Australia Faces Collapse as Climate Change Kicks in: Are the Southwest and California Next?
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Australia has been suffering its worst heatwave on record, the first time temperatures exceeded 110 F for 3 days running. It’s been so hot that on Thursday, the low at Melbourne airport was 87 F.
Australia is the canary in the coal mine for climate-driven desertification. The astonishing decade-long drought in southern Australia was declared ‘worst on record’ last year. My headline quote is from the UK’s Independent story, which notes:
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.
Australia is but the first and most seriously impacted of the arid sub-tropical (and near-sub-tropical) climates that are facing horrific desertification from climate change. For instance, Lester Snow, Director of California’s Department of Water Resources said Friday
Two years ago, Science (subs. req’d) published research that " predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest" -- levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. The UK’s Hadley Center warned in November 2006 that their research predicted multiple permanent Dust Bowls around the planet on our current emissions path:
Extreme drought is likely to increase from under 3% of the globe today to 30% by 2100 -- areas affected by severe drought could see a five-fold increase from 8% to 40%.
Extreme drought means desertification, especially if it lasts for hundreds of years, as the recent NOAA-led study found (see NOAA stunner: Climate change "largely irreversible for 1000 years," with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe). The regions that NOAA identifies as facing permanent Dust Bowls:
- U.S. Southwest
- Southeast Asia
- Eastern South America
- Southern Europe
- Southern Africa
- Northern Africa
- Western Australia
Again, since Western Australia is the most sensitive, since Australia is already the driest of the habitable continents, it’s no surprise that Australia is the first to see such climate change driven decadal drought:
Most of the south of the country is gripped by unprecedented 12-year drought. The Australian Alps have had their driest three years ever, and the water from the vast Murray-Darling river system now fails to reach the sea 40 per cent of the time. Harvests have fallen sharply.
It will get worse as global warming increases. Even modest temperature rises, now seen as unavoidable, are expected to increase drought by 70 per cent in New South Wales, cut Melbourne’s water supplies by more than a third, and dry up the Murray-Darling system by another 25 per cent.
When you throw a brutal heat wave on top of the desertification, then all hell breaks loose:
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.