From Southern Arizona to South Australia

Photo by Randy Serraglio
Photo by Randy Serraglio

In July I’ll be traveling in South Australia and the Northern Territory to learn how communities in Australia are responding to climate change. I work on climate change adaptation for natural resources in southern Arizona and northern Mexico for Sky Island Alliance, a bi-national conservation organization that conserves water, biological diversity, and the ecosystems that support them.

I have often looked to Australia for examples of adaptation strategies, planning and policy. Australia is dealing with rapid climate change and serious impacts to human and natural communities.  National and local governments have been responding to deadly heat waves, devastating fires, large wildlife die-offs, and intense drought. In 2013,  Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology added a new color to temperature maps to depict the unprecedented scale of record highs.

In southern Arizona where I work and live we are no strangers to climate change. Amidst prolonged drought coupled with a series of record warm years, we are seeing long-flowing springs go dry, stream ecosystems falter, and Lake Mead–the largest reservoir supporting our thirsty populace in the Southwest–shrink to its lowest level since it was filled in 1930.

In South Australia and the Northern Territory, efforts are underway to assess the vulnerability of biodiversity, water sources, and human communities to climate change, and to develop science, policy and adaptation strategies to respond. Unlike the United States government, which continues to respond with some combination of sticking its head in the sand, plugging its ears, and generally denying the existence of climate change, the Australian government not only took the threat of climate change seriously, it created a Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Headings from this agency’s 2010 position paper on adapting to climate change say it all: Human activities have already changed our climate. Further change is inevitable. Risks are serious and pervasive. We need to pay attention now to our climate change adaptation needs. Although the politics of climate change continue to shift in Australia, there is a lot I can learn from the years of active research and creative thinking.

In my travels I’ll be exploring large landscape conservation, management of water sources and water for the environment,  and indigenous perspectives on water and land. These issues will take me on a whirlwind tour of National Parks and introduce me to local water authorities, researchers, government employees, reserve managers and indigenous leaders. I’ll be visiting spring sites, restoration projects, and probably one or two beaches (to contemplate sea level rise, of course). With any luck and a little help from the Outback, I’ll learn a lot about biodiversity, springs, people, and a thing or two about myself along the way. I’ll be supported in this odyssey by my wing-man/editor/sweetie and his long-lost Aussie brother, whose footloose personalities and taste for good beer are sure to stir up just enough chaos to keep things interesting.

As I learn how communities are responding to climate challenges in Australia,  I’ll be thinking about my home in southern Arizona and my work with Sky Island Alliance, and sharing my discoveries from the land down under.

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