Monday, June 18, 2007

We Aren't Climate Change-Proof

Reading this article in BBC today about how the drought in Australia is affecting farmers not only broke my bleeding heart, but also added fuel to my anger over those who deny or flat out ignore the reality that is climate change.

Me and my brother operate a dairy farm in northern Victoria, not far from the Murray river.

We made the heartbreaking decision to sell half of our herd. Its genealogy can be traced back to the first head of cattle that my father acquired when he started the farm 60 years ago.

The dam that serves the area, the Eildon dam, is at 4.5% capacity at the moment.

Even with the small amount of rain that has fallen recently, it's a case of too little too late. We are in too much debt to be able to buy water or feed.

Our farm is on 410 acres of land and we used to have 185 cows. This year we had only 150 and next year it will be 70.

During the 2002-03 drought, we were able to cut half of our cows by "renting" them to another farmer. He looked after them, but he also got the milk. We call it "cow parking".

We lost about A$1,000 (US$835) for each cow and ended up borrowing A$70,000 (US$58,460) from the bank.

This time round, we collected as much hay as we could, but in February we ran out.

We have probably lost A$150,000 (US$125,271) in revenue this year.

This drought has been the longest in recorded history for the nation. Like the U.S., the Australian leadership wasn't above denial.

Until a few months ago, Mr Howard and his ministers pooh-poohed the climate-change doomsayers. The Prime Minister refused to meet Al Gore when he visited Australia to promote his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. He was lukewarm about the landmark report by the British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, which warned that large swaths of Australia's farming land would become unproductive if global temperatures rose by an average of four degrees.

Faced with criticism from even conservative sections of the media, Mr Howard realised that he had misread the public mood - grave faux pas in an election year. Last month's report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted more frequent and intense bushfires, tropical cyclones, and catastrophic damage to the Great Barrier Reef. The report also said there would be up to 20 per cent more droughts by 2030. And it said the annual flow in the Murray-Darling basin was likely to fall by 10-25 per cent by 2050. The basin, the size of France and Spain combined, provides 85 per cent of the water used nationally for irrigation.

Farmers are currently being hit the hardest with the drought, but that won't last long. City and town dwellers are facing water restrictions. Not only that, but the lack of water in farming areas result in fewer crops. This means that food prices will very easily rise.

This isn't a problem restricted to Australia alone:

Many of the world's rivers, including the Colorado in America, China's Yellow river and the Tagus, which flows through Spain and Portugal, are suffering a similar plight. As the world warms up, hundreds of millions of people will face the same ecological crisis as the residents of the Murray-Darling basin. As water levels dwindle, rows about how supplies should be used are turning farmers against city-dwellers and pitching environmentalists against politicians. Australia has a strong economy, a well-funded bureaucracy and robust political institutions. If it is struggling to respond to this crisis, imagine how drought will tear apart other, less prepared parts of the world.

Climate change isn't something we need to worry about happening in the future. It is already happening. The time has come for us to acknowledge this and prepare for it. We will be the ones to suffer if the problem continues to be ignored.


  1. I took the bus to work today from southwest Amarillo to downtown. The bus driver was friendly, and the bus was on time, clean, relatively comfortable ... and empty.

    There were never any more than two other people riding with me at any given time (that's 10% of the capacity of 30 seats).

    I figure as long as gas is at $3.00 a gallon or more, if you have a commute of at least 14 miles round trip (like I do), and your car doesn't get more than 28 mpg in the city, it's at worst a wash (the fare is $0.75 one-way and no charge for transfers).

    If you want to do something NOW, check out the schedules, figure out where the closest stop to your home is, map out your route, and do it.

    Let's not wait for the government to do something. Even if you're a global warming skeptic like myself, if every one of those buses were full, every day, supply and demand would dictate that the price of gas would have to come down here in Amarillo. And that's worth something.

    I know you've only been an Amarilloan for a little while, jobsanger, but have you tried out the Amarillo City Transit (ACT) yet? If not, I'd love to see a post about your experiences when you do.

  2. I am not jobsanger. That is pretty obvious when you look at the name at the bottom of the post.

    Even if you're a global warming skeptic like myself

    I'm not. And I expressed my anger towards such "thinking" in the first sentence of this post. It is hard for me to be sympathetic to such views when talking about the very real ways that climate change are affecting people, especially the poorest, across the globe

  3. cc mcgoon,

    My apologies for not looking more closely at the byline. Since the vast majority of posts on this blog in recent months have been by jobsanger, I assumed this one was, too. I'll pay closer attention in the future.

    Regarding my global warming skepticism (and by global warming I'm referring to anthropogenic global warming), I'd direct you to a half dozen or so well-documented posts I've written on another blog supporting my skepticism. In one such post back last December, I predicted that the term climate change would gain ascendency as scientists began to hedge their bets. My prediction seems to be coming true.

    Unfortunately, the blog where I posted all this "wisdom" is at least temporarily (if not permanently) shut down for reasons I won't get into here. I don't have the time right now to reconstruct all my work. If and when this blog returns, I'll post some links.

    That being said, I see no reason not to err on the side of caution, just in case I'm wrong about global warming/climate change. And even if I'm right, there are other reasons to conserve energy beside abject fear - national security, economics (macro & micro), and a spiritual responsibility for stewardship of the earth, to name a few. Should I be faulted because my motivation isn't based on what I perceive to be pretty questionable science?

    I meant to write a supporting comment on jobsanger's earlier post regarding wind farms here in the Panhandle. I agree with him that this really is a win-win situation. But wind farms are of course only part of the solution - an important, useful part, but only a part nonetheless. The solution will ultimately consist of a number of parts. One of those is a greater use of public transportation (something I'm pretty familiar with, having lived in Europe for 10 years).

    You say that it's hard for you to be sympathetic to such views when talking about the very real ways that climate change are affecting people [emphasis added]. That's just the problem. When all is said and done, there's usually more said than done. I've started riding the bus to work - not every day, but as often as I can. If I average one day a week, that a personal reduction of about 20 percent in my petroleum consumption and subsquent greenhouse emissions. Beside this, I walk to most businesses within about a two-mile radius of my home, take very few road trips, drive a 2007 Toyota with very good gas mileage (sorry, it's a Corolla - not a Prius), and keep my thermostat fairly high in the summer and low in the winter.

    I'm just curious (that's where I got my name): What are you doing personally to reduce greenhouse emissions?

  4. I have a much lower tolerance for this thinly veiled trolling than does jobsanger, but, for now, I'll play along.

    You obviously noticed my use of "climate change" in place of "global warming". I see the terms as synonymous. I am no scientist. I just simply prefer one to the other. Stressing it in my response to your last comment was meant to convey that climate change (global warming if you prefer), not bad luck, is to blame for the drought in Australia. This hasn't been a one season thing. It has been ongoing for five years now.

    I did catch the accusatory tone in your last question, in case you were wondering. What am I personally doing to curb global warming. It was a nice touch to mask it with "curiosity", but I'll take the bait.

    I don't drive a car. I live very close to my place of employment, so walking is not a problem. I spent 10 years walking, four miles round trip, to and from my last job. But I have an even better answer:

    I refuse to support candidates that deny and/or ignore global warming. I do support mass transit. I support the research of alternative energy. This shows every time I step into a voting booth. You want to know why this is more important than whether I drive or what energy company I use?


    It is because the "global" part in global warming is there for a reason. Climate change is a global problem. Working alone as individuals will do very little good, if any, in the long haul. The only way to address this very real problem is by banding together as a global community and taking it on together. The only way this will happen is by educating those who are not informed and by electing leaders who are willing to learn (and act on) ways to address this. We as a community have to open our eyes to the damage already done and bend over backwards to reduce further damage. It won't be cheap or fun. If it were, I doubt there would be such opposition and flat-out denial.

  5. Postscript: The blog I was referring to is back up. Here's a link to the posts I mentioned above.

  6. I've had several bloggers warn me of the type of stuff I'll find at that blog. I'm going to have to take their advice and say: No, thank you.

  7. Then I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Thank you for being polite about it.


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