Heat and health: 2018 was Australia’s third hottest year on record

Amanda Lyons

10/01/2019 2:07:27 PM

As politicians argue over climate change policy, temperatures continue to rise – and GPs are at the forefront of treating people suffering the effects.

Drought conditions were experienced across parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania in 2018. (Image: David Mariuz)
Drought conditions were experienced across parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania in 2018. (Image: David Mariuz)

The end of 2018 was a particularly volatile time for Australian weather.
Cyclones in Queensland, flash floods in Melbourne and giant hail stones in Sydney, followed by the year closing with many areas of Australia baking in the searing sun.
Temperatures in some parts of the country topped 49oC.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has officially declared 2018 as Australia’s third hottest year on record in this week’s climate statement.
‘Annual mean temperatures for 2018 were above average for nearly all of Australia, and very much above average for most of the mainland except parts of Western Australia, mostly in the north and west, and parts of eastern Queensland,’ the BoM stated.
‘It was amongst the six warmest years on record for all states and the Northern Territory, and the warmest on record for New South Wales.’

Temp-map-text.pngAustralia’s 2018 annual mean temperatures compared to historical temperature observations. (Source: Bureau of Meteorology)
All three of the country’s hottest recorded years have taken place in the new millennium. Research has shown that Australia is one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, particularly in the developed world. 
As health professionals embedded in the community, GPs are at the forefront of this issue.
‘General practice is where the rubber hits the road,’ Dr Tim Senior, a GP with a special interest in environmental issues, told newsGP last year. ‘You hear the talk of global impacts, but we’re dealing with the impacts on people in our own communities.’
Dr Janie Maxwell, GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Environmental Impacts in General Practice network, said the climate change can impact on the environment around us, and on our immediate health in many ways.
‘The cardinal signs of climate change are rising temperature and variability in precipitation, which results in increased extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms, as well as raised salinity, sea-level rise and storm surges,’ she previously told newsGP.
‘From a health perspective, those changes can cause immediate impacts such as heat stress; respiratory, cardiovascular and renal exacerbations from a high-pollution, high-heat day; or new outbreaks or distribution of different infectious diseases.’
GPs are often directly involved in providing healthcare in the aftermath of natural disasters, with drought particularly prevalent in 2018.
Australia recorded 412.8 mm of rainfall in 2018, 11% below the average and the lowest since 2005. The country’s September rainfall was the lowest on record.

Rain-map-text.pngAustralia’s 2018 annual rainfall compared to historical rainfall observations. (Source: Bureau of Meteorology)
Dr Ayman Shenouda, RACGP Vice President and Chair of RACGP Rural, has found GPs have a key role in helping their communities through drought conditions.
‘While short-term drought-related health shocks can be more obvious, it is the longer-term, more indirect health implications that are harder to measure and monitor,’ he wrote for newsGP.
‘GPs should have a leading role in drought-related public health vulnerability assessments. This involves working with the community and key partners to ensure coordinated preparedness and response efforts.
‘We need to allocate a greater proportion of total health resources to drought impact mitigation and prevention.’
Dr Senior would also like to see this kind of thinking applied more widely.
‘The effects on our own community in Australia will also be really quite severe. There’s no one who’s left unaffected by this, which is why it should be everyone’s concern and everyone’s responsibility,’ he said.

Bureau of Meteorology climate change drought

newsGP weekly poll Which of the below incentive amounts (paid annually) would be sufficient to encourage you to provide eight consultations and two care plans to a residential aged care patient per year?

newsGP weekly poll Which of the below incentive amounts (paid annually) would be sufficient to encourage you to provide eight consultations and two care plans to a residential aged care patient per year?



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Andrew Zdenkowski   11/01/2019 11:08:40 PM

Heat,drought,climate change are issues we all need to take seriously- food and water security will be major concerns. See DEA website,become a member,donate generously!
We need to protect our children and grandchildren. Short term economic gain and long term disastrous environmental harm does not make sense.

ian hilliar   12/01/2019 8:12:40 PM

Amanda, are you aware that we are 18,000 year into our current interglacial? The last interglacial, The Eemian , which finished about 118000 years ago, lasted 20,000 years, and was followed by a glacial expansion that lasted 100,000 years. The end of the Eemian was about 4 degrees warmer than now, and sea levels were at least 6 meters higher, and the Greenland icecap thinned a little. You should look at the ice cores, they are fascinating. You might take note of the fact that over that 180,000 year record, temperature has ALWAYS driven CO2. Al Gore lied.....

ian hilliar   14/01/2019 8:35:31 AM

The problem is that the Australian government, like all governments, is orientated towards the cities, as that is where the major populations reside. So droughtproofing consists of building huge deal plants, to supply clean water to cities and suburbs who are to lazy to recycle their own waste water, unlike cities overseas, like London. This has lead to the building of a desal plant in Victoria big enough to supply ALL Melbourne's water, in the event that there is ZERO rainfall in the whole of Victoria for twelve months. And good luck to you if you live on a farm , our a country town. Knowing this, are you not surprised that country people are becoming increasingly depressed and distrustful o f politicians and other organisations that offer themselves as being "here to help"??

Dr Rupert Douglas Good   22/01/2019 4:10:29 PM

Funding is imperative for the consequences of high temperatures and accompanying drought. The emotional toll on our farming communities is undeniable.

However, as a medical doctor with a background in astrophysics I am confident that increases in CO2 have no discernable impact on global warming. Despite the numerous convoluted theories, there remains no empirical evidence of any measurable causal relationship beyond 400ppm nor would there be beyond 200ppm for that matter.

Over one hundred plus global warming models have not matched observational data. There will of course never be any empirical evidence to show that increasing CO2 is the source of global warming. Any such minuscule effect is utterly swamped by natural forcing factors.

The current warming is no different to the warming variability following the last ice age. Certainly heat island effects from urbanisation, excessive tree clearing and so called homogenisation of temperature records have skewed data. Incorrect and exaggerated premonitions have further contributed to alarmism.

Spending trillions of dollars on vain attempts to reduce CO2 based on the futile belief that it will somehow alter the climate is a deplorable waste of money.

It takes a brave politician to speak out against the CO2 pseudoscience that has been warped by the funding dollar, a UN bent on securing funding for its own existence, CO2 trading incentives, and a Green ideology smitten with misguided activism.

I encourage anyone who follows evidence based practice to reject the belief that we will somehow alter the climate by pouring trillions of dollars into ineffectual attempts to reduce CO2.

Adaptation is the only solution. Invest in the more achievable goals of eradication of disease, health, education, jobs, clean water, crop adaptation and cheaper electricity. The Green ideology needs to return to planting trees which can reduce heat island effects, encourage rainfall and regenerate natural habitats.