Issue 5 Online Extra: Climate change is personal by Miriam O’Brien

Tawonga Fire
Tawonga Fire

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.

The year was 2009.  Five years ago. It was the first week in February. Everyone over the age of ten or so remembers that summer.

My aunt, my mother’s older sister, had died.  Mum and I travelled north to Canberra for her funeral.

Before I talk about that trip, let me tell you what happened a few days earlier. I had driven down south to Melbourne for work. The day was a hot one. Wednesday 28 January.  According to the Bureau of Meteorology it hit 43.7 degrees at Essendon airport, which was close to where I spent the day.  Prompted by the heat wave, I drove to a shopping complex in the northern suburbs to buy an air conditioner. That was when I first noticed that the car’s air conditioner didn’t seem to be working. The temperature reading on the dashboard got to the highest I’d ever seen. It showed the outside temperature on the motorway was a whopping 47 degrees.

I managed a half hour drive to a service centre without passing out. Just! They couldn’t find anything wrong. Foolishly I left without insisting they look again and became too busy with work and travel to do more.

My mother and I headed up the highway to Canberra only a couple of days later. By the time we got past Albury I became seriously concerned. My mother, who was 89 years old at the time, was looking very flushed. The car’s air conditioner kept cutting out. The temperature gauge told us it was hovering between 43 and 45 degrees Celsius outside. My mother is stoic by nature and told me not to worry. But I did.  So we stopped at the first sign of shelter, a truck stop in Holbrook. Inside it was not much cooler than it was outside, around 43 degrees in the shade. The café’s air conditioner did its best but was barely able to take the edge off the heat.

Once we’d settled down we got chatting to a bearded middle-aged bikie. He told us how he was an electrician who was travelling to Melbourne to look at the backup generators at one of the major public hospitals.  He said that during the previous week’s power cuts (because of the heat wave), the backup generators at some hospitals didn’t kick in.

The Victorian Department of Human Services estimated that an extra 374 people in Victoria died in those few days in late January early February in 2009.  That’s in addition to the 173 people who were killed by the Black Saturday fires.

Many of us, lost relatives and friends on Black Saturday. Some personal accounts I’ve been told are too horrific to write about. You won’t read them in the newspaper accounts, sanitised for the general public. Many of those who survived and witnessed the worst of the carnage up close were too traumatised to talk publicly about it.

That summer of 2009 was considered exceptional at the time. It’s becoming the norm.  Research suggests that in a few decades, a year like 2009 will be considered unusually cool.

The main difference between the summer of 2009, the summer of 2013 and this summer, 2014 was the fact that in 2009 the state was still in the grip of an almost decade-long drought.  That brought years of major fires to the state – which is a story for another time.  I’ll just say that for a couple of years after the big fires in 2003 and 2006, I was startled by the first falling leaves in autumn.  I had subconsciously mistaken them for burning embers.

South eastern Australia is heading for drier and hotter.  How will we cope in the next drought? We are not prepared for the summers we’re already getting let alone hotter, drier summers. Our infrastructure was designed to cope with the occasional heat wave but not with temperatures like we’ve been seeing the last few years.  In excessive heat, train lines buckle and public transport grinds to a halt. The electricity supply is under enormous pressure and is sometimes rationed.  Fires break out. More people die.

The angry summers are getting angrier.

Miriam O’Brien lives at the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in north-eastern Victoria, Australia.  She blogs at HotWhopper, having a shot at people who reject climate science.

Comments (please note the below comments have been transferred over from The Intelligent Review site which originally published this article before it transferred to this site).

October 31, 2014 at 8:25 pm
This piece reeks of confirmation bias, cherry-picking isolated examples and extrapolating them to the entire planet. It is as scientific as Scientology.

The fact is that global warming has stopped. It stopped almost twenty years ago, a fact that completely deconstructs the “carbon” scare.

Confirmation bias and cherry-picking cause some folks to argue that global warming hasn’t *really* stopped. But even the IPCC admits that it stopped many years ago [they call it a “pause”, but same-same].

Global warming has stopped because CO2 simply does not have the claimed warming effect: that conjecture has been repeatedly falsified.

The final sentence in this fearmongering article is worthy of Goebbels himself. It is an entirely science-free assertion; certainly not an ‘intelligent’ review.

David Keech
November 3, 2014 at 2:00 pm
You accuse Miriam of cherry-picking and then you offer in its place “the pause”; the very epitome of cherry-picking. You ignore 97% of the heat and carefully select the perfect year to exaggerate the effect.

Are you aware that the pause only exists in roughly 3% of the heat accumulating on this planet? I don’t think you are. There is no pause in the oceans, where more than 90% of the heat ends up.

The IPCC does not admit that global warming has stopped because that would be false. They say that the warming of the air at the surface has slowed down since 1998. Surface temperatures matter, sure, but using them to suggest that global warming has stopped is nonsense.

Of course, this article isn’t about convincing you it’s happening. It’s about convincing you that it’s not “someone else’s problem”. Climate change isn’t just something that’s going to flood tiny little islands in the pacific and increase the intensity of hurricanes in America. And it’s not just something in the far off, distant future that may affect your grandkids. It’s actually affecting you right now, whether you believe it or not. The extra heat, the drier summers, the bigger and more frequent bushfires. These are already happening and are only getting worse.

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