Archive for Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Scientists: Climate change bringing crisis to Australia

Frank Eddy leans on his vintage Dodge truck near a large pile of uprooted peach trees that he will burn this winter on his orchard near Shepparton in Victoria, Australia. Scientists say problems in Australia epitomize the “accelerated climate crisis” that global warming models have forecast.

Frank Eddy leans on his vintage Dodge truck near a large pile of uprooted peach trees that he will burn this winter on his orchard near Shepparton in Victoria, Australia. Scientists say problems in Australia epitomize the “accelerated climate crisis” that global warming models have forecast.

April 14, 2009


— Frank Eddy, his hands as dry and cracked as the orchards he tends, explained what damage a decade of drought has done.

“Suicide is high. Depression is huge. Families are breaking up. It’s devastation,” he said. “I’ve got a neighbor in terrible trouble. Found him in the paddock, sitting in his (truck), crying his eyes out. Grown men — big, strong grown men. We’re holding on by the skin of our teeth. It’s desperate times.”

A result of climate change?

“You’d have to have your head in the bloody sand to think otherwise,” Eddy said.

They call Australia the “Lucky Country” with good reason. Generations of hardy castoffs tamed the world’s driest inhabited continent, created a robust economy and cultivated an image of resilient people who can’t be held down.

Australia exports itself as a place of captivating landscapes, brilliant sunshine, glittering beaches and an enviable lifestyle.

Look again. Climate scientists say Australia — beset by prolonged drought and deadly bush fires in the south, monsoon flooding and mosquito-borne fevers in the north, widespread wildlife decline, economic collapse in agriculture and killer heat waves — epitomizes the “accelerated climate crisis” that global warming models have forecast.

With few skeptics among them, Australians appear to be awakening: Adapt to a rapidly shifting climate and soon.

Scientists here warn that the experience of this island continent is an early cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

“Australia is the harbinger of change,” said paleontologist Tim Flannery, Australia’s most vocal climate-change prophet. “The problems for us are going to be greater. The cost to Australia from climate change is going to be greater than for any developed country. We are already starting to see it. It’s tearing apart the life-support system that gives us this world.”

Connection to climate

Many here believe Australia has a death toll connected to climate change: the 173 people who died in February 2009 during the nation’s worst-ever wildfires, and 200 more who died from heat the week before.

A three-person royal commission has convened to decide, among other things, whether global warming contributed to massive bush fires that destroyed entire towns and killed a quarter of Victoria state’s koalas, kangaroos, birds and other wildlife.

The commission’s proceedings mark the first time anywhere that climate change could be put on trial. And it will take place in a nation that still gets 80 percent of its energy from burning coal, the globe’s largest single source of greenhouse gases.

The commission’s findings aren’t due until August, but veteran firefighters, scientists and residents believe the case has already been made. Even before the flames, 200 Melbourne residents died in a heat wave that buckled the steel skeleton of a new 400-foot Ferris wheel and warped train tracks like spaghetti. Cities experienced four days of temperatures at 110 degrees or higher with little humidity, and 100-mph winds. In areas where fires hit, temperatures reached 120.

On the hottest day, more than 4,000 gray-headed flying foxes dropped dead out of trees in one Melbourne park.

“Something is happening in Australia,” wrote firefighter Dan Condon of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade 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.”

The possibility that a high-profile royal commission may find a nexus between climate change and the loss of human life is significant for many scientists here.

“That will be an important moment in its own right,” said Chris Cocklin, a climate change researcher at James Cook University in Townsville, in Queensland state, and lead author on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

“It may mean that climate change will be brought to the fore in a way that has never happened before.”

Effects on wildlife

Scientists paint a bleak picture of wildlife competing for space on peaks in the country’s alpine region. Williams and other biologists predict as much as 50 percent animal extinction in the region by the end of the century.

Chief among the candidates for extinction is the rare white lemuroid ringtail possum, a singular species that Flannery describes as “our panda.”

The pale creatures live high in trees in the 4,000 square miles of moist forest in northeast Queensland. They can’t tolerate, even for hours, temperatures above 86 degrees.

Williams’ research found that the possum was gone from one of the animal’s two historical ranges, and in the other it “has declined dramatically, to the point where you can barely detect it.”

Scientists are frustrated that such dramatic anecdotal and empirical evidence hasn’t sparked action from Australia’s government.

They suspect the inaction can be partly explained by examining the nation’s relationship with coal. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and relies on it for 80 percent of its electricity. That helps make Australia and its 21 million people the world’s highest per-capita producers of greenhouse gases in the industrialized world.

Cocklin said the power of the coal companies and the massive receipts they bring in render the industry politically untouchable.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says climate change is high on his agenda, but many here are disappointed by his pledge to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by only 5 percent by 2020.


igby 9 years, 2 months ago

....and the motor cycle gangs are fighting each other just like in "Mad Max". Lol.

Everything goes back too Coal power!

I find it hard to believe that in a world that has experience in the past tons of carbon release into the atmosphere by volcanic activity that burning coal is to blame for the changes in the weather.

This is a good letter written with sincere concern and heart for the people down under. But, they are close to the south pole and at the same time they get more sun exposure as the earth rotates, they are closer to the sun. Their location puts them at the pinnacle of climate change. Their a big land mass that offers a lot of space for the changes in weather to inflict the most observable and noticeable results.

viewfromahill 9 years, 2 months ago

Heating up, Down Under... harbinger of a singe-er.

Paul Decelles 9 years, 2 months ago


Tell me your post is in jest and you really aren't as clueless about geography and climate as this comment suggests:

"But, they are close to the south pole and at the same time they get more sun exposure as the earth rotates, they are closer to the sun."

Maybe I am just missing your irony this morning?

jonas_opines 9 years, 2 months ago

Haha, watching that progressionary post was priceless, right-thinker. Do you have a bunch of idea balls like those Manatees on South Park?

Al Gore Hoax Third-World Totalitarian Psychosis


Chris Golledge 9 years, 2 months ago

Regarding Tom's comment, "Remember, Al Gore conjured up this hoax at the peak of his crazed, unfuriated state of deep psychosis..."

Here is a reference to CO2 and climate change from 1959.

How old would Al Gore have been at that time? Getting your pet hoax published in Scientific American would have been quite an accomplishment for a 11-year old.

And why is it that whenever these guys are invited to debate the science of the matter they can only repeat 'Al Gore-conspiracy'?

Sigmund 9 years, 2 months ago

Earth's climate has always changed (if climatologists, historians, archeologist, and geologists are to be believed) and no matter how much we spend in new taxes the climate will continue to change. "Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it", until now when the US Government wants to impose new Cap and Trade taxes on all forms energy use (even if you make less than $250,000 per year and like the sucker you actually pay your taxes even if you aren't a nominee to head a Federal Government bureaucracy) in an attempt to change not just the weather, but the entire climate of the world! Best of luck with that.

Jersey_Girl 9 years, 2 months ago

Nancy_Boy - you scare the crap out of me. You truly do. Please tell me you were home-schooled.

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