Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Australia's record drought shows no sign of breaking, and as the environment changes, so too are the gears of society slowly grinding into a new, more suitable configuration. So now we have the remarkable sight of four large Victorian businesses pleading, begging, cajoling people to use LESS of the product they have on sale - water. It's stunning - millions spent on advertising to ask people not to purchase the commodity Melbourne Water and its spin-off state companies harness, purify and on-sell. In the land of economists, demand is usually thought of as more limited than supply, but in this case, the very nature of business - to grow through competition - has been inverted in the interests of cooperation, based on an external threat to the public good. Environmentalists have taken heart from this and the apparent tipping point towards accepting climate change, and are arguing with renewed vigour for the need for more rigorous controls on natural resources of all kinds - shifting from coal to gas fired plants and wind, linking climate change to the drought presently dislodging farmers off the land. While you wouldn't know it from the dismal Green vote at the State Election, the inverted economics of restricted supply have proven that people can and will adapt en mass to more sustainable modes of being - but only if the threat is imminent and visible. Enviromentalists would love the drought to slingshot the initially painful cuts to carbon emissions into the political sphere, but they're still fighting an uphill battle against Australia's cheap coal and uranium, compounded by the long timeline required to see serious shifts in Australia's climate. It will take more than a decade of drought to force a wide-scale shift to a new energy economy.