It’s Not The Ocean Levels

I think that a lot of the scare discussion around ocean levels is because it’s relatively simple to understand. More complex things, like arguing about the accuracy of certain climate models, is just too easily sidetracked into a sea of “mights” and “maybes.”

What’s going to kill us worst?

  1. Losing Florida
  2. The collapse of agriculture due to heat
  3. The collapse of agriculture due to drought
  4. The collapse of fisheries due to anoxic zones
  5. The collapse and death of people due to unsurvivable heat

Well, obviously the answer is “all of the above” but focusing on whether New York City will be uninhabitable in 100 years is letting the disaster off easily. Yes, there will be displacement, money lost, migrants started, etc., in the flooding scenario but that’s not what scares me. And, what scares me is going to happen, sooner rather than later, and everyone is going to be shocked and freaked out in spite of decades of warnings.

Midjourney AI and mjr: “mass casualty die-off from the heat, under a baking hot sun”

The problem is simple: humans can’t survive at temperatures above 35C/95F. In 6 hours, you’re dead. We don’t normally experience temperatures that high, because our body has evaporative cooling systems (AKA: “sweat”) that can cool us even in higher temperatures so long as the humidity is low enough that evaporation is fast, and we stay hydrated.

Of course this is going to kill a lot of poor, brown, people, so maybe that’s why America is worries about whether Biden is going to take away our gas-guzzling air conditioned trucks. [science]

They discovered a handful of individual spots—including shorelines along the Persian Gulf and river valleys in India and Pakistan—had crossed the 35°C wet bulb threshold, though only for an hour or two at a time. And in 2017, wet bulb conditions topped 30°C 1000 times—more than double the number in 1979, they write today in Science Advances.

Weather stations in several other places stood out. They include Mexican towns near the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California, and the coastal city of San Francisco in Venezuela. Areas in the Caribbean, West Africa, and southern China also had extreme readings. Weather stations in these places recorded approximately 1000 incidents registering at 31°C, while the wet bulb temperature broke 33°C about 80 times, according to the researchers.

As Amitav Ghosh mentioned in The Great Derangement, [stderr] Calcutta and Mumbai are prone to heat and humidity. They are also impossible to evacuate because there’s simply too many people and noplace to go. They are one heat wave or cyclone away from being a mass casualty event. By mass casualty I mean tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

Let’s imagine a scenario that is entirely plausible. In fact any one of us reading this could cause it to happen. I’m not kidding. Let’s situate it in the USA to make it fit the popular consciousness a bit better.

[Fiction by Marcus Ranum]

Fred turned to Billy, “This is gonna own the hell outta the libs. They’re gonna be screaming and shouting for reform and socialism. Ha!” He took a swig of beer and handed Billy the rifle, “here.” It was a big heavy hunting rifle chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum, and Fred had loaded it with Accelerator sabot rounds that would leave the gun with a ridiculous muzzle velocity over 3500 feet/second. Billy took it reverently, as any proper gun nut would, “we coulda brought the .50 cal” he muttered. “Nah, the FBI tracks those.” He pointed down at the power distribution substation, “OK, you wanna hit the grey-painted vertical targets. From here that’ll be easy.” Billy laid the rifle in and fired. There was a massive shower of sparks and flame as the bullet tore through the insulating jacket around the transformer, and the transformer briefly turned into an arc welding torch before it melted and the power grid shunted the current away. Billy handed the rifle to Fred, who shot another couple transformers for good measure.

“Awright, let’s get outta here,” Billy said, wrapping the rifle as Fred started the truck. “We gotta go around to the other side of town and hit the other one, next.”

Tucson, Arizona, was already baking in the heat, but the air conditioning in the truck’s cab made it tolerable even though the compressor was working hard. Fred punched the gas and the truck roared off down the dusty access road.

What Fred and Billy didn’t realize was that they were taking Tucson off the grid right before an exceptional heat-wave rolled through that would stay for days. The people in town with big pickup trucks and extended gas tanks would be able to hit the road and head to another town that had power. Of those left behind, some had generators, but the fuel wouldn’t last more than a day, generally, whereas the heat wave was going to last a week. The airport was already closed because it’s dangerous to operate jet aircraft when the fuel is so hot – fire and explosion are a real possibility. Meanwhile, Fred and Billy had just exceeded the replacement capacity of transformers for the local area. Tucson was going to swelter in uninhabitable heat for a week, and the dying was going to start the next day.

Or, you could place that scenario in the Persian Gulf. I’ve experienced the summer heat in Saudi Arabia, and it’s like getting hit in the face with a mallet. How about, instead of Billy and Fred, it’s a couple of rebellious ISIL members? Perhaps an Israeli cyberhacker team using malware to crash the power grid. Again – people congregate where there are generators and the air conditioning works, or they get in their cars and try to go somewhere, but – where?


The national weather office has forecast rising temperatures in the coming weeks after India experienced its hottest February since 1901. That’s stoked concerns that there will be a repeat of last year’s record heat wave, which caused widespread crop damage and triggered hours-long blackouts. While temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) are unbearable in any condition, the damage is made worse for those of India’s 1.4 billion population who are stuck in tightly packed cities and don’t have access to well-ventilated housing or air-conditioning.

[The danger lies with] India’s background temperature already being so high. In May, for example, the only places on the planet comparable in temperature to north India are the Sahara and parts of the inland Arabian peninsula, both of which are very sparsely populated. With the background temperatures already being so high, over 40°C, even small increases are likely to push close to human survival limits.

It could come down to fighting over air conditioning, let alone food. The sad tale of Caleb Blair is a perfect illustration of what could happen [Mother Jones]

Caleb Blair entered the Circle K gas station in Phoenix asking for help. “I can’t breathe, I’m hot, I need to sit down. I can’t breathe,” he told the male cashier. He was sweaty, panting heavily, and struggling to stand up straight.

It was 10 June 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona, and the city was experiencing the season’s first extreme heatwave. The temperature outside was 112F and rising.

The cashier told Caleb, a 19-year-old Black man, that he could not rest inside the air-conditioned store—it was against company policy. Blair had no choice but to go back outside, where CCTV footage shows him curled up on the asphalt, rolling around, distressed and struggling to breathe as cars drive in and out of the parking lot. The temperature on the unshaded ground was probably 130-140F, but the teenager was unhoused and high on fentanyl, a powerful opioid, and methamphetamine, an addictive upper. He was confused, disorientated and overheating.

Naturally, Americans mostly shrugged and blamed Blair for his own death, since drugs were involved. But it could just as easily have been a preppy summer-breaker with too much alcohol in them – you know, a future supreme court justice. By the way, alcohol dehydrates you – stay away from it in the heat.

An hour or so later, a female Circle K employee called 911. “There’s a guy outside, he’s on something,” she said. “He’s banging his head against my car and he’s got blood on the door.”

By then, Caleb was naked and his breathing was worse. The temperature outside had climbed to 115F.

Another 911 caller reported a man in “medical distress…I can see that his foot is cut, he just puked, it looks like it might be blood. He’s been doubled over hitting his head on the ground.” A third caller said: “He’s squatting down between cars, he’s obviously on something, beating the ground…It’s an African American male, he’s got a shoe in his mouth currently, pants around his ankles…He’s pulling his own hair.”

I got a whiff of heat stroke a couple of years ago when Mark and I decided to drill some post holes with a gas-powered PhD (Posthole Digger) when it was 98 and humid. I started feeling decidedly weird, called a halt to the proceedings, then tried to walk to my shop, in order to lie down on the concrete slab floor. As it happened, I made it but the last distance was on hands and knees with the world gone rubbery around me. It felt like my head was in a bucket, the ringing in my ears was intense. That was, presumably, nerves baking.

Imagine if Billy and Fred took down the power at Phoenix and Tucson, simultaneously?

Or, imagine if Texas’ notoriously republican-operated power grid, which already failed during a snap freeze, had a more extensive collapse in a summer heat-wave. It’s probably likely that the grid would be able to provide power with rolling blackouts, but basically the situation is one major failure from disaster. Mumbai and Calcutta aren’t even “one major failure” from disaster – they’re looking at a bad dice roll, a failed saving throw – and as anyone who has played games of chance knows, those rolls always happen sooner or later. As Charles Perrow points out in his book Normal Accidents [wc] tightly-coupled complex systems fail in ways we simply cannot predict.

[source: reuters]


BANGKOK, April 22 (Reuters) – Thai authorities on Saturday warned residents across large swathes of country, including the capital Bangkok, to avoid going outdoors due to extreme heat.

Parts of Asia are reporting extreme heat this month, with record-breaking temperatures seen in some countries. In Bangladesh and parts of India, extreme heat is leading to surge in power demand, causing power cuts and shortages for millions of people.

What is your “stay cool” plan? Will it keep you cool enough to survive 3 days without power? Mine: I have a large pond on my property, and if I have to, I will live in the pond. My dogs used to do that on hot summer days until I started shaving their fur every spring. The pond is my emergency plan. Mostly I am able to get by well, because I live on a mountain-top in an area where it’s always breezy and there is lots of light. I have some solar panels at the shop which I could use to drive a cooler chest of water and a fan. My greenhouse has a circulator fan I rigged up with a muffin fan from a PC (don’t laugh, they move a lot of air!) and a small panel and thermostat control. It comes on when the interior temperature is over 80, which is to say it runs constantly, and that is why I used brushless motor fans.

I’ve had people say “you’re lucky you live on a mountaintop” (I bought this farm 20 years ago) and I usually reply, “do you think this was an accident?” A farm on a mountaintop with a big river in the valley, constant wind, big open fields perfect for solar – yeah, that just happened? The other property I looked at was three times the acreage for only a bit more money but it was in Tennessee. There were bible quote billboards right across the street. Pennsylvania looked positively liberal.


  1. mikey says

    Not laughing at the muffin fan. I use them for all sorts of stuff- strip ’em out of old equipment before trashing. They also make an 8″ duct-mount version that quietly moves about 650cfm.

  2. crivitz says

    I’m guessing that despite how its text looks like a citation from some other publication, the Fred and Billy story is actually your own creation.
    My stay cool plan? I live in central MN about a mile from the Mississippi river which should be cool enough in case of a heat emergency. If such an event were to occur, and all the good riverfront property has been taken up by my fellow residents, it could be more dangerous if I have to venture into a rural area where Fred and Billy have their 50-cal set up at their compound after their visit to the local power station. Humor aside, I think my local area may be one of the better places in the US to handle a heat emergency, although the same could probably have been said of the cities in the Pacific Northwest during the heat dome event in 2021 who were probably only a Fred and Billy away from a disastrous power outage . A power outage where I live occurring at the same time as a major heat wave would mean trying to drive to somewhere–but, as you mention above–where?

  3. says

    It felt like my head was in a bucket, the ringing in my ears was intense.

    Back when I was more sporty, that was my go-to sign of dehydration: Something weird happened to my hearing. I learned that this was a sign to immediately stop everything, sit down in the shade, and get some water. The notion that, in a wet-bulb event, water isn’t going to fix anything is downright scary.

  4. says

    Back when I was more sporty, that was my go-to sign of dehydration: Something weird happened to my hearing. I learned that this was a sign to immediately stop everything, sit down in the shade, and get some water. The notion that, in a wet-bulb event, water isn’t going to fix anything is downright scary.

    I suspect the hearing effect is a consequence of the whole head overheating.
    And, yeah, if I hadn’t had that cool concrete floor to lie on, I probably would have just lain in the grass for a while. In a wet-bulb event, that would be totally the wrong move. I suppose humans will learn how to respond to overheating events. We should be setting up emergency heat shelters in affected zones, but who am I kidding? That’s not how humans do things. We’ll wait for the mass casualty events, offer thoughts and prayers, and then figure out how to protect the rich and powerful.

  5. says

    I’ve been thinking this, like you. We’re right about due to see some mass death of people just directly murdered by heat itself. The best survival plan, I think, is caves. Caves aren’t great because many have naturally radioactive or otherwise toxic material in them, but as a place to hide for a few weeks, maybe?

    I can turn my apartment into cave pretty effectively. The random hottest day ever we had was only 110 degrees immediately preceded and followed by much less extreme temps, and with woolen blankets over every window, it was reasonably survivable.

    If we want any of the most majestic African and Indian wildlife to have a chance of avoiding extinction, at some point we should excavate ungodly massive caves in the Serengeti and similar places, big enough for herds of thousands to nope out of a hell day. And of course, long before that, we should eviscerate all petro companies and sellout politicians on national tv, drag them screaming through the streets, that kind of shit. (legally obligated just kidding here. unless..? haha, I kid. or maybe..?
    no, I…)

  6. dangerousbeans says

    I guess i should add a battery system to the house, so i can run the AC from the solar panels if the grid is out. Being at the bottom end of Australia the weather tends to be either hot or humid.

    Given how well we are handling the current global health issue I’m not too confident in doing anything about heat waves

  7. says

    And of course, long before that, we should eviscerate all petro companies and sellout politicians on national tv, drag them screaming through the streets, that kind of shit.

    I have long wondered how it is that any oil company exec is able to step away from their security cordon without having someone dump a bucket of crude oil on them. And, if they don’t get the hint, kerosene – and a burning rag.

  8. Jazzlet says

    My BFF has taken to using the batteries from disposable vapes for powering rechargeable systems. He doesn’t buy them, just uses the ones he finds, often on the ramp to his front door – it’s next to the pavement and a convenient place for people walking by to drop stuff. The lastet is an intense multi-LED light so he can better see the circuits he is making. He’s lucky in that so far his MS is mostly affecting his legs and the more expansive arm movements, he can still do the fidddly stuff.

    Our house is semi-detached, north-south aligned on the north side of the pair. We had a bit of trial run last summer, and so far closing the windows and curtains on the east in the morning and the west in the afternoon works. We have a pretty shaded area outside on the east that doesn’t get much sun in the morning, and one window on the north that doesn’t get any sun until late in a summer evening. We do have another window on that side that doesn’t open and might have to change that. I am extremely glad that when we replaced the windows we put in far more casements along with working double glazing. But that all depends on some overnight cooling and on the shading, the shading from the neighbour’s conseratory, fencing and both of our shrubs on the east will remain, we’ll see how the beech hedge does on the west, if it continues to thrive we may let it grow taller along with some other woody plants, the shade does make a huge difference. The other possibility in terms of of reducing out side heat near the house would be to take up some of the hard surfacing, but there is only so much that is ours, we’ll still have a tarmac road out front (west).

  9. Dunc says

    It’s surprising just how much heat comes in as radiation from the landscape, even if you’re not getting direct sun, especially if you have buildings facing you.

    If you really need to stop heat coming in throught the windows, tape foil over them. That will reflect the majority of incoming short-wave IR straight back out before it has time to heat anything. For bonus points, tape it on the outside, if you can.

  10. says

    Living on a hilltop, near the ocean, north of the tropics, this is hopefully not one of the problems I will need to deal with. The emergency heat plan is, always, the sea. Lakes and ponds dry out. Failing that, there are caves in the hills and the thermal capacity of a thousand tons of limestone is not to be underestimated. Caves are a wonderful way to insulate yourself from changing temperatures.

  11. StevoR says

    Heatwaves are deadly. Killing heat. Not just for us but for the fauna and flora which means ecologies will be killed too. baked and boiled to death slowly. Scarily plausible scenario. Are you planning towrite more of that and maybe get it published? Please do – I’d read on.

    I picture in my mind what might happen to the jungles – the tropical rainforest – and to our Aussie Bushland which I love and is the nearest thing I have to “sacred” in a way that I can’t quite put in words.and it horrifies and greives me already.

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