Summer is Coming

Winter is coming to New England, but in Australia, the land down under, December heralds the beginning of summer. As recently as 2013 they suffered through the “angry summer,” bringing Aussies endless problems while breaking the previous continent-wide summer temperature record by a noteable margin. For many Australians, it was a wake-up call.

The angry summer, all by itself, didn’t demonstrate climate change. It’s the trend did that — the trend that was clearly rising, clearly visible even before the angry summer. The trend is climate change in action.

What the trend did is make the angry summer possible. If the climate gets hotter, then whenever the weather turns hot the two will combine to make unprecedented heat. That’s how the angry summer came to be.

It wasn’t until it actually hit Australia, that the scientific talk of “trend” and “climate change” suddenly became palpable. Australians could feel it. When the scientists repeated that it was a portent of things to come, to expect more “angry summers,” more people listened.

They didn’t have to wait long; the most recent Australian summer (Dec. 2018 through Feb. 2019) not only broke the records set during the angry summer, it did so by a large margin. By a very large margin.

Some Australian states were particularly hard hit. In New South Wales, temperature during the month of January 2019 — the average over the entire month — was almost 6°C (over 10°F) hotter than usual. Imagine, if you will, that the hottest month of the year, on a continent already known as “hot,” is 10°F hotter than usual over the entire month.

Those extremes get attention. They also bring trouble, taking an incredible toll on human health, straining the power grid to the breaking point, and seriously hurting crops and livestock. The most recent extreme is by far the worst, making the “angry summer” seem pale by comparison. Only by comparison; nobody liked the “angry summer” and Australia doesn’t want to go through it again.

But the climate really has changed, and now the angry summer is more than possible. It’s inevitable. Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

The greatest worry isn’t what we’ve seen so far, but what the future will bring. That’s because of the nasty trend which keeps raising the background level, so every hot spell is stacked onto a higher and higher baseline. This isn’t just happening during Australia’s summer, but for all four seasons of the year.

The most recent face of trouble is the bushfire crisis in Australia. The link with climate change is abundantly clear, say fire chiefs from across Australia, only to be contradicted by some of their most embarrassing politicians. Meanwhile, with California wildfires still fresh in our memories, here in the U.S. the debate between Democratic candidates for president asked only one question about climate change.

Maybe this year the weather will turn chilly for summer, and Australia will be spared a repeat of recent oppressive heat. But the trend will continue upward, and sooner or later the weather will turn hot and Australia will be in for a doozy. If they thought the “angry summer” was bad, and that last summer was horrible beyond belief, just wait …

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27 responses to “Summer is Coming

  1. Our ‘Angry Summer’ will be in 2020 – when we have an election. And the really bad angry summer will be in 2021 – the first term of whatever president takes office. So far, I cannot see how our heavily denialist Congress will manage anything like what Australia is going through.

  2. Ah, but according to Australia’s Prime Minister, we could have increased emissions (they are in fact rising) and it wouldn’t have changed anything, because Australia’s emissions are “only” 1.3% of the total. Which is actually clever politics to reinforce the well cultivated idea that Australia’s contribution is insignificant and is helpless in the matter. This is a Prime Minister who’s climate priorities appear to be to de-legitimise public climate protest and remove environmental considerations as impediments to growth of coal and gas mining.

    Given Australia is likely to be amongst the more seriously impacted – a lot of agriculture was and is already borderline for viability in boom and bust style – the climate science denial within rural communities that are crucial to conservative right electoral success is extraordinarily self defeating. But they’ve been fed anti-environmentalist rhetoric for decades and bought the line that climate change “alarmism” is a product of environmentalist extremism. There are signs of that changing and the certainty of that belief is being shaken, but unless and until conservative-right politics itself shifts it’s position – unlikely under current leadership – that growing concern isn’t likely to be reflected in their voting choices.

    • I’ve heard the same argument in Canadian and even (amazingly) American contexts. Of course, the whole point is that *eveyone* needs to clean up, and of course we all learned at our mother’s knee that our mess is our responsibility. But that “r” word takes very strange convolutions with these cons. (Or in your case, Libs.)

      I note that Australia’s ‘tiny’ contribution is nevertheless 16th in the overall world ‘league table,’ per this list:

    • I think the “nothing WE do can make much difference” notion makes climate change effectively equivalent of a natural disaster and therefore makes it right to abandon climate considerations and simply look to near term economic advantage, ie more fossil fuel exports. It is political sleight of hand in my opinion. Might as well say don’t bother to vote because yours is insignificant. I would note the current Australian government does not promote that idea to it’s supporters.

      On Australia’s emissions responsibility it does get more complicated than simply counting exported fuels as Australia’s emissions – – although I think arguing about it is mostly distraction; we know enough to know we need to commit to a path to zero emissions, both as a nation and as part of a community of nations.

  3. While not an area of personal expertise, some wiki review seems to say that Australia exports 75% of the coal it mines. This would imply to me that Australia’s contribution is rather larger than the government seems to want to admit.

    • Good point, particularly as policy has been to promote and defend the trade.

    • Add the embedded carbon content in imported products from china and the result is even worse .
      It is embarrassing to a Kiwi that the other anglophile country’s are so irresponsible .

    • Yes. Australia’s position is essentially that of a drug pusher saying “It’s OK, I’m not addicted.”

  4. With 16.9 t CO2 per capita (2017), Australia is head of the gang-of-three of climate-indifferent english speaking highly industrialized countries Australia, USA, Canada, only to be topped by Saudi-Arabia and the Emirates. The former colonial motherland UK meanwhile managed to bring down its per capita emissions to a mere 5.8 t, which is a remarkable achievement IMHO, and significantly below China. It is a lot more determined and successful climatewise as my country, Germany, which just went below the 10 t mark.

  5. Slightly OT: If the US are the elephant in the china store, China is the T. Rex. While pretending to be still an emerging market, its per-capita-emission is now above that of Europe and rising, with almost three times the population. Even if they had the moral right to expand like mad, it is unwise, to say the least. That’s another story and should be told another time.
    But the China aspect of the matter shows, how important it is, that the US, which is still widely and often unconsciously accepted as kind of role model, abates its emissions. It is psychologically immensely important, if not physically. The Chinese have shown, that they are susceptible to arguments of reputation to a certain degree.

      • –> ecoquant: Certainly true with respect to the past. But what can be influenced is only the future. Of this, only our own actions and to a decreasing degree that of our concentric live zones: friends – community – country. Influence on other countries is almost infinitesimally small. Insofar my posting above is somewhat inconsequential as I and the readers of this blog are probably not chinese. Nevertheless, I cannot hurt to keep the general proportions of the emission development in the back of the mind.

    • But just about everything I buy that isn’t food is made in China. I’ve exported my emissions to China.

  6. What’s really creeping this Australian out is that last year’s gobsmacking summer took place during a period when all three of the main drivers of Australia’s natural temperature variability (ENSO/IOD/SAM) were in neutral territory.
    But this coming summer, two of those natural drivers are delivering drier and hotter conditions to much of the continent. And if that weren’t bad enough, the southern and eastern parts of the continent are still being subjected to the wildcard effects of the record breaking SSW event that took place over Antarctica a couple of months back.
    Summer is coming indeed.
    (Typed to the sounds of a bulldozer clearing firebreaks on the property next door.)

    • Its not mechanistic, those drivers are just an indication. The actual climate may or may not react in any given year

      Also depends where you are, last years summmer was not particularly gobsmacking in reality. But of you are looking for headlines ” hottest XYZ EVAH!!!!!! style then I guess its easy to get excited

  7. @kinimod,


    Of this, only our own actions and to a decreasing degree that of our concentric live zones: friends – community – country. Influence on other countries is almost infinitesimally small.

    In the sphere of political influence and demonstrating on the streets, I entirely agree with you. However, individuals can have out-of-size impact, in order, I’d say, by pursuing

    (1) engineering
    (2) software
    (3) maths.

    That is, an invention or innovation can have outsized influence upon outcomes. The progression is because, generally, speaking, doing engineering requires more resources and funds per unit achievement than does software, and software requires more resources and funds per unit achievement than does math, even if math is generalized realized through software.

    This is why I am an ecopragmatist and ecomodernist. For while I have engaged in a modest amount of political and related activity on climate, I often wonder whether that isn’t, for me, a poor allocation of personal time. I wonder if it wouldn’t better be spent in my craft, which is statistics, data science, and quantitative engineering. After all, what’s a politician going to do even if they agree to expend funds on climate mitigation? Certainly, you cann ot simply reduce emissions by paying people to do so.

    This is also why I am pessimistic that an Extinction Rebellion approach of simply rebelling without a plan is not likely to be effective in the end.

    I know this sounds elitist, but, facts are, technology can transform whole economies, even if it has unintended consequences at times. And the idea of mitigating by planting more trees is not only economically inefficient, it doesn’t work and it doesn’t add up.

  8. I live in Perth, Western Australia, and we’ve been lucky enough to have mild summers for a few years now. I’m dreading the next really hot summer. We had a super hot month in February 1985. The beaches were empty during the day (too hot) and packed at night. The big difference between then and now is air conditioning. Back then very few people had it, now most do – along with air-conditioned cars.
    So when we get super hot weather now, it is only the poor who will suffer. So it won’t make the news and no one will care – unless something disastrous, such as the price of strawberries going up, happens.

  9. You can see the daily level of parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone up another 2.7 ppm since last year. A record year on year increase I think.

    • and the error bars of measurement and natural variability are what? it really doesnt say much to say its gone up 2.7ppm in one year

      • It’s another data point suggesting that CO2 concentration growth is still accelerating. It may not say much that there’s been a record-large increase, but it says nothing at all that’s good.

      • @Doc Snow,

        Indeed, I keep asking, including at public meetings where the likes of and in fact Kerry Emanuel and Richard Alley were present, whether anyone knows what the consequences of not only the amount of CO2 emissions, but the rate have been assessed, and no one seems to know. To an engineer, not only the amount, but the rate is the impressive quantity. Effectively, we are slamming the Earth’s climate system with an impulse of CO2. I gauge that the Earth science’s are incapable of assessing this impulse response, even if Transient Climate Sensitivity is supposed to be an approximation to it.

        On the other hand, the rate of impulse could be destabilizing in many other ways, providing enough instantaneous energy to get over potential wells, in all kinds of directions.

        This doesn’t mean things are inherently bad or hopeless,simply that the governors of society really need to get an understanding of the dice with which they are playing and the long term implications for their charges.

  10. It’s a bit strange when a few people in the neighborhood mow their lawn in northern Germany on November 28, as if we were in August!

    Tansy ferns and goldenrod grow again on the lanes along the edge of the forest and really start to bloom. Hmmmh.

    Summer is coming, yes yes.

  11. I live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, where the smoke from burning eucalypts has been lingering for weeks.
    The NSW Rural Fire Service, staffed largely by volunteer firefighters, has a useful page: which gives a good idea of the unfolding catastrophe.
    In New South Wales so far this fire season – which began in winter – over 10,000 square kilometres have been burned. Summer officially began only yesterday.
    And yet our government and major opposition parties remain simpering concubines to the coal industry.
    I have followed your blog for many years. You do great work.
    One tiny thing – would you be so kind as to show the reference period for your temperature anomaly charts? People so often say that temperatures are above average, but if the average itself is above average…