Part 1. Consider our World with Surface Heat Going Higher & Higher

by S. Tom Bond on August 31, 2018

Top documentary on major fire threats to mankind

Discomfort and Death Must be Understood as Gradual but Certain

“The Earth is Under Fire” Series by S. Tom Bond, Lewis County, West Virginia

An increasing portion of humanity lives in cities, and they are the hottest place to live in warm weather. The concrete, the asphalt and the absence of vegetation adding cooling moisture to the air makes it a place where radiation from the sun brings temperatures several degrees above surrounding countryside. They are “urban islands of heat.”

Cities near the equator are experiencing temperatures never before seen, on a regular basis. Those who must go outside, old people and the young are particularly at risk. Activity is avoided, so daylight sees a drop in activity, night being preferred to go places and do things. Air conditioners are in demand for those who can afford them – sometimes so much the electrical capacity is overloaded and breaks down. For those who can’t afford AC, wet cloths and good ventilation is the salvation, but the poorest suffer from lack of water, too, and housing not designed to provide much fresh air. Hospitals have greater admissions for heat stress, respiratory problems, and other health problems made worse by heat. Deaths rise.

Even at 95 F, “wet bulb” temperature (which figures in humidity), a few hours of activity for even the most fit can result in fatality. Such temperatures are becoming common in areas as much as 30 degrees from the equator, Southeast Asia, Southern China, Northern Africa, and Australia. Keep in mind that most of West Virginia lies between 38 and 40 degrees North.

Even under the most optimistic predictions for emissions reductions, experts say, almost half the world’s population will be exposed to potentially deadly heat for 20 days a year by 2100. Not long ago, 50C (122 F) was considered unlikely, but it is increasingly widespread. Earlier this year, the 1.1 million residents of Nawabshah, Pakistan, endured the hottest April ever recorded on Earth, 122 F. In neighboring India two years earlier, the town of Phalodi rose to 124 F, the country’s hottest ever day. It’s all pretty much beyond the comprehension of those of us who live in the cooler, wealthy, and air conditioned part of the earth.

On the Gulf of Persia, Basra – population 2.1 million – registered 127 F two years ago. Qurayyat, on the coast of Oman, overnight temperatures earlier this summer remained above 109 F, which is believed to be the highest “low” temperature ever recorded in the world. In Mecca, site of the Hajj (Arabic for pilgrimage), visited by two million each year, the world’s largest retractable umbrellas are to be installed, and 25 ton air conditioners. In 2012 it went up to 124 F, so safety requires the addition, although traditionalists are upset about it.

Many other activities are affected, such as athletics, transportation (where people are crowded together, or have to walk), manufacturing in buildings not designed for the heat, and in the military. (A personal note here. When I was in the Army at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, in the mid 1950’s training was suspended whenever the temperature got above 90 F.) Imagine what it would be like to carry the infantryman’s load in the Middle East heat today, or to operate a tank. Yet operations go on for soldiers (and irregulars) of many nations.

How do people adapt? In Cairo people swim in the Nile and absorb the heat in their homes with sacks of rice. In Tokyo they carry parasols. In Jordan, refugees cover themselves with wet towels. Around the world, people must cope or die, as many of the most vulnerable do, the homeless, the disenfranchised in camps, the elderly and children. Air conditioning with a dependable supply of electricity is a lifesaver. In many places having enough water to keep hydrated is a problem, too. You can’t carry water for long distances in that heat. And health demands electrolytes with high consumption of water.

Imagine trying to raise crops in sizzling temperatures of the Middle East or Southeast Asia. In many places drought is a problem increasing the labor. If a family must sell it’s production in a market, that’s more hours outdoors. Beijing, China, has had 95 F and the climate has changed from dry to so wet it was difficult to dry clothes for weeks.

Social inequality is a big issue, becoming more important as time progresses. In July more than 90 people died of heat in Quebec in little more than a week, due to a heat wave. Most could afford to stay in air conditioned comfort, but the city’s homeless had no alternative – they are not welcome in public areas, such as shopping malls and restaurants. This situation was repeated in cities allover the world. In the U. S., immigrant workers are three times as likely to die from heat exposure as American citizens. As temperatures rise the disparity is expected to increase as well.

Urban “heat islands” reach killer temperatures faster than areas. The World Health Organisation says that 60% of people will live in cities by 2030, and the more densely populated they become, the hotter they’ll get. Warm temperatures in South Asia will exceed the limits of human survival by the end of the century, every degree counts.

Air pollution is more deadly in these urban areas, too, as nitrous oxides generate ozone when heated by the sun, inflaming airways and increasing mortality risk. Presence of heavy traffic produces the nitrous oxides.

Fire Storms Now Becoming Commonplace

Over large rural areas the heat extracts moisture, producing dry, flammable vegetation. Surprising things happen with large scale fires. The ascending hot air draws in winds which provide more oxygen and produce what are called “fire whirls.” In late July California’s unrelenting Carr Fire whipped winds up to 143 miles per hour, roaring and spinning for 90 minutes and scooping up ash, debris and flames. It uprooted trees, stripped the bark off them, and downed power lines. This type of whirl, sometimes nicknamed a “firenado,” was so large it was picked up on Doppler radar.

There is no established scientific theory to cover this newly discovered phenomenon. At the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory , Dr. Mark Finney and other researchers are recreating and studying whirls, as well as the paths that out-of-control blazes cut through millions of acres of forests and grassland in the West. The scientists are racing to develop a deeper understanding of the combined effects of a warmer climate, massive tree die-offs that feed the wildfires, and developments encroaching into the wilderness.

Big fires burn differently than small fires: logs, branches and other sources of fuel behave differently at varying temperatures. And wildfires often exhibit nonlinear behavior or act counterintuitively. The lab hopes within a few years to create a new computer model that can better represent these mind-bogglingly complex behaviors and help anticipate their patterns.

The Sundance fire in Idaho in 1967 cast embers eight miles in advance of the flames, and in Australia some eucalyptus trees — which also grow throughout California — have been shown to spot 10 to 15 miles in front of a blaze. Their characteristic papery bark catches fire first, splintering and soaring into the sky like flaming paper airplanes. Advances of a mile or two by sparks is common.

Many forests have frequent low intensity fires that control underbrush. The practice of fire suppression going on for100 years or more in the U. S. West has allowed accumulation of fuel in many places. Another factor in much of the U. S. West is the devastation of forests by the Pine Bark Beetle. Thousands of acres have been destroyed and the dead trees are waiting to be burned.

The intrusion of homesteads into the forest is a big factor, both in igniting the fires and in the high cost resulting from these fires. Australia has a big problem with forest fires for the same reasons, the country has one of the highest rates of sprawl in the world, along with its proximity to the equator. In Australia they are called brush fires and the season starts two months earlier in the spring and lasts two months later in the fall than it used to.

Coping with this situation is a big item with Australian government. They use tree-planting, installing air conditioning in public facilities, such as libraries and increasing opening hours for swimming pools in summer. New homes being built in bushfire-prone areas must meet stringent building requirements, such as stronger glass with some ability to withstand heat and non-combustible features. Also with lighter colors and features that reduce the need for heating and cooling, such as double-glazed windows and double brick facades. Many homeowners also build fire-proof bunkers into which they can withdraw in emergencies.

“Which cities are liveable without air conditioning – and for how much longer?” is the name of a splendid article in the Guardian, the world-class news source based in England. It has three great interactive visuals of how warming temperatures are expected to move North. You have to play around with them, but it is great fun.


Earth on Fire is a one hour, Australian special that focuses on mega fires and fires in general as they relate to our forests and ecosystem. This documentary reminds us that our idea of the natural and perfect state of things isn’t always based on a reality that ever existed outside of our own modern world, and it does this by examining the rather current epidemic of mega fires throughout the globe.

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