Disaster Declared as Australian City Sees a Year’s Worth of Rainfall Within Days
A disaster was declared in Townsville in Queensland, Australia after heavy rainfall caused a landslide Thursday that prompted police to order evacuations of properties including an apartment complex, Australia's ABC News reported. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed all schools and childcare centers in the area Friday as the rain is expected to keep falling through the weekend.
"There was no water on the ground around our house when I left," flood survivor Elly Carpentier said, according to The Guardian. Carpentier said she went to pick up two of her three children from school and came back to a flooded home. "The floodwater came up three meters (approximately 9.8 feet) in 30 minutes. My house was submerged under water, that's how quick it was. It was incredible. I have never seen anything like it."
WEATHER UPDATE: Flooding across northern Queensland, 1 February 2019 www.youtube.com
The flood risk zone stretches through 850 kilometers (approximately 528 miles) of Queensland north to south from Daintree to Mackay. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) expects some areas will see 400 millimeters (approximately 15.7 inches) of rain daily for several days. But Townsville has been especially inundated.
"The annual rainfall for Townsville is 1.1 metres (approximately 3.6 feet). We're seeing more than that at the moment. We're going to see places get two or three times their summer average rainfall amounts," Dr. Richard Wardle of BOM told The Australian Associated Press.
MEDIA RELEASE: Further heavy falls 💧☔️ and flooding forecast as the monsoon trough continues to influence weather i… https://t.co/T6qSS6TgxX— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland)1548997037.0
While climate change is expected to bring increased drought to much of southern Australia, rainfall in parts of northern Australia has actually increased since the 1970s. Extreme rainfall events are also expected to increase across the country, according to the BOM's State of the Climate 2018.
To combat flooding, Townsville officials have made the risky decision to release water from the Ross River Dam, which is currently at 178 percent of capacity. Record amounts of water are entering the sea from the Ross River.
"What we're trying to do is to get ahead of the system, so we reduce the risk of any further flooding in the city—but that's not guaranteed," Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill told The Australian Associated Press. "We haven't taken this decision lightly," she said.
Ninety to 100 homes are being evacuated prior to the release of water.
Darla Astill, coordinator of the Bluewater community center where around 100 families including the Carpentiers have taken shelter, described the situation on the ground, as reported by The Guardian:
"People have had to just sit and watch cars, tractors, containers, ride-ons and all sorts of stuff just floating in the creek," she said. "There's not much you can do, it's still raining, we've got more rain predicted so we're just sandbagging here at the moment if it does rain again.
"There's been a couple of dogs floating by, people tried to rescue them, there was also a cow that got pulled out and survived but one the dogs they couldn't get to."
Drone footage shows extent of flood ravaged Townsville www.youtube.com
Townsville residents say they have seen crocodiles on highways and football fields because of the floods, The Australian Associated Press reported.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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