As the drought continues to bite and make headlines around the country, opinions are divided as to its cause and effect.
On the one hand is the fact that drought is a natural and cyclical feature of the Australian climate: climatic variability is part and parcel of this country. On the other is the knowledge that we live in a time of changing climate – not just variable, but changing and these changes are well-documented.
The question remains, however, as to whether the current drought is simply a natural phenomenon, albeit a particularly severe one, or whether it is symptomatic of the documented trend in warming. How we respond in either case may well determine our readiness to deal with future droughts of similar or worse ferocity.
If the current drought is just ‘normal’, as has been suggested in numerous forums, or “just Mother Nature” as I was informed on the weekend, then why is it being treated as a natural disaster? Normal climatic phenomena do not usually attract government relief or massive charitable injections. These would seem to indicate a climate anomaly, in which case, it lies outside the realm of what we can consider ‘normal’ or ‘just Mother Nature.’
If, on the other hand, it is symptomatic of climate change, then the government needs to reassess its priorities. Once the rain comes, instead of returning to a business-as-usual approach to climate change, we need to see funding being injected into research and development that will enable our agricultural sector to withstand worsening climatic conditions. The statistics on a warming climate are already off the charts and we are beyond the point where it can be reversed. We can, however, prepare ourselves for future events.
It wasn’t until 1971 that Australian Drought Policy started to include financial relief for affected farmers. Prior to that, the focus was on ‘drought-proofing’ by increasing irrigation. While that particular approach is no longer seen as economically or environmentally viable, perhaps a shift to policy that supports agriculturalists to prepare fully, rather than a short-term approach once the drought has reached crisis point, may be a better long-term approach.
Innovation, technology, and sustainable farming methods such as Natural Sequence Farming can ensure that, regardless of whether the current drought is normal or the new norm, we are prepared.