Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ireland Incorporated investing in bad debt

I was just checking out what the national debt of the US currently stood at as we approach 2010. What I learnt is that it stands at around 12 trillion dollars that’s about 70% of GDP. That's a lot of debt, a hell of a lot of money to owe anybody. However what I also found in this exercise, which was most interesting and quite frankly most worrying, is that Ireland owns 38 billion in US Treasury securities.

This is rather frightening when compared to other much larger economies and what level of US debt or us treasury securities they deem an acceptable risk. Lets look at the figures: Norway (29billion), France (24 billion), Italy (17 billion) Sweden (16 billion), Canada (20 billion), Netherlands(21 billion), Belgium (15 billion) and Australia with 10 billion.

How does Ireland compare to economies such as Australia? Well in a nutshell we don’t. Coal exports alone in Australia are worth 25 billion annually to their economy. What is obvious here is that we see countries with much larger populations and economies than Ireland, countries such as Norway, France, Sweden, Canada investing much less than Ireland in US Treasury securities.

Why? because foreign investors in the US Dollar have seen huge losses in their investments. It’s too big a risk.

I would like to know who is responsible for this? is it the central bank, Government, National Pension Fund?

I would also like to know why this money isn’t invested in essential infrastructure investments here in Ireland, developing renewable energy, IT, research and development, it looks to me that whoever is managing this fund is not willing to invest here at home.

This money if properly invested could turn this country around in a very short time. As it stands it's just losing value, as the dollar and US national debt continues to spiral our of control. We are investing in a country that is living way beyond its means to repay its national debt, a country that is insolvent and the risk of overexposure on this investment is enormous.

38 billion invested in US treasury securities would go a long way to sorting out the mess we are in right now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Debate with Professor Plimer on his Book: Heaven and Earth: Scientific Documentation or Misrepresentation

I include this information for anyone who may wish to challenge Professor Plimer on the conflict of interest between his private interests and professional work, examples include the distortion of science in his recent book, including lack of accuracy and academic integrity, intellectual honesty and sensitivity.

Heaven and Earth: Scientific Documentation or Misrepresentation
1. Introduction
Plimer’s book starts with the conclusion that there is no "evidential basis" that humans have caused recent warming and that the theory that humans can create global warming is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archeology and geology. Plimer appears to accept any reports that supports his conclusion and rejects any evidence that contradicts this conclusion. In some cases Plimer alters the conclusions of the cited reports to support his opinions.

2. Public Statements by Professor Plimer

2.1 Plimer has stated publicly the following:
“From my experience of challenging creationism, I argue that the global warming movement is an ascientific urban religious fundamentalist movement detached from the environment.”

“Adherents uncritically accept information from the web, Wikipedia and blog sites, yet have little knowledge of integrated interdisciplinary science”
"One group of scientists the Atmospheric scientists dominate climate science."

“What’s in it for climate scientists, follow the money, it’s a cause, a fad.”

"You don’t die because of temperature increase, humans adapt. Temperature change is not going to kill us."

Plimer claims “it is not possible to ascribe a carbon dioxide increase to human activity".

3. Plimer’s Data on Global Mean temperatures

3.1 Presentation of Graphs Fig 1.
The first graph in your book (page 11) figure 1 un-sourced (but is from the Handley centre Fig 1b) based on a graph in AR4WGI Technical Summary. This graph presents a incorrect drop in global mean temperatures of 0.3C between 2007-2008. This inaccuracy and distortion of scientific fact comes from using the temps for the first half of 2008 to represent all of 2008. In reality the fall is 0.089C. Has Plimer explained the discrepancies?

3.2 Figure 3
Figure 3 (Page 25) in your book presents to prove that CO2 doesn't cause warming because of all the cooling in the "post-war economic boom" you use a graph, without reference produced for the Great Global Warming Swindle on Channel 4.
It was shown that the programme altered the timeline, creating the false impression that most of the rise in temperature last century took place before 1940.
Subsequent editions of the programme corrected the timeline (see below IPPC 2007). But Plimer leaves the graph – and its convenient error – intact.

Yet on page 467 Plimer addresses their request claiming they did so because that deemed Swindle to present an "incorrect moral outlook", therefore you were well aware of what was wrong with the Swindle graph but nevertheless used it anyway.

3.3 Scientific Integrity
The presentation of information in the aforementioned manner questions the scientific integrity, ethical sensitivity and intellectual honesty of Plimer’s research. The conclusions that can be taken from using the graph one that was a schematic and was not based on data about temperatures in the 20th century are based on incomplete, old and apparently intentionally falsified data, and were used clearly to mislead the public regarding the status of current scientific knowledge.

Plimer is ignoring all of the peer reviewed research that has been done since then, you are intentionally misleading the public about the science of the reconstruction of past climate.

4. Volcanic Emissions of Carbon Dioxide

4.1 Mount Pinatubo emitted as much CO2 as humans in a year.

Plimer states that in June 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century at Mount Pinatubo emitted as much CO2 as humans in a year. (page 472)

This claim is not referenced. Where is the data to support this claim obtained from, what is the scientific reference? Monitoring data from the atmospheric monitoring station at Mauna Loa Observatory and others do not support your statement.

4.1.1 Scientific Evidence states otherwise

According to the British Geological Survey: "Measurements of CO2 levels over the past 50 years do not show any significant rises after eruptions. Total emissions from volcanoes on land are estimated to average just 0.3 Gt of CO2 each year – about a hundredth of human emissions."

4.2 Volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans.

Plimer states that volcaneous prodce more C02 than humans. This fact is not supported with any scientific reference.

4.2.1 Scientific Evidence states otherwise
According to the US Geological Survey humans produce 130 times more CO2 than volcanoes.

4.3 US GS does not include underwater volcanoes.
Plimer has since stated that the figure for the US GS does not include underwater volcanoes.

4.3.1 Scientific Evidence states otherwise
Dr. Terrance Gerlach of the USGC says that the 130 figure does include the underwater volcanoes so your comments are incorrect.

4.4 Further Reference: Volcanic Contributions to the Global Carbon Cycle. British Geological Survey 2005.
This report focuses on just the volcanic contribution to the global carbon cycle and is intended to provide a reference work for future studies. “Present day geological emissions of CO2 include volcanic emissions (both passive, from volcanoes in repose, and those related directly to eruptive activity) and non volcanic – direct emissions from the earths crust and litosphere. The contribution to the present day atmospheric CO2 loading from volcanic emissions is however relatively insignificant, and it has been estimated that subaerial volcanism releases around 300MT/Yr CO2, equalivent to just 1% of anthropogenic emissions (Morner & Etiope, 2002)”

5. Humans and Carbon Dioxide

5.1 Plimer claims that only 4% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is produced by humans.

5.1.1 Carbon in the Atmosphere
Over the last 150 years, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have risen from 280 to nearly 380 parts per million (ppm). Atmospheric CO2 concentration increased by only 20 ppm over the 8000 years prior to industrialization. Emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel use and from the effects of land use change on plant and soil carbon are the primary sources of increased atmospheric CO2.

Since 1750, it is estimated that about 2/3rds of anthropogenic CO2 emissions have come from fossil fuel burning and about 1/3rd from land use change. About 45% of this CO2 has remained in the atmosphere, while about 30% has been taken up by the oceans and the remainder has been taken up by the terrestrial biosphere. Observations demonstrate that dissolved CO2 concentrations in the surface ocean (pCO2) have been increasing nearly everywhere, roughly following the atmospheric CO2 increase.

One way that we know that human activities are responsible for the increased CO2 is simply by looking at historical records of human activities. Since the industrial revolution, we have been burning fossil fuels and clearing and burning forested land at an unprecedented rate, and these processes convert organic carbon into CO2.

Careful accounting of the amount of fossil fuel that has been extracted and combusted, and how much land clearing has occurred, shows that we have produced far more CO2 than now remains in the atmosphere. The roughly 500 billion metric tons of carbon we have produced is enough to have raised the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to nearly 500 ppm. The concentrations have not reached that level because the ocean and the terrestrial biosphere have the capacity to absorb some of the CO2 we produce.

However, it is the fact that we produce CO2 faster than the ocean and biosphere can absorb it that explains the observed increase. Another, quite independent way that we know that fossil fuel burning and land clearing specifically are responsible for the increase in CO2 in the last 150 years is through the measurement of carbon isotopes.

Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide enriched with carbon isotope 12C and reduced 13C and essentially no 14C, in other words you can ascribe the increase directly to human activity. CO2 produced from burning fossil fuels or burning forests has quite a different isotopic composition from CO2 in the atmosphere. This is because plants have a preference for the lighter isotopes (12C vs. 13C); thus they have lower 13C/12C ratios. Since fossil fuels are ultimately derived from ancient plants, plants and fossil fuels all have roughly the same 13C/12C ratio – about 2% lower than that of the atmosphere. As CO2 from these materials is released into, and mixes with, the atmosphere, the average 13C/12C ratio of the atmosphere decreases.

Isotope geochemists have developed time series of variations in the 14C and 13C concentrations of atmospheric CO2. One of the methods used is to measure the 13C/12C in tree rings, and use this to infer those same ratios in atmospheric CO2. This works because during photosynthesis, trees take up carbon from the atmosphere and lay this carbon down as plant organic material in the form of rings, providing a snapshot of the atmospheric composition of that time. If the ratio of 13C/12C in atmospheric CO2 goes up or down, so does the 13C/12C of the tree rings. This isn’t to say that the tree rings have the same isotopic composition as the atmosphere – as noted above, plants have a preference for the lighter isotopes, but as long as that preference doesn’t change much, the tree-ring changes will track the atmospheric changes.

Sequences of annual tree rings going back thousands of years have now been analyzed for their 13C/12C ratios. Because the age of each ring is precisely known we can make a graph of the atmospheric 13C/12C ratio vs. time. What is found is at no time in the last 10,000 years are the 13C/12C ratios in the atmosphere as low as they are today. Furthermore, the 13C/12C ratios begin to decline dramatically just as the CO2 starts to increase — around 1850 AD. This is exactly what we expect if the increased CO2 is in fact due to fossil fuel burning. Furthermore, we can trace the absorption of CO2 into the ocean by measuring the 13C/12C ratio of surface ocean waters. While the data are not as complete as the tree ring data (we have only been making these measurements for a few decades) we observe what is expected: the surface ocean 13C/12C is decreasing. Measurements of 13C/12C on corals and sponges — whose carbonate shells reflect the ocean chemistry just as tree rings record the atmospheric chemistry — show that this decline began about the same time as in the atmosphere; that is, when human CO2 production began to accelerate in earnest.
In addition to the data from tree rings, there are also of measurements of the 13C/12C ratio in the CO2 trapped in ice cores. The tree ring and ice core data both show that the total change in the 13C/12C ratio of the atmosphere since 1850 is about 0.15%. This sounds very small but is actually very large relative to natural variability. The results show that the full glacial-to-interglacial change in 13C/12C of the atmosphere — which took many thousand years — was about 0.03%, or about 5 times less than that observed in the last 150 years.
Studies of carbon isotope 12 conclude that varying degrees of carbon isotopic equilibration between atmospheric CO2 and surface water DIC during the industrial increase of atmospheric pCO2 reflect the dynamic response of the carbon cycle to human interference with magnitudes and rates of change that are unprecedented for the last 600 years and probably for the whole Holocene.

5.2 Plimer states "it is not possible to ascribe a carbon dioxide increase to human activity"

5.2.1 Climate change what and Isotope geochemists say.
“Varying degrees of carbon isotopic equilibration between atmospheric CO2 and surface water DIC during the industrial increase of atmospheric pCO2 reflect the dynamic response of the carbon cycle to human interference with magnitudes and rates of change that are unprecedented for the last 600 years and probably for the whole Holocene.”

5.2.2 What the INTERACADEMY Panel on International Issues a global network of 75 Science Academies state on Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions.

Over the past 200 years, the oceans have absorbed approximately a quarter of the CO2 produced from human activities. This CO2 would otherwise have accumulated in the atmosphere leading to greater climate change.

However, the absorption of this CO2 has affected ocean chemistry and has caused the oceans (which are on average slightly alkaline) to become more acidic. Carbonate ion concentrations are now lower than at any other time during the last 800 000 years.

Global atmospheric CO2 concentrations are now at 387 ppm. If current trends in CO2 emissions continue, model projections suggest that by mid-century CO2 concentrations will be more than double pre-industrial levels and the oceans will be more acidic than they have been for tens of millions of years.

The current rate of change is much more rapid than during any event over the last 65 million years with profound consequences for marine plants and animals.

At current emission rates models suggest that all coral reefs and polar ecosystems will be severely affected by 2050 or potentially even earlier;

Marine food supplies are likely to be reduced with significant implications for food production and security in regions dependent on fish protein, and human health and wellbeing; Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years; We must:

• Recognise that reducing the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere is the only practicable solution to mitigating ocean acidification;

• Recognise the direct threats posed by increasing atmospheric CO2 emissions to the oceans and therefore society, and take action to mitigate this threat;

• Implement action to reduce global CO2 emissions by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2050 and continue to reduce them thereafter;

5.2.3 Ice-core studies, Climate change and Carbon Dioxide

A recent study “Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica” whose authors included:
• Institute of Geography, Moscow
• School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami
• Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton
• Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, Russia
• Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, France

The study examined the ice record of atmospheric composition and climate to the past four glacial–interglacial cycles.

The study concluded that: “Present-day atmospheric burdens of these two important greenhouse gases seem to have been unprecedented during the past 420,000 years”

6. Satellites and Radiosondes show that there is no global warming

Plimer states that Satellites and Radiosondes show that there is no global warming (Page 382) citing the following reference: Global Warming 2007. An Update to Global Warming: The Balance of Evidence and Its Policy Implications Authors: Keller, Charles F. Journal: The Scientific World JOURNAL

6.1 Report Abstract does not support Plimer Claim

The report states the following “Most notable the middle troposphere is seen to be warming apace with the surface. The big news is, the collapse of the climate critics' last real bastion, namely that satellites and radiosondes show no significant warming in the past quarter century… But now both satellite and in-situ radiosonde observations have been shown to corroborate both the surface observations of warming and the model predictions. Thus, while uncertainties still remain, we are now seeing a coherent picture in which past climate variations, solar and other forcings, model predictions and other indicators such as glacier recession all point to a human-induced warming that needs to be considered carefully.”

Plimer has somehow managed to reverse the findings of the published paper?

7. Climate Change and Human Health

7.1 Malaria
Plimer claims malaria is common in cold climates (page 199)

7.1.1 The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention state that
“at temperatures below 20°C (68°F), Plasmodium falciparum (which causes severe malaria) cannot complete its growth cycle in the Anopheles mosquito, and thus cannot be transmitted” Where is the evidence to support your claim?

7.2 Temperature
Prof Plimer Claims " don’t die because of temperature increase, humans adapt. Temperature change is not going to kill us"
European public health officials believe that more than 52,000 Europeans died from heat in the summer of 2003, making the heat wave one of the deadliest climate-related disasters in Western history

8. Climate change and Glaciers

8.1 Alpine Glacier
Plimer claims Alpine glaciers are not retreating. Ref p281 and references a scientific paper to support this opinion
Ref: Glacier mass balance: the first 50 years of international monitoring. Roger J. Braithwaite, School of Geography, The University of Manchester.

8.1.1. Report Conclusions
What this Report actually stated was:“There is no sign of any recent global trend towards increased glacier melting”
No mention was made of many other recent scientific studies on glacier retreat including:

8.2 International reports on Glacier Retreat

8.2.1 Recent Global Glacier Retreat Overview
Which states “Since 1980, glacier retreat has become increasingly rapid and ubiquitous, so much so that it has threatened the existence of many of the glaciers of the world. This process has increased markedly since 1995”

8.2.2 The World Glacier Monitoring Service
Which has noted 17 consecutive years of negative mass balances, that is volume losses. Preliminary mass balance values for the observation periods 2005/06 and 2006/07 have been reported now from more than 100 and 80 glaciers worldwide, respectively. The World Glacier Monitoring Service reported that ”The average mass balance of the glaciers with available long-term observation series around the world continues to decrease…The new data continues the global trend in accelerated ice loss over the past few decades.”

9. Climate change and Temperature
9.1 Statements by Plimer on Temperature and Climate Change

• “global temperatures have cooled since 2003”

• “atmospheric temperatures have been decreasing in the 21st century, despite an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide”

• “We've had a warming, up until the late 90s, now we're in a cooling phase.”
On page p391 Plimer claim the Hadley Centre has shown that warming stopped in 1998.

9.1.1 What The Handley Centre States:
“11 of the last13 years were the warmest ever recorded. Average global temperatures are now some 0.75 °C warmer than they were 100 years ago. Since the mid-1970s, the increase in temperature has averaged more than 0.15 °C per decade. This rate of change is very unusual in the context of past changes and much more rapid than the warming at the end of the last ice age Longer term analyses have shown that current warming is being caused mainly by human emissions of greenhouse gases which have accumulated in the atmosphere and intensified the greenhouse effect by absorbing more of the thermal radiation emitted by the land and ocean”

9.2 What the IPPC State: Global Average Temperatures

The IPCC state that “2005 and 1998 were the warmest two years in the instrumental global surface air temperature record since 1850. Surface temperatures in 1998 were enhanced by the major 1997–1998 El Niño but no such strong anomaly was present in 2005. Eleven of the last 12 years (1995 to 2006) – the exception being 1996 – rank among the 12 warmest years on record since 1850.”

10. Antarctic Climate Change & the Environment

This report published by the Scientific committee on Antarctic research. Nov 2009 includes contributions from one hundred experts in Antarctic science and reviewed by over 200 scientists.

The report highlights 'the profound impact that the ozone hole has had on the Antarctic environment over the last 30 years, shielding the continent from much of the effect of global warming. However, this situation will not last. Over the next century we expect ozone concentrations above the Antarctic to recover, but if greenhouse gas concentrations increase at the present rate then temperatures across the continent will increase by several degrees and there will be about one third less sea ice.'

10.1 Carbon in the Oceans

The reports states 'The carbon in the ocean is a mixture from both natural and anthropogenic sources. The anthropogenic fraction comes from human-induced emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere that have continued at an increasing rate since the start of the industrial revolution"

11. Who stands to gain from doubt?

This is one of the most important questions to ask when establishing the context for debate about any complex scientific issue. Interestingly, it is often nonscientists or scientists aligned with nonscientific agendas that raise objections to global warming, for example, lobbyists for the energy and automotive industries and groups have generally opposed government regulation. Much of the nonscientific, popular debate (and denial) centers on values and responses rather than facts, for example the importance of jobs for workers in the coal industry.

In the case of global warming, what is the agenda that justifies efforts to cast doubt on the consensus claims? If global warming becomes widely accepted, some of the consequence may be that:
• federal and state governments might establish more emissions regulations; and
• industries that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide might be required to invest in cleaner technology, etc.
Critics with a stake in those positions have political and economic motives to resist the conclusions of global warming experts. Of course, the strength of an alternative scientific hypothesis is not diminished by the mere motivations of its proponents. If global warming is not occurring, or it is independent of human activity, then the data will support that conclusion regardless of who gathers and interprets those data. What this article shows is that Plimer’s data is lacks transparency and is scientifically inaccurate and misleading.
11.1 Conflict of Interest between private interests and Professional work
Plimer is a director of three mining companies and therefore could be seen to be representing the mining industry not the science. The following statement by Plimer questions the critical judgement and ethical sensitivity of the author clearly demonstrativing his motivations in publishing such a book.

Quotation: Prof Plimer ABN Newswire Interview Brian Carlton
By accepting climate change.. “we will put ourselves out of work, we will put our children out of work, we will shift businesses in Australia, which have a great advantage like mining, smelting and energy industries we will shift them offshore. So if you want to be cautious about the future, don’t put yourself and your children out of work.”

12. The Science of Climate Change
Our planet's climate is anything but simple. Yet despite all the complexities, a firm and ever-growing body of evidence points to a clear picture: the world is warming, this warming is due to human activity increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and if emissions continue unabated the warming will too, with increasingly serious consequences.With so much at stake, it is right that climate science is subjected to the most intense scrutiny. What does not help is for the real issues to be muddied by discredited arguments or wild theories.

12.1 Carbon dioxide is a Greenhouse Gas
We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs and emits certain frequencies of infrared radiation. Basic physics tells us that gases with this property trap heat radiating from the Earth, that the planet would be a lot colder if this effect was not real and that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will trap even more heat. The level of CO2 is determined by the balance between sources and sinks, and it would take hundreds of years for it to return to pre-industrials levels even if all emissions ceased tomorrow. Put another way, there is no limit to how much rain can fall, but there is a limit to how much extra CO2 the oceans and other sinks can soak up.

12.2 Climate Science
Climate science is a multidisciplinary field that involves research in ecology, chemistry, geology, glaciology, meteorology, atmospheric science, marine biology, volcanology, computer modeling, and many other disciplines.
Few people—including scientists, who do not specialize in climate science—are qualified to tackle the technical issues in all these areas—at least in any depth.
Science is the most objective method we have for investigating the natural world, but it does not establish certainty and absolutes.
It leads to scientific knowledge that is tentative and incomplete, but consensus develops around well-supported hypotheses, which generally become stronger over time.
Science operates within a framework of explanations of observable phenomena limited to the natural world.
It is crucially based on two characteristics:
1. replicability, i.e., using well-accepted experimental systems and procedures
2. peer review and publication.
Science is not perfect, but it is self-correcting over time because other experts critically examine the work of colleagues and challenge weaknesses in methods and conclusions.

12.3 So is the consensus opinion of experts in climate change ?
An examination of scientific journals shows that the scientific consensus is undeniable. Of over 1000 published papers none of the authors disagreed with the consensus position. There have been arguments to the contrary, but they are not to be found in scientific literature, which is where scientific debates are properly adjudicated.
The IPCC 2007 final report goes even further, stating:
“There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.”
Furthermore the National Academies from every major county which includes the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council and scientific institutions from every continent on the planet have all published statements supporting the consensus that human activity is modifying the climate.

13. Australia: The Worlds Largest Coal Exporter
Australia is the hottest and, bar Antartica, driest continent on Earth. Parts have been embroiled in record drought for the past decade, leaving reservoirs empty and agriculture decimated. Things got so bad that thousands of camels besieged a Northern Territory town last week in search of water. Even the "ships of the desert" couldn't cope.

Australians have the highest per capita carbon emissions of any major developed country thanks to its sprawling suburbs and heavy coal use. According to figures submitted by Canberra to the UN, Australia's emissions from burning fossil fuel have risen 30% from 1990 to 2007 – more even than the US.

Also, Australia is the world's largest coal exporter. Coal exports are worth a staggering 25 billion dollars a year to the Australian economy and make up 30% of the total world coal exports. Industrialists have lobbied loudly against any limits on their emissions. Last year the Business Council of Australia called Rudd's cap-and-trade climate plan a "company killer", and declared war on the policy. In the past month they have seen off the Liberals' Malcolm Turnbull, because he backed that plan.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Emergency Preparedness, Communication and Flood Disaster Management

Emergency Preparedness

It is evident that the emergency services were only just able to cope with the recent floods. Authorities and the public have been taken aback by the "sheer scale" of the flooding that took place in November. Many of the residents, homeowners, farmers and business people experienced their properties been flooded long before they received a warning from any organisation. So what went wrong and can we learn from our mistakes?

The most critical element in any disaster management plan is the emergency preparedness and response activity. The response to a natural disaster warning must be immediate, comprehensive and demonstrate very clear lines of command. There must be a mechanism to draw upon external resources available at higher levels of government when the local level of response is not sufficient. The keys to effective emergency response are advance planning, ability to mobilise sufficient resources quickly, and periodic exercises to identify weaknesses and problems.

Urgent and fundamental changes are needed in the way this country is adapting to the risk of flooding, which is an ever-increasing reality because of the impact of climate change. Emergency response drills must be undertaken to ensure that services work and can protect the community. Emergency planning and preparedness is first a local responsibility. There must be strong and reliable communication linkages. Emergency response must include input from community and political levels, there must be clear lines of authority. Disaster management requires some form of inter agency body to take responsibility for overall control and leadership of essential services during an emergency.

One of the most urgent changes that is required are providing early flood warning systems, especially to flood-risk areas. A community and its local government must develop adequate disaster management plans to manage such risk when faced with the reality of future loss of life and extreme economic hardships when the future event occurs. A participatory process is required that includes community involvement identifying the various factors that increase or decrease risk exposure and can lead to greater community participation in developing solutions to the flooding problem in the future.

A change to proactive management of natural disasters requires an identification of the risk, the development of strategies to reduce the risk, and the creation of policies and programmes to put these strategies into effect. One agency must be given responsibility to manage this responsibility. Based on recent experiences we must adapt mitigation plans to assess the ability for reducing risk exposure by undertaking a thorough risk assessment of the event and put in place adequate disaster management plans and mitigation measures for the future. With the probability of extreme weather events increasing with climate change, activities such as the stockpiling of sandbags, emergency food and water supplies, and the evacuation of communities and businesses will become common. Centralised depots are required for each sensitive river catchment area that allow for fast and efficient access to supplies and equipment.

A key component of any emergency preparedness plan is an inventory of resources that can be accessed. In the case of flooding this would include items such as emergency vehicles, buses and trucks, earthmoving equipment, pumps, plastic, plywood, emergency generators, supplies of gravel and sand, sandbags, and mobile communication equipment.
The inventory should also include access to expertise such as surveyors, civil engineers, electricians, insurance valuators and other professionals and community leaders.

Access to information and communication are the most important aspects of disaster management. Flood preparedness and emergency response is to a large extent dependent on the ability of the relevant national, local and community institutions to communicate. A community cannot adequately respond to a natural disaster where they are not prepared or forewarned of the event. Local authorities should collate and map drainage systems and emergency services should work with telephone companies to introduce an "opt-out" telephone flood warning scheme, in which at-risk people are automatically signed up.
Poor coordination across administrative bodies and line agencies results in fragmented flood mitigation and prevention intervention measures including mobilisation and co-ordination of resources from the national to local level.

Coordination is critical in flood disaster management to overcome the invariable fragmentation that results from departmental specializations between local government and emergency services including healthcare, fire services, army and Garda Siochain.

Emergency services must not rely completely on mobile phone or landline telecommunications to communicate as where networks are damaged, as was the case in Bandon, this manner of communication collapses and with it the treat of proper co-ordination of flood relief. For urban areas emergency services must have access to other forms of communication including low frequency battery operated handheld radios.

Post flooding
The emergency response does not end with the flood event but includes clean up. People will want to know what assistance will be made available, who is responsible, and how to go about seeking that assistance. Waste containment or temporary waste disposal sites must be identified to segregate and store the huge quantities of waste material resulting from floods. Affected residents and businesses will need to access information on risks and cleanup. They will need immediate access to insurance valuators, waste disposal operators, clean drinking water, sanitary services, accommodation, support services and mobile water pumps.

After a major flood event it is beneficial to conduct an assessment of the causes and effects of the flood and to make recommendations that would improve preparedness for the next event and reduce future flood losses. The long term economic and social implications of flooding become evident in the post disaster period.

Governments need to demonstrate leadership and sometimes take bold steps to restore employment, address social issues and move the economy in a new direction. In that sense disasters can be a positive motivator for change.

Compensation as part of the disaster assistance should always have as a goal the reduction of future flood damages. Rather than simply paying for damages, the funds should be focused on flood proofing.

Economic and Social impact of Flooding
Apart from the cost to householders flooding can have a detrimental impact on the local economy and community in a number of ways: cost of repairing damages to property and businesses, cost of replacing goods and products, environmental cleanup, loss of home, public health concerns, stress, anxiety, depression and redundancy. The startling truth is that as many as 25% of small business do not reopen after a disaster. This figure may be seen to be much higher in a period of economic recession.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bandon Flood experience Nov 2009: A chronology of events, the forces of nature and bad planning

On 19th Nov 2009 the town of Bandon, Co. Cork experienced the worst flooding in living memory which resulted in approximately 190 business properties being flooded or affected in the town. This has devastated the area and caused significant financial hardship but thankfully no lives were lost. The flooding was the result of unusually high amounts of rainfall falling on an already saturated catchment. The month of November 2009 was exceptionally wet with many places experiencing in the first fortnight one and a half to two times the normal rainfall for the whole month. Valentia Observatory recorded 57.4mm of rainfall on the 19th November with Cork Airport recording 51.2mm and many other places receiving in excess of 30mm. Taken alone, this was a very wet day by any standards but with the ground already saturated by heavy rain over the preceding days, the effect was made worse.

As a result water levels in the River Bandon rose by approximately 4 meters and to such an extent that some temporary flood defenses were overtopped especially in the Caufield and lidl Supermarket area where an embankment was holding back subsequent flood waters which had accumulated in the area. Both these developments were constructed on a known flood sink for the River Bandon catchment area, development included importation of a large amount of fill to raise the ground level, the construction of a flood embankment and a large car park . The embankment would have an effect of raising the water level in the river and on adjacent lands upstream. In Bandon River further downstream the water level rose above the arches in the bridge, resulting in further raising of the river level as flood waters backed up. The huge volume of floodwaters exceeded the capacity of the drainage systems resulting in a small number of properties being flooded by surface water as the drains backed up and the water could not escape. Minor localized flooding started to occur around noon on Pearse Street and surface water was observed overflowing the drainage system on Weir street at 14:00hrs.

A large volume of flood waters accumulated alongside the Lidl development, which even in its construction was partially flooded in 2007. The embankment acted as a levee which on the afternoon of the 19th November breeched, flooding Lidl, the car park, Caulfield supermarket and contributing significantly to the flooding of Bandon town in particular South Main Street, McSweeney Quay, Weir Street and Factory Lane. The effect was similar to a dam breech, flooding everything in its path.

Brideswell River a tributary of the Bandon River further contributed to flooding as it was not able to release water into the Bandon River where the water level rose above the bridge arch on Bridge Street. As a consequence the stream channel was unable to accommodate any further waters causing this stream to breech contributing further to flooding Market Quay, Bridge street, Oliver Plunket Street, Brady’s Lane and Market Quay. On the north side of the river North Main street flooded as surface flood waters were not able to discharge into the Bandon River and waters levels rose to flood a number of business premises.

Over the course of the next few hours water levels rose in the town, flooding the road infrastructure in particular the cork road. In all approximately 190 businesses were affected by the disaster. Dozens of elderly had to be evacuated from social housing projects and no warnings were given to businesses or at risk developments. Local authority and emergency agencies were caught out by the scale and speed of the incident. Garda did not appreciate the severity of the incident as the Garda headquarters was flooded and evacuated, 15 cars were stranded within the Garda compound. It is apparent that inadequate provision was given to the provision of sandbags or emergency pumps or heavy equipment to divert floodwaters. The design and construction of the flood embankment at Caulfield supermarket did not meet the requirements to keep flood waters at bay.

There appeared to be a lack of clarity over the command and control of the disaster operation, with some agencies coming too late, with poor facilities to provide any adequate support. Communication difficulties were evident as telephone communications failed, the local telephone exchange being flooded and mobile telecommunications failed as the electricity was turned off to receivers. Technology was turned on its head as communications were passed by word of mouth. All the banking institutions were flooded and with no power or telephones no one was able to use credit cars, withdraw money or use bank cards in the town for four days. The two major supermarkets were flooded and closed along with many small shops, restaurants, butchers, clothing shops and newsagents. This was a close as one could get to a media and communication blackout. New Orleans had come to West Cork.

Planning for Extreme Weather Events

Extreme Weather Events Lead to crisis flooding in West Cork.

Last year I asked some of the worlds leading experts to participate at a climate change conference I organised in Cork City. I felt compelled to do this after reading many of the scientific studies and reports on climate change and global warming and witnessing the growing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events and flash flooding that Ireland was experiencing. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC) had recently published their most recent assessment on climate change so I met with the Chairman in London and asked if he would be willing to participate. He agreed. I contacted the Director of NASA Goddard Space studies Dr James Hansen the world’s leading climatologist. I also contacted the Head of the International renowned Hadley Centre Dr Vicky Pope in addition to many other experts from varying fields and professions from water management, flooding experts, agriculture, public health and humanitarian relief.

That day I had over 25 speakers participate in one of the most remarkable events I have ever participated in with over 300 attendees including one hundred third level students from eight universities and students representing twenty secondary schools in cork city and county.

Every sector of Irish society was represented apart from one, local elected councillor's. I was very disappointed at this as I had personally written to over 700 elected councillor's and some 160 TD’S inviting them to attend so that they could hear first hand what the worlds leading scientist’s and experts had to say on climate change, emergency preparedness, disaster management and adaptation. I genuinely thought local councillors would be interested in attending, I believed that they had a duty of care to whom they represented to be informed on climate change and its implications for the communities they represent at point I had communicated to each of them in my correspondence. Remember that the cost of flash flooding to Irish agriculture and the insurance industry in 2008 was in excess of 200million euro. The cost for 2009 will be order of magnitudes higher than this. As an environmental scientist I desired local councillor's to attend for a number of reasons, not only to learn about the impacts of climate change as I previously mentioned but also to find out what they could do as public representatives to minimize the risk for the public they represent. That means proper planning and development, flood relief, land use management and ensuring that services for emergency planning and preparedness are adequately funded and resourced.

In total three councillors attended the conference, representing counties Clare, Roscommon and Dublin; even though the conference was in Cork not one Town Councillor, City or County councillor was able to attend, not even when the Minister for Environment was in attendance as well as the principle deputies of the Oireachtas committee on Climate Change and Energy Security lead by Deputy Simon Coveney T.D. and Deputy Liz MacManus T.D. both of whom I had asked to speak on the work of the Oireachtas Committee of which they are principal members.

One year on, Skibbereen, Dunmanway and Clonakilty experience further flooding and Bandon town and Cork City experience the worse flooding in living memory. Flooding that was not just down to unprecedented rainfall but poor planning, land use management and flood protection measures and further exasperated by poor co-ordination of emergency relief, a breakdown of communications and responsibility which also played a major role in the catastrophe. The consequence of which the communities and businesses are not only coming to terms with. It was truly miraculous that their was no fatalities and for this we are to be thankful.

Last week I was invited to Waterford City to give a presentation for the Copenhagen Countdown on emergency planning, disaster management and climate change. The presentation was based on my observations and experiences in Bandon town. I would be delighted to give this presentation in Bandon or Skibbereen or Clonakilty to both the local communities and public representatives. It is apolitical as I myself have resigned from the green party, for a somewhat similar reason, that is, in my view, their inability to adapt to a changing political and economic climate, not preparing strategies for the future of the green party and their handling of the NAMA debacle. In light of the initial 10 million disaster fund created by the Government it is somewhat interesting to note that the cost of NAMA will be roughly 10million a day for the next 15yrs.

The weather is changing we need proactive management to reduce the risk and the creation of policies and programmes to put these strategies into effect. As a community we must adapt and learn from our experiences. A major flood disaster is sometimes an opportunity to correct not only the planning errors of the past but plan for the future.