Should other countries heed Australia’s drought?

The photo at the top of this post belongs to the Outback set of Georgie Sharp’s photostream on Flickr. Most were taken between February and May of 2007.

The photo is a poignant reminder that what the Guardian last November called a 1,000-year drought is still going on in Australia. According to the Guardian article, Australia’s Murray-Darling river system – which receives 4% of that country’s water, but provides three-quarters of the water consumed in Australia – was already 54% below the previous record minimum.

There’s another more recent good article about Australia’s drought in last month’s Economist. According to it, the Australian government is paying out $1.7 million a day in drought-relief to farmers. “If mature vines and fruit trees die in the coming months through the lack of water, the economic fallout will be more serious and lasting,” according to the Economist.

Many are calling the situation in Australia grim. For example, the drought is already forcing up bills for power, according to an article yesterday in The Australian.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology says that Australia is prone to drought.

But some – including the Economist article – are pointing to global warming as a possible cause of the ongoing extreme drought conditions on this southern continent, the smallest continent in the world.

No one can say whether global warming is causing this drought. But it’s something to think about, in a world who climate is changing.

The Economist article spends a lot of time in the article talking about the need for a change in infrastructure, to get the water where it needs to be. It reminds me of the interview that EarthSky did with Scott Doney a few years ago where he said,

… everything that we’ve constructed – our water supplies, our agriculture – are all based on the climate that we’ve seen for the last several hundred to several thousand years. We’re moving the planet into a totally new climate space where everything is going to change.

What am I trying to say here? Emergency? Disaster? Sound the alarm? No. Only that challenge and change may become operative words as climate change progresses throughout this century. Here in Texas, for example, although we were in serious drought conditions a year ago, this spring has been exceptionally wet and cool. If we had altered our infrastructure for drought, what would have happened when suddenly the rains began to fall again?

What will happen in Australia? A sudden shift to a wetter outback? More drought? Seriously difficult conditions? If emergency conditions do begin to prevail on Earth’s smallest continent, what will the rest of the world do? Are in this together or not?

See more recent photos of Australia in Georgie Sharp’s Outback set.

May 6, 2007

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