Australia's Extreme Heat
Austrailia just ended its second hottest summer on record. The heat was extreme feeding months of devastating wildfires. Those fires Drew International Attention. The heat less so but as NPR's Nathan Rot Reports. Extreme heat is a deadlier threat. Australians by and large are pretty direct people so it figures walking into Mary Con Yards House west of Sydney. She would get right to the point. Good how are you hot cooking here? It's about thirty eight degrees Celsius outside one hundred Fahrenheit which is relatively cool compared to what it's been like this frontal at least it keeps some of the heat out some not much. Three fans are humming in Conrad's living room. The lights are off to save money on electricity in con- yards banks cleaned to her forehead like she just got out of the shower. Just vacuumed ZANU. Coming and this is what happens to me. Lives in community housing a rental unit for lower income. People that's located in Greater West Sydney a fast growing part of the country's largest city that a few months ago held another distinction the hottest place on Earth about one hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit or as Conard puts it. It was hot and when its stinking hot door. Just you know hot hot like it is on this day. Conard like many people in West. Sydney has a really hard time running. The air conditioner. Day is not an option. It's too expensive so is moving. It's a struggle. It's really a struggle. You WanNa do things but the heat just zaps it out of you. Heat waves as well as being a silent killer. It's a social killer. Lucinda coats is a scientist with risk. Frontiers a private research center that focuses on natural hazards like bushfires cyclones and flooding about twenty years ago. Coats had the grim task of cataloging. How many people? Each of those natural disasters had historically killed in Australia. And that's when we first thinking hang on a minute hate wives. They seem to have killed more people than all the other natural hazards combined. Yes all other hazards combined with elderly people in the poor. Most at risk code says it's too soon to know how many people may have died during this past. Summer's extreme heat but history might provide a somber clue in one thousand nine thirty nine in two thousand nine. Australia had devastating bushfires black Friday and black Saturday as they're now called both were preceded by heat waves and those heatwaves alone code says are each believed to have killed more than four hundred people the deadliest fire a hundred and seventy three is twice as many as succumb to the bushfires but the heat waves didn't get nearly the same attention. It was all fire photos of crying families. And cinch teddy bears and you can see why the the newsworthy bushfire is a terrifying thing but heatwaves. How can you take a picture of a heatwave? I've got a powerpoint presentation with a young chap just holding a water bottle and drinking out of the water bill. That's that's my picture of a heatwave. So it's really hard to communicate the immediate danger and there's a fast growing need to communicate that danger. A recent climate report by the Australian government found the country has warmed by more than one degree Celsius just in the last century. Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency as is the risk of extreme fire and extreme flooding. All of which has happened in Australia and just the last few months. Sebastian vouch is a research fellow at western Sydney University. Who's focusing on climate change in urban heat? Everything's extreme. It's exactly like how scientists for thirty years predict climate change to actually pan out and it's not twenty thirty forty or fifty anymore. It's twenty twenty. We have it. It's happening vouches. There are ways you can build for heat. For example houses could be painted. Certain color to reflect light. Green or living roofs could provide insulation. Houses could be built smaller with more room for treason greenspace. Australia is updating. Its National Construction Code in twenty twenty. Two and extreme heat is being considered in the changes but new codes would primarily be aimed at new buildings and the people most affected by heat tend to be folks like Mary concert living in older buildings that were designed long before bouts of extreme heat. Were much of a thought. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the refi. Have my head and being able to pay pay for it and do that but I think sometimes it's poor design went with public housing. The nonprofit that LISA'S COGNAC. Thome knows this is an issue. Divisional Manager Heather Chaffee says she hears it from clients all the time for us as a housing provider. Tricky housing market. It's it's distressing to be honest. When often doesn't own the homes they rent chaffee says so? It makes it hard to make modifications instead. They focused on warning tenants. When extreme heat is coming but she knows that's not enough heat. She says is a global social justice issue. It's the poorest people that are going to suffer them iced so she says there needs to be a larger societal discussion about how we prepare for extreme heat because as a summer just showed. It's already here Nathan Rot. Npr News West Sydney Australia.