Dr. James Hansen: “We Have a Global Emergency” Dangerous Heat to Render Parts of the World Practically Uninhabitable by 2100

There’s a tragic new danger lurking in the world. Something that’s arisen from a mass burning of fossil fuels on an epic scale that now pumps out more than 100 times the greenhouse gas emission from all the volcanoes in all the world combined. Something that’s been building heat in our atmosphere at unprecedented rates. Something that’s been increasingly setting off the strange and deadly Hothouse Mass Casualty Events (HMCE). Events that appear ready to hit the innocent, the poor, and the vulnerable among us the hardest.

Over the past few decades, HMCEs, have occurred with increasing frequency during periods of extreme heat and drought that exceeded the scope and intensity of past heatwaves. These events resulted both in mass human mortality and in medical infrastructure crippling waves of heat injuries. These new, deadly heatwaves occurred in a world that was about 0.6 to 0.8 C hotter than 1880s averages. But as of the past two years, the global heat factor has cranked still higher — hitting 0.9 to 1.1 C above 1880s levels during 2014 and 2015 — and further increasing the likelihood of these dangerous events.

And according to a new scientific report from Dr. James Hansen — these events are about to become an ever-more permanent part of the global landscape. In essence, if fossil fuel burning continues, the poorest parts of the world who have contributed the least to the climate change problem will experience HMCEs with such a high frequency that many of these regions are going to become practically uninhabitable by the end of this Century. It’s a level of unfair and unequal treatment that’s difficult to stomach. For those who continue to burn fossil fuels, who continue to push fossil fuel burning through lobbying, market dominance, and short-sighted government policies, and who plan to burn these harmful fuels on into the future now appear to be involved in a kind of combined act of inflicted human habitat destruction and possible genocide.


On Wednesday, Dr. James Hansen, former head of GISS NASA, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on human-caused climate change, dropped another bombshell on an in-the-know scientific community that appears to be struggling to keep up with the velocity of what has now become a Global Warming Emergency. Hansen’s new report first takes a look at warming in retrospect — using historical temperature and extreme warming event data to show that the world has been radically altered by a rampant fossil fuel emission. Then, Hansen takes a look forward into what appears to be an increasingly hot and dangerous greenhouse gas warmed future.


(Through late 2015, Hansen’s data showed that human fossil fuel emissions continued along a path just above IPCC worst case ranges, and flirting with the lower edge of absolute worst case ranges. Hansen here identifies these carbon emissions as a global warming ‘Time Bomb.’ Image source: Dr. James Hansen.)

No More Cool Summers For Some Parts of the World

The paper found that the frequency of extreme heating events increased over the globe, even as the likelihood of cool or cold weather fell off. Though every region showed an increase in warm or hot events and a drop off in cool or cold events, some regions experienced more warming than others.

For example, in the US, summers cooler than the 1951 to 1980 average now occur only 19 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the frequency of extreme heating events 3 standard deviations outside the mid 20th Century average increased by an order of magnitude to 7 percent. These are strong shifts toward hotter summers for the US. But they are somewhat minor in comparison to shifts occurring in other parts of the world.

Hansen notes that in the Middle East and Mediterranean, rates of summer warming have increased to the point that there are now no summers that are cooler than average even as the period of summer seasonality has grown “considerably longer.” This statement is worth thinking about for a bit — essentially what’s happened is cool summers below the mid 20th Century average have been basically wiped out in the Med and Middle East. Cool summers there are a thing of a much less dangerous and far more pleasant past.

And looking at Hansen’s graph below we find that the impact of warming in many highly populated regions of the world is already far greater than within the United States:

Shifts to Warm and Hot Summers

(Shift to hotter Summers and Winters is now producing a greatly increased frequency of extremely hot summers even as it is steadily eliminating the likelihood of cool summers. Image source: Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities.)

As the world continues to heat up, there is rising risk to human beings over broad regions. This is due to the fact that a warming world increases the latent heat of the atmosphere. When Ocean surfaces warm to above 35 degrees Celsius, this results in an increase in the amount of warm moisture in suspension in the atmosphere. For human beings, it makes it more difficult for heat to transfer way from the skin through evaporative cooling. At a 35 degree C Wet Bulb reading, the human body’s ability to cool itself breaks down — resulting in high risk of heat stroke and death if exposure continues for 1-2 hours.

But these are the kinds of conditions we’ll be increasingly putting into effect if human fossil fuel burning continues. Hansen notes:

The tropics and the Middle East in summer are in danger of becoming practically uninhabitable by the end of the century if business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions continue, because wet bulb temperature could approach the level at which the human body is unable to cool itself under even well-ventilated outdoor conditions.  Lesser warming still makes life more difficult and reduces productivity in these regions, because temperatures are approaching the limit of human tolerance and both agricultural and construction work are mainly outdoor activities.

Health-Risks, Violence, Climate Inequality and Responsibility

In addition to increasing the likelihood of hothouse mass casualty events, severe heatwaves, and increasing drought prevalence, Hansen notes added impacts to human beings and human societies. As we’ve seen with the Zika virus, disease vectors spread into higher Latitudes as the world warms — increasing the range of harmful and deadly tropical illnesses. Furthermore, studies indicate that violence increases dramatically in hotter regions. With each standard deviation increase in temperature patterns, group on group conflict has been observed to increase by 14 percent. This would already have increased conflict in the Med and Middle East by nearly 30 percent. For many regions of the world, if fossil fuel burning continues, warming is expected to shift a further 3-7 standard deviations off baseline. If the violence study findings are correct, this could double instances of group on group conflict for some parts of the world.

Carbon emissions cumulative by country

(Unequal climate change contributions, unequal impacts. Image source: Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities.)

One final assertion of Hansen’s paper is that warming impacts and contributions are unequal. People living in Asia and Africa are seeing disproportionate warming even as they have contributed very little to the problem. And many of the regions now experiencing above average rates of warming could be rendered practically uninhabitable by Century’s end. People in the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, Japan, and Northern Europe, though also suffering warming impacts, have been among those contributing the most to the problem and seeing the lowest rates of change in the form of extreme heat related events (though those experiencing ever more frequent droughts in the US Southwest may beg to differ). The Middle East’s own moderate national emissions contribution to global warming (though a rather high export contribution in the form of oil and gas sales) is matched by an extreme commitment to dangerous heatwaves for the region. This distribution represents a highly unequal and unfair spread of climate impacts and climate change responsibility. Yet one more reason why the industrial nations of the world should be getting their act together for a concerted and rapid transition away from fossil fuel use.

It’s worth noting that the Hansen paper does not assess the impact of other climate change related events such as extreme rainfall or sea level rise on regions that have contributed the most to the problem. It’s likely that vulnerable cities would see a widely distributed impact from the kind of multi-meter sea level rise Hansen warns is possible rippling across the globe. Portions of the US East and Gulf Coasts, in particular, have an extraordinary vulnerability to this climate change related threat.


Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities

Wet Bulb Temperatures

Wet Bulb Temperatures 35 C

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs


Japan in Hot Water — Longest Heatwave on Record for Tokyo, Tens of Thousands Hospitalized

This morning, at 10:53 AM local time in Tokyo, the temperature was a sweltering 95.2 F (35.1 C) and climbing

For six days running thermometers in that city have been above 95 degrees F (35 C). That’s the longest unbroken string of 95 degree + highs Japan’s capital has experienced since record-keeping began 140 years ago in 1875. In other words, parts of Japan are experiencing never-seen-before heat.

All told, recent days have seen fully 25 percent of Japan’s cities and towns hit temperatures above 95 F. It’s a heat that sinks bone deep. That gets into the blood. That makes it hard to keep going outdoors. A heat that causes injury and, sometimes, death. And over this summer more than 35,000 people have been hospitalized throughout Japan due to heat injury. Of those, more than 850 have remained hospitalized for three weeks or more. And from this grim tally 55 have now lost their lives.

Hot Ocean Waters Breed Heat Domes

The record hot air temperatures have come on due to a combination of factors. First, the ocean around Japan is abnormally warm. Recently, near-Japan sea surface temperatures have ranged from 2-5 degrees Celsius above established averages. That’s excessively hot water, especially when one considers that El Nino will typically draw the warm waters south and eastward. But this year is not at all typical with unusual-to-record heat now ranging much of the Pacific Ocean basin.


(Extreme sea surface temperatures and a heat dome high pressure system are setting the stage for record heatwaves and tragic heat injuries in Japan. Ocean temperatures in the region have ranged up to 5-6 C above average for this time of year. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Near Japan, the added ocean warmth lends both heat and humidity to the air about the archipelago land mass. A combination that can push wet bulb readings into ranges that are ever more difficult for human bodies to manage.

Concordant with the exceptionally hot waters surrounding Japan is a heavy heat dome high pressure system dominating the atmosphere above it. This heat dome, as with many weather systems under the regime of human-caused climate change, has been doggedly persistent. Setting up an excessively long-lasting period of record heat that has now continued off and on for weeks.

Multiple Heatwave Mass Casualty Events for Record Hot 2015

Japan joins India, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf Region as locations experiencing heat capable of producing mass casualty events this year. In India, more than 3,000 lost their lives due to high heat and humidity during late May and early June. In Pakistan, more than 1,500 died due to the heat even as hospitals were overwhelmed by related injuries. And in Iran last week, wet bulb temperatures rocketed to a stunning 34.7 C.

Under human-forced climate change it’s a sad fact that heatwaves proliferate. We are now four times more likely to experience a heatwave on any part of the globe than we were back during the 1880s. Before our fossil fuel burning warmed the global climate by 1 degree Celsius. And as maximum temperatures and humidity push toward and past the wet bulb limit of 35 C, we are unfortunately likely to see more and more of these heatwave mass casualty events.


Tokyo Endures Longest Heatwave Ever Recorded

Earth Nullschool

Hothouse Claims Lives in India

Wet Bulb at 33 C in Pakistan

It Felt Like 165 Degrees in Iran Today

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Glacial Outburst Flood — Human Hothouse Displaces Hundreds in Tajikistan

If you lived during the 1880s, when the globe was one degree Celsius cooler than it is now, you’d see far less in the way of heatwaves. But an immense vomiting of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere and oceans by fossil fuel industry since that time has greatly multiplied these periods of extreme temperatures. So much so that you are now four times more likely to experience a heatwave anywhere on the globe at any given time than you were 135 years ago.

Heatwaves, depending on their intensity, can have serious consequences. The most direct impact is due to the excess heat itself. In the more extreme instances, heatwaves during recent years have featured an ominous capacity to hospitalize tens of thousands. These heat stroke victims, in the worst cases, perish. Such was the case for India and Pakistan this year where hundreds tragically lost their lives due to the impact of increased heat alone.

But if heatwaves occur in regions where glaciers still exist, the impact can be even more profound.

Glacier Outburst Flood In Tajikistan

(“The lake disappeared and turned to salt…” Melting of glaciers in Tajikistan is having a far-reaching impact. This UN-based program describes how the lives of Tajikistan’s people are being threatened by water loss due to glacier decline. But the impacts of glacier outburst floods can be more directly destructive.)

In Tajikistan, the heat is bringing with it a great decline in high elevation glaciers. Some have already disappeared. It’s a loss resulting in severe impacts to both energy and water security for the country. But perhaps even more disturbing is what happens when water is suddenly released from the dwindling glaciers.

Such was the case with Tajikistan this month. Beginning on July 16, an oppressive heatwave settled over this Central Asian nation. Temperatures rocketed to record levels. Baking its broad mountains — valleys, slopes and glaciers alike.

Crammed between Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan squats along the northwest boundary of the Tibetan Plateau. The upthrust of great glacier-capped peaks tower over this country. Peaks whose heads are loaded with a great volume of ice that is now being forced to rapidly melt.

This month’s record heatwave dealt a terrible blow to that ice. The glaciers, of which Tajikistan boasts 8,492, were already greatly weakened by a 3 degree Celsius temperature increase over the past five years. All it took was the shove of the most recent temperature surge to push some of these to the breaking point. By Tuesday, a great outburst flood had ripped through the mountain valleys of the Central Asia country. The outburst flood waters roared out, overtopping rivers — washing away more than 50 homes, cutting off major roadways, and driving 620 persons into government disaster shelters.

Unfortunately, this most recent climate change mass casualty event may be just one of many. In Tajikistan, a mud dam has developed along the path of major glacial melt. Water pressure is building behind the dam. Should it release, more than 30,000 people will be in the path of the outburst flood.

Risk of Outburst Flooding Near Large Glaciers is a Global Hazard

All throughout the Tibetan Plateau region glacial outburst floods related to human-caused warming are on the rise (see the glacial megaflood). As much as 70 percent of the ice within the great Himalayan glaciers could melt out by 2100 under business as usual fossil fuel burning. The result would be a crescendo of glacial outburst floods followed by a period of drastically increased aridity for the lands around Tibet.

Alaska. Prince William Sound, waterfall flows from under Blackstone Glacier.

Alaska. Prince William Sound, waterfall flows from under Blackstone Glacier.

(The high elevation of glaciers combined with the vastness of their captured water and the often steep grades upon which they perch can generate violent flooding in the event of rapid melt. In many instances, silt from glacial outflows can develop a dam downstream of the glacial flood. Such dams are often unstable and can be subject to catastrophic collapse. In the worst cases, ice dams can form in the interior sections of very large ice sheets — such as those seen in Greenland and Antarctica. Glacial outburst floods due to such melt and ice dam formation in the major ice sheets are catastrophic events of geological scale and impact. Image source: ADT.)

Glacial outburst floods are sudden, powerful, violent, and difficult to predict. They are limited only by the amount of water the glaciers themselves release — ice masses that hold volumes of water often measured in cubic kilometers. The drastic impacts and terrible violence due to this kind of flooding was also recently witnessed during 2013 in Kedarnath, India. And what we see in Tajikistan and India during recent years is, sadly, just a taste of what’s to come in a fossil fuel emissions warmed world.

Finally, in this narrative, we cannot ignore potential glacial outburst flood impacts from melting over the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctica. And unlike Tibetan glacial melt, potential outburst flood events issuing from Greenland or Antarctica are a hazard of global scope. Such events would likely be driven by extended periods of rainfall over the ice during summer heating events. An ominous melt-driving phenomena that science is just now starting to track.


Heatwave + Glacial Melt Forces Hundreds to Flee in Tajikistan

Human Hothouse Death Toll Climbs to 2300 in India

Wet Bulb at 33 C

Freakishly High Temperatures Trigger Melt, Mudslides, Flooding in Tajikistan

The Glacial Megaflood


Amplified Melt and Flow of Greenland Ice Sheet Driven by Late Summer Rainfall

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

%d bloggers like this: