Residents of Queensland’s flood hit communities have been returning to their homes to find devastation, and to begin the long process of cleaning and rebuilding. At least 31 have died, with an additional 40 currently listed as missing. Already there are claims of governmental mismanagement, and blame is being heavily laid at the feet of a strong La Nina and climate change.
But in a country which is known the world over for being a hell-trap to live in, with natural disasters being broadcast across the world news at least once a year, where does the blame actually lie?
A new study published in the journal Environmental Hazards, authored by Macquarie University’s John McAneney and Kevin Roche, who also work with Risk Frontiers, an independent research centre at Macquarie University which is devoted to the understanding and pricing of catastrophe risks for the insurance and emergency management sectors, show that the cost of natural disasters should be laid at the feet of societal changes rather than climate change.
The recent flooding which inundated Queensland saw levels very similar to floods which took place in 1974, but the cost was significantly more this time around. If the two floods were similar, then we can’t lay the blame solely on climate change, which leaves us looking for someone else to blame.
Or something else.
McAneney and Roche looked at 22 separate peer-reviewed studies of weather-related natural disasters to find that the increasing costs as a result of natural disasters is not solely representative of an increase in natural disasters across the globe, but rather the increase in population, wealth, and inflation.
The 2009 Black Saturday Fires which took the lives of 173 Victorians has often been blamed on increasing temperatures, and while the fire may or may not be the result of climate change, the lives and property lost cannot be solely attributed to the same cause. People have been moving into bush areas with increasing frequency over the past several decades, wanting to escape city life and enjoy the scenic beauty of Australia’s bushlands. Is it any wonder that the costs from Black Saturday were higher than they would have been in the 70s?
In 1974 Brisbane and its surrounding suburbs were much less densely populated than they are today. And, situated on a flood plain, the threat of floods has seen many mortgages require flood insurance. In 1841 and 1893 floods ripped through the region, with waters topping 8.35 metres, a total 3.9 metres higher than the 2011 peak.
The authors of the paper do not deny that climate change is taking place, nor that it is increasing the frequency of natural disasters, they only point out that the cost of these disasters cannot be solely laid at the feet of climate change when people and governments fail to acknowledge the potential dangers of areas being inundated with population growth and urban expansion.