Published January 17, 2011
If the news from Tucson has been grim this month, the news from Australia has been no better. For years, we Aussies have been fighting drought across our dry continent. This summer, however, we’ve had to combat horrifying floods which have all but submerged the prosperous northeast state of Queensland. Think Texas under water.
There has been much brave talk of Australia’s “battler” spirit overcoming adversity. And the stories show the lengths to which extraordinary people go to in such an ordinarily lovely place to live in: one 13-year-old schoolboy, for instance, drowned begging rescuers to save his little brother first.
At last count, 17 are dead and many more remain missing. The central business district in Brisbane, the state capital and Australia’s third-largest city, was sinking a few days ago. More than 15,000 homes there have been inundated.
The Great Barrier Reef could face environmental disaster as the muddy brown plume has smothered vast areas of coral and fish. Thousands of deadly snakes and crocodiles and even some sharks have, as a result of the flooding, been washed into the streets of some coastal towns. Authorities estimate a damage bill of around A$15 billion (US$14.9 billion).
So, why are the floods happening? Much of Australia’s north is flood plain where normally dry riverbeds can dangerously erupt at the sound a thunderclap upstream. Perhaps dams could have captured the water and mitigated the flood’s damaging effects, not to mention protecting a huge area of the nation against drought. Alas, left-leaning governments at both the local and state levels, strongly influenced by green groups, have opposed the construction of dams for decades.
But the floods have been only the first stage of our national crisis; the long process of rebuilding and recovery has now begun. Unlike Louisiana’s Governor Kathleen Blanco in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Queensland’s Premier Anna Bligh has delivered polished yet genuine performances in front of cameras as she keeps her state and the nation informed.
Meanwhile, Australians are in no mood to play politics. That has not stopped a few climate enthusiasts from blaming the floods on man-made global warming. Bob Brown, the leader of the far left Greens -- which is in coalition with the minority Labor Government – has gone so far as to call on coal companies to foot the bill for the flood recovery. The reason: big coal is “the single biggest single cause... for climate change.”
How Senator Brown and the Greens explain other destructive Queensland floods in 1841, 1857, 1893, 1931 and 1974 is not clear.
This, incidentally, is the same Bob Brown who, two years ago, blamed man-made global warming for the Black Sunday bushfires in the south-east state of Victoria where more than 200 perished. Two years earlier, he also claimed climate change would cause “permanent drought” Down Under.
The truth is that Australia, as Dorothea McKellar wrote in her iconic patriotic poem more than a century ago, remains “a sunburnt country ...
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.”
Tom Switzer is a research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and editor of Spectator Australia.