Zeitgeist

I don’t imagine John Howard reads this blog, or even my columns in the Financial Review, but it was striking, after the discussion we had here to see him make an explicit link between climate change and the severity of the current drought. This is big progress even on his position of month ago, where he was still trying to have a bit each way.

It will be interesting to see how denialists in the commentariat and blogosphere, most of whom are also Howard partisans, respond to this.

Also, while I’m praising Howard, the training package he announced recently was a good thing, and seems to mark an abandonment of the silly idea that it’s OK to finish your education at year 10. Not everyone needs a university education, but failing to finish school (or achieve an equivalent outcome) and get some sort of post-school qualification is a recipe for low wages and regular unemployment.

Air war in Iraq

Not surprisingly, the publication by the Lancet of new estimates suggesting that over 600 000 people have died (mostly violently) in Iraq, relative to what would have been expected based on death rates in the year before the war, has provoked violent controversy. A lot of the questions raised about the earlier survey, estimating 100 000 excess deaths in the first year or so appear to have been resolved. In particular, the lower bound estimate is now around 400 000, so that unless the survey is rejected completely, there can be no doubt about catastrophic casualties.

One number that is striking, but hasn’t attracted a lot of attention is the estimated death rate from air strikes, 13 per cent of the total or between 50 000 and 80 000 people. Around half the estimated deaths in the last year of the survey, from June 2005 to June 2006. That’s at least 25 000 deaths, or more than 70 per day.

Yet reports of such deaths are very rare. If you relied on media reports you could easily conclude that total deaths from air strikes would only be a few thousand for the entire war. The difference between the numbers of deaths implied by the Lancet study and the reports that shape the “gut perceptions” that the Lancet must have got it wrong are nowhere greater than here. So are the numbers plausible?
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New football thread

Due to the fact that a well-known leftwing political ideology contains the name of a drug for male performance problems, much touted by spammers, my blog software is rejecting all comments on the football post below. Sorry about this – I’m going to raise it with my hosting service. In the meantime, please comment here.

Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Capitalism, soc1alism and football

There’s nothing remarkably original about the observation that of the world’s football codes, soccer* is the one that is consistently organised on capitalist lines. Most sporting leagues have a whole series of redistributive taxes and regulations, such as drafts and salary caps, designed to keep the competition open. Even if you follow a team that hasn’t won for decades, like South Melbourne/Sydney in AFL before last year, it’s reasonable to hope that your turn will come again.
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Drying out

There’s been a lengthy debate in the comments threads of recent posts about whether the dry weather in much of Australia in recent years can be attributed to climate change, or is just another round in the natural cycle. One point that’s emerged is the crucial role of evaporation in exacerbating drought conditions. This was first observed in relation to the 2002 drought. The steady increase in global temperatures, including average temperatures in Australia, means that even when rainfall is at or near the historical average, conditions are drier than before because evaporation rates are higher. When we get a drought, as at present, conditions that would once have been bad are now extreme.

The combined effects of low rainfall and high evaporation are amplified when it comes to runoff, since the amount (net of evaporation) absorbed by the soil does not change much. And land use changes such as the construction of farm dams have reduced the amount of runoff that makes it into streams (these are now being restricted, but it’s often a case of too little too late). It’s not surprising then, as reported by Mark Neal at the RSMG blog, that, in terms of inflows to the River Murray system, 2006 looks set to be the driest year ever recorded.

So far, the effects on flows and allocations of irrigation water have been offset to some extent by accumulated storage, but with a run of dry years, that can’t be sustained. At the end of September 2006, total River Murray
system storage was 3 550 GL or 37 per cent of capacity, which is only half the long-term average for September of 7 000 GL. With winter and early spring being extremely dry, the chance of significant improvement this year is low, given that 60% of inflow typically occurs during July to October.

But if the situation is bad now, imagine the possibilities if the Cap on extractions hadn’t been imposed back in 1994. We would have started with lower storage levels, and there would have been that much less to draw on.