Issue 5 Online Extra: A Hot Summer by Georgia Bamber

This article is a companion piece to The New Idealist Issue Five: Doomsday Edition which you can download here.

Please note: This article was originally published in The New Idealist section of The Intelligent Review site in May 2014 before being transferred to this new site in July 2015.

Here in Australia we have had a hot summer.

Across the continent we experienced the gamut of summer time extreme weather events – heat wave, drought, rainfall extremes (both high and low) and of course the terrors of bushfire.  And although none of this is new in a country that endures one of the fiercest climates on the planet, this severe summer is on the back of the heels of last year’s severe summer – in fact in the last fifteen years, we have had eight of the hottest summers on records, all with the ensuing droughts, fires and floods.

In south-east Queensland extreme heat caused over 100,000 bats to fall dead from the sky

Over the last few months severe drought was experienced in much of inland Eastern Australia and Sydney had the driest summer in 27 years.  Record temperatures were broken across the country with prolonged, intense heat waves experienced in major populations centres.  Canberra endured 20 days of at least 35 degrees heat and its third hottest summer on record.  Perth’s had its second hottest summer ever and the poor people of Adelaide had to sweat through 11 days with temperatures exceeding 42 degrees.  Melbourne experienced its hottest 24 hours ever, while in south-east Queensland extreme heat caused over 100,000 bats to fall dead from the sky.  Bushfires swept through 280,000 hectares of Victorian bush land, as well as in Perth Hills and parts of South Australia.  It was some summer.

Most of us look forward to summer; lazy days spent on the beach, enjoying the best of the sun, sand and waves that our country has to offer.  But if the extreme heat of the last two summers and the ever-present danger of bushfire is to be the theme of future summers, this anticipation of pleasure is likely to turn to one of dread and fear.

Extreme is set to become the new normal

Although many of the weather events we are now seeing are being categorized as extreme, they are no longer the rare events they were in the past.  Sadly, it looks like extreme is set to become the new normal.

Already, since 1960, the annual number of hot days has doubled.  Record hot days are beating record cold days three to one (in a ‘normal’ climate situation this ratio should be 1 to1).  And, what’s worse, if greenhouse gases, and thus temperatures, continue to rise it is almost certain that extreme hot weather seen the past few summers will not only continue, but will become more frequent and more severe.

The take home message from all this – unless we do something about mitigating climate change our summers are only going to get hotter and more dangerous.

In Australia, given our tiny population, we play a disproportionately large role in the global future of climate change.

The science is simple.  If we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere temperatures will continue to rise.  As temperatures rise the increased heat energy in the atmosphere will affect our weather system and ocean currents leading to more extreme weather events – heat waves, floods, droughts, storms and fires and the ensuing damage and death.

In Australia, given our tiny population, we play a disproportionately large role in the global future of climate change.  Not only are we amongst the highest emitters of CO2 per capita, but our nation’s plans to roll out coalmines and expand coal ports and coal exports (the dirtiest of fuels) will use up a large part of the world’s rapidly declining carbon budget.

However on the flip side, this gives us a disproportionately loud voice when it comes to making a difference in the world.   If we can work together towards decarbonising our economy and building one based on clean energy, we will be taken a giant leap towards ensuring a safe future for the whole planet.

To do this we need to clearly let our politicians and industries know that we want a safe, clean energy future, unthreatened by the catastrophic implications of climate change.  We need to let them know that we are tired of business as usual – carbon pollution, the destruction of our environment and the increasing warming of our planet.

At the moment, governments are reluctant to change and policy is moving too slowly (if at all) to make a serious stab at mitigating climate change.  Luckily, though, the climate movement, is rapidly gaining momentum.  People power has and can save the world, so we mustn’t lose heart.

The more voices there are calling for action, the more likely we are to see the change our planet needs to happen

Grass roots organisations like 350.org are standing up to the giants of the fossil fuel industry, drawing attention to the destructive, rogue nature of their industry.  Divestment campaigns are springing up all over the world and it is really starting to make a difference.  Attitudes are shifting.  Awareness of our plight is growing.

But they can’t do it alone.  The more voices there are calling for action, the more likely we are to see the change our planet needs to happen.  The window to slow down climate change is rapidly closing, so if you are going to speak out, the time is definitely now.

For more information about how you can get active to halt climate change visit www.350.org or www.gofossilfree.org

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