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The Great Water Crisis

A social and ecological disaster is unfolding in Australia - not for want of water, but because we misuse it....

At its simplest - and Andrews's theories and methods are not simple - he wants the river system returned to its pre-European state. "Australia evolved a remarkable hydrology to move water, it was the opposite of the European system," he says. "Before the Aborigines arrived, this country hardly had a river running to the sea."...

..."In two recent state elections in Victoria and South Australia the result was determined on the basis of water issues," says Tim Fisher, the land and water co-ordinator of the Australian Conservation Foundation. "The independents won their seats on Snowy and Murray river issues respectively ... Water is now such a scarce commodity that every choice we face has a trade-off attached, involving winners and losers."

This is a very nice article about Australia's water problems. It's good to hear that there may be solutions in the works -- when I researched the salinity problem a couple years back, conventional wisdom was that the best we could do was keep things from getting worse.

But the thing I found most interesting was the impact on politics. We're used to thinking of the relationship running the other way -- political situations shape how we impact the environment (from changing logging policy to civil unrest causing changes in settlement and agriculture patterns). To the extent that the environment does affect politics, it's through a strong proxy in people's ideas about the environment -- global warming only motivates Green politics to the extent that people are convinced it's ocurring. Of course the environment will always have to work through the proxy of people's attitudes, barring cases where (for example) a natural disaster kills off a portion of the voting public and thus directly affects politics. But in Australia we're seeing an instance of the environment taking a more active role in driving people's attitudes and hence their politics. While it's only people's ideas about the environment that count, nobody is free to believe whatever they want about it. The environment makes certain ways of thinking about it easier than others. Mounting water problems are thus forcing people to alter their view of the environment and the way they make that view known at the ballot box.


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