It might be winter in the UK with frost and snow, but on the other side of the world it’s a different story, with parts of Australia experiencing record-breaking high temperatures. As temperatures reach 40°C and above in places such as Sydney, authorities have warned people to take extra care by avoiding the heat, staying indoors, and reducing exercise. There have been problems with tens of thousands of homes hit by power cuts, roads have started to melt and, in some states, authorities have banned all fires after a number of bushfires and a huge blaze on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Is Australia getting hotter?
The Bureau of Meteorology released a statement explaining that January 2019 was the hottest month ever on record in Australia.
Bureau senior climatologist Dr Andrew Watkins said: "The main contributor to this heat was a persistent high pressure system in the Tasman sea which was blocking any cold fronts and cooler air from impacting the south of the country.
"At the same time, we had a delayed onset to the monsoon in the north of the country which meant we weren't seeing cooler, moist air being injected from the north. The warming trend which has seen Australian temperatures increase by more than one degree in the last 100 years also contributed to the unusually warm conditions."
What is the impact of raising temperatures?
The WWF explains how even just minor increases in temperature can have big effects on the environment. Because the oceans are warming, glaciers and ice caps are melting, which causes an increase in water volume. The warmer temperatures also expand the water mass and cause sea levels to rise, posing a risk to coastal cities and low-lying islands. The extra heat and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans make the water more acidic, threatening coral reefs, fish and other underwater life.
Rising temperatures can also lead to water shortages, droughts, increased fire risks, and damaged habitats for wildlife. As well as potential food shortages and farming problems, people’s health is at risk with a higher risk of death and illnesses. The dangers of more extreme weather events – storms, floods and cyclones, for example – can also lead to damage made to homes and other buildings.
Could trees cool down our cities?
Cities are typically warmer than other areas because of the urban heat island effect, which is caused by materials like concrete taking longer to heat up and cool down. Vehicles and machinery produce heat, tall buildings block breezes and metals reflect the heat. Because of the geography of Australia, the urban heat island effect for many of the cities is amplified.
An article in the Guardian highlighted how during the recent heatwave in Australia, in some places people struggled to find shady spots and because of this, some of the cities aren’t safe for walking or cycling – an activity that would help keep stay fit, while also reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
There is a need for shading, which could come from trees and other plants. Additional foliage not only provides shelter, but it holds more carbon and absorbs carbon dioxide, reducing the effects of global warming.
In the UK, the importance of trees in our cities, towns and other areas has been highlighted by several campaigns. Some reports suggest tree planting in the UK needs to double by 2020 to tackle the effects climate change. There are also ambitious projects to introduce more nature into urban areas, such as City of Trees, which aims to plant three million trees across Greater Manchester and restore 2,000 hectares of woodland.
How can our homes help global warming?
As well as thinking about planting more trees and greenery in our built up areas, we should also focus on how we design and build our homes. For example, taking a fabric first approach and choosing the right materials for thermal comfort can help to keep homes warm in winter and cool in summer, without the need for heating systems and air conditioning, which can both add to the problem.
Cutting down our energy use in general can also help, as can reducing burning fossil fuels, which can also help to improve air quality too.
Climate change is a worldwide issue, and something that needs to be addressed urgently – especially in developed countries and built up areas. By designing and building our homes to be as energy efficient as possible, as well as offer an optimum level or comfort whatever the weather, we can start to change things for the better.
Find out more about how heatwaves can impact our daily lives at home.
Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.