There will be many unwelcome effects from continued inaction on manmade climate change such as stronger catastrophic cyclones, more intense, damaging bushfires and killer heatwaves.
Extended summer season heat issues likely to be encountered in Australia’s major cities in the next five to 10 years are listed below to create much-needed discussion in the public arena, to motivate prevention and help fast-track smart solutions.
It is expected that these foreseen problems – many of them mooted in scientific and economic reports and by experts – would worsen exponentially in the longer term if climate mitigation and pre-emptive measures fail. They are also expected to be exacerbated by many factors such as increased extremes of weather, further food, water, resource and goods shortages, and the failure of current systems, regions and economies to deal with the sudden, massive changes. There’s also the inevitable carbon bubble, rising sea levels and mass migration of climate refugees, etc.
At best, some of the list below would remain a potential risk over the long term and preventative solutions will emerge. Renewable energy could survive the Abbott Government and surge ahead, and gains in battery storage technology enable more people to go off-grid. It’s positive to see some inner city councils starting to tackle heat island effects with more trees, but there’s a long way to go to climate-proof our cities. Local farmers’ markets, community gardens and Transition Town groups are increasing in number and popularity, and their continued growth will help create secure, sustainable local food supplies and encourage resilient communities. But will enough people embrace adaptive changes in time?
At worst however, the list below (which focuses on the drying, southern Australian cities) would be far longer and more severe, impacting us harder in a much shorter period of time. Like good risk managers, if we know what could be in store for us given the dire scientific and expert forecasts, we’re better able to plan to avoid or reduce the severity of such risks.
ANTICIPATED IN THE SHORT TERM
More extreme heatwaves: hotter, longer, more frequent (for example days of 45-50 degrees for up to a week at a time, 2-5 times a summer…extending into autumn).
Increased admittance of people suffering severe sunburn, heatstroke, dehydration from being/working outside during heatwaves to emergency departments (particularly the young, elderly, sports participants, outdoor workers, homeless).
Anticipated heat-related deaths during heatwaves into the mid hundreds per southern mainland city per summer – including some children.
Increased admittance of children to emergency departments – and anticipated heat-related deaths of infants – mainly from being left in cars or small spaces during extreme heat during longer, hotter summers and autumn seasons.
Increased impact on pets and wildlife from extreme heat and dehydration resulting in increased presentations at vets and more deaths from animals left outside or in hot cars during heatwaves. As a result, increased numbers of pets left at shelters or abandoned, and more injured wildlife requiring attention, raising the burden on and stress experienced by already-stretched animal welfare providers.
Increased admittance of patients to emergency from being burnt/injured by hot outdoor items during heatwaves.
Increased stress on emergency departments’ capacity, and on overwhelmed emergency staff, doctors and nurses, with expected knock-on effect to their families.
More incidences of, and more extreme to catastrophic bushfires, also extending throughout spring and autumn and greater geographical range (urban incursion).
Mega fire events such as those experienced in WA in 2015 and the Grampians in 2014 where the fire was so large it created its own micro-climate; fire tornadoes.
Increased numbers of deaths and injuries from bushfires – humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.
Increased number of properties and infrastructure lost from bushfires, and in some cases permanent loss of settlements in areas repetitively put at high risk by changed conditions.
Increased incidences and severity of individual and community stress and grief with the loss of irreplaceable loved ones, animals, belongings, property, natural features and communities.
Increased air pollution from bushfire smoke, and more dust due to drier conditions – made worse during heatwaves without clearing seabreezes.
Increased incidences of asthma and asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, allergies, rashes, and heart attacks due to higher air pollution, more dust and extreme heat.
Anticipated deaths during combined bushfire smoke/heatwave episodes. (Current death rate from air pollution in Australia is around four per day.)
Increased requirement for and costs to train and fund more emergency services personnel and firefighting equipment/vehicles/aircraft 24/7 throughout the extended summer season and autumn, straining and over-stressing existing capacity (especially of volunteers).
Increased stress and high risk of injury to overwhelmed emergency services and voluntary personnel, and the knock-on effect to their families.
Increased cost to taxpayers, ratepayers, business of lost infrastructure and downtime/lost productivity. Potential for governments to charge taxpayers emergency services/disaster/climate change levy to fund response as no authorities currently budgeting for what’s coming.
Increased cost of property insurance premiums, increased rebuild costs, lost resale value.
Higher airconditioning bills due to increased length of use during hotter days, extending into night x more days during increased heatwaves and the longer hot/dry seasons (unless on solar) given the inadequate design of most Australian homes and suburbs.
Costs to homeowners to climate-proof their properties given the fact most new homes and suburbs being built with no eaves, no room for advanced trees or other heat-lowering measures. Higher costs of maintaining gardens in extreme heat conditions.
Frequent blackouts during height of heatwaves due to peak overuse (unless on solar off-grid), affecting residential, business, government and trains at different times. (If for prolonged periods could also affect city’s electrically-pumped water supplies?)
Increased cost to business from lost production/staff downtime during blackouts, extreme heatwaves. Higher insurance premiums.
Higher costs to schools, councils, homeowners, businesses and governments from having to provide shade over playgrounds, bus shelters, parking spaces, recreation areas, backyards etc and from the need to create more insulated and airconditioned spaces to reduce health risks during heatwaves.
Likelihood of school closures and event cancellations during extreme heatwaves and extreme/catastrophic fire risk periods once temperatures pass 45/46 degrees for extended number of days? Knock-on effects to lost productivity, quality of education.
Higher council rates due to increased provision of heatwave-related services and infrastructure, greater water use to green public spaces, and increased risks to outdoor workers.
Increased reliance on social welfare agencies and charities due to increased aircon bills and ill health from oppressive heat, and from losses sustained by bushfires.
Increased incidences of mental illness and suicide from having to endure oppressive heat for more months of the year, be indoors for longer – especially if unable to afford or gain access to airconditioning options, or if living in unsustainable housing.
Increased incidences of relationship breakdowns, incidences of domestic violence and mental illness from increased stresses the oppressively hot and changed climate reality will create for many individuals and susceptible groups and communities.
Increased anxiety, grief, sadness and depression among all ages from watching the environment deteriorate quickly, loss of flora and fauna, from personal losses and deaths as a result of heatwaves/climate change while feeling powerless to do anything about it.
Increased need for mental health services, counselling, psychological support services and pastoral care. Greater stress and impacts on overwhelmed counsellors and support service staff with knock-on effects to their families.
Less money donated to social welfare agencies and charities just when they need them most, due to people coping with higher electricity bills, higher food and water costs, and generally feeling fearful about their own future.
Increased stress and impacts on social welfare providers due to being overwhelmed with demand and severity of cases, and the knock-on impact to their own families.
Increased cases of animal neglect and rescues due to reduced socio-economics, inability to cope and provide food, placing more burden and stress on stretched non-profit rescue organisations and volunteer care providers.
Higher food costs due to decreased food availability due to damaged crops, livestock lost, lack of fish/seafood and pollinating bees from heatwaves, droughts, higher agricultural input costs, increased diseases and warming acidic oceans from climate change.
Increased water bills due to increased usage including having to water gardens more often to keep them alive, including throughout autumn and winter. Harsher water restrictions likely given increased drying trend and increased consumption.
Increased costs of provision of new water sources (such as new desalination and water reuse/recycling plants etc) given increased consumption/demand, the need for more water to grow food, and to reduce fire risk/lower city heat island effects by creating more lush green spaces in urban areas.
Higher rates of crime, alcoholism, drug use and homelessness due to increased social and economic divide between haves and have-nots, and as an emotional/psychological response to the new climate reality. Potential for increased number of children going into care, putting extra strain on already stressed system.
Higher tensions within communities due to increased social and economic divide meaning the haves are able to be insulated from many impacts while the have-nots are unable to avoid them and so endure greater suffering and hardship.
Increased stress and risk on police officers, increased requirement for more officers with greater social unrest; knock-on effect to strained legal and prison system.
Potential for increased actions taken against individuals, companies, organisations and governments seen to be responsible for inaction on climate, for climate pollution, and for losses, injuries incurred by extreme weather events and their impacts.
Loss of gardens and trees – hotter, dustier blocks, streets and open spaces, lost aesthetics of natural parks and reserves as tree stands fail, water features dry out…lost planting investments.
Loss of turf business, green outdoor gardening-related businesses due to gardens failing with increased costs of maintenance/replacement/watering and with the increased risks to outdoor workers.
Increased costs of running pools given increased ‘greening’ due to heat (unless using chemical-free Magnapool or ionised UV systems); increased cost of topping up water due to increased evaporation.
Increased incidences of amoebic meningitis from swimming in pools not properly maintained.
Increased incidences of food poisoning as food spoils faster in prolonged heatwaves, and bacteria and pests/rodents thrive.
Higher incidences of, and even deaths from mosquito-borne diseases.
Higher incidence of, and even deaths from tropical diseases making their way south.
Increased incidence of cataracts, and of skin cancers and resulting deaths.
Decreased general physical and mental health of children due to lowered access to/quality/variety of fresh food, longer periods spent indoors during summer months, being driven to school during hottest months and less outdoor sport, increased stress and ability to cope within the family with the new climate reality, etc.
Decreased resilience of children due to less time in quality natural surroundings, and increased stresses of living in an oppressive hotter and more uncertain climate (especially if cooped up in small confined spaces spending increased time on electronics).
Uncomfortably overcrowded indoor swimming pools, airconditioned shopping malls, gyms etc during peak heatwaves creating stressed environments, lack of parking.
Raised irritability and susceptibility to gastro, diarrhea and other illnesses of infants and young children due to oppressive heat conditions affecting their food, liquids, environment and wellbeing.
Increased road traffic and therefore air pollution due to more parents driving kids to school in extreme heat, and less use of public transport/street pavements due to extreme heat exposure.
Increased road accidents due to motorists being hot and bothered/stressed and more aggressive/fearful.
Shrinking of the Australian snow skiing season, impacting the ski resorts, related business and property investments and affecting the jobs and recreation of thousands of Australians.
Loss of recreational fishing of traditional stocks in increasing numbers of areas, and loss of popular diving attractions and related businesses as oceans warm and acidify.
Shrinking of productive agricultural areas across southern Australia – more marginal areas becoming uneconomic given climatic changes – impacting on regional food supplies, quality and diversity.
Drying out of local wetlands in urban areas with the overuse of underground aquifers – also subsidence of property as water tables fall?
There’s undoubtedly more likely impacts and costs of inaction on climate – go online to the the 50 degrees? Facebook page to add to the list…
Based in Perth, Western Australia, Tanyia Maxted writes on the climate crisis, divestment from the fossil fuels causing climate change, and solutions such as solar-charged electric cars. The mother-of-two previously worked in water science communication for an Australian Government-funded national research centre, and in science communication for two Perth universities. See archived articles for ScienceNetworkWA and her UK-published books via Amazon.