Massive Australian floods were no natural disaster

It is land clearing for livestock-

Despite some recognition today, just one tree is being planted in Queensland for every one hundred cleared to increase livestock grazing.

Yes, it rained a lot for a long time, but cows on huge tracts of “cleared” land made the disaster.




, ,



  1. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    …and Brazil , where the Amazon rain forest is being turned into pasture ? The extent of the Brazilian deluges is also huge.

    Deforestation of Madagascar didn’t do that country any hydrological favors either. Haiti ? Same same. The deforestation I witnessed in Thailand and Indonesia was incredible. I can see where a good monsoonal deluge would wreak havoc. Seems like we’ve the same story out of china recently , too.

    The role of deforestation in colonial America cannot be understated, when over 90 percent of the eastern US’s forests were cleared, then proceeded to grow back much differently and not necessarily desireably. The leading export to Europe from the 13 colonies was lumber ( especially hardwoods for shipbuilding and keels) , because Europe had already plundered its own woods, beginning with the Roman Empire to which deforestation played a significant role in collapsing by AD 300. Only 3 percent of the fabled Black Forest was untouched by the axe, mostly in Croatia I recall. And where did all the trees in the Middle East and Sahara go over the millennia? Up in smoke. But that led eventually to desertification , not floods. ( Noah may disagree with that , somewhat )

    – and so forth. Or to be coy in paraphrasing an old axiom : “As ye Un-sow, so shall ye also reap…”

    1. PointsWest Avatar

      I think few classical archeologists or historians today would say that deforestation played a major role in the collapse of the Roman Empire. It is becoming fairly clear that it was epidemiology. The Persian Empire had grown to where it had many contacts with India and China and had acquired several diseases from these peoples. When Rome went to war with the Persian Empire in the late 3rd century, these diseases were first introduced into the Mediterranean by returning soldiers. The population in the Mediterranean had no immunity from diseases that had developed in Asia. During the 4th and 5th centuries, wave after wave of “plague” swept the empire. By the middle of the 6th century, the population in the Mediterranean was probably 15% of what it had been in the 3rd century. Nomadic people of Germany and of the Arabian Peninsula were not so affected by plagues due to their rural (non-urban) culture and since contact with transients who might carry disease was very limited. The depopulation of the cities, especially, so weakened Rome and its economy that it could not defend against Germanic barbarians nor Arab marauders who parceled the empire up in late antiquity.

      Even in the late empire, Romans were importing lumber from areas such as Germany and Russia (or the Ukraine north of the Black Sea). Germany was not cleared of lumber until the 13th century. Much of the forests of Europe regenerated after the collapse of the human population in the Mediterranean. William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, removed peasants from the land and restored many forests in England so he and the Norman nobility could hunt.

      There were local problems with deforestation in the Mediterranean. The city of Ephesus with a population north of 400,000 was destroyed by deforestation since soil erosion silted in their harbor and the city was slowly abandoned.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        Add to the Roman problem, failed crop systems, which lead to famine, compromised immune systems due to poor diet, and of course lead

      2. PointsWest Avatar

        Their was a demographic shift due to the epidemics. The German barbarians on the German bank of the Rhine and Danube rivers were not so affected by the epidemics. Germans tended to live in scattered villages and detached dwellings and did not have so many transients to carry disease to them. Urban Romans typically lived in five story tenements and merchants and military were coming and going in these cities at all times. The barbarians flourished using Roman coinage and by trading with Romans in the Rhine and Danube valleys…some of the most populated regions of the world today. The German populations grew while the nearby Roman populations on the opposite bank steadily declined. After the economic collapse of the late 3rd century, it was difficult and expensive for Rome to prevent barbarian incursions into the empire. The Romans walled all of the cities in northwestern Europe. The 20 miles of Aurilian walls at Rome were put up in the 270’s. The barbarians did not have siege equipment and could not breach city walls so Romans were safe inside of the walled cities until the Germans headed back north for the winter. Consequently, the population began leaving the countryside and leaving towns and began massing in the cities. Some fled to Northern Africa or to the East. It is fairly well established that these western walled cities became population sinks. More people died, mostly from disease, within city walls than were born. And, these barbarian raids caused famines and starvation and further disrupted the economy all of which would have been hard on the Roman immune system.

        For many years, historians blamed Christianity for the collapse of Rome. It did arise about the time Rome collapsed. However, it is now believed that the fall of Paganism was a consequence of economic decline. Paganism, with it huge temples and sacrifices and huge festivals put on by the upper class were diminished with economic decline. Temples, with there gold and ivory statues, were favorite plunder of barbarians and many were destroyed. With economic collapse, there was not a rich Roman elite to perpetuate the Paganism with it large and expensive festivals, devotions, and sacrifices. Mystery religions and solar cults from the east began filling the vacuum and were finally accepted by the emperor Constantine. Constantine really only united the many solar cults into one. He not only like the Christian god, he was also devoted to Apollo and to Sol Invictus and other solar deities. It was Constantine who also gave us Sunday or solar-day.

      3. PointsWest Avatar

        …one more. The Germans did not use public baths as did Romans and they drank ale. Ale is made by boiling water and as we know today, boing water destroys pathogens. The Germans probably did not have so many brothels as did the Romans either. All of these cultural differences protected the Germans from disease introduced from Asia.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Floods due to, or related to, deforestation in the developed part of the United States was one of the things frequently cited by Gifford Pinchot and the early conservationists as they fought to establish the national forests and then, a generation later, the eastern national forests on reacquired lands.

      Now because of their efforts as well as big economic changes the eastern forests have regrown.

  2. mikepost Avatar

    Ralph, I do not dismiss deforestation as a major contributor to these floods however the observation of the formation of the 2010/11 La Nina current in the Pacific triggered forecasts of massive rainfall throughout the south pacific long before the flood events took place. So, in my book there is a “natural disaster”, just one exacerbated by the man made conditions. I do not think we can say that there would have been no flooding if the trees were still there. That said, they would be better off, if not safe, if they had managed their forests better.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      I guess it is somewhat a question language and well as a physical condition when we call something a disaster versus a larger than expected inundation, also a natural disaster versus a human caused one. It’s really a continuum rather than two categories with clear boundaries between them.

    2. PointsWest Avatar

      There is little doubt that deforestation and cultivation contribute to flooding. Among other things and in addition to increased runoff, deforestation and cultivation add to the silt load in steams of a given drainage. Added silt load means added silt deposits which tend to elevate the stream bed so there is not a stream channel in certain locations. Without a channel, a stream will flood with a smaller flow.

      I believe the biggest culprit in the Australian floods is global warming. An increase in flooding was a predicted consequence of global warming years ago. I think we will see some big floods in eastern Idaho. The Teton River used to flood quite often. I think we will start seeing massive spring rain/snow storms as the Pacific Ocean warms and sends moisture inland. The Teton and the Henry’s Fork were at flood stage twice over the past few years yet their overall annual flow is down significantly. Last year’s spring rain/snow storm put them at flood stage after a very, very dry winter.

      1. Tim Bondy Avatar

        The Australian floods is a global warming event? Pretty bold statement/belief in my opinion. Pinning this weather event on El Nino or La Nina seems to make more sense to me.

      2. PointsWest Avatar

        It is La Nina. I think that is clear. There is more moisture in the atmosphere with global warming, however.

        I worked at JPL for awhile on a building project. Those people know what they are talking about. They predicted a La Nina year with increased rainfall the year I was there and they were exactly right. They predicted it a year before the fact.

        JPL is saying the Austrailian floods are La Nina and I believe them. But La Nina will create more rain if there is more moisture in the atmosphere.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan