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Dec 6, 2012

It's getting (increasingly) hot in here, but our response is poor

Research shows that heatwaves are increasing in severity and some say government policy is still woefully inadequate globally, writes Liam Mannix at InDaily.

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Heatwaves are increasing in frequency and intensity the world over, an Australian weather researcher has found, with his warnings being run up to the United Nations as it prepares its next climate report.

The work of John Nairn, a pioneering researcher at South Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, is up for inclusion in the next report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As debate grinds on in Doha over a global climate deal, Nairn is warning heatwaves present the most damaging threat to human life. A 2003 heatwave killed 70,000 people in Europe, while in Australia a series of hot days in 2009 resulted in almost 400 fatalities.

Nairn says heatwaves are increasing in severity and government policy is still woefully inadequate globally. While weather reports and government policies continue to focus on maximum temperatures during heatwaves, Nairn says the minimum is actually more important.

“Back in the 1950s, the number of days of heatwaves measured … five to six days being more common,” Nairn said. “Now they’re reaching up to about eight or nine days.”

The number of separate heatwave incidents has steadily marched up by between 1-2% each decade since 1960. And general warm spells — prolonged hot periods that do not reach the temperature threshold for heatwaves — have also increased in frequency. “Warm spells, irrespective of season, were quite strong and particularly the minimum temperature. It doesn’t matter what time of year, we’re seeing runs of warm spells,” he said.

The trend impacts the entire world but is most concentrated in tropical latitudes. “The research shows … mid-latitude Australia, which is the southern half of the continent, is showing the signal of both increasing warm spells and heatwaves, in all of the parameters — amplitude, frequency and length of heatwaves,” he said.

Nairn’s research finds current definitions of heatwaves are incomplete, leading to ineffective government responses. The Bureau of Meteorology currently defines a heatwave as five consecutive days over 35 degrees, or three days over 40 degrees.

“1990 was when the bureau was challenged to give a definition by the media,” Nairn said. “So they went out the back, scrambled around, came up with a relatively quick, tidy definition. Trouble is, when you get a 2009 event come along … it would turn out the minimum temperature is actually the most important temperature.

People need cool nights to recover from the heat of the day, Nairn says. A hot night doesn’t give them a chance to recover, putting their health at risk.

Because heatwaves haven’t been fully understood the bureau hadn’t been able to give the government correct information — which had led to poor outcomes according to Nairn. During the 2009 heatwave “anecdotal evidence was that a high proportion of the hospital admissions came pre-dawn”. “And that was a pretty clear sign that people had been trying to cope, and they simply hadn’t had enough recovery, and as the next warm day was kicking in they were beginning to fail,” Nairn said.

“If you can’t recover from the hot day as you prepare for the next hot day, you’re carrying forward an extra quantum of heat that is going to be another brick in the wall that you’re going to have to deal with. Renal, endocrine and cardiovascular systems in human beings [take] between two and six weeks to adjust to severe changes in temperature.”

*This article was originally published at InDaily

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41 comments

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41 thoughts on “It’s getting (increasingly) hot in here, but our response is poor

  1. 2dogs

    Well Zac I actually like my analogy better seeing how it is based more on fact and not this fictitious idea that some how birth rate is connected to carbon emissions and therefore climate change. The problem as I see it, is that it is very easy to see if your theory holds water.

    Lets look at the following data, GDP per capita, Carbon emissions per capita and Birth rate per capita. GDP is measured in US dollars, emissions are rated in metric tones and Birth rate is measured in births per 1000 people. I will also bracket were it stands in a world ranking. Data for birth rate and GDP comes from the CIA fact book and emissions data comes from wikipedia.

    Qatar 98,900(1)-40(1)-10.23(189) Strange?
    Trinidad 20,000(62)-35.8(2)-14.25(141) Still does not fit!
    Luxembourg 80,600(3)-20.4(9)-11.7(165) Wow, way out
    Singapore 59,700(5)-7.0(58)-7.72(219), 219!!

    Ok maybe I have it wrong lets go to countries with the highest birth rate, They will be swimming in pollution right?

    Niger 800(222)-0.1(205)-50.6(1) Well that’s not right
    Uganda 1,200(203)-0.1(208)-47.3(2) Still not high enough
    Mali 1,100(213)-0(214)-45.15(3) Not enough carbon output to even measure, do you feel proud of yourself as you sit in your house while the rest of the town is on fire?

    And somehow you want me to believe that these countries with the highest birthrates and yet shockingly low wealth are capable of producing too much pollution both directly and indirectly through purchasing products is a valid theory? Do you really think that these people, with shockingly low wealth are interested in purchasing petrol to run cars or electricity to heat their over-sized homes? This is the foundation on which you are justifying your inaction and blame on these very people for the current state of climate? Cognitive dissonance is the phrase that comes to mind.

    Oh and let me know how you go building that spaceship.

  2. zac48

    2dogs, your convoluted logic is not only wrong, but simply dangerous. A country’s per capita wealth has absolutely nothing to do with what we are discussing…Your statement that carbon emissions(pollution) has nothing to do with a country’s per-capita population growth is plainly and obviously absurd. Whether it comes from the increasing use of coal or the flatulence of the increasing number of cattle needed to support the population etc., there will be an increase in the damage done to their environment. Their increasing populations happens within their own borders and only effects their own country but the increasing pollution they produce effects the entire world. An analogy is, If you are burning off rubbish in your own back yard it may well be to your own personal advantage but the resulting smoke and pollution effects the whole neighbourhood. As the population of any country increases the greater the irreparable damage done to their own limited eco-systems which has a direct affect on the worlds environment. A country like India for example, has a “yearly” population growth of approx. the same number of people as the entire population of Australia. As their population and economy grows exponentially, the use of and damage done to their ‘limited’ environment increases exponentially as well. Instead of controlling the size of their own populations, the rationale of these country’s seems to be that when they run out of ‘everything’, not only resources but space, they will simply expand their populations and economies into the rest of the limited world, like a virus, consuming more and more of everything and producing more and more pollution as they expand… China is another example of irresistible population and economic expansion …Referring to my original analogy. Even if some of the dieters consume less food because they’re not as hungry in order to feed other dieters that are more hungry the eventual death of everybody is certain.

  3. zac48

    For a start, only pay a child bonus to those ‘couples’ who have only one child. If they have two children remove it completely. Single women who have children not only get no child bonus but a reduction in support payments. etc.etc…But any methods that one might think up will be bitterly contested by the treasurers of all political party’s. Our economy runs on a capitalist ‘ponzi scheme’ that depends on an ever increasing population as I pointed out in an earlier post. By keeping increasing the population to support the ever increasing rate of childbirth and population growth keeps our capitalist economy ticking over and afloat. Remember Peter Costello pleading with Australians to have one child for mum, one child for dad and one child for the country. In fact as many children as you can pump out. That’s why the Labor Party aren’t at all fussed about illegal immigration, apart from it’s unpopularity in the community. The more fit, healthy young men Swan can get into the country the better. They will all get jobs and pay more taxes and buy more houses to live in and more cars to drive and more tv’s to watch and more clothes to wear and more food to eat, etc.etc.etc. continually stimulating and building the economy. (it’s called economic growth). I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not but we never ever see ‘real’ refugees being welcomed to Australia. The elderly, the sick, the invalided, the children and their mothers, the unemployable etc. They have nothing to offer the economy and would be a drain on the country’s resourses….We are locked into a downward spiralling Keynesian capitalist system from which there is no escape unless there is a dramatic and huge social (peacefull) revolution where every one starts growing their own food in their own back yards, milking their own goats and collecting their own eggs etc. but that would completely disrupt the financial balance and structure of our society and chaos would reign, from banks that couldn’t lend money because nobody would need it, to supermarkets that couldn’t sell any food because nobody would need it, to energy suppliers who couldn’t sell electricity because everyone would have solar panels on their roofs etc.etc.etc. A completely alternative society to the one we know, and being unpractised at it the chaotic transfer would probably end in anarchy. So basically we’re stuffed. The system you know is better than the system you don’t….Anybody got any ideas?

  4. zac48

    Unfortunately the planets population has exploded past the point of return. Contrary to the facts the ‘experts’ try to propagate, the Earths population had increased to 6 billion people by the year 2000. John Howard encouraged us all to celebrate if you recall. Last year, 2011, it passed 7 billion(only 11 years). We will reach 8 billion people in less than 11 years, and 9 billion in even less than that if left unchallenged because populations expand exponentially(the more people there are, the more baby’s are being born). The planet could have sustained perhaps 3 billion people on an ongoing basis before it had been pillaged, consumed and it’s eco-systems compromised by a population more than double what it can support. The Earth is a living thing and now the damage has been done it would struggle to repair itself and sustain even 2 billion people. According to records the Earths population had been constant at a few hundred million people for tens of thousands of years until the industrial revolution coinciding with the discovery of real hygiene and modern medicines, enabling world populations to rapidly expand. The (Australian) discovery of penicillin has arguably had a greater effect on humanity than any other discovery or invention throughout history, including the moon landing. Before anti-biotics it was normal for people to die from all sorts of things at all ages, from infectious diseases to simple, common things like an infected flesh wound or an infected tooth abscess. These days there is virtually nothing that can’t be cured or at least mitigated thus helping to sustain an already exploding population. There is only one solution, and that is a radical culling of the planets population to a level well below half of what it is today….As a previous poster suggested, Mother Nature will probably take matters into her own hands, even by bringing humanity to the point of self-destruction, which is where we stand today.

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