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When I left work yesterday in Sydney’s CBD, I stepped out onto the street to see the afternoon sun starting to set behind the high-rises. The sun was warm but the shade was freezing, which I took as an indicator for the beginning of the end for the warm weather.
I even tweeted about how cold it was and made a big deal about crossing my arms to retain some body heat. Everyone seemed to be wearing jackets and I somehow didn't get the memo (and by that I mean 'I didn't look at the weather forecast'). I realise that living in Australia means hot, dry summers and chilly winters – depending on how close you are to the ocean. But it's never so cold that you question your ability to survive it. So I took a look at some of the world's most severe weather locations habitable by humans, and what they do to survive.
Dallol is the hottest inhabited place on Earth with an average daily temperature of 37 (even in winter!). Extreme summer temperatures frequently come in at 50 degrees C! It sits on an active volcano, which means there is little to no relief from the hot sun. Standing in one place for a few minutes can melt your shoes.
The Afar people live here, and call the town "the Gateway to Hell". It is 300 miles away from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Afars are nomadic and move through the region at night to gather salt. The salt replaces the electrolytes lost during the heat of the day. They drink cow or goat's milk. They use paint colours to reflect the sun and use a composting technique to clean water of its bacteria.
Siberia is the coldest place on Earth where the temperature falls to minus 32 degrees celcius in the winter. Breathing the outside air during these times can freeze your lungs, yet the Yakut people have adapted and have continued to live in this area since the 13th century. They wear merino wool and animal fur as a more resilient form of clothing, and they wear slitted goggles made from animal hoofs when blizzards pass through.
For their diet they drink reindeer and horse milk, and eat ox meat which slows down metabolism and gives the body enough calories to fight the elements of winter.
The Atacama Desert, Chile
Some areas of the desert have not seen rain for 400 years yet there are still animals and people living here. The Atacameno tribe has lived in this desert before the Inca Empire and the Spanish colonization. The terrain is likened to Mars, NASA even uses the Atacama to test instruments for Mars missions. The soil is so dry that no living organisms can inhabit it. Farmers lay the horns of freshly slaughtered cattle to attract insects that will fertilize the land and increase crop growth by 75%.
The Atacama people have created fog nets to capture moisture in the air and provide a source of water.
This small town on the northeastern shore of Kauai homes approximately 2,248 people under Mt. Kilauea, a name that literally translates to "spewing" or "much spreading" in Hawaiian. Mt Kilauea is the most active of the five volcanoes that form the island of Hawai'i, and is considered the most active volcano on Earth. Its constant eruptions have a huge impact on the ecology surrounding it. Plant growth is interrupted by drifting sulfur dioxide, producing acid rains.
The locals of Kauai are on constantly on watch with state of the art tsunami/earthquake warnings and education that teaches locals how to survive natural disasters. Mt. Kilauea has been constantly erupting since 1990 and now flows into the ocean.
This is the wettest inhabited place on Earth with lush rain forests that lead to the feet of the Himalayan Mountains. Winds and moisture get trapped and fall in sheets to the ground. Mawsynram gets more than 500 inches of rain each year – that's about ten times the average rainfall in an average city.
Villagers prepare far in advance for the rainfall months of June-September. The Garos and Khasis tribes build bridges out of jute, and make "knups" – turtle shell-like covers made of bamboo strands. They are worn like ponchos to keep dry. They build their houses well above ground to avoid mudslides from the mountains.
I definitely feel better about the less-than-severe weather we have here in Australia. While we have some severe fire seasons and the locals in those areas have to take extra precaution, we are lucky to be living in such a beautiful country with so much diversity in it's landscape. We have forests, deserts, beaches, reefs, lakes, rivers, mountains and snow seasons all in one country. Let's all work together to keep the beautiful and balanced environment we have been given. We can start by turning our attention to saving our Great Barrier Reef. Add your name to call on the World Heritage Committee to protect our reef.