An excellent article (“Halfway to boiling: the city at 50ºC; August 13, 2018), by Jonathan Watt and Elle Hunt, in The Guardian spells out in concrete language the current effects of climate change in our cities.
Not long ago, 50C was considered an anomaly, but it is increasingly widespread. Earlier this year, the 1.1 million residents of Nawabshah, Pakistan, endured the hottest April ever recorded on Earth, as temperatures hit 50.2C. In neighbouring India two years earlier, the town of Phalodi sweltered in 51C – the country’s hottest ever day.
Dev Niyogi, professor at Purdue University, Indiana, and chair of the Urban Environment department at the American Meteorological Society, witnessed how cities were affected by extreme heat on a research trip to New Delhi and Pune during that 2015 heatwave in India, which killed more than 2,000 people.
“You could see the physical change. Road surfaces started to melt, neighbourhoods went quiet because people didn’t go out and water vapour rose off the ground like a desert mirage,” he recalls.
“We must hope that we don’t see 50C. That would be uncharted territory. Infrastructure would be crippled and ecosystem services would start to break down, with long-term consequences.”Such temperature increases are not only taking place in Asia and the Middle East, the article says, but also in Australia, in Europe, in America and to a lesser degree in Canada, which is further north geographically. Even so, the effects are apparent and palpable, here in Toronto (latitude 43° N) and even in my hometown of Montreal (45° N).
I post this article not as some academic exercise in article writing, but as an important issue that affects me (and millions of others) profoundly. Our family has lived this summer without air conditioning in Toronto (in a sixth-floor concrete high-rise) in what has been a very hot and humid summer, yet nowhere near as hot as the cities cited above (high 30s), and yet hot enough that we suffered many sleepless nights. That is to say, night did not provide any respite; there is no air flow in our apartment. We shrvitzed a lot, and often.
So, yes, I can say the article’s position might be alarmist, but necessarily so. Alarms are supposed to do this. Here is something else to consider. It might be too late to reverse the trend of 150 years of burning fossil fuels, but there are some things that cities can do to make things more comfortable for its inhabitants.
For one, not more concrete and condos, and certainly not more high rises. Man-made materials like concrete increase the ambient temperatures by as much as 3ºC (the reason is less convection or air flow). What cities and its inhabitants immediately require are more low rises (maximum four floors and built with natural materials like wood, brick and stone), and more parks and green spaces with the planting of many shade trees (lowering temperatures by at least 10ºC).
Truly, it’s simple to understand, and even politicians ought to understand such basic scientific premises.