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Lessons from the States

By Charlie Robinson, Beechworth

Last year my wife and I visited the United States. The deteriorating conditions of their national parks and extreme water shortages on the West Coast highlighted the urgency of climate change mitigation.  I’ll give you just two examples:

While travelling through Yellowstone National Park it was hard not to notice the cluster of brown trees among the normally green forests.  These dead trees are the calling card of the Mountain Pine Beetle.  Endemic in American forests, these beetles have only become a threat since winters have become warmer and the normally dormant beetle has begun feeding on live trees, as well as their normal diet of dead trees.  Millions of trees are affected and,ultimately, the fate of millions of squirrels, bears, elk, chipmunks, and countless species of native birds.

Now for the really scary bit.  Escaping the Las Vegas glitz, we took a trip to Hoover dam, one of America’s great engineering feats.  The dam holds back the waters of the Colorado River forming Lake Mead.  This lake provides water to large towns such as Las Vegas.  I couldn’t help but notice the outflow which diverts the lake water to Vegas – about three metres above the water line!  I was informed that another emergency outfall has been constructed which will provide water to Vegas for another eighteen months at current climatic conditions.  When asked if there was a Plan B I was advised that praying was the only other option. Think about that!

Since our visit, the dry conditions have deteriorated even further and Californian farmers are being asked to reduce irrigation usage by 25%.  This will buy precious time to save major cities but time, like the water, is running out.

On a more positive note, we noticed the massive proliferation of wind turbines throughout the country.  Many wind farms could be seen and we passed lots of wind arrays under construction.  We even saw trucks carrying the massive wind turbine components to their new homes.

As we travelled through Arizona and California we saw large concentrated solar farms popping up in the deserts.  Our tour guide noted that the expertise for the construction of these solar farms came from Australia.

Let’s hope that our elected leaders will eventually “join the dots” before we are left behind in providing clean, renewable energy and preventing the environmental calamities we witnessed in the American countryside.