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Rolling Stone says RIP Australia

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10 October 2011 14:39

Rolling Stone has a piece in its latest issue titled Climate Change and the End of Australia. Depending on your views, it's either alarming or alarmist:

How bad could it get? A recent study by MIT projects that without "rapid and massive action" to cut carbon pollution, the Earth's temperature could soar by nine degrees this century...With nine degrees of warming, computer models project that Australia will look like a disaster movie. Habitats for most vertebrates will vanish. Water supply to the Murray-Darling Basin will fall by half, severely curtailing food production. Rising sea levels will wipe out large parts of major cities and cause hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage to coastal homes and roads. The Great Barrier Reef will be reduced to a pile of purple bacterial slime. Thousands of people will die from heat waves and other extreme weather events, as well as mosquito-borne infections like dengue fever. Depression and suicide will become even more common among displaced farmers and Aborigines. Dr. James Ross, medical director for Australia's Remote Area Health Corps, calls climate change "the number-one challenge for human health in the 21st century."

And all this doesn't even hint at the political complexities Australia will face in a hotter world, including an influx of refugees from poorer climate-ravaged nations. ("If you want to understand Australian politics," says Anthony Kitchener, an Australian entrepreneur, "the first thing you have to understand is our fear of yellow hordes from the north.") Then there are the economic costs. The Queensland floods earlier this year caused $30 billion in damage and forced the government to implement a $1.8 billion "flood tax" to help pay for reconstruction. As temperatures rise, so will the price tag. "We can't afford to spend 10 percent of our GDP building sea walls and trying to adapt to climate change," says Ian Goodwin, a climate scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney.

I winced when I got to that quote about the 'yellow hordes'. It plays into a bunch of really outdated prejudices that some American readers will have about Australians as rednecks (see also: The Simpsons, Ep.16, Season 6, 'Bart Vs Australia'). In fact, the quote reveals much more about the prejudices of the person who said it than it does about Australia's politics.

I'm not qualified to talk about the climate science, so I would love to hear from readers who do know the subject how realistic it is to talk of a nine-degree temperature rise.

Photo by Flickr user suburbanbloke.

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