Humid Heat Stroke Index And Other Climate Change “Hoaxes”

“It is a hoax.  All of it. I don’t know how else to say it.  All of that is just wrong, and these people know it’s wrong.”

—Rush Limbaugh on global warming

A after Earth just had its warmest May on record, after the northern Midwest just received two months worth of rain in about a week, yet another Republican vying for office has decided that questioning climate change is good politics. Unfortunately, that news is pretty ho-hum these days. It’s sort of like saying that somebody said something stupid on Fox and Friends this morning. Not much news there.

But what isn’t ho-hum is the latest report on what is happening to our climate and what will happen if we allow Republican know-nothings to run the government.

The report is called “Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.” You can go check it out for yourself. It will wow you, if you can be wowed about bad news from scientists. Here I will publish only a portion of the report having to do with heat and humidity in the Midwest, a nagging problem for those of us who live here in Missouri about this time of year. The heat-humidity combo plate can sometimes keep you indoors for days—and nights for that matter.

First, the report makes clear that because of climate change, we Midwesterners will have “fewer winter days with temperatures below freezing.” I suppose that’s the good news. But we will “experience an additional 7 to 26 days above 95°F each year by mid-century, and 20 to 75 additional extreme-heat days—potentially more than 2 additional months per year of extreme heat—by the end of the century.” And, no, that’s not the bad news. This is:

But the real story in this region is the combined impact of heat and humidity, which we measure using the Humid Heat Stroke Index, or HHSI. The human body’s capacity to cool down in the hottest weather depends on our ability to sweat, and to have that sweat evaporate on our skin. Sweat keeps the skin temperature below 95°F, which is required for our core temperature to stay around 98.6°F. But if the outside temperature is a combination of very hot and very humid—if it reaches a HHSI of about 95°F—our sweat cannot evaporate, and our core body temperature can rise until we actually collapse from heat stroke. Even at an HHSI of 92°F, core body temperatures can get close to 104°F, which is the body’s absolute limit.

To date, the U.S. has never experienced heat-plus-humidity at this scale. The closest this country has come was in 1995 in Appleton, Wisconsin, when the HHSI hit 92°F. (At the time, the outside temperature was 101°F and the dew point was 90°F.) The only place in the world that has ever reached the unbearable HHSI of 95°F was Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 2003 (outside temperature of 108°F, dew point of 95°F). Our research shows that if we continue on our current path, the average Midwesterner could see an HHSI at the dangerous level of 95°F two days every year by late century, and that by the middle of the next century, she or he can expect to experience 20 full days in a typical year of HHSI over 95°F, during which it will be functionally impossible to be outdoors.

That scares me, even though I likely won’t be around when things get that bad. I don’t think I’m going to live to be 200, unless that cryogenic storage kit I found on a right-wing huckster’s website pays off (I got a really good deal on it, and it came with a pair of X-ray sunglasses!). But even if I’m not around, there will be somebody here, somebody who will experience such extreme heat and humidity, among other troubling things like rising sea levels. And all of us living today, who may have a chance to do something good for those we will never meet, should be interested in investing in a future we will never know because so many before us invested in futures they never knew. Funny how that works.

The Risky Business Project that produced this report is rather unique in that it looked at and then expressed the problem in terms of “a common language of risk that is already part of every serious business and investment decision we make today.”

From the report:

Our research also shows that if we act today to move onto a different path, we can still avoid many of the worst impacts of climate change, particularly those related to extreme heat. We are fully capable of managing climate risk, just as we manage risk in many other areas of our economy and national security—but only if we start to change our business and public policy decisions today.

Given what we know about Republican politics today, it may seem like a fantasy to think that we could change our policy decisions in any meaningful way. But I want to publish a graphic from the Risky Business report that should be used at every congressional hearing, every think-tank seminar, on the subject of climate change. If you have ever experienced the misery of high heat and high humidity, this map should make you demand from your legislator some action:

humid heat stroke index

9 Comments

  1. The message here is clear. The projection for “business as usual” by 2200 shows that God is targeting John Boehner. Are you paying attention, John? 😆

    Kidding aside though, people can escape the heat and humidity by going indoors or underground, but I have a greater concern with tropical diseases. There are some mean ones that are resurgent and the latest to appear in our hemisphere is chikungunya. By 2200 I can picture everyone wearing suits of mosquito netting.

    Caribbean cruise, anyone?

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    • That is certainly scary, Jim. Yikes. That’s all we need.

      I would, though, offer a rare (and slight) challenge to something you said. You wrote,

      …people can escape the heat and humidity by going indoors or underground…

      It is true that folks like us can go inside and turn on our air conditioners and sit out the bad days. Problem is that luxury isn’t available to everyone, especially poor folks all around the world. As Oxfam International notes,

      Poor communities already live on the front lines of pollution, disaster, and the degradation of resources and land. For instance, they’re often forced to live in temporary settlements, on land prone to flooding, storms and landslides.

      Climate change poses a further threat to their livelihoods, economic sustainability and health, for instance by making planning of crops unpredictable or making availability of water difficult – all this often in an already precarious and conflict prone context.

      And as the The Guardian reported:

      Life in many developing country cities could become practically unbearable, given that urban temperatures are already well above those in surrounding countryside. Much higher temperatures could reduce the length of the growing period in some parts of Africa by up to 20%, the report said.

      The story quotes Oxfam: “A hot world is a hungry world.” I think it is important to keep that in mind when we talk about this stuff.

      Also, in the U.S., between 1999-2009, the CDC reports that an average of 658 heat-related deaths occurred.

      Duane

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      • Ah, my friend, there you go again, thinking that government can actually solve big problems! 🙂 You must know that I agree with you, it is possible to save the world, but I am too much of a realist to be sanguine about the politics of that. But I can foresee the U.S. managing to eventually go underground, perhaps with some massive riots in the process. Tribal self interest still underlies the veneer of civilization.

        I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. Case in point: the front-page article in today’s USA Today paper decrying a different but absolutely huge demographic problem, that of mental illness. The stats quoted say that there are 30 million mentally ill in this country alone, and yet society has effectively buried the problem because it’s too big. That’s about 1 in every 30 people! Congress decreed that it’s not covered by Medicaid and Medicare for it is sharply limited. Further, treatment is feckless and there’s little research being done to improve it. I know this firsthand because of my mentally handicapped sister. She has some behavioral problems for which her psychiatrist routinely prescribes various kinds and strengths of medications, none of which is more than marginally effective.

        I am absolutely convinced that mental impairment is one of society’s biggest problems, far larger than global warming because, unlike that one, the mental illness epidemic is already here. This problem has existed long before John Kennedy tried to deal with it, basically forever. I was going to do a post on it but decided not to. It’s not the kind of thing people want to read, much less take expensive action on. However, I must note the VA scandal in this context. The problem there, as I see it, is mainly about the same thing, i.e., mental illness (PTSD). Congress threw a couple of billions at the VA bureaucracy and expected that to fix it, but of course it didn’t. Medical science doesn’t know how to fix it, much less fix it quickly, so insisting that it do so resulted in bureaucratic failure. Had the subjects not been veterans there would not have been a scandal. The crisis is not new. Research is needed, lots of it.

        I do admire you and the other few who work so hard at spearing the windmills, Duane. The global warming challenge may not be as intractable as some think – there is news of significant progress there. The cost of solar and wind energy is now at or near parity for electric utilities. (Not a misprint.) Please don’t tell the party of NO.

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  2. ansonburlingame

     /  June 26, 2014

    Duane,

    Here we go again, with science, politics, (and religion in the previous blog) being mixed and thus confusing.

    I am not a professional scientist, nor a professional politican (trying to govern as a job) or a pastor or theologian. But I have opinions about men and women that practice such things, professionally, particularly politics.

    There is no way I can read all the literature, professional literature, related to cljmate change, nor can I make a well informed, scientifically, judgment on the accuracy of such views, contradictory views in some cases. But I can form an opinion about such matters and I try to do so rationally.

    So here comes my “rational” opinion about climate change. It is now simple. Putting a lot of crap in the air that can block sunlight will have a negative effect of how sunlight affects the earth. Saying a lot of extra “carbon” has no effect, makes no “common” sense to me, now.

    Having said that, putting “carbon stuff” in the air is bad, but when will it get “really bad” and how “bad” is “really bad” becomes a big issue. When must Noah start building another ark is a related question, maybe. Or is building an ark the right approach?

    So the issue, to me at least, boils down to what should be done about putting crap in the atmosphere and when must we really start doing something “big”? As well, who, what entity must be the organization taking the needed action, whatever the needed action might be. God and Noah worked that one out a long time ago but I doubt today God will have much to say on the matter!! We will do as humans, collectively do until……..?

    More to the point and avoiding methaphors or biblical references, I think a “carbon tax” is nuts. We don’t yet know how much carbon in the air is OK so at what point must a tax be levied to achieve that balance and how much should the tax become?

    But go ahead and tax the hell out of carbon if you like. Then listen to the government programs that will be demanded by everyone on God’s green earth to pay their electric bills in the future, just as an example. Hell’s bells Joplin can’t ask people to pay $3 a month of avoid putting too much crap in a land fill. How is any politician going to support a tax that drives electric bills up by $10’s even $100’s per month?

    We have the scientific solution right before us, right now, in my view and technology is there to achieve it. Go nuclear to produce all the electricity you want, in the short term, allow “green energy” to mature, technically, and bring it on line when it is cost effective, and in the long term plan on fusion power, the power of the universe to meet our needs. Start now as well to encourage the transition to battery powered (hybride is here today) for transportation and begin now to make the ultimate leap to hydrogen powered transportation, again the power of the universe if you will.

    I personally made a private choice a year or so ago to “go hybride”. I am more than satisfied though my wifes still longs for her old gas guzzling Mercedes. I cut my transportation costs by more, much more, than one half in that one move. I did it for my own economic reasons and not in any way because I was worried about “Miami”. No government force or rationale was used as well. And again, I have more pocket money, extra money and am happy as I can be with my mode of transportation!!

    What actually impedes “going nuclear” (fission nuclear) to produce electricity today. GOVERNMENT, driven by popular fear, is the answer. Government which has the legal responsibility and has had it for about 50 years still refuses to find a place to put fission nuclear waste, as only an example, thank you Harry Reid, Obama, etc. Instead we continue to put such waste in above ground swimming pools ready to melt down if another tsunami comes along!!! Does that make any scientific sense to you?? Yucca Mountain has been ready to receive waste for at least 10 years, but we still put all of the crap in 104 swimming pools in America alone, today!!!

    Look at it this way. Today the only arguments to impede the introduction of more “cabon” into the air will result in less electricity and/or far more expensive electricity being produced. That is insane as electricity is absolutely NEEDED in a modern world, more electricty, not less, everywhere. Conservation is a long term pipe dream as well as a real solution and will make no difference, scientifically in the long run as well. Humans will “eat” as long as humans exist, and in this case electricity is what they demand to “eat”, everywhere they can get it.

    Please don’t come back at me with the higher initial cost of fission nuclear today or the hazards of radioactive material. Which is more hazardous, carbon in the air or nuclear waste buried about 5000 feet deep in the toughest rocks (second only to diamonds) on earth. It is called volcanic tuff and took about $9 Billion to drill a big hole in the stuff!!!

    As for the startup costs of fission nuclear today, I could cut it drastically by doing much smarter (and safer) things within government. I won’t bore you with the details but remember we have well over 150 nuclear power plants operating all over the world today, including right in the middle of major cities with Naval vessels stationed therein, safely, and economically.

    Anson

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    • Carbon emissions, as far as I know, don’t “block sunlight.” Most of the sunlight passes right through it. It is when that sunlight heats up the ground that the lower wavelength radiation reflected back is absorbed by the carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide the more that radiation (heat) is trapped in the atmosphere. If I have that wrong, feel free to correct me. But your point is valid: “Saying a lot of extra “carbon” has no effect, makes no “common” sense to me.”

      In any case, I won’t argue with pursuing the nuclear option. I think there is a place for it, until alternatives are truly widespread alternatives. But you reject the idea of pricing carbon (via a carbon tax or cap and trade) despite the fact that it is a GOP idea, if I’m not mistaken. In fact, Hank Paulson (former Bush treasury secretary) just a few days ago endorsed pricing carbon as a way of not only addressing the long-term climate change problem, but as a way of reducing the role of government. He says,

      In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.

      Hey, that’s one of your guys saying that, not me.

      Duane

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      • King Beauregard

         /  June 26, 2014

        “Carbon emissions, as far as I know, don’t “block sunlight.” Most of the sunlight passes right through it. It is when that sunlight heats up the ground that the lower wavelength radiation reflected back is absorbed by the carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide the more that radiation (heat) is trapped in the atmosphere. If I have that wrong, feel free to correct me.”

        You’ve got it exactly right. Here’s a video from a very good series on the topic:

        Liked by 1 person

      • ansonburlingame

         /  June 27, 2014

        Duane,

        I could care less who promotes a carbon tax. I think it is a bad idea for the reasons stated. The solution is NOT to reduce our reliance on electricity, it is to produce more and more electricity that is “cheap” and plentiful and can protect the environment as well. I believe we can do that technically and financially, but not with bureaucrates leading the charge!!!

        I recall, about the time I decided to go into the nuclear Navy that some were saying that commercial nuclear power would ultimatedly become “too cheap to meter”. Remember that old slogan, promoting nuclear energy to produce electricity? Now look at why we don’t have such abundance of cheap nuclear generated electricity. MONEY is the reason and why does such energy cost so much, end to end or total cost? GOVERNMENT is my observation.

        Want an example? Consider a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, operating for 30 years and NEVER having to refuel a single drop of fuel, nuclear or fossil fuel. How much would such fuel cost over the lifetime of one carrier? My guess it would be close to the cost of building such a carrier one time!! We build carriers and subs today that NEVER have to refuel. And we could build commerical power plants with the same characteristics, never refueling, only if ………., today.

        And yep, those plants would be safe today, IF we had a good place to put all the waste, in Yucca Mtn. for starters!!!

        Anson

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        • Again, I am not an opponent of nuclear energy.

          But I do want to try to get you to see the real point of taxing carbon, from a conservative perspective. From Hank Paulson (my emphasis):

          We need to craft national policy that uses market forces to provide incentives for the technological advances required to address climate change. As I’ve said, we can do this by placing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Many respected economists, of all ideological persuasions, support this approach. We can debate the appropriate pricing and policy design and how to use the money generated. But a price on carbon would change the behavior of both individuals and businesses. At the same time, all fossil fuel — and renewable energy — subsidies should be phased out. Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for.

          Without such incentives, without putting a price on carbon pollution, there is no incentive to stop doing what we are doing now. And what we are doing now, burning lots of fossil fuels, is what the mammoth energy companies want us to keep on doing, the earth be damned. Perhaps the incentives Paulson is talking about would even lead to a better way to build nuclear power plants, at much less cost than today, who knows. The point is that we have to do something that would relatively quickly cause people and businesses to advance our civilization beyond the almost exclusive use of dirty energy.

          Duane

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