A recent report has made a devastating prediction: within 50 years, a third of the world’s population can be expected to live in conditions that are as hot as the hottest part of the Sahara desert if we don’t cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. This news is absolutely huge. But since most news is now focused on the coronavirus, no one seems to really be talking about this.
That’s not the only reason these predictions are easy to ignore. For one thing, 50 years is pretty far in the future (and the coronavirus is happening now). For another, it is hard for most of us to imagine what it would feel like to live in these conditions. But over the past couple of years, some of us got a small glimpse of what it would be like, and it is truly horrific.
The research, published by scientists from China, US and Europe in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warns that by 2070, 3.5 billion people will live in places with an average temperature of 29°C. By comparison, most humans now live in average temperatures of 11-15°C, with only a small proportion living in 20-25°C conditions.
These last couple of years, we have started to experience short and often unexpected hot spells. During this time, we have been living in a campervan, so we have been particularly affected by these.
Last year, we got stuck in Spain for a week in 40°C heat and narrowly avoided heat stroke several times. Parking our van in the sun meant that everything inside it that wasn’t hidden within our tiny fridge practically melted. I was seriously concerned about my laptop malfunctioning. Then just this month, we experienced a week of 35-37°C daytime temperatures in mainland Greece, brought over by winds from the Sahara. Simple things like breathing and sleeping suddenly became unusually hard. It was oppressive, 24 hours a day. And this is nothing compared to the middle of the desert!
I realise we are in a particularly precarious position because we don’t currently live in a house or a flat. It would be easier to deal with these hot spells if we had good old air conditioning. But with 8% of the world’s population already living below the international poverty line in 2018, according to the United Nations, the number of people that could face such conditions without air conditioning is massive. And they would have to deal with this sort of heat, and worse, all the time, not just for a week.
From a purely economic standpoint, this would be completely devastating. Numerous studies have found that productivity goes down in hotter climates. In fact, according to Forbes, hotter temperatures could reduce global incomes by an average of 23% by 2100 if nothing is done about CO2 emissions. From my recent personal experience, thinking coherent thoughts in such extreme weather conditions becomes very hard work, and any form of physical activity is pretty much out of the question.
My point is, whether this news affects us personally right now or not, we really can’t afford to ignore these predictions. The costs, both human and economic, are simply too high. Each and every one of us has the power to make choices that, in their small way, can help solve the massive problem of climate change. This should be our main priority.