Ours is a critical time in the cultural evolution of humanity that is likely to shape our long-term future, or lack thereof. As a species, we have been on a self-destructive trajectory that has led us to our current polycrisis of unlivable economic conditions, worsening climate disasters, and the potential of an unspeakably devastating war, as the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 puts it. The changes we all need to make, if we want subsequent generations to enjoy life, will most likely require big shifts toward improving connections with each other and the planet, and away from extraction and individualism.
Wet bulb temperature is one of those features of climate change caused by global warming that often gets left out when discussing the radical changes our planet is going to experience in the coming years. Discussion has largely focused on issues such as drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, storm activity, and even unusual cold. The impacts of increased heat have been left out because we assume, incorrectly it turns out, that human beings can adapt to moderate increases in global temperature. This turns out to be false, particularly in areas prone to hot and humid weather. It all comes down to one measure: wet bulb temperature. Wet bulb temperature is the one factor, more than any other, that can render entire regions uninhabitable. Wet bulb temperature is essentially the temperature of a wet thermometer bulb such that the water is able to evaporate into the air.
On January 13, one week before the inauguration of Joe Biden as the forty-sixth president of the United States and seven long days after the storming of the Capitol by an armed right-wing mob, it was easy enough to miss an article published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science, despite its eye-catching title: “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future.” The headline was itself a train wreck: six dully innocuous words piling up in front of a modifier more suitable to a 1950s horror comic than a sober, academic journal. But there it was: The 17 scientists who co-wrote the article, the experts who peer-reviewed it, and the journal’s editors did not consider the word “ghastly” too sensational, subjective, or value-laden to describe the future toward which our society is advancing with all the prudence and caution of a runaway locomotive.
COVID-19 and the protests for racial justice have drawn attention away from the mostly bad news about the environment. Yes, the skies in most parts of the world are a lot clearer these days as people stay home and auto emissions decline. But as one study points out, even if lockdown measures continue for the next several months, global carbon emissions will only drop by between 4 to 8 percent from last year. That drop would not be enough to make a dent in overall warming trends—and as the US and other economies recover, it will be back to “normal.”