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Overcoming Drought: Learning to Live Sustainably on the Dry Continent

Ian Read is an author, photographer and researcher with degree majors in physical geography and environmental science. He has written 13 books on Australian travel, geography and environment. This is his first published piece on Webdiary.

by Ian Read

We need to see beyond blaming global warming as the cause of the current drought. Australia has always had a cycle of droughts and wetter periods upon which we have implemented European and American-style farming practices, two regions of the world that have more rainfall, both more reliable and less variable, than us.

Australia's widespread and extended drought is a direct result of land clearing, both here in Australia and in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, those parts of the planet that receive most of the world's incoming solar radiation. Clear away the forests and woodlands, or overstock the rangelands and, over a relatively short period of time, you dry out the landscape with corresponding rises (and falls) in extreme temperatures, and reductions in relative humidity and rainfall.

For example the eastern wheatbelt in Western Australia has less rainfall than the uncleared wilderness country lying immediately to the east, even though there is an overall natural trend of rainfall to decrease from west to east. This is a direct result of the removal the surface roughage (the tree layer) that provides transpired moisture and helps create low-level atmospheric turbulence. Also, vegetation clearance has altered the albedo or reflectivity of the ground surface by replacing relatively dark native vegetation with relatively light cereal crops. This results in less heat absorption by incoming solar radiation and consequently less low-level turbulence as that heat is re-radiated. Low level turbulence is an integral part of the rainmaking process.

South-east Queensland, normally watered in part by summer monsoonal rain systems, has had an extended dry period over the last decade – this too was caused by the massive land clearances and resultant albedo changes that have occurred throughout central Queensland, country that lies upwind in the path of monsoonal rain-bearing winds. In November 2006, the severest water restrictions ever applied to urban Australians was implemented on the people of south-east Queensland. Sometime during 2008, assuming there are no significant rain events in the meantime, the reservoirs of south-east Queensland will be dry.

In south-east Australia the extended dry period has lasted over a decade, a result of land clearances and altered albedo changes in the cotton and rice growing areas, and some grazing areas, in the Murray-Darling Basin, as well as a general drying out of the landscape as natural water flows are utilised for irrigation and lost through evaporation. These areas lie upwind of south-eastern Australia’s main reservoir catchments, the dams of which were filled two or three times per decade by heavy late summer and autumn rains (the so-called north-west cloud bands) streaming in across Australia from the north-west. These occasional rains were often record-breaking falls that resulted in large floods moving down the streams of the Murray-Darling basin, and the coastal rivers. These are also the rains (combined with East Coast lows) that once provided south-east Australia with most of its stored water.

This is not rocket science. Clear the landscape, remove the surface roughage, change the albedo and dry out the countryside upwind and you get less rainfall – a perfect example of climate change. The solution is quite simple and could be achieved in one to two generations: revegetate the landscape.

Subside farmers, graziers, pastoralists and other landholders on unproductive, denuded, cleared and marginal land to become custodians of that land. This would involve allowing unassisted and assisted natural regeneration (revegetation) to occur along river and creek lines and adjacent frontage (floodplain) country, any upland areas on the property (thus preserving groundwater intake beds and reducing upper catchment gully formation and incision), and along drainage lines in-between. The remaining land, including some frontage country if of sufficient size, could be utilised, as circumstances permit, for cropping or grazing – as well, some of this land could be revegetated to create wildlife corridors, perhaps connected with existing on-farm stands of vegetation and nearby reserves, including road reserves and former stock routes. These corridors would act as windbreaks and reduce the drying effect of desiccating winds; wind erosion and consequent soil nutrient lose would be reduced as well.

A similar approach has been utilised, in part, by some land care groups with good results apparent over the past 10 years: reduced saltation; increased stream flows; reduced wind erosion. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists details some of these ideas in their report: A New Model for Landscape Conservation in New South Wales.

The revegetation process need not be expensive. Just by leaving some land unfarmed or ungrazed (this would require fencing) nature herself will eventually revegetate that land for free, with results likely to be apparent within five years. Nature could be helped along by re-seeding cleared land with species typically found on that land prior to land clearing. As well tree planting could be included in the process but both tree planting and reseeding will be subjected to the vagaries of precipitation so failure to germinate or grow will be high. In addition, farmers could trial darker strains of cereal crops in order to change the ground surface albedo and increase heat absorption, so increasing ground level turbulence.

With vegetation removal on moderate to steep slopes the top soil was left unprotected and surface runoff dramatically increased leading to gully erosion, entrenched stream channels and a lose of soil nutrients on those slopes. Part of the repairing process needs to include the infilling of these erosion-formed gullies and entrenched stream channels. They could be filled in with anything at hand, providing it is not polluting and non-toxic: rocks; tree branches; old logs lying around the paddock; discarded farm equipment. This will slow down gully and stream flows resulting in soil and particle deposition after the next significant rain event, so helping preserve soil nutrients that might otherwise be lost. Gradually these gullies and entrenched stream channels will fill in, more so if their immediate margins and headwaters are allowed to revegetate. Infilled gullies and stream channels will allow future flood events to spread across the adjacent floodplain returning moisture to the soil and help create, or maintain, riverine wetlands.

As the land slowly repairs more moisture will be held in the land system for there will be less runoff and greater infiltration of moisture into the soil and increased through-flows of soil and ground waters. As shrubs and trees grow there will be an increase in plant transpiration, resulting in higher humidity around and beneath the canopy layer. As more moisture is taken up and transpired by plant life elevated saline water tables will decline, reducing groundwater salinity as the salty water table retreats beyond the tree and shrub root zone back to the levels similar to those that existed before land clearance. Any additions to the water table from rainfall, runoff or flooding will be "fresh" water available for use by plant life.

A growing tree and shrub layer increases surface "roughage" and absorbs more heat, both important components of rain-making in the moist stable airflows typical of the rain-bearing winds of winter and spring in southern Australia, the rains that provide the essential moisture to most of our cropping and improved pasture lands. The "roughage" creates mini-turbulence near the ground as the moist winds pass over, turbulence that is transferred into the atmosphere to help rain to fall.

This calls for a national approach based on stream catchment areas. These practices need not be expensive. The federal government could come to the party with its huge budget surplus, by offering a system of tax credits as an indirect payment for maintaining a part of the farm as an ecological conservatory, or direct payment if the farm is no longer economically viable. The area of the farm or land holding to be devoted to revegetation would vary – this could be assessed by individual farm management plans.

In addition, direct or indirect assistance should be provided for fencing off land from stock and feral pests. A fencing scheme could be introduced, administered locally by land care or other interested incorporated groups, which trained and involved unemployed people (including farmers), youths at risk of offending, Aboriginal groups, etc. Training could be undertaken by local TAFEs (also subsidised from the federal government budget surplus) and could include study components that deal with fencing, land care and revegetation issues. Such a scheme would inject funds into local communities and help preserve the economical viability of small towns and townships across regional Australia. By being administered by local groups there would be less likelihood of rorting the "fencing" scheme or corruption by individuals.

Farmers and other landholders could access the scheme on production of a farm or property management plan that incorporated the partial revegetation of the property, the land of which is to be maintained as an ecological conservatory. Entry to the scheme could be conditional to receiving future drought relief payments.

The implementation of such a scheme would need to be based on a farm-by-farm basis throughout a whole catchment. Though farmers will lose a part of their "productive" land this would be most likely be more than compensated by increased productivity on the remaining land as soil moisture returns to the farm and the likelihood of rain increases. Other savings for the farmer or landholder would include less expenditure by having to purchase fertilisers to replace soil nutrients lost through soil erosion, reduced water costs, and compensation in the form of tax credits (or direct payments) for maintaining part of the farm as an ecological conservatory.

Such an approach would mean that farmers could stay on their land – for they are the ones with the most knowledge of that land - rather than being encouraged to leave it, as has been suggested in some quarters. This approach might also help reduce the male suicide rate amongst Australian farmers – roughly one male farmer every four days takes his own life. It might also make economic sense. As at the end of October 2006 50% of Australian farms, some 72,000, are receiving special assistance drought payments. Over the past ten years farmers have received billions of dollars worth of federal government drought-relief subsidies, of which virtually none has been directed towards drought-proofing farming properties. This is not necessarily the farmers’ fault; this is the response of a government without vision.

To return more water to the environment at a regional, state and national level consideration needs to be given to the phasing out of irrigated cotton and rice farming. It takes over a million litres of water to produce 1 tonne of rice and nearly half a million litres to produce 1 tonne of cotton. Australia has around 1,000 cotton farms (some are dryland farms) and about 2,500 rice farms. For instance the holding capacity of on-farm storage at Cubbie Station, an irrigation cotton farm in southern Queensland, is 537 gigalitres, roughly equivalent to the amount of water in Sydney Harbour. With an evaporation rate of around two metres at Cubbie (according to their website) approximately 23 per cent of that holding capacity (a quarter of Sydney Harbour’s water ) is potentially lost annually through evaporation.

The phasing out of irrigated cotton and rice farms would need to be done on a farm-by-farm basis to ensure the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater. For example, though often derided, irrigated rice farming allows for follow-on opportunistic cereal cropping with high yields after the rice harvest is over, thus perhaps representing a good multiple use of the one allotment of water, when sufficient water is available. Detailed studies would need to be conducted to confirm this notion.

To return more moisture to the soil the federal government budget surplus could be used to start replacing wasteful canal-fed irrigation schemes with trickle irrigation systems where practical, or cover over canal systems to reduce evaporation losses – some of these canals are hundreds of kilometres long and virtually all are open to the air. Irrigation accounts for about 75% of our water use so the potential for water savings and returning that water to the environment is enormous.

As irrigation canals are covered over, and trickle irrigation systems are implemented, we can begin to phase out some of our large irrigation dams, especially off-stream reservoirs that have shallow depths and enormous surface areas, not only to increase stream through-flows but to reduce evaporation losses.

For example Mokoan Dam, an offstream storage facility near Benalla, Victoria, with a surface area of 79 square kilometres, and a depth of seven metres, loses 50,000 megalitres of water (equivalent to 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools) through evaporation every year – nearly 14% of its holding capacity. Australia’s 12 largest reservoirs, with a combined surface area of 3,345 square kilometres when full, would lose 2.1 million megalitres of water (equivalent to 840,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools) through evaporation each year, assuming the same evaporation rate as at Mokoan Dam. Now combine this with all of Australia’s 500 major reservoirs (those with dam walls over 10 metres high) as well as some of the large but shallow on-farm reservoirs, like those at Cubbie Station, and it is obvious Australia’s loses an enormous amount of water through evaporation. It is to the Victorian government’s credit that they are in the process of decommissioning Mokoan Dam.

Any new dam development should be restricted to deep valleys if possible, where deep stored waters have relatively small surface areas, to help reduce evaporation losses.

A rationalisation of Australia’s irrigated water usage would need to proceed slowly, to allow for structural adjustment – this could be implemented and financed on a catchment basis by federal and state intergovernmental agencies.

Maintaining existing stands of vegetation is important in the control of soil erosion, the result of heavy precipitation striking an unprotected ground surface. In the more humid country the crowns of trees provides protection for the understorey, which in turn protects a ground layer of grasses, lichens, mosses and fallen leaves. This ground layer absorbs rainwater, releasing it gradually, and thus regulating surface runoff and stream flows, which mitigates the effects of flooding rains in extreme circumstances. In dry areas stands of vegetation maintain a good ground surface mulch of humus as well as breaking the velocity of the wind, thereby minimising the effects of wind erosion and the desiccating effect of hot northerly winds.

To preserve our soils and meagre stream flows there needs to be put in place a general nation-wide moratorium, implemented over a period of time, on all clear-felling forestry and farmland land clearances, with exceptions for selective logging (we still need timber), exotic plant removal, for example lantana, and weed control. New project developments and urban expansion should be limited, where possible, to already disturbed and degraded lands. Existing vegetation cover in good quality and well-watered agricultural and grazing country needs to be preserved and these agricultural land systems protected from exploitation and development. This approach would likely have political repercussions and would require long-term political will, perhaps on a bi-partisan approach – state governments, with perhaps federal government oversight, could implement such an approach slowly, in order to allow for structural readjustment.

Those that advocate change in the face of global warming need to be careful not to mistake global warming as the cause of our current environmental woes, as though it is the cause. What we are seeing in this current drought is an effect of climate change, the result of our current and past environmental mismanagement. It is time to treat the causes, not the symptoms. Currently (2006), global deforestation (land clearing) produces twice the carbon dioxide emissions of all the world’s cars and trucks.

By revegetating the countryside and returning moisture to the environment we can minimise the effects of drought, help induce rainfall, reduce our salinity levels, maintain and increase biodiversity, reduce global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, increase productivity on our good quality agricultural and grazing lands, and keep our farmers – the ones with the local knowledge - on their land.

The question is do we have the political will to do this?


ABC Radio Series, Earthbeat, 17 July 2004, Landclearing & Rainfall in WA.
ABC Television Series, Australian Story, 6 June 2005, Of Droughts and Flooding Rains.
Buchanan, R., 1989, Bush Regeneration: Recovering Australian Landscapes, TAFE, NSW.
Bureau of Meteorology website
Cubbie Station website
Department of Environment and Heritage website
Greening Australia website
Macey, R., Sydney Morning Herald, March 4, 2005, Fewer trees, less rain: study uncovers deforestation equation.
Read, I., 2004, Australia: A Continent of Extremes – Our Geographical Records, Little Hills Press, Sydney.
Read, I., 1994, The Bush: A Guide to the Vegetated Landscapes of Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney.
Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, 2003, A New Model for Landscape Conservation in New South Wales.
World Wildlife Fund, 2006, Living Planet Report.


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Living in hope I suppose

I wonder whether it actually registers with the urbanites of Bleak City that their main dam is down to 20%.  Has Melbourne learnt nothing from Toowomba and Goulburn?  Goulburn went onto Stage 5 restrictions just on three years ago now (no outside use of water whatsoever) when its main dam was around 28%. That dam ran dry even under level 5.  So what are the powers that be down there really thinking about? They are only now introducing Stage 3 in Melbourne which still allows quite a lot of water to be used outside. Seems crazy to me.

I wonder what they will do if their main storage runs dry as surely it will if they don't start turning some taps off and if the drought does not break this autumn. I guess they are just living in hope of rain.

I learnt long ago it does not pay to rely too much on hope. It rarely, if ever delivers. But it seems those good folk down there see no reason to worry overly much.  I suppose it is so bleak down there they can probably go back to one shower a week if it comes to the crunch.   

With storages falling so rapidly one would think the whole country should have been put on Level 5 a year ago. But no, 66% fall in the Murray Goulburn storages in the past year alone and a similar tale all over the country. Am I the only one who believes that this country could simply run out of water altogether?

I wonder at what point the various governments will stop the rhetoric and the blame game and realise that a national disaster, if it is not already here, could be upon us all before 2007 is out.  If ever there was a case for the Federal Government to really take control this is it. 

Maybe by the time the next election is due late in 2007 Johnnie Howard would be quite happy to lose it. A case of not wanting the baby once the bathwater has gone perhaps?

When the lakes become plains

I don't know whether many of you looked at the landscape if travelling around the eastern states these holidays but if you did you could not help but see the dry lake beds, dry dams, barren paddocks, the rapidly worsening condition of livestock and the dying trees. I have been watching all this since Spring rains failed and now that the last failed wheat crops are eaten out, there is little left to keep stock alive. I have seen some droughts in my long life, but nothing to equal this, and it is so very depressing.

It is not surprising that you cannot give some animals away any more. One man broke down in tears when he had to take his 700 sheep home for failing to attract a bid. They were in poor condition so no doubt they are now either dying of starvation or have been shot. I wrote about the horrors of this for farming families several months ago. There is an urgent need for the humane disposal of such livestock.

The latest predictions are that the El Nino will continue through the summer, with the only hope being that the predictions are wrong! In the north of the State the Bureau says predictions of average rainfall being received have fallen to 30%, while for the south and Victoria it is marginally better.

Meanwhile I have been watching the Murray Goulburn storages reports again. In that storage system, the Hume, Dartmouth and Eildon are the majors dams, normally holding 10 million megalitres of the capacity total of 12 million in the listed 20 storages. This week those three big reservoirs, feeding the towns and major irrigation industries of dairy, orchard, vegetable, rice and sorghum crops downstream on the Murray are down to 1.7 million ML and falling as weekly releases are made. 

Without heavy rain they are still all predicted to be dry by April 15. Why was it allowed to come to this? Is there no planning down there in terms of water conservation at all?

The economic hit is going to get much worse before it gets better. Farm incomes are averaging 60 000 loss for this past year but standby, we haven't seen the half of it yet. Our property in the north has just entered its seventh year of drought and in some areas in is going on nine. I would not even want to contemplate the possibility that it could go on for another seven as some are starting to predict. We'd walk away if that were the case and we would not be alone. So my wish for 2007 is rain, rain and more rain.  

Just in passing I think the 19 mile long and 7 mile wide bed of Lake George, now dry for three years, should be renamed George's Plains.  We could always reverse that if it ever held water again, which I am beginning to doubt anyway.

Some things go up, and some go down.

Well some things go up while others just keep on going down.

Goulburn Murray Water's December 14th dam level report shows that in its listed 20 storages, the total left is 2.5 million megalitres. Normal capacity of those storages is 12 million ML (megalitres). At the same time last year the storages held 7.5 million ML So 5 million ML have gone in the last twelve months and with the weekly use running at 138,000 ML another 1.6m will be gone by mid March. So it is not hard to see why the panic buttons have been pushed and claims made that the system will be all but dry by April. So if the flooding rains everyone is banking on, (based on the prediction that the current El Nino will decay as they put it, in late Autumn) do not arrive, where does that leave those dependant on that system? No need for a paddle that is for sure.

And meanwhile, by now nearly 200 000 hectares up our way have gone up in one big fire, while in Victoria another 300 000 hectares have gone, along with countless thousands of native animals. And it is far from over yet. How depressing!

What a dismal future this country faces if those rains do not arrive. And they are qualifiying their predictions as they always do, by saying there have been exceptions to the rule they are relying on.

As for rural incomes! We are about to destock yet again, for the third time in six years, leaving a big slab of magnificent country giving no return whatsoever.  But we have plenty of company with 7 billion estimated to be wiped off rural incomes in 2006/7. Yes, we will do out bit in regard to that. 

As I said some things go up (mostly in smoke), and some just keep on going down.  But one wonders whether anyone is really taking all that much notice. It would appear not, because if they were they would have done that water audit over a year ago, and taken action before it all got to this stage. I see the Mayor of Goulburn is now saying what I said months ago, ie that all towns and cities should be on level 5 restrictions. But no, we have to find that magical low water line before something as sensible as that is implemented.

They all talk about the Federation drought being just as bad, but no one mentions the fact that we have another 17 plus million people now wanting a drink. Populate and perish is the name of the game.

Sorry to spoil the merry spirit but I woke with a bad head, and it has made me tetchy. Something in the water no doubt.

And now for the mass shootings

As I predicted a short time ago there would be a livestock catastrophe in the eastern states if rain did not fall before Christmas. It has not and it is no surprise to read in the SMH today that large numbers of animals are coming into saleyards around NSW in such poor condition that no one buys them and the shootings and mass burials have begun.

I have very strong feelings about farmers who leave it too late to make decisions to unload livestock before they get into this weakened state. It is unacceptable. If there is not enough money to buy in fodder (all but unobtainable now anyway) and the grass is running out action should be taken to sell the animals before they get too weak to travel and are unsaleable. Weak animals get knocked down amd trampled in trucks and finish up having to be shot anyway.

And on seeing the grassless paddocks and falling condition of so many animals as I drove from Northern NSW to Melbourne this month (a distance of 1 400kms) it is clear we can expect this situation to become far worse over the coming weeks and months.

It is likely that a large part of the national herd and flock will be dead within six months if the drought continues much longer. And there has to be co-ordinated policy and action now to deal with this unfolding livestock disaster to ensure animals are put out of their misery on farms, rather than trucked to saleyards where they are abandonned. This only adds to their misery and it is totally unacceptable. I will be doing what I can to get such a policy implemented and I ask that everyone write to the Governement in their State urging that immediate action be taken to alleviate the suffering of large numbers of farm animals.

Core of my heart my country, her pitiless blue sky                          When sick at heart around us, we see the cattle die....

Oh yes, you can see it alright and it does sicken the heart.  And there is no sign that the grey clouds are going to gather in the near future. So something has to be done about it. In the 21st Century there is no excuse for any animal to be left to die of starvation in a grassless paddock, or trucked to a saleyard just to be shot.

So get your pens out everyone if this bothers you and write to the Government minister in your State in charge of Agriculture and demand that resources be put in place to deal with this matter, now.

Gear for blizzards, gear for droughts.

Will, your gear looks very similar to that in photos of my brother, taken a few years back when he spent 15 months or so as Mawson's electrician. Except you seem to manage to shave! It was a very interesting time for him, not least because of the other roles he had besides the electrickery. As a health professional, the two weeks training in anaesthetics so that he could be the doctor's assistant worried me a bit. There were a couple of broken limbs to help with during his time there but, somewhat to my relief, it turned out he only ever intubated seals! That was part of some research project or other. I don't remember what was being studied in the seals, but I know he really enjoyed being part of that and other scientists' work. I'm not sure I would cope with either the weather or the isolation, but he had an amazing time.

Getting back to your own work, thanks for the link to the Steffen report and the comments about the "low-hanging" fruit. My concern is that, for many people, any change is a "cost" and a cause for some regret, so convincing them of the need to change before the consequences of not changing are right before their eyes is very difficult. By the time we turn the ship around it will probably be too late.

I am slightly encouraged by the response to the upgraded water restrictions here in SA. The restrictions haven't been severe enough and were upgraded too late, but people are doing what is being asked of them currently. However, I'm only slightly encouraged because the evidence for the drought is completely undeniable and the change is legislated. Will both conditions always be necessary before people are prepared to change? To get people to make even efficiency changes before the need is absolutely manifest, we may have to deprivatise the water and energy markets. As you say, these issues are huge challenges that cross many different disciplines. But somehow we have to start making a lot of changes quickly so thank you for being willing to discuss them.

Jenny, this fire season sure is shaping up to be a real killer. In the Mallee as a kid I remember we would sometimes get one or two big thunderstorms in summer, the kind that would both light fires and put them out. This season, we have already had three dry storms, with the lightening starting many fires but no rain to speak of with it. I don't know that we can continue not paying our fire-fighters if they are going to be required so much, so that will be another cost to add to your list of drought expenses.

I've started showering a little like your friend, the method taught to me by my ex-scout father-in-law and being a bit more pleasant than the whole-family-through-the-same-bathwater method in my childhood memories of dry times. Her grey-water system sounds a bit too complicated though. So far I'm just using a bucket to catch the warming-up water and it goes straight onto the plants, but you've got me thinking: a small plastic tub I could stand in would catch a bit more.

Cheers to you both.

No-regrets steps and adaptation

Jenny, I haven't met Cynan Ellis-Evans yet. So much of my work is offshore that often I don't ever meet many of the land-base people.

Robyn, you note "for many people, any change is a 'cost' and a cause for some regret, so convincing them of the need to change before the consequences of not changing are right before their eyes is very difficult. By the time we turn the ship around it will probably be too late."

You've put your finger right on it.

Market-based approaches won't catch up with this problem quickly enough IMO, because "the market" on its own is often weak when it comes to factoring in future costs and risks. That said, many businesses are recognising and addressing the risks posed by climate change in general and global warming in particular. The insurance industry in particular is factoring in these potential risks, and driving other industries to do so as well.

If there is one "take-home" message I try to convey in every talk I give on this topic it's this: there are long time-lags in the climate system which make this a tough problem to "turn around." The response of ocean temperature and circulation is very slow (probably hundreds of years), the response of ocean chemistry in buffering the added CO2 (probably hundreds to thousands of years) is slow, and the response of ice sheets to added heat is slow (prob. thousands of years).

This means we have already locked in some of the impacts, and will just have to live with them, even if we were to find some miracle carbon-free energy source today.

This means we've only just begun to see the effects, and we will have to live with them, for good or ill, for a long time. The corollary is the more we can do now the better off our grandchildren will be later. But for coming decades and probably centuries we will have to do some adaptation to the impacts of global warming.

 So the answer to the question "Should we adapt or mitigate?" is "Yes."

Inconvenient Truth

I went with some colleagues to see An Inconvenient Truth last night. I highly recommend seeing this film if you haven't already. Some impressions:


1) We were all very favorably impressed with Gore's presentation of the science. He's done his homework. We all had quibbles about his take on the science, but basically he got that right.

2) I was reminded why I voted for Gore for President in 2000, and why I voted for the Clinton-Gore ticket in '92 and '96. Gore spoke well in the film; he expressed himself with humor, passion, and lucidity. Why the hell didn't he do that better in the 2000 campaign?!? (If Gore had won his own home state of Tennessee, he'd have been elected President and we wouldn't be talking about Florida today.)

Favorite quote: "Political will is a renewable resource." 


3) He could have brought in more current data, available even when the film was being produced, that strengthens the attribution of the warming patterns he showed to human-added greenhouse gases. The climate change patterns he presented could  still be open to the criticism "yeah but those could just be natural variations that happen to coincide with the GHG additions."

4) I don't like the invocation of "consensus" in science. Science doesn't work that way, and we didn't take a vote. A large body of data and theory has come together (some of it just in the past few years) which strongly supports the conclusion that human action is warming Earth's climate. It's possible this conclusion will turn out to be wrong, though I think it's unlikely.

But that's just me being the pedantic stickler I am.

5) I would have liked to see more mention of the long time lags in the climate system, and the point emphasised that this process will be a very difficult one to reverse. So action, if any, must be taken now. As I have pointed out, we've already "committed" ourselves to to global warming to some extent.

6) I'm uncomfortable with the "moral imperative" part of his argument, and would prefer to see this separated from the science. I think the science of global warming is not the only argument for reducing carbon emissions. There are other issues of global environmental stewardship and sustainability, as well as geopolitics, which can be brought to bear in moral and ethical support of the argument: "let's reduce fossil fuel combustion."

I've said before I think it's a philosophically flawed argument to assert that the science, however strong, makes inevitable any particular policy step.

In that regard, it's interesting that Gore tried to make an analogy between the arguments over the dangers of smoking and tobacco, and the current arguments over global warming. This analogy only highlights my point. People do things for many reasons, and often science is a minor consideration, if it's considered at all. Case in point? Smoking. The scientific case that smoking is bad for you couldn't be stronger. Yet look at how many people smoke (doctors and nurses even!) despite the science.

Margo: Hi Will. Loved your recent experimental piece.  It certainly showed up the limitations of form in the way news is constructed.

Tanks and buckets, dead trees and koalas

Robyn: Yes the fire season is already a disaster. I see tonight over 100 000 acres of the Pilliga up our way has gone and with it a large number of koalas. It makes me sick at heart thinking about it. And today I have just come back from the family home at Goulburn, where I noticed that trees we planted to replace the 90 that died over the past 6 years, are starting to turn up their toes. About 15 that are 3-5 years old are clearly dead. There is obviously no subsoil moisture deep down at all for them to access, and that is not surprising since it has only rained on about 7 days this entire year. 

We installed 2 three thousand gallon water tanks with subsidies totalling 1000 dollars from the local Council. But they are now dry. I suppose one day they will hold some water again!  Otherwise it seems like they were a waste of money, both ours and the Council's. We have since sunk and equipped a bore, the total cost being around 25 000 dollars. And we have no way of knowing just how long it will continue to deliver. The flow rate was not particularly good. 

But our woes are nothing compared to those of the irrigators who have had their allocations suddenly shut off. They paid for water they will not receive and they planted crops on the basis of their allocations which now have to be abandonned. Surely they could have been given better warning than that which would have allowed them to make a more considered decision as to whether to plant in the first place.

The whole approach to this crisis has been so ad hoc. And with no rain in sight I hate to think where we will all be in six months time. Let us hope the predictions for an autumn/winter break eventuate because the alternative is too horrible to even think about. But plan for that alternative we all must because if we don't, and this goes on much longer, then the economy will simply start to implode. On that cheerful not I had better go. Lots to do before heading for bleak city and we are already delayed by a day. Don't do your back in humping buckets!

Will Howard. Have you ever bumped into a pom by the name of Cynan Ellis-Evans in the Antarctic? Just curious.  

Warming, drying and action

Will Howard, thanks. I’d underestimated the extent of remaining deciduous forests in my “general vibe” calculations, so it’s very good to have your numbers to show things in their proper scale. One of the things that excite me about Webdiary is the ever-present potential to have specialists like yourself in discussion with those of us who are mere mortals in their field. It educates the mortals and forces the specialists to communicate with minimal jargon – both essential for important national discussions.

Until this year I had assumed that the major challenges we would face when it came to an environmental “reckoning” would be in adapting to life-styles which did not have the benefits of energy from cheap fossil fuel. However, if this drought is an indication of things to come, water will be of far greater concern in southern Australia and it will be a very different scenario indeed.

You may have already done this, Will (I could have easily missed it) but would you lay out for us what you consider to be the most urgent priorities for action if we are to have any hope of surviving the next century at current global population levels?

(By the way, is that Antarctic Expedition gear you are wearing in your photo, and if so, how often do you get to go?)  


International Polar Year, forests and buckets

Robyn: I had a card from a friend in UK this week and she tells me that "there is an International Polar Year in 2007-8 which has scientists from many countries working together on some of the issues" related to global warming. She herself is an Antarctic widow, with her husband spending much of their married life (now 25 years) on ice so to speak. He has, she says, been fully involved in the project from the start, since three years ago. I will be most interested to learn what this project turns up, but I guess that will not be before at least 2009. All these things take so much time, both to plan, and to execute, and time is not really on our side over this.

There are huge fires burning up our way around and in the Pilliga Scrub near Coonabarabran and I understand about 100 000 hectares has gone this past week. Vast areas of the Pilliga scrub (which is home to a large koala population, or at least was) also burnt out about three years ago. These fires pour tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Cypress pine which predominates up there is one of the most inflammable woods one can find. Most of the older houses up there, ours included, are built of it and they go up literally like paper. You may recall that terrible farmhouse fire two years ago that left three small children – they lived just down the road from us - to walk seven kilometres through the night when their parents and small brother were trapped in the inferno. There is almost no time to escape. Cypress pine forest fires burn the same way and with extreme heat. There is nothing left and the trees die. They are not like eucalypts. And so they are very slow to recover.

The problem is that once grazing and logging was disallowed in those pine forests, the pine grew like weeds. I think we have to seriously rethink our forest and park management policies in those types of forests at least.

Ian reviewed a book some time back for WD, Stephen Pyne's The Still Burning Bush, and Pyne made a lot of interesting points on this very issue.

I saw the other day an horrific story from Borneo about the peat fires and the extreme levels of pollution they are creating. Pyne also talks about this. It is just not cars and factories in China that we have to worry about. We have to find a way to manage and prevent forest and peat fires, because if we don't they will simply negate any industrial savings. I think we underestimate this aspect of it. Warmer climate, drier continents, forest fires, and it is happening right now. Add in the melting permafrost and its methane load, and one wonders whether it may not be all too late.

Before I go, just a little aside on how some people keep the roses alive! A lass who works for us in Goulburn, (where you have not been allowed to touch an outside tap in three years) told me she puts a tub under the shower. Turns the shower on to dampen herself. Turns it off and soaps herself, then rinses off. Her husband follows suit. Then they lift the tub out and tip it into the bath where they have a pump that pumps it out the window into 44 gallon drums. Then she ladles the water into a back pack spray unit and squirts it on her roses. Seems like hard work to me and not surprisingly she added, my back is bad! A lot of people over there are presenting to doctors with bad shoulders from humping buckets out to their gardens from the bath and sink, my sister included. So the drought and global warming has some unforseen hidden costs, as doctors bill Medicare for water borne injuries.

I will be watching with interest the Polar scientific expedition. The icebergs off NZ tell their own story and I hear iceberg weddings are to be the new fad!

Thank you too, Will Howard, for the knowledge you bring to this issue.

Priorities for action

Robyn, yes that is Antarctic gear in the photo. I was on a French research ship in that shot, and if you look closely there's an iceberg in the background. I go south on average every other year. I spend almost all my time offshore as I'm involved in oceanographic research. Our groups are very much involved in many of the upcoming IPY activities.

I'll make a very brief start to your question, which is a huge one and involves many areas far outside my expertise. That's because deciding what actions to take is not really a scientific issue. It's political, social, economic, moral, ethical, perhaps even spiritual.

Overall, I would say we need to make an immediate effort to act on all the "no-regrets" steps. These are actions which make sense no matter how much impact global warming turns out to have, or not have. I think there's a lot of "low-hanging fruit" to be had in terms of increased efficiency and conservation of water and energy; things we could do right away that have either little economic cost or even economic benefit.

I suppose one immediate action, pertinent to the topic of this thread, is to drought-proof ourselves as much as possible. With population growth we will continue to put more pressure on water resources, again regardless of global warming impacts. So we'd better start using water a lot more intelligently.

Energy is another area where we could gain a lot. For example, some electric utilities in the US (and probably here too) are finding that purely on economic grounds it's worth investing money in energy conservation and increased efficiency because kilowatt-for-kilowatt it's cheaper than building new generating capacity.

Global warming or no global warming, we're facing a huge challenge: energy supply cannot keep up with economic development. Look at the numbers: China is commissioning a new electric nearly every week. All types: coal, nuclear, hydro, you name it. So there are huge sustainability problems, and global warming, in my view, is only part of the picture.


In talks given at my local environment centre this week we were told that all the areas of the world with Mediterranean climates can expect reduced rainfall with global warming. Increased temperature at the equator will apparently increase in the size of Hadley's cell, with more intense and more frequent areas of high pressure keeping more of the cold fronts which bring our winter rainfall out in the ocean - the "roaring forties" effectively becoming the roaring fifties. (Will Howard, feel free to correct my limited understanding.) Landholders were told they needed to start now thinking about adaptation not just mitigation i.e. assessing vulnerabilities and diversifying into things which need less water.

However, the graph of global CO2 over time was also discussed and it was pointed out that the size of the "saw-tooth" effect seen as the northern forests lose and gain their leaves every year is equivalent to about four years’ worth of increase in CO2 at the rate it is increasing at present. This was just to emphasise how powerful revegetation is as one of the strategies to mitigate warming itself. Much more difficult to do if the climate is already drier though.

Re: Drying

Robyn Clothier, your understanding of the theoretical response of the large-scale climate systems to global warming is pretty much in line with the current science. The model's predictions still vary quite a bit, but generally show intensification of the Hadley circulation in response to the increased overall energy in the troposphere (lower atmosphere). In English: it would tend to get drier where it's already dry, and wetter where it's already wet. What controls the positions of those systems ("roaring 40s" etc.) is trickier.

The increased energy would also tend to increase the number and/or intensity of tropical cyclones. But the links between global warming and droughts and cyclones are still unclear.

For a good overview see Will Steffen's report Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001-2005 . See in particular Pages 16-17 on the issue of drought.

You note "the graph of global CO2 over time was also discussed and it was pointed out that the size of the 'saw-tooth' effect seen as the northern forests lose and gain their leaves every year is equivalent to about four years’ worth of increase in CO2 at the rate it is increasing at present. This was just to emphasise how powerful revegetation is as one of the strategies to mitigate warming itself. "

The first point is true.

The second point is ... well, not that simple. That is,  it's not that easy to sequester carbon via revegetation as the net uptake by the terrestrial biosphere is much smaller than the gross fluxes (both in and out) represented by the "sawtooth" pattern. The sawtooth represents carbon being exchanged by deciduous vegetation. So trees grow leaves in Northern spring, taking up carbon, and the leaves fall off in autumn (cue the music "Autumn Leaves" here), at which point the leaves begin to decay and send most of the carbon back to the atmosphere. The only persistent sequestration from year-to-year would be the carbon tied up in the non-deciduous parts of the plants, e.g. tree trunks.

Just to put it in perspective, the flux of carbon in and out of the biosphere is about 60 gigatons (billion tonnes)  of carbon per year (the sawtooth). But the net uptake into the biosphere by processes like reforestation is about 1.9 Gt. This estimate is very controversial and I've been present in  some very heated (er - no pun intended) debates about it.. And even if correct,  that only just balances the net loss from the biosphere of about 1.7 Gt due to clearing, slash&burn agriculture, etc. 

Meanwhile fossil fuel combustion is adding about 5.5 Gt into the atmosphere per year. So we would have to almost completely reverse our current land-use practices, and plant a lot of trees starting, like 20 years ago, to make a serious dent. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, because every little bit helps, but just bear in mind the scale of the problem.

 Now let's not always see the same hands... :)

Christmas present for irrigators

Robyn: I recall many years ago when global warming was first becoming topical that Australia was predicted, overall, to become wetter. Later, I read a revised forecast that the temperate regions of the continent would in fact get drier. I thought at the time, that is sure some revision. And of course, that is what is happening. For years we have watched the map hopefully as cloud bands developed over the north-west, only to see them track south-east, and by the time they reached the eastern states, to be well south of the continent.

Re-afforestation is going to have some problems if the rains keep on staying away. You cannot establish trees without water and this past week I have watched trees I planted five or six years ago in Goulburn, and which I have tried to keep going with our bore, wilting badly in scorching dry winds. Many are no higher than the day I planted them. And some seem to have been killed outright, having shot their leaves early in the hot September, only to be blackened by the late October severe frosts which also denuded all the orchards.

The same thing is going on up at the farm on the north-west plains where 3000 native trees we planted in 2001 have never seen a wet year, and where the loss exceeds 40%. Normally we expect around 5-10% loss. I feel so dejected about this today, I made the decision that I will not be planting any more trees. It is very hard work and what is the point if they just die. The blistering heat we are now facing is going to take a huge toll and to see trees 20 feet high (planted in 1994) dying is truly depressing.

As for the irrigators I note in The Land this week a report that "90 % of farmers will have their irrigation water turned off next month as the main Murray region supplier (Murray Irrigation Limited) halts supply mid-way through the season". Now that is a nice Christmas present.

The remaining supplies are to be used to target households, and to try to save dairies and some vegetable and maize crops already in the ground. Without these measures MIL said the "whole system would be dry by Christmas, and these measures will allow targeted areas to continue till February". It says it is the "first time in 74 years that such drastic action has had to be taken".

But the message is apparently not getting through as it is also stated "that irrigators are counting on more Snowy Hydro flows to provide a minimum stream". Snowy Hydro, I understand, is going to cut, not increase, its flows due its own historically low levels so that would appear to be a pipe dream, and a dry one at that.

Meanwhile The Land also reports that "irate ground water irrigators, who lost 68% of their entitlements last month are now taking out a class action against the NSW Government for their loss". Sign of the times.

The appalling emotional cost of this drought is growing by the day, not just on farmers, but on business people in the rural sector generally. ABC Landline at 12 midday tomorrow will cover this if anyone is interested.

Meanwhile today I have spent the morning trying to get assistance for a flock of drought affected sheep I noticed in the local saleyards this morning. Thin and hollow in blazing heat, there was no sign of feed in their yard, just dirt. The RSPCA had a recorded message to say it was disconnected, the saleyards caretaker also could not be raised, so I tried to contact the stock police to be told they were "off for the weekend". I said "then send another officer" to which I got the reply: "but they wouldn't know what they were looking at". I told them then meet me there and I will explain it to them! God give me strength!

Finally, after several frustrating hours, as I was heading out myself to try and buy some hay for them, one of my messages bore fruit and I was assured the animals were being attended to. I know from experience this is just the beginning as drought-affected stock start to flood into saleyards.

If it were not so sad, it would be funny, but every month the long range weather forecaster Haydon Walker publishes his forecast in The Land. He forecast generally good rains over most areas in October, and November and they are also forecast for December and January. Now where the....a certain ad springs to mind. I think I will rely more on Roger Fedyk’s prayers. They seem to have something going for them. But if you are reading this, Roger, you might ask the Lord to hold off next time on the scorching flaming gales that he sent on top of that little gift you managed to negotiate for us a week or two ago. And I would not dine on that Yarra mud if I were you. You never know what might be lurking down there....

Sacred Cows Yum

CP: “Just don't mention "immigration" or "population growth" as these are sacred cows.”

“Capitalism” is another sacred cow of sorts which relates directly to growth. Terra Australis is suffering from a growth, possibly a terminal growth.

Sacred cows, as I have mentioned before, are best executed then eaten (preferably cooked but not essential).

On rocket science, chooks, sacred cows and pigs

Phil Moffat and all: Forget eating the sacred cows. Think of the chooks, the real cow and the pigs you will be tucking into soon.. And as you call the family to the Christmas dinner with its nicely browned roast chook this year, you will have the benefit of new knowledge about said chook. A couple of rocket scientists have just worked out that the humble chook has numerous messages it transmits to other chooks to let them know, not only that their dinner is on the table, but what delicacies there are as well.

The old chook had long been portrayed as dumb, and that no doubt helps people feel comfortable about what is done to it, before it or its egg, gets to their own dinner table. But believe me, they are not as dumb as you might like to think.

But none of this is rocket science, so can anyone tell me why the boffins would spend money on establishing the above facts on the chooks' communication systems, when we farmers could have told them 50 years ago how to mimic a chook to get it to the dinner table before the mash got cold. And we varied the call, just as they are now found to do themselves to convey to each other just what the offerings were.

Now Phil Moffat, being an expert as you are on the sacred cow, you might care to tell those science buffs in Sydney, before they go wasting any money in the same way on the real moos, or on the baby moos, that they too know the difference between a range of calls. Are city folk so far out of touch with the bush that they have never heard the call: Sookie, sookie, sookie to call the baby moos to the bucket of milk, or the cum....orrrn, cum....oorrn to call the mother moos to the lucerne patch.  And we learnt that from them, just as we learnt to mimic their alarm calls. Anyone wanting to find a planted calf, let me know. I can get the mother moo to reveal all. 

So why spend thousands in the lab finding out what we already know, ie that farm animals do communicate different messages through different sounds, just like most other animals? And that farmers have long known how to use that knowledge.

And while you are all at it this Christmas and you are picking and choosing over the legs of Babe, you might all ask the supermarket manager where his supply of free range ham is, even though it is almost non existent. If you do you will be doing Babe a big favour. These unfortuante animals are some of the most intelligent known to man, yet they are raised in what many of us see as appallingly cruel circumstances in intensive piggeries. We have plenty of video footage at Animals Australia if you would like to see the conditions they live under, and we are mounting a big advertising campaign shortly to let you know more about this. We are not saying don't eat your pig if it really is what you like to do, but at least demand that the pigs be given a better life than what they get now.

Just ask your supermarket, and your restaurant whether the pig meat you buy is from free range pigs or not, and if they say they don't know, or no, then ask them why not and tell them to do something about it or you will go elswhere. You can make a difference if you just open your mouth other than to just feed the animal down it.

Happy dining folks. No offence. Each to his or her own, but remember, you can make a difference if you really want to.And it can take very little effort to do so.  

Thank you for the food we eat

I agree Jenny 100%. We should treat our prey with dignity and respect then murder them painlessly, no problems with that.

But have you ever thought that plants may have communication skills as well?

What then?

Anyway as my meal time prayer goes:

Thank God for the grub;

Thank Christ we’re on top of the food chain.


Phil You irreverent old b.....

Phil Moffat: You irreverant old b..... And I put the old in deliberately. If you are not, you soon will be when you see what the food chain moguls are going to charge you for your grub this Chrissy. Now keep your tie on!  

Just stock up on the ENOs and you'll be right..

Plants and communication? Very worrying good sir, very worrying.

BTW: The man here stirs me with:

Three chops between the four of us

Thank God there ain't no more of us. 

Wait till he sees there is no serve of Babe for him this year.

In Defence of No God

Phil, Jenny, what would possess any of us to say ‘Thank God’ even as a figure of speech where our daily sustenance is concerned?

Do any of us get a choice as to what types of consumable material our bodies require for ongoing nourishment? “Hmm, I think I’ll just eat basalt for the rest of the year with a little gypsum for the digestion”. “Darling, that anaerobic Yarra mud sounds nice for dinner”. We eat what we have to because DNA life forms are required to consume mainly other DNA life forms.

If there is a God, it made it that way, without consulting anyone and whether we thank it or not, the modus operandi of how life is sustained on earth will not change.


C Parsons, since we are talking about the "sacred cows" of immigration and population growth, I wanted to check that what you are actually advocating is to reduce net immigration to zero and let our population decline (the disproportions in age evening out eventually). Water and our other environmental problems are enough for Australians to cope with. The rest of the world should deal with their own on their own. Is that it?

The problem of our 'youthing' population

Robyn Clothier: "C Parsons, with zero net immigration, the predictions are that our population would eventually be in decline. .... As well as reducing total population, a fertility rate below replacement level also means that the population will gradually "age".

So what?

Do you mean we'd have to deal with the kinds of shortcomings typical of other "aging" and "declining" population nations as Italy, Sweden, Germany and France?

And miss out on the benefits of high population growth rate places like Bangladesh and Peru and Vietnam and China?

Except they've got more water?

And in China's case, a much lower population growth rate (0.58% 2005 estimated) than Australia (0.87% 2005 estimated)?

At zero population growth rates, populations don't age - they level out evenly at each age cohort in the distribution.

A big problem with "youthing" populations is the disproportionate charge that very young people impose on our limited resources.

As the population gets younger and younger, more and more resources have to be devoted to child care, obstetrics, kindergartens, primary schools, pediatric care, etc, etc.

And the "youthing" bubble just grows bigger and biger and bigger...

Also, young people don't pay any taxes and it's demosntrably true that older people work better and have more skills.

Let's admit it, all the standard arguments advanced in support of Australia's environmentally reckless, cheap-labour, high-growth population and immigration policies are so many ageist clichés that serve no better interest than the short-term profit greed of companies like Meriton, Coles-Meyer, Arnotts and other local firms too afraid to compete globally - and which prefer protected local markets to be grown for them.

A case in point being...

Michael Park: "Cotton - in no small way - is unsuited to this country.  Its impact on our waterways is huge, both in its profligate consumption of water and the resultant chemical pollutants courtesy of the - not a little interested - Mansantos of the world."

Totally agree.

It's about time we stood up to the on-going "devastating impact of ever increasing levels of mostly white European settlement on our fragile ecosystem".

Just don't mention "immigration" or "population growth" as these are sacred cows.

Immigration again

C Parsons, with zero net immigration, the predictions are that our population would eventually be in decline. This is because at present the average Australian woman is giving birth to fewer than 2 children, which means that she is not fully replacing herself and an equivalent male in the next generation. As well as reducing total population, a fertility rate below replacement level also means that the population will gradually "age" i.e. over time the size of cohorts of older people, say those aged 65 -70 becomes greater more quickly than the size of equivalent younger cohorts eg those aged 30 -35.

However, this has become a serious concern in Australia because of compounding factors. The medical and public health advances which have increased our life expectancy, together with size of the baby-boom group, mean that in the near future without intervention we will have a large number of dependent elderly people with far fewer younger workers to support them compared with the situation we have had. Hence Costello's efforts to increase the birth rate. This gives numerical projections for various scenarios and includes a good discussion of the limits to government control of migration in and out. However, though I've not read it closely, it seems to give a ceiling target of 150,000 p.a. in net immigration but doesn't discuss the limits on "absorptive capacity" so one can't tell if this target is sound.

You will get no argument from me that increasing population is a problem, though I let the side down personally by giving birth to more than 2 children. What I will insist, however, is that it is a global problem overtaxing a shared environment which is confined by things other than national boundaries. People in industrialized nations like Australia have contributed more than most to environmental problems and with their comparative wealth have the capacity to do most towards the solutions. We therefore have a moral responsibility to relieve the suffering of those in areas where the carrying capacity of the land has been reduced and/or exceeded.

It is obscene, in my opinion, to attempt to artificially prop up a birth rate that is declining naturally while thousands of children die from malnutrition elsewhere. If we are concerned about the aging of the population and we feel there must be a limit to immigration, then the logical thing is to give preference to families with young children rather than poach the skilled.

The least we can do is learn to be more careful with our water.

Adapt Or Perish

C Parsons, given that up to 95 percent of cotton produced in Australia is exported, it is hard to see how a domestic boycott would curtail the industry significantly.

Something like 80 percent of the area under cotton is flood irrigated and I suspect that this type of operation will be less and less viable over time. My guess is that there will not be sufficient water available on a reliable basis and cotton producers will go belly up.

The next few decades are full of challenges for all of us as we try to find a way to live in some sort of balance with the physical world our civilisation has so vainly tried to conquer.

As I have noted previously on this thread, we currently waste vast amounts of potable water. We will have to do much better or there is a good chance that, one day, our cities and towns will die of thirst.

Governments at all levels have a role to play through building regulations, subsidies and tax breaks to encourage property owners to invest in water efficiency. The hip-pocket nerve is also very effective in modifying behaviour. We consumers need to accept that reticulated water is a precious resource and it should cost enough to force us to use it wisely – even when the dams are full.

I think it would be a mistake to focus our energy on what others are doing wrong until each of us has done everything we can to put our own houses in order.

As for population targets, unless you have some inside knowledge and can give us future rainfall volumes and distributions, we would be wasting our time musing about these things. Over time, we humans will have to move and adapt as the environment dictates. Or perish. Same as it ever was.

It Had To Happen

I am pretty much in agreement with the thrust of CP's post "The Impact Of White European Sentiment". Why are we so ready to leave crucial aspects of our future to the non-entities and hacks that present themselves for election?

Our current problems did not happen in the last few years or the past few decades. This crisis has been coming with every decision that has been made since WES. It will not change if, as Michael Coleman writes, "Governments at all levels have a role to play through building regulations, subsidies and tax breaks to encourage property owners to invest in water efficiency.". Why would leaving things to the very people that have failed to provide leadership and stewardship make any difference? Politicians are part of the problem, with our consent of course, and not part of the solution.

The "mad Greenies" have been pilloried for years as political buffoons and yet it would appear obvious now that their insights are closer to the truth than the leading lights of the Right and Left.

Michael also hits upon something that probably fails to engage the attention of nearly all Australians. Just because we have declared this island continent as our home in perpetuity, providing a mountain of documents and billions of words to create the illusory entity that is Australia, it is no more guaranteed than nature allows. Like the shifting sands of the Sahara, we will get swept along by what we cannot control. In the end there may only room for a few million to live a rural-based life on the coastal strip.

While we see this country's population increasing for reasons that are not clearly thought out, there is another reality happening. Australia's wealth is underpinned by our willingness to be the world's quarry. We are digging everything of value out of the ground with no thought for tomorrow.

The Federal Government proudly proclaims that Australia is the world's largest exporter of black coal. It brings in billions of dollars of revenue. We have enough at the current rate of extraction to last another 200 years and then what? Of course, extraction rates will increase so maybe we will have another 100 years instead. Long before that we will have sold all of our natural gas (yes, there will be none for our grandchildren's generation). In the 22nd century we will still have plenty of the ultra-dirty brown coal but very little iron ore and other minerals. By the 23rd century, Australia will have exhausted all of its natural resources.

Do we care? What is our responsibility to the future? As Michael says, "we humans will have to move". But to where and will we be welcome. What irony, if some political leader of another country says "no" to our coming.


By the way, what do people think about the cotton industry in Australia? Do you think it has too great a command over our water resources?

Should we boycott cotton products?

Three questions C Parsons

Three questions C Parsons, three answers.

Cotton - in no small way - is unsuited to this country.  Its impact on our waterways is huge, both in its profligate consumption of water and the resultant chemical pollutants courtesy of the - not a little interested - Mansantos of the world.

Too great a command? I'd ask that question of those north western NSW  graziers and farmers still awaiting that water which once flowed their way prior to Cubby and the likes hijacking it. My opinion? Definitely.

Near enough to 1,800 litres of water are necessary to produce a kilo of cotton. Those buggers in QLD are aparrently paying the princley sum of 6.7 cents per megalitre to do so. Down in the Mallee, a bloke will pay some $500 for the same.  It's an egalitarian land eh?

Ban cotton? Strike me pink, I'd be typing away naked. Cotton's fine - just not meant to be grown here. If that means importing it, so be it. We do anyway: aside from RM Williams, how much (garments etc) is actually made here nowadays?

Oh, and something dear to my gut: rice. It takes some two thousand litres of water to produce a kilo of our Riverina Sunwhite. I confess it - I use plenty. And, so I too contribute to the appalling state of resevoirs such as: Burrinjuck - at the present writing 30% and falling after having reached 34% with "winter rains"; Blowering - 28% and falling having scored 63% over winter (or more pertinently, from Eucumbene) and Wyangala - 13% having not risen this entire year.

What is even more disturbing is the state of the Snowy reservoirs. Eucumbene, the control storage, is at 23.6%. It has not risen all year. Given the near total lack of any decent snow falls, this is not surprising. The catchment above it, Tantangara, usually would fill to between 30-35% over winter/early spring. It would then spend the months of September to early January draining down to some 7-8% as it runs into Eucumbene via Providence Portal (a gravity feed tunnel). Tantangara has not risen above 7.5% all year since completeing that drain in January.  Completed in 1958, Eucumbene took until 1971 to fill.

Should 2007 be a 2006 re-run, there will be increasingly less wtaer to turn west to Blowering. Should (as is likely) Burrinjuck drain to some 8-12%, where will its fill come from? And, how much will a MIA irrigator's license be worth?

Michael Park: And even worse

Michael Park: And even worse is the Hume (normally 3 million megalitres) down to 10%, being fed to meet irrigation and other needs down stream by the Dartmouth which fell from 80% in September to less than 40% now, and being drained fast. Lake Victoria similarly, with all three (the major feeders of the Murray irrigation belt) predicted to be dry by April in the absence of rain. With the Snowy reserves so low this country is facing a water catastrophe and it is all too late to do much about it. When it has gone it has gone and the rains, and snow, stay away year after year.

As regards cotton and rice, well the plantings simply do not happen if the water is not there so they are way down this year, and Cubbie and other vast northern cotton stations are now dry.  Dairy in the MIA pulls out a lot as do the orchards and vegetable producers, but they too will be up the creek without the need of a paddle by April. What concerns me also is the use of bore water to grow cotton when they admit they do not even know the capacity of some of the aquifers out in the MIA. Bores on the north west plains have fallen substantially from only stock water and domestic use. With the amounts cotton needs I guess they will soon find out how finite the underground supply is. Seems irresponsible in the extreme to me to allow extraction of bore water for cotton.

But Howard says we must not tell farmers what they should or should not grow! Well I believe the essential food industries should get water allocation priority over rice and cotton. But will it happen before the water and all the talk runs out? Probably not.

The question I cannot get an answer too is why Albury is only on level 1 water restricitions when places like Goulburn have spun out their very low supply by going onto level 5 three years ago, ie no outside use at all, and limits in the home per person.  Hard to fathom the thinking there.

And yes, the levels of the dams in the Snowy system stare you in the face. The thought of the whole system being totally dry is just too awful to contemplate, but contemplate it we must, ignore it at our peril. I wonder what will happen if there is nothing to turn the power turbines. Oh yes of course, there is all that cheap black stuff to burn to keep those millions of lights blazing away all night in those office towers in the big smokes.  Crazy, just crazy. Eventually the black outs will come, nothing more certain. I am sure the average city dweller does not realise that coal produced energy requires water too, and plenty of it. Let us hope the hot hot summer predicted does not eventuate and the el nino turns into a la nina, because that is our only hope now most of the water has already gone.

All that came out of Howard's talk fest seems to be about water trading. I was waiting for a detailed proposal on how the remaining supplies could be rationed and saved. Have I missed something? Is there a secret supply somewhere we don't know about? Soon  Murray Water will be like the AWB. No water to trade just as there is no wheat to sell.

But of course ABARE back in September was saying there would be around 16 million tonnes of the latter. Anyone with eyes in their head who had got behind the wheel and driven 3000 ks across the wheat belt as we did, could have told them there would be virtually no wheat at all. Now I see they intend buying it overseas to fill their forward orders. I wonder if can we import water too? Those icebergs floating off NZ are starting to look like a good investment to me.

Wheat imports on the way

Jenny, seems you were spot-on about the wheat, looks like imports are on the cards - see here. I'm really starting to get a sinking feeling about all this. What do we have to do to put the scientists in charge for a couple of years? Is the revolution nigh?

BTW - love to catch up sometime. Why not indeed. If you post a NFP post with a phone number or email I'll get in touch and we'll do lunch sometime. Just don't mention the war!

Sinking feeling but a ray of hope

David: I have had a sinking feeling about all this for more than a year now. And the figures tell their own story. On perusing the Goulburn Murray Water website, where it gives its latest update on Storages, we see that its 20 listed storages in Victoria, when full, hold just under 12 million megalitres.

At this time last year those storages held 8 million megalitres, or around 66% of the total capacity.

As of 16 November this year, they are at 3M megalitres or just 25%.

Given the fall in just one year, they must operate on the principle of use it or lose it, but it would seem that use it and lose it is equally as valid. With inflows at record lows and Snowy Hydro saying its releases will also be less than expected, then it is not hard to see why the panic buttons are starting to get a touch or two, with predictions that the three main storages of Hume, Dartmouth and Victoria will be dry by April. 

I note the BOM el enso wrap up informs us this week that the el nino is definitely with us and likely to strengthen with most of eastern areas set to receive well below average rainfall over the summer. 

However they tell us that one ray of hope is that in the past Jan/Feb has often been very wet when an el nino develops at this stage of the year.  I do recall an 8 inch (200ml) dump of rain in January 2005 in N NSW at the height of the 94/95 el nino and severe drought, but it was not followed up with anything significant till the following spring. But it did fill farm storages and ease the drought for a few weeks in the north at least. So maybe.... 

I remember that downpour so well as we loaded 130 young dairy cattle in Goulburn where the drought was critical, in order to move them to the other property 600kms north west where we felt they had a better chance. We followed the truck through the night for 11 hours and hit driving rain and gale force winds half way up. I have never known such a nightmare. I was sick with worry for the cattle. There was not another vehicle on the road, and we arrived at dawn to find all the phones out, the road impassable to the property and a tree down on the road which we did not see till it was too late. The car and a full trailer of stock provisions went over the top of it and was never the same again. We could not get the semi in and had to jump the cattle off and wade them the last four kilometres. They had had it and so had we. But that rain brought grass and they never looked back, even though it did not rain again for another eight months.

So we are pinning our hopes up there on the same thing happening again this January. But we will not be trying to shift any cattle that is for sure.  I swore never again! I did not know how physcially exhausted one can get. And I trod on a flamin' frog in the dark. Yuk!

I have posted contact details via contact us so you should get them sometime. No we will not discuss the War, and as I see you are an avowed atheist, religion either! Butterflies maybe?  Cheers.



The impact of white European settlement

Robyn Clothier: "C Parsons, I'm afraid most of those calculations are beyond me. There are many uncertainties in predicting population increase into the future. It would seem that demand for migration into Australia will continue to exceed emigration, but the extent will depend on what happens elsewhere eg. some Vietnamese who came here in the '70s are returning now conditions are more stable."

The approximately 130,000 gained by Australia's population as its "natural" increase (births less deaths) that you mentioned before is, presumably, a net gain.

The argument for Australia's immigration programme is typically that we "need" a bigger population to offset our "aging" workforce.

Or that our population is "declining".

But as you point out, it is actually increasing by about 240,000 per year. In other words, a fairly large city's worth every single year.

Much of the push for bigger populations comes from business groups, for example the Meriton housing development group that wants Australia's population to be 150 million within the next 46 years, and Sydney's population to be about 20 million.

That's your girls' Australia they're talking about. I'll probably be dead by then, so no skin off my chin.

It's not that Australia's population isn't growing naturally, if you are correct.

It's just not growing fast enough for business groups who want to expand the market for their products without having to compete internationally.

The 110,000 people gained in net migration last year will use water at the same rate as everyone else, I presume. And they are also expected to consume land and other resources that can be profitably developed.

So, unless water recycling can be made to accelerate at the same rate as our population growth rate, water reserves are going to fall, I suppose.


I have found it is very difficult to get people to talk about this unless the topic is couched in terms of "the impact of white European settlement" on the environment, then everyone is happy to talk about the effect of population growth and development on the environment.

Especially its impact on water reserves and quality.

But the moment you mention Australia's population growth rate, amongst the fastest growing nations in the developed world, people come over all shy.

I have even had it put to me by one environmentalist that we should only actually discuss the impact of human settlement and development in Australia solely in terms of "the impact of white European settlement".

And never mention current birth rates and immigration.

Why do you think this is?

Determining future population

C Parsons, I'm afraid most of those calculations are beyond me. There are many uncertainties in predicting population increase into the future. It would seem that demand for migration into Australia will continue to exceed emigration, but the extent will depend on what happens elsewhere eg. some Vietnamese who came here in the '70s are returning now conditions are more stable. I don't know how successful Costello's "one for Mum, one for Dad and one for the country" encouragements will be in the long-term, and how much that will compensate for the increase in the death rate we will experience when baby-boomers hit their late 70s & 80s. Neither do I know what decisions about infrastructure projects will be taken to improve efficiency in water use nor how willing people will be to make savings on an individual household basis.

What I do know is that there is a lot of "fat" in the system, that people are adaptable especially when their minds are focussed by necessity, and that many in this world live in conditions that are (a) already much worse than those we enjoy and (b) likely to get worse eg homes in the Pacific which will soon be under water. Do you have an optimal immigration intake number in mind yourself? What do you think is the best alternative for people like those of Kiribati?

The question nobody wants to answer.

Robyn Clothier: "That being the case, I figure it must be possible to reduce urban use fairly easily by at least 20% with some incentives for purchase of water-saving devices and disincentives eg. more prohibitive pricing for use over a certain amount. That's room for a 20% increase in urban population before we start to talk about the savings in rationalizing irrigation, or new infrastructure. So there's water for immigration for a few years yet."

How many years would you say, Robyn?

And what if per capita water consumption doesn't decline by 20 per cent?

What would you say is the optimal, or even the maximum, population our water sources can sustain?

Tank subsidies etc

Actually to be fair, Jenny, I think the SA government is now offering subsidies for rain water tanks. New housing is also being required to have a tank of at least 1000L in some developments but that may be just in certain council areas.

There's craziness though. My in-laws moved into a new smaller home recently where, because two houses had been built in the space usually used for one, they are required to have a "holding tank" to slow down run-off in a storm and prevent flooding in the streets. They asked the builder to add plumbing so they could drink the water instead of letting it drain away, but were told "no builder will touch a rain water tank because people will sue them if they get an upset stomach". They've engaged someone to change a few fittings and they can use it now, but missed out on having it plumbed into the house. If that's the mindset amongst mainstream builders, we've got a lot of work to do.

I grew up in a small town in the SA mallee where the choice is rainwater or the town bore-water which is too salty to grow many vegetables. Everyone there also pumps out their septic tanks straight onto the garden - quite legally. (I think the limestone makes soakage trenches difficult.) It's funny how things are OK for some people but not for others. As far as I know the area's incidence of disease is no different to the national average, even if we put up with some smells once a week or so. I wonder about the effect on the soil from some detergents used, but people still seem to grow gardens.

Ideally rain water (and mains) should be used for gardens only when it has served some other purpose first. I hope to invest in a Biolytix treatment system as soon as the bank balance allows, which will enable odour-free use of all our waste water, black and grey.

Of course before we can use the water it has to rain, so we should probably get back to discussing how we can implement Ian's proposals. But irrigators growing fruit along the Murray should not have to let trees die while those of us who live in metropolitan areas remain so profligate (and there's room for improvement in this house too.) 

Mokoan vs The Mighty Murray

I generally agree with Ian Read’s overall argument. But there are problems when we dismiss water storages because of their evaporation loss. The Murray is 2530 km long overall.  Below the Hume Weir at Albury, its average width is 50 m, though in places it is up to 100 m wide, with water depth averaging 3 m.  This gives it a volume of around 4x10^8 cubic metres (tonnes) of water. The Mokoan Dam, with 364,800 ML official capacity, holds about 60% of that: an amazing feat when you think about it.. 

Any engineer will tell you that the best storage has the lowest surface area to volume ratio. With its official depth of 7 m, Mokoan has less than half the surface area/volume ratio of the river itself, meaning that it is the better reservoir, and that a drop of water in Mokoan has proportionately less tendency to be ‘lost’ through evaporation than a drop in the river. Moreover, any drop that makes it to the Murray’s mouth, where it has to pass through an enormous sandbar to enter the sea, can be regarded a ‘lost’ well and truly. (There is on this basis a case for building a mighty impermeable barrage right across the Murray at its mouth, and pumping the all the water out from there to irrigated farmland.) 

Some of the water ‘lost’ through evaporation returns as dew and rainfall. All other factors being equal, this may increase local rainfall vis a vis getting rid of the dam.  

The Mokoan Dam was originally built over two wetlands, whose ecology was obliterated as a result. That was probably a mistake. Getting rid of it now that it is built is also probably a mistake. If all the ‘drylands’ of Australia were replaced with ‘wetlands’, I venture to suggest that continental rainfall would be increased considerably.  


Rain water

Rain water is also perfectly safe for drinking if the tank and guttering is maintained properly. I find it unbelievable that so many health departments recommend it only for garden use and toilets etc. Generations of white Australians grew up healthily drinking rain water before us and generations of Australians before that grew up drinking out of waterholes! It also tastes better than the mains usually, especially in Adelaide.

Rain water and waste

Robyn Clothier and Michael Coleman make excellent points about rain water collection and reducing waste.


It seems to me the potential of rainwater collection has not been exploited nearly enough in urban areas. It's my understanding that Australia's cities have more rainfall than many of their inland catchment areas. Ian Read didn't specifically mention this in his excellent essay, but perhaps would care to comment?

Robyn notes "Rain water is also perfectly safe for drinking if the tank and guttering is maintained properly. I find it unbelievable that so many health departments recommend it only for garden use and toilets etc."

Aren't uses other than drinking where the greatest waste occurs? Even if health depts. only allow roof-captured water to be used for toilets, gardening, etc., this would surely make a huge impact on the water problem?

Another point Ian makes is that the linkages between global warming and the hydrological cycle are still not well understood. The kind of water management steps he's discussing are ones we have to consider independent of human-induced climate change, because

1) the impacts of global warming on drought frequency and severity, rainfall, soil moisture, etc. are still unclear and

2) to the extent global warming may exacerbate our current water woes, we will have to adapt to its impacts because we are already "committed" to significant greenhouse-gas enrichment of the atmosphere.


Goulburn example

Robyn: Yes it is ridiculous that they say we should not drink the tank water we catch. We drink it from our tanks on the farm even though it is full of frogs. We tend to boil it for drinking but use it unboiled for everything else, eg cleaning teeth, washing lettuce, and it never hurt us.

In Goulburn where my family live we have been on level 5 restrictions for three years now, no outside use of water at all, and only 150 litres per day per person being the target, and which is generally met. Once you change your water use habits, it tends to stick. I find I continue the saving practices I had instilled in me in Goulburn,  on the farm where we rely on a bore,  and when in our house in Canberra, even though we are not pinned down so heavily with restrictions here.

Goulburn subsidised water saving devices for showers, and toilets for all Goulburn homes and insitutions and is looking at recycling for at least parks and gardens. Rainwater tanks are subsidised and many people have more than one. But people are told not to drink the water!

A huge amount of water can be saved and the waste in the big cities has to stop. Children should be taught to save water in schools from day one. A mindset has to be created in the young, one that promotes water saving as norm and a responsibility of everyone.

I guess Adelaide is going to have some real problems if this drought goes on for another year or longer. I am surprised the city is not subsidising water saving devices and rain tanks. Seems crazy to me.

Waste Is The Biggest Problem

On a continent as dry as ours, the amount of water we waste is absurd.

Reticulated water use can be cut be up to 95 percent by redesigning the way we use water in a typical house.

Rain water tanks are a must. This water can be used safely for the shower and for washing clothes. Town water is supplied to the kitchen sink and the bathroom wash basin. Grey water is collected and used to flush the toilet.


Add recycling to the water network and it is clear that we could do so much more with much less water.

Water and immigration

C Parsons: "Does anyone think the extra 110,000 people arriving in Australia every year will have an affect on the water crisis?"
The 110,000 people gained in net migration last year will use water, as will the approximately 130,000 gained in "natural" increase (births less deaths) and those gained in future years, however many that may be.
Should we stop/reduce immigration or should we become collectively more responsible with our water use so that we can continue to gain immigrants and have babies? 
My household of 5 (which includes 3 teenage girls who wash long hair in the shower) uses less than half the Murray water used by the average Adelaide household mostly because we collect and use the rain that falls on our roof. That being the case, I figure it must be possible to reduce urban use fairly easily by at least 20% with some incentives for purchase of water-saving devices and disincentives eg. more prohibitive pricing for use over a certain amount. That's room for a 20% increase in urban population before we start to talk about the savings in rationalizing irrigation, or new infrastructure. So there's water for immigration for a few years yet.

Does population play a role?

Does anyone think the extra 110,000 people arriving in Australia every year will have an affect on the water crisis?


Victoria's Regent Honeyeater Project, centred on Benalla, is pretty successful. 

As for Qld, it would be worth keeping an eye on efforts to deflect attention away from massive land clearances. Will Anna Bligh, as potential successor, be able to stand up to the Nats and the big land-owners? Will the government run out of other stories to feed the media, Joh-style? When will Peter Beattie start to leak his concerns about national ALP prospects?

Cost effectiveness

While there are elements I must admit to liking in liberal philosophy, the control of environmental issues by market forces is becoming more apparantly an abject failure.  Unless environmental maintenance is forced by legislation it will remain a cost factor regarded as too expensive for "fast buck profit margins".

It's only now that the Stern Report has couched the problems in terms of better profit through environmental care that we are hearing Howard's Heroes even give lip-service to climate change.  However instead ideas, such as those that Ian Read proposes, are being treated less favourably than evaporation control or other solutions with greater potential short-term profit margins for investors.

Reading Sandra Maclean's post (hi!) makes me wonder how many similar tragedies are out there.  The trouble with political will is that it often takes a back-seat to political muscle, and until the lobbyists are gagged and decisive government action is taken the current government can only now serve as a puppet manipulated by the forces it professes to champion.


Ian, thank you for writing an article that got me thinking about what could be done to help see the solution made real. 

According to this the Australian Government may choose to fund specific initiatives through the Regional Partnerships program. So one place to start is to have our rural local governments seeking funds to support the fencing initiative you've suggested. 

The terror of climate change

Hamish: "... and as a nation can act upon"

As well as what we must do as individuals, how about we take, say, half the resources we use in  the Dept of Defence, human as well as material, and put them to work fighting what really threatens Australia? I haven't got the information to do the maths, but I imagine we could get a lot done quite quickly if we were prepared to make that sort of decision.

Why can't we have politicians with some common sense !

Ian, a very good read, and right on the mark.

Why can't our politicians see this and act accordingly. After seeing a show on the ABC recently, concerning the cotton farms in SE Qld, up for sale as now they are nothing more than barren ground, I am disgusted that it was allowed to happen in the first place. There was not one tree for as far as the eye could see. Just hard baked earth, and it seems neither government interested in buying them back. Here is a chance to take back the ridiculous water licences they had and having a opportunity to try and revegetate this land. 

How can we make them see. It is heart breaking to see what is going on around us, and the consequences of it which are plain for all to see.  

Rhetorical Question?

Sandra, I am assuming your question about "our politicians" is rhetorical. They do not work for "us", they do not represent "us". They take their orders and their cues from the vested interests that they are bound to serve. Elections is the big lie that "dare not speak its name". They are a farce. Replace one set of rascals with another and get the same results. Not happy? Do it again in 3-4 years. Repeat until you die or go senile.

We have political parties and the tentacled apparatus that run them because vested interests need control mechanisms.

Tony Robbins makes a very valid point when he says that if you do the same thing over and over again you will get the same result.

This lament, about "why don't the politicians do something" has been wailed, ad nauseum, since Federation. If the penny has not yet dropped that things do not change because they are not meant to, then keep working on it.

My father has a saying which is most apt: "if something is happening which you can't  understand because it make no sense, then you can be sure that someone is making a lot of money out of it".

Bale them out or sit them out?

Sandra, I agree with what you say. However in regard to those now dry cotton properties, including Cubbie, I wonder if it would not be better to just sit them out. Cubbie, of course, is not for sale, (and it is apparently valued at $400 million, though whether that is with or without its big dam full is not clear!) and I saw it wants to expand by buying out the two now dry neighbours who want out. If the dams are dry they cannot grow the cotton anyway. If the massive flows return, then maybe a cap on extraction is what is required. But if the drought continues, then why not let them learn the lessons of their folly. Bigger properties have had to be abandonned in the past. Why should Cubbie or any of them be baled out at any stage?  Imagine if the Governments bought Cubbie at $400 million and the drought continued in that area for decades? By waiting, Cubbie might just be forced to close anyway without costing the country a cent.

Ian, thank you for an interesting post. I am not sure the failure of the north west rain belts, which is a recent phenomenon is all due to land clearing. Most of those western wheat belt lands have been cleared decades ago, and we used to get massive rain belts coming in from the north west in spite of that.  Similarly the rain depressions off the south coast that used to bring the rains onto the Tablelands and eastern hinterland. These have actually failed earlier, and yet much of the coastal belt is still fairly heavily forested despite wood chipping.

There were severe droughts recorded in the early 19th Century, before much of the land clearing was actually carried out. For instance Lake George, now dry, was recorded as early as the 1830s as being dry for many years, long before all the dams on hobby farms near Canberra reduced inflow, and before land clearing reached anywhere near later levels.

But of course land clearing is a huge problem as you outline. Re-afforesting will not be cheap and some of the guidelines set down are rather ridiculous. For instance, we planted 5000 or so trees in belts on our property in the north west, but were not allowed to access the fencing grants from Landcare because we only wanted to put fences sufficient to keep cattle out, ie a three barb fence, whereas the guidelines insisted on a seven wire fence sufficient to keep sheep out, when we had no sheep. So we built the fences without financial help, but had to reduce the area we planted to cover the cost of that. The trees are now well above sheep or cattle height. In fact in the early stages the kangaroos did the most damage, and nothing keeps them out.

One big problem is the age of the rural population. We ourselves would like to plant 3000 more trees next year, but there is no labour to help us do it in the district. And at our age, (mid 60s) it will be, as usual,  a huge job, and my heart fails me at the thought of it.  And I know most of our neighours are in the same boat.

But the fact that the country is getter hotter cannot be denied and this can only see droughts more frequent and more intense. Some landowners in marginal areas have already abandonned trying to farm their properties (I know of 10 000 acres in the northern mallee on just two farms) and those areas are already regenerating with low scrub. I think it would make sense as the rural population ages to take those sorts of areas right out of any sort of production permanently. The will is not there to farm it on the part of the older generation anymore and it would be a good time to quarantine it permanently.

Just some thoughts.   Cheers.

Margo: Hi Jenny. Great to see you again in Canberra, and thank you for your fabulous country hospitality.   

So we can do something?

Thank you Ian. Thank you very, very much.

This is an issue that, a) is critical, and b) we as individuals and as a nation can act upon immediately and effectually.

It's b) that will scare off most people. 

Political Will? Who's He?

Ian Read's work is thorough and probably accurate. I say 'probably' because I am not an environmental scientist and cannot volunteer a worthwhile professional opinion.

What I can say is that greed and lies trumps everything. The greed is corporate and private and the lies abound with everything, no exceptions, that comes from our system of governance.

Political will is a chimera. This country 'belongs', in the custodial sense, to 20 million Australians. If we remain, pliable, greedy and stupid, as we have for the 200 years that we have ruled and exploited this land, we will end up with dust. The greedy rich, less than 3% of the population, won't care. They can pack up and go anywhere they like. The rest of us will ..... (write your own obituary)

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