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Extreme Heat Wave Roasting Australia at Record Breaking 120.74 F
It's been the opposite of a white Christmas in Australia, as a major heat wave scorches the Land Down Under. Temperatures in the country's southeast are around 14 C (approximately 24 F) higher than normal for late December, and some parts of the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia topped 40 C (104 F) for a fourth day in a row Thursday, CNN reported.
"We may well break some records across northern Victoria in terms of consecutive days across 40C for this heatwave, so it is certainly a noteworthy event," Victoria Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) senior forecaster Rod Dixon told Australia's ABC News.
In Western Australia, records did break when the city of Marble Bar hit a temperature of 49.3 C (approximately 120.74 F), the hottest since record keeping began there, Western Australia's BOM announced on Twitter.
The immediate cause of the heat wave is a high pressure system.
"The cause of the heat is a dome of high pressure settling in over much of the continent over the past few days," CNN meteorologist Gene Norman explained.
However, climate change is also expected to continue increasing the severity and length of heat waves. In the north part of the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone, there are projected to be 10 more heat wave days per year by 2030 and 30 more by 2070, according to the government's Adapt NSW page.
Heat waves in Australia kill more people than any other extreme weather event, including flooding, bushfires and cyclones, according to the NSW government. They can also increase the risk of some hazards.
"In addition to the sweltering temperatures, there is an enhanced fire risk in Victoria, with total fire bans declared for Thursday in the Mallee and Wimmera regions. South Australia has bans in place in 10 areas including the Mount Lofty Ranges and Yorke Peninsula. Western Australia has total fire bans in 13 districts, where temperatures are expected to exceed 45 C in parts," Norman told CNN.
NSW Health also issued an air quality warning for the state's capital of Sydney Thursday as ozone levels rise with the temperature, The Guardian reported. Ozone can irritate the lungs, especially in those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory ailments. However, not everyone in Sydney was suffering. As temperatures reached 32.4 C (approximately 90.32 F) residents were still able to cool down at Bondi Beach.
"We've got a nice north-easterly breeze blowing and it's a bit cooler than what it would be out west," lifeguard Bruce Hopkins told ABC News.
The beach might be the best place for Australians to ring in the New Year if they can. Low to severe heat wave conditions are expected to last in every mainland Australian state from Friday to Tuesday, The Guardian reported, though the most extreme conditions in NSW, Western Australia and South Australia will cool down somewhat.
Editor's note: This post has been updated. An earlier version said that climate change is expected to increase the severity and length of heat waves. The revised sentence clarifies that this effect is already happening.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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