What happens to our bodies in excessive heat

It is astonishing that with record heat waves year after year, there are still those who refuse to acknowledge that we are experiencing dangerous levels of global warming, who not only ignore the warnings but even threaten journalists who write about it.

Almost four out of every 10 journalists covering the climate crisis and environment issues have been threatened as a result of their work, with 11% subjected to physical violence, according to groundbreaking new research.

A global survey of more than 740 reporters and editors from 102 countries found that 39% of those threatened “sometimes” or “frequently” were targeted by people engaged in illegal activities such as logging and mining. Some 30%, meanwhile, were threatened with legal action – reflecting a growing trend towards corporations and governments deploying the judicial system to muzzle free speech.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a ban on fossil fuel advertising, charging that those companies are the ‘godfathers of climate chaos’.

Fossil-fuel companies are the “godfathers of climate chaos” and should be banned in every country from advertising akin to restrictions on big tobacco, the secretary general of the United Nations has said while delivering dire new scientific warnings of global heating.

In a major speech in New York on Wednesday, António Guterres called on news and tech media to stop enabling “planetary destruction” by taking fossil-fuel advertising money while warning the world faces “climate crunch time” in its faltering attempts to stem the crisis.

“Many governments restrict or prohibit advertising for products that harm human health, like tobacco,” he said. “I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil-fuel companies. And I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil-fuel advertising.”

June has barely begun and the summer season in the northern hemisphere has not yet arrived and yet we are already experiencing heat waves. Some parts of India have already seen temperatures of 50C (122F).

A dangerous heatwave is set to bake parts of south-western US this week, sending temperatures soaring into the triple digits in some areas and potentially shattering daily heat records.

The first heatwave of the season will arrive in earnest on Wednesday, with many cities forecast to climb well past 100F (37.8C). An area stretching from south-east California to central Arizona and south Texas will see “easily their hottest” weather since last September, and record daily highs could be seen from Las Vegas to Phoenix, the National Weather Service said on Monday.

About 19 million Americans will spend the rest of the work week under excessive heat warnings and advisories issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS’s heat warning will be in affect from early Wednesday morning to late Friday due to “dangerously hot conditions”.

Things were already heating up at the start of the week. Highs on Monday reached 110F (43.3C) at Death Valley national park in California near the Nevada border; a high of 120F (48.8C) is forecast for Thursday in Furnace Creek, typically the hottest part of the park.

In Las Vegas, where the high topped out at 103F (39.4C) on Monday, temperatures will soar to 10 to 15 degrees above normal during the second half of the week – peaking at 111F (43.8C) on Thursday. Early week temperatures hit 103F (39.4C) in Phoenix and 105F (40.5C) in Needles, California. Cities across the state including Sacramento and Fresno were predicted to swelter by mid-week.

“Extreme heat is an invisible but dangerous consequence of climate change, and CA’s outdoor workers, seniors + children are particularly vulnerable,” California’s environmental protection agency said in a social media post.

The current forecasted high of 113F (45C) for Phoenix on Thursday would break the daily record high of 111F (43.8C) set in 2016.

The human body is remarkably resilient, able to withstand a lot of the rigors we subject it to. In order to function, it must operate within a fairly narrow temperature range. The body has various mechanisms to stabilize its temperature to stay within that range but extreme heat can overcome the body’s defense systems and cause it to collapse.

The “optimum” internal temperature at which our bodies comfortably function is about 98.6F (36.8C). While it varies slightly from person to person, the core body temperature needs to stay within a narrow range of 97-99F (36-37C) to protect organs, and for cells to function best.

When the body becomes too hot, blood vessels in the skin dilate, and sweat is released. Heat is dissipated via the evaporation of sweat, which cools the surface of the skin, liberating heat transferred from the core.

High humidity can hinder this natural cooling process. And when the heat index – a combined metric of air temperature and humidity – reaches 90F, the risk of heat-related illness starts to rise.

The most extreme symptoms are referred to as ‘heat strokes’ though it is not really a stroke in the normal sense of something blocking blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause permanent disability or death if the person does not receive emergency treatment.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness (coma)
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Very high body temperature
  • Fatal if treatment delayed

First Aid
Take the following steps to treat a worker with heat stroke:

  • Call 911 for emergency medical care.
  • Stay with the worker until emergency medical services arrive.
  • Move the worker to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing.
  • Cool the worker quickly, using the following methods:
    • With a cold water or ice bath, if possible
    • Wet the skin
    • Place cold wet cloths on the skin
    • Soak clothing with cool water
  • Circulate the air around the worker to speed cooling.
  • Place cold wet cloths or ice on the head, neck, armpits, and groin; or soak the clothing with cool water.

There are warning signs that one can look for before heat stroke occurs, such as cramps, fatigue, headaches, nausea, dry mouth and vomiting.

Some cities have put in place extraordinary measures to prevent deaths.

The season’s first heatwave is already baking the south-west with triple-digit temperatures as firefighters in Phoenix – America’s hottest big city – employ new tactics in hopes of saving more lives in a county that saw 645 heat-related deaths last year.

Starting this season, the Phoenix fire department is immersing heatstroke victims in ice on the way to area hospitals. The medical technique, known as cold-water immersion, is familiar to marathon runners and military service members and has also recently been adopted by Phoenix hospitals as a go-to protocol, according to fire captain John Prato.

The heatstroke treatment has made ice and human-sized immersion bags standard equipment on all Phoenix fire department emergency vehicles. It is among measures the city adopted this year as temperatures and their human toll soar ever higher.

I wonder what it will take for climate change skeptics to realize that ignoring this issue has serious consequences that will not just affect just future generations yet unborn whose interests they can ignore, but that they themselves and their children are going to feel it in their own lifetimes.


  1. Matt G says

    A lot of times, the science isn’t obvious. We don’t see wolves give birth to dogs, but we do have mountains of evidence that dogs branched off from the gray wolf. Here, the evidence for global warming is now incredibly strong AND the changes can be observed *within a single human lifetime*! How anyone, especially of a certain age, can deny global warming is beyond me. Of course most of what’s happening in the world today is beyond me.

  2. Dennis K says

    Climate skeptic? Is there evidence somewhere that climate change might not be happening?

    A “climate skeptic” has, by now, become someone who denies reality just to be contrarian — no convincing them of anything. Like, the people who died of covid in denial of its existence and, like, most of my immediate family.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    Certain politicians from a certain party has opposed regulations that workers must have breaks and drink water when it is dangerously hot.

    The governor of a state associated with bizarre news items (you know which one) has even made a law banning municipalities from making local rules forcing businesses to protect the workers from the heat. This has gone from merely “corrupt” to “evil”.

  4. garnetstar says

    Going to be a lot of deaths from this heat wave.

    I think climate change might finally sink in to the deniers on the day when it’s too hot across the whole southwest for planes to take off or land.

    That’ll be interesting. Although, a true denier of reality will find a way around it. The laws of physics changed, or something.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Going off on a tangent: the Orange One has made a statement about consequences of the warming (,quoted from the Infinite Thread at Pharyngula).
    Trump: ‘When they say that the seas will rise over the next 400 years, one-eighth of an inch, you know. Which means basically you have a little more beachfront property, okay? Think of it, the seas are going to rise—who knows? But this is the big threat. I watch Biden the other night. “It’s the greatest existential”—he loves that word because it’s a big word, and he thinks he knows. He doesn’t even know what the hell the word means. He goes, it’s the greatest existential threat to our country. Global warming.’
    -This humaniform slug will be the end of us all if he is elected.

  6. KG says

    Although, a true denier of reality will find a way around it. The laws of physics changed, or something. -- garnetstar@5

    Nah. Denialists have several alternative positions far more useful than that:
    1) “Yes it was happening, but now it’s stopped and will reverse” (used whenever there’s a couple of years cooler than the most recent peak).
    2) “Yes it’s happening, but it’s nothing to do with human activities” (often used in conjunction with 1).
    3) “Yes it’s happening, but its dangers are grossly exaggerated and it also has benefits”.
    4) “Yes it’s happening, but it’s too late/too expensive to do anything about it.”

  7. KG says

    Dr. Michael Mosley, a fairly well-known British author and broadcaster -- ironically on health topics -- has been found dead on the Greek island of Symi after disappearing on Wednesday, when he went for a walk, on his own, in searing heat, protecting himself from the sun with an umbrella. Very sad for his family and friends, but I’m afraid the old Noel Coward song about “mad dogs and Englishmen” has been playing in my head ever since the news broke.

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