Kiwi scientist: Climate change not to blame for heatwaves
Monday 14 Jan 2013 3:51 p.m.
The fire danger in Australia was catastrophic last week (Reuters)
A New Zealand scientist has denied popular claims the recent Australian heatwave and other extreme weather events around the world are linked to global warming.
Australia has experienced record hot weather in the last week, with temperatures reaching 48degC and bush fires burning throughout the south-east of the country.
New Zealand has also had an extreme summer of weather, with record-breaking high temperatures in some areas, and tornados and flooding in others.
These extreme weather patterns have again sparked debate over global warming, with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard suggesting a link between the country’s recent heatwave and climate change.
"Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change,” Ms Gillard told media last week, “we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions."
The Australian government’s Climate Commission released a report last week stating: “climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse”.
But associate professor of climate and environment science Chris de Freitas, from the University of Auckland, says this is not the case.
“There is no evidence to suggest that,” he says. “It’s really [just] hype.”
Dr de Freitas says Australia is a “land of extremes” with heatwaves like those seen this month not uncommon. He says they are not necessarily a sign of global warming.
“It’s speculation, not fact.”
Dr de Freitas says the earth actually hasn’t warmed for at least a decade, and scientists do not know enough about climate change to tell if carbon dioxide emissions could cause large or damaging changes.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that what we’re doing is creating dangerous change.”
But he says carbon dioxide is a green house gas and will continue to have an environmental impact.
“I’m very concerned about the human impact on the environment,” he says. “But what I think is we need a sober and calm approach to this [issue].”
George Laking, an Auckland doctor and member of the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, says regardless of whether global warming is to blame, people should be wary of the health-implications of the recent extreme weather.
“One of the major health impacts from climate change in Australasia is likely to be an increase in heat-related deaths,” he says.
Dr Laking says extreme heat can be dangerous, causing dehydration, kidney problems, heat stroke and other conditions. He says people need to look out for others, especially the elderly.
“Make sure everyone you know who is old or frail is not overheating.”
Dr Laking urges people and the New Zealand Government to make changes to stop the Earth getting any warmer.
“It’s very clear that it is in our own hands now.”