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USA - Heat stress will worsen without CO2 reductions

In 2010, researchers confirmed that high heat and humidity can prevent sweating from lowering body temperature to a safe level. Death can follow due to a body overheating.

Recently, researchers returned to the decade-old work and compared it with an eye on climate change trends.

They found that if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise throughout the century, about 50% of the Earth’s surface — in areas where people currently live — will become too hot for human habitation.

The researchers, Purdue University Professor Matthew Huber and Dr. Jonathan Buzan, are now warning that if climate change is not addressed by governing leaders and others, heat stress will become worse than in all of human history. The impact also has dire circumstances for the Midwest.

“The Midwest is a ‘bullseye’ for heat waves in a warmer world. The consequences of climate change for the region are potentially dire if we do not strongly and immediately curb greenhouse gas emissions. Human health and agriculture will be strongly negatively impacted by only a small amount of further warming,” Huber said in an email.

The report was recently published in “Annual Reviews in Earth and Planetary Sciences.”

Huber was also a lead researcher in 2010.

The 2010 research disproved the maxim that humans could adapt to any possible warming of temperatures. In that study, researchers used wet bulb temperatures to determine the effects of heat and humidity. Wet bulb temperatures include the cooling effect of evaporation on a thermometer.

The work was confirmed in the recent review, Huber said.

“The annual reviews article presented a theoretical and modeling framework for understanding and predicting heat stress extremes. We found that moist heat waves are far more predictable in a statistical sense than other kinds of extreme events,” Huber wrote.

“Essentially, for every degree C the world warms, moist heat waves (defined here as about the warmest two weeks of the year) warm by slightly less than 1 degree. So even though this is an extreme, rare event (like a flood or a tornado) the changes in probability for it are robustly predicted (unlike the probabilities for other rare events, which are much hard to predict).”

Buzan and Huber are urging reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. That could help avoid more extreme, longer lasting and more widespread heat.

The two also encourage the study of how irrigation and other land-use changes, clouds, wind, radiation and other factors lead to better predict humid heat stress events.

The research comes as more awareness grows over climate migration. Besides the altered migrations of birds and other species, as reported by Purdue, large-scale human migration is occurring.

“The scope and scale of human migration due to climate change will test the limits of national and global governance as well as international cooperation,” John Podesta, Founder and Director of The Center for American Progress, wrote in July 2019.

Podesta noted that in 2018, the World Bank estimated that three regions (Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia) would generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050. In 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced, more than at any point in human history.

Hoosiers will also be affected by increasing days of heat and humidity.

In 2015, the Risky Business Project, co-chaired by former presidential candidates Thomas Steyer and Michael Blooomberg, reported that within 25 years, without significant adaptation by farmers, some counties in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana will likely see average commodity crop losses of as much as 24% because of extreme heat each year.

That project devoted a section to the impact of climate change on Indianapolis and central Indiana counties including Vigo, Madison, Boone and Howard.

Indianapolis will likely experience significant increases in extremely hot days as a result of climate change. Currently, the area averages about two days a year that are over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. That will likely increase to anywhere from 3 to 13 days per year on average over the next 5 to 25 years, and 21 to 92 days of extremely hot days by the end of the century.

Such dire predictions are similar to those by the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, which in a series of reports noted that extreme heat raises the likelihood of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Those illnesses lead to increased hospitalizations and medical costs. Extreme heat also reduces crop yields, counteracting the benefits of a longer growing season.

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