The claims by Labor that Brendan Nelson is a 'climate change denialist' because he asserts that the current dire situation in the Murray-Darling cannot be attributed to climate change is a deceit. There is no such implication. The statements by Brendon Nelson are accurate - the current drought cannot be attributed to climate change. Moreover, Nelson's claims have nothing at all to do with denying the reality of climate change.
Droughts have occurred around large parts of Australia for about 3 years in 10 since almost the time the first settlers arrived at Sydney Cove (Rob Linn, Battling the Land, 200 Years of Rural Australia is good on this). On this basis moderate drought cannot even be regarded as an extreme climatic event. In the terrible drought of 1895-1903 40% of cattle in Australia perished. There have been major prolonged droughts in Australia from 1911-16, 1939-45, 1963-68 and 1991-95 prior to the current severe drought. There have been specific regional droughts on a much more frequent basis than even this.
Longer-term we might expect a gradual trend increase in temperature, changed rainfall levels that differ regionally and possibly an increased frequency of extreme climatic events including drought. There is, however, no basis for interpreting the particular drought event now being experienced as being attributable to climate change.
As a commenter pointed out a few weeks back on this blog the difficulty with perpetuating these false claims is that, if people are persuaded that the current drought is due to climate change, they will come to disbelieve that climate change is a serious threat if the drought breaks and we have good rains for a number of years. Moreover, there are suggestions from some that ocean temperature changes might cause a temporary easing of warming over the next decade or so before temperatures resume their upward trend.
In addition these lies turn attention away from more proximate causes of the current dire situation namely the overallocation of water use entitlements in the MDB. Nelson is quite correct to point this out.
The lies have the political purpose of seeking to ridicule Nelson (are there diminishing returns to abuse?) but they have potentially serious consequences that go beyond this. It is important that politicians stick to the truth and throw light on climate change problems rather than mud at their political opponents.
I watched Minister Penny Wong repeat this deceit on Lateline last night. She deliberately avoided answering the repeatedly posed question of how she came to the view that drought in the MDB could be attributed to climate change. It was an evasive and disgracefully, inept and deceitful performance. Moreover, when quizzed on the issue of carbon leakage complaints currently being raised by the BCA she seemed lost and mumbled something irrelevant about the need to 'share the burden' of dealing with climate change. Moreover, if she understood the issue at all - one would think she should as she is the relevant minister - she could have advanced some sensible views that would, in fact, have supported the Government's position.
Wong took over the climate change issue from an incompetent Peter Garratt who, in fact, launched the foolish attack on Brendon Nelson yesterday in Parliament. Who can take over handing the important climate and water portfolio from Wong?
Update: The press reports that MDBC boss Wendy Craik has claimed the CSIRO have determined that the current drought is due to climate change. I can't find such a statement in CSIRO material I have read. What is claimed in the literature I have read is that the frequency of droughts has risen and can be expected to rise - a claim that is plausible and indeed which I cite above. This is, of course, quite a different matter from attributing the current drought to climate change. If the CSIRO - or anyone else - claim this it is an extremely incautious claim.