Australia’s Hot Spell Goes Off the Scale

Kevin RennieBreaking news: Sydney has recorded its hottest day ever at 46.4 degrees Celsius (115.52 degrees Fahrenheit) at 2:30pm at Sydney Airport.

There’s nothing like an extreme weather event to raise the heat in the climate change debate. It is certainly the case in Australia with a recent prolonged heat wave, combined with widespread bush-fires. North Americans are only too familiar with questions about possible links between global warming, climate change and catastrophes such as Hurricane Sandy and the continuing widespread drought.

It is sometimes the tangential things that catch the media’s attention. This report on January 8, 2013 in The Age, a Melbourne daily newspaper, echoed in Britain and elsewhere overseas:

The Bureau of Meteorology’s [BOM] interactive weather forecasting chart has added new colors – deep purple and pink – to extend its previous temperature range that had been capped at 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology

George Monbiot followed with an opinion piece in the Guardian “Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia.” A thread was quickly posted at Catallaxy Files, a popular self-styled “center-right blog.” The 290 comments certainly proved Monbiot right. The first reply captured the tone of much of the so-called discussion in Australia: “I wonder what George Monbiot will say about the record stupidity and deceit now ravaging his apocalyptic catastrophic crank religion?” There were some attempts from both sides to use data as evidence for their arguments but it seems a futile exercise both online and off.

Tasmania was the first State to experience the ravages of bushfires, with over 100 homes and other buildings destroyed. Thankfully there has not been a repeat of the Black Saturday tragedy in 2009 when 173 people died in Victoria. Fires have continued to get out of control in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

With a lick of irony the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are currently meeting in Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, to prepare their next report for the United Nations. They also weighed into the heat wave debate:

The IPCC has also reiterated warnings of extreme weather events in the face of a global warming trend.

The Panel’s chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who was in Hobart for the opening of the IPCC meeting, says there’s no doubt this summer’s severe heat in Australia is an example of that.

Not only did they set the record straight with The Australian, when Rupert Murdoch’s national paper caught itself in a climate change stoush of its own making. The following image from Twitter says it all.

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Meanwhile the scientists have rejoined the web debate at The Conversation, an academic blog site. Five climatologists from BOM give their answer to the question “What’s causing Australia’s heat wave?”

Australia has always experienced heat waves, and they are a normal part of most summers. However, the current event affecting much of inland Australia has definitely not been typical.

The most significant thing about the recent heat has been its coverage across the continent, and its persistence.

“… Of great concern in Australia is the substantial increasing trend in severe fire weather — weather conducive to the spread and intensification of bush-fires and grass fires — in about half of the monitoring sites studied around the country, with a concentrated increase in the southeast of the continent. The fire season is now longer, reducing the time for preparation such as fuel reduction.”

Their answer and their predictions will not be popular with the climate skeptics: “Future warming of the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions will very likely lead to further increases in the frequency of unusually hot days and nights and continued declines in unusually cold days and nights.”

These changes will result in weather events which are increasingly beyond our prior experiences. The IPCC update on climate change to be released towards the end of 2013 will no doubt receive the same hostile reception from some quarters down under.

Kevin Rennie is a secondary teacher (now retired), unionist and Australian Labor Party member since 1972. He has eight years teaching experience in the Northern Territory; four in Katherine, and another four in Maningrida, an aboriginal community in Arnhem Land. Kevin’s website is Red Bluff.