As Southeast Queensland braces itself for a January heatwave, an ecological economist at Griffith University says this should no longer be considered unusual.

“No-one should be surprised,” Professor Jeremy Williams says of the heat surge that was expected to push Brisbane temperatures into the late 30s, and scorch Ipswich with 40-plus readings on Wednesday.

Professor Williams is Deputy Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise in Brisbane. He has urged all sections of the community to acknowledge its role in the mercury rise and take individual responsibility to do something about it.

“November 2012 was our 333rd consecutive month of rising average temperatures globally. If you’re 27 or younger, it’s all you’ve ever known.

“And while this upward trend continues we have to face the inevitable prospect that there will come a point when societies will not be able to function effectively.”

Professor Williams argues that people from all walks of life should feel the heat on Wednesday and ask themselves what they can do to make a difference.

“It makes me smile, in a dark way, when I hear people talking about how climate change will affect their children and their children’s children. Climate change is here now. If it is 42 degrees in Hobart, there is something seriously wrong.

“We’re now living in an era of consequences. We cannot put our heads in the sand any longer. The last time average monthly temperatures were falling globally, Back to the Future was the hit movie playing in the theatres.”

Professor Williams, who is also the Director of the Asia Pacific Management Centre at Griffith University, also advocates the use of financial incentives by governments to encourage people to change the way they live.

“But it is not solely the responsibility of government. Business can make a big difference by pursuing corporate strategy based on the principles of sustainability, and they can do this at the same time as they increase their profits.

“Ultimately, it is not the responsibility of any single group. Climate change is here now and the onus is on each individual to make a meaningful change.”

Professor Williams has taught extensively on climate change and sustainable development for more than 10 years around the world, including France, India, Singapore and Australia.