Record Breaking December Summer Down Under…
2019 will undoubtedly go down as one of the hottest years on record. However, in the final weeks of the decade, the planet has surpassed yet another sweltering milestone, this time happening Down Under as Australia witnesses its hottest day ever. On Tuesday, December 17th, the Oceanic country experienced average temperatures of 40.9C (105.6F). This is .6 degrees higher than the previous national record of 40.3C, which took place on January 7th, 2013.
Being in the southern hemisphere, Australia experiences summer between December and February. Therefore, it is not a complete anomaly to see such frighteningly high temperatures this time of year. Nevertheless, these figures are unprecedented and potentially dangerous, and their causes, effects and meaning transcend the immediate sphere.
The foremost culprit for Australia’s recent heat waves is the Indian Ocean Dipole, an effect where the surface seawater is warmer in the western half of the ocean than it is in the east. Because Australia lies on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean, it is engulfed in cold water. The air, however, compensates for this cold surface water with less precipitation, leading to droughts and intense heat. Meanwhile, land along the western Indian Ocean is experiencing a surplus of rainfall and treacherous floods linked to thermal expansion.
To call the Indian Ocean Dipole a natural occurrence is misleading. It is largely an effect of manmade climate change taking its tolls on the sea and atmosphere. When carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, it traps the heat, creating dangerous conditions on land and jeopardizing ecosystems on all levels.
A Large Fossil Fuel Producer and Carbon Burning System
Australia is, although it seems rarely mentioned, one of the most fossil fuel dependent countries on the globe. With over twenty-four million people in just under 3 million square miles, the nation emits more carbon pollution per capita than most. It is also the world’s largest exporter of coal, and the third largest exporter of all fossil fuels worldwide, trailing behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Consequentially, Australia is feeling the effects of climate change firsthand. As a result of its scorching temperatures, seemingly the entire country has found itself ablaze in bushfires. Around the time of the hottest day on record, Australia endured over one hundred wildfires nationwide—an inextricable result of the heat waves and dry climate.
Bafflingly, the Australian government has been basically silent on these issues. Prime Minister Scott Morrison refuses to answer questions about climate change, and has hardly even addressed the heat waves’ relation to global warming. In the wake of the fires, he even fled the country to Hawaii, causing Australians to attack him on social media for his absence.
Likewise, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, the Australian government’s second in command, is a climate denier. A member of the country’s conservative National Party, he openly calls the climate crisis a leftist hoax, and claims that its links to the current fires are ungrounded.
Sadly so often the Case, Politics Continue to Lag Behind Science
Such lackluster political representation made Australia far from a progressive member at the recent UN Climate Conference in Madrid. This is ironic given the fact that the country is experiencing such extreme conditions. The nation has reportedly warmed more than 1 degrees Celsius in the last hundred years, making the droughts, fires, and heat more frequent. Based on the shortage of governmental response, we can assume that the Australian federal buildings are well air-conditioned.
Nevertheless, many Australian citizens have expressed outrage that their leaders are failing to take action against these environmental disasters. Heat waves are Australia’s deadliest natural phenomena. They have killed more people than the brush fires by a wide margin. When more people are dying from the heat in places that were temperate just decades ago, it is clear that the causes need to be addressed. If the government can’t or won’t respond, perhaps the people will start to act, and as in many countries currently, rebel against the prospect of going extinct, slowly and inexorably, fire by fire and drought by drought.