Mythbuster 1. “Phew! What a scorcher!” Overheating is good for you?

May 1, 2024

Image by G.C. from Pixabay

As we move into a period in which the powers that be will be retreating and retrenching on climate policy, we can expect discredited arguments and factoids to be churned out with dreary regularity; so that anyone who does not want to confront the realities we face has a set of one liners to trot out to deflect thought and effort.

This series of blogs is aimed at giving workers and activists the information we need to debunk these claims if a workmate, friend or relative comes out with one of them.

These arguments will be useful in the context of “Phew! What a scorcher!” and “Hotter than Morocco!” headlines in the tabloids. For those who can absorb anecdotes more easily than statistics, a useful question is, “Have you noticed how, until a few years ago, every time we had a heatwave people used to go out and sunbathe, but now, have you noticed how people go out and sit in the shade under the trees because the heat is becoming uncomfortable?”

A recently distributed leaflet, very glossy but with no publisher acknowledged, makes the claim that Humans thrive in warm climates straight after arguing that the world is not heating up; stating Humans have always thrived in warm climates. Even if the world were warming, warmth is by no means a threat, ice ages ARE. Every year many more people die in the colder winter months, even in the UK, see ONS data”.

The key word here is “warm”. We are already getting well beyond that. Here’s some examples, with thanks to Simon Erskine for compiling them.

  • Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a national disaster amid a prolonged drought that has destroyed about half the country’s maize crop, BBC News reports. He joins neighbouring nations in southern Africa, Zambia and Malawi, both of which have recently declared similar states of emergency, the article adds.
  • “Unprecedented” temperatures are being reached across south-east Asia, including in parts of VietnamThailandand Myanmar, according to the Guardian. It points to lengthy spells of dry weather in Indonesia driving up rice prices and fears that coral is under threat in Thailand due to high water temperatures. The newspaper says the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has “attributed the scorching weather to human-induced climate change, as well as the El Niño event, which brings hotter, drier conditions to the region”.
  • In Santiago, Chile, an 11-day heatwave has ended, becoming “the longest in history,”according to Raúl Cordero, a climatologist at the University of Santiago, La Tercera reports.
  • The UKmay face water shortages and hosepipe bans this summer, despite recording record-breaking rainfall over the past 18 months, the Times reports. The i newspaper notes that the UK population has increased by 10 million over the past three decades, while “climate change has put pressure on existing reserves”.The Guardian reports that the Environment Agency released a report last week, which “predicts a growing shortfall of water in coming years, leading to a deficit of almost 5bn litres of water a day by 2050”. The National Farmers Union has warned that flooding and other extreme weather linked to climate change will undermine UK food production, BBC News reports. The article says this comes after “record-breaking rain over the past few months”, which “has left fields of crops under water and livestock’s health at risk”.
  • Russiaand Kazakhstanhave ordered more than 100,000 people to evacuate after melting snow swelled rivers beyond bursting point, leading to the worst flooding in the area for at least 70 years, reports Reuters.
  • The United Arab Emirateshas been hit by an intense storm, with the country experiencing its heaviest rains in 75 years, according to meteorological authorities, reports the Financial Times. Almost 6 inches (152mm) of rain fell on the capital Dubai on Tuesday, a year and a half’s worth of rain in a single day, causing travel disruptions, reports the Independent. In related news, the death toll from flooding in Pakistan has risen to 63, the Associated Press reports.
  • The deadly heatwave that hit West Africaand the Sahelover recent weeks would have been “impossible” without human-induced climate change, scientists have said, reports BBC News. Temperatures in Mali soared to above 48C, with one hospital linking hundreds of deaths to the extreme heat, it continues. Researchers found that human activities such as burning fossil fuels made temperatures up to 1.4C hotter than normal, the article adds. On 3 April, temperatures hit 48.5C in the south-western city of Kayes in Mali, with intense heat continuing for more than five days and nights, giving no time for vulnerable people to recover, reports the Guardian.
  • The “unprecedented”warming of the oceansover the past year has had widespread repercussions on marine life, an EU environment chief has warned, reports the Financial Times. This includes impacting already dwindling native fish species such as Baltic Sea Cod, the European commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said, citing the migration of the cod towards colder waters near Russia and Norway as an example of the impact on biodiversity of rising temperatures, it adds.
  • The past 10 months have all set new all-time monthly global temperature records, with April 2024 on track to extend this streak to 11, wrote Dr Zeke Hausfather in his latest quarterly “state of the climate” report for Carbon Brief. The graph at the end of this email shows monthly temperatures over 1940-2024, plotted with respect to a 1850-1900 baseline. Based on the year so far and the current El Niño forecast, Carbon Brief estimates that global temperatures in 2024 are likely to average out at around 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
  • The Independent reports that a “punishing heatwave”has forced the government in Bangladesh to shut schools for 33 million children “as the country battles the hottest April in three decades”. The Guardian has an article with the headline, “Wave of exceptionally hot weather scorches south and south-east Asia”. It says millions of people across the Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh and India are facing dangerous temperatures as the hottest months of the year are made worse by El Niño.
  • Mexico: Drought spreads to almost 80% of the country; there are 10 states with 100% of municipalities affected.
  • As Indiaheads to polls amid 45C heat, fears mount over voters’ safety. Bloomberg columnist David Fickling asks: “How can India hold elections when it’s too hot to vote?”
  • The Washington Post carries a feature headlined: Earth’s record hot streak might be a sign of a new climate era.”It says Nasa’s Dr Gavin Schmidt indicates that what happens in the next few months…could indicate whether Earth’s climate has undergone a fundamental shift – a quantum leap in warming that is confounding climate models and stoking ever more dangerous weather extremes”.
Monthly global average temperatures since June 2023 have set record highs

Now that this is the trend, unions are developing stronger guidelines for working in extreme heat. This is a serious matter as some right-wing

TUC guidelines are here. Individual unions will also have their own polices. Joint guidelines for the education sector are here.