Here today, drowned tomorrow

by Tony Thomas

August 29, 2012

Climate change presents a risk to the survival of the human race and other species. Consequently, it is a deadly serious issue. — Mr Justice Biscoe, NSW Land & Environment Court, endorsing climate-change flood risks at Thirroul, NSW.

People of Melbourne and Sydney: do not panic about CO2-induced sea rises that will allegedly put tens of thousands of homes, shops and offices under water. The Federal Department of Climate Change (DCC) has the situation in hand.

Melbourne is a low-lying coastal city. Seas will rise 1.1m this century, according to “the science”, touted by the department. That’s because of human-caused global warming and our reluctance to cut carbon dioxide emissions to “near zero” by 2100, as urged by the Australian Academy of Science.

Moving uphill is one solution, the department says. But that is not easy for residents of, say, Elwood, Brighton, Cranbourne, Werribee, Pt Cook, Hoppers Crossing, or Geelong. Or, in NSW, Lake Macquarie, Gosford, Wyong, Wollongong, Shoalhaven and Rockdale.

So how about storm-surge barriers, as on The Thames and in low-lying Holland? No, says the department, that “would not be cost effective against a rise in sea level of several meters”.

The department’s practical answer to Melbourne’s impending “Venice effect”: a $10 billion dyke from Pt Nepean to Pt Lonsdale at the entrance to Port Phillip. The department concedes it would be “challenging to construct”, as The Rip between the heads would require a dyke some three kilometres long and constructed in water some 20 metres deep. Despite this distance, The Rip is relatively narrow compared with the circumference of the rest of the Bay, which is around 220 kilometres.

“The dyke would need to have locks to allow water and ships to pass. The locks would then be shut if a storm surge or high tide was forecast. However, because of the powerful currents and swells, constructing a dyke stretching across The Rip would be a difficult engineering challenge and would be very expensive…

“However, even if the cost of protection was $10 billion for Melbourne alone, it would still be a lower-cost alternative to losing low-lying infrastructure, building assets and the cost of disruption to the local economy and society.”

The $10 billion seems to be made up of $5 billion for dykes and sea-walls around the Bay, and another $5 billion for floodgates “on every river system” feeding into it. The department also sees potential in harnessing the tidal power for lovely (but usually expensive) green electricity.

The department then pauses to have a think about the Harbour City.

“The Sydney metropolitan area comprises four major estuaries including Broken Bay, Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and Port Hacking. Constructing dykes across these four estuary entrances would be a colossal undertaking. Thankfully, however, the foreshores, typically, are relatively steep and rocky, thereby having already some considerable allowance for future sea-level rise. Nevertheless, there are still low-lying foreshore areas that may need to be protected from inundation by dykes or seawalls.”

The northern areas of Sydney Airport would have to be raised 1 metre, costing well over $1b. The airport might even have to close, and then imagine the disruption to national tourism and business, the department says.

The department, with its 920 staff (full-time equivalent), has thought of everything. It notes that wharfies are allowed to down tools at 38 deg, so if hot days increase as it predict, ports will get less efficient.

The document concludes with a 2009 photo — meant to be treated seriously – of a greenies’ stunt at St Kilda beach, where participants used their bodies to spell out “Climate Change: our future is in your hands.” The usual pics chosen to illustrate these official documents are historic shots of flooded towns or photoshopped towns overlaid with 50 or 100 year imagined sea rises).

Even today, the department’s website proclaims: “There is growing evidence that lower rainfall and reduced runoff in south-east of Australia is linked to global warming and cannot be explained by natural variation alone.” The reality: natural variability has since re-filled even Melbourne’s long-depleted dams to more than 75%.

Ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his Climate Change Minister Penny Wong claimed the credit for that late-2009 dyke document, and it was even pre-leaked it to maximize the press exposure. It did attract a ripple of media interest: “Threats looming fast for vital facilities” is how then-Sydney Morning Herald’s ace environment editor Marian Wilkinson, now roosting at the ABC, summed it up. Her story had an attractive pic of the Port of Newcastle, but with a caption: “Calm before the storm … Newcastle’s port is facing inundation from rising sea levels.” But Julia Gillard is the new Rudd and Greg Combet is the new Wong. Their political survival now seems to rank above dyke-ing The Rip, elevating Sydney Airport and safeguarding the Port of Newcastle from fast-looming sea threats.

The head and foundation member of the Climate Change Department at the time of the dyke report was Martin Parkinson, whose seawall expertise and apocalyptic fears earned him a promotion by Julia Gillard in March, 2011, to run the Federal Treasury. In my Press Gallery days (1970s), Treasury people were loathe to see public moneys tossed around. More recently, the Howard government told its Treasury Secretary Ken Henry to butt out of climate change. Today the Treasury is full of wild-eyed climate modellers and sympathisers.

New peer-reviewed research debunking the whole sea-rise story is now available from Adjunct Professor Alberto Boretti at Ballarat University. A former R&D man for Fiat in Italy, he did the obvious and looked at trends in the most reliable sea-rise data. This data was from TOPEX and Jason satellite radar altimeters covering the last 20 years. Applying standard statistical analyses showed that the rate of sea-level rise in the past 5-10 years is strongly decelerating, not accelerating. Obviously, to get to a 1.1 metre rise this century, we need an average rise of more than 12mm a year, a startling acceleration compared with average annual rise since 1993 of 3mm. Boretti also notes that sea rises in the past 20 years have never been anywhere near 11mm in one year. As he puts it, a forecasts of 1m sea rise by 2100 is “unrealistic” and simplistic”. However, the sea-rise scare is impervious to research like Boretti’s.

On the larger scale, the multi-billion federal Building Australia Fund requires climate change to be deferred to in State infrastructure proposals. The climate juggernaut has also rolled through the National Construction Code, which now factors in human-caused climate-change impacts of flooding, cyclones, bushfires, and even overheating of occupants.

On a smaller scale, the State-level bureaucrats and their local government helots have not forgotten the feds’ “dyke document”. It has generated a cascade of state reports, and then local councils have woven that material into their own planning codes and benchmarks. In truth those council bureaucrats had little choice, as conformity to state recommendations helps shift legal liability (“in good faith”) from councils to state level, and states find it difficult to object to federal demands.

The NSW government has a “general suite of management options” to deal with sea rises. They include “restrictive zonings, planned retreat, voluntary purchase, re-locatable buildings, seawalls, groynes and ‘flap gates’ on tidal channels”.

Take Lake Macquarie, NSW, as an example. The council is confident that foreshore land within 0.5m of mean sea level will be permanently flooded by 2050 and land within 1 metre permanently flooded by 2100. The values of 10,000 properties in the district are now hurt by council red tape directly attributable to dubious projections of rising seas.

The council does ask the $64 question on sea-level rises: “What if the scientists have got it wrong?” It notes uncertainties, but then implies that these involve under-estimation of the rise.

At nearby Gosford, the Council in 1995 graphed hazard lines predicting a six-metre sea rise over a line of beachfront houses by 2015. With only three years left to go, one Avoca resident, former CSIRO engineer Denis Whitnall, says the shoreline is still 100metres from his back door, as it was in 1951. A two-metre annual rise for the next three years seems rather unlikely.

We’ll get to “the science” behind the feds’ 1.1m sea rises shortly, but first an extraordinary fact. In general, Australian beaches are accreting, not eroding! Here’s what the bureaucrats admit:

“Over recent decades many Australian beaches have been stable or even accreting because the sediment supply has been sufficient. It is expected that sea-level rise will change this dynamic, and an important question is when stable or accreting beaches will flip to receding beaches in the face of rising sea levels? … It is possible that, with climate change, some beaches could recede hundreds of metres over the course of this century.…

“The switch from generally accreting beaches to a receding coastline is a key threshold for coastal management and is not well understood.”

Elsewhere they add that they don’t actually understand how and why accreting beaches would do the ‘flipping’.

“The switch from generally accreting beaches to a receding coastline is a key threshold for coastal management and is not well understood.”

The federal department blames public apathy in part on what it calls people’s “cognitive dissonance”, which sees people disregard data that doesn’t conform to their prejudices. Well, what data? (By the way, official guidelines on sea rises, including the CSIRO’s, have a disclaimer refusing any legal liability if people suffer loss by believing what they’re being told.)

NSW and Victoria settled on 80-90cm rather than the feds’ 1.1m sea rise. The NSW figure, for example, comprises 0.59 metre rise by 2100 from thermal expansion, 0.2 metre from ice melt, and 0.14 metre from regional effects (courtesy of CSIRO’s imaginings based on our warmer east coast currents). Hence a rounded total of 0.9m.

The Urban Development Institute of NSW complained that the 90cm was “highly speculative and scientifically questionable” – one of the few sane comments I came across in a mountain of official material. But the Development Institute is prepared to go along with 40cm sea rise benchmark for 2050, which seems hardly less speculative or questionable.

In June this year, in a faint glimmer of common sense, the Victorian government scrapped its 80cm guideline for towns such as Lakes Entrance and Port Fairy, but perversely kept it for other new developments.

South-East Queensland is supposed to be “particularly vulnerable” to climate- change sea rises. More than 30 well-funded scientists from academia and the CSIRO are working on the “first comprehensive regional study of climate change adaptation in Australia, and one of just a few worldwide.” (Maybe other countries don’t take this stuff so seriously).

One minute the Australian “science” is saying that regional climate change modeling is difficult and maybe impossible, next minute the large task forces are paid to model exactly that. There are myriads of local districts wanting to know from university and CSIRO seers what will happen to their coast, so funding seems available forever.

In WA, the coalition state government has put out a position paper proposing that a disclosure of hazards and vulnerability be required on relevant coastal land titles. Submissions closed last May 31. This is hip-pocket stuff for land-owners, who may still be blissfully unaware of what a conservative state government is about to hit them with.

The federal federal department admits its sea-level planning for 100 years ahead might seem too long-sighted but, it says, we should actually be planning for “centuries” ahead in the case of major city’s footprints.

The department piles on the hypotheticals. Its estimate is that if we don’t cut Co2, and hence the world’s heat in 2100 rises 5deg, we’ll get 30 metres of sea rises eventually, which means over thousands of years. (This seems equivalent to Julius Caesar fretting about Barack Obama’s health-care politics). The same report warns that sea rises could go as high as in the Eocene period 40 million years ago, “if the drivers of climate change are left unchecked”.

The one-metre-rise material originates from the IPCC’s 2007 report. But peeling back the onion, the IPCC’s case about dangerous human-caused global and sea warming rests on output of its models. These models assert (i.e. build in) that the generally-agreed one-degree rise this coming century directly due to Co2 emissions (that is, before feedbacks) will be amplified to 3-4 degrees by positive feedback mechanisms that mainly involve humidity and clouds. This assertion is at the core of warming theory but the evidence is running the opposite way.

From our bureaucrats’ point of view, the IPCC’s 2007 work is now passé because they have found later, even scarier material. According to the federal Climate Change Department, “more recent analysis finds that sea-level rise of up to a metre or more this century is plausible.” Further, “nearly all of the uncertainties in sea-level rise projections operate to increase rather than lower estimates of sea-level rise.” It claims a “growing consensus in the science community” that rises of even 1.5 metre can’t be ruled out.

Wait! There’s more! Namely “very new research” based on someone’s equations for temperatures and sea levels. These new, even scarier projections were the sensation of the March, 2009, Climate Change Science Congress in Copenhagen, where the upper bound went to 1.9 metres!

As if sea rise projections weren’t scary enough, the bureaucrats have added to their mix the factors of worsening cyclones and wind speeds, the “extreme weather events” meme earlier described more poetically as “droughts and flooding rain”.

While our climate officials are quick to pick up any pessimistic research, I can find no mention by them of the special report by the IPCC in November, 2011. That report, by about 30 top IPCC experts, said any extreme-weather impacts from climate change would be indistinguishable from natural variability for the next 20-30 years, which takes us a good way towards the 2050 prediction point often used by building regulators. The IPCC report also said that the IPCC models are more or less useless out to 2100. It seems that the federal department likes to cite IPCC reports when they support scary claims and to ignore IPCC reports which don’t support scary claims.

Judges, meanwhile, have been persuaded by warmist arguments. A classic case was when environmentalist Jill Walker successfully challenged the NSW Government in November, 2007. The government had approved a subdivision and retirement home plan by Stockdale and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney for Sandon Pointt, Thirroul. Ms Walker claimed the government hadn’t factored in climate change flood risk. Mr Justice Biscoe backed Ms Walker, saying:

“Climate change presents a risk to the survival of the human race and other species. Consequently, it is, a deadly serious issue. It has been increasingly under public scrutiny for some years. No doubt that is because of global scientific support for the existence and risks of climate change and its anthropogenic causes. Climate change flood risk is, prima facie, a risk that is potentially relevant to a flood constrained, coastal plain development such as the subject project.”

The judge ran through the history of the IPCC reports, taking all conclusions at face value and not inquiring into the dodgy IPCC methodologies later documented by Donna Laframboise. It was poetic justice that the defendants lost, since, as the judge said, “In the present case there is no submission that climate change is not occurring nor that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have not contributed to it.”

Tony Thomas is a retired journalist.

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