Drought and the Nationals*

Ensay, East Gippsland May 1998

Thirty years ago the CSIRO published a substantial work (Pearman, G. [ed.] Greenhouse: Planning for Climate Change, 1988) detailing the multiple effects of climate change and proposed actions to combat them. Amongst many effects these scientists predicted climate change would make droughts more common and more extreme in the future. At this time these CSIRO scientists were amongst world leaders in this field. More recently, and most shamefully with the support of the Nationals, the Abbott government downgraded the work of their atmospheric physics department – a clear example of ‘shooting the messenger’.

The science of the greenhouse effect has been known for nearly 200 years. For more than 150 years it has been known that carbon dioxide (CO2) was the major greenhouse gas and that if it was increased the temperature of the earth would warm. For more than 50 years the steady increase of CO2 has been measured at Mauna Loa and more recently at Cape Grim. The obvious, and correct, conclusion is man’s burning of fossil fuels, in particular coal, has caused the warming experienced so far.

In line with these conclusions Gippsland has warmed on average by one degree over the last 50 years and rainfall has declined on average about 100mm. In drought years aside from reduced rainfall there is increased evaporation as a result of the warming and the consequent loss of soil moisture. This may be further exacerbated in El Nino weather events and these trends will continue within the normal patterns of weather.

Our local member, Tim Bull of the National Party, has recently been making noises about the local drought. In the current issue of the Great Eastern Mail he noted the drought areas of NSW were getting all the publicity and that areas of his electorate – Gippsland East – were also very dry. He further noted that a dire shortage of fodder loomed if we did not get decent rain. If the drought continues as predicted and with further warmer and dryer weather enhanced by a possible El Nino, disaster threatens. Mr Bull has been aware that climate change means warmer and dryer weather on average for at least four years and probably twice as long.

To connect the dots for the Nationals (and Mr. Bull) – mankind has increased greenhouse gases which has made our climate warmer and drier. In promoting coal and opposing the adoption of clean energy alternatives, by politicising the science, they have managed to adopt policies the exact opposite of what is required. Their supporters deserve better but perhaps in allowing the science to be politicised they too are partly to blame.

*An earlier version of this letter, without the second last paragraph, was published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 7.9