Sizzling summers presage a global future

Back in 2003 a heatwave centred in France killed over 70,000 people. Another which struck Moscow in 2010 killed 10,000. During the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria 173 people tragically lost their lives from the fire. However, health authorities believe Victoria’s record-breaking heatwave may have contributed to the deaths of about another 374 people with the state’s death toll 62% higher than at same time in the previous year.

The elderly were worst affected, but the very young and those in frail health are also typically affected in events like this.

January 2017 was the hottest ever recorded in Sydney and Brisbane, and great swathes of the south-east endured temperatures that often exceeded 40°C for weeks on end. It was so hot that dairy cows dropped dead in the paddocks, according to a new article in the New Scientist (pay-walled). This year saw the mercury climb to 47°C in Sydney, the hottest in 79 years. However, by 2040 Melbourne and Sydney could be experiencing mega‑heatwaves with highs of 50°C:

    “Going out to 40 or 50 years, basically the summer we just had will be normal,” says Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick at the Climate Change Research Centre of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. “It hasn’t really sunken in yet in Australia.”

The absolute maximum for humans to survive is a ‘wet-bulb’ temperature of 35°C, that is 35°C with 100% humidity. Under these conditions healthy people will die within about six hours. If the temperature is 40°C, however, you only need 75% humidity for the same effect. So far on the planet this limit has only been approached once in habitated areas, as far as we know’, in Bandahr Mashar in Iran in 2015, when the mercury was 46°C with 50% humidity.

With warming of 6°C or more significant areas of the globe would become uninhabitable. Short of that heat will become increasingly problematic as the world warms. Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and his team have published a study which found already that 30 per cent of the world’s population experiences potentially deadly temperatures for at least 20 days every year. They found that this will rise to nearly 75 per cent by 2100 if we do little to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

His team found that there are 27 ways that heat can fatally affect the human body. One of the main ones is that your gut lining disintegrates, releasing the intestine’s contents into the bloodstream, thus triggering a catastrophic immune response which ends in major organ failure. Many heat deaths are simply recorded as a heart attack.

With 27 pathways to death, there are large variations between individuals in the body’s response to heat.

The body to a certain extent becomes accustomed to different levels of temperature. It take about a week to adjust if, for example, you fly out of a northern winter and land in our summer.

‘Heatwaves’ are variously defined around the world, and vary to some extent according to local conditions. In 2014 the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) provided a national definition of a heatwave:

    A heatwave is now defined by three or more days of unusually high maximum and minimum temperatures in any area.

    ABC weather guru Graham Creed says there are three grades of heatwave, with severe and extreme posing the most serious risk.

    “Standard heatwave will only have slight effects on the general population,” he said.

    “As we move into severe, that’s when we start to see on the elderly and also people with debilitating illnesses.

    “Then as we move into extreme heatwave conditions, that’s when the general public and also infrastructure can be affected.”

BOM also has a national Heatwave Service, graded in three colours, with links to State health departments for further information.

Google told me that in Adelaide a heat wave is defined as five consecutive days at or above 35°C, or three consecutive days at or over 40°C. I assume that is a ‘standard’ heatwave.

In 2014 the Climate Council published a comprehensive report on heatwaves in Australia. They found that hot days had doubled during the last 50 years. As to the future, they found that for both northern and southern Australia, 1-in-20 year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century.

    If the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions continues through the rest of this century, today’s record-breaking hot weather will become commonplace, occurring almost every summer across the country.

The need therefore is to get emissions down, but as we saw in the most recent post on heat, emissions growth is accelerating.

The New Scientist article has an image showing the increased probability of deadly heatwaves for 1.5°C, 2°C and 4°C of warming. I don’t know exactly what that means, but the colours tell their own story about the folly of the path we are on.

The NS article also has hints on staying cool. Drinking cold water is good, and dipping hands and feet in cold water helps, as the blood can then give priority to core organs. Placing a tub of ice behind a fan gives a makeshift air conditioner. The article suggests the need for public air-conditioned refuges, but says urban planners largely ignore the heat problem.

On a personal note, I was once in charge of a public service building that was not air-conditioned, and found that humans rapidly became dysfunctional outside a range of about 18°C to 26°C. That is, with their clothes on. I also found that engineers decided the ideal temperature while walking around in a suit.

I understand that sport requiring speed and stamina should not be played when the temperature is over 26°C, if player welfare is the main concern. In the recent Brisbane International Tennis Championship we heard reports that temperatures were above 50°C on outside courts. So it was no surprise to see this, when top seed Garbine Muguruza had to concede:

    Muguruza had won a tight first set and appeared heading for a straight-sets win over Krunic when she opened up a 5-2 lead in the second.

    However, she began to struggle in the 30 deg C heat and oppressive humidity as Krunic fought back to win the second set on a tie-break.

    Muguruza received treatment from the physio on court before the start of the decider and broke Krunic only to collapse while serving to consolidate the service break.

In the Australian Open I believe a number of matches were decided on who had the better body-type to cope with the heat. In the men’s final between Roger Federer and Marin Čilić because the ambient temperature was above 32.5°C the roof was closed and the aircon turned on under their extreme heat policy. Commentators said that favoured Federer, but may have allowed the match to be decided on tennis skill on the night.

The women had no such luck. The temperature was under 32.5°C at the start but was over 30°C for much of the match. The standard of play, brilliant in the early part, deteriorated over the 2 hours, 50 minutes of the match. I felt perhaps Caroline Wozniacki fell over the line at the end and was not surprised to hear that the loser, Simona Halep, spent four hours in hospital being rehydrated after the match.

I have the distinct feeling that life is going to be very different in 50 years time.

9 thoughts on “Sizzling summers presage a global future”

  1. We’re screwed. As I have previously observed in this forum, the human race is too f**king stupid to save itself.

  2. hanks for that, Brian. I can attest to the climate transition time (Northern Winter to Southern Summer) As that is just precisely what my daughter and I have done. For me it took about 4 days to become functional, and that was with the assistance of a lot of air conditioning.

    zoot, please watch this to understand why we are tfstso:

  3. Not surprised 70,000 were died in the 2003 heatwave. We contacted an old Swedish friend at the time to give her the benefit of our Pilbara experience. Her comment when we talked about wetting clothes and sitting in front of a fan was that “her mother always said not to sit in drafts, particularly in wet clothes.” I can imagine all these old Europeans sitting in houses designed to keep you warm, in clothes that are not suited to the heat with the windows shut to keep out the thieves. No wonder the death rate was so high.
    To some extent my advice about bushwalking in the Pilbara summer is coloured by the need to conserve water. However, for what it is worth:
    Carry a lot of water. I would carry over 4 litres for an afternoon walk.
    Turn around and go back when you have used 1/2 of your water. (Don’t assume that water shown on a map will always be there unless you are very sure.)
    Have water in you car for when you get back to it. I kept 20 litres all the time plus smaller containers to use when i got back to the car. Part of all this is all about survival if your car breaks down. The water should be in containers that you can transport when you are on foot. A 440 litre container may keep you alive but it is no use if you decide you have to walk out to safety.
    Tell someone where you are going and stick to the plan.
    Drink when you feel thirsty, not when you feel hot but don’t feel thirsty.
    When you get a chance wet your shirt and hat. Makes a lot of difference.
    Monitor your body for heat exhaustion. Sit in the shade for a while to recover and plan what you are going to do.
    Check your pee. Should be pale yellow, not deep orange.
    Would have been better if I had walked in Arab gear. Better designed for hot dry.
    Above all else vote for governments that will really do something about global warming.

    I have worked in 46 deg You certainly go through a lot of water. In really hot environments your body may not be able to absorb water fast enough to keep up with too much exertion.

  4. BilB (Re: FEBRUARY 1, 2018 AT 3:23 AM):

    Thanks for the link, but I challenge one of the generalisations that Ola Rosling presented:

    Rule of thumb #1: Most things improve. I think that this generalisation fails in relation to the way society is currently dealing with climate change, energy security (i.e. peak oil & gas, declining EROI), environmental degradation (e.g. forest clearing, species extinction), and resource depletion (e.g. phosphorus – impacting on food security, water security – Cape Town water supply may be dry by April; is this the first city of many?). These are not leading to improvements, and if we don’t effectively deal with these issues, and soon, then the other improvements, like better education, less extreme poverty, etc., are unlikely to last.

    Ola Rosling also says he took projection figures of GDP per capita from the IMF to look forward from 2014 to 2020 in relation to affordability of air travel, and then extrapolated those growth figures out further to 2025, 2030, and 2035. I think extrapolations should always be treated with caution. Without assumptions and caveats clearly enunciated, especially when given to the general public, these projections and extrapolations may imprint a false perception of the future of aviation on audience members – I think this is irresponsible. I ask: Where’s the affordable, abundant fuel (or energy) coming from to keep the world’s aircraft flying into the 2020s and beyond? With credible evidence I see of a post- ‘peak oil’ world arriving soon (probably before 2030, and with a significant risk before 2020), and with biofuels heavily dependent on petroleum for production together with having poor to very poor EROIs, I think the extrapolations on the affordability of aviation into the future (beyond 2020) presented by Ola Rosling from the IMF figures are fanciful.

    I agree that we need to be aware of skewed information, coloured by personal bias, outdated facts, and news bias.

  5. Brian,

    Yesterday, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) granted approval for the Invincible MOD 5 proposal for an extension to open-cut coal mining. The Determination Report can be found here. I note the Determination Report Appendix 3: Summary of issues from written and verbal submissions to the public meeting, includes these logged issues:

     Availability of “Nut Coal” from other suppliers, with lower environmental impacts.
     Lack of verification of the economic data used to justify the development of the project.
     Potential to displace jobs from other mines and coal producers.
     Uncertainty regarding the commencement and length of operations, which is likely to be very short term, with limited economic benefits.
     Declining cost of renewable generation and decrease in coal price and demand make opening a new thermal coal mine unnecessary.
     Comment that biofuels are not as environmentally friendly as being presented in the project justification.
     Opening new coal mines is contrary to Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

     High levels of legacy issues from poor rehabilitation practices at the project site, with low confidence they can be effectively be remediated.
     Historic depletion of the Lithgow seam resulting in an impact to extraction that is worse than other coal projects.
     Approval of this project will set a precedent that open cut mining is acceptable in the region and lead to expansion of coal mining in the region, including Manildra’s application for access to coal resources in 1,368 hectares around the proposed mine site.
     A limited assessment undertaken by the proponent, with no independent review of the modelling and assessment provided and inadequate baseline data.
     The Department of Planning and Environment Protection Authority have raised concerns about water management that have not been addressed.
     The method for managing ground and surface water impacts should be dealt with prior to approval rather than shifting it to a post approval action.
     Lack of a strategy to manage surface water impacts at the project site.
     Limited considerations of salinity levels in discharge scenarios.
     Unknowns and connections to other unground workings could result in unintended impacts.

    Apparently, these issues are insufficient to deny the approval of the proposal.

    Apparently, the emphasis is about more promised jobs – 32 (full-time equivalent) for the next 7 years, plus promised multiplier jobs, and ignoring the warning signs already that Australia is heading for hotter and hotter summers.

    Brian, you say:

    I have the distinct feeling that life is going to be very different in 50 years time.

    I suspect we don’t need to wait that long. I think by 2030, life will likely be very different.

  6. I think by 2030, life will likely be very different.

    Yes it will, but I think it may take a little longer for well-established patterns of international life to break down. I was actually wondering whether people would be flitting around the world to play sport they way they do now. At some stage we are going to have a lot more failed states, masses of people on the move, and countries will close their borders.

    I really don’t know how it will work out, but it could be ugly.

    I did not want to open that scenario just at the end of the post, but if, as per your comment, we can’t grasp now the implications of continuing to expand the coal mining industry, we are heading for trouble.

  7. Brian,

    In yesterday’s The Sydney Morning Herald paper edition, there was an article by Peter Hannam about the recent NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) approval of the Invincible open-cut coal mine extension. It included this statement:

    The mine’s output would be 2.7 million tonnes of poor-quality fuel known as “nut coal”.

    “Nut coal” is high-quality, high energy-dense, low ash content fuel, and represents only about 11% (300 kt estimated) of the total 2.7 Mt estimated of Invincible’s reserves as part of the currently approved proposal. 85 ktpa of “nut coal” is required by Manildra’s Shoalhaven Starches Plant at Bomaderry, NSW. About 89% of the remainder of Invincible’s coal reserves are poorer quality, having up to 30% ash content, and the only likely consumer of this poorer coal would be Mt Piper Power Station.

    I rang Peter Hannam today to highlight the error. I note that he has updated the online article, mentioning my name and referring to my PAC presentation with a reference link.

    I note that per the Lithgow Mercury article here, Paul Toole MP is quoted saying:

    “The reopening of the Invincible Mine means 32 jobs for the local community which will in turn benefit the local economy.”

    This suggests that the Invincible Mine will be extracting 45 ktpa of “nut coal” for a period of 7 years, utilizing 32 full-time equivalent employees at the mine (as per the PAC Determination Appendix 4 – proponent response document Table 2.3: Predicted Employee Numbers for Different Mine Plan Production Scenarios).

    It seems to me, it’s all about the here and now, and ignoring the future of new generations.

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