Adapt to the dry facts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - JAMES HAL­L­I­DAY WINE

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.’’

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