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A Matter of Fifty Degrees: Climate Change in Australia

A country baked to the core, its citizens roasted, an electricity grid battered to its limits. Capital cities trapping scorching heat, toasting its citizens and assaulting the young, the elderly, the infirm with temperature fluctuations. This is the vision of Australia by the end of this century according to an Australian National University study released earlier this month.

The study, published in Geophysical Letters, insists that, “Understanding the magnitude, as well as the frequency, of such future extremes [in temperature] is critical for limiting detrimental impacts.” Glumly, the authors note how, “The severity of possible future temperature extremes simulated by climate models in this study poses serious challenges for preparedness for future climate change in Australia.”

A few of the implications are pointed out by the chief investigator of the project, Dr. Sophie Lewis of the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Centre of Excellent for Climate System Science at ANU.

“We have to be thinking about how we can be prepared for large population groups commuting to and from the CBD on these extremely hot days, and how we send young children to school on 50C days, how our hospitals are prepared for a larger number of admissions of young or old people, and how our infrastructure can cope with it.”

As with so much in the climate change literature, the tone is one of mild hope tempered by catastrophic prospect, a breathless urgency tinged with a slight degree of panic. Assumptions are made and duly factored in.

The ANU study, for instance, presumes a credible effort to contain global warming to 1.5C, the target set by the Paris Agreement. Even so, claims Lewis, “A lot of warming is locked into the climate system and we really have to be prepared for extremes in the future to get much worse than they are now.”

According to Lewis, the climate modelling “projected daily temperatures of up to 3.8 degrees Celsius above existing records in Victoria and New South Wales, despite the ambitious Paris efforts to curb warming.”

The study’s primary focus is on major cities, and, as is the Australian tendency, the two largest tend to figure prominently as sites of study. Prepare, city dwellers of Sydney and Melbourne, for those 50C days. Prepare, suggests Sydney’s Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Miller, for melting public transport. Anticipate “heat continents” with “grey infrastructure and roads and buildings absorbing all that heat”.

Do such reports and findings matter? In Australia, the battles rage, the sceptics froth. The ABC news site invited readers to advance suggestions as to how best to cope with such temperature rises. There is flippancy, disbelief and the usual scepticism that anyone should even bother.

Forget the model mad scientist, runs this line of opinion: temperature rises may or may not be rising and suggestions that the human race is set for catastrophe are exaggerated, if not hysterical. There is denial, even a good smattering of abuse. Climate change models are, simply, models.

A certain commentator by the name of “Rational” found Lewis and her findings tiresome, and duly employed the oldest tactic in the manual of debate by simply ignoring her findings: “Blah Blah Blah again from Dr. Sophie Lewis, my guess is she is around 30 years of age, most records broken this year are only 10/15 years of data please show me otherwise. But keep paying the good Dr in the interim.”

“RobbertBobbert” simply chose outright, abusive dismissal. “More delusion and those addicted to their Computer Model Toys.” This was all a “Sham Scam” and Lewis and those “ABC acolyte journalists” were hardly going to be around in 83 years to falsify it. “Maybe the baby that this hysterical scientist wrote about will be around to check.”

The human instinct to embrace the driving force of Thanatos, to write collective suicide notes and be cast into oblivion is well known. Entire civilizations have collapsed for failing to adapt and adjust. Evidence, even if disconcertingly staring in the face, can be refuted with pig-headed stubbornness.

In Australia, a persistent, coal-coloured scepticism remains about climate and its effects. Where mining remains the holder of orb and sceptre, a rational discussion about environment, let alone climate, is always going be stunted. The good life, even if warmer, is set to continue.

The Tony Abbotts will continue to praise rising heat on the global stage, and, if confounded by their impacts, suggest that it could hardly be happening. Such are the views of those in denial. Chin-up and understatement are seemingly in order, and that was duly supplied Miller herself. “It’s not great news, obviously.”


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  1. jim

    IMO, climate change or not ,coal kills people thats why we don’t burn it at homes for heating so, burning too much coal above what we can get away with should, be a jail able offense.

  2. Keith

    Oceans are becoming warmer, not a good sign.

  3. Glenn Barry

    Well one thing is for certain, if even the mildest climate changes and their consequences come to fruition then that will bring the entire preceding Millennia of human behaviour; exploit at all cost, ignore all consequences into sharp focus.

    The dinosaurs died out from one condition – energy requirements (food) in excess of available supply, ours is not the same condition, but it may be the same consequence

  4. Jane

    All the converted will come out to play today, though it’s the changing of skeptics minds that will provide an enlightened outcome. How do we implement these changes Binoy?

  5. Harquebus

    Too often I hear, “Well, at least I won’t be around to see it.” My response is always, “Yes you will.”

    “Anyone who perceives a linear rate of growth, but who is actually up against an exponential rate of growth, is likely to be very surprised at how the end comes very quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. They will be completely blindsided.” — Michael Mills Ph.D.

    “How do we implement these changes Binoy?”
    Do nothing, things will change.

    “Never underestimate the power of doing nothing.” — Whinney the Pooh.

  6. Keith

    Dr Peter Carter, a retired climate scientist, suggests that we have done so much damage to the Earth that we are awaiting our death caused through disruption of climate. Trillions of dollars have been spent on subsidising fossil fuels worldwide according to the IMF. Carter states we are investing in our own deaths.

    Those statements by Dr Carter may seem hyperbolic, but there are other scientists who certainly believe that it is not possible to maintain the goal of holding greenhouse emissions at an aspirational goal of 1.5C above pre-Industrial temperature. When the Paris deliberations were in progress some scientists were already stating that it will be difficult to hold to a 2C goal. Carter states that 2C is not a safe temperature to reach.

    In research conducted by Anton Vaks, in relation to permafrost, it was found that an increase of global temperature of 1.5C over pre-Industrial levels will see permafrost thaw. To attain such a conclusion, areas of permanent frost, intermittent areas of permafrost, and areas of no permafrost within cave structures were researched.

    Prior to reaching 1.5C, there is already a trend towards permafrost thawing, for example islands off Siberia held together by permafrost are eroding, “drunken trees”, greening of tundra areas, buildings breaking down, and melt ponds forming. Once Arctic ice is lost, we can expect major tipping points.

    Dr James Hansen has written a paper about the melting of snow and ice from Greenland with a resulting increase in sea level rise. Dr Michael Mann states that Dr Hansen has been ominously accurate in his predictions in the past, though a number of scientists are arguing about Dr Hansen’s speed of the melting. Dr Mann states categorically that climate scientists agree the melting will take place.

    Meanwhile, politicians are fiddling while the Earth’s ability to provide a safe environment is diminishing fast. The LNP and Queensland government have a wish to speed up destruction of a safe environment by promoting the Carmichael coal mine.

  7. Godwin Rules

    Harq Anyone who says do nothing has lost the argument and quotes Whinney the Pooh.

  8. guest

    We know that Oz first nation people have been on Oz for some 50 000 – 60 000 years. Would someone like to paint a picture of what the world will be like in 50 000 – 60 000 years time?

    I think we have enough difficulty imagining what the world will be like in 2100, given that to maintain our present consumption of resources we really need a couple more planets.

  9. corvusboreus

    50,000 is dim, but 50 is a reasonable guess (based on current trends).
    Continued tundra melt methane releases will accelerate the breakdown of the Arctic ice generation/replenishment source, which will increase the current collapse rate of the Greenland (+ Canadian and Alaskan) land based glaciers.
    The subsequent sea-rise, as well as displacing coastlines inland, will further destabilise Antarctica’s fluctuating sea-ice, thus hastening land-glacial decline, with further sea-rise, and accompanying contraction of coastlines. ensuing.
    How much geological, biological consequences such events would/will have remains speculative.
    I do not know how much of such I shall live to see, but I reckon a hell of lot of coral’s gonna die during the rest of my span.

    Ps, contrary to Abbott anecdotes regarding photos of Manly surf club, agreement about the ongoing occurrence of sea-level rise is about as settled as science can get.
    From Australia’s own Dept of the Environment;

  10. guest

    And yet, corvusboreus, as we know, there are people who tell us that Climate Change is a scam and that we can continue to burn fossil fuels, for example – and it’s-business-as-usual.

    Science is ignored, except as a vague hope that it will deliver us from catastrophe.

    Some are pinning hopes on an Armageddon whereby the goodies win and go on to live in glory.

    Others have no idea what is going on at all because they are engaged in the struggle of survival in this vale of tears.

    The least responsive are politicians.

    And the troubles have been accumulating and multiplying over the past mere 200 years.

    Are we, as humans, blind lemmings bent on suicide?

  11. Suziekue

    Well before 50 degrees becomes problematic for people, natural flora and fauna will suffer such cataclysmic changes and decimations that will render the planet uninhabitable anyway. Recent estimates indicate that current climate changes together with pesticides, have decimated world insect populations by up to 75%.

  12. Harquebus

    Godwin Rules
    What I mean is, if we do nothing, things will change and no one will be able to stop it. We are already seeing the power of doing nothing.
    RIP GBR.

  13. Godwin Rules

    Harquebus Ok so you want a nihilistic anarchism world? So you want us to stop repairing red stop lights at intersections? So it’s OK for an Aboriginal tribe to claim land rights on your property and we do nothing?You’ll need your Teddy Bear then; Mr Smug.

  14. Glenn Barry

    Godwin Rules just on a matter of definition, the association of nihilism and anarchism is an oxymoronic, complete and utter mis-characterisation of anarchism – they actually share no common traits whatsoever.
    One is a philosophical school of thought, the other has been found to be a functional, viable, egalitarian alternative to the hierarchical dominance and centralised control which disempowers populations, fosters poverty and increases inequality

  15. Harquebus

    Godwin Rules
    What most us would like is not what we are going to get. If all fossil fuel use was stopped today, we would still be in for decades more of warming so, by ‘doing nothing’ to change ideology and policy, we are pretty much ensuring the completion of Earth’s current and sixth mass extinction event.

    “Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible…” — George Monbiot.

  16. Continuous

    Humans – they never change – most have heard of the fate of the “titanic” – unsinkable. Earth is next.

  17. Michael Taylor

    johno, I can accept that there will be a time in the distant future where the planet will be without humans. I don’t lose sleep over it.

    However, I simply cannot accept a planet without coffee. An intolerable thought.

  18. Mick

    Sure, it’s getting warmer, but you can cool off with a swim in the ocean, it’s getting closer.

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