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Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in

Geoffrey Lean and Kathy Marks, Independent (UK)
Leaves are falling off trees in the height of summer, railway tracks are buckling, and people are retiring to their beds with deep-frozen hot-water bottles, as much of Australia swelters in its worst-ever heatwave.

On Friday, Melbourne thermometers topped 43C (109.4F) on a third successive day for the first time on record, while even normally mild Tasmania suffered its second-hottest day in a row, as temperatures reached 42.2C. Two days before, Adelaide hit a staggering 45.6C. After a weekend respite, more records are expected to be broken this week.

Ministers are blaming the heat – which follows a record drought – on global warming. Experts worry that Australia, which emits more carbon dioxide per head than any nation on earth, may also be the first to implode under the impact of climate change.

At times last week it seemed as if that was happening already. Chaos ruled in Melbourne on Friday after an electricity substation exploded, shutting down the city’s entire train service, trapping people in lifts, and blocking roads as traffic lights failed. Half a million homes and businesses were blacked out, and patients were turned away from hospitals.

More than 20 people have died from the heat, mainly in Adelaide. Trees in Melbourne’s parks are dropping leaves to survive, and residents at one of the city’s nursing homes have started putting their clothes in the freezer.

“All of this is consistent with climate change, and with what scientists told us would happen,” said climate change minister Penny Wong.

Australia, the driest inhabited continent on earth, is regarded as highly vulnerable. A study by the country’s blue-chip Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation identified its ecosystems as “potentially the most fragile” on earth in the face of the threat.
(1 February 2009)

California: Worst drought ever expected after mild January

Kelly Zito, San Francisco Chronicle
California teeters on the edge of the worst drought in the state’s history, officials said Thursday after reporting that the Sierra Nevada snowpack – the backbone of the state’s water supply – is only 61 percent of normal.

January usually douses California with about 20 percent of the state’s annual precipitation, but instead it delivered a string of dry, sunny days this year, almost certainly pushing the state into a third year of drought.

The arid weather is occurring as the state’s water system is under pressure from a growing population, an aging infrastructure and court-ordered reductions in water pumped through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta – problems that didn’t exist or were less severe during similar dry spells in the late 1970s and late 1980s.
(30 January 2009)
More climate stories:
Australian Heat Wave (Reuters)
World Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year (Bloomberg)
Cheatgrass Will Migrate (Los Angeles Times)
Climate Could Drain Great Lakes (Discovery)

Stern recipe for change

Jonathan Leake, Sunday Times
It may be crippled and reviled, but Britain’s banking industry is likely to become one of the nation’s key assets in dealing with climate change, according to Lord (Nicholas) Stern.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Stern suggested that Britain’s banks and other financial institutions would be an essential element in building the low-carbon infrastructure the country will need if it is to achieve its emission-reduction targets. He also believes such investments could help them rebuild their profits.

… “Over the next 10-15 years the world is going to move strongly to low-carbon technologies,” said Stern. “There is going to be a very rapid technological change. Areas like construction, transport and power are going to change particularly fast – and that is going to need huge investment as well as creating many businesses.”

The scale of the challenge to business is huge. At the moment humanity generates the equivalent of about 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, roughly equal to eight tonnes for every person on the planet. There is, however, huge variation. Europeans generate 11-14 tonnes per head and Americans about 22 tonnes, while Africans typically generate 1-2 tonnes.
(1 February 2009)

Plight of the humble bee

Richard Gring, Sunday Times
Native British bees are dying out — and with them will go flora, fauna and one-third of our diet. We may have less than a decade to save them and avert catastrophe. So why is nothing being done?

… Think of summer. Meadows and gardens daubed with so much colour it looks as if some giant hand has gone berserk with a paintbrush. Now expunge that picture and think of another. This time the giant hand has mislaid every pigment save brown and olive. There are no blooms, no insects, no birds. No visible wildlife of any kind. No fruit. No sound other than the mechanistic din of humankind harvesting fungi and the approaching cries of battle.

The first picture is a poetic fiction, a received vision of England as it never was, an idyllic land of apple-cheeked rustics singing in harmony with a bountiful Nature. The second is a piece of bleak futurology that assumes the process of environmental degradation will be irreversible, leaving hollow-cheeked starvelings to follow the rest of the world’s fauna across the Styx. The creature that links the two visions — by its abundance in the first and absence from the second — is the same that now buzzes unseasonably among the dripping foliage of our winter gardens. The bee.

… Native British bees are dying out — and with them will go flora, fauna and one-third of our diet. We may have less than a decade to save them and avert catastrophe. So why is nothing being done?

In addition to his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein had a specific theory about the relativity of man and bee. “If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe,” he is supposed to have said, “then man would only have four years of life left.”

If other scientists are more cautious, it is only in terms of the timescale.
(1 February 2009)
EB contributor Billhook writes:
The stupidity of a society that treats this news as a footnote, scarcely newsworthy, is beyond polite language. The sheer Passivism that rules, even in the supposedly intelligent, informed PO & CC webfora, is pretty sickening, given how few show an interest in the campaigning that is now critical to the course of decline.

Maybe it’s time people faced their choices – of apathetic inaction drifting into despair and bitter suffering for many, or of active campaigning on the great, unified existential issue of respect for the ecosphere, in recognition that we have nothing to lose.

As a savant remarked cogently : “Hope is not necessary for perseverance.”