Queensland floodwaters rearrange carpark. Photo credit: Sukhwindher Singh via ABC.
Almost two years ago Australia endured its worst bushfire catastrophe, when over 400 wildfires engulfed the state of Victoria and claimed 173 lives, injuring over 400 people and destroying over 3,500 buildings. Because of the preceding drought, tinder dry forests erupted a force of destructive energy that was likened to the equivalent of 1,500 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.
Now Australia faces another climate induced catastrophe. 75% of the northeast state of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone, due to unprecedented flooding. About 15 people were listed as dead, most washed away in floodwaters. In the past the toll climbed by another 10, with almost 80 people still unaccounted for. Complete houses have been swept away in a flash flood that has been described as an inland tsunami.After avoiding the worst of the flooding for the past two weeks, Queensland's capital city of Brisbane, will in the next 24 to 48 hours, be subjected to what forecasters predict could be its most severe flooding in recorded memory. By Thursday this week, 9,000 homes are expected to inundated, and another 30,000 flood affected.
Toowoomba flash flood. Photo credit: Reuters via ABC.
The Wivenhoe Dam, (which can hold twice the water capacity of Sydney Harbour), was designed especially to mitigate against flood damage to Brisbane, and yet the dam was at 193% capacity at the time of writing (100% for water supply and 93% for flood mitigation).
When 75% of Queensland is disaster declared due to flooding, that is a huge area, roughly equivalent to two Texas's or the entirety of South Africa. On the 31st of December Reuters was saying flood water was "covering an area bigger than France and Germany combined, inundating 22 towns and stranding 200,000 people." This is a continually unfolding natural disaster, of which the financial bill alone was projected to reach $5 billion AUD, and that was before the flash flooding of the past day or so.
The emotional and social cost will, of course, be immeasurable.
And what does all this have to do with TreeHugger?
2010 was Australia's third wettest year on record, with the second half of the year notching up the wettest on record.
Pakistan had its TreeHuggerworst floods in 80 years, taking the lives of an estimated 2,000 people and Germany's capital experienced its snowiest month in 110 years during December 2010. Norway's third largest city, Trondheim, had its coldest November since the beginning of recording temperatures in 1788. Northern Ireland recorded its lowest ever temperature of −18 °C (−0.4 °F) on the 19 December 2010.
Conversely in 2010, 17 countries broke their records for the highest official temperature, with Pakistan again taking a beating with a top of 53.5°C (128.3° F), considered the hottest temperature ever recorded on the Asian Continent.
And no, extremes of isolated weather do not climate change make. But the statistics do suggest that extremes of weather are increasing in frequency. And that is what is predicted as major consequence of climate change.
Australia is a rich, industrialised 'First World' country. But it's third most populous state, Queensland, is currently coping with floods which have already decimated food crops, livestock, road and rail infrastructure, mining and so on. The impacts of which will flow on (pardon the pun) to effect most every Australian. Already some particular fruits have all but disappeared from commercial markets.
The long term impact of environmental threats, like climate change, are not just whether we'll get to spend more time in either shorts or down jackets, they will profoundly influence how we structure society. Like where we grow our food, pasture our animals, build our homes and businesses, manage our transport infrastructure, and suchlike. And that may be our most significant challenge of all.