Some countries will be to hot to live in this century, on the current course

October 26, 2015

A number of countries in the Middle East would will experience higher temperatures and humidity than ever before on Earth if the world fails to cut carbon emissions, making them uninhabitable, outside of air conditioned spaces.

The new research examined how a combined measure of temperature and humidity, called wet bulb temperature (WBT), would increase if carbon emissions continue on current trends and the world warms by 4C this century.

At WBTs above 35C, the high heat and humidity make it physically impossible for even the fittest human body to cool itself by sweating, with fatal consequences after six hours. For less fit people, the fatal WBT is below 35C. A WBT temperature of 35C – the combination of 46C heat and 50% humidity – was almost reached in Bandar Mahshahr in Iran in July 2015.

The extreme heatwaves will affect Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran as well as posing a deadly threat to millions of Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, when the religious festival falls in the summer. The hottest days of today would by then be a near-daily occurrence.

The scientists used standard climate computer models to show that the fatal WBT extremes would occur every decade or two after 2070 along most of the Gulf coast, if global warming is not curbed. Using the normal measure of temperature, the study shows 45C would become the usual summer maximum in Gulf cities, with 60C being seen in places like Kuwait City in some years.

Near the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, where Mecca and Jeddah lie, the WBT is not projected to pass the fatal 35C level, but would be 32C or 33C. This would make the Hajj extremely hazardous, said the scientists. “One of the rituals of Hajj – the day of Arafah – involves worshipping at the site outside Mecca from sunrise to sunset. In these kind of conditions, it would be very hard to have outside rituals,” said Eltahir.

“The consequences of major heatwaves for human health has become apparent from the death toll of recent events such as those in Chicago in 1995, Europe in 2003 [30,000 deaths] and Russia in 2010 [50,000 deaths],” said climate scientist Prof Christoph Schär, at ETH Zurich, Switzerland and who was not involved in the study. But he said the new study “concerns another category of heat waves – one that may be fatal to everybody affected, even young and fit individuals under shaded and well-ventilated outdoor conditions.”

Schär said the work showed the threat to human health from climate change may be much more severe, and occur much earlier, than previously thought.  “Our results expose a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant [carbon cuts], is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future,” said Prof Jeremy Pal and Prof Elfatih Eltahir, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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Solutions on the way?  US with 4.5% of world’s population consumes half of the energy spent on air conditioning, worldwide, more than what Africa uses for everything

Innovators are promising more efficient devices in the next decade, including one that makes and stores ice cheaply at night to cool buildings during the day, from a California firm called Ice Energy.

Only now is the US waking up to the environmental cost of such massive energy consumption – and to the chilling prospect that the rest of the world may follow its example. The proportion of homes in Chinese cities with air conditioning rocketed from 8% to 70% between 1995 and 2004.

The US, a nation with 318 million people accounting for just 4.5% of world population consumes more energy for air conditioning than the rest of the world combined. It uses more electricity for cooling than Africa, population 1.1 billion, uses for everything.

Air conditioning saves lives as well as being considered a social and economic boon.  An average of 618 people in the US die each year from exposure to excessive natural heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a far cry from a century ago when heat killed thousands. It also cuts absenteeism and raises productivity. In a 1957 survey, 90% of US firms named cooled air as the single biggest boost to their productivity.

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