Australian Climate Disaster Looms Closer

by Val Germann

It wasn’t big news here in the U.S., the reports late last week that Australia’s Prime Minister had broached the possibility of cutting off the water allotments for nearly half of Australia’s farmers. No, that story was lost in the glare of the Virginia Tech incident and other pressing U.S. events. And that story is still lost to our press, even as the American midwest prepares to turn one-third of its 2007 corn crop into ethanol. What would happen to commodity prices if later this year one of the world’s largest food exporters, Australia, suddenly was forced to enter the market as a massive buyer of agricultural products? That would be ugly, wouldn’t it? Yes, it would.

So, that’s not much of a story, is it? Well, yes, it IS a big story, huge in The Land Down Under where the shock waves will be felt for years to come, no matter what actually happens. The quote below, from the TERRADAILY website, gives the general idea:

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said the move to cut off water in the 2007-08 financial year was unprecedented and that the organisation would seek urgent talks with the government. Laurie Arthur, the head of the NFF’s water task force, said orchards and vineyards would die without irrigation and would take years to replace. “We’ve never seen the like of this ever,” he told Sky News.

To understand the magnitude of the problem imagine that a water cut-off was being threatened for California’s central valley. The impact of even the possibility of such an event would be immediate, and severe, showing up in every U.S. consumer’s food bill. This would be true even though most U.S. consumers do not know how important the California central valley is, or even how important U.S. agriculture is. But they would soon be finding out!

So, truly, what does the future look like for Australian agriculture? Can things be as bad as the Prime Minister indicated when he said the situation was “in the lap of the gods”? And can prayer, which Mr. Howard also mentioned, be of any assistance? The Aussies could soon be finding out about these, too, because “The Big Dry” shows little sign of any long run abatement, which could bring on something like an agricultural apocalypse. Stated THE INDEPENDENT a few days ago:

A ban on irrigation, which would remain in place until May next year, spells possible ruin for thousands of farmers, already debt-laden and in despair after six straight years of drought.

This possibility has special resonance with this writer because back in the 1950s a second cousin and his family sold their U.S. farm and bought land in Australia, on the margin, back when it rained. They lost everything several years ago and their oldest son, who had abandoned the sinking family farm in despair, was killed in a auto accident. Such are the effects of drought, and big decisions that go bad because of drought. Multiply events like this by thousands if “The Big Dry” does not soon release its death grip on Australia’s farmers.

About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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