rant: the heat is on

by Michelle Law

heat wave 1

Cast your mind back several months ago, to a better, colder time. Spring time. Around August, I was at the royal show in Queensland, checking out the lifestyle pavilion: a marquee filled with small businesses selling their wares. There were costumes for dogs, novelty lamps, handmade soap, Akubra hats, and a woman manning a table covered with bowls of water and what appeared to be a pile of wet rags.

“They’re instant cooling towels,” the woman explained as I approached. She made a show of dipping a towel in warm water and flicking it around with a flourish before handing it to me. I gripped the now ice-cold towel in wonder. “They’re made from a fast cooling fibre,” she said. “Two for the price of one. You’ll thank me come summer!” I smiled politely and backed away. “Let me think about it,” I said, my eyes narrowed in suspicion. Was I being scammed? Was this witchcraft?

Well, it’s summer now and I’d like to apologise to that woman. (The towels work; I saw them in sports equipment stores before they sold out.) But this apology doesn’t count for much since this is my ghost speaking after my earthly body burst into flames weeks ago at the height of a nation-wide heat wave. Climate change is real, people, and we’re all burning alive.

I like to think of myself as a pretty tolerant person when it comes to extreme weather. I grew up and still live in Queensland, the skin cancer capital of the world. I’m used to peeling myself off of couches, having cold showers, falling asleep cradling ice packs, standing before open fridges to avoid suffocation in 80 per cent humidity, and driving with gloves to prevent second degree burns. Nothing really works in the Queensland heat and everything is uncomfortable; that’s just part and parcel of Australian summers when you don’t have air conditioning.

A couple of years ago, during a heat wave so intense it hospitalised people around the country, the only way I could tolerate the muggy days was spritzing myself with lukewarm water every minute while reading the Divergent series because it was the only thing my brain could process. On the days I had my period, I simply cooked in a marinade of my own sweat and blood until the sun set and it was cool enough to regain consciousness.

But this year, Australian heat waves have upped their game: during the first week of January, Sydney was the hottest place on earth. To cope, I’ve been escaping to the State Library to sit in the air conditioning with the other sweaty people who have been cooking in their own homes. I’ll arrive home at the end of the day, guilt stricken at seeing my cat melted across the dining table, eyes glazed, the fan blasting in his face. I know that I’ll miss the warmth come winter, but heat waves can suck eggs.

During heat waves my BO burns through any antiperspirant deodorant; my skin breaks out in prickly heat; I’m sticky; I’m angry; and then I feel guilty for feeling angry because there are people in the world dealing with actual problems. The heat brings out a lot of feelings and a lot of smells in me, but the worst thing is that I have no right to be angry because heat waves are our fault; the planet’s cooking because of selfish, human bozos.

I’ve been trying in whatever infinitesimal ways to be a less garbage person to the planet. At home I compost and use beeswax wrap and environmentally friendly cleaning products. When I travel, I pay the carbon offset when I can afford it. And I’ve planted a butt load of plants… that have all died in the heat. There’s no quick fix but I’m striving to be better, and as summer draws to a close, I’m already preparing for its return. Spring is coming. And so is my cash, hard and fast into the palms of that woman at the royal show selling magical rags.

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