The politicisation of weather

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The politicisation of weather; Queensland Floods & Scottish Weather

by Douglas GregoryDouglas Gregory

Here in South East Queensland in the state capital of Brisbane we are witnessing a monumental ‘act-of-god’ as nature flexes its muscles. Scotland too has had its own experiences recently with adverse weather, do these countries react differently to the consequences of uncontrollable weather?

Freakish Rain

Heavy summer  rain is common in these latitudes – tropical downpours in the late afternoon.  However, the rains this year have been far more determined and consistent for weeks – raining for days on end – the state became waterlogged. The sparsely populated central part of the state flooded – not a big problem, well not for us masses here in Brisbane. Last weekend that changed, Mother Nature paid a visit to the 90% of state’s population that live in or around Brisbane.

Falls of 300ml+ per day occurred in many places, day after day.  Localised falls of 150ml in just half an hour were also recorded, as a West Highlander I thought I knew rain! – not this stuff though – sheets of water fell.

On Monday the town of Toowoomba 160 kms away experienced an’ inland tsunami’ according to local reports. Down the hill from Toowoomba in the Lockyer Valley, now in the catchment of the Brisbane River, similarly large and perilous falls occurred. Currents of water engulfed local creeks and swept away all before them, cars and shipping containers included. There have been 13 deaths in this area and scores of people are still missing, making these events both shocking and deadly.

Fast forward to today and 100 km further down the river catchment area, the city of Brisbane is now  flooded as the water tries to reach the sea. The massive falls in the upper catchment have now inundated scores of suburbs in Australia’s third city. 15 000 homes and 3000 businesses are now, at time of writing, underwater. Thousands have been evacuated , commercial hubs trashed,  the clean up will take months and will cost billions. An uncontrollable act of nature it would seem.

Freakish Snow

Queensland floods – what has this to do with Scottish affairs and politics I hear you ask?  Nothing until one remembers the events of a few weeks ago in Scotland.  Heavier than predicted snow overnight, clogged up transport systems, a hectoring media with the scent of blood and then the resignation of a government minister. Lofty, high standards were imposed on the SNP Government by the ever scrupulous media – the BBC leading the pack.

Let’s remember the events of 13th December. A snowfall which was heavier than predicted by the BBC themselves brought Central Scotland to a halt. The Scottish Government marshalled all available resources when the severity of the weather became apparent, people were unfortunately stranded in their cars for hours.  Perhaps I missed the reports of fatalities in Scotland, perhaps I have forgotten the inconvenience of snow or the fist-bashing annoyance of a missed day’s work.  I certainly can’t remember Scottish weather being anyones fault before – how things have changed in my absence!

Planning, politics and weather

Was Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson to blame for the severity of this snow? Clearly not. Could he, on-balance and without hindsight, have reduced the temporary chaos with better planning and co-ordination of the resources at hand? I must assume from my distant viewpoint that his management was found wanting. Why else would the BBC hound him out of a job? Surely there must be more to this than a poor interview with some poorly chosen words?

This got me wondering. There must, by the BBC’s standards, have been gross mismanagement here in Queensland too.  Climate and its manifestations as severe weather events are well understood. The Central Belt of Scotland in winter can experience sudden snowfalls, Queensland in summer can experience torrential rain. Politicians are supposed to manage resources to mitigate against and minimise nature’s wrath and planners can restrict building in areas at risk of nature’s fury. Why has it failed here on such a large scale?  We are not talking about frostbite or being late for work, we are talking about (by the Scottish media’s standards) planning errors that have caused many deaths.  Don’t worry about being late for work in Brisbane tomorrow morning, your office is under feet of brown water.

What have the Australian media to say about this deadly mismanagement? Very little from what I have seen.  My wife has been glued to the telly for two days. Has she seen any calls for “heads to roll?” No. “What are you talking about?” she quizzically asks me …”Ah … You don’t want to know,” I reply.  Maybe she has missed the local media looking for its pound of flesh?

This is a disaster of national importance. Has the PM gone? No. Has she been asked to go? No. Has she been asked to apologise for the severity of the rain? No. OK it’s mainly a Queensland flood so what about the State Premier? No. Asked? No. Apologised? Sorry for what has happened but has certainly made no apology for her response or how she has used the resources at hand.  So, whose media has got it all wrong?  Both the Scottish and Queensland administrations have reacted as best they could with the information and resources at hand, but we have massively different reactions from our respective medias.

In Scotland the government is lampooned for its response to heavier than expected snow, in Australia the entire city of Brisbane, state and nation are all singing from the same hymn sheet.  There is a clear understanding that freak weather is, by definition, freakish in its severity and is almost impossible to manage.  So-called acts of god are well understood in every country. But not Scotland it would seem. Scotland’s weather is a government manufactured scheme to frustrate and disrupt our lives – those damn SNP.

In the real world, planners can only plan for so much, if every possible weather event was catered for through government planning and expenditure then we would be leading very different lives, with massive tax bills to match. In Scotland we could all have personal gritters, each Australian family should have a helicopter to whisk them away from floods or bushfires – if only our governments planned properly and taxed us to the hilt.

Political Maturity

On reflection the Scottish media have much to learn from their Australian counterparts. Disasters or lesser events like heavy snow necessitate the wider community pulling together and working with a common purpose. That is what is happening here, it’s nobody’s fault. How we can best help each other and move forward is the question here. There is zero political capital in this flood and any attempts by the opposition to make it so would be politically disastrous.   In this context the actions of the Scottish media and the BBC in particular can be seen as vindictive interference. I am not saying that the media should not question what can be done to minimise the effects of weather and manage it better, but from what I observed from afar the agenda was clear. It wasn’t about seeking answers it was another wrathful opportunity to knock that shower – the SNP Government.

The Scottish media really do need to grow up.