It’s a well-established and increasingly disturbing fact that as climate change ramps up, the world will continue to warm at an unprecedented rate. Heatwaves will become just regular summers, and plenty of people – particularly the poorest and sickest in society – will struggle to adapt.
A recent study in the journal Earth’s Future expands on this somewhat, and it’s not good news. In much of the Northern Hemisphere, summers with record-breaking temperatures will become the norm in just a few decades.
This unnerving paper uses a metric known as the wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT), which assesses how humid, bright, and hot an environment can get before it becomes unbearable for anyone within it. The higher this value is over an optimal level, the more physiologically dangerous the environment is.
It’s essentially a measure of comfort, and the climatic models driving this particular piece of research suggest we’ll be distinctly lacking in that in the days to come.
The study – led by the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford – points out that the historical record WBGT value has jumped by a factor of 70 in the past 40 years. This means that freakishly hot summers are 70 times more likely to occur in future.
By 2030, half of all summers will have WBGT values higher than any record-breaking value that’s been historically observed. By 2050, 95 percent of all summers will have exceeded the peak historical values.
This means that by the middle of the century, what we experience as a “normal summer” now will all but cease to exist. By 2050, they will be replaced by what we now consider to be very hot summers.
Make no mistake: If anthropogenic climate change continues under a “business-as-usual” scenario and nothing is done to mitigate it, the future will be unrecognizable.
This is one of several studies published recently attempting to paint a picture of the hotter world of tomorrow. Another notable publication found that heatwaves in Australia will experience summer days of 50°C (122°F) by as soon as 2040.
According to the World Health Organization, the optimum air temperature for the human body is between 18°C and 24°C (64°F to 75°F). Exceeding (or dropping below) this slows down productivity, which damages the economy. Greatly exceeding this for prolonged periods of time creates health risks for enormous swaths of the public.