JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Blame the whites for climate change?

Back when the climate was perfect, and there was no internet, no cars, no electricity lines, and not a single evil coal fired station –  ominously, the Australian climate was changing.

Back in 1846, the population of Australia was essentially just the size of the city of Canberra (a mere 340,000 people). They all rode bikes, or horses, or walked to work; it was “Earth Hour” every hour; every plasma screen was not just on standby, it was permanently unplugged.

Yet the flooding rains were giving way to droughts, and the creeks were drying up. Aboriginals said that the climate has undergone this change “since white-man came in country.”

Stephen Goddard found the quote.

 

The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Wednesday 11 March 1846

Quote:

“That great changes have taken place in the climate of Australia all testimonies satisfactorily prove. It is evident to any observer, at some period, the country has been subjected to the mighty action of heavy rains, and of sweeping, deluging floods. The mountains and hills are cut and furrowed into deep ravines ; the parting ridges are at acute angles, and frequently washed bare of vegetable mould ; and all so precipitous, that the waters are no sooner showered from the blessed heavens than they run off with rapidity and fury through the gullies into the recipient creeks, scarcely leaving a witness of their visit, either as running brook, clear spring, or stagnant pool, a few days, perhaps a few hours, after. The aborigines say that the climate has undergone this change since white-man came in country. ”

http://trove.nla.gov.au/: The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Wednesday 11 March 1846

And so history repeats. The climate is always changing and it’s always blamed on target number one, whomever that may happen to be. If it wasn’t the witches, it mustv’e been the whites.

That said, the Aboriginals may possibly have had a point. On a regional scale, the little skeptic points out that European land development may affect local weather patterns:

“Australian native vegetation holds more moisture, than broadacre crops and improved pastures, and this moisture evaporates and recycles back as rainfall and also helps raise humidity. It also reflects less shortwave solar radiation into space, and this process keeps the surface temperature cooler and aids cloud formation.”

Though I’m not sure how much land-clearing had been done by 1846. I suspect it was minor.

Hat tip: Roberto Soria (who also  wrote the ARC grant post recently).

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14 comments to Blame the whites for climate change?

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    [...] JoNova skriver om vad Australiens urinvånare har uttryckt vad gäller


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    Juliar

    The typical leftist attack, blame the whites and pander up to the Aboriginals. You can’t blame them for anything nor say anything against them. I guess blaming us whites for Global Warming in Australia was inevitable.


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    [...] by sheikyermami on May 24, 2012 “Flooding rains were giving way to droughts, and the creeks were drying up. Aboriginals said that the climate has undergone this change “since white-man came in country.”


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    Jaymez

    This comment seems to have disappeared so I have re-posted:(with the opportunity to correct some terrible typos!)

    “Fire sticking and regional climate change

    Australian Aboriginal people are often credited with being good land managers. The process of burning (fire sticking) is lauded as traditional land management which reduced the fuels which cause hotter damaging fires and which promoted the development of fire resistant flora. But many scientists also suggest this process had a negative impact on local flora and fauna and even regional climate.

    But even our good buddy Tim Flannery (1990)believes that Aboriginal people were far from perfect custodians of the environment. He suggests Australian megafauna were hunted to extinction by Aborigines soon after they arrived. He argues that with the rapid extinction of the megafauna, virtually all of which were herbivorous, a great deal of vegetation was left uneaten, increasing the standing crop of fuel. As a consequence, fires became larger and hotter than before.

    The indigenous hunting method of burnings of the bush (fire sticking), so they could easily catch the fleeing wildlife would have done nothing good for regional climate. The process replaced many trees and bushes, which take decades to grow in low rainfall environments, with grass lands which was not a great idea. Sure this promotes grazing wildlife which were preferred as a food source by Aborigines, but it also creates soil problems.

    The populations of grazing fauna booms in times of plenty, but leads to overgrazing in drier years.

    The grasslands also dry out over summer. The grazing and dry grasses leave the soil bare and unprotected from wind and rain erosion and top soil degradation. This is because there are no deep roots holding the soil together and no trees shading the soil. The soil then retains less moisture and gives that moisture up too readily.

    So contrary to the popular and generous theory that Aboriginals were ‘managing’ and ‘caring’ for the land, a proper analysis shows they often depleted flora and fauna diversity and quite likely had an impact on local climates.

    Of course settlers continuing this process to increase grazing land did not help! But at least it could be argued that they were producing meat, wool and leather more efficiently and with less waste for the local population and for trade and export. They cleared much less land and killed much fewer wildlife per head of those they fed and clothed compared to Aboriginal methods.

    Early explorers did note the extent of the use of fire by Aborigines. Here are some quotes from early explorer diaries and records from ‘The Historical Role of Fire’

    The natives were about, burning, burning, ever burning; one would think they … lived on fire instead of water.’ Ernest Giles (1889), Australia Twice Traversed.

    The natives set fire to the grass which is abundant everywhere, and at that time is quite dry… The conflagration spreads until the whole country as far as the eye can reach, is in a grand and brilliant illumination.’ Report from Port Essington, in Arnhemland.

    Captain James Cook wrote that his crew ‘saw upon all the Adjacent Lands and Islands a great number of smokes — a certain sign that they are inhabited … ‘

    … the very extraordinary devastation by fire which the vegetable productions had suffered throughout the whole country we had traversed – George Vancouver.

    I wish it would rain and cause the grass to become green, so as to stop them burning… – Stuart (1865).

    So it’s hardly appropriate for Aborigines to point the finger at ‘White Men’ for causing climate change, not withstanding the fact that global climate change is an ongoing and natural process.


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    Siliggy

    It seems to me that the only BLAME is in the eye of the reader. When i first read this on Steven Goddard’s tempory alternate site I took it to mean blame also. However thinking about it how would a people without a calendar describe events and put them into a time frame? If it rains all day at your place then your friend Bob turns up might you not say “The weather has undergone this change since Bob came into the house”. You are not blaming Bob.
    Before “white-man came in country” is just like saying before the Maunder minimum ended as a long term look at history or before the Dalton minimum ended as a short term look from the year 1846.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sunspot_Numbers.png
    What these people have done is to cause the fact that the climate had undergone recent rapid change to be recorded in this newspaper! Regardless of Tim Flannery pointing the bone at them and blaming them for causing it the important fact is the time frame also shows that their fire sticks could not have caused this rapid change. The fires may have caused a slow change but not one they could associate with the time frame.
    Jamez quote above “I wish it would rain and cause the grass to become green, so as to stop them burning… – Stuart (1865)” is possibly right on the money also. In wetter years the fire sticks would not be of much use. They would not do much different to what lightning would do in any case.
    However human efforts to put fires out may have acheived a lot of improvement to the climate since. Nature via lightning starts Tim Flannery’s chain of events which is more likely to meet a dry fuel load now that the Maunder minimum has ended. Then Man puts the fires out thus saving the environment from Flannery’s evil Gaia.

    Note Steven Goddard main site:
    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/


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    Hi everyone, 100,000 comments have gone awol, 50 from this thread. We are working on getting them back. Hopefully by next week, it will all be fixed. – Jo


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    Graeme No.3

    From a departed comment.

    When Charles Sturt got to the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers, he found 5-6 metres of water depth.
    Yet the previous year was a drought year in the upper Darling.

    Note: there was enough water in the Macquarie for them to float straight through the swamps to the Murray. When they got to the end of the Murray, Sturt found Lake Alexandrina full, but didn’t find the outlet to the sea. Possibly he assumed there wasn’t one and didn’t look very hard.
    The return journey was slow because of the current in the Murray.

    That was in 1829! Such climate change is not likely to be due to CO2, is it?


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    elsie

    It was common for all mankind to have some ‘way’ of inducing God or the gods to bring rain or ease rain. Tribes had their rainmaker men. Churches prayed to their gods or God for rain. Weather variability is so common and fearful that anyone who gives an impression of limiting the changes is lauded and given high status in any community. That includes our so called scientific developed economies.


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    CraigO

    It was the witches and later the whites. The obvious culprit is a white witch, or as I refer to her, my ex-wife.


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    The comments are still missing (sorry) but the google cache page is here.


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    [...] cretins lead me to the point of this rant. Greenies & their instinctive hatred & contempt for Human kind. That they are also Human doesn’t seem to deter them from their religious fervour in [...]


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    [...] the point of this rant (finally – BB). Greenies & their instinctive hatred & contempt for Human kind. That they are also Human doesn’t seem to deter them from their religious fervour in [...]


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    Jaymez

    Good points Siliggy. I also believe in any event, what the Aboriginal people did, or what the settlers did after them could at best have an impact on the regional climate, not climate as a whole.


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    Siliggy

    Oh yes Jamez I agree. My point was that our climate has and will continue to vary all the way from deep wide flood to the total erasure of every living thing in dry hot fire but that we may now have the ability to weaken the fire part a bit and save some of those cute fury animals from natures cruel kaos.


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