The one thing that could make 'intolerable' Persian heat bearable will make the planet even hotter

Climate change could make the hottest summer days in the Persian Gulf today the norm by 2100. The new extreme could exceed the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, according to a study published Oct. 26 in Nature Climate Change.

And those kinds of temperatures are “intolerable” for humans, the scientists said in the study.

By 2100, if nothing is done to mitigate climate change and the world proceeds in a business-as-usual scenario, a typical extreme day’s “wet-bulb temperature” could be 113 degrees Fahrenheit in many areas, reaching 92 degrees Fahrenheit in Mecca and exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit in Kuwait City.

The wet-bulb temperature accounts for both heat and humidity. A wet-bulb temperature above 95 degrees Fahrenheit is when the human body, even for a fit young person, can no longer cool itself off with sweat and problems like heat stroke could set in.

This permanent heat wave could make living in and around the Persian Gulf and Red Sea unbearable, the authors write — making working outside virtually impossible, and turning air conditioning into a universal necessity.

“Electricity demands for air conditioner use, for example, would considerably increase in the future to adapt to projected changes in climate and population,” they wrote. “Although it may be feasible to adapt indoor activities in the rich oil countries of the region, even the most basic outdoor activities are likely to be severely impacted.”

But the global demand for air conditioning is also partly to blame for the planet’s continued warming. Because of climate change, air-conditioning energy demand is expected to increase 72% by 2100, according to a 2009 study in Energy Policy.

That study also found that the need to heat and cool because of climate change will increase carbon emissions from 0.8 gigatonnes in 2000 to 2.2 gigatonnes in 2100 — accounting for 12% of the total CO2 emissions coming from energy use.

This huge number is largely because the air conditioners we use today rely on today use hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are greenhouse gases, and are powered by electricity, most of which is still generated using fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

The efficiency of air conditioners has increased by about 30% in the last decade, according to a story on Yale University’s e360. And if we are going to stay cool in extremely hot areas like the Persian Gulf, we will need to keep making them more efficient.

We’ll also have to stop relying so heavily on fossil fuels to generate our electricity, and switch to renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric.

The worst of the worst projected temperatures can be mitigated by cutting carbon emissions now, the Nature Climate Change study found. But these decisions to cut down on greenhouse gas pollution — which have to be agreed upon by big governments followed through by corporations and individuals — have been slow in coming.

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change coming up in Paris this December, however, could be the place to make these actions binding, and make the need to cull climate change a reality.

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