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The Australian Crystal Ball

Anyone concerned about the consequences of climate disruption (my term-of-choice for global warming) might want to pay close attention to what’s happening "down under." Julie Cart's must-read recent article in the L.A. Times, which paints an unsettling picture of a possible global future already underway in Australia, is a good place to start.

Australia is besieged, and all its residents -- plant and animal alike -- are experiencing firsthand the bitter taste of a planet driven to the edge by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.

Hundreds of people and animals have died from heat and wildfires. Farmers in southern Australia have seen their crops collapse as annual rainfall declined precipitously. Illustrating the disparate regional consequences of climate disruption, residents of northern Australia have been forced to brave stronger monsoons and flooding.

Australia's increasingly bleak present may be our near future.

A study published in Science in 2007 forecasts the possibility of permanent drought throughout the southwestern United States. And though direct experience may be the most potent antidote to the skepticism and outright denial of those who continue to argue that climate disruption is a phantom (take note, Senator Inhofe), I think many -- given the unsavory consequences of inaction -- would prefer to tackle this problem head on. After all, if we do it right, we can create jobs, increase national security and begin to mend our broken economy all at once.

Pursuing the right approach at home and abroad partly involves dismantling the influence of and dependency on fossil fuel industries, whose instincts for self-preservation tend to sully earnest attempts to tackle climate disruption. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal -- the arch nemesis of a stable climate -- and generates roughly 80 percent of its own power from burning the stuff. Some blame these factors for the lack of a robust governmental response even in the face of visibly worsening prospects.

The situation here at home is similar (we get around half our electricity from coal). We're going to have to confront the entrenched fossil fuel interests if we hope to make real progress on this issue. Confront them, we shall.

It's true that some changes will occur as a result of climate disruption no matter what we do, but gazing into the Australian crystal ball should motivate all those who are interested in helping the planet to pull through.

Tags:  science