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Climate change hits the west

By Peter McMahon - posted Thursday, 2 December 2010


Perthites turning to the sports pages of the most recent Weekend West were instead confronted by a four-page advertisement by the WA Water Corporation. The ad was just the latest indication that WA is at last waking up to its perilous situation as climate change kicks in.

There was also in The West a full page ad from HBF insurance on the freak storm in March that included fist-sized hail stones. The storm caused over a billion dollars damage to tens of thousands of homes and vehicles with a consequent repair timeframe expected to last over two years.

We can’t say for sure that the storm was caused by climate change, but the increasingly weird weather WA is experiencing fits the general predictions by climate scientists. WA has experienced new records for hot and cold weather, as well as rainfall, and is predicted to have an unusually stormy summer.

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Storms can do lots of damage and have long term effects, but it has been the growing concern - almost amounting to panic - about water supplies that has really caught people’s attention.

In its ad pointing out the need for households to cut water use, the Water Corporation highlighted a number of salient facts. Firstly, Perth experienced its driest winter on record in 2010. Second, dam inflows were the lowest ever - only 13 gigalitres, down from an average of over 100 gigalitres in the last decade, which is markedly down again from the longer term average.

The Water Corporation pointed out that this situation is absolutely dire, “far worse than anything (it) could have predicted in its 50-year ‘Water Forever’ plan”. The Water Corporation said that Perthites “urgently need to start ‘banking’ water now for next year. This is because after next winter, even with our desalination plant in full flow and our groundwater plans in place, we will still need at least an additional 76 gigalitres to help avoid serious water restrictions next summer”.

Perthites are already under a home watering regime that is the harshest ever as the Government slowly begins to act.

Meanwhile the WA wheatbelt has been suffering a long term drought that has seen families who have farmed for generations pack up and leave the land and the WA government initiate an emergency aid response. Even the usually lush dairy regions have been affected, with knock on effects on food prices and pushing associated businesses to the edge.

The iconic Swan River is also feeling the effects as runoff has declined precipitously with the overall health of the river badly affected.

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The growing concerns about increasingly extreme weather conditions have been worsened because of the government’s new policy of pricing domestic energy closer to actual costs. Over winter there was a furore about pensioners freezing because they could not afford higher energy bills, and industrial action by low paid workers is also stimulated by these increased cost factors. More recently Premier Barnett stirred further controversy by claiming that people could go without air-conditioning over summer to lower energy bills. He was offered the advice by many that he and his government show the way in this effort.

So given the growing realization that climate change is already threatening the quality of life in WA, is policy shifting to acknowledge this?

Well, no, not really. There are no signs that the Barnett Government has much on their minds other than maximizing the minerals and energy boom. They seem to be completely oblivious to the increasingly solid arguments that energy prices must grow due to supply problems, including the underlying likelihood of an imminent ‘peak energy’ condition. They are also oblivious to the growing imperative to cut carbon emissions.

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About the Author

Dr Peter McMahon has worked in a number of jobs including in politics at local, state and federal level. He has also taught Australian studies, politics and political economy at university level, and until recently he taught sustainable development at Murdoch University. He has been published in various newspapers, journals and magazines in Australia and has written a short history of economic development and sustainability in Western Australia. His book Global Control: Information Technology and Globalisation was published in the UK in 2002. He is now an independent researcher and writer on issues related to global change.

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