By LUCY ORMONDE
Two things happened last Friday in Sydney. The first was that the temperature reached 45.8 degrees Celsius. The second was that my Frosty Fruit melted faster than I could eat it. And I am a pretty pacey consumer of Frosty Fruits.
Friday was Sydney’s hottest day ON RECORD. In the 150 years since people started recording temperatures, 45.8 is the highest number they’ve taken down. So it’s little wonder people were cradling Slurpees, panting out of car windows like laboradors and mainlining for water.
And Sydney wasn’t the only city that was sweltering. According to news reports, four of Australia’s 10 hottest days on record have occurred in the 2013. And it’s only January 23.
One staff member at the Bureau of Meteorology has called it the most significant heat wave in Australian history. Bushfires have been raging around the country and hundred of Australians have lost their homes and possessions. One person even lost his life.
The extreme weather has prompted politicians – and one of my delightfully helpful and informative (Read: chatty) neighbour – to kindly remind us all of the link between recent weather and climate change. “You only have to look at what’s happening with the fires around the country and the extreme heatwaves . . . to see what impact climate change is already having,” were the words from Greens leader Christine Milne.
And yet the scary thing is, so many people still fail to accept the science of climate change, making the likelihood of further political action, unlikely. Recent reports suggest that most people are becoming increasingly skeptical about whether or not climate change exists at all.
This is from The Conversation:
In many countries, surveys reveal that people are becoming less worried, and in some cases more sceptical about climate change, even while awareness of climate change is increasing.
This shift in public opinion has also been documented in Australia. A recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reveals that in 2007–08, 73% of Australians stated that they were concerned about climate change, but by 2011–12 this had fallen to 57%.
Scepticism about climate change can take on many dimensions. Individuals may be unconvinced that global temperatures are increasing (trend sceptics). They may acknowledge the existence of climate change but not believe that human activity contributes to it (attribution sceptics).
Or, they may acknowledge its existence, and the role of human activity, but not believe that it is going to have any serious consequences (impact sceptics).
OK, so two things stood out for me on that list.
(a) That climate change is “too remote” for a lot of people. I take this to mean it’s difficult for people to think about an issue if they’re not coming face to face with it on a regular basis. The problem, the cause and the solution are too separate. You can read and read about melting ice caps and stranded polar bears, about the dying coral reefs and the overuse of coal power. But until that polar bear is floating on an ice sheet down your local water way, it’s difficult to make the link between climate change and how it might impact your daily life.
(b) That Australians are less concerned about climate change than there were five years ago.
If you put (a) and (b) together, it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t we be the most concerned about climate change? That floating polar bear is drifting CLOSER people, not further away! Has no one been reading the news recently?
It was only a few years ago that parts of Australia were subject to extreme water restrictions. At the time I remember buying a three-minute hourglass for the shower. Dam storage was low enough to make you think twice about a water-bomb fight.
We stopped washing our cars with the garden hose. Baths became a luxury. And twice a week we’d wave at the neighbours across the street as we simultaneously watered our gardens on even dates during 6 and 8am.
Looking back, it was a quite a difficult time – especially during summer. But it was also a pretty solid good lesson in the realities of climate change. Yep, nothing like a $3.46 blue sand timer stuck to the shower wall to remind you that there’s no such thing as an endless supply of drinking water.
It’s been a while since I’ve felt that in-you-face kind of climate change reality since. And I’m the first to admit that I slacked off on water saving when the Victorian Government (I hail from the great and ALWAYS HOT IN SUMMER city of Melbourne) allowed us to turn the taps on again.
But in the last few weeks, there have been two things that have brought me back there. The first was the hottest day on record. The second was an article from the US website with the most click-worthy headline I’ve read in a while. It was called ‘The End of Pasta’.
Of course I clicked. Wouldn’t any pasta lover?
But what I wasn’t expecting an article about climate change. According to The Daily Beast – and writer Mark Hertsgaard – if we don’t start acting to stop climate change, the first victim of global warming could be spaghetti bolognaise.
Pasta is made from wheat, and a large, growing body of scientific studies and real-world observations suggest that wheat will be hit especially hard as temperatures rise and storms and drought intensify in the years ahead.
Three grains—wheat, corn, and rice—account for most of the food humans consume. All three are already suffering from climate change, but wheat stands to fare the worst in the years ahead, for it is the grain most vulnerable to high temperatures. That spells trouble not only for pasta but also for bread, the most basic food of all. (Pasta is made from the durum variety of wheat, while bread is generally made from more common varieties, such as red spring.)
“Wheat is a cool-season crop. High temperatures are negative for its growth and quality, no doubt about it,” says Frank Manthey, a professor at North Dakota State University who advises the North Dakota Wheat Commission. Already, a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit of global temperature rise over the past 50 years has caused a 5.5 percent decline in wheat production compared to what would have occurred in the absence of global warming, according to a study published by David Lobell, a professor at Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.
Already by 2050, scientists say wheat production in many countries (including Australia) could decline by between 23 and 27 per cent. It may not lead to the absolute disappearance of pasta from the supermarket shelves but it will cause significant price rises.
And for all those who say climate change is “remote”, I hear bacon’s on the hit list too.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Do you think about how climate change might impact your everyday life? Have you made changes to your lifestyle to be more ‘green’?