CONTENT WARNING: New South Wales and Queensland Bushfires, Ableist Language
An open letter to Scott Morrison,
Climate change is bullshit. And not in the way that you want us to believe.
Climate change is unfair. It’s undemocratic. And despite the fact that 64 per cent of Australians believe that climate change is a critical threat demanding direct and immediate action, you do nothing. You and your mining cronies on Capitol Hill, your arsonist allies, still believe that you can get away with dismissing claims that climate change is a significant threat multiplier for the current bushfire crisis.
This makes me so angry.
Aside from being called an “inner-city raving lunatic” by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, I’m angry that there have been significant warnings about the danger of not addressing the seriousness of the extreme fire event. I’m angry that people on the ground, like the mayor of the recently eviscerated Glen Innes, are standing in ashes where their towns used to be, despite having issued warning after warning to the federal government.
I’m angry that, despite funding the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Research Centre, no advice or policy outcomes have followed their research. This is in itself a demonstration of gross negligence towards a population which you are supposedly sworn to protect.
I’m angry that the ones fighting the fires are predominately locals and volunteers. Your thoughts and prayers will never extinguish the fires. You have abandoned us, and left New South Wales and Queensland to fight for themselves.
New South Wales is now in a state of emergency. It’s mid-November, not December or January. There’s still snow on the bloody ski fields, mate! These fires are so catastrophic that they are creating their own storm systems. They are raining embers and shooting out lightning!
Mr. ScoMo, if you could take some time off from the sheer effort of thinking and praying, then I would ask that you please address this issue with all the might of our great nation. No more people need to die. Nationalise a professional and paid fire service, agree to continue funding for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Research Centre, and declare a climate emergency.
I may be a ‘lunatic’ and ‘needlessly anxious’ (I’m not), but you’re unfit to lead this country if you continue to let people die because you’re too proud or too stupid to admit that you’re wrong. Prove me wrong, Mr Morrison.
Let’s get real about climate change – and not Scott Morrison real. Real as in better solutions to climate change than fruit picking. Real as in real accountability for those at risk of losing their livelihood, culture and country due to processes to which they contribute very little. Real as in prioritising the human life of our closest neighbours over the growth of the Australian economy.
Last week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined leaders of the Pacific at the Pacific Islands Forum to talk all things Pacific. Meeting in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, the leaders’ retreat showcased all the good parts of Pacific hospitality: food, song and dance. The purpose being, “to show the world what would be lost, apart from land, if Tuvalu were to disappear”.
This was entirely lost on Morrison, who made himself very unpopular by taking a hard stance on climate change. Or rather, a hard stance on the role of coal and its place on the table. Morrison ensured Australia’s official communiqué watered down commitments to respond to the climate emergency pressed by the others. Morrison’s stance on red-lining some of the language around commitments to coal, limiting warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius and setting a plan for zero-net emissions by 2050 caused a fierce 12-hour debate which almost broke down twice.
Now you can probably tell by my language so far that I’m not thrilled by the efforts of Mr Morrison. In fact, I’m pretty bloody disappointed. Not only is this bad for our relationship with the Pacific, it’s bad for the people who live there. Not to mention, it demonstrates to the rest of the world how clearly inept we are at any form of regional leadership. The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, summarised this sentiment perfectly, stating, “You are trying to save your economy, I am trying to save my people.”
The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, was so disappointed with Morrison’s performance that despite being a “Wallabies fan from a long way back”, he announced that he would be cheering on the All Blacks in the 2019 Bledisloe Cup.
What is more concerning than the Bledisloe affiliations is the message this sends to the rest of the word – namely, China. Before the forum, Australia promised $500 million in aid to the Pacific for the sole purpose of tackling climate change. It is important to note that this was redirected from existing programs and is not new money. However, it was intended to demonstrate a continued effort showing that Australia is on side.
Morrison dislodged this dialogue in one foul swoop.
Data sourced by the Lowy Institute’s Chinese Aid in the Pacific shows that an increasing aid budget of $2.5 billion across 218 projects is being funnelled into the Pacific by China. Projects like the Navua Hospital in Fiji have been welcomed with open arms, which cannot be said for our leader.
“China never insults the Pacific. You say it as if there’s a competition between Australia and China. There’s no competition, except to say the Chinese don’t insult us … They’re good people, definitely better than Morrison, I can tell you that.”
– Quote from Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimaram.
According to another Lowy study, at this point in time 10 per cent of Australians say, “until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.” Either Mr Morrison is blinded by the surging current of political donations that are given by the Rineharts of Australia, or he’s just straight-up ignorant. And in a situation as critical as climate change, the latter is incredibly dangerous.
Not only does the communiqué pushed by our leader not represent the opinion of the Australian population – 62 per cent of whom believe that climate change is the top ranked threat Australia faces today – but it fundamentally impeaches on the lives of those most vulnerable to the effects of our own greenhouse gas emissions.
In case the importance of all of this hasn’t landed, here it is. Our ScoMo has severely damaged our relationship with our closest neighbours who will now increasingly be looking towards China for support, a situation which could be problematic for Australian security. He is representing a position of blind and wilful incompetence with which only 10 per cent of Australians align. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, he has insulted and compromised our friendship with the nations of the Pacific – nations who shouldn’t have to mop up our mess.
Photo credit: The Guardian (top and bottom), AAP (middle)
Comments Off on Four Simple and Achievable Ways to Eat More Sustainably
From school climate rallies, to keep-cups and the movement against straws, young people are championing a more sustainable future. However, amidst all of our sustainable attempts what is often ignored is the enormous impact our diets have on the environment. One-third of total global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture alone and Australians have one of the largest per capita dietary environmental footprints in the world. But fear not! Although veganism is an ideal solution (I’m patting all the vegans on the back here, especially because you’ve made it very clear who you are), there are many more achievable ways for us mere mortals to help the environment by what we eat. It all starts by what you put in your supermarket basket.
Plan your meals
It’s simple. A well planned supermarket shopping list translates to less food wastage, less impulse spending and more money in your pocket. You won’t have sad and soggy vegetables sitting in the fridge and will also ensure that you have the right ingredients to cook with (rather than opting for another packet of two-minute noodles). Sit down at the start of each week or fortnight and plan your meals. This can be all your meals or just your nightly dinners. Basically just list the ingredients and quantities you will need to buy.
MONDAY AND TUESDAY DINNER
Healthy roasted chicken and veggies
2 medium chicken breasts
1 clove of garlic
½ an onion
1 cup of broccoli
Frozen in freezer
2. Moderate your meat intake:
Avoiding meat is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. Try making Mondays meat-free! Red meat, lamb (if you are feeling particularly boujee) and processed meats such as sausages, salami and ham have particularly high eco-footprints. Eating beef just 1-2 times per week, over an entire year is the equivalent of driving 2482 km in a petrol fuelled car. Attempt to substitute them for lower impact meats such as chicken or pork. In addition, alternatives such as flexitarianism (eating meat more rarely) are feasible for most people. Another great tip is to experiment a bit and learn to cook your favourite recipes a little differently. Why not make a vegetarian lasagne or pork tacos instead of beef! There are also a huge range of legumes, tofu and nuts that can act as meat-like substitutes. Similarly, junk food and most-dairy products have a reasonably large environmental footprint as they are heavily processed. Swap some of your processed snacks for fruit or home baked products (particularly if they are lovingly baked by a parent or grandparent).
3. Eat seasonally
Eating food that is abundant and in season means that produce does not have to be transported internationally from countries such as the US and China to appear on our plates. Buying produce that is seasonal will not only reduce transport emissions but it is often fresher and less expensive. It is easy to tell what is in season based on the fruit and veggies that are the cheapest and most abundant in supply. If in doubt just check the label.
Here are some of my personal Autumn faves in season
Fruit: Most apples are in season, kiwi fruits, avocados, bananas, most oranges, pears
Veggies: beetroot, broccoli, Asian greens, cucumber, carrot, spinach, pumpkin, leek, zucchini
Some ‘treat yourself/I’ve just been paid’ fruits: strawberries, raspberries, grapes, mangos
4. Eat locally
While lowering your environmental dietary footprint can be achieved by shopping at the big two supermarkets, it is even better to support local stores and producers. Right here at ANU, the Food Co-op under Lena Karmel Lodge sells affordable and sustainable local produce. They also sell weekly veggie boxes filled with seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. Their foods are sold in bulk to reduce excess packaging and plastic.
In addition to places such at the Food Co-op, Canberra is surrounded by quality farms and growers who are passionate about cultivating great produce. The Farmer’s Markets are held every weekend and are a great chance to feel like a prised millennial, walking around in your activewear (with no intention of going to the gym) while holding a bunch of kale. Choku Bai Jo in Lyneham and Curtin also aim to give local farmers another outlet (that’s open during the week) to sell their produce and foods.
Another fantastic thing about shopping at smaller, local sellers is that you are helping to reduce food wastage associated with the big supermarkets. Shockingly, up to 60 per cent of fruit and veggies never even make it to the supermarket shelves because they do not meet the narrow cosmetic standards they set. For example, Woolworths lists an 11,000-word document just describing their standards for bananas. While some stores have introduced ranges such as ‘the odd bunch’ selling ‘ugly’ produce at a discount, local producers will sell you what they grow. They may sell you a slightly bend-ier carrot, or a mysteriously large zucchini, but ultimately it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
The keep-cup revolution and the switch to reusable shopping bags shows us that if small changes are done consistently they can have a huge impact. Planning what you buy, swapping high-carbon footprint foods for lower ones and eating locally and seasonally where possible are some of the easiest ways to ensure that our planet can support future generations. A more sustainable diet is not only healthier for the planet but it is also better for your cash-strapped student wallets and your health.
Comments Off on TURNING THE CORNER: FARMERS FACING CLIMATE CHANGE
It seems that recently, every article I write or edit is in some way related to climate change. It is a big issue and is hard to escape at university. My professors are talking about it, I discuss it with my friends, and I frustratingly try to explain it to my parents.
Most of the population is on the fence still, though. I can see why. The impacts of climate change still ‘feel’ far off. Personally, it’s hard to recognise a one to two-degree rise in temperature across the globe. However, Australian farmers are starting to turn the corner on how they view climate change. They are at the forefront. The first to herald its arrival and to feel its impacts.
Regional Australia is currently facing serious drought. Our farmers are calling out for help. They are some of the most resilient people in Australia, but they are on their knees. Stock is dying, salinity is worsening and crops aren’t growing.
Many argue that drought is just part of the Australian climate. However, what we are seeing today is an increase in the severity and duration of weather, including drought. Global warming is significantly impacting the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
ENSO refers to the sustained period of warming or cooling in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. Depending on the phase, rainfall will increase or decrease due to the temperature of the ocean north of Australia. With global warming, this cycle is being thrown off balance. As such, the phases of ENSO are increasing in severity and duration. This means that droughts will become more severe and last longer. A worrying trend for farmers if climate change is not addressed.
In response to these troubling times, politicians have stepped up to protect the vital agriculture industry. They have offered drought-relief packages to those struggling. These comprise of zero-interest loans, subsidies and donations. In the past, these packages were met with praise and gratitude from farmers. This time, farmers are fed up. Politicians touring regional Australia are being now posed with some tough questions. Right now, we do need to help our farmers through the short-term. But drought-relief packages won’t solve the problem. It will only ease the pain.
Farmers have always been well aware of Australia’s climate. According to the National Farmers’ Federation head, Fiona Simson, “people on the land can’t ignore what is right before their eyes.”Australian farmers have made it through tough droughts before. But, with being so connected with the climate, farmers know that the growing trends in highly variable weather is no coincidence.
Despite their rhetoric, the Australian Government is well aware that climate change is affecting droughts. Rather than, you know… doing their job, they are placing the onus on farmers instead. On his recent tour of NSW and Queensland, Malcolm Turnbull stated that the farmers need to become more “resilient” and to adapt to what is “clearly a drier, hotter and more variable climate”.
Now, the government is committed to giving incentives for building feed and grain storage facilities, or even running fewer stock. This is just a band-aid solution, though. It doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. If climate change is not directly dealt with, the impacts could be devastating. Not just for farmers, but for everyone.
A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has gone viral around the world. The paper analysed “the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises.” It warns of the planet becoming “Hothouse Earth”. This refers to the tipping point in which heating would enter a feedback loop. It would drastically affect “ecosystems, society, and economies.”
The study stresses that “Hothouse Earth” is not inevitable and can be avoided. This is only if CO2 emissions are reduced. Even if we don’t reach this Armageddon tipping point, farmers will still be affected.
To combat climate change, the world’s nations have come together for unprecedented cooperation (apart from the U.S, but that’s a whole issue in itself). What has resulted is the Paris Climate Agreement. The most significant of its aims is “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.” Keeping temperature below a two-degree increase is paramount for the future of agriculture in Australia.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia and Southern University of Science and Technology have concluded that a two-degree increase would be devastating. “Aridification would emerge over about 20-30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches two degrees Celsius.”
The regions most at risk of aridification are the Mediterranean, Southern Africa and the east coast of Australia. “Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity. It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires.”
The Paris Agreement is a huge step in the right direction. It provides uniform goals to move towards a better future. But with the threat to our farmers so high, we must build on this voluntary agreement and move towards more concrete policy.
Without government action on climate change, no amount of drought-relief packages will help us. If politicians really care about their constituents, they will take action. Climate change is not some far-off issue. A few degrees might not mean much to some, but for farmers, it is everything.
If farmers are the backbone of Australia, then we need effective policy to protect them. Attitudes are changing. This isn’t a social issue. It is not a matter of opinion. Climate change will affect us all. We need to face this. Before it’s too late.
Comments Off on Reasons Why Climate Change isn’t Real
I wore three layers of thermals the other day.
The only natural disaster we have encountered was FAKE NEWS. That’s right, the flooding of Sullivans Creek was staged. Brian Schmidt just wanted a day off to tend to his winery (#schmidtdidit). Also, Woroni was low on content and wanted to find a more interesting subject for their ‘iNvEsTigAtiVe jOurNaLisM’.
My room gets cold at night. How could my room get cold if the globe is supposedly warming? Sometimes I shut my window and my room is still cold. Well, “‘scientists’,” riddle me this: iIf the earth truly is truly getting hotter, then why is my room so cold?
The United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement but snow still exists! The Paris Conference was just an office Christmas party where all the world leaders could blame their crazy communist conspiracy theories on the coal industry – an industry which has been and remains to be at the heart of the industrial revolution, slave labour and potentially the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and Indigenous land! But that reef has had its time in the sun. (Get it? Sun, like climate change.)
Science is fake. Think about it – what has science been right about? The moon landing: fake. The earth being round: fake. Vaccinations: fake. Science has been so consistently wrong that there is no way Climate Change™could be real! If it really is, God, give me a sign*.
* Rising world temperatures and increase in natural disasters do not count as signs.
Comments Off on Creating a More Sustainable Global Economy
In January last year, Oxfam released a damning report into global economic inequality. One statistic in particular grabbed headlines because it was so obscene: Just eight men own the same wealth as half the world.
The report was much more than this one statistic, however. It was a 36-page, 20,000-word masterpiece. Extensively researched, it relied upon hundreds of references and years of studies to support claims and statistics like the one above, which might otherwise seem unbelievable. It was densely packed with useful information that described not only the state of a global economy in crisis, but also the drivers and pressures that brought us to such a dangerous and unsustainable place.
It was the impacts of economic inequality, however, that made for the most frightening and distressing reading. In one powerful example, the report described the human cost of offshore tax havens, detailing how the same amount set aside for a handful of elites could have equally helped millions of children:
“Africa alone loses $14bn in tax revenues [annually] due to the super-rich using tax havens – Oxfam has calculated this would be enough to pay for the healthcare that could save the lives of four million children and to employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.”
This is just one example of the systematic consequences of our current global economic model, but it’s something I struggled to move past when writing this article. Making four million deaths just one part of the commentary is a great injustice. Tragedies of such magnitude deserve more than a passing mention. So, let me fixate for just a moment:
Four million children died avoidable deaths.
The number is, I suspect for most of us, literally unimaginable. It’s a genocide comparable in sheer body count to the Nazi holocaust, and yet it happens largely in silence, and remains a mostly hidden massacre today. Our collective apathy lets these kids die, and instead of taking some lesson from the horrors of inaction, we instead consign this sacrifice upon the altar of capitalism to the dustbin of history. Those deaths? Just a cost of doing business in the global economic order.
If we want to make sure this sort of horror doesn’t repeat year after year, then we must do more than lecture and hector. We must look at solutions. With the stakes made clear then, I’ll shift to Oxfam’s proposed solutions to economic inequality.
The Human Economy: Compatible with neoliberalism?
Oxfam envisages an alternative to the broken global economic system we have now; sketching out the foundations of what they call the ‘human economy’, summarised in the quote below:
‘In a human economy, government is the guarantor of the rights and needs of all; it is a creative force for progress and responsible for managing markets in the interests of everyone.’
As the quote illustrates, one central component of this new human economy is the role of government as ‘guarantor’. This contrasts with the myth – debunked earlier in Oxfam’s report – that markets are always the most efficient and ethical way of allocating resources and are largely capable of self-correcting without government intervention.
Oxfam is perhaps wrong to attribute this idea to the philosophy of neoliberalism (something they do repeatedly). The idea of total privatisation and ending government regulation is itself a perversion of neoliberalism – an economic philosophy that emphasises free market capitalism, cutting public expenditure, deregulation, and privatisation. Here’s the father of neoliberalism Milton Friedman on that topic in his seminal book Capitalism and Freedom:
“The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on.”
Despite erring here, Oxfam’s proposed solutions are overwhelmingly good ones, providing a realistic foundation that enables governments and business to find tangible ways forward. Some highlights among the many listed solutions are included below.
Government management of the commons. Governments must reclaim (or maintain) control over public services, particularly natural monopolies and those where market prices don’t fully reflect value.
Independent media. Rich elites and governments controlling most of the press hinder our ability to communicate essential facts necessary to affect positive change. This situation must be unwound.
Cooperative international economic governance. Currently, many countries compete in a “race to the bottom” on things like corporate tax exemptions, tax havens, and domestic wage payments. This vicious cycle of underbidding creates disasters like the one described in Africa. Breaking the cycle requires international cooperation and commitment. Examples include an ASEAN minimum wage, a global wealth tax for billionaires (see Thomas Piketty), and an Anonymous Wealth Tax to deter the obfuscation of wealth ownership in shell companies and their like (see James Henry).
Recognising the importance of women. Gender equality is critically important to addressing economic inequality and would ensure that both halves of humanity have an equal chance in life. As the American feminist and writer Charlotte Perkins Gillman argued, we “cannot lift the world at all, while half of it is kept so small”.
Abandon the reliance on GDP. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures economic growth, but only certain types of it. It leaves out, for example, the housework done by millions of women (estimated to be worth trillions in unpaid labour). GDP alone is not a sufficient indicator of human progress. We must abandon the importance and influence we give to GDP alone and begin to benchmark progress and growth in other ways.
These are just a handful of proposed solutions and a brief overview of the report’s findings. It’s impossible for such a small piece to do justice to the report. If you can spare the time and energy, I wholeheartedly recommend you take a moment to flip through it yourself. You’ll be amazed by some of the statistics, and perhaps most importantly, empowered with a new understanding of how you, and we collectively, can shape a better future where progress is shared by all.
Comments Off on Defunding Climate Change: A Case for Divestment
When you say the words “environmental activism”, people’s minds often jump to picturing you on the frontline: camping out in old growth native forests, a David and Goliath fight between an individual and a fossil fuel corporation. These fights are highly individualised, hyperlocal and evidently really important.
However, we can also take action to fight for the climate at a more macro level: forcing systematic change, putting climate change back on the political agenda and taking away the social license of polluting industry. We’re talking about taking money away.
“Divestment” is a concept that means the opposite of investment – it is the removal of investments from funds, stocks or bonds. It is a concept that has surfaced in previous movements, notably apartheid in South Africa and against the tobacco industry. In 2012, the concept re-oriented to a new target; fossil fuels and the threat of catastrophic climate change. It has grown into a global movement, spreading to universities, councils, religious organisations and super and pension funds.
Fossil fuel divestment asks individuals and institutions to end their investments in coal, oil and gas, and instead invest in cleaner alternatives for the future. It is important to note, however, that it is not a matter of ethical consumptions – switching a bad investment for a good one. Instead, It is a political act, producing both a direct impact, by removing funding, and stigmatising the industry in a concerted move towards a low-carbon economy.
The Moral Case
The case, laid out, is fairly simple. Currently, the fossil fuel industry has five times as much carbon in their reserves than can be used if we are to secure a future with warming of under 2 degrees – the internationally agreed upper limit. Bill McKibben, founder of environmental organisation 350.org and whom the revival of the term divestment is often credited to, says
“if it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is unethical to profit from that wreckage.” By refusing to engage with or profit from fossil fuel companies actions, institutions begin to strip away the legitimacy of an industry held, particularly in Australia, in very high esteem and with immense lobbying power.
The “Money” Argument
The other argument for divestment is that fossil fuel investments are increasingly risky, and that if we are to meet international agreements on climate change, the investments will become worthless. They will rapidly devalue and become stranded assets, as legislation and regulation come into place to try and keep under the carbon budget we have set. The theory is that we are creating a huge, trillion-dollar “carbon bubble”, that when it breaks could be the catalyst for another economic crisis, or at the very least, be a bad move for investors expecting growing returns over the coming decades. While we are unsure whether we can in fact adhere to a two-degree warming limit, more and more firms and investors are acknowledging the risk of these assets becoming worthless.
Steps towards divestment were taken at ANU in 2014. It caused outrage from mainstream media and certain political figures but was also applauded by the international community, staff, students and prominent economists and environmentalists. Then Vice-Chancellor, Ian Young, declared “[we] have acted exactly as a leading Australian, and world, university should.”
This happened because of a successful campaign run at the ANU. It took a show of mass support from students and staff, having supportive people on council making the case as well as financial and public image pressure.
Either as a result of coming under such intense political scrutiny, a change in management or most of the prominent divestment campaigners and supporters graduating, the ANU has walked back its commitment to divestment and currently invests $65 million in coal, oil and gas.
To protect our climate, we must understand that divesting our uni is one of the most powerful ways we can take local action to have a global effect. We must also understand that despite divestment’s clear logic, institutions heavily invested in, and often with vested interests in, fossil fuel companies, will not easily step away. We need a clear plan of how to make them take this step.
We don’t have to wait
One of the biggest appeals of divestment is that people can have a real difference immediately. Divestment campaigns bypass governments that are inactive or ideologically opposed to climate action. We are able to take direct action in moving to a low carbon economy ourselves, and also force climate change back on the political agenda as the stigmatization of fossil fuels grows.
Divestment operates as global distributed campaigning – lots of little campaigns, targeted at local institutions sparked across the world. This distributed style allows campaigns to be run at a grassroots, local level, but also for the first time shows what may be a concerted, global battle on climate change looks like.
Universities are where researchers first found out about climate change and where most climate adaptation research happens now. Universities are communities of young people, one of the frontline communities most affected by climate change. Let’s make our universities places where powerful climate action happens as well – the fossil fuel industry is a big target, but it is starting to come up against serious resistance.
Bella Himmelreich is Fossil Free ACT campaign’s organiser.
Comments Off on It’s Getting Hot in Here (Because There’s a Heatwave)
Feeling exceptionally hot this summer? Heatwaves have been a long-term problem in Australia, causing deaths all over the country since 1844. For example, in 2013 we were struck by the record-breaking heatwave in January, where temperatures exceeded 48 °C in many locations across northwestern New South Wales, northeastern South Australia and western Queensland.
In 2014, the Climate Council published a report predicting that heatwaves in Australia would be happening more and more frequently. In fact, the number of hot days has already doubled over the last five decades. However, a recent survey in Western Sydney and the North Coast of NSW showed that 45 percent of residents and businesspeople did not know what to do in the extreme heat.
But before digging into solutions:
What exactly are heatwaves?
A heatwave occurs in a region when there are at least three days in a row with high air temperatures – due to unusual excess heat. Excess heat typically occurs when the overnight temperatures are not low enough to cool the heat from the day. This causes the heat in the region to intensify when the sun continues to heat the land up again the next day. The exact definition and temperature requirements of a heatwave are specific to a region. For instance, a heatwave in Hobart can have lower temperatures than a heatwave in Alice Springs.
How high is high temperature?
There are many methods to measure and classify heatwaves. According to Scorcher, a study conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, the maximum temperature of each day of the year is compared to a threshold that is specific for that date. The threshold is defined as the 90th percentile of the maximum temperatures on that date between the years 1961-1990. That is, when the maximum temperature for a consecutive three-day period is higher than 90 percent of the historical maximum temperatures for those same dates during the above 30-year period, a heatwave is said to have occurred.
Why are there heatwaves?
Here comes the science: Not every part of the Earth receives the same amount of sunlight. The regions directly facing the sun are heated up more than those farther away. This is like how you feel hotter when standing directly under the sun at noon than when you are enjoying a beautiful sunset in the evening. This unequal heating causes the air in the equatorial region of the Earth to rise and travel to the south. Thanks to the Earth’s rotation, the hot air returns to the surface at a latitude of roughly 30 degrees. This is why most deserts on the Earth appear at this particular latitude – including the Arabian, Sahara, Kalahari, and Namib of Africa.
The central part of Australia is covered by hot, dry desert. As air moves from the west to the east coast, warm air from the central desert also moves to the East coast. The central desert causes high atmospheric pressures. This high pressure acts like a heavy blanket that blocks the hot-air below from rising – trapping it at the ground level. If overnight cooling is not sufficient to relieve the heat from the day, the heat will intensify and result in a heatwave.
Fortunately, when the soils are wet and moist, a certain amount of heat can be removed via evaporative cooling. However, in the case of drought, evaporative cooling cannot play its role, thus trapping and intensifying the heat. This leads to the same phenomenon described above: the daytime heat is not cooled through the night, meaning the morning may be as hot as the afternoon of the previous day. Then as the sun continues to heat the region even more, this may aggravate day by day and thus result in a heatwave.
Another cause of heatwaves is when the high-pressure system stalls in the east or south coasts of Australia. The hot air is pulled towards the south-east areas for longer periods and results in heatwaves.
Heatwaves can also happen if a cyclone appears over the north west of Western Australia. During such an event, tropical heat is pushed into the upper atmosphere and then sucked down over central Australia. Central Australia heats up the air even more, which then travels to south-east Australia, causing severe heatwaves.
Why are heatwaves harmful…
The human body operates at 37˚C. Although an increase of one degree may seem insignificant, we can experience heat exhaustion if our body temperature rises above 38 oC. If our body temperature reaches 42˚C, heat stroke or death can occur.
For our earth and society?
First, excess heat can kill plants and crops, which threatens the health of our environment and food security. This may leave certain parts of the world unsuitable for growing crops, which could lead to famine. Second, heatwaves also increase the demand for cooling systems and electricity. Not only will you have to pay more for your electricity bills, but this could also increase the current burden on our climate systems. Third, not all animals can survive in the hot environment. This poses danger to precious species such as black cockatoos and koala bears. And lastly, as the sea temperature rises, coral reefs often cannot survive and are bleached. In fact, half of the Great Barrier Reef coral has been lost in the past three decades – with frequent and stronger heatwaves adding to their destruction.
What can you do?
In the event of a heatwave, we should remain calm and:
Dress in light-colored clothing
Stay out of the sun
Seek air conditioning
Never leave anyone or any pets in parked vehicles
Take care of each other
Coal is undeniably controversial in Australia – and no example better demonstrates this than the Adani mine. Despite this, we continue to see investments in coal and developed countries, such as Australia, are doing little to pursue other, renewable sources of energy. How could this be?
The proposed construction of the Carmichael Coal Mine by the Indian conglomerate Adani, at the Galilee Basin in western Queensland, has inspired fierce debate. The ‘Adani Go Back’ campaign against the mine has been long and pervasive for the people of Queensland, and has resulted in the withdrawal of government support for the project. Protests are continuing Australia-wide over the large-scale destruction of forest land and the impacts of mining on the environment and its people. A common concern among all protests, in particular, are the impacts of the proposed mine on the UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Great Barrier Reef.
Adani’s plans include the construction of a 189 kilometer railway line from the proposed Carmichael Coal Mine to Abbot Point, to increase the remote Basin’s accessibility. Annastacia Palaszczuk, the 39th Premier of Queensland, initially backed this plan, which was dependent on a one billion dollar loan from the Commonwealth government. However, the promised funding ended up being vetoed by Palaszczuk herself, leaving Adani in need of alternative investment.
A coal mine of this magnitude has never been witnessed by Queensland before, and with plans to pump out roughly 60 million tonnes of coal per annum, it is a highly ambitious project even for Adani. Intense media and public scrutiny have led several Australian and Chinese Banks to drop funding for this project, leaving Adani high and dry. It is clear that the majority of the Australian public no longer support investment in coal.
One could ask, then – what is Australia doing to switch to renewable energy? To answer this question, it is important to recognise that coal has been a centre-stone of invention and technology since the Industrial Age. What is more important, however, is acknowledging that the Industrial Age has ended. Climate Change science has demonstrated the detrimental long-term impacts of coal emissions, and reliance on coal must reduce.
And it isn’t just the environmental impact – renewable energy also has the potential to enhance the reliability of our electricity supply. On 29 January 2018, much of Melbourne suffered a complete blackout, as blown fuses and transistors left approximately 60,000 homes devoid of power. This incident highlighted questions regarding the capacity of the state to provide reliable electricity in times of erratic weather patterns and rising temperatures, which are becoming more frequent because of global warming. It’s a never-ending cycle: we cause global climatic change and continue with activities that drive forward the very same climatic change we wish to avoid – creating a positive feedback loop.
Currently, approximately 70 per cent of electricity in Australia is generated by coal-based power plants, compared with 13 per cent from natural gas, merely seven per cent from hydropower and two per cent from solar. It is undoubtedly true that renewable energy has not been able to compete with the historically low prices of coal-produced electricity – but if we don’t strive towards a sustainable future, we will never attain one.
With the highest solar radiation per square metre compared with any other continent, our usage of solar energy seems illogically low. This is largely related to the initial expense of solar infrastructure. But this will change: every year the price of solar panels halves, thanks to technological advances. Moreover, in times of climate adversity and disasters, solar powered energy has proven to be significantly more reliable than coal in continuing to meet the energy needs of the people. With an unlimited and eternal source of energy, solar energy’s uses can be diversified: from electricity generation (photovoltaics) to heating (solar thermal). If the costs of pollution created by coal power plants were accounted for, the cost of electricity generated from coal would also be much higher in comparison with solar-powered electricity.
It is therefore shocking that we spend an estimated AU$4 billion of tax-payer money every year on coal, oil and gas exploration, knowing very well the consequences of burning fossil fuels on the environment and our health. Subsidising coal-powered energy is directly equivalent to subsidising climate change.
The full implications of developing the Carmichael Coal Mine on Australia’s two degrees carbon budget are yet to be fully understood. The two degree carbon budget is the finite amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted in order to limit global temperature rise by two degrees Celsius. Australia’s fair share of the carbon budget is one per cent, equivalent to 10.1 Giga tonnes, which have been estimated to be used by 2028 if we continue at our current rate of fossil fuel emissions. This creates an urgency to switch to renewable energy in order to stay well within our budget. Although it is true that Adani has witnessed several setbacks and difficulties in securing clearances, they remain undeterred – for now. This time of conflict has shown the perseverance of the Australian people and their awareness that Climate Change is real and is here, despite the inaction and denial of world leaders and politicians.