The Big Heat

Facing unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air-condition the outdoors

Days of 100-Degree Heat Will Become Weeks as Climate Warms, U.S. Study Warns

Heat waves and climate change: Is there a connection?

Air conditioning the outdoors? insanity reigns everywhere and it’s not just over Trump. Three days ago the Washington Post published this lengthy and frightening account of what’s happening in one of the world’s hottest regions. It may be the scenario of our future.

Here are some of the takeaways, but you need to read the full piece to understand their implications. And the photos are most revealing.

    • Preparing for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is air conditioning its eight open-air soccer stadiums.
    • “Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide,” this in a country that is the world’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases.
    • The region expects temperatures to increase about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the time the rest of the world hits 2⁰ C.
    • The country relies more than ever on fossil fuels, including natural gas.
    • Doha, the major city, is progressively roasting, having warmed “by an astonishing 2.8 degrees Celsius since 1962.”

Water temperatures in the Persian Gulf are rising much faster than in the world’s other seas, and the “urban heat island effect” of heating asphalt and concrete makes cities the other focus of this increase. The prospect of growing heat and humidity may “one day exceed the capacity of humans to tolerate the outdoors. In such conditions, air conditioning would no longer be a convenience; it would be essential to survival.”

With its vast resources of fossil-fuel money Qatar can afford to do something as crazy and yet necessary as air conditioning the outdoors. It can’t, of course, do this forever. Some two-thirds of its electricity goes toward air conditioning. So there is planning and engineering to change building and construction requirements—but mostly now for the World Cup sites. Recently and hopefully, however, “Qatar Petroleum announced that it would construct a facility to capture and store 5 million tons of carbon from the company’s liquefied natural gas operations by 2025.”

Meanwhile, heat waves everywhere are going to get much more frequent and hotter. It’s not just athletes and outdoor workers who will be affected, though they have the highest exposure. How will human beings begin to endure such extreme heat? By mid-century many areas of the U.S. will face many more days of 105-degree heat, more than triple those of the previous fifty years. It will be worse elsewhere.

Qatar is one of earth’s richest countries, yet some are predicting that cities throughout the Middle East could well become uninhabitable. You can imagine the scenario for the poorer parts of the world.

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