While we Melbournians haven’t really been overwhelmed by warm weather during spring and the beginning of summer, the sudden heat this week was too much for most of us. Whereas citizens around the world got familiar with the extremes we endure, few of them might want to know that we all have our share in their cause.
Let’s be honest, even for persons like me, who really enjoy the heat, four days in a row of temperatures at 40°C or more was a bit too much. It doesn’t thus surprise so much that the message about a heatwave in Melbourne made its way around the world. Whereas I see it as an opportunity to illustrate what price we are going to pay for non-action on climate change, collapsing tennis players made a good excuse for all those who prefer to further contribute to climate change, rather than to adapt by mitigation. An article in The Conversation brings it to the point: a bit of sweating doesn’t do any harm, but ignorance will.
Technical solutions that help to ignore extreme heat and climate change will make things worse, because all too often, they only help locally and on the short term but make the situation worse elsewhere and/or on the long run. Rather than simply switching on the air-con we could learn from societies that have embraced the heat ever since. In Australia, we’d only need to look at the traditional owners of the land. However, knowing that many people prefer a “modern” lifestyle, I might want to focus on for us more close cultures.
Southern European countries have learned to deal with heat for decades if not centuries, and whoever has spent a summer in southern Spain will realize that a siesta does actually make a lot of sense once the thermometer goes beyond the 35°C . So do tapas; as the above mentioned article explains, reducing our energy (calories) intake can make magic and a small meal with the necessary nutrients or tastes is just the right thing. In many Arab countries, people will tell you that two dates are enough to feed you for the day.
In contrast, overweight, high calories meals, elevated consumption of alcohol and other forms of opulence are poison for adaptation to heat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to think that a glass of white wine never tastes better than in the afternoon heat of a summer day. Yet, sitting in a room artificially kept at 24° and drinking your usual dose of beer before mowing your lawn at 40°C might turn out to be fatal. I’m also not surprised that people who eat at McDonald’s are among those who most suffer under extreme heat. If they believe that Macca’s cool their premises down to 20°C out of sheer altruism, they might ask themselves if their bodies would as easily approve a 2500 calories meal were they to sit on one of the shady garden terraces of a local establishment. With all respect for free choice I must say that it is small businesses and not the big chains who care for their customers’ health and well-being. A meal such as “king fish ceviche” at the centrally located Nieuw Amsterdam is the ideal menu for hot days and, besides of being a culinary delight, gives you the right ease and power to walk back home or riding your bicycle instead of driving your car.
All those who do not yet know that air-conditioning comes with extra pollution even when driving a car and that impacts of pollution are worse during hot summer days, do now have another way of climate change adaptation: simply walk or ride to the beach and you will do everyone a favour, even yourself. As I have argued before, the more energy we consume the worse climate change will get and hence, the more extreme future weather events we will experience.
And most importantly, why not enjoying the changes in seasons? Too many people live a sterile life and need to compensate their boredom with decadent and selfish adrenaline games. Why not enjoying a hot summer night by reading a book on the balcony till 3am or talking to friends at the beach while temperatures keep you from finding sleep? And while you might feel a bit sleepy the next day, a siesta might be the right cure besides of helping you to avoid exposure to mid-day heat.
Ever bigger cars, use of air conditioning, more McDonald’s, they all have their part in the heat wave we Melbournians and tennis players at the Australian Open experienced this week. Addressing the cause and reducing consumption is a far better way of adaptation to climate change and extreme weather events than technological fixes. Besides, they help to save costs. Not once have I used my air-con in the sixteen months I’ve lived in Melbourne and even today, I did my usual 60km down the bay to Mordialloc and back, in spite of elevated temperatures. Heat per se doesn’t kill, but ignorance does.
I encourage all of you to embrace the summer heat, to reduce your energy use and to spend the saved money on programs that help adapting to climate change in places where people do not have the means we do.
And if you prefer local action that comes for free then why don’t you become a climate champion?
 I have lived and traveled in many „hot“ countries and have done a lot of exercise, even endurance over several hours at temperatures way above 40°C (up to 48°C in Wadi Rum, Jordan). What I learned is that reducing meals to almost zero helped a lot to cope with the heat. Instead I drank a lot and listened to my body to teach me what I needed most: sometimes that were the weirdest drinks such as “water enriched with vinegar” (both available even in remote places) but nutrition wise make sense.