Australian heatwaves become a public health crisis

Brush fire in Tasmania. Photo: Stringer/Reuters

While a record-breaking cold snap is headed for parts of the Midwest, summer in Australia has brought dangerous heatwaves that are threatening people and wildlife. As NPR reported, Australia’s State Emergency Service declared the heat wave a threat to public safety, as an increasing number of Australians have called ambulances and gone to hospitals in Adelaide for heat-associated illnesses. The Australian Energy Market Operator cut power to 200,000 people in the southern state of Victoria after demand increased for air-conditioning. The Australian Open even suspended tennis championship matches in Melbourne, as the Twitter feed of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology became a stream of all-time-high temperature reports and fire advisories.

A second heatwave has hit Southern Australia as well as 50 fires that have started across Tasmania and a bushfire that’s been burning in East Gippsland. Not only have people been struggling with intense heat and fires but there have been numerous instances of reported wildlife casualties. Roughly 90 feral horses died of thirst as their water source dried up as well as 36 thirsty camels. People have also been coming to the aid of thirsty koalas who are desperate for water amidst the dry and hot conditions.  During the previous heatwave which lasted from November 26 to 27 2018, temperatures exceeded 42ºC (108ºF) in northern Australia. Motherboard explained that scientists estimate this spike killed a staggering 23,000 spectacled flying foxes—about a third of the nation’s entire population of this large bat species. What’s more is that extreme heat from Australia’s landmass has caused a heatwave in New Zealand as well.

Why This Matters: Australia is among the countries that are getting hotter faster as a result of climate change. In addition, Australia has fallen back on its commitment to address climate change. As Elizabeth Hanna, a researcher with Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, told NPR  that “The federal government we have at the moment is being led by a few climate [change] deniers.” She explained that Prime Minister Scott Morrison infuriated Australians when he said “that we should pray for rain.” Australia was one of the first countries in the world to have a carbon tax, “but when we had a change of government, they reversed that and of course our emissions started increasing,” Hanna added.

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