Morning mail: too hot for humans, Corbyn apologises, pope ends 'secrecy' rule

Helen Sullivan
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Wednesday 18 December.

Top stories

First Nations people fear becoming Australia’s first climate refugees as global heating threatens their survival. Alice Springs had 55 days above 40C in the year to July 2019, while central Australian outstations are running out of water and poor-quality housing in town camps cannot be cooled effectively. Indigenous leaders fear extreme heat will cause an influx of internal refugees. “Central Australian Aboriginal people are very resilient,” says Josie Douglas, manager of policy and research at the Central Land Council. “But there are limits. Without action to stop climate change, people will be forced to leave their country and leave behind much of what makes them Aboriginal.” Meanwhile, December heat records are expected to be broken across Australia from Wednesday, as a heatwave moves across South Australia to Victoria and New South Wales.

Jeremy Corbyn has apologised for last week’s disastrous UK election results in his first meeting with Labour MPs since losing the election, saying “I am very sorry for the result, for which I take responsibility”. Many Corbyn-sceptic MPs were incensed that the leader had not said sorry for the loss of 60 MPs across the north, Midlands, Scotland and Wales, although he had previously said he takes “full responsibility” and was “very sad”. There was particular anger among losing candidates that they had had no direct communication – neither an apology nor a note of thanks – from the leadership after losing their seats. Meanwhile, the pound has given up the gains made since the general election after Boris Johnson said he would write Britain’s exit from the EU next year into law without an extension in the transition period.

Donald Trump has sent a six-page letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi condemning the impeachment inquiry, calling it an “unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power”. The letter reads much like Trump’s Twitter feed, complete with exclamation points and accusations of Democrats “declaring open war on American Democracy”. The US president goes on to claim he has done nothing wrong in regards to his actions toward Ukraine, predicting Democrats will suffer electoral losses next year as a result of the inquiry. It came after Mitch McConnell rebuffed a Democratic request to call new impeachment witnesses and dismissed the process as a “sloppy … fishing expedition”.

Australia

Australians are less split on partisan lines than Americans on whether they accept the need to act on climate change, and are far more likely regardless of party allegiance to be willing to pay a carbon tax to cut fossil fuel use, according to a new study. Researchers found 78% of Australians supported reducing fossil fuel use and 64% raising taxes to help do that.

Climate change has reduced Australian farms’ average annual profitability by 22% in two decades – or around $18,600 per farm – a report from the agriculture department says.

Acting prime minister Michael McCormack defied a Senate order to produce documents relating to the government’s troubled regional grants program, despite early advice from the department suggesting information should be released.

The world

Pope Francis has vowed zero tolerance for sexual abusers. Photograph: Riccardo Antimiani/EPA

Pope Francis has announced sweeping changes to the way the Roman Catholic church deals with cases of sexual abuse of children, abolishing the rule of pontifical secrecy that previously covered them.

Rainwater in some parts of the US contains high enough levels of potentially toxic substances to possibly affect human health and may, if found in drinking water, be high enough in some cases to trigger regulatory action.

Charlize Theron has spoken in detail about her experience of sexual harassment at the start of her acting career, saying she found it frustrating that she “didn’t do all of those things that we so want to believe we’ll do in those situations”.

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military leader, has been sentenced to death for high treason and subverting the country’s constitution.

The first woman to be elected mayor of Colombia’s capital city has married her partner in a private civil ceremony before taking office.

Recommended reads

Neolithic chewing gum has helped recreate an image of an ancient Dane with dark skin and blue eyes. At the dawn of the Neolithic era, a young woman discarded a lump of ancient chewing gum made from birch tar into a shallow, brackish lagoon that drew fishers to the coast of southern Denmark. Nearly 6,000 years later, researchers excavating the site used the gum to reassemble her complete DNA and paint the broadest strokes of her portrait. The strands of DNA preserved in the gum point to a hunter-gatherer from continental Europe who had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes.

Nihilism is back in fashion. “Since discovering I’m worthless my life has felt precious,” writes Wendy Syfret. “Walking home one evening earlier this year, my existence shifted with a single passing thought. I was chronically stressed at work, overwhelmed by expectations, grasping for a sense of achievement or greater purpose and tip-toeing towards full-on exhaustion. Then it hit me: ‘Who cares? One day I’ll be dead and no one will remember me anyway.’ I can’t explain the crashing sense of relief.”

Paying closer and more considered attention to the natural world has been a personal project of Léa Antigny over the last 18 months, which she has chronicled at times in journal entries. “Walking through my neighbourhood in the early morning, I was struck by the eerie copper tone in the atmosphere,” she writes. “I turned and looked to the sky and was stunned by the glowing red sunrise. The intense red light bounced off concrete and shined off street poles. There were a few other early risers on the street, all of us stopped in our tracks, faces turned to the sky.”

Listen

Is Australia becoming too hot for humans? In central Australia an already hot climate is getting hotter, with the Northern Territory environment minister voicing concerns that region could become “uninhabitable” in the future. Experts are warning the heat could trigger a wave of internal migration. In this episode of Full Story, Guardian Australia’s Indigenous affairs editor Lorena Allam explores how Aboriginal communities are bearing the brunt of Australia’s heat crisis.

Sport

AusCycling was intended to bring together the fragmented sport. Instead, it has led to name-calling, social media spats and boardroom stoushes, and as the Olympics approach, the ongoing governance of cycling in Australia hangs in the balance.

The death of figure-skating champion John Coughlin has brought up questions about power dynamics in ice skating – and sexual abuse in sports, writes Dvora Meyers.

Media roundup

As Australia faces record-breaking heat, the Australian’s homepage splash is “Surging demand is set to fuel a strong increase in ­Australian coal exports over the next five years, sparking calls for new mines.” The paper also reveals: “Fire chiefs’ climate group a pet ‘project’” of former climate commissioner Tim Flannery. The Sydney Morning Herald profiles a 99.15 Atar HSC student who was “berated” by Scott Morrison this year for skipping school to protest climate change. The Australian Financial Review’s top story online this morning is Asic drops bombshell on NAB, as the regulator “alleges the bank has broken the law more than 10,000 times, leaving it exposed to a maximum theoretical penalty of almost $10bn”.

Coming up

Schools across New South Wales will rally to demand action on climate change as temperatures soar in parts of the state.

And if you’ve read this far …

Russian agents have been accused of worldwide hacking operations, but someone at the Kremlin has apparently forgotten to inform Vladimir Putin of the importance of cybersecurity. Putin, 67, appears to have the obsolete Microsoft Windows XP operating system installed on computers in his office at the Kremlin and at his official Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow, according to images released by his press service. Both computers have the Kremlin towers set as their desktop backgrounds.

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