We watched one of the episodes of a TV Series entitled “I have seen the earth change” that commented on the 2006-07 drought experienced in the farming communities of New South Wales, Australia.
Two things impressed us: the resilience of the surviving farmers, to whom drought went “with the territory”. The hardship of drought was part of their family lore. These farmers recognized that climate change might have contributed to the extraordinary hot and dry weather they were experiencing, but they were not convinced to the depth of their souls. They only knew they had to adapt to these conditions whatever the cause.
In the year 2007 seventy three percent of Australians considered that climate change was important. By 2010 public opinion changed: only fifty three percent considered it was important and only sixteen per cent ranked it in the top three issues facing Australia. (Source: 2010 Lowy Institute Poll)
What factors lead to such a large swing in public opinion?
- At the end of the last decade, when denialism surged as a popular subject in the Australian press, many people decided they had been misled by climate change theories. Australians are egalitarian and confident in their own opinions, and they will not be intimidated by a scientific consensus.
- In part the Australian political parties contributed to rising scepticism. Aside from the Australian Greens Party, politicians flip-flopped on the issue of climate change. Why shouldn’t Australian voters conclude that the issue need not be taken that seriously?
- In part there was a recognition that the costs of reducing GHG emissions could impact an economy significantly dependant on the extraction of fossil fuels.
- Finally, voters reasoned that Australia was responsible for only 1% of the world’s total emissions, so why should Australia take on the burden of reducing GHG with little impact on global levels?
Ultimately, the years of drought came to an end, but were succeeded by three years of disastrous floods. In 2012 an area in New South Wales the size of France was flooded, or threatened with flooding. In 2011 Queensland experienced a disastrous flood that began in December 2010. In 2009, floods covered extensive areas in Northern Australia, and Queensland. These years of continuous flooding in various parts of Australia, have been described as the “worst ever”.
Starting with James Hansen and his colleagues in 1981, climatologists have told us that global warming will bring more extreme weather events. Droughts and floods will occur with greater frequency. The Australian experience confirms this reality.
But again, Australia has a long history of droughts and floods. So the denialists will explain away these recent years as natural climate variability. At least in Australian terms.