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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Asymmetric planning for weather

Could the Brisbane flood have been moderated if officials were not obsessed with drought?

The always perceptive Brendan O'Neill raises an important point about the Brisbane floods, which just may have been exacerbated by a collective institutional obsession with preparing for droughts caused by global warming (hat tip Bishop Hill).

It is worth looking at  a document called ClimateSmart 2050, which was published in 2007 by the Queensland government. It outlines Queensland's priorities for the next four decades (up to 2050) and promises to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent during that timeframe. The most striking thing about the document is its assumption that the main problem facing this part of Australia, along with most of the rest of the world, is essentially dryness brought about by global warming. It argues that "the world is experiencing accelerating climate change as a result of human activities", which is giving rise to "worse droughts, hotter temperatures and rising sea levels". We are witnessing "a tendency for less rainfall with more droughts", the document confidently asserted.

As a consequence the government went on warning of water shortages even as the Wivenhoe dam got close to full, apparently forgetting that one of the dam's jobs was to act as a flood shock absorber. As with British snow, the concern seems to have asymmetric, suggesting that climate change is causing officials to forget that weather noise may still be far more important than climate signal even in a slowly warming world.

O'Neill's conclusion is characteristically wise:

This is not to say that "greens are to blame for Brisbane". There's no point joining the current clamour to find one evil person or one evil that can be held responsible for what is a very complex natural disaster. However, in a world in which the political elites increasingly spend their time fantasising over a future hot apocalypse, where it is fashionable to make Biblical predictions about mankind receiving a sweaty punishment for his wayward behaviour, it is worths raising the possibility at least that our priorities have become seriously skewed. Perhaps it is time for our leaders to come back down to Earth, and to address problems in the here and now, rather than endlessly moralising about man's behaviour and its future impact on Mother Earth.