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Ruling Out Adaptation Options

February 7, 2010

For many researchers, an important component of “adaptation research” is the identification of options, or “pathways to adaptation.” But of course, it’s just as important to know what is not on the table. The front page of The Australian today has one such example:

NORTHERN Australia will never become an important food bowl to replace the drought-stricken Murray-Darling, despite massive irrigation plans and a billion litres of rain a year, a Rudd government taskforce has concluded.

You can find more background on the taskforce and its report here.

This report seems to contradict far more optimistic coverage in recent months (e.g. here, and here). It will be interesting to see if this sparks a science-based debate over the viability of the region.

From the perspective of a researcher, identifying options probably has mostly to do with what is technically feasible. But for those who would actually implement options, it is necessarily a much trickier balancing act involving a variety of values, economics, and of course, politics. The tricky part may be discerning where the technical ends, and the values begin. For example, in the article quoted above, we see that there is quite a bit of water in the Northern region of the country (my emphasis):

the north receives about a billion litres of rain a year, equivalent to eight-and-a-half times the annual runoff in the Murray-Darling Basin or 2000 times the capacity of Sydney Harbour.

… The CSIRO water study, presented to the taskforce last year, found there was not enough water to irrigate large swaths of land in the north without doing major damage to the rivers and the surrounding environment.

This concern will undoubtedly remain a central focus in debates over the development of the region. But a variety of other issues will compete with it, including Australia’s food security, and the economic potential for Aboriginal groups and others.

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