On all the evidence….

The prophetic novel 'Looking Back' purports to have been written in 2112 by a young historian called Adelaide Grant using the diaries and blogs she had inherited from her great-grandmother, also called Adelaide Grant, an Age journalist, commentator and public intellectual who had died in 2084, the year the younger Adelaide had been born.  The following extracts attempt to imagine what might happen in the future as world climates change in response to global warming and whole populations are forced to leave their homelands.  

In June 2034 Adelaide had written in her diary that while the Melbourne climate scene was a worsening problem, the boat people had finally stopped coming:

 In the end there were more pressing problems and the simplistic cry to 'turn back the boats' finally ceased.  Christmas Island was closed and refugees who did get here by boat soon found that our north-west coast was a pretty inhospitable place.  So in the end the government simply ignored them, gave up on detention camps, security checks and temporary visas and all that stuff, and simply left them alone to their fate. There is still a wet season up there although it's less pronounced than it had been previously so if they wanted to settle there and eke out an existence we weren't going to stop them. 

All means of regular transport south had ended after Darwin had been shut down as an admin centre, regular air flights had been discontinued and there weren't even any grey nomads any more as all the petrol stations had gone and the low range of electric cars wasn't enough for touring.  Effectively there was no way you could go south except walk. As a result the boat people, the cause of so much political anguish to successive Australian governments, had finally stopped coming.

Barely eight years later in 2041, Adelaide observed that things had got much worse in a climate sense.   Droughts were becoming longer and more persistent, and violent storms and flooding was happened more frequently.  

The cumulative effect of climate change has become more obvious in the last decade.  Not only did the IPCC determine that average world temperature had risen in a sudden jump of just over one degree (more in some parts of Australia), the arctic icecap had started to melt and this had accelerated the rise in sea levels.

 A more ominous effect here was that the drought has returned and there has been much lower rainfall in most of the inland growing areas.  Even where the total annual rainfall hasn't changed that much, there is less steady rain in the growing seasons and more violent storms that erode the land and damage crops.  As a result some growers have started moving closer to the coast where regular rainfall is more reliable. 

As a consequence, fruit and vegetables have become harder to get and are more expensive. The move towards allotment gardens has increased in all inner city areas, and people in the suburbs have started growing vegetables in their backyards, even filling in their swimming pools and turned them into gardens to grow food. 

Wheat growing areas in the Wimmera and rice growing areas in southern NSW have also been affected by these changes in rainfall distribution.  Most of these areas were still able to continue (rice production in particular has become very efficient with the use of water) but yields were reduced and increasingly there isn't much left over to export.  And in any case transporting wheat and rice across the sea was increasingly uneconomic as oil prices sky-rocketed.  In a throwback to the past, a container ship has been fitted with three masts and sails in the hope that the wind assistance would substantially reduce the cost of the diesel fuel required.

Imports have become scarcer and much more expensive, deliveries are unreliable and this has led to the growth of local industries replacing imports that are now too costly or simply not available.  Together with the 'green' industries fostered by a drive to sustain-ability, these two factors have stimulated the economy and created new jobs just as more baby-boomers started to retire from the workforce. 

In 2050 Adelaide described the climate situation at mid century as follows:

 The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent every day. For example, there's been less and less snow at the Victorian ski resorts over the last twenty years, increasingly the main runs have had to be padded out by artificial snow. This year for the first time there was no snow at all, absolutely zilch, it wasn't even very cold! 

World temperatures have risen by three point five degrees since the millennium fifty years ago.  The real question is now much further it will rise, as then things will really start to get serious.  It makes me furious to think of all those venal politicians who, although they wouldn't say so outright, refused to acknowledge climate change and simply talked scare stuff about how much it would cost and how we didn't cause I, as though that mattered!  As a result all the actions that were finally taken were effectively delayed until the Liberal Party reinstated Malcolm Turnbull as their leader in 2018 and some effective common ground was established between the parties about the necessity to act rather than talk.  

Who knows what the effect of this delay has been on the rise in temperature?   Probably not that much compared with the impact of the tens of million tonnes of coal we've sold annually for over thirty years!  And this only stopped when it was forced on us by the rise in transport costs and action by the Chinese.  They recognised it as a problem that had to be dealt with, and without discussing it with us, simply phased out burning coal.

Fruit and vegetables are only available in their growing season, all that imported out-of-season stuff from California and Israel is no longer available, it's become too expensive because of the transport costs.  Growers used to store fruit in cool stores so it was available all year round, but reduced yields meant even this practice ceased.  Even stuff from Kunanurra in the Kimberleys is getting to be too expensive and most of our food now comes from within a hundred kliks of Melbourne so there are less so-called food-miles, which is a good thing. 

Beef is very expensive and also hard to get and MacDonalds and their ilk disappeared long ago.  Large quantities of water are necessary to produce beef, and intensive horticulture is a more efficient use of both land and water so the city can be fed.  Chicken and pork take less space to produce and have less environmental impacts, and are still available and not as expensive as beef.

The dairying industry has moved back to the coastal areas closer to the cities where it started and although milk is dearer there seems to be enough to go around.  Other dairy products are scarcer and more expensive, we use that excellent olive oil from Robindale instead of butter, but I miss all the different cheeses we used to get. 

We've always used tea grown at Nerada and I make various tisanes.  I planted a lemon verbena at the bottom of the stairs when we first came here, and now it's a large healthy bush.  I dry the leaves on a big metal dish on the verandah and use them for an evening drink before bed.  The supply of coffee is more erratic and as a result it's much more expensive.  Most of our coffee was traditionally imported but now most of it's grown here. People buy the beans in bulk, share them with neighbors, and roast and grind it themselves to reduce the cost; makes better coffee too! 

Wine is another matter. It got to the silly stage in the years after the millenium where wine was almost as cheap as bottled water. But reduced irrigation because of the drought, and not being able to transport all that overproduction overseas any more, has put most of the vineyards out of business and wine is now much more expensive.

With help from the men's shed my partner Erik designed and made an apple press like those he remembered in Sweden, and once a year we borrow a car and tour all the old derelict orchards around Harcourt in Central Victoria, collect the apples and make and bottle our own cider.  Harcourt used to be the apple capital of Victoria, they even exported apples to Britain in the 1880's, and they made great cider there once.  When we were just starting we found an old bloke in Harcourt who had been a cider maker and he taught us about the best varieties of apples, such as Pippin, Kingston Black, Somerset Redstreak and Yarlington Mill, such great English names, and tricks like how to introduce champagne yeast when the juice was in the fermenting vat in order to start the fermentation and give the cider a clean crisp finish. It takes several months before the yeast settles to the bottom and the cider can be bottled but we always had plenty of helpers as it has an alcohol content between 8 and 12 per cent.  We also made cider from pears, it's called perry, but we've never had the same success as with apples

Like wartime England, this regime has had a good effect on the general health of the community, all that worry in the early years of the century about obesity has largely gone; people now are being forced to eat better, they walk and bicycle more and have more leisure time, and as a result they're generally in better health. 

Clothes and shoes are being made in Melbourne again, some of the makers have even moved back into those art gallery spaces that had colonized the old rag trade haunts in Flinders Lane when our own clothing and footwear businesses were displaced by the Chinese.  Clothes are better made, are better looked after and last longer.  There are even handymen around who mend shoes, electrical appliances and anything else, a bit like those bricoleur men in Paris who sharpen scissors and knives and mend anything. 

A few years later in 2055 Adelaide complained that itwas hard to keep up with world happenings, but that all the worst predictions of the climate scientists were finally coming home to roost:

Up till now I've had the sense that although things in Melbourne were fraying at the edges in all sorts of ways, we were managing to maintain a civil society and keep our heads above water, (a poor metaphor considering our general lack of the stuff), but that things were increasingly getting way out of hand in the rest of the world.  Even finding out what was happening was difficult as the 0n-line news sources like the BBC, the Guardian and al Jazeera, have all dried up. 

The most catastrophic flood ever in the Indus valley in Pakistan in 2052 heralded the total breakdown of that part of the world.  It left over twenty million people in the Sindh province homeless and facing the worst famine in recorded history.  No one knows exactly how high the death toll was, but it must have been in the many millions.  There was no international aid available either for this or other disasters as most other countries had their own, selfish similar problems to cope with.  

The United Nations has been so infrequent and ineffectual over the last few years that people are predicting that it will soon disappear altogether; there hasn't even been a Security Council meeting since Russia tried unsuccessfully to stop the mass migration of people from drought stricken Northern China into Siberia in 2044.

Climate change is inexorably affecting every country. Too much land was cleared in the Amazon basin so it's drying up, and this time the polar ice cap really is melting and the direct effect of all this has been to raise sea levels so far by at least 1.5 metres. 

All Melbourne's bayside suburbs have been badly affected but the water level has so far stopped just short of inundating the CBD.  The tunnels under the 96 light rail line to St Kilda adjacent to Albert Park were blocked up so the elevated embankment acted like a dam and contained the water from spreading further.  Albert Park, Middle Park, most of Port Melbourne, and parts of St Kilda and Elwood have all become uninhabitable.

Our problems are minor of course compared to other places.  More than half the land area of Bangladesh is now under water, displacing more than fifty-five million people and reducing the area on which crops can be grown by 50%, compounding the famine that followed the flooding. Floods followed by famines are becoming widespread in most parts of the world with displace-ments of whole populations. 

There are festering disputes in places where rivers run through a number of countries.  The Mekong for example, rises in China and runs through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  Chinese dams upstream have reduced water flows for all those countries and their rice crops have been halved as a result.

The drying up of the shared Jordan River (and even more the drying up of US financial support for Israel in the face of enormous US debts) has caused the Jewish homeland to become even dryer than it was, and now it's much poorer too. It has largely been abandoned except for some diehard Orthodox Jews who have chosen to stay and die in Eretz Israel.  The remaining Israelis and Palestinians are too busy surviving to argue any more, and in any case most of them have already left, migrating north through Turkey, heading for Russia and northern Europe in search of work, food and water. 

A temperature rise of over four degrees has causing droughts and crop failures all over the world, but there is little or no inter-national conflict any more, each nation has its work cut out worrying about its own survival.  World trade has dried up and countries that once exported food only have enough for themselves.  No one cares any more whether the Egyptian elections were free and fair, or who the next president of the United States might be, it just isn't relevant any more to a world in survival mode.  

And starving people everywhere didn't stay put when their crops failed for the second and third times, they all migrated with their families to find food somewhere!  Small Pacific island states like Kiribati and Tuvalu were literally drowned and don't exist any more; fortunately their small numbers were accepted by New Zealand who had always been more open to the immigration of Pacific peoples than Australia. 

The populations of North Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe have mostly migrated north overland towards Britain, Scandinavia and northern Russia, and to the northern parts of the USA and Canada all of which have now become more habitable in winter as their climates warmed up, and to all the coastal places that still have regular enough rainfalls to grow food.  There were many conflicts of course, but no one country could resist the enormous flows of millions of people that just kept coming, they had no choice after all, it was either move or die!  There was enormous untold loss of life, but no one was counting any more!

It had happened before on a smaller scale.  Between 1845 and 1852, during the Great Potato Famine, Ireland experienced the greatest loss of population in world history at that time--in a nation of eight million, a million and a half people were forced to emigrate and well over a million starved to death.  Inside a decade Ireland went from being one of the most densely populated places in Europe to the least.  What happened two hundred years ago in Ireland is what is happening now to the whole world on a much larger scale, except that this time there aren't that many places left to go to.

Despite the hard times, the political situation in Australia has improved considerably, there are still unity governments in both the State and Federal spheres, and in 2060 Adelaide wrote about the changes as follows:

Between unity governments and the impact of citizen intiated referenda, political parties have almost disappeared and most candidates now stand as independents without party affiliations.  There isn't time for all the palaver that used to go on and there seems to be a new directness about getting things done.  There is less democracy in the sense that there's less talk in arriving at a consensus, but in part this is because there is a sense of urgency about everything, and so far most of the decisions have been pretty sensible.

And while there is reduced tax revenue, there is a new emphasis to manage by exploiting our technology to the full, and the National Broadband Network that was being debated when I was a young woman, has not only proved its value in medical things, but has also simplified everyday dealings with the bureaucracy and has been one of the factors that has enabled us to live better with less. 

Everyone seems to have got the message about sustainability, and everything is now considered in relation its ability to support itself without downgrading the future or stinting on more general things.  Just because we are weathering such dramatic changes in climate is not being seen as an excuse to relax and grow vegetables in a poorer version of the society we once had. 

It's as though the reverse is true, that tough times are forcing us to become a more creative society at last, that circumstances have finally forced us to realize that we can't rely any more on digging up and selling all those minerals.  The drying up of world trade has forced us to use our advanced technology and native intelligence, not only to forge a smarter society, but also one with less unemployment and that is more equitable than the one that existed in those coal and iron ore days fifty years ago. 

 Adelaide wrote in 2070 that although the situation in Australia wasn't nearly as bad as in many places, the effects of climate change had altered everything, and many country towns had already been abandoned:

We started from a more organized base and have managed to keep our democratic system intact, thank goodness, with enough of the civil infrastructure needed to support it, but otherwise the effect of climate change on regional Australia has been dramatic.  Not all of it can be attributed to climate change of course.  Country towns have long been battling to maintain themselves for the last hundred years in the face of a long term trend with young people being forced to move to the city for education and jobs.  And over that time the natural environment has gradually been degraded by loss of soil cover and biodiversity, salination and the problems of the rivers caused by too high irrigation.  These factors had all cast long term doubt on the sustainability of current farming practices long before the climate started to heat up.   

The extra four degrees of warming (an average of four degrees, it was higher in many places) have inevitably made this dry continent even dryer.  Although the Murray River system didn't dry up entirely, it's proper functioning had been sorely effected by all those years of too much water being taken for irrigation; 

the political imperatives to rein in the farm lobby were just too difficult for the politicians.  And now the irrigated farms have all gone, leaving the Murray a series of muddy waterholes in a bad year, and unique places like the Barmah wetlands near Echuca with its great river red gums have unfortunately vanished forever. 

A few people are still managing to live in the country but unless they are totally self sufficient in power, food, transport and everything else (some of them have even gone back to the horse and buggy) most of them have found it just too hard as the normal services in most of the nearby towns have vanished.  The postal system has largely been replaced by the NBN and the post office services that are still left (their banking service is still important for welfare payments) survive as a counter in the local shop.

Most small settlements have simply been abandoned and have become ghost towns, and although larger places like Bendigo, Ballarat and Shepparton still manage to maintain themselves in a reduced form, they are husks of their former selves.  It's only the coastal areas in NSW and Queensland, and the southern and coastal areas of Victoria and Western Australia that still get sufficient regular rain to grow crops.  Many people have migrated to Tasmania, the only state that is managing reasonably normally. 

 Although agriculture only earnt less than 3% of our export income last year it still provides our food, but the long term factors affecting country towns seem to be inexorable and outside the control or even the influence of governments.  At one stage tourism  employed more Australians than mining, and more people than forestry, agriculture and fishing combined, but the continuing reductions in international travel and the low range of electric cars have even caused local tourism to wane.  People take holidays at home and going to Bali for a party is a thing of the past.

 Don Gazzard