Heatwaves are responsible for more deaths in Australia than all other natural disasters combined, including bushfires, floods, cyclones and storms. “But not in Tasmania,” you say. “That’s the cold state!” Or is it?
Heatwaves are periods of “excessive hot weather”. They are not defined by a particular temperature or duration. This loose definition works because the impact of a heatwave is relative to the adaptive capacity of those it affects. So, while Tasmania doesn’t have the same high temperatures as states to the north, Tasmanians tend to be poorly equipped to handle hot weather when it comes.
Extreme heat causes a cascade of events which can rapidly lead to death. Some people can’t handle heat as well as others, or they’re at higher risk when hot weather comes along. Elderly people, outdoor workers, those with physical disabilities or medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and asthma are all more susceptible to heat illness.
In Tasmania, there’s a higher proportion of elderly people compared to the national average, and a higher proportion of those with long-term medical conditions.
Most Tasmanian households don’t have air-conditioning, especially those in poorer communities. Furthermore, the fickle climate means that when hot weather does come along, there’s no time to adapt.
Vulnerable Tasmanians are actually more susceptible to heat illness and death than mainland counterparts. Consequently, on days of extreme heat, ambulance call outs rise substantially. And it’s going to get worse. Climate change predictions for Tasmania show heatwaves will not only occur more often in the future, but they’ll be more severe.
Heat related illnesses and deaths are preventable. To get prepared, visit goo.gl/jD0zGh
Sharon Campbell is a Tasmanian researcher in climate change and health.