by Paul Cockram (in the Braidwood Times)
The other week we saw Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" at the National Theatre. I believe in the peril of global warming so I found the argument a bit long-winded, repetitive and delivered with a slightly irritating evangelical zeal.
What struck me most was the image of the Australian continent on Al Gore's enormous backdrop map - although he mentioned us hardly at all except to note that we've stuck doggedly with the United States in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Looking at our position on the map made me realise that we must be one of the most fortunate nations on the planet. We have no ethnic strife, no border disputes, a stable system of government, a free press, a huge amount of space and not so many people.
Is there anything we don't have in abundance? Well, yes there is; water. Global warming combined with ongoing drought is going to deal Australia a very tricky hand to play. It's all there in the daily newspapers if you care to look. Try this: turn to the business pages and see if you can find a call for restraint in any sector of the economy.
We've convinced ourselves that we're on a boom, resource rich and digging like there was no tomorrow. Well, there is a tomorrow; it's when you wake up and find that no water comes out of the tap and the power's off again.
Australia is running low on water. A reduced water supply means choosing who to cut back - domestic users, agriculture or the industries that use the most water and these include mining and electricity generation. The city of Orange had to make that choice a few weeks ago when the owners of the Cadia goldmine suddenly announced that unless 90% of the town water supply was given over to the mine, they would be forced to lay off 400 workers. That's a tough call for a community to make.
At present we make nearly all our electricity by burning coal. Australia has an abundance of coal and so we haven't worried much in the past about where the power comes from to run our industries, cook our dinner, allow us to leave millions of appliances permanently on 'standby' and worse, to cool or heat all the offices and houses constructed without opening windows. The problem is that coal-fired power stations, or nuclear for that matter, use a lot of water.
This is not an argument for returning to the caves and living on lentils and brown rice. But equally it's not an argument that can be deflected by false concern for job losses or a fear of a reduction in our 'standard of living'. Our governments, State and Federal, are spending our money to assure us that it's all under control - some of the newly funded programs are on the right track - but keep reading the business pages.
Watch for signs of caution in the resources sector because if they're going full-steam ahead with no worries about the environment then we're in for a very rough time.
If anyone tells you we can mine our way out of this one, you tell 'em to 'dry up' coz that might well happen to all of us.