Let’s say hypothetically, global temperatures increase by 1° Celsius (C) or more than current levels. What will happen?
According to a study, if that happened, billions of people would be exposed to extreme heat and humidity each year. We would be unable to cool themselves naturally—a big looming problem for billions of people.
That’s the researchers’ suggestion, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Basically, they suggest that when the temperatures rise, we might find ourselves sweating, but not the okay kind.
Going beyond a 1.5°C temperature increase above pre-industrial levels is going to be disastrous for our health. As we can’t handle too much heat and humidity, there could be more risks of heat stroke and heart attacks.
Okay, why the grim study?
We all know the story: the world has seen a 1°C (1.8°F) increase in global temperatures since the industrial revolution.
Then, in order to prevent further warming, some nations have planned to cap global temperatures at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
To find out just how bad the warming could get, if we went over 1.5°C, the researchers did the study. Using a model, they simulated temperature increases that range from 1.5°C to 4°C. Of course, 4 degrees is the worst-case scenario which I pray never to ever happens.
With the model, the researchers wanted to pinpoint regions where rising temperatures could push heat and humidity to extreme levels.
Per the study, if global temperatures climbed by 2 degrees, some populated areas might face extended periods of extreme heat and humidity.
What the researchers mean by the areas are the 2.2 billion folks living in Pakistan and India’s Indus River Valley. Let’s not forget the billion people in eastern China and the 800 million residents of sub-Saharan Africa.
To make things worse, a lot of these areas are lower-to-middle income countries. It means, most people in those areas won’t have the luxury of AC or other ways to stay cool and safe.
When the researchers tried cranking up the heat to 3 degrees, it’s not just tropical regions that would suffer. South America, Australia, and the Eastern Seaboard and the central United States would face extreme heat, too.
Now, this doesn’t mean that some areas that haven’t been mentioned yet can relax. Although the heat has been forgiving, the researchers warned that the models often don’t account for extreme weather events.
Think about the heatwave in Oregon in 2021 that claimed over 700 lives. Or when London hit 40°C last summer.
Not just about sweating buckets
The researchers said that these predictions don’t just affect us thermally. An increase in temperatures will have huge impacts for food security and the habitability of regions around the world.
When temperatures get too high, crops may fail. Then, millions of people might be forced to relocate because it would become impossible to live in their current homes.
Now, these findings involved 462 different experiments. All of them tested how much heat, humidity, and physical exertion humans can endure. That’s before their core temperature starts to play tricks on them. The results could prepare us better for what might happen in the future.
One of the study co-authors, W. Larry Kenney highlighted the importance of collaboration in this study. It’s with a purpose to get a firm understanding of how the changing climate could affect our health. At the same time, such cooperation is crucial to conjure up solutions as well.
Feeling the heat right now
Needless to say, the researchers said that people should always be concerned about extreme heat and humidity.
In preliminary studies of older populations, Kenney found that older adults are more at risk. They experience heat stress and the related health consequences at lower heat and humidity levels than young people.
According to Kenney’s team, during heat waves, people experience health problems from other causes as well.
Most of the 739 people who died during Chicago’s 1995 heat wave were over 65. They experienced a combination of high body temperature and cardiovascular problems, leading to heart attacks and other cardiovascular causes of death.
So what happens if the heat is getting to you now?
It’s unpleasant to experience heat in our own home, especially if we work from home. So, getting ready for it is important.
Putting ACs aside, see if we could reduce how much heat comes through by using shades, awnings, or window coverings. Having a lush garden helps plenty, or we can also use heat reflective paint to cool the house. If there’s no ACs, we can use freezer blocks wrapped in towels for a cheap cooling option.
Those who work from home may want to have backup cooling methods such as battery-operated fans in case of blackouts.
If our home is not prepared for the heat, take refuge in a friend’s or a relative’s cooler home. There are also libraries, co-working spaces, and cafés that you can visit.
Be sure to look out for each other, too. So, it’s good to have a list of key contacts and friends or neighbors who may be at risk. Put it on the speed dial or put their numbers on the fridge.
When the heat builds, check for heatwave warnings on the Bureau of Meteorology’s site. Understand what the symptoms of heat stroke and exhaustion look like. This way, we can be aware of our own condition and others’.
Businesses should be aware of the heat issues and understand their responsibilities to their employees. It’s also wise to have plans to manage these.
Preparation is good, but panic isn’t
When the heat gets unbearable, it’s easy for us to think of the worst and be fearful about the future.
It is true that the warming of the planet and climate change have made risks go higher. But the focus should be to understand it and act to improve it.
But what do we do for now to alleviate the conditions now? Well, according to the first study mentioned here, reducing the emission should do the job.
The researchers cited decades of research indicating that humans must reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, per the researchers, is the one that must stop immediately.
Because, if there are no changes, middle-income and low-income countries will suffer the most.
As one example, the researchers pointed to Al Hudaydah, Yemen. It’s a port city of more than 700,000 people on the Red Sea. Results of the study indicated that if the planet warms by 4°C, this city will be almost uninhabitable.
Co-author Matthew Huber said, “The worst heat stress will occur in regions that are not wealthy and that are expected to experience rapid population growth in the coming decades.
“This is true despite the fact that these nations generate far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than wealthy nations. As a result, billions of poor people will suffer, and many could die.
“But wealthy nations will suffer from this heat as well, and in this interconnected world, everyone can expect to be negatively affected in some way.”