Under The Weather  

Posted by Big Gav

The Herald comments today that the government may, if it doesn't wish to go down in history as the most stupid in the history of the nation, want to begin thinking about where our water is going to come from in future. And even though the bits of Perth that haven't blown away are under water, thats may only be a brief wet blip in an otherwise seemingly inexorable slide into desertification on the west coast.

90 per cent of the largest state is drought-declared, yet again thousands of farmers are in financial distress, the river system is falling apart, the landscape has been cleared, scoured and eroded, leading to desertification, leading to a hotter landscape, leading to less rain, a water shortage for Sydney and catastrophic water levels in some country towns. People are obsessed with water and survival.

Peter Costello had nothing new or consequential to say about this in the 2005 budget and its aftermath, instead talking about "the drought" as if it were some speed bump on the economic highway. It's time he got new advice. On March 1, the Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics released a paper confirming the obvious: "Australia's water shortages may get worse." A Roy Morgan International poll released on April 29 found 88 per cent of Australians agreed with the statement: "If we don't act now we'll never control our environmental problems."

Someone tell Howard and Costello. They may form one of the most successful leadership teams this country has ever had. Yet because they can't read the weather they may end up with a legacy they never envisaged: they could go down as one of the most reckless leadership teams Australia has ever had. It's too early to tell. The long lens of history cannot yet come into focus.

It would be useful if, in two weeks, the Prime Minister attended a keynote address on May 29 at the Sydney Writers' Festival. It will be delivered by the American geographer Professor Jared Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose new book, Collapse, charts the history of civilisation collapse caused by environmental failure. Diamond sees history repeating itself. Australia gets an entire chapter because of its growing and unsustainable divide between consumer wealth and environmental poverty.

His warning connects to another element in the Howard legacy, the strong relationship with President George Bush. Whatever one may think of the Bush imperium, the most disturbing aspect of his Administration is its attitude to global climate change. Against an overwhelming scientific consensus, the Bush Administration clings to the argument that the massive chain reactions in the global climate system may not have been triggered by human intervention. So it's business as usual.

For the past three weeks, The New Yorker, one of the best and most carefully checked magazines in the world, has run a series of articles by Elizabeth Kolbert about the chain reactions now under way in the global climate system. Rather than try to summarise the series I quote its final paragraph, and ultimate conclusion: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing."

4 comments

I've been thinking about migrating to sydney in recent months. I have the points and meet the requirements...but how fast is this situation going to get bad??? The world is running out of options it seems...

Well - there is plenty of scope for reducing our water usage (Sydney is still much better off than places like Goulburn and Canberra - both in dire straits - or even bigger cities like Perth and Adelaide), so we aren't going to be dying of thirst any time soon - so I wouldn't be too concerned on that front.

There are a lot of issues around food production in the longer term (as the soil in our farmlands seems to be in dire straits and the water situation will increasingly be a ongoing problem). But I'm not sure Australia is any worse off than a lot of the rest of the world when it comes to food production.

If you believe die-off is coming then we may fare better than most (personally I'd say New Zealand's south island is as good a place as any) - but its hard to tell how things will pan out - I'm not sure anyone can predict the precise effects of climate change nor of peak oil - part of it depends on how we respond and some of it is just random I suspect.

My number one worry is if the US does invade Iran (and most of the signs seem to point that way) then things could go downhill fast (read one of my earlier posts on that one). Second cab off the rank is a US economic collapse. And out on the fringes there are the rumours of planned population reduction, which may just be the artifacts of paranoid minds, but I do wonder sometimes...

Water problems will take longer to manifest themselves, so I don't spend a lot of time worrying about them - other than my rising level of annoyance about the lack of political response to the issue.

Just out of curiosity, my logs show you as a .mil visitor - is that true ? I've always been curious about readers from those sort of domains (especially given my frequent complaints about your present government)...

I suppose that water problems will take some time to manifest themselves...it's getting harder and harder to smack down the paranoiac living just under my skin these days. After coming full circle on peak oil and finally reaching the acceptance phase, i'm going to have to learn to do the same with all the other big problems we face...or at least keep them prioritized properly so that i dont go insane.

Indeed i am doing a bit of reading my blogs while having my morning coffee at work. I've worked as a computer scientist for the military since i finished uni but i am a civilian. given MY frequent complaints about our current government, i tend to find myself on a bit of a desert island where i work. the people i work with tend to be either completely and utterly disconnected from politics and probably couldn't name the secretary of state or the vice president or, if they do follow any politics, tend to be very conservative (with the typical bush sticker on their giant SUV) or if they dont like the right-wingers, they tend to have the weird idea that they are not allowed to talk about it. It is a very bizarre place for an admitted raging liberal to work...very isolating. But there are some of us over here who aren't insane, my apologies for our current government. I worked my damndest to try to get them out last november, but it wasn't enough.

about migration...i've narrowed it down to sydney or melbourne...do you have any insights about what i might face if i do go through with it? I've been worried about sticking out like a sore thumb and possibly being a magnet for anti-american sentiment while i'm travelling to europe in a few weeks...do you think i would have problems finding work or friends there? or are people understanding...and i'm curious about the politics there...i know you have a bush loving PM but what are politics like in general compared to ours. I know thats a huge question, maybe if you have some links that i could peruse...


by the way, is your name gavin? my name is also gavin :) i don't meet too many gavin's over here.

Yes - I'm a Gavin as well - its a reasonably common name here (its Celtic in origin, so people of welsh and irish extraction tend to use it - when I visited both Wales and Ireland people seemed keen to claim me as one of them).

As for paranoia and worrying about various issues, there's no point getting to upset about things you can't control - my peak oil freak out period only lasted a few days - now I go about my business the same as I always did, but I'm a bit more alert to changes and am making a few contingency plans.

If you do move down here both Sydney and Melbourne are good to live in. Sydney is a bit more brash and money oriented, but its warmer and has better beaches and national parks nearby (and it a bit bigger and more international). Melbourne is a bit more intellectual and tends to have slightly better nightlife. House prices are ridiculous in both cities both Sydney is the worst of the two.

The IT job market has been bouyant over the last year or so and seems to be holding up quite well for now. If you do come down I'm happy to give you some tips on how to get a job and how the local market works.

You won't have any problems finding friends or work - and anti-americanism isn't likely to be a problem unless you act like a caricature of a boorish american (the same goes in Europe).

Politics here has aquired some of the pathologies that are rampant in the US, but in general its still pretty civilised. I have my complaints about the government and the media here, but we're on a different level to the US - there's much less of a militarist tradition and we still have large socialist style institutions like universal free healthcare and the like that haven't been dismantled (yet).

If you want to get an idea of the local environment read the papers -
www.smh.com.au (Sydney Morning Herald) and www.theage.com.au (Melbourne Age) are traditional "liberal" media, www.theaustralian.com.au (The Australian) is Murdoch's national newspaper and www.afr.com (Australian Financial Review) is the financial paper. Crikey (www.crikey.com.au) has a slightly slant on everything (subscribe to their daily email).

If you want to check out the job market try www.seek.com.au and www.jobnet.com.au

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