Disrupting Earth’s climate is to awaken a sleeping beast

By Zeeshan Hasan

Fixing Climate; The Story of Climate Science and How to Stop Global Warming by eminent climate scientist Wallace Broecker (who unfortunately just passed away)and his co-writer Robert Kunzig is an informative look at the science of global warming as well as a summary of the options for solving it. Wallace Broecker was professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and through his research first discovered one of the primary regulators of the planet’s climate; namely the “thermo-haline conveyor,” the network of ocean currents which circulates hot and cold water over much of the Earth’s surface.

A recurrent theme in Broecker’s writing is his view of Earth’s climate as a sleeping beast which we awaken at our peril. The relative stability of climate for the past ten thousand years (since the end of the last ice age) is exactly what allowed humans to develop agriculture and create civilisation. Thus, we have greatly benefited from the long sleep of the climate beast. However, the carbon dioxide emissions created by our modern society’s dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas risk disrupting the climate and waking the climate beast. The consequences could be sudden and drastic.

Whereas we may think of climate change as being gradual and taking place over centuries or millennia, climate science has shown that drastic changes have happened very quickly in the past. A prime example is the end of the “Younger Dryas” ice age, a cold period which lasted from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago.

“The [ice] measurements … had shown that the warming at the end of the Younger Dryas had been abrupt … the ice layers were suddenly half as thick … most of that change had taken place in just a few years” (page 141).

So the scientific evidence is that climate change of sufficient magnitude to end an ice age can occur naturally in “just a few years,” not centuries or even decades. This bodes ill for our future, as our burning of coal, oil and gas is now changing the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere faster than any time in history. If a similarly quick global warming were to happen now, humanity would have little time or ability to adapt to it. The results would be catastrophic in terms of increased desertification, reduced food production and famine.

Aside from temperature rise, the biggest threat to Bangladesh in particular is from sea level rise. This is another area where research in climate science has made it clear that big changes can happen at a frightening pace.

In the 1980’s a colleague of Broecker’s, Richard Fairbanks, thought he could pinpoint a time when sea level rose twenty metres in a single century (page 171).

The above is indeed a stark contrast with the scientific conservatism of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of sea likely sea level rise being 59 centimetres by 2100.

The IPCC scientists specifically did not take into account the recent observations of accelerated ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica — essentially because they didn’t know what to make of them (page 183).

The problem is that scientists are generally cautious by nature, and unwilling to talk about possible worst case scenarios until that outcome is virtually certain. Unfortunately, if we wait until the worst case global warming scenario is inevitable before we start doing anything, it will be too late; the climate will have already changed, and humanity will have to suffer the awful consequences. Scientific conservatism in this case is lulling the public and world governments into a misplaced sense of security. So what is to be done? The answer is clear.

Which brings us to the one absolute certainty; no significant solution to the [carbon dioxide] problem can emerge until governments worldwide, and especially that of the United States, follow the lead of Norway and the European Union and impose either an emissions cap or a direct tax on [carbon dioxide] (page 266).

Broecker’s conclusion is shared by most climate scientists. To prevent dangerous climate change, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by replacing fossil fuels rapidly with nuclear, wind and solar energy. This will require huge investments, and the only way the money can be raised is through a carbon tax. Those of us who care about what the future holds for our children need to start thinking about how to bring about this colossal change in the world economy. The only way to solve the climate crisis is to put continuous and increasing public pressure on politicians around the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

Getting the measure of wildfires in Australia

atmosphere.copernicus.eu

We did not seek permission to re-post but consider it ‘fair use’ to re-post in full and credit the original source. Please get in touch if you are the original author and would like the post altered or taken down -The Editors.


Devastating wildfires have been burning across large areas of Australia and Tasmania for several weeks. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union, monitors emissions from such wildfires in order to estimate how dangerous they may be in terms of atmospheric pollution.

This January has been the warmest on record in Australia, and one of the driest compared to the 1981-2010 average. In addition, the country has suffered from record-breaking heatwaves.

Surface temperature anomaly - January
Surface air temperature anomaly for January 2019 relative to the January average for the period 1981-2010. Source: ERA-Interim. (Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF)

Throughout January, rainfall was below average for Australia as a whole; and the daily total Fire Radiative Power (FRP), a measure of heat output from wildfires, was much higher than usual for Western Australia. For several weeks from mid-January Tasmania experienced numerous fires with smoke plumes visible in satellite images crossing the Tasman Sea as far as New Zealand and beyond.

Plume of organic matter aerosol optical depth
The plume of organic matter aerosol optical depth from bushfires in Tasmania at 18UTC on 30 January 2019. (Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF)

Although Tasmania avoided the extreme heat of mainland Australia, it still endured its warmest and driest January on record. Throughout the month, the Fire Weather Index, which takes into account numerous variables, including wind speed and precipitation, showed large areas of concern. Levels remained at moderate to extreme for the whole month across much of the state, and ignition sources such as dry lightning led to numerous bushfires, exacerbated by their remote locations and periods of strong winds.

Fire Weather Indices
Fire Weather Indices from 4 January and 29 January, showing fire activity. (Credit:  Copernicus Emergency Management Service)

The island state experienced ongoing devastation and threat of fire for many days, clearly shown in the chart below, which compares the daily total FRP throughout the month with the 2003-2018 average daily total for the same dates.

Time series of daily total Fire Radiative Power (FRP)
Time series of daily total Fire Radiative Power (FRP) from fires in Tasmania in January and February 2019. (Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF)

Fire forecasting can be complicated, as there are many variables to take into consideration. For example, regions which are experiencing drought, low humidity and high wind speed score highly on the Fire Weather Index. However, there is no global system providing associated information on vegetation; if there is no fuel, there can be no fire. Currently, local knowledge helps identify regions at risk.

While wildfires themselves cause relatively short-term levels of danger, the effects of smoke pollution can have serious long-term effects. CAMS Senior Scientist Mark Parrington, who researches wildfire emissions and their impacts, says:

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land across Tasmania have been affected by these fires and the resulting smoke contains pollutants. CAMS forecasts the spread of these emissions, which can have serious impacts on health as well as on atmospheric composition.”

Australia is relatively isolated, so the effects have only been felt locally. However, smoke plumes from wildfires in other areas of the globe, such as Siberia, have been seen to spread across the globe. More information can be found through the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) webpage.

Storms Of My Grandchildren, By James Hansen

9781408807460

By Zeeshan Hasan

James Hansen’s book, Storms of my grandchildren; the truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity definitely wins the prize for having the scariest sub-title ever. Yet Dr Hansen is no scaremongering quack, but one of the world’s most respected climate scientists and former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. His book predicts the end of Bangladesh and all coastal cities through global warming and sea level rise, and possibly the end of all life on Earth if our burning of fossil fuels is not rapidly halted. Fortunately, solutions to the problem are still within our reach if we act immediately.

The average educated citizen could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that global warming is a relatively minor problem; how can individuals take it seriously when the media and the world’s governments ignore it? As Dr. Hansen elaborates, that is because  the oil, gas and coal industries have more than enough money and lobbyists to bend practically any government to their will with their short-term promises of cheap energy, economic growth and jobs; not to mention the legal bribery of campaign contributions.

“There were 2,340 registered energy lobbyists when I checked in early 2009… As an example, one lobbyist, former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, received $120,000 from coal company Peabody Energy in 2008 – per quarter. That’s almost half a million dollars per year” (page 186).

Given the political clout of the fossil fuel lobby, it’s not surprising that George W. Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, sabotaged international climate change talks and endangered all of our futures. Dr. Hansen gives a personal account of how the same Bush administration tried to silence him as well as the rest of NASA on the issue of global warming, going so far as to remove any responsibility to study and protect the Earth from NASA’s vision statement. The truth is that every day we continue to burn fossil fuels, the likelihood of catastrophic climate change increases.
Many people may have heard of and shrugged off the findings of the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) which forecasts a likely sea level rise of a metre or two in the next century. However, Dr. Hansen points out that the IPCC estimate is drastically underestimated, as geological records indicate sea level rise will be much higher. As he mentions on page 13, “Global warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more would make Earth as warm as it had been in the Pliocene, three million years ago. Pliocene warmth caused sea levels to be about 25 metres higher than they are today”. He goes on to mention on page 141 that “About a billion people now live at elevations of less than 25 meters”. So this would be the end of all coastal cities and low-lying areas such as river deltas, of which Bangladesh is the largest. A 25 metre warming is enough to submerge almost all of Bangladesh and its 160 million people. In that case, what are the options for Bangladesh and other low-lying countries? The wealthy and highly educated will always find some new country to migrate to. The remainder of the population will face a grim fate. It is astonishing that serious scientists like Hansen can elaborate such scenarios in books, and yet our policy-makers still shrug off climate change by assuring the public that we will be able to adapt. The idea of adaptation to most of Bangladesh going underwater is simply absurd. If the rest of the world had any real concern for Bangladesh’s survival, it would admit that adaptation to such drastic change is impossible, and try to limit global warming to a level that would ensure our existence. This would need to be somewhere around 1.5 degree Celsius, requiring rapidly reducing the burning of fossil fuels within the next decade. Oil, coal and gas need to be replaced by renewable energy such as as solar and wind.

For most of the last 20 years, the focus of all international climate change negotiations has been to limit global warming to 2 degrees. This is because 2 degrees warming was considered the threshold that would cause severe consequences for much of the world, essentially ignoring low-lying areas such as Bangladesh. In fact, current levels of carbon emissions are on track to cause 3 or 4 degrees of global warming and result in even more catastrophic effects. More than 2 degrees of global warming could trigger  ‘positive feedbacks’ in the climate system such as release of huge amounts of methane accumulated though millions of years of decomposing organic matter under melting arctic permafrost and the ocean floor. Methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and this sort of positive feedback could spin global warming out of control, endangering all life on the planet. In our own solar system, Venus is a nearby example of a planet where too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has resulted in furnace-like surface temperatures of hundreds of degrees Celsius. This is a fate which may yet await Earth unless we reverse our present fossil-fuel burning course: “After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently?… I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty” (page 236). It’s worth noting that all the above mentioned reserves of fossil fuels are listed as assets in the public accounts of fossil fuel companies, which means that they fully intend to burn all of them. We are on a suicidal path.

Dr. Hansen is interested above all in solving the problem of fossil fuels, but laments the fact that carbon cap-and-trade schemes such as that adopted by the EU have proved ineffective. The solution he proposes is “carbon fee and dividend”; namely  a hefty carbon tax made progressive by returning the tax proceeds equally to each taxpayer. Thus the wealthy will pay dearly for their consumption of fossil fuel intensive goods and services, while the less affluent will be rewarded with much-needed cash for their low carbon footprint (pages 210-211). It should be noted that this should prevent carbon taxes as being perceived as regressive tax and thus being rejected by the public, which recently occurred in France.

Dr. Hansen’s book is uniquely personal, narrating how the birth of his grandchildren forced him to accept responsibility for trying to safeguard their future by becoming a anti-global-warming activist. As a result, he has been arrested for civil disobedience while protesting coal mining (page 248, or for more information watch his TED talk). The closing words of the book are worth repeating:

“The picture has become clear. Our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing. Yet our politicians are not dashing forward; they hesitate; they hang back. Therefore, it is up to you. You will need to be a protector of your children and grandchildren in this matter. I am sorry to say that your job will be difficult – special interests have been able to subvert our democratic system. But we should not give up on the democratic system – quite the contrary. We must fight for the principle of equal justice… But as in other struggles for justice against powerful forces, it may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to injustice… Civil resistance may be our best hope… It is crucial for all of us, particularly young people to get involved… this will be the most urgent fight of our lives. It is our last chance.”

We need to listen to climate scientists like Hansen and quickly end our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels within the next dozen years or so, while a window remains open to minimise the impact of global warming.

Climate Changed: a comic book warning of global warming

p238ClimateChanged

p247ClimateChanged

by Zeeshan Hasan

French cartoonist Philippe Squarzoni has taken on the huge task of trying to convey the complexity of climate science and the global emergency that it implies in the form of his autobiographical/documentary graphic novel, Climate Changed. Hopefully this will enable the general public, which does not always seem inclined to wade through dense texts on scientific topics, to get a better appreciation of the challenges of global warming.

The book starts with the author contemplating the difficulties of tackling the subject of global warming in comic book form; unlike most comic book stories, it’s a scientific phenomenon without the conventional beginning and end of most stories. His solution is to place a fairly detailed exposition of climate science in the context of an autobiography. The end result is illuminating. It serves to remind the reader that climate change is not just happening to the globe. It’s happening to all of us, since we all live on this planet that is rapidly heating up, and is already presenting us with real consequences in the form of record high temperatures, droughts and deadlier storms. His visit to his childhood home and his observation of how much smaller and different it seems as an adult illustrates that the comfortable planet we knew even a few decades ago is gone forever; the climate has changed, and it’s now a new, more dangerous world that we live in.

As a low-lying country which is both densely populated and incredibly vulnerable to sea level rise, Bangladesh gets two mentions in the book. Squarzoni quotes climatologist and World Bank economist Stephane Hallegatte: with ‘a rise in sea level of a little over 3 feet (1 metre)… numerous densely populated coastal regions such as the Ganges and Nile deltas could be flooded. Millions of people will be driven out, and agricultural production will be severely affected. 20% of Bangladesh could be flooded.’ Bangladesh comes up again when Hallegatte discusses the potential effect of millions of climate refugees on the international arena: ‘If 20 million people leave Bangladesh and head for India, what do we do?… What will the India and Bangladesh of 2060 be like? Will tensions between them have eased? Or will they be at war?’. Even in Bangladesh, such critical long-term concerns are rarely addressed in the short-term daily news cycle.

Unfortunately, the effects of climate change will be felt disproportionately by the poor; this is made clear by Squarzoni’s account of the severe flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in 2005. The wealthier sections of the city all evacuated upon hearing storm warnings a day in advance. The poor had no means to escape, and had to survive for days on the roofs of their submerged houses with most of the city being flooded with up to 23 feet of water. 30,000 people took shelter above the flood waters in the city stadium, until being finally evacuated by the government to the surrounding states. Desperate people started looting shops for supplies, with the result that a curfew was imposed; US soldiers freshly returned from Iraq were called in with orders from the state governor to shoot to kill. Total deaths numbered 1293, and 2 million were displaced; hundreds of thousands for over a year. Immense numbers were left in financial ruin with no means of rebuilding their flood-damaged homes. All this in the richest country in the world. The question arises as to how poorer countries would deal with similar storms and floods, which will grow more common everywhere as global warming adds heat and power to storm systems. How will wealthy countries treat poor countries suffering from climate change, which has been caused primarily by the carbon emissions of the rich? Will rich countries treat poor countries any better than they treat the poorest of their own citizens?

‘So, how to end this book?’ Squarzoni asks as he draws to a close. He observes that so far humanity has failed to deal with the existential threat of climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, and thus nearly closes on a pessimistic note; but as he says, ‘The story isn’t over’. Everything depends on how successfully we the public are able to lobby governments of the world to act over the next decade (which according to the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change report is all the time we have left to make severe cuts to fossil fuel use and thus prevent catastrophic climate change of over 1.5C).

 

COMING SOON – THE HEAT THAT KILLS IN HOURS

By Bill McGuire (ex-IPCC scientist writing exclusively for XR Blog)

Here in the UK, with snow drifting down and the papers full of warnings of the imminent arrival of ‘the beast from the east’ – the bitterly cold weather pattern that brings the worst of winter weather – it is hard to imagine that elsewhere on the planet temperatures are soaring to dangerous levels. A world away from the frost and icy wind, Australia is in the grip of an unprecedented heatwave. Last week, temperatures across much of the country topped 40°C and, in many places breached 45°C. A few days ago, at Port Augusta in South Australia, the temperature peaked at a record-shattering 48.9°C. Probably most astonishing is the record overnight temperature, which – at Noona in New South Wales – fell to just 35.9°C; an all-time record for the country. I have always thought of Australia as essentially a desert with a few green bits around the outside. The prospects for the country on Hothouse Earth are bleak, so it is particularly ironic that successive governments have proved to be some of the least climate-friendly on the planet.

The scorching temperatures down under are likely to be just the advance guard of what may well be Planet Earth’s hottest year ever. With a new El Niño looking to build across the Pacific – a phenomenon that acts to boost global temperatures as well as supercharge extreme weather – 2019 is widely predicted to be hotter than each of the last three years which, themselves, make up the three hottest on record. As a consequence, heatwaves are likely to be widespread – as they were in 2018. Last year saw unprecedented heat across four continents, especially in July, when more than 3,000 daily high temperature records and 55 all-time highs were shattered.

It hardly takes an Einstein to appreciate that heatwaves will become one of the most damaging, disruptive and lethal hazards as the world continues to heat up. According to the University of Hawaii’s Camilo Mora, one of the authors of a study published last year in Nature Climate Change, when it comes to future heatwaves ‘our options are now between bad and terrible.’ What this means is that, even if we slash greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, by the end of the century nearly half the world will experience deadly heatwaves. If we take no effective action, then three-quarters of our planet’s population will be under threat.

Furthermore, the nature of the worst future heatwaves will be very different from those currently baking Australia and that scorched much of the world in 2018, and their impact potentially catastrophic. As global temperatures continue to ramp up, a deadly conspiracy of heat and humidity, measured by the so-called ‘wet-bulb’ temperature, will bring about murderous heatwaves from which there can be no relief and no escape. When the wet-bulb temperature reaches 35°C, the combination of heat and humidity is such that losing heat through sweating is impossible for the human body. In such circumstances anyone without access to air conditioning – however young or fit – has only six or so hours to live, whether sheltering in the shade or not. Research (1,2) reveals that as the century progresses – and under a business as usual scenario – more and more of the planet will come under severe threat from such devastating heat, in particular the Middle East, South and South East Asia and China. Ground zero looks like being China’s northern plain where – today – four hundred million people toil in the country’s agricultural heartland. By the second half of the century, fatal humid heatwaves are forecast to strike the region repeatedly, effectively making China’s breadbasket uninhabitable.

No human has yet had to experience such heat-death conditions, but it can only be a matter of time. In Bandar Mahshahr (Iran) temperatures of 46°C combined with 50 percent humidity, brought conditions, in July 2015, to the very limit of survivability. Perhaps 2019 will be the year the threshold is breached, bringing a first taste of what it will be like when parts of the world that brought forth and moulded our species finally become off limits to us.

(1) http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/8/e1603322

(2) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05252-y

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

Forward To The Past

By Bill McGuire

The trouble with blogging about climate change is that the bad news comes so thick and fast these days that it is difficult to know what to flag up next. The findings of at least three pieces of research were published in the last week or so, each of which added further support to the case that we are going to hell in a hand cart. It took a deal of humming and harring before deciding which to address here, but in the end I determined to take a look at what past climate change can tell us about where we are headed. For now, the melting glaciers of East Greenland and evidence for an upcoming acceleration of planetary warming will just have to wait.

The idea that the past is the key to the present is a tenet worth much in the fields of Earth Science and geophysics, and it makes perfect sense. In the same way that observing natural processes happening today can help us interpret events within the geological record, so what happened thousands or millions of years can tell us what we to expect on 21st century Earth.

The latest news from deep time is not good. In fact it is terrifying. Around 252 million years ago, the geological period known as the Permian was brought to an abrupt end by the greatest mass extinction event in the history of our world. Known as the Great Dying, it saw almost all marine species wiped out, along with two-thirds of all life on land. What caused this cataclysmic dieback has been a matter of debate and controversy in geological circles for many years. Now, though, it looks as if the culprit has been fingered – climate change. 

The results of a new study published earlier this month1 by scientists from Stanford University and the University of Washington provide robust evidence for a huge spike in warming at this time, with global average temperatures climbing as much as 10°C in as little as a few hundred years. As a result, the warmer oceans may have lost up to four fifths of their oxygen, leading to the obliteration of 96 percent of all marine species. On land, the extreme temperatures wiped everything – from lizards and insects to early plants and bacteria – from the face of the planet. The cause of the temperature spike is not certain, but up there as the favourite is a massive outburst of greenhouse gases triggered by elevated levels of volcanic activity.

Substitute the repeated annual injection into the atmosphere of more than 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, for volcanic activity, and the situation begins to look horribly familiar. But surely, you might say, even the worst case scenarios don’t predict a 10°C rise in global temperatures, do they? Well, on the basis of current trends, the best we can hope for is a global average temperature hike of 3°C by 2100; nearer 4 or 5°C – or even more – should feedback loops really start to kick in as expected. That is already half way to the Great Dying, and would see countless species wiped out in a continuation of the ongoing, human-induced, sixth great extinction. Even worse, if we burn most (not even all!)known fossil fuel reserves, it has been calculated that our world could end up a staggering 16°C warmer than during pre-industrial times2. At the moment, the average temperature of Planet Earth is a little over 14°C. This would take it to more than 30°C. The result would be a mass extinction to put the Great Dying in the shade, and one that the human race would struggle to survive. Under these furnace conditions, most of the planet would simply be too hot for human physiologies to function, so the best prognosis for our race would be the survival of a few pockets clinging on in the slightly cooler polar regions.

So, it is perfectly clear. We now know exactly what trajectory we will be on if we continue to burn fossil fuels and swamp the atmosphere with carbon.  Not back to the future, but forward to the past. We can’t let it happen.

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

Sources:

(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6419/eaat1327 

(2) https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20140017102.pdf 

Focus Australia – Serious climate issues down under

By Kate Goldstone

For generations, people from all over the world have made their way to Australia on holiday to enjoy its wonderful warm, sunny weather and extraordinary natural environments. Plenty of families moved there permanently, seduced by the climate. Now New South Wales, the country’s most heavily populated state, is officially experiencing total drought, and Australia’s legendary hot dry weather is fast becoming more or a problem than a pleasure (1).

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology defines drought as “rainfall over a three-month period being in the lowest decile of what has been recorded for that region in the past ” (2). The current very dry winter down under is intensifying the ‘worst drought in living memory’ in some areas of eastern Australia, with New South Wales, the provider of a quarter of the country’s agriculture, now 100% in drought. 23% of New South Wales is in a state of ‘intense drought’ and the rest is either in drought or drought-affected. And in the news’ grim wake there’s a growing litany of horror in the form of failing crops, dying livestock, and severe water shortages.

Some farmers are being forced to pay as much as a hundred dollars for a truck of hay to keep their beasts alive. Some are selling off their animals in despair. Others are digging in to wait for the rain… if it ever comes. In the Australian countryside farming suicide rates have always been higher than average. Now they’re around 40% higher than urban suicide rates, according to the national mental health charity Sane Australia (3).

The blame lies at the feet of climate change

Of course Australia’s weather is naturally varied year-on-year, and is affected by multiple complicated factors. Like much of the world’s weather it’s a chaotic system, and hard to predict. But all the same, a growing number of scientists are laying the blame at the feet of climate change. The Australian government itself admits the risk of severe drought could be more likely thanks to human-created global warming. As the Prime Minister PM Turnbull acknowledged, he doesn’t know many people in New South Wales who don’t think the climate is getting drier and rainfall becoming more volatile.

Government relief payments do nothing to fix the underlying issue

The Australian government is already paying out annual relief of as much as A$16,000 to affected farmers. The Prime Minister has just promised extra payments of up to A$12,000, in a move that has been criticised for being too little, too late. In a nation where drought isn’t a stranger at the best of times, it’s clear those in power are worried. But like most governments, they’re not doing anywhere near enough on the people’s behalf to mitigate climate change. Emergency relief doesn’t contribute to the fight against global warming, it merely papers over the cracks.

Australia is at more risk of runaway climate change than most

Worse still, The Guardian (4) reports that climate change could affect Australia more than any other continent. A science agency and Bureau of Meteorology report says they expect temperatures to rise as much as 5.1C in Australia by the year 2090. Scientists have long predicted that a 4C rise would be catastrophic, and that makes a hike of more than 5C downright terrifying. Unless action is taken to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions right now, officials say there’s a ‘very high confidence’ that temperatures will continue to rise steeply across Australia throughout the 21st century. Let things slide any further and the Australian government’s lack of real action could see the worst case 5C scenario become a reality.

How high temperatures affect humans

High temperatures affect more than agriculture, of course. If you’ve ever suffered through an exceptionally hot summer’s day you’ll know how nasty and uncomfortable it can be. The human body has an internal temperature of around 37C, and it dislikes being any hotter. Prolonged exposure to heat and humidity can easily kill you. If it doesn’t you’ll suffer muscle cramps because you’re dried out, short of vital electrolytes, and salt-deprived. If you’re not used to high temperatures you can suffer heat edema, where your hands and ankles swell up like balloons when your poor blood vessels dilate in an effort to radiate heat away. If you see little prickly red spots on your skin, it’s a heat rash caused by blocked sweat pores. If you stop sweating altogether, it’s time to worry – you’re on the road to potentially fatal heat stroke. When you heat up to more than 40C and lose consciousness, you’re in real trouble.

Extreme heat also results in dizziness, nausea, fainting, hallucinations, and something called heat syncope, where you get a temporary drop in the blood flow to your brain because you’ve lost so much fluid. Vomiting, diarrhoea and palpitations also reveal your body is not at all happy. No wonder, in summer 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died in the great European heatwave, which saw temperatures soaring to record levels for weeks on end.

All this happens to humans… and to our fellow creatures, who also suffer and die when temperatures exceed the usual maximum. Australia’s precious Great Barrier Reef, for example, is dying fast, being bleached to death thanks to rising sea temperatures. And once it goes, that’s that – it’s gone. Half a million years of growth, and we destroy it within a few decades. It’s shameful.

No continent is an island

The thing is, no continent is an island. Climate change is global. No one country is protected from it, no one country can make it go away. If Australia doesn’t act fast enough on climate change, the USA will ultimately suffer. If the USA doesn’t act fast enough Europe will suffer. If the EU doesn’t act now, China will suffer. And so on. We’re all interconnected, as are our economies. When one part of a global economy nosedives, so does the rest.

Australia might just be facing a perfect storm. When you blend dire predictions with government inaction and a climate that might already be changing off the scale, the future doesn’t look rosy.

It’s time to force the world’s governments to act on our behalves, to try to secure a decent future for our children. Will you go to jail for the cause, the greatest challenge mankind has had to face since we made our way out of Africa? Can you support the cause in any other way? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Together we can make great things happen.

 

Sources:

(1) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-45107504

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_Australia

(3) https://www.sane.org/

(4) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/26/climate-change-will-hit-australia-harder-than-rest-of-world-study-shows

(5) https://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/five-awful-ways-extreme-heat-affects-the-human-body/51464