The Bureau of Meteorology has taken the unusual step of issuing a “special climate statement” to alert the public to the fact that “average winter maximum temperatures over Australia are likely to be the highest on record”.

Winter temperatures such as 34 in Brisbane and 29 in Sydney and a recent call for Australia to “unhook” itself from the “arbitrary” four seasons it inherited from Britain point to one thing: it’s getting hot in here.

A week ago the chief of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens Tim Entwisle proposed “sprummer” — the season between spring and summer — and “sprinter” — an early spring, to help people better understand their environment and monitor signs of climate change. But what about the social effects of longer, hotter weather?

“Black Saturday showed us that the climate is changing and if people continue to live in these conditions, a lifestyle shift is inevitable,” Deakin University’s Associate Professor of Marketing David Bednall told Crikey.

“We could see a move towards a more Middle-Eastern style of living, where social activity is conducted at night and activity during the day is limited.”

Bednall expects production and consumption to change with a warming climate. “We’ll see a shift in products like clothing and home furnishings as businesses adapt to new models, but it’s also sensible to look beyond Australia at the changing climates and needs of export markets.”

Consumers under sunny skies are apparently easy targets. A recent study by the University of New South Wales School of Psychology showed that people are more easily distracted on warm, sunny days, while cold winter weather sharpens memory and recall power.

Around the world, people are being warned about increases in summer crime. Take the Eugene Police Department, in Oregan, USA — according to the local media outlet home burgularies and car break-ins have risen since their summer heat wave began.

“Some crimes, like theft, are easier in good weather conditions. Arson and alcohol-related violence is also more common,” Dr Katherine Biber, criminologist and Associate Professor of Law at The University of Technology, Sydney told Crikey.

The London Metropolitan Police have some tips on how to stay safe in summer. Clue: don’t leave the door open.

But sunny people like to give back too, with research from the US showing that people tend to tip more in warm weather. The Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University in the UK found that warmth can have a positive effect on health, with people consuming more fruit and vegetables in summer. But the vitamin high isn’t necessarily sustainable, thanks to poor agricultural yields, more fires and less water.

“Any public health endeavour now needs to take the climate into account. The current model, focusing on individuals is quite miopic. We need a vision for community health that combines environmental protection with public health, because the challenges are inextricable — biodiversity feeds into food supply, which feeds into planning, etc,” Professor Fran Baum, director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University, told Crikey.

Longer summers, sprummers or sprinters could simply mean business as usual, with a higher SPF. Or, we could all turn into nocturnal, salad-munching, easily distracted drunken thieves who like to tip. If this record breaking weather continues, we’ll soon see…

Peter Fray

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