Sunday, 23 August 2009

Rural Australia's future cannot be crop farming!

On the ABC today, National Party leader Warren Truss is saying that it will refuse to accept the woeful Emissions Trading Scheme because it will be
“a massive tax on people in regional Australia”
What this actually says is that the National Party is thinking only in the short-term. They possess no awareness that relatively simple paleoclimate models show that under likely carbon dioxide levels even with phase-out of fossil fuels everywhere but Australia, the arid “horse latitudes” will migrate roughly from around Coober Pedy to about 50˚S, or south of Tasmania.

Such a climate shift would push humid temperate climates completely beyond Australia, and give the southern Murray-Darling Basin a climate equivalent to the historical climate of the erratically-watered Lake Eyre Basin. Moreover, the soils are such that a better comparison would be with the Gibson Desert to the Lake Eyre Basin’s west. Since the Gibson Desert has never been economic even for low-density beef cattle grazing, one can imagine that agriculture in the southern Murray-Darling Basin will be similarly difficult since even the high mountains are unlikely to provide permanent rivers with the northern super-monsoon driving air so hot as to regularly give 45˚C in summer. Should this super-monsoon actually reach the southern Murray-Darling, intense soil leaching will mean farmers in the long term would have to grow less nutritious tropical crops. If one looks at the ecological history of sub-Saharan Africa for a comparison, farming did not demonstrably prove sustainable over climate fluctuations outside the equatorial belt and mountainous East Africa with its young volcanic soils. This is a bad omen for Australian farming in a radically changed climate.

What the National Party has to realise sooner or later is that the only possible future for the vast expanses of Australia is the future that the (mistaken) Antarctic Treaty gave to that continent fifty years ago: namely a centre for high-cost, low-density eco-tourism. With its extremely ancient soils and absence of glaciers, Australia in the Quaternary is a relict of what the Earth has been like for most of geological time. Thus, devoting all or almost all the continent to conservation is the only ecologically sane use of its land and the only one consistent with long-term soil conservation and providing the large expanses needed to support most native species.

Being a net importer of food would also eliminate the lazy comfort in which Australians have basked for two hundred and twenty years as the ideas on which Western Civilisation was founded have been overturned under the pressures created by dense urban living. The would also give opportunities to farmers in a multitude of nations abroad to gain higher living standards.

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