Thursday, April 9, 2009

Australia: microcosm of global warming today

There's a very disturbing article in today's Los Angeles Times regarding the current impact of global warming on Australia. When we think of the impacts of climate change, we often think of the polar regions or maybe a few isolated regions affected by heavy rains or drought. But here is an entire continent showing negative impacts on agriculture, water supplies, wildlife, and even social effects that include higher rates of suicide.

Southern Australia is showing definite signs of a warmer, drier climate that has been devastating to many of the country's agriculture industries. Fruit orchards are showing drastic signs of reduced output and farmers are not able to afford to make the investment in shifting to different
crops - removing orchards, planting new crops, waiting for a sufficient new crop to begin to pay off. This has led many farmers to economic collapse and even an increase in suicide. And all throughout the southern region, water supplies have become precious to meet the demands of farmers, cattlemen, and urban cities.

In Northern Australia, climate change has produced heavy, monsoon-like rains and more cyclones - one of the topsy-turvy affects of temperature, wind, and ocean current changes. Throughout the country, temperature change is having an impact on wildlife, with species fighting for dwindling space as they migrate to better climates or dying out if favorable conditions cannot be found. And Australia's Great Barrier Reef continues to show the dramatic effects of temperature-induced coral bleaching to the extent that the reef could be "extinct" in 40 years.

"Something is happening in Australia," firefighter Dan Condon of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade wrote in an open letter. "Global warming is no longer some future event that we don't have to worry about for decades. What we have seen in the past two weeks moves Australia's exposure to global warming to emergency status."

A royal commission is being convened to address the problem, but Australia's political response has been somewhat muted because to seriously address global warming means the nation
must rethink the foundation of its economy: coal. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and depends on coal for 80% of its electricity. This nation is a microcosm of what the world faces today. The shift to alternative energy sources, the steps needed to be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - these will not be easy and, more and more, we are seeing anecdotal and empirical evidence that it must be done now and in a big way.

Read the entire Los Angeles Times article with excellent video.

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