Australia is hot. However, future extreme hot weather will be worse still, with new research predicting that Sydney and Melbourne are on course for 50℃ summer days by the 2040s in case high carbon dioxide emissions continue. That indicates that places such as Perth, Adelaide, and different cities towns could conceivably hit that mark even sooner.
This trend is worrying, but not especially unexpected given the fact that Australia is setting hot weather records at 12 times the pace of cold ones. However, it does call for an urgent response.
Most of us get used to hot weather, yet temperatures of 50℃ present unprecedented challenges to our health, transport habits, work, leisure, and exercise.
Humans have an upper limit to heat tolerance, beyond which we would face to heat shock and even death. Death rates do jump on greatly cold days but raise much more steeply on extremely hot ones. In cold weather, you can tack with warm clothes, but to avoid being heat shock you are required to use fans or air conditioning at a low frequency.
Daily dead rate
Even with air conditioning, simply staying indoors isn't necessarily a choice. People must venture outside to commute and shop. A lot of essential services need to be done in the outdoors, like essential services and maintaining public infrastructure.
Approximately 80% of the energy produced during muscular activity is heat, which must be dissipated to the atmosphere, largely through perspiration. This process is far less efficient in hot and wet conditions, and as a result, the body’s core temperature starts to rise.
We can cope with risen temperatures for short periods – up to about 30 minutes – especially those people who are fit, well hydrated and used to hot conditions. But if body temperature breaches 40-42℃ for an extended time, heat shock and death are likely. In hot enough weather, even going for a walk can be deadly.
It’s a dangerous game to use past extremes as a benchmark when preparing for the future. The new research proves that our climate future will be very different from the past.
Melbourne’s 2014 heatwave triggered a surge in demand for ambulances that hugely exceeded the number available. Many of those in distress waited hours for help, and the death toll was determined at 203.
Just last month, parts of New South Wales and Victoria suffered temperatures 16 degrees warmer than the September average, and 2017 is tracking as the world’s second-warmest year on record.
Last year, the Australian Summit on Extreme Heat and Health informed that the health sector is underprepared to face existing heat extremes.
The health sector is concerned about Australia’s slow progress and is responding with the launch of a national strategy for climate, health, and well-being. Reinstating climate and health research, health workforce training and health promotion are essential suggestions.
There is much more to be done, and the prospect of major cities sweltering through 50℃ days escalates the urgency.