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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.

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. zac48

    When will some government, somewhere, have the courage to stop trying to treat the symptoms, of not only global climate change but the destruction of all of earth’s ecosystems, and start treating the disease. The world’s ongoing population explosion is the cause and the “ONLY CAUSE” of the planets problems. Treating pneumonia with some panadol and a good lie down won’t save the patients life, even if it makes the death a little more comfortable. I will not change my lifestyle at all until something realistic is done. Carbon taxes, solar panels or electric cars won’t make one bit of difference. The damage done by the increasing world population far out-ways this sort of short-term ‘repair’. The unbelievable ‘daily’ population increase is overwhelming, and doing more damage than the world can possibly hope to counteract with superficial measures. I think most people are quite aware of this fact, that’s probably why nobody gives a stuff.

  2. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    zac48, “I will not change my lifestyle at all until something realistic is done.” So if the government, the one that you want to ‘do something’, orders you to change your lifestyle in order to achieve a realistic difference, will you do as you are told?

  3. zac48

    Hugh (Charlie) McColl, Until the government brings in at least a ‘one child policy’ and demands the rest of the world do likewise, I’m not interested. Anything else that I or anyone else might do, including Gillards ego-tripping carbon tax, is a meaningless,’feelgood’ waste of time.

  4. 2dogs

    And Zac shows us the type of thinking that is required to justify doing nothing, thank you.

  5. 2dogs

    A modern day parable:

    A bushfire had completely ringed, and was threatening to engulf a small town. There was no way to escape and it was decided that, in order to save the town and the lives of the people in it, nearly all the residents would be needed at the fire front to fight the blaze. This would require personal sacrifice and even then there was no guarantee that all the houses in the town would be saved.

    Entertainingly enough there was one group who flat out refused to assist in the fire fighting efforts and, further more, were exceptionally vocal in defending their stance.

    Some of the comments that they made were as follows:
    “Why should I do anything if we cannot mandate that everyone fights the fire?”
    “I do not have the best equipment to fight this blaze, unless someone gives me a water-bombing helicopter I am not going to help anyone”
    “This fire was started by a careless cigarette smoker. Until the government mandates and enforces a ban on smoking in the bush during the fire season why should I help?”

    So those individuals sat in their houses and did nothing but congratulate themselves on how clever they were not to help and barked savagely at anyone who suggested that doing something was better than doing nothing at all.

    It is a shame that they did not consider if they had access to a space ship to transport them to another “town”.

  6. Mike Flanagan

    This memo is to advise Zac48’s application for the DA Vinci PROFESSOR OF THINKING CHAIR is regretfully refused. Suggested additional reading Eddie De Bono.

  7. zac48

    2dogs…How about this one….There was a town that had grown so fast that eventually it couldn’t feed itself so the city fathers encouraged the community to expand the population faster and faster to provide more and more workers to work in the fields so they could feed all the new children being born. But there weren’t enough paddocks to grow enough food, so the people started going hungry. To solve the problem they decided that everyone should just tighten thier belts and go on a diet. But there was a small group of people who tried to convince the dieters that unless they actually took the hard decision to stop breeding workers the entire town would eventually starve to death. But unfortunately the dieters were so dumb and selfish they decided to take the short-term, easy way out and kept eating less and less in an attempt to keep spreading the food around. Finally the people from the town up the road couldn’t stand the rotten, rancid stench that kept floating on the breeze so they went to check on their neighbours and found a huge pile of dead bodies piled up next to the open, empty fridge.

  8. zut alors

    Global warming will likely cause human natural selection to escalate. The cull will be done by Mother Nature.

    Meantime we continue to fund Costello’s baby bonus…

  9. Paddy Forsayeth

    Zac48: Too true. The global population is essentially out of control. I have often thought that maybe (I haven’t done the figures)if every man on the planet was offered a free vasectomy (if enough “vasectomisers!” it might make a difference. Zut Alors is right…for the last 30 odd years a large slice of the global population has been shielded from natural selection. I think the inevitable response of nature will redress the overpopulation.

  10. Liamj

    Funny, uber-consuming nations (eg. Oz) blame population, while the populous less-post-industrial nations (more justly) blame us.

    Sure we’ll all go together, but there’ll be alot of scapegoating first, and i wouldn’t be a published AGW-denier for quids.

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