Climate change and the flood crisis: Make big business pay!

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Greens Leader Bob Brown has sparked a controversy in the Murdoch media for his comment that the coal industry is to blame for the recent floods in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The extreme “weather events” are exactly the kind that climate change models predict. And climate change is caused largely by polluting industries, of which coal mining and coal burning are the worst. How many more floods like the Toowoomba/Lockyer Valley “inland tsunami” must occur before big business and its tame politicians act to deal with global warming?

They’ll keep happening until the last cent of profit has been squeezed out of the Earth’s environment unless we stop them first. While Brown is refreshingly correct about who the culprits are, he would be even more credible if he took the next step and named capitalism itself as the ultimate cause of the disaster. But he won’t, because The Greens is not an anti-capitalist party.

The sheer extent of the fast-moving inland seas covering more than a million square kilometres is hard to comprehend. It’s as if Victoria and New South Wales were completely covered with water. An unknown number of people have lost their lives; thousands of homes are uninhabitable, whole industries at a standstill and the centre of the country’s third largest city closed down. It is surely a disaster, perhaps Australia’s worst, but there’ s nothing natural about it.

It comes down to this: the Earth’s atmosphere is warming at an unprecedented rate as carbon dioxide and methane are spewed into the air at a rate far higher than the environment can absorb. A hotter atmosphere means more evaporation and therefore more water vapour. When that vapour precipitates as rain onto an already wet landscape, well, we’ve seen the result.

The floods had not yet peaked when the usual bunch of climate deniers, many in the pay of the mining and energy industries, began peddling their excuses. One of these is that the weather is a just result of a strong La Niña weather system in the Pacific. This is just an unscientific trick. The climate system is — obviously — integrated across the planet. The effect of La Niña is to make weather systems more extreme. Underlying the ferocious storms that hit the country in December and January is the hotter atmosphere.

Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu cast his vote for the deniers during the flood crisis in this state. Asked whether Victorian Governor, David de Kretser was right in his observation that severe weather events were becoming more frequent, Baillieu said that there was no link. He then rolled out the now-predictable line that experts (from government-owned Melbourne Water), could not be relied upon, because 12 months ago they had said that South East Australia could expect 30% less rain and now they’re predicting 30% more. The simple fact is that the world’ s climate is a chaotic system — it is always changing, it cannot be fully understood by current science, and it is becoming unstable.

There is more than enough evidence that severe weather events are becoming more frequent. Every mainland capital city, except Darwin, has suffered a damaging weather event in the last 15 years, leaving damage of billions of dollars. Melbourne has had three “100 year storms” in six years: 2004, 2005 and 2010. Further afield, the worst flood in recorded history ripped Pakistan apart. Last year a hurricane formed over land in North America, and both Europe and North America have had some of the worst snowstorms on record.

It is true that no single weather event can be directly attributed to global warming. There are too many variables, like local terrain and human settlement, to make a direct link. But global warming makes bad weather events worse, and causes more bad weather events. There is no scientific evidence to support climate change denial. There’ s only ignorance and the deep pockets of the pollution industry.

Should the coal industry pay for the clean up? Too right! But they’ re not the only culprits. There are the power generators and the oil cartel to blame, too.

Write to Julia Gillard supporting her idea for a levy to pay for the repairs to infrastructure — but only as a steeply graduated tax on big business. The more they profit from pollution, the more they pay. Working people and the thousands of small business ruined by the deluge of 2011 must not pay a cent for a disaster caused by capitalism’ s defilement of our planet.

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