Climate change, you say?

Go no farther than Australia. Okay, you can’t really go much farther than Australia, but when I got here mid-week, it was to discover that climate change appears to have erased an entire season. Winter, such as it was, hung on a little longer than usual, and then summer arrived with a vengeance. Spring? A thing of the past, it seems. The national weather map looks like one big Presto log about to be lit on fire, and when the temperature in Adelaide is 40-degrees in mid-November, well, now you know why they invented beer.

The Australian Senate, meanwhile, is about to debate an emissions trading scheme that has torn the country apart politically. Despite baking under impossibly and unseasonably blue skies, and no doubt facing more of the same (see Beyond Reasonable Drought), climate skeptics still abound — especially in the right wing Opposition Liberal party, with its coal-fired rural and industrial constituency determined to deny the obvious. Baroness Valerie Amos, Britain’s new high commissioner in Canberra, publicly expressed surprise at the “negativity” of the debate upon her arrival in Australia. “I have been surprised that the science itself is being questioned,” she said, stating that in Britain and elsewhere folks have “moved on” and are now debating how to respond to climate change, not whether it’s happening.

You would think that Australia, which is essentially one large solar panel, would have twigged to renewable energy. Not so. Renewables supply just 6.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity, which in the papers this week was compared unfavorably to Spain, where the grid often runs about 40 per cent on renewables. Australia has a lot more wind and sunshine than Spain, so it has a lot to do if it’s going to create green jobs in an increasingly brown land.

Meanwhile, Peter Garrett — Federal Environment Minister, and former Midnight Oil front man, who led his band’s protest concert in Clayoquot Sound in the summer of 1993 — seems finally to have gotten something right with the greens. He decided a couple of days ago to knock back a proposal to build the Traveston Dam on the Mary River, a $1.8-billion (Aud) project that would have stored 70,000 megalitres of water for Queenslanders to drink, but would also have drowned the habitat of an already endangered turtle population, and impacted populations of lungfish, cod, the coxen’s fig parrot and the giant barred frog.

The Australian, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox in sheep’s clothing, declared the Traveston Dam decision a travesty, a not particularly clever play on words that confirms that it was probably a good idea. Garrett still hasn’t seemed to find a way to say no to the Gunns, a family hell-bent on building a pulp mill in Tasmania, which is so 20th Century of them, and him. But he at least saved the turtle, a remarkable animal in a country full of them, because among other things it can stay under water for as long as 30 hours through its ability to breath through its anus. Till recently, Australian greens thought Peter Garrett was mostly speaking out of his.

And what to make of Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers, much celebrated as the Australian of the Year two years ago for, among other things, his internationally acclaimed advocacy on climate change, who came out swinging this week against … immigration?

Flannery says Australia’s immigration intake should be subject to regulation by an independent body akin the Reserve Bank of Australia, and “a full justification would have to go with each annual intake, exactly why from an environmental perspective, social and economic.” He said there have been no estimates of the rate of immigration that allow for the protection of the environment, and that immigration was ”far too important to be left to government.” You could say that about climate change, too.

Ian Gill is reporting from Down Under, where he is assiting with the launch of Ecotrust Australia.

Also posted on The Hook, a Tyee blog.