No One Drought…

I know that you can’t blame a single drought, heat wave, hurricane, etc., on climate change. But the current drought in Australia has clearly become part of the political dynamic there. Consider a couple of stories on the wire this morning. First this:

Immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not halt the continuing damage to Australia’s environment, a federal government researcher warns.

The CSIRO expects Sydney’s maximum temperatures to rise 1.6 degrees by 2030 and 4.8 degrees by 2070.

Average rainfall will decrease by 40 per cent and water evaporation rates will jump 24 per cent by 2040 under the scorching conditions.

And this:

With Australia gripped by its worst drought on record, the issue of climate change has emerged as a battleground in this year’s national elections.

Prime Minister John Howard has come under renewed criticism for not ratifying the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, making Australia the only major industrial nation other than the U.S. to reject the treaty that mandates lower emissions of global-warming greenhouse gases.


  1. With regards to the second extract, the Howard Liberal (read “conservative”) government has been in office for so many years now that they are starting to reap what they have (failed to) sow many years ago, even on such long-term issues as climate policy. Decisions they made early in their term would have been implemented by now.

  2. John, though not widely reported, there has been observed tightening of the Antarctic Polar Vortex with its consequent pulling the subtropical jet poleward and thereby shifting S. Australia preciptation poleward as well.

    Will this pattern continue? Does recorded Antarctic upper stratosphere low temeprature have implication in the rearrangement of the Polar Vortex? Will South Australia drought go from cyclic to chronic? Time will tell.

    Australia lost 60 pecent of 2006 wheat crop. Markets are depressed with wholesale sell-off of cattle and sheep.

    What a frightening irony if Australia’s only significant export, in the near future, is coal to China.

    John L. McCormick

  3. I may not be reading your first sentence right, but … If you mean that highlighting a single [extreme] drought cannot demonstrate a changing climate, I agree. If you mean that the role of a changing climate cannot be detected in a single drought, or even that a single drought cannot be completely due to a changing climate, I disagree.

  4. The current drought in Australia is not an extreme drough, in intensity terms. It is a long drought. Going on the last 150 years, it’s a once in 50 year event.

    The question should be, How much is natural variation & how much is global warming?

    Just remember pollies, special interest groups & the media have been known to lie, spin and beat things up, from time to time.


  5. Daniel –

    I was being glib and unclear, but meant the former – that highlighting a single example is insufficient. In fact, there’s some literature bearing on the question of the link between current conditions in Australia and climate change, but I’ve been too busy/lazy to track it down.

    Gnoll110 –

    Thanks to the aforementioned busy/lazy, I’ve not had or taken the time to track down data on the return interval issue that you bring up. Can you point me to some references? I’ve seen (and commented previously) on this “worst drought in a thousand years” claim that’s been surfacing in the Australian media, but I’d like more of a foundation for the actual return interval discussion.

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