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August 24th 2011 print

John Dawson

Damp prophet of doom

After Tim Flannery prophesised the decline of Australia’s rainfall it started to rain. And it rained - and rained - and rained – and rained.

The rain on Flannery’s parade

“The only way in a democracy that a country can come to terms with these issues is to have a well-educated populace, otherwise you keep on making the wrong decisions” said Professor Tim Flannery last week. As Australia’s Climate Change Commissioner, it’s his job to educate vox populi about anthropogenic global warming.

He was chosen for this $3,000 a week job for his expertise, his communication skills, and his track record in the competitive business of sounding alarms about the dire consequences of our “carbon polluting” ways. His alarms, he claims, are based on an anthropogenic global warming theory that has been confirmed by an overwhelming consensus of scientists to be ninety per cent probable – the implication being that there is only one chance in ten of him being wrong.

But how can his teachings and preaching ever be tested? Most of his apocalyptic prophesies are projected far enough into the future for him to be well and truly beyond accountability when they are proved right or wrong.

When it came to Australia’s rainfall, however, Flannery threw caution to the wind and declared that the apocalypse is now.  

In 2004 Flannery said:

I think there is a fair chance Perth will be the 21st century’s first ghost metropolis. It’s whole primary production is in dire straits and the eastern states are only 30 years behind.

He warned that Australia, being so dry, is especially fragile in the face of climate change. We are "one of the most physically vulnerable people on the Earth,” and “southern Australia is going to be impacted very severely and very detrimentally by global climate change.” We are going to experience “conditions not seen in 40 million years."

In 2005 he wrote in The Weather Makers:

Australia’s east coast is no stranger to drought, but the dry spell that began in 1998 is different from anything that has gone before….The cause of the decline of rainfall on Australia’s east coast is thought to be a climate-change double whammy – the loss of winter rainfall and the prolongation of El Nino-like conditions. 

The resulting water crisis here is potentially even more damaging than the one in the west … As of mid 2005 the situation remains critical… very little time to arrange alternative water sources such as large scale desalination plants.

Also in 2005, on ABC News Online, he predicted that the ongoing drought could leave Sydney’s dams dry in just two years.

In 2006 he said:

We’re already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we’re getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that’s translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That’s because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that’s a real worry for the people in the bush. If that trend continues then I think we’re going to have serious problems, particularly for irrigation.

In January 2007 Flannery wrote:

What this tells us is that Australia’s extraordinary drought is part of a global phenomenon: it simply cannot be part of some local natural cycle. The one-in-1000-years drought is, in fact, Australia’s manifestation of the global fingerprint of drought caused by climate change.

There are other indications that climate change rather than natural variability lies behind this dry. Common sense tells us that, in a warming world the winter rainfall will retract southwards, which is precisely what we have seen over the past 50 years. Common sense also tells us that warming will lead to greater evaporation and loss of soil moisture, which again is just what we see in nature.

Furthermore, the computer models predict that as the Pacific Ocean warms, rainfall across eastern Australia will reduce until a semi-permanent el-Nino-like state is induced.

In May 2007 he warned that:

Brisbane and Adelaide – home to a combined total of three million people – could run out of water by year’s end;

and that the country was facing

the most extreme and the most dangerous situation arising from climate change facing any country in the world right now.

In June 2007 he said:

Over the past 50 years southern Australia has lost about 20 per cent of its rainfall, and one cause is almost certainly global warming. Similar losses have been experienced in eastern Australia, and although the science is less certain it is probable that global warming is behind these losses too. But by far the most dangerous trend is the decline in the flow of Australian rivers: it has fallen by around 70 per cent in recent decades, so dams no longer fill even when it does rain …

In Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months.

In 2008 he warned again that:

The water problem is so severe for Adelaide that it may run out of water by early 2009.

Then it started to rain. And it rained – and rained – and rained – and rained.

By December 2008 Adelaide’s reservoirs were 75% full, Perth’s 40%, Sydney’s 63%, and Brisbane’s reservoir’s were 46% full.

Presently Adelaide’s reservoirs are 75%, Perth’s 28%, Melbourne’s 61%, Sydney’s 78%, and Brisbane’s reservoir’s are 72% full.

If governments hadn’t been swayed by fanatical counselors like Flannery and intimidated by Green politicians, they wouldn’t have wasted billions of our dollars on white elephant desalination plants; but they would have allowed more dams to be built which would have reduced the need for water restrictions when it didn’t rain enough, and reduced the damage from floods when it rained too much.

Of course the Greens quickly recalibrated their spin and claimed that floods as well as droughts are evidence of anthropomorphic climate change – which makes their hypothesis un-falsifiable.

If both more rain and less rain verifies it, the only way it would not be verified is if rainfall remained consistent year after year – which really would be an unprecedented climate change in this land “of drought and flooding rains” as the poet Dorothea Mackellar described it a hundred years ago.