Image Credits: NASA.
While I’m not a prolific poster here at the Pond, an article like the Washington Post’s “Beyond human endurance” coaxes me out of my quasi-retirement. The piece describes, in grave and alarming detail, how climate change is going to cook all of us, and what an unpleasant way we will perish.
A term we rarely hear about, the wet-bulb temperature reflects not only heat, but also how much water is in the air. The higher that number is, the harder it is for sweat to evaporate and for bodies to cool down.
At a certain threshold of heat and humidity, “it’s no longer possible to be able to sweat fast enough to prevent overheating,” said Radley Horton a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Scientists have found that Mexico and Central America, the Persian Gulf, India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia are all careening toward this threshold before the end of the century.
The article continues that heading down to the beach for some relief could be a deadly non-starter.
Proximity to water in extreme conditions could make things worse. As warming temperatures cause the water to evaporate, it adds humidity to the air.
“If you’re sitting in a city along the Persian Gulf, the sea breeze could be a deadly breeze,” he said.
The Post includes highly detailed animated visuals to show how our bodies’ natural cooling system is short-circuited in these temperatures. It’s worth scrolling through.
“The skin sweats. Evaporation of this water cools the body — as long as the surrounding humidity levels allow the evaporation to take place. If the hot air is too humid, that heat exchange is blocked and the body loses its primary means of cooling itself.”
In persistent extreme heat? “When your body temperature gets too high, it will ultimately cause your body’s proteins to break down, its enzymes to stop regulating your organs’ functions and your organs to start shutting down.” Sounds like fun!
“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice,” wrote Robert Frost. I too am placing my chips on fire.