Monday, 20 December 2010

The whitewash at its worst – from those who should know perfectly

Today, after a relatively minor glance at the weather sites and the website for Perth’s water supply, one wonders really just how much control – even if it is cryptic to the eye of the vast majority of Australians – the fossil fuel industries really do have over Australia’s political system?

In my previous post I did say Kevin Williamson whitewashed the point of how, as Guy Pearse showed five years ago, fossil fuel corporations have an immense amount of control over policy-making in Australia. What is really dreadful is that the people who price and regulate water usage in Perth, who should know from the comparative tables here that man-made global warming has shifted climate belts eight degrees or more poleward. They are under a deep illusion that the observed drying of Perth’s climate is part of a natural cycle. In truth, the possibility of consecutive May to August periods so dry as the past ten is maximally a microscopic one-in-two-hundred-and-five-thousand and quite probably even less. Although the mid-2000s craze over the “Asian Haze” has died down, it has not given way to demands from scientists for militant protest to reduce Australia’s deplorable and still-rising emissions. Rather, it has given way to what I would call a gentle resignation: that we are unlikely to do anything to reverse climate change and that the free market will allow for the least costly adaptation.

However, as the table shows (the predictions for 2050 being based on winter rainfalls in the north-west of Western Australia) what this will mean for Perth as a growing city is devastating. With the last runoff most likely already flowed into Mundaring Weir, no targets for water consumption can avoid:
  1. the drying up of once-renewable fossil groundwater
  2. this point is critical because the climate of Western Australia has changed so much that what under pre-1970s climates would be renewable groundwater use now uses up water from a period when May to August rainfall was twice what it is now
  3. the need for desalination plants that can only be fired with coal power that will make the problem worse
  4. further changes in the climate that, even if more frequent cyclone or thunderstorm rainfall does partly offset the practically certain 95 to 100 percent loss of winter rainfall, will increase demand beyond what these can provide as the summers become even hotter
What WA’s water authorities should be doing if they were serious about providing water for Perth is:
  1. making sure prices of water really fit present runoff rates and predicted future ones, and that pre-1974 – maybe even pre-2001 data are totally ignored
  2. such a price would need to be at least 100 times historical prices and probably a thousand times higher than European, North American or New Zealand water prices
  3. such a price would make Western Australia a much more innovative place with water use – perhaps rivalling or surpassing Israel in the 1950s and 1960s
  4. they should join up with Adrian Whitehead’s (for the curious not the former Carlton player) “Target 300” programme that aimed for the “negative emissions” that should have been unequivocally demanded of Australia in 1997 or even in 1990.
  5. Such a move may be politically very difficult given the influence of government and hence the fossil fuel industries on what WA’s water policymakers write, but it is 100 percent certain that a restoration of pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels would immediately restore runoff into Perth’s dams from the present level of 0.011 km3 to the historical mean of 0.34 km3.

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