Wednesday 05 August 2020

Global waffle

Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 11 November 2006, p. 35.

Do you ever wonder about the contradictory notions which surround the current debates and practices on global warming, drought and the death of our rivers? We need a one-handed environmentalist, just like we need a one-handed economist. You know the problem, you ask one for an answer and you get, ‘On the one hand, but on the other hand’.

I talked to a firie at the week end. I said I thought the one good thing about the drought was that there hadn’t been much growth this year so there would be less to go up in smoke. No, he said, the leaves have been falling off the trees in October and November instead of in high summer as they usually do, so there will be more litter build up and more to burn. So you see whatever happens it is going to be very dodgy summer.

This drought, the one in a thousand, according to Malcolm Turnbull, or is it just the worst since Federation, or since the one during the First World War, or the one in the 1920s which drove the returned soldiers off their farmlets in the Mallee? I have friends who grow rice very efficiently in the Riverina. Were it not for tariffs and other barriers to trade they could sell the quality product to the Japanese and the Chinese in substantial quantities. That would help our balance of payments, which has gone crazy in recent years. But this year, and maybe from now on, the rice growers will not get the water they need. My wife says it is crazy to grow rice in a dry continent like Australia, but we started doing so effectively during the Second World War and we learned then how to make use of limited water supplies. Maybe we should tell the Japanese we will not let their horses run in the Melbourne Cup if they will not accept our rice?

Domestic consumers are bidden to save water, but the big users in this country are industry and the farmers. Those icebergs which have been spotted just off the south coast of New Zealand should be put to use. Why don’t we tow one in to Adelaide as was mooted some time ago? It should not be nearly such a long tow this time. Are icebergs salty? Now there is a question for Dr Karl Kruzelnitsky.

So do we really need to change our lives completely? We got some mixed messages from our power supply company this week. They invited us to sign up for GreenEarth, environmentally friendly electricity and gas. But then they told us if we paid our bills we could win a home shopping extravaganza, a car or a holiday in Los Angeles. I am not sure that that would be carbon neutral or environmentally friendly.

Family sizes are getting smaller but we are building bigger houses and houses which are designed to need heating and cooling rather than ones which use less energy.

I know that in per capita terms we are among the world’s worst polluters, because we derive so much of our electricity from nasty, messy brown coal. But when you compare what this continent does in absolute terms, Australia could stop using any energy at all tomorrow and it would hardly make a blip on the global warming index. Indonesia is knocking down its rain forests so fast that it is now in the top four greenhouse gas emitters in the world. India, China and the United States churn out far more despite their best efforts to go for controls, carbon trading or better and more efficient production.

Now my boss, Rupert Murdoch, has become a reluctant convert (his own assessment) to the notion that we ought to do something about global warming. He is not sure how much human agency is the cause, but reckons we ought to pay the insurance premium, just in case. Meanwhile our Prime Minister has belatedly woken up to the fact that there votes in being seen to do something about the problem. Having kept his head firmly in the sand for the last decade, that is something I suppose. But isn’t leadership supposed to be about setting the agenda and doing something? ‘I am their leader, I must follow them,’ seems to be his motto.

One big advantage will be that we will not have to go to Alice Springs for the Henley-on-Todd dry boat regatta. We can do that along the bed of the Barwon and the Moorabool.

So look on the bright side. Global warming may lead to a rise in sea levels. Australia may not have the highest mountains, but it is the continent with the highest average height. When the sea level rises we can all move inland a bit. It will be less cold at those altitudes too. That would solve the problem of urban sprawl and ribbon development along our coastline. All of that will be under water. We will not need to dredge the entry to Port Phillip Bay, it will just become deeper naturally. Pity about the Pacific Islands though.

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