we clean up our act, it will become more painfully obvious.

Climate change sceptics are in for a rude shock if they seek consolation from Professor Ian Plimer about the threats posed by global warming. A geologist's perspective is cold comfort.

Plimer's much talked-about new book - Heaven And Earth: Global Warming And The Missing Science - may already be a best-seller, but another of his books, A Short History Of Planet Earth , published in 2001, made it plain where he thinks the planet is heading.

He may differ with colleagues about why the climate is changing but he does not contest that it certainly is and even he thinks the consequences are potentially alarming.

Sea levels have been rising in an erratic stepwise pattern for the past 18,000 years, and will continue to do so, according to his earlier book. "In the West Antarctic the recession rates of the fast-flowing rivers of ice indicate a rapid erosion of the slow-moving inland ice sheet driven by the same factors that drove the 120-metre sea level rise over the last 14,700 years.

"It would not be surprising if sea level rose a few metres over the next century causing untold suffering in low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, Holland, north Germany and many non-coralline islands … Low-lying parts of England, where many atomic reactors are sited, will be inundated."

He might have added that fair chunks of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth wouldn't be looking too flash either.

That won't be the end of it. The collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which began about 7000 years ago, means the sea "has another six metres to rise". At least he agrees with the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, on that. Sea levels are not affected when sea ice grows or shrinks, because it's already in the water, but the melting of sheet ice on the land matters a lot.

A six-metre rise will "disrupt coastal populations" and "if global warming occurs and sea level further rises" worse will follow, he wrote, but there's a bright side, at least after the global mayhem subsides. "Warmer, wetter times have led to great renaissances in human history."

No one should be complacent because global warming may, ironically, switch off the North Atlantic Drift. It brings warm water and air to northern Europe, and he warns that its halting may cause temperatures to plunge by more than 5 degrees. Even if that doesn't happen, Plimer has another vision of the future, scarier than that of the climate change scientists.

He uses the history of recent climate change to suggest Earth will "soon lurch into another glaciation, possibly only in 300 or 400 years time but certainly before 2800". The same history shows such a change can occur very rapidly, in less than a human lifetime. "Past ice ages have led to famine, disease, population reduction and warfare, but have not led to the extinction of humans. Depopulation will occur by disease pandemics. As in the past, urban communities will drift into subsistence agriculture and cities will be vacated."

If the next ice age is as bad as the last one, ice sheets - kilometres thick across much of the northern hemisphere - will cover 60 per cent of the land now occupied by humans, and the sea level will drop 120 metres.

Two-thirds of Australia's trees will die. Centuries of cold dry winds will follow. The east coast will be smothered in dust and sand as massive dune fields resume their smothering slow-motion march around the continent's centre.

The abandoned ruins of Sydney will be atop a craggy ridge, overlooking a deep valley where the harbour used to be. A coastal plain will stretch 40 kilometres to the east before it reaches the sea.

Plimer is a geologist and good geology does not make good policy. His vision reinforces the fact that humans are deeply vulnerable to climate. And it underscores our failure to face up to the collective need to change the way we live. We need to keep our options open and give our environment and our society as much resilience as we can muster.

The evidence that humans can change, and are changing, our climate is incontrovertible. The Antarctic ozone hole vividly demonstrates this, but as Plimer says civilisations do exist by grace of geology, subject to change without notice.

This time, though, we have notice. A decade ago, the boffins warned us about future heatwaves, droughts, severe weather and loss of sea ice in the Arctic. Where will we be in 10 more years?

Bob Beale is a science and environment writer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

And some here too......

Over 100 dead, thousands displaced in African floods
Saturday March 28, 2009 - 10:00 EDT

Southern African countries have been hit by the worst floods in years, killing more than 100 people and displacing thousands, as a tropical storm threatened to bring more pain on the weekend.

As Mozambique braced for the arrival of a strengthening tropical storm Izilda, record river levels across the region threatened to exacerbate floods which have already affected hundreds of thousands of people.

Namibia's Government declared a state of emergency last week in areas where floods have affected more than 350,000 people, 13,000 of whom were displaced, according to numbers released by the United Nations.

Another 160,000 people have been affected in Angola.

The Zambezi River, along Namibia's north-eastern Caprivi Region, rose to 7.8 metres this week, its highest level in 40 years, before slightly dropping.

"We have large areas submerged by water and access to several villages is cut off," Caprivi governor Leonard Mwilima said.

Namibia's flood coordinator Erastus Negonga said the death toll stood at 112. Nearly 200 schools have closed, while one hospital and 19 clinics remain cut off due to floods.

In Zambia, 21 districts have been affected by flooding and the army has been called in to assist the worst affected region of Shang'ombo, where they are also helping reconstruct a bridge connecting it to the rest of the country.

"The Zambia Air Force has been engaged to transport food and fuel to the affected districts," said Davies Sampa, permanent secretary in the vice-president's office.

In northern Botswana, rain has caused the Okavango, Zambezi and Chobe rivers to swell, leaving 430 people displaced and submerging eight villages.

Last year, heavy rains in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi caused flash flooding in Mozambique that displaced tens of thousands of people and destroyed almost 100,000 hectares of crops.

Mozambique is no stranger to weather-related disasters. In 2000 and 2001 about 700 people were killed in one of the country's worst floods when torrential rains hit the south-eastern African country.

A little bit more extreme weather for you.

Flooded NSW areas now disaster zones

April 1, 2009, 5:49 pm
Too much, too quick and too soon after February's devastating floods - that's how Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades describes the latest deluge.

The regional hub on the NSW mid-north coast is mopping up after torrential rain isolated the town.

Coffs Creek peaked at 6.15pm (AEDT) on Tuesday just below the 1996 flood level of 5.43m, after copping 450mm of rain in a 24-hour period.

About 100 Coffs Harbour residential properties and businesses were affected, with 420 people evacuated, including 300 school children and residents of aged care facilities.

Coffs Harbour, along with the local government areas of Bellingen and Nambucca, were on Wednesday declared natural disaster zones, after the once-in-a-century storms.

It is the second time in just six weeks that parts of the region have been declared disaster zones, with heavy rains in February still fresh residents' minds.

Mr Rhoades said the downpour was "a simple case of too much, too quick".

"No matter what system you have in place in regards to mitigation, you would not have been able to cope with what came down," he told AAP.

"(Coffs Harbour business people) all told me that you actually stood there and saw it coming, and there wasn't a thing you could do about it - that's how quick it was."

The State Emergency Services (SES) said 1,600 Bellingen residents were still isolated, as were 500 people in nearby Darkwood, after heavy rain pushed the Bellinger River to a peak of 8.6 metres on Tuesday night.

They are likely to be isolated for two to four days.

South of Coffs Harbour, the Nambucca River peaked at 10.25m, just 0.25m below the record level of June 1950, at 10.30pm on Tuesday.

Nearby Bowraville and surrounding farmland remained isolated, the SES said.

The rail line between Kempsey and Casino was closed, after flooding washed away rail ballast and caused landslides.

Coffs Harbour residents and businesses were now mopping up after just recovering from the previous deluge.

"Basements in buildings are being hosed out today to get the silt and mud out," Mr Rhoades said.

"Residents are trying to salvage what they can of possessions that have been washed out of their garages, car ports, and some times, out of their houses.

"You've just got to feel for these people, because it is heartbreaking."

Mr Rhoades compared Tuesday's floods with those of 1996, which caused $140 million in damages and killed one woman.

"Looking at the 1996 flood and what that cost, I would put this one in the tens of millions of dollars for people to get to back to where they were," he said.

"There is damage to stock in businesses, homes that have had water go straight through them.

"I saw premises last night that weren't even within 50 metres of previous flood levels (but) that were affected last night, that have never before been affected."

The Insurance Council of Australia has urged people to make their claims as quickly as possible.

The SES received more than 940 calls for assistance across NSW due to the heavy rains, with the majority coming from the Clarence and Nambucca areas.

Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said 100 people had to be rescued by emergency services, 65 in Coffs Harbour.

More than 800 people spent the night in evacuation centres in Coffs Harbour, Bonville, Macksville and Urunga, with most returning home after floodwaters receded.

Despite fears that further rain on Wednesday might exacerbate the flooding, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said the mid-north coast had seen the worst of the falls.

However, flood warnings were still current for rivers along the NSW coast, including the Orara, the Bellinger, Nambucca, Manning and Hastings rivers, and the Williams River near Newcastle.

"It's backed off into a shower situation, rather than the constant heavy rain we had yesterday," BoM duty forecaster Ewan Mitchell said.

"The problem is, with the saturated ground due to the recent rain, any further falls can fairly quickly give you some further heavy runoff and local flooding problems."

The wild weather has also seen the closure of most beaches along the NSW coast with waves topping three metres, Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) said.

However, the heavy rain in the past 24 hours has brought relief for Sydney's dams.

Sydney's Warragamba catchment received about one-sixth of its average April rainfall on the first day of the month, with 14mm falling in the 24 hours to 9am (AEDT) Wednesday.

The Upper Nepean and Woronora catchments had almost half their median monthly rainfall, recording falls of 41.6mm and 49.5mm, respectively