As Australia's deadly floods continued to spread this week, swollen rivers forced the evacuation of several more towns, exacerbating a natural disaster that has already killed 30 people and driven tens of thousands from their homes. Damage from the weeks of flooding will cost the country at least $5 billion — a tally that was made before the waters reached Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, last week. Eco-conscious Australians are debating whether the rare intensity of the disaster is a result of global climate change. Could there be a connection? (Watch a report about the clean-up in Brisbane)
Of course there is: The downpours in Australia "only reinforce" theories about global warming and the far-reaching effects that "several degrees" difference in ocean waters can have, says Al Oleksuik in The Niagara Falls Review. In this case, we're seeing the results of La Niña, a naturally occurring upwelling of cool waters in the Pacific that can send moisture-laden air to drench distant lands. Warmer air holds more water, so the extreme weather now pounding Australia could become the new normal — better "stock up on snow shovels" and raincoats.
"Taking the effects of global warming seriously"
Climate change is not the culprit: Most scientists will tell you there's no evidence linking Australia's floods to climate change, says Brendan O'Neill in Britain's The Telegraph. That said, fear of climate change may have been a factor. "Climate-change obsessed bureaucrats" allowed the Wivenhoe dam at Brisbane to fill up in recent years because they believed "rainfall would decline and dry seasons would become more intense." The decision to store up water reserves unnecessarily might have made the flooding worse.
"Did Australia's obsession with global warming contribute to the Brisbane floods?"
Blame Australia's woes on bad city planning: Forget climate change, says Steve Connor in Britain's The Independent. Reckless urban planning helped turn the floods in Australia — and the recent mudslides in Brazil — into truly large-scale disasters. Rapid and poorly managed development "can increase the risk of flooding" by disrupting the natural flow of rainwater to rivers and preventing it from seeping away "safely." A warmer world will produce more extreme weather — but we still have the power to mitigate catastrophe.
"This isn't about climate change — but it may be the face of the future"