Australia Faces Collapse as Climate Change Kicks in: Are the Southwest and California Next?

Australia is the canary in the coal mine for climate-driven desertification.

Australia has been suffering its worst heatwave on record, the first time temperatures exceeded 110 F for 3 days running. It’s been so hot that on Thursday, the low at Melbourne airport was 87 F.

Australia is the canary in the coal mine for climate-driven desertification. The astonishing decade-long drought in southern Australia was declared ‘worst on record’ last year. My headline quote is from the UK’s Independent story, which ... Full Story »

Posted by Marsha Iverson

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Marsha Iverson
by Marsha Iverson - Feb. 10, 2009

Solid--and vivid--description of existing crisis in Australia, and looming problems for much of the world as climate change increases. Essential reading for anyone who expects the planet to be habitable in, say, 20 years.

We have expanded and stretched and pushed the environment's carrying capacity to and beyond its reasonable limits, relying on our belief in a technical 'fix' to solve the problems we're creating--a deus ex machina that will save us from ourselves before we wring the last drop of water out of the last well. Since we began to walk upright, humans have sought ways to beat the odds of shortage: not enough heat? Control fire! Not enough food to forage? Grow your own. Stuff is too heavy to move? Develop a wheel, and train some hefty animals to carry things. Can't get your favorite delicacy in mid-winter? Buy it from the other hemisphere and haul it to your neighborhood store. Faucet water taste bad? Buy it in bottles--for more than the price of gasoline. When the system for doing all of this breaks down--as it has before--what then? That's where we are...about to find out. It may be too late already. It may not. On that slim chance, let's risk being too cautious, and put every resource we can summon to reversing the looming crisis, just in case it is still possible.

Two years ago, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” — levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. The UK’s Hadley Center warned in November 2006 that their research predicted multiple permanent Dust Bowls around the planet on our current emissions path: Extreme drought is likely to increase from under 3% of the globe today to 30% by 2100 — areas affected by severe drought could see a five-fold increase from 8% to 40%.

xtreme drought means desertification, especially if it lasts for hundreds of years, as the recent NOAA-led study found (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe). The regions that NOAA identifies as facing permanent Dust Bowls: * U.S. Southwest * Southeast Asia * Eastern South America * Southern Europe * Southern Africa * Northern Africa * Western Australia

When you throw a brutal heat wave on top of the desertification, then all hell breaks loose: Ministers are blaming the heat — which follows a record drought — on global warming. Experts worry that Australia, which emits more carbon dioxide per head than any nation on earth, may also be the first to implode under the impact of climate change.

Of course, if we really turn one third of the planet into permanent desert by century’s end — and raise global temperatures an average of 10°F, with sea levels 5 feet higher and rising 10 inches a decade, I wonder just how much interest will remain in such “nonessential” activities like professional sports.

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