The Dark Side of Extreme Global Temperatures


| LAST UPDATE 10/21/2021

By Billie Delgado
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2021 has been one of the warmest years on record with summer temperatures reaching a scorching 116 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the world. Researchers are directly attributing this elevating global temperature to the climate crisis as a byproduct of rising carbon emissions. But what have they revealed about the effects of extreme weather on human behavior and can it be tied to reactionary changes in vulnerable regions around the world?

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Physiologically, the human body isn't equipped to handle heat beyond what's called 'wet bulb temperature'. This measure is a combination of heat and humidity amounting to around 35 degrees Celsius(95 degrees Fahrenheit) and symbolizes a point at which fatality may occur even for the most healthy and fit individuals. So what happens when a majority of the world reaches these seemingly unsurvivable temperatures for extended periods of time, every year, at exponential rates?

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Many scientists have ideas of what this could mean for the fate of humanity in the long-term, but a few have already confirmed immediate side-effects that are especially apparent in underdeveloped regions. UCLA Economist R. Jisung Park once affirmed on the matter, "The physiological effects of heat may be universal, but the way it manifests … is highly unequal." It's in poorer countries, where resources are limited and there's sometimes an inability to stay cool as climate change ravages the world, that will likely suffer the most.

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Human difficulty when it comes to coping with extreme heat has been documented by researchers for over a century. The findings, time and time again, show that heat tends to make people more irritable, violent, and aggressive while leading to declined focus and productivity. We're seeing this actualize itself in places like the United States where low-income individuals living in the hottest parts of cities called "urban heat islands" are suffering from substantial heat stress that's fueling tensions. Some researchers believe the long-term solution lies in greenifying the energy grid and implementing sustainable urban planning designs.

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The idea that climate change will lead to more future conflict is an internationally recognized notion. Although it's hard to miss the tangible impact extreme weather has on our environment, recent findings suggest we must also consider the more subtle physiological and social consequences of rapid climate change.

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