Tuesday, 10 February 2009

We Australians should get used to dearer food – it’s good for both us and communties abroad

Record floods in northern Australia and the record 46.4˚C day in Melbourne, along with six of the seven hottest days in formerly gorgeous Tasmania shows just how mistaken Australian policymakers from Robin Underwood to Jeff Kennett to John Brumby have been over the past thirty years. Rainfall declines in southern Australia and increases in the north seem to escalate each year, yet scientists do nothing to direct government policy towards zero emissions. Indeed they try to find detours like the “Asian Haze”, the Indian Ocean Dipole and now El Niño Modoki which serve to sedate an already impassive population and make changes in climate more extreme.

It is time we took news of escalating food prices from record rainfalls in Queensland and heat in the southeast as a warning and at the same time, a tip on what we should do. Climate change will soon make coastal Victoria unsuitable for fruit crops since 45˚C days which these crops cannot survive are soon likely to be experienced every summer. At the same time, a monsoon strengthened by global warming could well make keeping crops within the tropics free from flooding impossible. The fact that we have seen major losses to banana crops twice in four years shows where we are headed if nothing is done.

As the Australian says, Australia has for many years, owing to its abundance of flat land and freedom from pests and disease, had extremely cheap high-quality fruit and vegetables that have been the envy of the world. However, global warming is certain to sound a death knell to Australia’s fruit industry: even if water can be piped from the north, heat will always be a risk in the south, whilst the few fertile northern soils of the Wet Tropics and Burdekin delta will either be more heavily leached or trees will repeatedly die from flooding.

What we should come to realise is that we Australians will have to be far less wasteful with fresh fruit. At home, I have many recollections of fruit or fruit products like banana cakes going off. Higher prices for fruit should make Australians more efficient in using it and more careful with their purchases. People in Europe, Asia and the Americas have had to cope with such higher prices since time immemorial. Australia’s culture is, in proportionate to an ecology that dictates exceptionally low-energy species, extraordinarily spendthrift.

What would be a good result from Australia no longer being able to grow cheap fruit abroad is that farmers in Europe, Asia, the Americas and New Zealand - all countries with more reliable rainfall and far superior soils to Australia - would have more chance of competing globally. One thing the availability of natural resources would give to those nations is some hope of restoring their demographic collapses. If the people of Europe, Asia, the Americas and New Zealand could profit from their main natural resource - their rich soils - rather than be out-competed by Australia’s cheap land, there would be much more incentive to have children and avoid the demographic decline resulting from these resources becoming valueless.

Thus, I hope most Australians can be philosophical about increasing food costs and try to imagine the benefits abroad, and for our country’s outlook on life.

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