Sophie Forbes - This week,world leaders have come together in Paris for historic climate change talks — the United Nations Climate Change Conference — to negotiate an agreement to reduce green house gas emissions across the globe. “[T]he growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” said President Barak Obama this week at the summit.
As the greatest minds in world debate climate measures and the last weeks of 2015 slip away, it looks as if this year will be a record-breaker — it’s set to be the hottest year ever, after eight of the last nine months broke global temperature highs. September 2015 also saw the largest rise of above average temperatures of any month since records began over 100 years ago. Before that, 2014 was said to have been the warmest ever year.
All this reveals a frightening trend: Our planet is getting hotter. So much so, that if nothing changes, some major cities will soon become completely uninhabitable — within some of our children’s lifetimes.
Dubai is already hot as hades, but still a major tourist spot. In a few decades it may be uninhabitable. (Photo: Thinkstock)
It’s scary stuff, but according to a new scientific study, recently released in Nature Climate Change, cities such as Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf will be too hot to sustain human life. Looking at current populations of those cities, that’s nearly 5 million people who would be displaced.
The study explores regional climate models for the Middle East, concluding that a shift in normal temperatures could see extreme heat waves reach up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, impacting human habitability in the region.
“As we move forward, what [these cities] have historically known as the ‘extreme,’ [temperatures] in the 95th percentile… become the normal summer’s day for the area by the end of this century,”climatologist Andrew Weaver explained to Yahoo Travel. “What is now considered a very rare, extreme heat wave, say, 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a one-in-every-20-year event, would become more normal by the end of the century,” says Weaver. “That is bad news."
Just this past summer in the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr, unprecedented temperatures sent the heat index (temperature plus humidity, i.e., how hot weather the weather feels) soaring to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the second hottest temperature ever recorded in history. (The highest was recorded in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on July 8, 2003, when the heat index reached 178 degrees.)
A man cools off in a fountain in Milan, Italy, on Aug. 6, 2015, during a heat wave. (Photo: AP/Antonio Calanni)
At the same time, Continental, Central, and Eastern Europe clocked record-smashing temperatures 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. This is a trend that will keep going. Long term, parts of Southern Europe, Asia, and the Southern United States could also be impacted. “They might not be uninhabitable, but they would be really, really hot,” according to Weaver.
“And it won’t be just heat but rising sea levels and unstable weather that will cause issues,” Nick Aster, founder of triplepundit.com, a website covering the ethical and sustainable side of business, told Yahoo Travel from the Paris conference. “New Orleans and Miami are in the same boat.”
Indeed, according to the World Bank, "In urban areas in North Africa, a temperature increase of 1-3 degrees could expose 6 to 25 million people to coastal flooding. Low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, and particularly Egypt are at particular risk.” Additionally, the World Bank "estimated that an additional 80 to 100 million people will be exposed by 2025 to water stress, which is likely to result in increased pressure on groundwater resources, which are currently being extracted in most areas beyond the aquifers’ recharge potential.”
Humans are physically unable to withstand such blistering temperatures for long periods of time. That’s because the body cools via perspiration — when your sweat evaporates off the skin, it cools your body temperature. But when the humidity index passes 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the atmosphere is unable to absorb any more moisture, meaning that the process of evaporation off the skin stops, halting the body’s ability to naturally cool itself. Exposures to such high temperatures for longer than six hours would be deadly and result in hyperthermia, even for the fittest of humans.
“We’re just not designed to live in these temperatures,” Dr. Mark Morocco, professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, explained to Yahoo Health.
While some could retreat into the comfort of air-conditioned buildings, there are many who do not have access to such luxury. Working outside in these temperatures would be impossible, impacting local industry, including tourism.
But these levels of climate change are not inevitable if the world is willing to kick fossil fuels and is able to reduce global green house gas emissions, according to both the study and Weaver.
"There is always a certain amount we can do,” he explains.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, small changes can help: Change your light bulbs to Energy Star labeled products (that use 75 percent less energy); be mindful of heating/cooling system by replacing filters frequently (to increase efficiency) and using programmable thermostats; insure your home is properly sealed and insulated to avoid energy wastage; recycle; switch to green power (like solar or wind) wherever possible; drive a fuel efficient, low emission car; go easy on the gas and brake pedals to save fuel; fo for regular maintenance which can help reduce your cars emissions; switch to renewable fuels like ethanol or biodiesel.
Additionally, the current climate change talks will hopefully make strides in the right direction. The goal is to negotiate a universal, legally binding agreement to reduce green house gas emissions across the globe in the hope of keeping average temperature increases below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit before 2100.
"Each decision we make today, might not manifest itself into a result in the life time of the decision maker. But any decision that we make today, fundamentally affects the quality of the environment that the next generation have to inherit,” Weaver said. “So it begs the ethical question: Do we, as the present generation, owe anything to future generations in terms of the environment they inherit?
“We need to make the decisions today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we hope to not get to the kind of situations we see in this study.”