Australia’s Summers Are Now Twice as Long as Its Winters
The climate crisis has now stretched Australia's summers twice as long as its winters, a new report has found.
The report, published by The Australian Institute Monday, comes after the country experienced its warmest and driest year on record, as well as a devastating wildfire season that killed 33 people and more than one billion animals, BBC News pointed out.
"Following the hottest Summer on record, it commonplace to hear older Australians claim Summers aren't what they use to be. And they are right," Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program Director Richie Merzian said in a press release. "Our findings are not a projection of what we may see in the future. It's happening right now."
“Our findings are not a projection of what we may see in the future. It's happening right now. Summers have grown l… https://t.co/ZoEvD1WByk— Australia Institute (@Australia Institute)1583131041.0
The researchers looked at Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) temperature data from 70 weather stations across Australia, The Guardian reported. First, they compared temperature data from 1999 to 2018 with data from 1950 to 1969. They found that, between the two periods, summers had gotten 31 days longer while winters had gotten 23 days shorter. Then, they looked at data for the last five years and found that summers from 2014 to 2018 were around twice as long as winters.
This has major implications for the health and wellbeing of Australians. Extreme heat waves are the deadliest extreme weather events in the country, responsible for more deaths than all other hazards combined, Merzian said. Shorter winters also mean there is less time to implement strategies for managing bushfires during the off season.
One region that suffered during the most recent wave of wildfires has also seen its summers extend significantly: Port Macquarie in New South Wales, where the Lindfield Park Road fire burned for almost seven months starting in July 2019, is now seeing 48 more days of summer, ABC News pointed out. Fires in Port Macquarie also devastated koala habitats.
"[T]he catastrophic 2019 fires near Port Macquarie occurred before summer as defined by the calendar, but well within the new summer as caused by climate change," the report said, according to ABC News.
The report predicted that these hotter conditions would likely continue unless greenhouse gas emissions were reduced and ultimately zeroed out, according to The Guardian. Australia has seen one degree Celsius of warming so far, but is on track for three to four degrees of warming based on its current emissions targets.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced criticism for failing to act on the climate crisis, BBC News reported. Australia is one of the highest carbon dioxide emitting countries per capita because of its reliance on coal.
"According to numerous modelling exercises, including those commissioned by the federal government, it is in Australia's national interest and economic interest to put in place a strong policy to reduce emissions," Merzian said. "The Australian Government's current policies only serve to further fuel the climate crisis."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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