Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Australia at the sharp end of climate change, warns scientist

AFP , SYDNEY

Australia is at the sharp end of the devastating impact of climate change and must urgently undergo an energy revolution if it is to survive, according to eminent scientist and author Tim Flannery.

Flannery, one of eight finalists for the Australian of the Year award marking the country's national day tomorrow, believes that if ever a textbook example of the impact of global warming was needed, Australia provides it.

Bushfires have raged for weeks in the country's alpine regions, water reserves in the major cities are drying up while a once-in-a-century drought has ravaged farming land, cutting into the nation's economic output.

"We are the worst, as a developed country. There is nowhere else that is getting the hammering that we are getting at the moment," Flannery said in an interview.

"It may be that other factors will be unleashed in the future which will make it much worse for places like Europe and North America, but at the moment every city in Australia with the exception probably of Darwin, has got water rations. That is not due to poor infrastructure planning or anything else. It's actually due to a natural cycle of water availability which is driven by greenhouse gas pollution," he said.

radical

To avert biological disaster, Flannery's suggestions are radical -- the coal industry should be shunted aside, traditional methods of producing power junked and a desert metropolis established and placed at the center of Australia's electricity grid.

"We need to decarbonize the economy extremely rapidly -- which we could do if we were on a raw footing. We could just close down the coal-fired power plants. We could. We could mandate we are going to have electricity rationing, we are going to close things down, we are going to build a new infrastructure as quick as we can," he said.

Asked whether this approach would cripple the country's economy, currently riding a commodities boom thanks to North Asia's hunger for Australian resources, Flannery is unmoved.

"Won't the Australian economy collapse if climate change continues? There are a lot of ways to make electricity. Burning coal is just one of the more antique and stupid ways of doing it. We've got solar [energy], we've got wind, we've got geothermal," he said.

Flannery explores these ideas in his latest book The Weather Makers, which explains how the build-up of greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels has damaged the atmosphere and is leading to global warming.

This has resulted in the melting of the polar ice-caps, rising sea levels and the extinction of some species -- incontrovertible evidence that mankind's pollution is heating up the earth, he said.

"It just makes the simple point that the atmosphere is very small -- it's about one-five-hundredth of the oceans. So it's very easy to pollute," he added.

Flannery has invited controversy from environmentalists for arguing that nuclear energy should be used to counter global electricity shortages, but his energy solution for Australia is even less conventional.

solution

The zoologist, biologist, explorer, conservationist and writer, who rose to prominence following the 1994 publication of the ecological history of Australasia The Future Eaters, believes the solution for this country lies in harnessing the heat contained in the earth's crust.

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