What climate change drives behavior change — or what can kids in the SW look forward to?

Extended drought certainly leads to behavior change — and it’s one of the likeliest impacts of human-caused global warming.

Since “Australia today = U.S. southwest by 2050” — let’s go down under to see our future in the making. The BBC News has a good article on “The children at Wattle Park primary school [who] have only ever known drought” [see pretty but parched kids in picture on right].

What is life like for these kids?

When they wake up they use timers to take two minute showers, and collect the water in buckets so it can be re-used in the garden.


At school they have “scarecrow monitors” whose job it is to oversee the filling of more buckets from under the drinking taps to water the school vegetable patch.

Their teacher, Randall Simons, says every drop is now watched carefully, at school and at home.

Sounds like something out of Frank Herbert’s classic, Dune. The Aussie kids have lived through ten years of drought, learning:

“Water is precious and we’ve got to realise that water’s not always there. You need to save it,” says Sonia, a pupil at Wattle Park Primary School in Melbourne.

This restriction would be the real toughie for Americans:

“You can’t wash your car, you can only clean your windshield and wing mirrors and side windows. It’s a daily impact really.”

There has been a complete mindset change among the previously water-guzzling Aussies:

Canberra resident Sharon Boggan agrees. “It has become socially unacceptable to be seen using too much water so the challenge becomes, OK, what can I glean from my washing machine?”

And in Brisbane, where residents are currently on the highest “Level 6” restrictions — which limit their personal consumption to just 140 litres a day (less than two bathfuls) — the campaign towards change has been remarkably successful.

I think there are two related reasons why behavior has changed. First, the drought has gone on for so very long. Second, since this change was predicted by climate scientists, it has become clear to Australians that this is probably not a temporary phenomenon:

The consensus in the scientific community is that the drought is just one indicator of longer term climate change in Australia, making what is already the most arid continent on the planet even hotter and drier.

According to environmental campaigner and Australian Man of the Year Tim Flannery, the country’s rivers have been suffering a double whammy.

“What’s happened as Australia has warmed over the past three or four decades is that not only are we getting less rainfall, but the soils have warmed up, which means any rain that does fall is more likely to evaporate.”

The drought has sharply focused minds on water use and supply.

“It’s been the barbecue conversation for the past five years,” says Tom Hatton who oversees the Water for Healthy Future Flagship at CSIRO, Australia’s national scientific research organisation.

How long before climate and water become the BBQ conversation in this country? My guess is 10 to 15 years — which will be too late to stop catastrophic climate impacts if our leaders haven’t begun the process of aggressive greenhouse gas reductions. But we are probably three or four decades away from seeing 10-year droughts over large sections of the country. Needless to say, if in fact we have to wait until those multi-year mega-droughts become common, then our kids and their kids and the next 50 generations of kids can look forward to those refreshing 2-minutes showers.

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