Drought Alarmism – Ignorance Or Deliberate Deception?

Posted on Sun 10/17/2021 by


By Dr. John Happs ~

“The reality is that climate is a hugely variable and hopelessly complicated thing, that it is actually meaningless to attempt to identify anthropogenic climate change through climate events like floods or droughts.”  –  (Professor Stewart Franks) https://ipa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/archive/Franks_article.pdf

Contrary to available evidence, a number of media outlets and vested-interest groups seem determined to attribute any extreme weather event, including droughts, to human-induced climate change.

Those deceitful individuals who promote climate alarmism for personal gain know full-well that most politicians and members of the public have little scientific understanding and will swallow much of the climate nonsense served up by media reporters who care little for evidence whilst thriving on alarmism. It would appear that the many vested interest groups who promote climate alarm will dismiss any evidence that refutes such alarmism.

The inevitable global occurrence of droughts provides a typical example where media hype promotes the view that any dry spell of any significance is a consequence of the trivial anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions that are adding to the already trivial 400 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

We are accustomed to many weather phenomena being relatively brief in duration and magnitude whilst droughts can gradually impact large areas for prolonged periods of time, sometimes with severe consequences for agriculture, livestock and food production. In developing countries, drought can be particularly devastating, impacting already limited food supplies whilst bringing about widespread famine.

Droughts are natural events and definitions vary. In Australia, an area is said to be in drought should it receive less than 10% of its annual rainfall over a 1 year period. In the USA, an area is said to be in drought if it receives less than 30% of its normal rain over a period of 21 days.

Rainfall never falls evenly across the planet with huge differences between regions such as tropical rainforest and deserts. For instance, Mawsynram, in India is regarded as the wettest place on Earth with an annual rainfall of more than 11 thousand millimetres. In contrast, parts of the Atacama Desert in Chile receive an average of 1 to 3 mm of rain each year whilst the Dry Valleys in Antarctica have seen no rain over the last million years.

Climate alarmists, always eager to link current dry spells with (imaginary) human-induced global warming ignore historic droughts from around the globe. Predictably, they point to any recent dry spell as being evidence of carbon dioxide-driven global warming.

It has been argued that Australia is the driest inhabited continent since it is not uncommon for periods without rain in some areas to last for a decade or longer. Historical records, in agreement with scientific data, show that south-eastern Australia experienced 27 drought years between 1788 and 1860 along with 10 major droughts between 1860 and 2000.


Many climate alarmists make reference to weather extremes as if they are something new whilst the Brisbane Courier reminded us that back in 1871:

“THREE consecutive years of drought, while they have stimulated the inventive resources of practical agriculturalists, have had the natural effect of calling forth a plentiful crop of speculation from weather prophets, and projectors, and half-instructed meteorologists, and all the philosophic tribe of Laputa in general, to whom the periodical press now affords such fatal facilities. We have often noticed that in the tabular statements of those compilers of weather records who write to the Times, useful and welcome as their communications are, every season is sure to be “extraordinary”, almost every month one of the driest or wettest, or windiest, coldest or hottest, ever known. Much observation, which ought to correct a tendency to exaggerate, seems in some minds to have rather a tendency to increase it.”  –  The Brisbane Courier (January 10, 1871)

The Federation Drought from 1895 to 1903 was the worst in Australia’s history and the swing from drought to flood led Dorothea Mackellar to write her poem: “My Country” in 1908:

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of the army,
The steady, soaking rain.

In 1902 sheep and cattle losses in Queensland were huge as rivers dried up, including the Murray and Darling. In 1892 it was estimated that Australia had over 100 million sheep yet this number had dwindled down to around 54 million by 1903.

Dry bed of the Murray River, NSW: State Library of New South Wales

Droughts in Australia have led to dust storms such as this one in 1900:

Dust storm at Broken Hill, about 1900: National Museum of Australia

Of course we know exactly what the climate alarmists would say if such events happened today.

The nation’s wheat crop was badly hit as it was during the 1914-1915 drought and bushfires were widespread.

The 1944-45 drought again saw large rivers such as the Hunter, Hawkesbury and Murray dry up


The Australian Bureau of Statistics has provided a summary of major Australian droughts:

(Editor Note – The text in this image is a little difficult to read, because the image is sized to fit the page. However, if you click on the image, it will open on a new page and at a larger size so that the text is easier to read.)

After: Foley (1957) and the Drought Watch Criteria (1986)


Attempts to link anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions with more recent drought periods are clearly without any scientific foundation and certainly cannot be tied to those extended periods of historic droughts. Of course this never deters the climate alarmists from excitedly pointing their fingers at anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.

Attempts to link drought-related deaths to anthropogenic global warming are completely without scientific foundation whilst Zhang et al. (2010) point out the dangers from cooling episodes:

“Climate cooling has had a huge impact on the production of crops and herds in pre-industrial Europe and China (Hinsch, 1998; Atwell, 2002; Zhang et al., 2007a), even triggering mass southward migration of northern nomadic societies (Fang and Liu, 1992; Wang, 1996; Hsu, 1998).”


Dr. Byron Sharp has pointed out how Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website shows no trend in the frequency of droughts over the last 100 years. Nor in total rainfall in New South Wales. In fact rainfall across Australia has increased:


But let us go back even further.  Historic correspondence, from the time of the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788, points to regular periods of drought.

Governor Arthur Phillip reported drought conditions in a letter to W.W. Grenville on the 4th March, 1791:

“From June until the present time so little rain has fallen that most of the runs of water in the different parts of the harbour have been dried up for several months, and the run which supplies this settlement is greatly reduced, but still sufficient for all culinary purposes . . .”

Governor John Hunter reported drought conditions in a letter to the Duke of Portland on 1st May, 1799:

“… a most tedious and unfortunate drought. I can scarcely say we have had a shower of rain for the last ten months. Our maize crops have completely failed us from that cause, and this will occasion a great reduction in our stock of swine.”


“The whole country has been in a blaze of fire. Pasturage for a time has been destroyed and the streams of fresh water almost exhausted.”

Governor Philip Gidley King reported drought conditions in a letter to Lord Hobart on 1st March, 1804:

“I am sorry to say that during the last and present year we have experienced the greatest drought, with severe blight, which has much reduced our crops …”

Governor Lachlan MacQuarie reported drought conditions in a letter to Earl Bathhurst on the 19th January, 1814:

“… during what is naturally our wet season, in the winter and spring of the last year, no rain whatever having fallen to refresh the earth, it became so parched and burned up, that almost all vegetation ceased…”


“Another most unfortunate circumstance has attended the extraordinary drought. The ponds and even the rivers, which in other seasons have supplied water enough for the use of the cattle, totally failed on this occasion, and the consequence has been that an alarming mortality has taken place, not only in the herds belonging to the Crown, but also among those of the settlers at large.”

Droughts recorded from 1827 to 1829 were described as “a fearfully dry period.”

Other drought periods were recorded following the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788.  Dr. Neville Nicholls looked closely at those drought episodes and reported how they coincided with the onset of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events:

“Early documentary records of the British colony of New South Wales, Australia, have been examined for evidence of droughts. The years of occurrence of these early droughts were compared with the chronologies of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, as determined by Hamilton and Garcia (1986) and Quinn et al. (1978) from documentary evidence of northern Peruvian rainfall. Most droughts were associated with ENSO events, and vice versa, confirming the relationship found in many studies using more recent instrumental data. The study demonstrates the stability, over a long period, of the correlation between Australian droughts and ENSO’s.”

Nicholls concluded:

“The relationship between ENSO events and Australian droughts apparently has existed for at least two centuries.”  –  American Meteorological Society, Vol. 69, No. 1. January, 1988

No doubt, such facts would be ignored by climate alarmists, activist scientists and (initially) the IPCC. The latter reporting (FAR WG1, Chapter

“Studies based on indices of temperature change support the robust detection of human influence on continental-scale land areas.”

One might expect that the IPCC’s claim of a “robust detection of human influence” would be supported by ample peer-reviewed literature yet it appears that the IPCC referred to one paper by Dr. David Karoly et al. (2003) claiming that elevated air temperatures, due to carbon dioxide, exacerbated the drought in the Murray Darling Basin.

It should be pointed out that Karoly had previously made his anthropogenic global warming bias clear to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in September, 2000 when senator Ludwig asked Karoly:

“Do you have a view about whether Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol?”

Karoly responded:

“I have a strong personal opinion that Australia should sign for two reasons: first of all, to provide a first step to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and as an indicator of commitment to mitigating – reducing – global climate change. Developing countries are unlikely to believe that developed countries have any commitment to this until they sign on to the Kyoto Protocol and make some first steps.”


Investigative journalist Donna Laframboise has pointed out that Karoly was:   (a)     Review editor for Chapter 9 of the Working Group 1 report, which focused on Understanding and Attributing Climate Change;   (b)     An expert reviewer for the IPCC;   (c)     A co-author of the Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers;   (d)     A co-author of the Working Group 2 Technical summary;   (e)     A co-author of the Foreword and Preface to the Synthesis Report.   Interestingly, Karoly has a close association with the activist World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and is a member of the WWF’s Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.          Karoly, Risbey and Reynolds (2003) published an article for the WWF with the title: Global Warming Contributes to Australia’s Worst Drought.   Co-author Anna Reynolds was described as a Climate Change Specialist for the WWF Australia.

Without any supporting empirical evidence, Karoly claimed that increase in temperatures in the Murray Darling Basin was:

“Likely due to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activity.”

Again, without any supporting empirical evidence, Karoly also claimed that recent drought in Australia demonstrates how the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed. In fact this baseless claim was contradicted by a study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (Lockart et al. 2009):  On the recent warming in the Murray-Darling Basin: Land surface interactions misunderstood. The authors concluded:

“This study demonstrates that significant misunderstanding of known processes of land surface – atmosphere interactions has led to the incorrect attribution of the causes of the anomalous temperatures, as well as significant misunderstanding of their impact on evaporation within the Murray-Darling Basin.”   http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL040598.shtml

When drought conditions appeared in 2003, Karoly attributed those conditions to human-induced global warming but was corrected by media commentator Alan Jones:

“In 2003 why did you say quote this drought has had a more severe impact than any other drought since at least 1950?  This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed. Now the Bureau of Meteorology’s national rainfall data contradicts your statement.  There is no overall change in trend, just a continuing cycle of drought and flood and these are similar to the past, no worse, no better.  Why did you say that? To frighten people?”


Hydrology expert Professor Stewart Franks contacted Karoly in an effort to correct him and deter him from making fallacious statements in an area where he has no expertise. Franks explained that it is drought that raises temperature and not the other way round.  Senator Malcolm Roberts also corrected Karoly:

“David Karoly claimed droughts were caused by higher temperature. Yet reality—as explained to him by expert hydrologist Professor Stewart Franks more than once — is that high temperatures are due to drought. As a professor of meteorology David Karoly should know this, shouldn’t he?”


Paleoclimate evidence shows that prolonged periods of drought or mega-droughts have occurred regularly in the past and are linked with the internal atmospheric variability, coupled influences from the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).

Stevenson et al. have quantified the influence of ENSO and AMO and volcanic eruptions on megadroughts saying:

“The amplitude of ENSO strongly influences both the overall risk of megadrought occurrence and the persistence of megadrought events in several arid regions, including the southwestern United States, Australia, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. A stronger ENSO – meaning there is an enhanced tendency for switching between strong El Niño and La Niña conditions – favors the termination and initiation of megadrought events in teleconnected regions.”


More scientists are now pointing to a lack of evidence for future severe drought in the event of global warming. Milly and Dunne, publishing in the journal Nature, conclude:

“Our findings imply that historical and future tendencies towards continental drying, as characterized by offline-computed runoff, as well as other PET-dependent metrics, may be considerably weaker and less extensive than previously thought.”


The political/ideological Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now admitted there is no evidence to support the alarmist position of droughts increasing in duration and severity. The IPCC concluded:

“Increases in intensity and/or duration of drought: low confidence on a global scale.”

 “Assessment that changes occurred (typically since 1950 unless otherwise indicated): low confidence.”

 “Assessment of a human contribution to observed changes: low confidence.”

 “Likelihood of further changes in the early 21st century: low confidence.”



“In summary, the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century due to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends and dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1979’s were probably overstated.”


 Contrary to the alarmist cries in the Northern Hemisphere, the proportion of land not in drought has been steadily increasing across the USA:

The Palmer Drought Index (PDI) measures both wetness and dryness classifying them as “moderate” or “severe” or “extreme” and the PDI for the USA over the last 100 years shows no long-term trends in either wetness or dryness, with the U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) reporting:

“Average drought conditions across the nation have varied over time. The 1930’s and 1950’s saw the most widespread droughts, while the last 50 years have generally been wetter than average. Over the entire period the overall trend has been toward wetter conditions.”

Palmer Index (1895-2020)

Note the USA “Dust Bowl” years during the 1930’s.


The “Dust Bowl” drought years (1932-1939) and the 1950’s drought (1948-1957) although severe in comparison with the current climate, pale into insignificance when compared to US mega-droughts of the past.

Stockton and Jacoby (1976) have examined paleo-records that show mega-drought periods between 1868-1892 and between1564-1600:


It is evident from research in dendrochronology (tree-ring analysis), lake sediments and palynology (pollen records), that mega-droughts have been regular visitors across nearly all of Western North America and Mexico.

Similarly, droughts have occurred regularly in southeastern USA. Pederson et al. (2012) have used paleo-records to construct a drought history to conclude:

“The reconstruction shows that the recent droughts are not unprecedented over the last 346 years. Indeed, droughts of extended duration occurred more frequently between 1696 and 1820.”


Governor Jerry Brown foolishly blamed California’s recent spell of dry weather on carbon dioxide emissions saying:

“California is burning – What the hell are you doing about it?”


“This is not a game of politics. We need to limit our carbon pollution. These are real lives and real people… We need to make major changes in the way we operate.”


Brown appears oblivious to the fact that California is not experiencing any prolonged drought conditions. Neither is he aware of California’s past drought history with droughts lasting 2 decades or more along with two mega-droughts lasting more than 100 years:

In fact California’s recent dry spells fade into insignificance compared to those from the period 800 AD to 2000:

Precipitation data for California since 1900 show that claims of recent drought being the worst in history don’t stand up to scrutiny:

Other research by Stine showed that California experienced two centennial-scale periods of aridity in California between the years 800 and 1300:


Twentieth century Californian droughts, regarded as severe, lasted from 1928 to 1934 and from 1987 to 1992 but Californians, including the alarmist Governor Jerry Brown, need to be reminded about the severe droughts that lasted from 850 to 1090 and from 1140 to 1320. These were hardly periods of industrial activity.


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

“Paleoclimatic data suggest that droughts as severe at the 1950s drought have occurred in central North America several times a century over the past 300-400 years, and thus we should expect (and plan for) similar droughts in the future. The paleoclimatic record also indicates that droughts of a much greater duration than any in 20th century have occurred in parts of North American as recently as 500 years ago. These data indicate that we should be aware of the possibility of such droughts occurring in the future as well.”


Steiger et al. (2021) have provided evidence showing that multi-decadal megadroughts:

may have occurred simultaneously in California and Patagonia at least once.”


These megadroughts were driven by the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).”


Another climate alarmist, Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, has claimed, without any empirical evidence, that the Texas drought of 2011 was triggered by the trivial rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. She failed to acknowledge that Texan droughts are not unusual and, with only a little due diligence, she would have found that the Texan drought years of the 1950’s were more severe and more prolonged, as the Drought Index shows:

NOAA also points out that such droughts are related to the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) with Positive PDO values associated with wetter conditions in the Southwestern United States, while negative PDO values point to the potential of persistent drought in the Southwest:

“Recent research suggests that the AMO is related to the past occurrence of major droughts in the Midwest and the Southwest. When the AMO is in its warm phase, these droughts tend to be more frequent and/or severe (prolonged?). Vice-versa for negative AMO. Two of the most severe droughts of the 20th century occurred during the positive AMO between 1925 and 1965: The Dustbowl of the 1930s and the 1950s drought.”


Links between drought conditions and natural oceanic oscillations have been emphasised in studies across other countries such as India where 7 major droughts were experienced over the periods: (1876-1882); (1895-1900); (1908-1924); (1937-1945); (1982-1990); (1997-2004); and (2011-2015).

Mishra et al. (2019) have described how those droughts led to famine and the deaths of millions due to widespread crop failures as the summer monsoon failed. Mishra et al. link the most deadly drought periods to the positive phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, saying:

“The composite of all five droughts that caused famine reveals a strong influence of El Niño that resulted in the major monsoon failures.” 


Climate alarmists in Europe have claimed that two relatively dry summers prove that carbon dioxide emissions were responsible whereas empirical data from Vicente-Serrano et al. (2020) again disproves such a claim as does earlier research by Wetter et al. (2006). Numerous studies show that the 1540 Western European mega-drought for instance was more severe than any recent event.


Interestingly, Cook et al. (2015) produced an “Old World Drought Atlas” (OWDA) from tree-ring reconstructions of summer wetness and dryness along with historic and archaeological data. They reported:

“Megadroughts reconstructed over north-central Europe in the 11th and mid-15th centuries reinforce other evidence from North America and Asia that droughts were more severe, extensive, and prolonged over Northern Hemisphere land areas before the 20th century.”  (My emphasis)


Climate alarmists are also active in Germany, especially when it comes to telling whoppers about drought being driven by carbon dioxide emissions and anthropogenic global warming. Again, empirical evidence shows how wrong the alarmists are with the German DWD National Weather Service showing little change in precipitation over the last 50 years:

Data source German DWD national weather service. Image by Frank Bosse.


As well has having its share of climate alarmists, the United Kingdom (UK) has a lengthy climate record with evidence of prolonged dry periods such as the 1890-1910 drought.  Marsh et al. (2008) have shown that any short periods of lower than average rainfall in the 20th Century are minor when compared to those in the 19th Century.


We have had past reports about prolonged droughts in Ethiopia with records showing that droughts have always been a regular feature in Ethiopia’s history with drought intensity increasing during the December to March Jilaal season.

Dr. Tsegay Wolde-Georgis, from the University of Colorado reminds us that droughts have been recorded in Ethiopia for hundreds of years. Despite this, we can expect climate alarmists to refer to the next inevitable Ethiopean drought as being the result of (imaginary) global warming triggered by the trivial levels of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.

Wolde-Georgis has also linked El Niño years with Ethiopean drought and famine, tracing those back to the 16th century and says:

“Applying ENSO-based drought early warning to local conditions could reduce the impact of drought on society to its greatest extent. Farmers could be warned before the advent of drought as to when, what, and where to cultivate and when to sell their animals.”


The Great Drought of 1875-1878 impacted Africa, Asia and parts of South America to the extent that large areas saw widespread crop failures along with around 50 million deaths.

Again, this event has been linked to a record-breaking El Niño and the Indian Ocean Dipole, arising from natural climate variability.


Sadly, Davis (2001) has noted that historic documentation estimates that famine-related deaths from the 1875-1878 event were up to 30 million in India; up to 30 million in China and around 2 million in Brazil.  Davis observed:

“It was arguably the worst environmental disaster to ever befall humanity and one of the worst calamities of any sort in at least the last 150 years, with a loss of life comparable to the World Wars and the influenza epidemic of 1918/19.”  –  Davis, M. (2001): Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso Books.

For these and other regions the usually alarmist IPCC now confesses that it has only low confidence that human activity has played a role in any drying trend.


Data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show no trend in the proportion of the globe in drought since 1950:


The IPCC’s AR5 report (Section now concedes:

“…there is low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century…”

To say that the Pacific Ocean is large and exerts an enormous influence on the Earth’s climate would be an understatement. It influences atmospheric conditions that are linked to repeating cycles including El Niño, La Nina and the Indian Ocean Dipole.

The Pacific Ocean’s 165 million sq. km extend from Asia to North America and from South America to Australia. It extends from the Bering Strait close to the Arctic Ocean, down to the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica and, in area, the Pacific Ocean is larger than all the landmasses combined.

The idea that additional trace amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere can bring about drought around the world is fanciful at best.  But drought allows the climate alarmists to show us dramatic images of dry river-beds, parched landscapes, dead livestock and starving children. The result is that emotion tends to shut out the facts.

Climate alarmists know that most people who hear about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change through the media will never check the Earth’s long history of droughts and mega-droughts. Nor will they understand that such droughts are regular visitors to landscapes around the world and beyond our control.

We need to be better prepared for those inevitable future droughts. We also need to stop those wasteful and futile attempts to control the Earth’s climate.

Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.