Climate Change
The Heat Will Kill You First

The Heat Will Kill You First

By: Chandu Visweswariah

In India, a billion people went to the polls over a 6-week period ending on June 1, 2024. Meanwhile, a scorching heat wave raised temperatures in New Delhi, the capital city, to an unbearable 120oF (49oC). Despite this juxtaposition of intense political and climate activity, climate change was not a plank in the platform of any of the political parties, and India’s ambition of net-zero by 2070 makes it an environmental laggard.

The average person worldwide is continuing to burn fossil fuels as though there’s no tomorrow. As Bob Howarth said, “We are burning through our carbon budget the way an addict burns through cash.” We have no consensus on the urgency with which we must tackle climate change. See my blogs on our dwindling carbon budget and my open letter to the human race.

Let’s look at an important question: what might change this situation? A huge forest fire in Canada that doesn’t let you breathe in New York? We had that already. Over 90% loss of coral reefs? Old news. Announcements of extinction of species? Oh yeah, that too. Massive losses of ice in all our glaciers? Old hat. An unprecedented derecho in Houston? Nary a blip. Almost all of Louisiana under water (Katrina)? Been there, done that. The whole East Coast with massive damage and without power for a week (Sandy)? Yawn, didn’t even come close to waking us up.

Jeff Goodell, author of “The Water Will Come” and “The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet,” argues in a recent piece in the New York Times that heat waves are getting worse. Combined with loss of power and therefore air conditioning as we just saw in Houston, we are not too far away from an event in which we will lose a million souls to a heat wave, as described vividly in the non-fiction science fiction “The Ministry of the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson. Not coincidentally, the book opens with a massive heat wave in India where dead bodies pile up in all kinds of bodies of water of water that people seek for refuge from the heat.

We are inured to tens of thousands dying from heat waves (56,000 in Russia in 2010, 60,000 in Europe in 2022, and, closer to home, 900 in the Pacific Northwest in June 2021). Will we start paying attention if that number crosses a million? We were up in arms when 3,000 people died on 9/11 because of the evil intentions of the perpetrators and the innocence of the victims, but will be at least equally perturbed by a million deaths from our willful burning of fossil fuels with full knowledge of the concomitant evil? Fasten your seat belts, such an event is not too far away.

In the meanwhile, if you are in New Delhi and the heat wave is lighting a fire under your backside, or you are anywhere else in the world and wondering how a country can systematically accelerate net zero, you may be interested in a series of seven Opinion pieces that I recently co-authored with Dr. Rahul Muralidharan, R&D Specialist at the Energy Consortium of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. With small variations, the strategy outlined in this series could be successfully applied in any part of the world, once some sufficiently catastrophic event wakes us up to enough to actually respond on a war footing.

The seven articles below were first published in the Deccan Herald, an Indian newspaper.  You can either follow links to read these articles in your browser or view high resolution “ePaper” images on your screen.

  1. Why India should target net-zero by ’47 – Page 7 (March 26, 2024), ePaper version
  2. Environmental imperative of net zero – Page 7 (April 2, 2024), ePaper version
  3. The mischievous methane molecule – Page 7 (April 11, 2024), ePaper version
  4. A second green revolution? – Page 7 (April 17, 2024), ePaper version
  5. Powering net zero – Page 7 (April 29, 2024), ePaper version
  6. Accelerating India’s net zero – Page 7 (May 14, 2024), ePaper version
  7. Gains of accelerating net zero – Page 7 (May 27, 2024), ePaper version


As always, feedback is very welcome!

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