Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dammit! Must mop floor after all

AS the Billabong is located rather close to the shore of Port Phillip Bay, self-interest has meant that the news one hears of rising sea levels is treated very seriously indeed. It is quite the chore to mop the floor, so why bother if it is only a matter of time until a flathead takes up residence beneath the kitchen table? This sort of thing is already happening, or so we are assured, in other spots about the globe, most prominent of these being the scatter of Pacific atolls now known as Kiribati. Formerly, while a British protectorate, they were the Gilbert Islands, although that is not the name most commonly associated with their past. That would be Tarawa, the chief island and seat of government, where US Marines fought an extraordinarily bloody four-day campaign against entrenched Japanese resistance late in 1943. As a recent article at The Global Mail noted, the island remains littered with the detritus of war, including several large, century-old British-built guns, which the accompanying photographs  suggest, without actually saying in as many words, are being swallowed by the rising waters of carbon-addicted humanity’s indifference to the planet’s health. To further advance that impression, one of the emplacements is pictured at high tide and festooned with children, the cruel sea lapping at its very foundations.
                     It's always high tide at the Global Mail.....
         ...but not for those without a barrow to float

One cannot expect too much in the way of accuracy from The Global Mail, which is the plaything of Graeme Wood, an eccentric Tasmanian millionaire, generous supporter of the Greens and, most recently, sponsor of The Guardian’s bid to snaffle the small section of the population that still takes The Age and Silly seriously. If there is enlightment to be found at The Global Mail it is of a biblical nature, as Wood’s entrepreneurial success would seem to confirm Ecclesiastes’ observation that life just isn’t fair. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding,” the verse advises. The strange fact that the Great Bunyip gives us cane toads, bleeding piles and an Internet entrepreneur overflowing with admiration for Christine Milne is nothing if not the confirmation that He has a very peculiar sense of humour.

So, one gathers, do the citizens of Kiribati, who must find it very hard to keep a straight face while conducting the latest representatives of the press on the ever-popular Drowning Island Tour. The Global Mail sent Bernard Lagan, but several years ago it was Adam Morton of The Age, a man who will believe anything and report nothing he has not been told by those who are gulling him. Visitors to this blog who share The Professor’s disinclination to mop the floor should take a look at both, as they will provide a persuasive case for the further avoidance of scrubbing and cleaning in all low-lying precincts.

Others, however, might care to consult this report, prepared in 2006, which deals at length with Kiribati’s changing shoreline. Climate change is not mentioned, not even once.

Morton of The Age stepped ashore not long before 2009’s Copenhagen gabfest, where Kiribati’s elders eyed the prospect of bagging large sums of other people’s money just as greedily as did their ancestors the arrival of tasty missionaries. “Kiribati hopes for billions of dollars from the countries responsible, to help it deal with the problem of climate change,” Morton wrote, apparently untroubled by the practicalities of accommodating all that cash in a country not much bigger than Luna Park. Had Copenhagen not devolved into the merciful shermozzle it did, we can assume the natives would still have been standing calf-deep in their lagoon, as no room would have been left ashore for anything but bales of banknotes.

Like Morton, Lagan appears also to have been jammed into a tinnie and shuttled off to a little spit of land that goes by the name of Tebunginako, where a village has been abandoned. First, Morton’s appraisal:
At Tebunginako, the money might have to be spent on another relocation. The village was rebuilt about 15 years ago, initially about 50 metres from the shore. It wasn't far enough. Each day at high tide a handful of houses and the village's biggest buildings - a dishevelled Catholic church and giant concrete maneabe - are surrounded by a saltwater moat as the sea flows in and floods what was once a fresh-water pond.
Lagan, too, visited the ghost island:
….one village, Tebunginako, which villagers have battled to save for the past 30 years from the encroaching sea, has had to be moved inland — a development that is often referred to as hard evidence that Kiribati is being ravaged by climate change. Tebunginako’s fate is held up as a barometer for the rest of Kiribati by the government, which facilitates the two-hour boat trip there for visiting journalists (including The Global Mail).
That would be the same government, remember, so keen to solicit billions of guilt-edged Western dollars.

So two reporters have seen the island, sloshed through the rising tides and both tell us for a fact that globalwarming/climate change/extreme weather (or whatever it is being called this week) is to blame. Who could doubt them?

The authors of that 2006 report, linked above and again here, for starters.

It turns out that the very name of the village's hinterland, Terawabono, is a variation in the local lingo on “blocked channel”, and it is this perfectly normal and typical example of foreshore dynamism that explains why the island is shrinking. But not by much, mind you, as the vanished sand is simply being moved elsewhere.
Ground truthing confirmed this hypothesis and later graphic presentation of the study to the Tebunginako community found general agreement that there was an oral history that such a channel existed (possibly about 100 years ago). Indeed the name of the land in the area immediately south of Tebunginako is Terawabono – “the blocked channel”.

The coastal instability experienced at Tebunginako is therefore an ongoing adjustment of this shore to the blocking of the channel and consequential halt of sand supply from the ocean to the lagoon beaches.

Predominant northerly transport on the lagoon coast continues to redistribute material accumulated by the former channel northwards, causing erosion in the southern areas of the bulge and accretion in the northern areas of the village.
As to those billions of dollars Morton, Lagan and Kiribati’s leaders are so keen to see dispensed, the reports authors have a somewhat cheaper solution: move your grass huts to higher ground.
The people of Tebunginako have settled in areas which are unstable and the shoreline will continue to change over time for many years to come. Over the last 30 years the people of this village have spent a huge amount of time, energy and money trying to stop the natural movement of the lagoon shoreline. This has failed and much of the protective structures built have been destroyed by ongoing shoreline change and westerly gales.

In past times, people lived in harmony with shifting coastlines and their local buildings could be easily moved if the shoreline changed. Many of the houses in Tebunginako are still local but some large and important buildings (the village maneaba and church) are built of permanent materials and can not be easily moved.

During discussions with the people of Tebuninako Village it was agreed that the changes on their coast were caused by the blocking of the channel many years ago and that this coast would remain unstable for many years to come. It was also agreed that it would be better to use their time, effort and money to rebuild important buildings east of the road on high safe ground and not to try and rebuild seawalls.

It was understood that there was no need to move the whole village right way. In some areas accretion is occurring (the land is getting bigger) and so long as local houses are built in these areas, they could always be moved if need be. Certainly, permanent buildings should not be built anywhere west of the road and people in flooded areas should also be encouraged to move east of the roadway...

There is one other thing worth noting about Lagan’s account of death by carbon in the Pacific. It is his assertion that “as far back as 1992, a technical report, funded by the Canadian government, said increasingly severe El Niño events were producing the large waves that were eroding the Abaiang coast.” Because many Global Mail readers vote for the Greens and are self-evidently thick, Lagan adds that, “Only very recently — in the past year or two — have some climate scientists begun to suggest a strong link between severe El Niño events and global warming.”

The internet, being a wonderful thing, makes it very easy for the curious to dig up that report,  written by an erosion specialist, J.B. Holden. Here is what he says of el Ninos:
Although the lagoon shore of Abaiang is sheltered from the direct impact of the prevailing westerly winds, it is affected by occasional westerly winds associated with the occurrence of El Nino events ... There have been notable El Nino events in 1972, 1977-78, 1982-83, 1987 and in 1991.

is possible that the westerly winds associated with these El Ninos have caused abnormal short-term erosion. Several severe El Ninos in succession could have caused more erosion than could be restored naturally in the interim.

Since El Nino events are natural and have always occurred, the westerly wind and waves are also natural events and the resulting beach fluctuations are part of the natural coastal process. These events can be expected from time to time and the beach should adjust naturally as
it has in the past.

One cannot help wondering if Lagan actually read the 1992 report he cites in asserting “increasingly severe El Niño events” are “eroding the Abaiang coast”.

Or was it a case of those Kiribati PR persons handing out their re-written version of “the science”, along with a cut lunch and tickets for the two-hour jaunt to inspect the village drowned by carbon pollution?

Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Except they do, every single day.


  1. One way to change minds and hearts is to become a billionaire's playground, with lots of luxury resorts and hotels to service by many airstrips. The Maldives now think climate refugees and aqualung cabinet meetings are so last decade. (Sadly, repeating the Maldives miracle in drab Kiribati is like making a Sydney Harbour of the Yarra.)

    Of course, the ten biggest decadal rises in sea level occurred between the late 1700s and the 1860s - but who's going to blame Napoleon Bonaparte when they can blame the all-funding industrial West?

  2. I once asked the warmies at Lavatorius Pronto when these rising sea levels all over the world would reach Elwood beach, because it seems to be stubbornly refusing to disappear.

    The sole answer I got was that because - stupid - Elwood is in the bay, it's immune to rising sea levels. Such is the sophistication of consensus science.

  3. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.May 4, 2013 at 8:52 PM

    For the last two thousand years, Prof, half of the cliffs on the north-east coast of England have been slowly crumbling off into the sea. Many Roman fortifications are now lost, and Whitby Abbey itself is getting perilously towards gone, its Synod days being done. The Lord moves in mysterious ways indeed, as a friend of mine channeling Brother William (his version of a Dark Ages monk), was heard to mutter as we explored the edges cautiously together while admiring the ruins. It was always bloody freezing here anyway, said Brother William, by way of compensating his feelings of loss. So we went to the pub to warm up on whiskey and wine.

    In England I read these cliff erosions and collapses, taking villages with them, were something to do with geologic pressures left over from the last ice age and the sea rises that accompanied the collapse of the Dogger Bank. No land is stable, anywhere.

    Lucky we are that we have a brand new religion to take care of any normal instability on Pacific atolls, where Gaia might seem to be very upset indeed, if we believe her acolytes returning from pilgrimage there. Perhaps they should go to the pub too. Much more fun and extremely cooling too if you choose the right tropical cocktail.

  4. Continuing with the biblical theme, King Solomon also had this to say in Ecclesiates 10:2 - "The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left". Solomon obviously knew of Australia's contemporary political scene.

    The problem in Kiribati is there's obviously too many people living on one side of the island compared to the other side. Democrat Representative Hank Johnson, who is reputed to be dumber than Nancy Pelosi and less coherent than Joe Biden, expressed concern a couple of years ago about plans to increase the US military presence on Guam. He was concerned that if too many people were based on one side of the island, it might tip over and capsize.

    Which just goes to prove that King Solomon was correct.

  5. I think you might find Graeme Wood is from Rockhampton in Queensland. Anyway Rockvegas is a strong ALP seat.

  6. The Daily Caller is a much better read.

  7. Craig Mc - yup. Over on Mother Jones, I recently cited the well-known and authoritative University of Colorado sea-level web-page, only to be shot down in flames, on the grounds that Colorado is 500 miles from the sea and 5000 feet up, so what would they know?

  8. "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong - but that's the way to bet."
    -- Joe, my bookie

  9. The Old and Unimproved DaveMay 8, 2013 at 6:56 AM


    Mules and Greens being who they are, the Teacher's reference to life not being fair is perhaps countered by John's prediction in Rev 18:17.

    Which in the Australian Vulgate Homilitics, we may see expounded as: "Perhaps it is better to have never had anything at all, than to have had it all and stuffed it up."

    And further..."The Green may lie down with the Gelt, and a little bankruptcy accountant will lead them."

    Anyone who sinks his fiddly dids into the Gustav Mahler just to get an ink star on the back of his hand from Christine Milne's stamp-pad does not strike me as someone who will be on the rich-list ten years from now.