EXPERT REACTION: south eastern Australia swelters through a heatwave
Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre
These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.
This developing heatwave is nothing short of horrifying. Much of eastern Australia has seen heatwave after heatwave this summer, with some seasonal records already broken by the start of February. Nighttime temperatures have been too hot for adequate sleep and daytime temperatures have been searing. What is particularly concerning about the developing event is the intensity, where many regions will see a string of extremely hot days with little relief. Much of NSW, QLD and northern VIC will suffer the most, where temperatures will be the hottest, and follow little reprieve from the previous heatwaves. It is important that everyone tries to stay cool. Don’t work, play, or exercise outside and look after those who may struggle to keep cool, particularly the sick, elderly and very young. Unfortunately, this is just a glimpse of the future, as human influence on the climate increases, so will the number and severity of heatwaves and their deadly impacts.
In terms of health, one grim theory is that with such a prolonged heat wave, most people who are at risk could already be hospitalised or dead. Studies around the world have often found that heat waves early in summer are more dangerous than those later in summer, and we often see a drop in the death rate after a period of extreme heat. The theory is that many people killed by extreme heat are very frail individuals who would have died soon anyway. Such a long hot period of extreme temperatures across the country may have already killed many of our frailest people.
We hoped there would be a reprieve in the extreme heat of the last few years as the El Niño influence subsided. But the heat lingers on. The IPO, Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, has kicked in. These long cycled (we have records of these lasting 15-30 years) events have generated several episodes of prolonged steep climbs in global temperatures. This means we had better get prepared for a run of very hot years and new heat records, if we want to avoid an epidemic of heat deaths.
Our latest research results point to a growing belief in climate change among the Australian public, higher rates of acceptance that it is human caused, and a stronger belief that there is scientific consensus on the issue. Despite this, and perhaps following the lead of our politicians, there is a lower willingness to do anything about climate change, and a lower belief that individuals can do anything about it. What is needed in these circumstances is strong policy action both to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Carbon pricing would be an appropriate Federal government policy for mitigation, and adaptation needs various proactive approaches at all levels of government, business and non-government organisations.
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