10/07/2011

Ongoing debate

Door: Jonathan Verschuuren (TLS) | Categorie: Australia, Climate

This is my final blog from Australia, from tropical Queensland to be precise. It’s hard to believe, but throughout the six months I have been here, climate change has never been out of the news. Let’s have a look at the latest headlines, starting with the approval rating of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which has hit an all-time low. She has brought it on herself by introducing a carbon tax in anticipation of an emissions trading scheme similar to the European model. Her days as Prime Minister appear to be numbered in a country where leadership of political parties is determined by the prevailing popularity of politicians in the polls. In the meantime, the introduction of the carbon tax does appear to be proceeding and the debate is focusing on the compensation program: how much money will the government give low-income households to compensate for the predicted rise in energy bills as a result of the carbon tax?

And then there are the death threats made to climate scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra. The university’s governing body subsequently moved them to secret locations in order to foil the threats. The university’s rector told the media that the scientists were severely affected by the threats. “Academics and scientists are actually really not equipped to be treated in this way. The concept that you would be threatened for your scientific views and work is something that is completely foreign to them.”

A new report was also published containing the latest insights into the rise in sea levels around Australia. Existing estimates are too low. Between 2000 and 2100, the average rise in sea level will be between 50cm and 1 meter rather than between 18cm and 76cm, as had been assumed till now. This has major consequences for low-lying cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. There are also huge regional variations. For instance, sea levels around Arnhem Land (named after the Dutch town by Dutch seafarers in the early 17th century) in northern Australia are rising by 7 mm per year, while the global average is 3.2 mm. The region’s Kakadu National Park, one of the world’s most beautiful tropical wetlands, will undergo a complete character change. From being a large fresh-water area, it will transform into a tidal salt-water area with completely different flora and fauna. This is bad news for the harmless fresh-water crocodiles (known to Aussies as ‘freshies’), which can still be found here, but good news for the highly dangerous salt-water crocodiles, which can grow up to 6 meters in length and are already present in large numbers.

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