Adapt to the dry facts
THE Australian wine industry faces a range of unprecedented challenges, most (though not all) the direct or indirect outcomes of the collapse of the Murray-Darling basin water system, which historically has given birth to half of Australia’s grape production.
Again and again we hear — from Kevin Rudd, Climate Change and Water Minister Penny Wong and Murray-Darling Basin Commission chief executive Wendy Craik — that this is due to climate change. As a headline grab and as an opportunity to castigate those who dare to suggest the Murray-Darling’s woes are due to drought and a century of profligate water extraction, it reinforces widespread popular belief.
It is only when you come to the subtext of climate change as promulgated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, former US vice-president Al Gore, Rudd and environmentalist Tim Flannery and
consensus scientific opinion’’, that you find it means change caused by anthropogenic (man-made) activity centring on the burning of fossil fuels, that it is a global change (a thoroughly questionable construct) and that warming of 1.5C to 4.5C during the next 100 years will ultimately lead to the destruction of the planet.
As Don Aitkin, Nigel Lawson and many others have pointed out (most recently hydroclimatologist Stewart Franks in TheAustralian , September 12) there is no proven link between CO emissions and rising temperatures. The Earth warmed by only 0.6C (plus or minus 0.2C) during the 20th century; the main period of warming was between 1910 and 1940, and from 1997 to 2007 inclusive, the Earth cooled. Rainfall into the Murray-Darling catchment during the same period was higher than the average for the period 1901-50.
How can this be so? Primarily because of the prolonged drought (the Federation drought) at the start of the 20th century, when the Murray River was reduced to a series of waterholes, and thanks to the equally severe drought that coincided with World War II.
But let us suppose for a moment that rising CO emissions are the direct cause of the Murray-Darling’s plight. Australia could close down all mining and manufacturing industry overnight, throw away the keys to all the cars in the country, work only while sunlight and solar power were available and plunge itself into Third World poverty, all without making a blind bit of difference to global warming and the Murray-Darling.
We produce about half of 1 per cent of global emissions, a fraction of those emanating from China and India, fed by the coal and iron we happily export to those countries. Can we seriously expect China and India to reduce their CO emissions, thus halting, or at the very least slowing, their economic development? To do so would leave a much higher percentage of their population in what the developed world would regard as abject poverty.
So what should Australia’s winemakers do? Adaptation is the key: as all rural landholders have learned during the past 200 years, expect the worst. Most probably this is the reason on average Murray-Darling irrigators can produce good yields with little more than 30 per cent of their water allocations (many squirrelled away excess allocations when water was ludicrously cheap). Future reallocation of more expensive and less abundant water will lead to structural changes for the main wine companies and high-volume brands.
Those producers in cool regions with the climate wholly or partially shaped by oceans should not be stampeded unless their rainfall is marginal and permanent (primarily artesian) water is not available. Southwest Western Australia, southeast South Australia, southern Victoria and Tasmania fit into the former pattern; high altitude regions may also be buffered.
Organic vineyard management, retention of more leaf cover of the grapes, row alignment and choice of slope (in particular, south-facing replacing north-facing for early ripening varieties) and underground irrigation systems will be the first and least drastic adaptations. If more serious changes are required, late-ripening varieties with good acid-retention capacity may make their appearance, and earlier ripening varieties will move to cooler regions or sites.
Coming back to the central theme, remember Bordeaux and Burgundy are proclaiming that if this is climate change, keep it coming (and it hasn’t this year in France, with a wet and cool vintage). It is thus fitting that Lawson should have the last words: The more one examines the current global warming orthodoxy, the more it resembles a Da Vinci code of environmentalism. It contains a grain of truth . . . and a mountain of nonsense. We appear to have entered a new age of unreason, which threatens to be as economically harmful as it is profoundly disquieting.’’