Climate change 'will prolong' drought conditions
Leading environmentalist Professor Tim Flannery has warned that Australia is now entering long-term climate change, which could cause longer and more frequent droughts. He also predicts that the ongoing drought could leave Sydney's dams dry in just two years.
Professor Flannery, who is the director of the South Australian Museum, has told ABC TV's Lateline that global warming is threatening Australia's chance of returning to a regular rainfall pattern. "Three major phenomena are depriving Australia of its rainfall," he said One of them is just simply the shifting weather patterns as the planet warms up, so the tropics are expanding southwards and the winter rainfall zone is sort of dropping off the southern edge of the continent."
He says the second phenomena is disturbances in the ozone layer. "That is causing wind speeds around Antarctica to increase and, again, drawing that winter rainfall to the south," he said. The third phenomena, which Professor Flannery says is the most worrying, is the recurring El Nino weather pattern.
"That's occurring as the Pacific Ocean warms up, and we're seeing much longer El Ninos than we've seen before and often now back-to-back el Ninos with very little of the La Nina cycle, the flood cycle, in between," he said.
Professor Flannery says that all adds up to back-to-back droughts, and if he had a say he would ration water use. "If you think there's only a 10 per cent chance that this rainfall deficit's going to continue for another few years, you'd be pulling out all stops to preserve water," he said.
"Because every litre you use now on your car, or your garden or whatever else, you might want to drink in a year's time." Professor Flannery says that if Sydney's dams dry up, the city's ground water supply would last just 10 days.
"The worst case scenario for Sydney is that the climate that's existed for the last seven years continues for another two years," he said. "In that case, Sydney will be facing extreme difficulties with water.
"Large cities are the most vulnerable of all structures to water deficit because you've got 4 million people who need water there just for everyday survival." He says Melbourne is also vulnerable to water deficits while Adelaide may have problems with water quality.
"South Australia is that we are at the end of the Murray River catchment, and our water can taste awful at times and can be rather poor quality," he said. Professor Flannery is calling for higher charges for water to encourage more sparing use, and more work to stop the causes of climate change.
"Water and power - they're both limited and very valuable resources, and I believe we've been paying far too little for them for a long time, and this really is starting to cause a severe problem for us."