ONE of the benefits of running the argument about dangerous climate change is that you can never lose.
The report about climate impacts on NSW released yesterday by the federal government’s Climate Commission primarily focuses on the claim that “NSW is becoming hotter and drier” and pinpoints western Sydney as a hotspot.
Yet it adds to the drama by highlighting, complete with photo, the flash-flooding in Sydney two months ago. It justifies this inclusion with reference to an earlier report that said: “Climate change cannot be ruled out as a factor in recent heavy rainfall events.”
This is not a high threshold – much else, presumably, cannot be ruled out.
The Australian continues to support a rational and science-based approach to climate change, so we accept that the majority of scientific opinion says human-induced carbon emissions are contributing to a warming climate. We also agree that global action to reduce carbon emissions is the most sensible way to tackle the problem (although Australia’s expensive and extensive carbon tax will take us ahead of the pack on this task, risking damage to our economy for no environmental gain).
Yet voters are entitled to be cynical about the timing and content of the commission’s latest offering. It comes just weeks before the the carbon tax comes into force, coincides with the government-funded advertising for compensation payments and will form the basis for a community forum in Sydney’s western suburbs, which are a crucial political battleground.
If the commission’s task is truly to build community awareness, then high profile commissioner Tim Flannery has been remarkably inconspicuous over recent months as, around the country, dams that he suggested might dry up in a succession of droughts have filled to overflowing.
For too long there has been a preponderance of alarmist voices spruiking fear rather than rational discussion on climate. The NSW
report says that state is “highly vulnerable to climate change” and that scientists are concerned about increasing “risk of hot weather, heatwaves and bushfires” as well as “drought and heavy rainfall”. We all know that all those events do occur in our environment. So what the public deserve is evidence of changing patterns. References to climate change not being ruled out as a factor don’t actually meet the common man test.
To its credit, the report does explain that the build-up of infrastructure could be contributing to higher temperature recordings in western Sydney. This begs the question about the emotional language of the rest of the report. And our analysis of Bureau of Meteorology figures shows that the commission has been selective in its use of temperature recording stations.