Australia's Climate Change Shame

Article excerpt

I don't generally give real-estate advice, but here's a tip--don't buy property in Australia. One of the world's greatest polluters is now one of the hardest-hit by climate change. Farms are being abandoned, livestock destroyed and cities are wilting in the heat, as perennial drought tightens its grip. In years to come huge areas of land will be abandoned, and widening zones of the country will become essentially uninhabitable. If you own land or property anywhere outside the wetter tropical north or cooler Tasmania, get ready to sell it now--preferably to a climate-change denier. There's plenty of deniers still around. One of them heads the government.

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I wrote recently in this column that the Arctic has likely passed a crucial climatic tipping point, beyond which the ice cap will disappear in its entirety whatever we do with greenhouse gas emissions. I now think a tipping point has also been crossed in Australia, pitching the continent into a permanently drier climate regime that will wipe out most of its agricultural base and leave its cities constantly threatened by water shortages, heatwaves and uncontrollable wildfires. Following five years of below-average rainfall, water managers are now talking about this being the "worst drought for 1,000 years". They should be so lucky. Global temperatures are now as high as they have been for 6,000 years, and in a couple of decades will be reaching heights not seen since the last interglacial, 135,000 years ago. This is the scale of drought we're talking about here. Australia's new climate will be different from anything ever experienced since humans first settled on the continent.

Australia's story has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy, especially in the way its leaders have dragged everyone else down with their blindness and greed. John Howard's government has for more than a decade been mired in global-warming denial, partly as a badge of loyalty to the Bush administration, which it also supported with troops in Iraq. Not content with negotiating an 8 per cent increase in allowable carbon dioxide emissions at the 1997 Kyoto talks, Howard then refused to ratify the agreement on the now-familiar basis that it could harm the economy. …