Recently, Bavani Periasamy agreed to join me on Climate Courage to go through all of the solutions we must be considering to get ready for heat extremes, or wet bulb temperatures.
For more, you can read this blog, this blog, and this one in Hindi, this one in Thai and soon I will be adding other languages into the mix. Below is the script we used for this conversation, breaking it all down.
Setting the context
Bavani is based in Malaysia and I’m in Thailand. In April, we experienced wet bulb temperatures for the first time, or when the heat index moves into unlivable territory. This heat hit Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines for the first time and many deaths were reported.
All countries in the Global South are not ready for these heat extremes, and seeing what has happened in the Northern Hemisphere summer this year, it means we need to get ready for the next round of heat coming our way. We also must understand that all indications are pointing to much more extreme heat over the coming months, especially as El Nino gets stronger and does its job.
Beyond Asia, we saw 45°C (113°F) in Brazil on its last day of Winter. This is the hottest temperature EVER recorded.
In Australia, there has been record September heat, with temperatures in NSW 10-15 degrees above normal. If those averages happen over summer, we could be looking at 50°C and higher. The fire season also started in August when typically, the season starts in October, and Australia has also seen many fires in September, with fires across NSW resulting in 20 schools closing due to fire danger.
This summer, Australia will be dealing with both fire and heat extremes, so we could see absolute catastrophe. Please do watch the Livestream from two weeks ago with Graeme Thom, who took me through Australia’s fire readiness for a hotter world.
The Northern Hemisphere summer season was horrific. We have witnessed 42 million acres burned in Canada so far, and the heat in Phoenix, Arizona, was 110 degrees or 43.3°C for 54 days – a record. The burn units were also full of people who had fallen onto hot surfaces.
We’ve saw heat extremes across Europe, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Southern Asia, Africa, China, the Middle East, and we still have no idea about the number of deaths linked to heat, something we might never know.
And more widely, we’re going into Antarctica’s summer, after it saw 1.5 million sq km of sea-ice loss over the winter, which means more ice loss will happen over the summer, and that means more heat will be absorbed into the oceans, and we already know ocean heat is off the scale.
There are possibilities in the environment that could turn this around – a sizeable volcanic eruption could send enough sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, combining with water to form sulfuric acid aerosols. These sulfuric aerosols reflect incoming solar radiation, causing cooling of the Earth’s surface. That would be a relief and maybe even give us time to act!!!
BUT for Australia and NZ in the summer, and then the Global South from February onwards, when the hot season starts again, we must get ready, and we are not ready.
Here’s the video
And here it is in bullet form
- 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. Learn what wet bulb temperatures are and know when it hits where you live.
- When the heat hits 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.
- Work options? Discuss extreme heat with your workplace now, so you have flexible working options when wet bulb temperatures hit, and rules in place if you work outside. If you are working in an essential role, get plans in place now on how you can do your job when the temperature spikes, because it will spike.
- 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 more emissions.
- Landlords invest in your properties – in Australia, landlords are not required to install air-conditioning units in homes in some states and we don’t have time for legislation to change this. So do the right thing, and put aircon units in your rental homes, invest in solar or wind energy, and make sure the insulation is top quality. Help your renters get ready, especially if they are poor.
- Identify a cool family space – heat extremes cause high demand on the energy grid, and many people in the wealthy countries live in massive homes with multiple air-conditioning units. Therefore, this is a good time to decide on a room or smaller space in the home, which is airconditioned, that you can use as a family during heat extremes. This will help you reduce your personal demand on the grid, as well as the emissions you release from your air conditioning unit.
- Don’t be selfish with your energy use – we all need to be mindful of our energy consumption during extremes, which will also reduce our costs AND leave enough so everyone gets 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 when the grid falls over.
- Paint it white – a quick and cost-effective action is to paint our roofs white. Find the most reflective paint you can find and get to work, painting roofs everywhere. Don’t forget to lay it on thick. 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 – 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.” 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 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.
- Prepare cooling spaces now – 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.
- 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 in your roof and walls 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 the perfect 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? Reflect on what is necessary, buy it now, so you are prepared.
- Be mosquito smart – El Niño brings an increase in infectious diseases from mosquitos, specifically dengue and malaria. Let’s keep our homes clear of pools of water, which are mosquito breeding grounds, and consider mosquito nets and other solutions. Talk to your government on how 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 weather events – a growing concern around the world. As an example, rice production drops when temperatures pass 35°C (which already happened this year). Crop losses 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. Food shortages are getting worse and will continue to get worse – so 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.
- Outdoor cooling – 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 in cities – 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.
- Communal cooling stations in rural areas – 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? Learn how to care for your pets in extreme heat and don’t let them outside on concrete surfaces, because it will burn their paws.
- How do we protect wildlife? Probably the biggest concern, because while we might be able to survive, our wildlife might not, so 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. The survival of these ecosystems is critical for human survival too. Can we plan to save enough?
- 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.
- Independent energy 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. 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.
- Cancel events in extreme heat – 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. Peranakan architecture is a feature of the West Coast of Southeast Asia, which kept towns cool and air circulating before electricity was invented! Today, many of the features have been altered, such as the arches between buildings blocked and covered over. We need to reverse this, and we need to look at installing shade in public areas everywhere. Trees and plants are critical too.
- Rethinking outdoor work – most 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.
- Business owners are responsible – business owners must be made responsible for ensuring the safety of workers in heat extremes – which is not something that happens everywhere, especially when the workers are foreign or undocumented migrants. Severe penalties should be put in place for lack of care for workers well-being.
- The sort of work impacted – agriculture, farming; all construction; and 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; the 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’s 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 Greece this year, even underground infrastructure is at risk in higher temperatures. That’s why we need to be independent with our own energy sources.
- What does overheated infrastructure look like? It’s in all of our interests to think through what extreme heat means to us. One example is 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. Get your community prepared.
- Emergencies services preparedness – we must consider the ability of emergency services personnel to get infrastructure working in intense heat. At the peak of temperatures, will 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 overflowed with 2nd and 3rd degree burn victims this summer, because the ground is so hot – up to 180°F. Medics also experienced 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 air-conditioning when it has been exposed to this level of heat. Motorbikes – how do you even get on one when it’s boiling? Therefore, it is time to install parking shelters everywhere, which is not a general practice in the developing world.
- Let’s make them solar sources – we have 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 suffering heat extremes, 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
- Here’s the challenge – energy sources currently in use firstly are electrical grids which 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? Apparently, that number is from 40°C. The heat and humidity combination is lethal for generators, so how can we guarantee our hospitals and medical services can continue to run?
- We need to stock up too – we 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 saw 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 training 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 – must 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 due to the confirmed 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 and communicate at the right level of intensity
- 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 for 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.
- Communicate low tech – millions of people do not have access to digital technology – something we saw during the pandemic, even in wealthy countries.In Maui, Hawaii, communication was a failure because nothing worked anymore.In Libya, there was no warning at all.All communities need to consider communication, such as 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.
- 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.
- Antonio Guterres, head of the United Nations, 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.
- 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.
- Finally, 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.
Please get the message out to your communities. I am getting this blog translated into as many languages as I can, but in the meantime, feel free to take the above content and translate it, sharing it with everyone in your community – especially the poorest who will face the brunt of this heat, but truly, none of us will be safe once the heat goes past 50°C. We must get ready for that.
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