I have two more versions of this article. The longer, more detailed version, backed up with extensive research published early June is here and a shorter version was published too. This is the shortest yet and is focused on actions we can take, as well as actions we must push our governments to embrace, with further ideas based on what has been happening in the Northern Hemisphere in the last two months.
Do you know what I’m absolutely terrified about right now? Wet Bulb Temperatures, or the rising heat index, which has become the more common term used by mainstream media. However, it’s not what’s happening in the Northern Hemisphere that concerns me the most right now (even though that is incredibly concerning – check out this piece on Phoenix, and this on the Navajo Nation). There are many more stories, so please check my annual blog for the latest.
What is causing me more alarm right now is what’s coming next for Australia and Southeast Asia – well the entire Southern Hemisphere to be honest – and it’s alarming because there is very little discussion about it – online, in the media, or from governments.
Are we really going to ignore the fact that extreme heat is coming, and we need to get ready for it? I mean, it’s midwinter in South America and the temperature is more than 100°F (38°C)! Heat is coming this summer to the Southern Hemisphere, and I predict it will be higher than what we are seeing right now, so please, let’s not delay action.
It’s crazy that we are seeing so very little in the news, especially as Australia is expected to experience its worst grass fires season in history, and added to that, by the time summer kicks in, El Niño will have been around long enough to really show its teeth, which means both fire and heat will be at a level never experienced before in my home country. We should expect to see this starting from October.
Interesting side note: Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has said El Niño has not started yet – ENSO Outlook – an alert system for the El Niño–Southern Oscillation
More on Australia
In the Global South, the hot season is from February to May, and this year (2023) we experienced Wet Bulb Temperatures in many countries for the first time. It was horrible and intense.
Of course, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have experienced wet bulb temperatures in recent years already, and the heat hammering it again in 2023 has been brutal. For Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and more, it was our first experience, and it was very alarming.
But 2024 is going to be worse.
To get ready, we must be preparing NOW, expecting even higher temperatures than we experienced in 2023, however there’s a huge challenge with heat in most of the Global South – the infrastructure is nowhere near ready to cope with it.
As we have seen with homeless people living in tent cities or in cars across the US (so much suffering), millions of people in the Global South live in tin sheds, or if they are lucky, a house with a tin roof. We have slums, refugee camps, workers camps, indigenous camps, and many more ways of living that are incompatible with surviving wet bulb temperatures. How most people live in this region means their homes will become ovens and if we don’t prepare, millions could die.
My biggest concern about this region, is ALL countries should be on high alert, and in high action and adaptation mode right now, getting prepared for this heat in every way they can. This is not happening.
There is no question the heat is coming, it will be deadly, and millions will suffer and/or die. But the alarm bells are silent, and that concerns me more than I can express. Don’t get sideswiped by this – get ready!
Which is why I’m doing another, shorter version of this content. This is the stuff YOU can do, and the stuff you can do collectively when you bring your community together. It’s also what you must push your governments to focus and act on right now.
What are wet bulb temperatures?
The key part of understanding wet bulb temperatures or the heat index, is it’s a measurement of how much humidity is in the air combined with actual temperatures = the heat index. The challenge is, the heat index is different everywhere, because it’s based on how much humidity is in the air, which differs based on where you live.
In the Global South, an area of high humidity, the actual temperatures can be much lower, but combined with humidity, it quickly becomes deadly.
Right now, we all need to understand what dangerous temperatures look like where we live and respect the fact it will continue to get hotter for longer.
Download a weather app on your phone, and when it gets hot, pay attention to the heat index, or the ‘feels like’ or ‘real feel’. This is the wet bulb temperature. Pay attention to government warnings too.
What can we do?
- Take it seriously – avoid being out in the highest temperatures of the day, wear natural light fibres, don’t get sunburnt, stay in the shade whenever you can, drink lots of water and electrolytes, avoid anything that dehydrates you (alcohol, coffee) and pay attention to how you’re feeling. If your home environment is unsafe, get to an airconditioned space as quickly as possible, and know where it is before the extremes hit. Don’t forget to check in on your family and community, especially anyone living alone, the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and pregnant women. Also discuss this with your workplace now, so you have flexible working options when wet bulb temperatures hit, and rules in place if you work outside – There are almost no national safety rules protecting US workers exposed to high heat
- Communicate low tech – millions of people do not have access to digital technology – something we saw during the pandemic, even in wealthy countries.All communities need public screens or noticeboards with extreme temperature alerts, so everyone is aware of the risks. Local media must share this information too. Push for this to happen.
- Upgrade your air conditioner – get it serviced so it’s optimized! If you are lucky enough to live in a home with air-conditioning, make sure it’s running at maximum efficiency. Get it professionally cleaned every three months. If you don’t have one and can afford it, install aircon in at least one room in your home, even if it’s a rental. Buy the highest quality unit you can afford, as the cheaper models release emissions – truth be told, these units should not be available for sale.
- Identify a cool family space – heat extremes cause high demand on the energy grid, which means governments and energy companies are forced to issue alerts requesting lower use of energy – a challenge when extreme heat hits. Many people in the West live in massive homes with multiple air-conditioning units, so this is a good time to decide on a room or smaller space in the home, which is airconditioned, that you can use during heat extremes. Pull out your mattresses for the steamy nights ahead and camp together in a cool space, while reducing your personal demand on the grid, as well as the emissions you release from your air conditioning unit. This approach will reduce your energy consumption, the cost of energy, and hopefully leave enough so everyone can enjoy the benefits of air-conditioning in extreme heat. Selfishness and taking too much energy for yourself – which has been reported in the US – means everyone will lose the critical ability to cool.
- Paint it white – a quick and cost-effective action is to paint our roofs white. Check out the world’s whitest paint which reflects 98.1% of light and could help in the climate fight, a paint so powerful, it could eliminate the need for air-conditioning. Buy the most reflective white paint possible and get to work, painting roofs everywhere. Don’t forget to lay it on thick. More references To Ease Global Warming, the Whitest of Paints and another Enhanced radiative cooling paint with broken glass bubbles. For worker camps, refugee camps, indigenous villages, etc… governments or the businesses responsible for these camps must get them prepared and look at shading and trees too.
- Make it green – we can grow plants on our roofs, although in the tropics, it could attract snakes, rats and more – which is why white roofs might be a better option. According to the World Economic Forum, urban greening is a big opportunity and includes things like living walls, roofs and green corridors. This is an important focus because when water vapour is released by plants during photosynthesis, it helps to cool the environment in the immediate vicinity. As an example, the difference in temperatures between those with mature trees and those without is significant at 10°C, so greening our communities is critical.
- Take care of the poor and anyone struggling – as we are seeing across the world, the poorest are the ones suffering and we need to focus on helping them prepare. If you have wealth, invest it in helping your community get ready, which includes things like accommodation to get out of the heat OR planting trees in poorer neighbourhoods because they often have few or no trees. We must get community areas prepared in advance (cooling spaces), so people have somewhere to go in extreme heat and it needs to be available 24×7. Thinking through what we need to do for those who can’t help themselves has to be a priority everywhere and we must rethink our cities top to bottom and get rid of anything that makes the heat worse aka the urban heat island effect – How concrete, asphalt and urban heat islands add to the misery of heat waves
- Close curtains, install film on windows – if you have large windows, when the heat index starts moving past 50°C, keep your curtains closed and if you haven’t got curtains, it might be time to invest in the highest quality you can afford. You can also place sun-resistant film on your windows to reduce heat impact in your home.
- Upgrade insulation – make sure you have appropriate insultation to keep your home cool inside and to stop the heat from getting in. Insulation also ensures your air-conditioner is more efficient, or if you paint your roof white, it helps it do the job better.
- Stock up on water – if your power grid goes down, do you lose water? We do! If you’re the same, stockpile enough water for your family for at least a week, if not longer. Also prepare sealed containers of water to be used to cool the body down. One of the best ways to cool down (when options are limited) is to soak towels in water and cover yourself with it.
- Invest in tools requiring no power – whether it’s handheld fans, lights, or any device that can help you stay cool/safe, this is a great time to think about what you need when the power goes out and what could help you survive. What can get you through? Battery-powered fans? Hand crank generators for charging phones, and other necessary devices? This is a good time to reflect on what is necessary so that you can get prepared.
- Be mosquito smart – a threat of El Niño is an increase in infectious diseases from mosquitos, specifically dengue and malaria. While we must keep our home environments clear of pools of water, where mosquito larvae are commonly found, we may not be able to control the larger environment. Therefore, is it time to invest in mosquito nets and other solutions? We also need to ask what more our governments can do to protect its citizens from infectious diseases and educate citizens on preventing mosquitoes – Singapore is excellent with this. Bring it up with your leaders and vote for action.
- Plant a garden – we are seeing wide-spread crop loss due to extreme heat, and this is a growing concern around the world. As an example, rice production is down, with India partially banning rice exports, and when temperatures pass 35C (which has already happened in 2023), rice crops start to fail, which means less produce making it to market – pushing up prices, and potentially leading to famine. Please, plant a garden, and encourage your neighbours to do the same. It could save your life and with so much unpredictability, especially in our food supply chain – which is getting worse and will continue to get worse – any way we can be independent in the coming years will help us and our families survive.
- Cool it down outdoors – we need cooling options that do not rely on electricity, because cooling without power is much better for the environment, especially as many of the countries in the Global South are powered by coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel. But it’s also about investing in solutions that work without power. One of the biggest challenges of extreme heat is, once temperatures pass 50°C, power grids start to fail due to the extreme temperatures and too much demand – we have already seen this happen. Two examples of outdoor cooling solutions that do not run on energy are the Yankodesign Adiabatic Urban Cooling bamboo tower and CoolAnt’s Beehive, which is made of terracotta. These solutions run on air and water. We need solutions like this in worker camps, Indigenous villages, refugee camps, slums, markets, at festivals, religious events, and so on, as well as the main areas where citizens and tourists gather.
- Solar powered water mist fans – industrial-scale water mist fans could be vital in cooling the skin in wet bulb temperatures. However, to ensure success, we would need to look at running these fans off independent solar panels to ensure they don’t go down when the grid goes down.
- Communal cooling stations – we need to establish cooling stations everywhere. For cities, existing infrastructure – like shopping malls, schools, libraries, or places of worship – are options when the temperature is too hot to live. This plan needs to be thought through, from setting up the space to providing water, food, and even places to sleep. Outside of towns and cities, cooling stations need to be established in local villages and communities. Identify one or two places, large enough for everyone as the local cooling station, and put extensive forethought into planning these spaces to ensure they are ready to receive the community when required – which in many parts of the world is now. This can be a community-led action. Cooling stations need to be accessible within a short distance and open 24×7.
- Don’t forget our animal friends – we must not forget animals and wildlife. From our pets to farm animals, can we keep them safe, ensuring they survive these temperatures? A tin roof as the only shade will kill animals as quickly as it will kill humans, so what can we do to prepare? Read more: Get Used to Oat Milk Because Climate Change Is Destroying the Dairy Industry. Don’t forget to take care of our pets too – What temperature is too hot to walk a dog? Here’s how to keep your pets safe in a heatwave
- How do we protect wildlife? Probably the biggest concern, because while we might be able to survive, what can we do for wildlife? Can we set up spaces for birds and other wildlife, with access to water, food and shade? Should we be thinking about mini-ark-like structures to protect wildlife in our countries/regions to give them a fighting chance? We must take care of our wildlife, or biodiversity loss and extinction will follow, and let’s not forget, the survival of these ecosystems is critical for human survival too. Can we plan to save enough mammals, amphibians, insects, plants, etc… so we have a chance of stopping anything else going extinct on our watch?
- Independent energy investments – when the temperature gets too hot, high demand, as well as excessive heat, will see power grids fail. It’s already happening. To address this, if you have wealth, set up solar or wind energy for your property so you can be independent of the grid, but also because we need to reduce demand on the grid wherever possible too. For communities, where it is not affordable for individuals to make the investment in solar or wind energy, come together and agree where you should set up independent energy sources and aircon units, ensuring there is enough to support everyone in the community. This will provide the whole community with a place to cool down, and it could save lives. If communities can fund this together, there is a greater chance of having it ready to go when higher temperatures hit. This is not an area to delay. Those temperatures have already arrived across much of the Global South in 2023 and will be higher in 2024. If you have wealth, help your community make this investment.
- Sports, festivals, play – for political rallies, religious ceremonies, or even large-scale sporting events, if the wet bulb temperature or heat index has been exceeded, it is in the interest of the organizers to either cancel these events or, where possible, move them indoors to an air-conditioned venue. Painting roofs white, green roofs, outdoor cooling devices, trees, and shade, etc… are all important focus areas for civic and institutional buildings. Please pay attention to extreme heat if you are organizing any outdoor activity, because ignoring wet bulb temperatures puts lives at risk. If you want to survive, learn what you need to do and make sure you share this with your family and the wider community.
- School preparation – schools must be aware of wet bulb temperatures and make sure students are not out in this heat for extended periods of time. Classrooms in the affected regions must prioritize installing air conditioning, if possible, as well as independent energy sources (like solar) to keep the students safe. Schools can become cooling spaces for the community as well.
- Embrace traditional cooling architecture – we need to rethink how we build for the future we have coming, and to embrace techniques of the past, repairing what we have broken. An example in the Asia region and a feature of the West Coast of Southeast Asia is Peranakan architecture, which was designed to cool and keep air circulating before electricity and air-conditioning was invented! The challenge is, when you visit these areas today, many of the features have been altered, such as the arches between buildings are now blocked and covered over. This means less air circulation. We need to reverse this, and it’s a relatively simple job. We also need to look at installing shade in public areas everywhere. Trees and plants are critical too. Great article: Europe’s Cities Rely on Age-Old Ways to Stay Cool as Heat Waves Intensify
- Rethinking outdoor work – the vast majority of people that will be impacted by intense wet bulb temperatures are outdoor workers, and these are typically the people responsible for feeding, building and entertaining the world. They are also the least influential and will work regardless because they have no choice. We need to rethink hours of work to ensure they escape the heat, as well as plan for cooler places they can go when temperatures are too high. It’s critical the owners of businesses are made responsible for ensuring the safety of workers – which is not something that happens everywhere, especially when the workers are foreign or undocumented migrants. Here’s some recent news – Heat can kill on the job, and these workers are dying. The sort of outdoor work to consider:
- Agriculture, farming
- All construction
- Transportation, especially if motorbikes are the primary vehicle (Grab drivers) and tourism vehicles, like Tuk-Tuks. We’ve seen delivery drives die in the US this summer
- Outdoor markets – from fruit and vegetables, seafood, to clothes to tourism
- Gardeners and outdoor domestic workers
- Hospitality employees with primary roles outdoors, including restaurant staff
- Tourism sector, such as golf caddies, diving instructors, water sports, touts and more
- Emergency services workers
- Infrastructure meltdown – our infrastructure is not ready for extreme heat, and a huge challenge in the Global South is most of the electrical infrastructure is still above ground because it is significantly cheaper than installing it under ground. This means it is at higher risk of collapsing due to the heat or getting damaged (by storms, etc..), so a critical measure will be investing in the infrastructure to ensure it is suitable for higher temperatures and other weather extremes. However, as we saw in Italy this year, even underground infrastructure is at risk in higher temperatures. We need to think through what this means. As an example, when roads start to melt, we will not be able to leave our homes. If we can’t leave our homes, what does that mean – especially if considering food, water supplies, medical emergencies, and so on? Raise this with your governments.
- Emergencies services preparedness – we must consider the ability of emergency services personnel to get infrastructure working in the intense heat. At the peak of temperatures, will the emergency vehicles be able to drive – as overheating vehicles and melted roads could be an issue? And if they can get to the areas, what clothing will they require – such as cooling suits? We need to prepare for this now. In the US, burns units are overflowing with 2nd and 3rd degree burn victims, because the ground is so hot – up to 180°F. However, for medics, they are experiencing severe burns on their knees while tending to patients. We need to prepare better.
- Car and motorbike parking shelter – the intense heat in 2023 left cars and motorbikes cooking in the sun, and for those without air-conditioning in cars, not being able to park in shaded areas will become a major issue. You cannot cool a car down, if it doesn’t have airconditioning, when it has been exposed to this level of heat; therefore, it is time to install parking shelters everywhere, which is not a general practice in the developing world. It is also a great opportunity to learn and take inspiration from countries like France, which is installing solar panels on the roofs of all large carparks. For hospitals across the region, installing solar panels on car and motorbike shelters could provide energy for the hospital and the surrounding community.
- Securing health services – what is more important than healthcare services? How do we ensure it continues to run? We are already seeing hospitals overrun in wealthy countries, how can developing countries prepare? First up we need to focus on independent and sustainable energy supplies that are powerful enough to run whole facilities, such as hospitals and all emergency services providers. Most energy sources currently in use are electrical grids that are at risk of breaking down, followed by generators running on fossil fuels. The question is – when does it get too hot to run a generator? According to this article it’s 40°C and humidity is a risk too. If heat and humidity exceed the ability of the generators to run or be reliable, we need to understand what that is now and act quickly to replace it with more appropriate options for the future we have coming. We also need to ensure there is enough medication, food and water to get through any extended heatwave, as well as enough staff to deal with surges. Hospital leaders and government officials – national and local – need to ask the question: “Will the current infrastructure work in the heat predicted by climate scientists? Are we prepared for all eventualities when we face an extended heat event?”
- Localized medical facilities – another consideration is the number of people needing medical care could explode – as we are seeing in the Northern Hemisphere. Equally, if people can’t travel to medical centres (car too hot to start, un-drivable roads) or they are too far away (minutes are precious when you move into stage three heat stroke), we need to plan how we deal with that, now. So, let’s get ready and set up local services. We need to agree the equipment required for heat emergencies, as well as how can we train local community members to deliver emergency medical care in situations where getting to hospitals or clinics isn’t possible. If we want to get prepared, we need to
- Identify the number of communities in each country
- Nominate people to be trained by medical professionals in heat stroke care and educate the community that this is where anyone suffering heat stroke should come first
- Determine what equipment, medication is needed in each facility and start getting stockpiles in place and secured
- Install independent energy sources so these local facilities can be successful, no matter how hot it gets
- Set these facilities up now, in advance of when it’s needed
- Invest in body bags, because as we have seen in the US, when packed with ice it has been successful in cooling down patients who have moved into the deadly heat stroke stage. We need to stock up in advance and ensure ice supplies, as well as freezers independent of the grid
- Prepare “survival packs” with items like electrolytes, and distribute to citizens before the heat arrives
- It’s also a good time to invest in medical teams producing ‘how to’ videos in local language, about how to handle a wet bulb temperature emergency, and the signs to look out for
- The media – it’s time to start reporting on wet bulb temperatures or the heat index, and educate readers/viewers about what it means. It needs relentless attention to increase awareness of risks, as well as guidance on what will happen as we move into a full blown El Niño, which is expected to see temperatures we have never seen before. The media must provide up-to-date, current information, predictions, and education on how to handle extreme heat, and it must prioritize this message. It is time to put wet bulb temperatures, with danger categories, on the front page of every media source. Take inspiration from the French A Path-breaking Innovation in Climate Journalism
- Influencers – use your profile for good and take on the role of educating your audiences and contributing to this conversation. Anyone with influence can be an educator today.
- Government leadership – Governments must call their citizens together, speak honestly and openly about what is happening and what is expected, with words guided by science. We need all government leaders to set in place plans that are aligned with what climate scientists are communicating, and we need to start adapting now. All over the world, extreme climate events are putting leaders on the back foot, reacting after disaster has already hit, and we need to start being ready in advance of what is coming. Transparency is critical, openness and engagement with citizens too, and corruption is another area that must be addressed and tackled. Governments must also work across borders for the good of their regions and share best practices, help solve challenges that contribute to the crisis (like the haze), and rapidly reduce fossil fuels, especially coal, or it will keep getting worse. Please vote for leaders who will act on the polycrisis, denialists will kill you and your family.
- Communication is critical – Governments must put in place national communication plans, set up the system for this communication to ensure it reaches everyone under their care, put in place a team to manage this and get prepared before the next emergency strikes. National and local communication will be vital.
- Business – executive leadership teams must start to look at all possibilities and understand the impact on their businesses and not just their bottom line. Some examples:
- If you are a large global corporation, you might have thousands of employees impacted by heat – how can you help them? How can you get them prepared? Can you help install solar or wind, so their families are safe during intense heat events? What working practises and expectations will you put in place? Communicate up front.
- Is your supply chain safe, or will it buckle in the heat, as we saw in China in 2022? What is the impact of that? How can you prepare your business?
- If tourism is your business and heat waves are killing people, this is not going to attract tourists to your destination. How are you preparing for this heat, and what are you doing for your employees? How are you planning to communicate with your guests? Are you setting up cooling spaces for your outdoor workers, and making it possible for them to survive?
- More broadly, for outdoor sectors, such as agriculture, transportation and tourism, your businesses will be severely impacted by this situation on multiple levels – crop loss, drought, and temperatures too hot for your employees to work in. What can you do now to prepare? What infrastructure can you put in place? How can you change working hours to stay productive and keep your employees safe?
- For any business relying on migrant labour or undocumented labour, this is a time for humanity. Take care of your people. Get their home camps in order so they have a chance of surviving. Don’t make them work and live in wet bulb temperatures, or they will die. Secure their food and water supplies, install cooling stations, and change the hours of work.
- Everything, everywhere all at once – while we urgently need to get prepared for extreme heat, at the same time, we must address the destruction of the natural world, and that requires investing our energy and investments into turning around the destruction we have caused, which is making the climate emergency worse and the reason we are dealing with this extreme weather. The head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres said: we need everything, everywhere all at once, so it is time for our communities to come together everywhere and work out how to replenish and rewild the land we call home. Clean it up, bring it back to life, stop the human sprawl, limit developments not in alignment with nature, etc… all while preparing for hotter and hotter temperatures at the same time. A few thoughts…
- It is critical we act everywhere, and it’s time to get to work to see if we can partner with nature to lessen the impact of the escalating climate emergency. In parallel, to deal with wet bulb temperatures, let’s rewild our environments as quickly as possible.
- If we’re by the ocean, we need to work out the best techniques that will contribute to emission reductions and other benefits, such as seagrass meadows, mangroves, oysters, repopulating important species and so on.
- On the land, it’s trees, plants, animals and more. Let’s ask our village elders or local Indigenous communities for guidance on returning our communities to nature everywhere, and we should look back at least 50 years for inspiration.
- Let’s clean up the waste and work out how to ensure a clean environment (banning ALL single-use plastics, setting up effective waste collection, composting, etc…). Plastic waste also blocks drains and massively increases flood risk, so there’s a huge benefit to cleaning up our environments.
- Across the Global South, the waterways and lands are covered in trash, and this waste is not just domestic, as Western countries have been shipping waste to this region for decades. That practice must stop, it’s waste colonialism.
- The never-ending build-up of all waste, as well as over-development, poor planning, etc… mean water supplies across the world, but especially in the Global South, are polluted and undrinkable. More alarming, in a world rapidly heading towards water shortages, prioritizing cleaning and reinvigorating the waterways must be a priority for all countries.
What would you add to the above list? Please help me to make this a useful tool so individuals, communities, businesses, and governments can prepare.
And please, get your home in order to keep your family safe, check on your community to ensure everyone is prepared, and then, come together and make sure the poorest in your village, town or city can survive extreme heat by putting in place the infrastructure and solutions necessary for those who cannot afford to do it themselves. For the Southern Hemisphere, the time for rapid action and adaptation measures are now. We’ve had the warning from the Northern Hemisphere, let’s make sure we heed it.
This is the third version and I’ll keep attempting to break it down into shorter, more actionable information. If you are willing to translate this into local language, reach out, because I would very much appreciate the ability to help more people by getting this into the hands of those who need it.
I want to highlight again, we must plan how we support the poorest people in our countries, and we must do it now, not after-the-fact. We have seen terrible stories of suffering from the Northern Hemisphere, and these are the wealthiest countries on earth. It’s just not good enough and we should never accept it, but in the Southern Hemisphere, we have millions of people in this situation!! Demand your government gets prepared NOW!
So many people around the world will have no defence against these extreme temperatures – which is why I am desperately trying to communicate solutions – because they do not deserve this. I want to help them, and I hope you do too.
Let’s come together and take care of each other, but also, let’s take care of the ecosystems in our world – because if we lose these, we lose our ability to live. PLEASE vote in leaders capable of facing this crisis and support them so they succeed. It’s a different world and it requires new leadership. It also requires a different way of living for all of us and that is my focus moving forward. Stay tuned.
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