Every night, a strange thing happens at Snowy Hydro’s Tumut 3 power station. Water that flows downhill from the Talbingo reservoir is pumped uphill for use the next day. The huge network of dams is nearly dry. It’s an excellent example of how a sustainable economy needs a sustainable environment. This country has neither. Unless there is a return to average rainfall in the next few months, the national regulator is warning of blackouts along the entire east coast.
Not only the hydroelectric stations are affected by the water crisis. Coal-fired generators use vast amounts of water as well, and cuts to power output at Tarong in Queensland meant that a nearby mining company had to reduce operations, putting 160 workers out on the street. Capitalist politicians on both sides still talk as if the economy can be cocooned from the natural world. We are now seeing the consequences of that attitude.
Then, of course, there’s the water shortage itself. Melbourne has two years of useable water left in its reservoirs, if there’s not greater than average rainfall. The country’s main agricultural region faces zero allocations for farming use. The entire Murray-Darling
Basin, one of the planet’s great river systems, is in grave danger of drying up altogether. Yet John Howard’s Murray-Darling Basin rescue plan is nothing but a federal land grab for 14% of the continent. It will add not one drop of extra flow to the streams.
A Rudd Labor government would differ only in words. Rudd has made it clear that his would be a pro-business, anti-union administration that would put economic growth first. But, to (very roughly) paraphrase former U.S. President, Bill Clinton: “It’s the ecology, stupid!” From Easter Island to Angkor Wat, there are many historical precedents for what happens when a society exceeds the capacity of an ecosystem to provide resources and absorb wastes. It collapses. That is almost the point at which global society will find itself in 2050.
OK, so there’s a huge problem. But for the first time in history, humanity can see the impending catastrophe and is in a position to avert it. There’s just a slight catch, though. Our rulers would rather see the world go up in flames, or die of thirst, than relinquish their hold on power. They’ll drain the last well and cut down the last tree, if we permit it.
Here’s a practical illustration of what could be done. Melbourne has just over a million individual houses, with a roof area of about 265 square kilometres. Allowing for evaporation and absorption, it would be possible to harvest 210 megalitres of water for every millimetre of precipitation. Even on the record low rainfall of 2006 that’s 92 billion litres. For comparison, Melbourne’s annual water consumption is 400 billion litres. The technology is not new: a rainwater tank, associated piping, a pump and filtering equipment. Total cost for every house to be equipped with a 10,000-litre tank? About two billion dollars, assuming the government buys in bulk and directly employs the plumbers. Would such a project save water and cut costs to consumers? Of course!
Why won’t it happen? Because business, from plumbing suppliers to the steel and petrochemical industries, would scream about the effect of such a scheme on their profits. It’s the same on a global scale. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions would hit the bottom lines of the pollution industry, in particular the oil, petrochemical and military sectors. Under the direct influence of these corporations, governments have sabotaged efforts to head off the now almost inevitable environmental catastrophes that will face the peoples of the earth by the middle of this century.
For that reason, we have no option but to organise now to deal with the consequences of global warming. Capitalism has radically altered the earth’s ecology, to the detriment of every living thing upon it. It has done this through the unplanned plunder of people and resources and the use of the environment as a sewer and rubbish dump. What’s needed to deal with this is another radical alteration — the overthrow of capitalism itself. A rational, planned society is the only way for humanity to weather the coming global storm. Despair is not an option. This crisis needs leadership and only we, the working people of the planet, can provide it. To save the environment, join the revolutionary movement.