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Will 'Angry Summer' Report Finally Crack Australian Media's 'Climate Silence'?

Observers want to know if Australia's climate-silent media will ever follow suit

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Observers in Australia are curious to see if a new climate report released by the government this week can accomplish what activists and scientists have so far been unable to achieve: getting the media to accurately report the connection between the nation's extreme weather and the impact of human-cased global warming.

As The Guardian's Jessica Aldridge points out, of the "800 articles published on the heatwave over a period of five days in January, fewer than 10 also discussed global warming."

The report, Angry Summer (pdf), published Monday by the Australian government’s Climate Commission states that the 123 extreme weather records broken in the 90 day period examined by the report "were all influenced to some extent by a climate that is fundamentally shifting."

According to the report, Australia's "angry summer" includes the hottest summer since record-keeping began in 1910, the hottest day for Australia as a whole ever recorded, and the hottest seven consecutive days ever recorded.

"...all extreme weather events are now occurring in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago."

"Australia has always been… a land of extremes," the report writes. Citing record-breaking heat, severe brushfires, extreme rainfall and floods, and tornadoes, the authors conclude that "all extreme weather events are now occurring in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago. This influences the nature, impact and intensity of extreme weather events." 

Aldridge writes that this "unequivocal" acknowledgement by government advisers "should make the link harder to ignore in future."

"Australia's angry summer shows that climate change is already adversely affecting Australians. The significant impacts of extreme weather on people, property, communities and the environment highlight the serious consequences of failing to adequately address climate change," said report author Professor Will Steffen.

Climate Progress summarizes some of the commissions findings on the severity and influencing factors in the extreme weather events: 

  • Record-Breaking Heat: Australia has only seen 21 days in 102 years in which the average maximum temperature for the whole country exceeded 39 degrees Celsius, and eight of them hit this summer. [...] Even the small shift in Australia’s average temperature of 0.9 degrees Celsius that’s occurred since 1910 can have profound effects on the severity and frequency of hot weather, as it alters the distribution of extreme weather’s likelihood.
  • Brush fires: As many as 40 brush fires tore through Tasmania this summer, destroying around 25,000 hectares of land, 200 properties, and 21 businesses. Other rashes of fires hit New South Wales and Victoria. Climate change can leave soil and plant life drier while extending the life of the fire season.[...]
  • Heavy rain and flooding: Unusually heavy rains triggered severe flooding in areas of New South Wales and Queensland this summer, breaking many daily rainfall records throughout the area. The most impressive was the one-day rainfall averaged over the Burnett catchment, which beat out the previous record by almost 70 percent. By raising ocean and air temperatures, climate change increases evaporation and moisture content in the air, resulting in heavier individual rainfalls even as overall precipitation goes down in many areas.

“The decisions we make this decade will largely determine the severity of climate change and its influence on extreme events for our grandchildren,” the report concludes. “In Australia and around the world we need to urgently invest in clean energy sources and take other measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This is the critical decade to get on with the job.”


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