Utne Blogs > Environment

Save a Koala, Pray for Rain

by Staff


Tags: Australia, global warming, Big Dry, Kyoto Protocol, John Howard, Kevin Rudd,

Article Posted: 11/14/07
Updated: 11/26/07

KoalaImagine sticking a piece of beef jerky into a food dehydrator, and you'll have a good idea of what global warming is doing to Australia. The already arid continent has been hit by a drought of such epic proportions that the surf-loving Aussie civilization is threatened. The country, which is so dry that 90 percent of its population clings to its wet coastal regions, has been getting even more parched than usual: Rainfall is pegged to drop 10 percent by 2030 and percent by 2070, reports Science News. Global warming is the likely culprit. The Murray-Darling river basin, on which 40 percent of Australia's agriculture relies, is shriveling up like a grape left in the sun:

The 2006-2007 growing season was the basin's driest in the 116 years for which records exist, according to an August 2007 report by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. Computer models that predict weather patterns give a 75 percent chance that storage levels will remain low through May. "The system is really running on empty," [Mike] Young, [professor of water economics and management at the University of Adelaide,] says. "We're now borrowing water from the future."

The massive threat to the antipodes does have its bright side. It's encouraging Australians to go green. And fast. According to a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, 92 percent of Australians think that they should fight global warming, the largest percentage of countries surveyed. This is not just empty rhetoric. Australian cities are imposing stiff water restrictions. In Brisbane, for instance, people can only water their lawns every other day for only a couple of hours, and stiff fines are imposed on households breaking an 800-liter-a-day limit on water use. (The average American household uses 1,325 liters a day.)

Seed reports" href="http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2007/10/the_climate_crucible.php?page=2" target="_blank">Seed reports that there's a flood of enthusiasm for new technology to fight Australia's Big Dry, including gray water systems to water gardens and ambitious computer modeling programs that might help farmers plan for coming droughts. These efforts might light the way for other countries that might be forced to follow in Australia's footsteps as the world's climate shifts.

But the drought hasn’t broken for Australia yet. John Howard, the conservative prime minister, has still not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And though the upcoming election might end Howard's decade-long reign, the experts aren't too impressed with any of the pols' lackluster plans to go green, reports the Melbourne-based Age’s Jo Chandler. The Labor party recently got some egg on its face when it back-flipped on its election pledge to unequivocally sign an international climate accord when the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012. Will Kevin Rudd, the Labor candidate, win the next election and turn Australia into a green haven, or will the sunburnt country just dry up? Time will tell. —Brendan Mackie

 

UPDATE: Kevin Rudd and his Labor party "emphatically" swept the Australian election this Saturday. The conservative Coalition were trounced so badly that John Howard, the outgoing Prime Minister, might have even lost his seat in Parliament. At the time of writing, the Green party could win enough seats to hold the balance of power in parliament. Global warming policy was one of the issues that sealed Rudd's historic win. Hopefully this bodes well for coming elections.

 (Image licensed under Creative Commons attribution 1.0.)

nick_4
11/29/2007 7:54:09 PM

World’s dirtiest energy, yeah, err mate, mm we have "per capita". Get with reality - actually we are on of the cleanest countries in the world and contribute around 1.5% to global co2 emissions. We have met our Kyoto targets by simply planting trees and have now signed the protocol. We have a mass of cleantech ready to be commericilised. On desal - probably best to go with micro desal with farming communities taking underground bore water and filtering it into "drinkable water".


nick_3
11/29/2007 7:53:42 PM

World’s dirtiest energy, yeah, err mate, mm we have "per capita". Get with reality - actually we are on of the cleanest countries in the world and contribute around 1.5% to global co2 emissions. We have met our Kyoto targets by simply planting trees and have now signed the protocol. We have a mass of cleantech ready to be commericilised. On desal - probably best to go with micro desal with farming communities taking underground bore water and filtering it into "drinkable water".


carol in oregon_2
11/28/2007 7:25:11 PM

It is odd for you to source your story with a hyperlink (Science News), and in the next sentence totally distort what the source says ("Global warming is the likely culprit."). Are you trying that hard to preach the Kyoto-Goran Gospel? Do you not think your readers are capable of complexity? I'm disappointed in this new-fangled Utne product. Seeyahhhh


festivemanb
11/17/2007 8:06:22 PM

This just in: Australia has the world's dirtiest energy. Check it out: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/node/7050 http://bmackie.blogspot.com


sueblimely_2
11/17/2007 2:16:56 PM

Australia has at least one large coastal desalination plant (Perth). Another to cost $4 billion is due to be built. Some are criticizing the plan on the basis that desalination plants are energy intensive, polluting and will just add to the global warming problem. http://www.sueblimely.com


tod colby
11/14/2007 8:52:06 AM

I don't understand why places that are so close to vast quantities of water (the ocean) are so slow in embracing desalinization processes. California, Georgia, Florida and now (with this latest report) Australia are all coastal locations and they all want to drain their lakes and rivers dry before considering tapping the largest water resource we have. Many of the islands in the Caribbean have been using this technology for years, so it’s not voodoo environmentalism like Nitrogen Cars, Ethanol or hybrid technology. It seems to be the most overlooked common sense approach to one of our greatest problems to date.