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A new report from the Nature Climate Change Journal, written by researchers from MIT and Loyola Marymount University and supported by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science has inspired dramatic headlines.  The report predicts that the effects of human activity that has led to significant climate change that may cause some major population centers in the Middle East to experience weather events during which conditions would exceed threshold temperatures that would be tolerable for humans.

The business-as-usual path that seems so difficult for humans to change could lead to an environment in which periods of weather would experience wet-bulb temperatures that rise above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  That doesn’t sound unbearable until we understand the term “web bulb.”  It’s an indicator of humidity at 100%, which means that sweating would no longer provide any cooling.  In July, this past summer, Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, hit a heat index of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for  a few minutes.  The actual temperature was 115 degrees with a dew point of 90, creating a wet-bulb temperature of 94.5 degrees.

The chronic electricity and water shortages that plague the conflict-ridden region would make such extremes even more challenging, especially for the millions of people displaced by violence, said weather.com in reporting on the extreme conditions last summer.

The predictions in the study suggest a six hour period that exceeds the 95-degree threshold would likely prove fatal if a person stayed outside for the whole time, and that episodes of that level and duration would occur. But in spite of the dramatic headlines suggesting a looming apocalypse, the frequency of these conditions might be once in a decade starting toward the end of this century under the business-as-usual scenario that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses as a benchmark.

The study’s authors are concerned about the heavy handed media spin Persian Gulf Heat: It may become too hot for humans to survive — CNN Deadly Heat is Forecast in Persian Gulf by 2100 — New York Times The Middle East Could Become Too Hot For Human Life Within the Next Century —Gizmodo Extreme heat waves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance —The Guardian Persian Gulf may be too hot for human survival by 2090 —Washington Post [/learn_more] and insist that their hope for the study data is that is will be used to highlight what can be done to change current behaviors.  Utilizing strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can create a very different scenario.  “With mitigation, these events will be significantly less severe,” said Elfatih Eltahir, author of the study and professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT.


Jill Rundle, Editor, Global Solution Networks