In this first installment of our multi-part Adapting to Change series we’ll be looking at some of the most critical considerations that need to be taken into account when preparing for fluctuations in global temperatures over the coming years.
With heat records being broken on a seemingly annual basis each summer and extreme weather and plummeting temperatures becoming a regular feature of winters, it’s clear that things are rapidly changing – and not for the better.
Weather is inherently difficult to predict or forecast even at the best of times and with global shifts in climate now well underway, the ability to do so with any kind of accuracy ahead of time is becoming more challenging by the year.
What we can and do know however, is the average temperatures, local measurements of atmospheric and weather conditions (like average rainfall), and other data-points that are collected on a regular basis at almost every point on earth and that can be compared to previous years and historic records as well as producing likely trajectories for the future.
The outlook isn’t good.
In fact the chances are that you or somebody you know has felt the effects of these changes sometime this year if not in the last few months, or perhaps even more recently.
With our yearly climate reality changing fast, the time to prepare for potentially volatile temperatures is now.
Here’s what you need to know.
Preparing for Extreme Heat and Rising Temperatures
With once mild summer temperatures in European cities like London, Paris, and Amsterdam matching and even exceeding those in cities like Las Vegas and Albuquerque, it’s clear that the issue of temperature increases and global heatwaves on a potentially regular and worsening basis needs to be taken very seriously.
Across the Atlantic, the warning signs are being just as clearly felt with nationwide droughts and wildfires on the rise, as well as deteriorating summer conditions across huge swathes of the Midwest sounding an alarm to those in the area of what may be coming next.
Around the world, the situation quickly begins to look a whole lot worse still with temperatures in traditionally hot, arid, and tropical climates increasing to points that quite simply make them not fit for human habitation if trends continue.
The Wet Bulb Scenario
At some time or another, you’ve probably experienced one of those seemingly unbearable days where both the temperature and the humidity are high and if you have, you’ll probably also be aware of just how much worse that kind of heat feels.
The reason for this is simple – when it comes to our ability to cope with high temperatures, high humidity situations actually are worse than those where the humidity level is low.
When humidity is high, the human body’s ability to regulate temperature through sweating becomes less and less effective until eventually it simply doesn’t work at all.
What this means in practice is that actual temperatures can be lower if humidity is high and the effect is just as deadly as straight up extreme temperature situations.
The so called ‘Wet Bulb Temperature’ (WBT) is the combined result of both temperature with humidity factored in to the equation.
When this dangerous combination reaches 35 degrees Celsius (around 95 Fahrenheit), the human body is no longer able to cool itself down by sweating and even those who are in shaded areas are at risk of death within 6 hours.
So why is this such a big deal now?
Well the main reason is that it’s looking increasingly likely that huge areas of the planet are at risk of breaching this WBT threshold in coming years if current climate projections play out as many expect them to.
It’s predicted that if the current trajectory isn’t curbed, areas of South Asia, Australia, South America, and even Central and Eastern regions of the U.S are at serious risk of reaching a deadly Wet Bulb temperature scenario.
Alongside the more ‘conventional’ threats posed by rising temperatures, the effects of potentially catastrophic ‘humidity heatwaves’ now simply cannot be ignored when it comes to preparing for major climatic changes.
Higher Temperatures – The Environmental Threats
As the mercury rises, so too does the potential for cascade effects on the environments we live in or rely upon.
The most obvious dangers posed here are when periods of extreme heat create the perfect conditions for devastating forest fires, something that is happening with increasing regularity.
If you live in or close to areas of dense forest or woodland, then there’s a very high probability that this threat will become more and more real in the coming years with this in mind, having a plan to deal with disaster will go a long way to minimizing disruption should the situation arise.
Unprecedented temperatures also inevitably lead to catastrophic consequences when it comes to the security of water and food in the global supply chain.
Major droughts and widespread (possibly even national) agricultural crises are likely to emerge on an ever-increasing frequency as summer temperatures continue to climb year after year.
In the earlier years, this will likely come up as news headlines on your periphery, but over time you need to expect to see this feed into the market with higher food prices at the grocery store, shortages of certain items, and possibly even the total absence of types of food indefinitely.
Those parts of the world worst affected by these water security and agriculturally based risks are likely to become incredibly unstable over the coming years as this situation continues to deteriorate and when this happens, it’s almost a guaranteed certainty that the result will be major civil unrest, large scale migrations of people, and resource-wars (mostly over water access).
Perhaps the most important consideration here is that social disorder and political upheaval in one part of the world will ultimately be felt in every part of the world.
We’ve seen this before in recent years, it’s a trend that continues throughout human history, and it needs to be expected almost as an inevitability as the temperature situation deteriorates.
Whether this manifests in huge movements of people and refugees seeking safety, domestic political clampdowns at home, or extensions of regional conflicts that spread into a wider-scale global war situation, knowledge of this probable cause and effect chain is critical when preparing for the worst case scenarios of continual extreme temperatures.