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.)