Thursday, 16 August 2007

Rabbit-proof Fence, Rain, Cold and What We're Doing to This Planet

A friend has just returned from a couple of weeks in New Brunswick where he and his family had gone to vacation and to help out friends with the harvest. Only it seems that it has been so cold that crops are ripening three weeks later than usual.

That has to be balanced by the heat wave in Greece early in the summer, just the way the current drought in Turkey finds its opposite in the torrential rains which have fallen recently in Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Nepal and—just last week-- North Korea.

What’s going on?

Some of this variation must be due to weather cycles that the earth would normally experience. But if you have any doubt about the way human acitivity affects weather, a story in Tuesday’s New York Times should start you thinking. To stop ravages by rabbits in the outback, a hundred years ago Australian authorities built a 2,000 mile long rabbit-proof fence. On one side is native vegetation, on the other is farmland: satellite photos show the line in dramatic fashion. But what is even more striking is the fact that there are rain-producing clouds much more often on one side than on the other. Rainfall on the farmland side has actually been reduced by 20 per cent since the 1970s.

The NYT gives a couple of hypotheses about why this might be, but no definitive answer. Fair enough: winkling out the hows of any natural phenomen should be done carefully. But what is clear is that human activity has profoundly changed that landscape. We see only what is in front of us, our memories are short, and most of the time we don't want to think about the consequences of our actions. The results can be disastrous, and it's time we began to take a longer view.

For another view of Australia, the fence, and the havoc humans can wreak, check out the excellent film Rabbit-Proof Fence.


Alison said...

Marvelous film, wasn't it?
It's one thing to have made that extraordinary journey once as a child...

Mary Soderstrom said...

Did you actually make it? Would be wonderful to hear about it.