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Crisis in Australia


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Article in today's Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008...echange.drought

A new report by Australia's top scientists predicts that the country will be hit by a 10-fold increase in heatwaves and that droughts will almost double in frequency and become more widespread because of climate change.

The scientific projections envisage rainfall continuing to decline in a country that is already one of the hottest and driest in the world. It says that about 50% of the decrease in rainfall in south-western Australia since the 1950s has probably been due to greenhouse gases.

Yesterday, Australia's agriculture minister, Tony Burke, described the report as alarming and said: "Parts of these high-level projections read more like a disaster novel than a scientific report."

The analysis, commissioned by the government as part of a review of public funding to drought-stricken farmers, was published days after another report, by Professor Ross Garnaut, warned that Australia had to adopt a scheme for trading greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 or face the eventual destruction of sites including the Great Barrier Reef, the wetlands of Kakadu and the nation's food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin.

The prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who swept to victory on a green agenda last November, said the analysis by the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation was "very disturbing".

The reports will put pressure on him to act swiftly on his pledge for Australia to lead the world in tackling polluters. However, the rising cost of living has dented his government's popularity and his plans for a carbon trading scheme have begun to unnerve voters and industry. Rudd has acknowledged that tough debate lies ahead and has said the government will map out its policy options this month.

Yesterday's report revealed that not only would droughts occur more often but that the area affected would be twice as large as now. The proportion of the country having exceptionally hot years could increase from 5% each year to as much as 95%, according to the projections.

The report says rainfall in Australia has been declining since the 1950s and about half of that decrease is due to climate change. It says the current thresholds for farmers to claim financial assistance are out of date because hotter and drier weather will become the norm.

Burke said it was clear that the cycle of drought was going to be "more regular and deeper than ever before". He added: "If we failed to review drought policy, if we were to continue the neglect and pretend that the climate wasn't changing, we would be leaving our farms out to dry."

Parts of Australia are now in a sixth year of drought, and the report coincided with an announcement that there has been a worsening of the drought in New South Wales. Some 65% of the state is affected, an increase of more than 2.3% on last month, although opinion is divided on whether it can be attributed to climate change.

A plague of locusts is also threatening crops in the state, with farmers on 900 farms reporting finding locust eggs. The government plans to fight the infestation with aerial spraying before the eggs hatch.

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It's something that has been approaching for years. There is a lot a debate about various water usage plans. Personally, I can't see why on a river that is running dry there are water-intensive activities like cotton growing. Mind you, I'm a city boy and know nothing about farming... and I certainly know nothing about economics.

I suspect that as a country we will have to learn the hard way about water conservation. In Sydney, during the midst of a hot summer and near maximum water restrictions, we saw people using water to hose down their driveways, etc.

I don't think the government is really taking the situation as seriously as required. Perhaps the only ones are in Brisbane, where they are on maximum water restrictions.

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It's something that has been approaching for years. There is a lot a debate about various water usage plans. Personally, I can't see why on a river that is running dry there are water-intensive activities like cotton growing. Mind you, I'm a city boy and know nothing about farming... and I certainly know nothing about economics.

I suspect that as a country we will have to learn the hard way about water conservation. In Sydney, during the midst of a hot summer and near maximum water restrictions, we saw people using water to hose down their driveways, etc.

I don't think the government is really taking the situation as seriously as required. Perhaps the only ones are in Brisbane, where they are on maximum water restrictions.

When I was in Australia in 2006 I spoke to several farmers. They were very concerned about their future and feared that the change in the climate would put them out of business. They were very critical of town people who did not take care of water. I think there have been cases where farmers have actually attacked and killed people for this offence.

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Most country towns and villages had water tanks to collect water off the roof and store it for when needed. When ever the mains water was brought to a town or a village it was required that the property owner pull down the tanks and use only the mains water. I think in the present circumstances that this policy is now being rethought but it shows that self sufficiency is not a desired outcome for policy makers. Yes, there are health concerns about water borne diseases but this can be managed with education and proper maintenance and chemical treatment if needed. We had a nasty outbreaks or giardia and cryptosporidium in the local Sydney mains waters a few years ago so even that system is not perfect.

Sydney itself seems to have plenty of rain fall. It really needs just a means to collect it and store it. Many people are putting in rainwater tanks but they are very expensive ($1,000- $2,000 then plumbing costs on top of that) for some reason, considering the materials used , and most people cannot afford them. The catchment area for the mains water system here seems to be just outside the rainfall area. To 'solve' this they are building a multi-billion dollar de-salination plant near the airport. Very unpopular with many people and the Greens but it makes the corporate sector happy so it has the go ahead. It will use huge amounts of energy to run. The nuclear option is being pushed hard too by the corporate sector but the present government is unlikely to go this route. Though they are happy enough to sell the uranium to others for them to pollute with (also our coal). European gardens are becoming the exception rather than the rule and native plants which use much less water are very popular. On the other hand though all the farming is still European based. Cows and sheep have hard hooves and grazing habits which damage the top soil and cause erosion but camel, goana, crocodile, kangaroo and emu meat just haven't caught on yet though they would be better to farm than European stock. There are even extremely water hungry crops like rice and cotton grown in large quantities which doesn't really make a lot of environmental sense but means we can export rice to Asia and make a profit so that makes it alright for some.

I really cannot understand the carbon trading debate. A system is expected to be up and running here by 2010 but the natives are scared because they don't know or understand what is involved. Business wants to be able to make a profit from it and be compensated for any actual or imagined losses. From where I stand it looks just like the Vatican selling indulgences so that one can skip purgatory and eternal damnation, or in the case of carbon trading, the end of the world and I can't see the logic or solution in either. The only solution that I can see is to produce and consume less and to use renewable energy and become as self sufficient as possible all of which runs counter to corporate capitalist ideology which is dominant at the moment.

The scientific projections envisage rainfall continuing to decline in a country that is already one of the hottest and driest in the world. It says that about 50% of the decrease in rainfall in south-western Australia since the 1950s has probably been due to greenhouse gases.

This is an interesting situation given that this area is about as far away from any industrial centre in the whole world. Perth (the only city of any size in the area) is the most isolated city in the world.

Neither the Dutch or the Portuguese who both came to Australia centuries before the British wanted anything to do with the place because of its hostile environment and unlikely prospects. It was the west coast that put them off. Australia is the driest place on earth.

Here are some pictures of the Darling River. This is part of the Murray Darling river system and is the most important system in the country and responsible for most of the food grown here. These are before and after photos of the same places. Before the drought and after.

Darling%20at%20louth%20mar%2006%202.jpg

The%20Darling%20River%20Louth%20red.jpg

Suicide and depression is a very big problem amongst many rural communities here and the drough is a big cause of this. And, yes, city people use way more water than they need and often have no regard for its scarcity. Interestingly, water use is highest in the higher socio-economic suburbs too. All those pools to keep full and paths to hose the leaves off I suppose.

Edited by Maggie Hansen
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When I was in Australia in 2006 I spoke to several farmers. They were very concerned about their future and feared that the change in the climate would put them out of business. They were very critical of town people who did not take care of water. I think there have been cases where farmers have actually attacked and killed people for this offence.

I'm not so sure about farmers killing people but I'm sure that farmers have died because of the indifference of city people to their plight. Many farmers have committed suicide and others have lost their families and farms because of all of the stresses of the drought.

One of my first jobs was as a Jillaroo (cowgirl). I went to work on a farm 200 kms at the back of Bourke - literally (a colloquial term meaning far, far, far away from civilisation for non Australians readers here) and a very dry area on the edge of the desert and I knew that water was from the tank and to have a quick shower (after all, we had a hobby farm/tax dodge just outside the capital city I grew up in so I knew all about farming and country life) but after I was in there for only 5 minutes the boss's missus was wanting me to get out. I was so put out. Didn't they realise that I normally took about 15 minutes to luxuriate in my showers and I was making a huge sacrifice by reducing my shower time to just 5 minutes?! Needless to say I lasted about another month there before they sent me back to the city before they ran out of water totally. I learned to take a really quick shower like in a Japanese wash house some time later.

For some years now water has been allocated to farmers according to the size and function of the land. Some farmers use their allocation up fast and then buy water off other farmers who are not planting or otherwise have reduced need for it and have it to spare. I know that there have been lots of disputes over this allocation and trading. I imagine that when a drought affected farmer drives past the golf links with the sprinklers running it can only lead to ill will.

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