Saturday, 14 July 2012

Climate science under dust cloud

Jack Waterford
OLD AUSTRALIA is sustained by a number of myths far more satisfactory than the truth, and I will thank the climate change people to focus their deconstructions in another direction.
One of their myths is that most of us - at least the people whose ancestors had arrived by World War II - were rural people by background, with the full suite of baggage involving wholesome values, hard work, knowing the Kildare side of a cow and being of an active family, clan and close community in which all knew each other well, were often related, and met regularly at church, or chapel, at the top of the hill.
That did, more or less, happen to me, but the overwhelming proportion of white Australians, from 1798 on, lived always in cities, and practised urban sorts of pursuits, such as factory work, hanging, flogging and exogamy. On the whole, they did not even come, voluntarily or otherwise, from rural villages and towns in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but from the slums of the larger cities. Ways and customs of farm or field, paddock and bush did not much abide in most of these folk.
But they did like to think that they were rural folk at heart, because so many had a vision of themselves as simple, proud and dignified folk, working not as tiny factors of production but in wholesome, simple but hard-working labour involving the production of food, simple tools and personal wherewithal, far from the dark satanic mills of the England of several hundred years ago.

In this fantasy of Merrie England, people lived as they had for centuries, the population was usually fairly steady, most people never travelled more than 20 miles from where they were born in their entire life, except sometimes as soldiers, and great events and tumults usually had only mild local impact. Transplanted in Australia, many Australians developed, within only a generation or two, a notion that a good sprinkling of the ancestors had worked the Australian land as well.
We like these myths because we tend to imagine that most social change has taken place in relatively recent time - and that it has, perhaps, involved some sort of expulsion from Eden from the embrace of technology, strangers, the slums, the smells and the indignities of the factory, the machine and the wicked temptations of all too crowded flesh. Many of us yearn in our hearts for simpler, less complicated, and imaginably more healthy times.
Facts do little to affect this romance, or rural idyll. The history of Australia, as much as of Britain or Ireland, has always involved great change and dislocations, usually at least once every generation, caused not only by war, but by the rise and fall of empires, of industries and of diseases. Quite apart from the inexorable sprawl of our cities, there is hardly a part of settled Australia that is not substantially different than a 150 years ago, than 100 years ago, or 50 years ago.
A bit more than 150 years ago, for example, there were more than 20,000 people scrabbling for gold around Braidwood, most of whom had likewise scrabbled up the Clyde mountain with everything they possessed in the world. There were perhaps 10,000 living in tents through winter at Kiandra, but, as at Braidwood, one has to search hard for evidence these days. About 120 years ago, Wiluna in Western Australia (present population perhaps 200, nearly all Aboriginal) had a population of 20,000. About the same time, towns such as Wilcannia on the Darling River were among the busiest ports in Australia, taking wool and copper to the sea at Goolwa in South Australia.
Nothing has dislocated modern Australia more than the mortality of WWI. Half of the population of young adult males went overseas: one in seven was killed; three of that seven suffered disabling wounds or disease. Less than a year after the survivors reached home, about 10,000 Australians died of the Spanish flu. If the flu death rate were the same in Canberra today, we'd have had 900 extra deaths in two months. In Indonesia, the net mortality was about 1.5 million - perhaps three times the mortality of the 2004 tsunami, or, comparing on a population-equivalent basis, with the social effect of the death of 12 million people there today.
As mining boomed and busted, agriculture waxed and waned, other industries flourished then disappeared, and people moved about Australia for jobs and opportunities. Few Australians - even well-off farmers - have occupied the same soil for more than two generations, or, for that matter, practised much the same trade as their grandfathers or mothers. It is unlikely that even pronounced climate change will have such effects, unless it drowns coast-dwellers.
This week some city-based climate change scientists looked at some remote Australian towns and villages, looking at weather and economic data to see which might wax and wane as a result of climate change - assumed to be likely to make weather hotter, drier, and subject to greater fluctuation than before as a result of a general warming of the earth.
To my shock and horror they predicted an end to Goodooga - fondly described by me often in these columns as the jewel of the Bokhara, centre of civilisation, and once the location, admittedly a while ago, of the Magnetic South Pole as well as of the family of the person to whom I sometimes refer by means of the perpendicular pronoun. It was number 17 on a list of places which might disappear up its own fundament, led by White Cliffs, which I likewise expect to see Queanbeyan out.
Pigs, I say. What would these boffins know? Out at Goodooga we are not even sure that the evidence is in, as yet, that the climate's getting hotter, locally. Or drier. Or dustier. This is not to doubt the general pattern of warming, or its anthropogenesis. It reflects, rather, the fact that the local weather has always been on the warmish side, the dryish side, the dusty side, and that there have always been marked and unpredictable variations. Right now, we are in goodish times, indeed have recently had floods after longish droughts, but neither the length nor severity of the droughting or the flooding was anything special, by our reckoning. As for hot weather, we remember a consistently warmer spell in 1963-64, and no one left town then, except for extra beer supplies. Some locals reckon it was drier in Noah's time, as well as in the federation drought. When it rained at Ararat for 40 days and 40 nights, we got only 17 points (4mm) at Goodooga. And survived, of course, and without bitching.
In only the past 50 years, people have received 240 volt electricity, air conditioning, telephones and now mobile and computer reception, refrigeration, bitumen roads and a metropolis only 100kms to the south-east. And a good many undesirables have moved out.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, we say. You city folk should worry about yourselves. We'll be OK until the next Ice Age.
Original Article Here

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...