Sunday, October 8, 2017

Guest Post: Liz Hanna on the reality of living with 50℃ temperatures in our major cities

I have been very concerned about rising temperatures and the urban heat island effect on the people in our cities, particularly Melbourne and the City of Moreland where I live. See Climate change and heatwaves in Melbourne - a Review. Moreland Council have been one of the more pro-active local governments in reducing emissions, ameliorating the urban heat island effect through an urban forest strategy, and in working towards adaptive changes by the population of Moreland in dealing with impacts of extreme heat. Liz Hanna puts this together in the dilemmas we will face in future years as temperatures continue to rise.

The reality of living with 50℃ temperatures in our major cities


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Sydney is facing 50℃ summer days by 2040, new research says.
Andy/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA


Liz Hanna, Australian National University

Australia is hot. But 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 if high greenhouse emissions continue. That means that places such as Perth, Adelaide and various regional towns could conceivably hit that mark even sooner.

This trend is worrying, but not particularly surprising given the fact that Australia is setting hot weather records at 12 times the pace of cold ones. But it does call for an urgent response.

Most of us are used to hot weather, but temperatures of 50℃ present unprecedented challenges to our health, work, transport habits, leisure and exercise.


Read more: Health Check: how to exercise safely in the heat


Humans have an upper limit to heat tolerance, beyond which we suffer heat stress and even death. Death rates do climb on extremely cold days, but increase much more steeply on extremely hot ones. While cold weather can be tackled with warm clothes, avoiding heat stress requires access to fans or air conditioning, which is not always available.




The death rate in heat ramps up more rapidly than in cold.
Data from Li et al., Sci. Rep. (2016); Baccini et al., Epidemiol. (2008); McMichael et al., Int. J. Epidemiol. (2008), Author provided


Even with air conditioning, simply staying indoors is not necessarily an option. People must venture outside to commute and shop. Many essential services have to be done in the open air, such as essential services and maintaining public infrastructure.

Roughly 80% of the energy produced during muscular activity is heat, which must be dissipated to the environment, largely through perspiration. This process is far less effective in hot and humid conditions, and as a result the body’s core temperature begins to climb.

We can cope with increased temperatures for short periods – up to about half an hour – particularly those people who are fit, well hydrated and used to hot conditions. But if body temperature breaches 40-42℃ for an extended time, heat stress and death are likely. In hot enough weather, even going for a walk can be deadly.

Air conditioning may not save lives

We expect air conditioning to take the strain, but may not realise just how much strain is involved. Shade temperatures of 50℃ mean that direct sunlight can raise the temperature to 60℃ or 70℃. Bringing that back to a comfortable 22℃ or even a warm 27℃ is not always possible and requires a lot of energy – putting serious strain on the electricity grid.

Electricity transmission systems are inherently vulnerable to extreme heat. This means they can potentially fail simply due to the weather, let alone the increased demand on the grid from power consumers.

Power cuts can cause chaos, including the disruption to traffic signals on roads that may already be made less safe as their surfaces soften in the heat. Interruptions to essential services such as power and transport hamper access to lifesaving health care.

Myopic planning

It’s a dangerous game to use past extremes as a benchmark when planning for the future. The new research shows that our climate future will be very different from the past.

Melbourne’s 2014 heatwave triggered a surge in demand for ambulances that greatly exceeded the number available. Many of those in distress waited hours for help, and the death toll was estimated at 203.

Just last month, parts of New South Wales and Victoria experienced temperatures 16 degrees warmer than the September average, and 2017 is tracking as the world’s second-warmest year on record.

Preparing ourselves

Last year, the Australian Summit on Extreme Heat and Health warned 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 key recommendations.

There is much more to be done, and the prospect of major cities sweltering through 50℃ days escalates the urgency.


Read more: Climate policy needs a new lens: health and well-being


Two key messages arise from this. The first is that Australia urgently needs to adapt to the extra warming. Heat-wise communities (or “heat-safe communities” in some states) – where people understand the risks, protect themselves and look after each other – are vital to limit harm from heat exposure. The health sector must have the resources to respond to those who succumb. Research, training and health promotion are central.

The second message is that nations across the world need to improve their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, so as to meet the Paris climate goal of holding global warming to 1.5℃.

If we can do that, we can stave off some of the worst impacts. We have been warned.

Liz Hanna, Honorary Senior Fellow, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Large and vocal protest to Stop Adani outside Queensland Labor conference in Townsville


Photo by StopAdani

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten talk about addressing inequality inside the Queensland State Conference of the Labor Party in Townsville. Yet one of the greatest drivers of inequality is climate change driven by fossil fuels and coal mining.

Outside the state convention about 200 people turned up on Saturday morning to press the point that developing more fossil fuels, especially the Adani Carmichael coal mine, will further drive climate change. Climate change is a driver of political destabilisation, food insecurity, and inequality at a global level.

Queensland's commitment to 50 percent renewables by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050 mean little if coal and gas is continued to be exploited and exported overseas. Politicians often say that if we don't export it , then some other country will. But this is an immoral defence, with this justification known as the Drug Pusher's defence. That's what Premier Palaszczuk is arguing: an immoral case that if Queensland doesn't drive climate change by exporting coal, then some other nation will do so.

But even the Drug Pusher's defence for developing the Adani mine falls flat when you take into account there is a global energy transition occurring, and the global coal market is in structural decline. Developing any new coal mine risks becoming a stranded asset, failing at plain economics.

Stop sitting on the fence Bill Shorten on Adani coal


Photo by Julian Meehan Copyright: Creative Commons CC-by-SA

Bill Shorten has been sitting on the fence regarding the Adani Carmichael coal mine. Well, it doesn't stack up according to any social justice morality, or on it's economics or according to environmental and climate criteria.

In April Bill Shorten, interviewed for the ABC 7.30 Report, opposed the NAIF loan while hedging his bets on support for the mine. He said "I support the Adani coal mine so long as it stacks up. I hope it stacks up, by the way. But it's got to stack up commercially. It's got to stack up environmentally."

I attended Bill Shorten's Moonee Ponds office to give him a message to stop sitting on the fence over Adani's Carmichael coal mine. I met with Bill Shorten with other members of civil society during COP21 in Paris, so he knows how serious climate change is, and how important it is to reduce emissions.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Coalition parties have heads in the sand on Victorian climate and energy policy



The Victorian opposition released a statement on energy security on Tuesday. It was tweeted out by Shadow Minister for Innovation, Energy and Resources, and Renewables David Southwick MP.

The first thing to note is that it doesn't mention climate change, not even once. Even though climate change contributes to extreme heat events and severe storm events that imperils the safety of Victorians, with the threat increasing over time as temperatures rise.

The second thing to note is it doesn't include energy security in the context of an energy transition already taking place. Energy security, reliability and affordability are all important considerations, but need to be discussed in the context of broad energy transition to a zero carbon economy driven by the imperative of addressing climate change. The statement patently fails Victorians in this regard.

With the threat of protected industrial action against AGL Energy at Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B Power Stations and a counter threat by AGL Energy to lock out workers, the Victorian energy minister Lily D'Ambrosio made the right call with an application to the Fair Work Commission to seek a termination of the industrial action at AGL Loy Yang.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Reports Adani's Abbot Point coal terminal exceeded pollution limits 8 fold



Remember that story on Adani's Abbot Point export coal terminal contaminating the Caley Valley wetlands next door? And the ruckus of denial from Adani, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and Queensland Resources Council CEO Ian MacFarlane?


The latest update is a news report on the ABC that reveals that at one monitoring point the contaminated liquids and sediment from Abbot Point were at 8 times the legal limit.

Adani had applied and was issued an authority to release contaminated water, but with a limit of total suspended solids up to 100 milligrams per litre. The report provided by Adani Abbot Point Bulkcoal on the water release advised that the water discharged on 30 March from a licensed point on the northern side of the terminal contained 806mg/L of sediment.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mark Butler endorses Westpac's policy assessment that excludes Adani Project while ALP policy remains mute on export coal



Shadow minister for Energy and Climate Mark Butler was on ABC Insiders program on Sunday and was critical of the Government criticising Westpac over a business policy decision, when the Government has refused to implement a Banking Royal Commission to look at financial practices that hurt lots of ordinary Australians and small businesses.

It was a very competent interview and attack on the Government, while adroitly not answering the question of opposing the mine if Adani does manage to get the financial investment required sorted. (19 international banks have now ruled out financing the mine)

All Butler's points were valid and important facts: that the demand for thermal coal imports from Australia is in decline, that the Adani project would hurt coal jobs in both Queensland and New South Wales, and that the economics of the mine simply don't stack up.

Then there is the climate risk which Butler did not emphasise but is at the heart of Westpac Bank's business climate policy and future investments in coal.

I don't fully agree with Westpac's policy, but it is a nuanced approach to supporting only new investment in metallurgical coal or high quality Newcastle benchmark thermal coal from existing basins. The Adani coal from the Carmichael mine fails the energy benchmark, and has a high ash content. It is a low to medium quality thermal coal.

I read the ALP's climate policy it took to the last election in 2016. It was a positive policy overall, but one of it's huge failings was the silence on coal and fossil fuel export, particularly the low grade Adani coal in the Galilee Basin, unconventional gas, and offshore oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

The ALP are happy to play both sides of the coal equation and leave the outcome as a commercial decision as they think this resolves them from responsibility of good policy.

It may be good politics, but it is bad policy when the science says we need to keep 95 percent of Australia's coal unexploited.

The fact is Westpac's climate business policy (PDF) on export coal is now more aligned to the Paris Agreement climate targets, and superior to both the Government and opposition parties policies on export coal.

That is a sad state of affairs. Here are the interview snippets from Insiders between Barry Cassidy and Mark Butler.









Saturday, April 29, 2017

Resources minister Matt Canavan's Jobs, jobs, jobs Adani coal mantra is bullshit



Jobs, jobs, and more jobs, that's the mantra by both the Liberal National Coalition Federal Government and the Queensland State Labor Government, and bugger the reef and the rising temperatures of climate change.

On Friday Westpac Bank released their climate change Position statement and 2020 action Plan. This effectively rules out any funding of Adani for the Carmichael coal project.

Matt Canavan, and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce on Lateline, continue this mantra, to peddle the myth that 10,000 or more jobs will be generated, when in court Adani admitted only 1464 jobs would be created. In fact, Adani hope to fully automate much of the mining and transport, so jobs could be even less than stated in court.

If the Adani Carmichael coal mine proceeds, it is also likely to hurt existing coal jobs in Queensland and New South Wales.

Friday, April 28, 2017

New Westpac climate policy rules out financing Adani Carmichael coal mine



Westpac have released their climate change Position statement and 2020 action Plan. This effectively rules out any funding of Adani for the Carmichael coal project.

Westpac becomes the 4th and last of the big 4 Australian banks to rule out financing the Adani project, and makes it the 19th bank globally to have either ruled out funding Galilee Basin coal export projects directly, or through the introduction of a new policy.

Westpac came under intense pressure from community organisations to rule out funding for Adani, with numerous protests outside bank branches, questions at AGMs, and a campaign urging customers to divest. Without this community social pressure Westpac's climate change position may have been much less rigorous.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stop Adani climate protest occupies Downer EDI office: Don't get into bed with Adani



About 20 Activists this morning occupied the Melbourne offices of Downer, an infrastructure company, to protest participation in developing the Adani Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin of Queensland, widely seen as a climate carbon bomb with no social license.

The Adani Carmichael coal mine is a climate carbon bomb that would push temperatures well past the 2 degrees C limit that countries set in Paris UN climate Conference in 2015 at COP21. Research shows that Australia needs to leave 95 percent of it's coal in the ground unexploited and unburnt to stand a reasonable chance of not exceeding the 2C target.

In January 2015 it was announced that Downer EDI had won a $2 billion contract for works at Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, according to Australian Mining.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Great White shark, climate change and ocean carbon cycles


The latest media 'hysteria' about shark attack arises from a tragic fatal bite incident when WA teenager Laeticia Brouwer was mauled by a shark at the popular surf break - Kelp Beds - near Esperance (south coast of Western Australia) just before 4pm on Easter Monday (2017).

The paramedic who was first on the scene said the teenager suffered tremendous blood loss and couldn’t be saved despite quickly receiving first aid.

While sharks are relatively common in coastal waters, attacks are exceptional given the overwhelming presence and numbers of people in the surf zone. You are more likely to be killed in a road accident, riding a horse or a vending machine, than by a shark.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg says WA isn’t doing enough to protect people from sharks urging shark culls and drum lines, according to the West Australian. "In light of the recent shark attack, the Commonwealth would welcome any proposal to protect human life first and foremost,” he said. “This could include the newest drum-line technology, shark exclusion nets, culling or other measures which WA sees fit.”

WA Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly has ruled out the idea of a shark cull in response, according to the ABC. "We're not going down the path of a cull because there's no evidence that it actually makes our beaches safer," he said, "...no evidence that that actually reduces the likelihood of future attacks," Kelly said.

Like on climate change, we are seeing the issue of shark conservation or culling being politicised rather than public education and options for shark incident mitigation. Our Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister should know better. The oceans are the domain of sharks and they have an important role to play as apex predators as part of the ocean carbon cycle. When we swim in the oceans we need to be mindful of the risks involved, including utilising the latest in public shark warning and repellent devices.

Mindless culling of sharks will not actually reduce the risk of shark attack without doing great harm to the ocean ecosystem trophic structure. It is as apex ocean predators that sharks do us the greatest service in maintaining the ocean carbon cycle and help keep carbon sequestered in coastal sea areas (Blue Carbon) to help us mitigate climate change.