A woman died in Christchurch this week as a direct result of the extreme temperatures the city and the region have been experiencing. Is she New Zealand's first victim of climate change?

A WOMAN DIED IN CHRISTCHURCH on Wednesday because of the extreme heat that has been provoked by climate change. On Wednesday the temperature hit 32c. The city has been in the grip of a heatwave. 

While the television news bulletins might show people frolicking on beaches, it has not been a pleasant experience for most people. It is proving to be a summer that we endure rather than enjoy.

The unfortunate woman, who was in her early sixties and had multiple sclerosis, died of what the Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshal said was hyperthermia, or overheating.

There are several, and progressively worse stages, of hyperthermia. It begins with what is called heat syncope, which is sudden dizzy spells induced by extreme heat. It then progresses through to heat exhaustion. The body is failing to cool itself. Symptoms include severe thirst, weakness, disorientation, clumsiness, heavy sweating, rapid pulse, and nausea.

The final, and potentially fatal stage, is heatstroke. The body overheats. Internal organs shut down. The body cooks. People with a pre-existing condition are vulnerable to heatstroke because of the enormous strain it puts on the cardiovascular system.

I don't know what the woman's personal circumstances were but, in all probability, it is unlikely she had access to air conditioning. Perhaps she was on a fixed income and couldn't afford such a 'luxury'.

While the media have failed to make the connection between this fatality and climate change, the extreme heat we are now experiencing comes at a time when the country is confronted by rising temperatures. August, September and October of 2017 comprised the warmest equivalent three month period in New Zealand since at least 1909.

December was 2.4C warmer than usual, something which has only achieved in a given month three times this century. Ninety locations nationwide had record or near record mean temperatures in December alone. The media tells us that next week there is a real possibility of the temperature gauge approaching the 40c mark.

It is a similar story in the rest of the world; in Europe, for example, five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002.

The death that occurred in Christchurch this week starkly reminds us that the consequences of climate change are with us right here, right now. It is not a doomsday scenario awaiting us out in an possible future somewhere that won't happen  anyway because we will avert it with  some technological fix or a different policy mix to keep the cogs of capitalism cranking over. This is the Green Party's inadequate response to climate change.

These heatwaves are becoming more frequent as temperatures rise. Climate change is killing people now. In 2015, Scientific American noted that nine out of the ten deadliest heat waves ever have occurred since 2000; together, they’ve killed 128,885 people. New Zealand has now contributed to this figure.

The question is : How many deaths have to occur before we recognise that tinkering with the economic machinery that is eating up the planet in the first place, is a criminally inadequate response to the crisis we confront?

It is ironic that in Christchurch this fatality was overwhelmed by the debate about whether to temporarily chlorinate the city's water supply. But, in the overall scheme of things, this woman's death is a warning to us that chlorinated water will be the least of our concerns, unless we act decisively now. Just continuing to do what we are doing is comprehensively hopeless.


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