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Blame it on the sunshine!

Hey folks! Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet over the last few days both here and on social media. I’ve been afflicted with a bad bout of heat exhaustion (which isn’t uncommon for me I get it at least twice a month every subtropical summer) a not-often spoken about summertime issue. You would be forgiven for thinking that just about every person on the planet is a sun worshipper as we are bombarded with images of bikini clad gals on tropical island holidays on most Pinterest and Instagram accounts, and it would appear from a quick Google and scroll through Facebook that hot weather and sunny beaches are pretty much the only things worth living for.

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Are we kidding ourselves or making the most of a sticky situation?

This weekend past there was a mass movement for climate change the ‘People’s Climate March‘ that happened across Australia’s major cities. On the Coast we had a ‘Paddle Out for Climate’ in Noosa that I sadly didn’t get to attend as I was hauled up feeling sorry for myself after a long week of hot field and plant nursery work. My self enforced quite-cool-time got me thinking about how little focus there is on the real implications of climate change for individuals, the planet, and public health. We all know climate change is bad, and that polar bears will be floating around on very small pieces of melted ice, but really, how few of us really know what the implications of a few degrees of change are? More often than not we watch new broadcasts with weather reporters that are celebrating the ‘end of horrible rainy weather’ and ‘inviting the sun in for a nice weekend’. This trend of sun=good and rain=bad seems to be quite prevalent here in Australia, which is an odd phenomena for a country at risk of being completely drought stricken given a few degrees of climate change. Is this celebration of sunshine embracing the idea of life on a warmer planet or is the globe on ‘Spring Break’, having one great big ‘end of world’ party that will result in some seriously sore heads and horrendous sunburn come our 1-6 degree change in climate? According to reports, heat is Australia’s number one natural killer which comes as a bit of a surprise considering how much time and energy the media spends focusing on the comparatively rare occurrence of shark attacks during the summer months.

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Six degrees can make a huge difference.

Ok sun worshipers, we might rejoice in the fact that the temperature has risen from twenty degrees to twenty six degrees (thank you seasons) as we can cast off our layers and get around in a sundress but in regards to long term weather patterns, anywhere from a degree or more in long term climate patterns can have long term effects on the way that our planet operates. I was lucky enough to come across a book that I read a while back that has always stuck in my mind at a charity book sale to support Queensland’s drought stricken farmers last weekend. Six Degrees: Our Future on a hotter planet by Mark Lynas is a few years old now having been published in 2007, but it’s degree by degree look at the effects of climate change are just as relevant now as they were back then. While predictions on the effects of climate change do change all the time, the truth is that we do not know the exact consequences of this large scale experiment in global warming that we have been playing a part of for many decade now. Lynas’s predictions that I share below (obviously I just selected a few or the post would be novel length) are a little scary and hard to take, and while reading them it is important to realise that we cannot predict the future with any level of absolute certainty. Change is the only constant and what we do now, wither it feeds or repairs the damage, will help to determine the way our future looks.

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The degrees of change.

One degree of climate change doesn’t sound like much does it? Realistically there isn’t many people who could physically discern a degree change in their daily weather, for most of us it’s around the five degree mark that we start to notice the difference in the weather (20 and 25 degrees require totally different outfits). How about six degrees? Yes, we can defiantly discern the difference between zero and six, but it’s not likely to make us break out our bikinis in mid winter. However the difference that these degrees of change have on a climate scale are frightening. Here are just a few points to contemplate:

One degree change:

  • The Mid-west American dust bowl returns worse than ever before
  • Ice melt. From the loss of ice peaks in Africa to reaching the Artic tipping point, ice melt changes biological flows affecting water supply, wildlife and biodiversity. The worst part about this ice melt is that ice is reflective (reflecting 80% of the suns heat) while dark ocean waters absorb 90% of the heat. Meaning that this small degree change will only lead to greater warming as water bodies heat up.
  • Warmer oceans result in more hurricanes which lead to wide spread damage to human and animal habitats and are costly to provide emergency provisions for and assist in clean up and ongoing economic rehabilitation. Those living on coral atolls are at serious threat by increased occurrences of extreme weather events like these.
  • A degree warming has serious implications on coral reefs resulting in coral bleaching and loss of marine biodiversity

Two degree change:

  • Just two degrees of global warming can cause serious changes to ocean chemistry. Two degrees may result in ocean toxicity in some areas making it difficult for ocean plankton to survive. Ocean plankton are a small but important part of the marine ecosystem as the a keystone species. Without plankton there would be serious implications to the ocean food chain.
  • Two degrees change in long term weather patterns will result in heatwaves. In Europe in 2003 35,000 people died prematurely due to heat related illnesses
  • There would be changes in the food production systems with some crops failing in places they would once have thrived while other areas may find they are able to grow crops they would never previously have dreamed about growing. This would have a great impact on the global food production and distribution system as places like Africa suffer from a loss of food production.
  • Occurrences of extreme weather events would continue to increase. Droughts would affect places like California and Texas. Wildfire would penetrate as far North as the Baltic Coast.  Monsoons would increase in India and Bangladesh.
  • Glacial melt rates will double. If Greenland ice sheets melted (which at 2 degrees it would take 140 years) then Miami, Manhattan, London, Bombay, Bangkok, and Shanghai would be inundated with water.
  • Sea level rise will result in a world wide climate change refugee debate as migrants are re-homed.

Three degree change:

  • The last time the world experienced a three degree temperature rise was during the geological Pliocene Age (3 million years ago). The historical period of the earths history was undoubtedly due to high CO2 levels (about 360 440ppm almost exactly current levels)
  • At this degree of climate change Australia will become the worlds driest nation. Days when the temperatures exceed 40° will increase sixfold, the drought frequency will triple and rainfall plummet by 25% with extreme winds. Australias main rivers for water supply will lose between 25% and 50% of their flow.
  • 80% of arctic sea ice will have melted with a 3 degree change.
  • The amazonian rain forest basin will dry our completely with consequent bio-diversity disasters. Many plant species across the globe will become extinct due to inability to evolve to suit the rapidity of climate change.
  • The number of wild fires will increase and with each wildfire there will be a release in CO2 which will exacerbate global warming. If you are shocked by this fiery fact please check out this article on the recent human lit forest fires in Indonesia that have released CO2 exceeding the average daily emissions from all U.S. economic activity.
  • Vegetation and soil will begin to release carbon rather than sorting it.
  • Just 2.5 degrees will likely see the price of food soar resulting in increase in poverty, and the possibility of international conflict.

Four degree change:

  • Sea levels will rise by 50 cm flooding inhabited lands and displacing billions of people across the globe Mumbai, Shanghai, Boston, New York, London and Venice would be inundated (to name but a few). These sea level changes would be irreversible. If there were to be an invasion of sea water on the Antarctic ice sheet, rapid melting would result leading to a 5 metre rise in sea levels.
  • Ice melt would become a massive global problem with the Greenland ice sheet melting fast, permafrost melt in Siberia, and Antarctic melt. In isolation the melt of permafrost in Siberia could result in a huge release of methane which would equate to a 700% increase in carbon release.
  • Agriculture as we know it would be changed forever with reduced river flows and desertification; Australia would support little to no agriculture, the Indian sub-contiant would be arid, and drought would be common in South West Northern America, central America, the Mediterranean,  South Africa and Australia.
  • In Europe there would be 80% less snowfall resulting in water shortages and the UK summers could reach 45°

Five degree change:

  • Things start looking really grim! There are no ice sheets, rainforest has disappeared, sea level rises are causing mass inundations and shrinking our inhabitable areas, droughts and floods are common place, and deserts are expanding across Africa and Australia. New deserts appear in Indo-china, Korea, Japan and the west Pacific and Pacific Isles, Southern Europe, East Africa and Madagascar and parts of Chile.
  • Inland temperatures 10° or more higher than now.
  • A lack of land for habitation and food production will result in widespread conflict and possibly the death of billions.
  • Changes in the ocean temperatures may release of methane hydrates from the ocean floor. If this occurred it would add to the release of green house gases and thus intensify the severity of the changing climate. The release of methane hydrates will cause sub-marine landslides, the movement of which will create tsunamis causing further damage to areas already claimed by sea level rise.

Six degree change:

  • Sea levels could be around 20 meters higher than our current levels.
  • Extreme weather events would be so fierce that we couldn’t possibly imagine them right now.
  • There is no solid indications that we as a species would be able to survive the implications of a  6° temperature rise.

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Dealing with heat stress.

Not many folks are aware of the fact that being hot can be deadly! We shun off the impacts of warm weather as a ‘little bit of sunburn’ and a need for a cool fizzy drink but realistically hot weather can result in rapid demise in health and wellbeing. As someone who is prone to excess sweating who lives in a humid environment and works in a laborious job under extreme conditions I can vouch for how quickly heat can sneak up on you, even if you take appropriate measures to replace lost fluids. It’s not fun dealing with the effects of heat stress but being aware of the symptoms can assist in helping to avoid the situation escalating to dangerous extremes. Heat stroke kills!

Symptoms of heat stress/ exhaustion include:

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

The best way to combat heat exhaustion and stress is to take measures to cool down. Remove and constricting clothing, sit in a breezy spot (or use a fan or air conditioning), get yourself wet (have a shower, use cold damp face clothes, or immerse yourself in some water), and have something to drink (coconut water and electrolyte replacements work a treat to eliminate cramps, if nether of these are available snack on some fruit while you drink water). Seek medical advice if you are still not feeling better after fifteen minutes of down time. If things get worse you can put yourself at risk of heat stroke. The symptoms of which are much the same as above, but may be more severe, and also include;

  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioural changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Heat stroke is deadly and should be treated as a medical emergency. Always seek medical help even if you are unsure of the severity of the problem as it’s better to be safe than sorry. A little tip from me is that those who are prone to anxiety should note that sometimes heat stress can produce anxiety like symptoms. A racing heart, nausea, confusion, and sweating can all make for a frightening experience that can be hard to identify as heat related. It is best to treat these anxiety symptoms as suspiciously heat related on a hot day and take the same steps as above to cool down. Also there is a reason behind the phrase ‘hot and bothered’. Being hot will make you cranky. Make sure that you pay close attention to those feelings of crankiness, they could be an indicator that your body is dealing with a dose of heat stress.

If climate change interests you check out these posts:

Be kind to yourself this summer and acknowledge the fact that we all have our limitations when it comes to heat exposure-the planet included! Do you have top tips for keeping cool? Lets us know about it below.