This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
The cracks in our relationship first appeared a few years ago. At first I thought it was me, that I'd grown too old be charmed by you. But then I saw how cruel you could be, how destructive.
I'd loved you since childhood, awaiting your return with longing, impatient to once again be held in your warm embrace. Now, I count the days until you leave, yearning to feel comfortable in my own skin.
I'm talking about you, summer. Yes, you.
You're no longer the carefree presence you once were. That changed four years ago, when you set the east coast ablaze. Before your return this year, we were anxious. El Nino, we were told, would make you fierce and dangerous again. And early in the season, you were, as fires broke out across the country.
Then you changed your mind and mugged us on the eastern seaboard with humidity, smothering us under a warm doona of moisture that makes a day with an average temperature seem much hotter and harder to bear. You've been drowning us slowly for two months now.
And that's been making us lethargic, irritable and messing with our health.
Scientists used to think a temperature of 35 degrees at 100 per cent humidity was the limit of safe human tolerance. Exceed that, they thought, and the sweat on the body could no longer evaporate, which meant the body's core temperature could not be cooled. Six hours of exposure to that combination of heat and humidity could be lethal.
Recent experiments suggest the safety limit is even lower. Humidity above 50 per cent at temperatures of 31 degrees and higher was found to stress the bodies of healthy young adults. If the human body struggles to cool its core, its heart struggles. For older people, especially those with pre-existing cardiovascular issues, high-temperature humidity becomes even more hazardous.
While we're feeling uncomfortable this unusually humid summer, spare a thought for the 1 billion people across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa living in densely packed urban "informal settlements" - a polite way of saying "slums". One study warns rising humidity will make these places unlivable - beyond human tolerance.
Climatologists say "extreme humid heat events" have more than doubled in the past 40 years as global temperatures have risen.
Shortly after dawn on Friday, the temperature where I live was 20.4 degrees, the humidity 100 per cent. Steam was rising from the forest, the top of the escarpment was shrouded in cloud. It looked like Borneo and I looked like a drowned rat, the sweat running down the face and soaking my T-shirt.
And it's not just coastal areas suffering. A mate from Dubbo in western NSW says humidity in this normally dry place has been making life difficult, especially for older residents who rely on evaporative air conditioners. These systems cool air by passing it through water but when it's too humid, the evaporated moisture has nowhere to go and the things don't work.
It's only likely to get worse as global temperatures get close to exceeding the 1.5 degree rise since pre-industrial times.
That's a sticky situation for all of us.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you found this summer particularly humid? As summers become more extreme do you long for the cooler months? Have your attitudes to summer changed as you've grown older? Email us: email@example.com
SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoy The Echidna, forward it to a friend so they can sign up, too.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- An aide who managed the electoral office of former federal MP Craig Kelly has been convicted of indecently assaulting four female staff members in their late teens and early 20s. Francesco Zumbo was convicted at Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on Friday for crimes that occurred at various locations across the city from 2014 to 2018.
- Footage of people chanting "gas the Jews" on the steps of the Sydney Opera House that drew global outrage and caused a domestic political firestorm was almost certainly wrongly captioned, police say.
- Insurers have been warned by Australia's financial watchdog that how they treat policyholders will be monitored, and penalties will be considered for companies that don't do the right thing. A parliamentary inquiry has been told of hostile and under-handed behaviour by insurance companies, as it investigates how the industry responded to floods across Victoria, Queensland and NSW.
THEY SAID IT: "The choking humidity makes amphibians of us all, in Bombay, breathing water in air; you learn to live with it, and you learn to like it, or you leave." - Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram
YOU SAID IT: Monster utes, scant driver training and more cars and trucks on the road mean the rising road toll is no accident.
Ian has a theory: "I think there is another factor that explains at least part of its surge in the last year or so and that is immigration. A major proportion of these immigrants are students, many of whom have become new drivers in this country. Further, even considering non-student immigration, our new people mostly come from countries where private car ownership is not the norm. This group represents an additional cohort of new drivers in Australia once they get their licences. The first few years of driving a car are the dangerous years particularly if you are young and male. The road accident statistics kept hidden from us would quickly reveal whether and how much the recent surge in immigration contributes to the spike in the road toll."
David suggests other factors: "Tailgating by man-babies driving massive 4WDs - you should have to pass a driving test for a heavy vehicle before you are able to buy one - so many drivers have enormous difficulty driving and parking these beasts. Speed limits now seem to be minimums not maximums - cars should be speed limited just like many trucks. The parlous state of the roads due to severe weather events - whatever happened to driving to the conditions?"
"All of the factors Garry describes could be culprits in the sudden rise in road deaths - but how do we know whether they really are?" asks Bruce. "Just one example: I'm very anti-SUV, but is there statistical evidence that the percentage of road deaths involving SUVs is greater than the percentage of passenger vehicles which are SUVs? My uninformed opinion is irrelevant, as is anybody else's. We need the statistics about which factors correlate with road deaths."
Belinda writes: "I don't believe self-driving cars are the answer due to the state of our roads. I drove over a new section of road recently and found the old road after it smoother. If we can't build decent roads we have no chance of decreasing the road toll. Big SUVs seem to like to fly past everyone on the road to get to the front and then slow right down. This is a cause for accidents. Another problem is when they come up behind you and stick too close until they can get around you. I drive on rural roads and if I have to brake for an animal I will wear the car behind me as well."
"I drive 70,000 kilometres a year in my jobs as a farm equipment salesman," writes Chris. "I also escort oversize loads all over the eastern states. Many drivers have no idea or driving skills. We don't teach people to drive, only to pass the test. The will fail the test if they can't park. But there is no test for 100-110kmh. We should have to pass some driving test after five years."