Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Yes, I wish we could all ignore reality and use all the water we wanted to, as well

This post will prioritise an angry response over diplomacy, and as such I'm about to make a lot of people very angry. Many of whom are very big men who think fights solve things. I shall rely on my relative anonymity to go sailing past unnoticed.

One of the biggest issues I have with my fellow human beings is short-term thinking.

Take the current argument over the extremely sick Murray-Darling Basin river system, a considerable chunk of south-eastern Australia and the water feed to a considerable chunk of our agricultural output, not to mention other primary and secondary industries as well.

Breaking the issue down, the propositions are:

  1. Agricultural and mining industries need water
  2. Reducing their water allocation will hurt them
  3. Communities are hurt if their industries are hurt
  4. The river system is dying because it does not have enough water in it.
Try and add those up to something that works. Go on, I dare you. Can't? Start feeling sorry for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, then, who have to.

Let's try looking at this a different way, using impeccable logic:
  • When total output consistently exceeds total input, total volume decreases to zero.
Now that just doesn't help at all, does it? Looks like we might have a problem!

Now, to me this represents an interesting and complicated issue which will probably require innovative, sideways thinking and a complicated set of solutions.

Changing crops and maybe adjusting Australian eating and clothing habits, perhaps. Researching new water delivery systems that involve less spraying out into the air and more targeted feeds. More efficient processes. Not growing rice which needs to sit in standing water, possibly. 

Much of this won't be cheap, won't be easy and won't be quick. Neither was converting from manual to automated farming methods. And the alternative is we either become Fremen or we end up with a Water and Power authority. It's not a coincidence that when Frank Herbert had his Bene Gesserit describe the most basic form of control through withholding scarce resources, he used water as the exemplar.

The problem is that all of the complaints I have heard to date have boiled down to 1+2=3. If you reduce water, you reduce productivity, which means masses of job losses, so therefore let us keep the water.

Unfortunately, the scientists are saying 4. Water volume in the Basin is steadily decreasing. Basic physics says that if this continues, there won't be any. At which point, everybody is .

It sucks, it arguably shouldn't have been allowed to happen, but guess what? Life is hard, particularly when vital, irreplaceable resources start running out.

And just in the past few days, legal advice has come down that the Authority failed to adequately consider the social and economic impacts of their proposals, and stressed environmental considerations too much.

Step back a minute: Option A. is: the entire Basin dries up, we're all . Option B. is: We get to some sort of stability where enough water is returned to keep it at its present level. Option C. is: We rejuvenate the whole thing, with enough water as is required.

Obviously, Option C. is most desirable, environmentally speaking, but would involve considerable human hardship. The problem is that Option A. results in considerable human hardship as well, just not before the next election. And maybe not when the current irrigators turning out and burning copies of the preliminary draft guides to the report are still working. Maybe when they're retired and the town crumbles about their ears, leaving them homeless.

Option B is probably the best we can hope for, and the thing is: If we don't get Option B as a minimum, you can wave goodbye to maybe not your livelihood, but definitely your childrens' livelihoods. Feel good about that, do you? 

Threatened or actual riots aren't going to make it rain. Burning things is only going to accelerate the carbon cycle, not fill the marshlands. Complaining about job losses is not going to restore parity.

The only thing that will restore parity is ensuring that outputs are maintained at the level of inputs, or below. Anything else is trading long-term stability for short-term selfishness. 

So start talking. Stop shouting, start talking. 

You're not winning any concessions from reality, and you're not winning any respect from the rest of us. 

There has been intelligent discussion - there have been people talking about improvements already made. There has been discussion centred around lack of consultation, rather than the result. 

But the sad fact is that shouting and burning make for good television, and bury anything intelligent that anybody may have to say. 

So: Either start thinking, you're homo sapiens, you're supposed to be able to, and: shut up, you're not helping.

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