The Revolution Will Not Be Air-conditioned:

Title photo: Exploding electrical transformer

For every unit of heat removed by air-conditioning from an interior space, roughly 1.1 units of heat are added to the exterior atmosphere*, 0.1 of which must be supported by the electrical grid. Electrical grid overloads and failures will become common, and may even become permanent over many weeks at a time (cf. Texas, winter 2021).
*cf. The Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Paris Canicule, August, 2003

Without air-conditioning thousands of the elderly, who had been “abandoned” in apartments during the traditional August escape, died alone of dehydration and heat stroke. This came to the attention of–the woefully unprepared–authorities only after the morgues overflowed.

In northern Europe air conditioning is common only in large venus like movie theatres and super-markets.

The Vaunted Nukes

Many nuclear waste-heat condensers are cooled by inland fresh water on rivers or huge lakes.
However, in France this summer (2022) river water temperatures rose to the point where at least one nuke had to have its electrical output severely curtailed.

Seaside nukes are less prone to this failing, but, without replacement, the ineluctable rise of the sea will eventually overwhelm their original cooling water intake structures, regardless of whether the reactor itself is protected.

An Aging Electrical Distribution Grid

During periods of exceptional demand (unless adequately backed up or subjected to dangerous “rolling” blackouts), any electrical grid is susceptible to catastrophic, cascading failure. The local explosion of an overloaded transformer passes its load on to the next, and the next, leading sometimes to total collapse, from which full recovery can take days.    

Austin, TX Airport Outage

Electrify Everything/Now or Never?

Photo: Sergii Iarmenko/Science Photo Lab./Newscom

I have run across two pieces on Twitter and Daily Kos that seem to me important enough to spread more widely:

From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything—opinion by Saul Griffith—who argues that it may be futile to convince the gigantic corporate supply side to mend its ways. Instead, encourage the demand side—to demand!

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate.

Oil System Collapsing So Fast; It May Derail Renewables—article by Nafeez Ahmed—who argues that the fossil fuel industries are cannibalizing themselves to a point where they will be unable to support the transition to renewables.

The oil industry is increasingly eating itself to stay alive. The oil and gas industries are consuming more and more energy exponentially to keep extracting oil and gas. That’s why they’ve entered a downwards spiral of increasing production costs, diminishing profits, rising debt, and irreversible economic decline.

The New Climate War-Michael E. Mann

Dr. Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC)

Mann is the author of several books including his most recent work, The New Climate War, which shows how fossil fuel companies have waged a thirty-year campaign to deflect blame and responsibility and delay action on climate change, and offers a battle plan for how we can save the planet.To learn more about the book, click here

Visit his website!

Gerald Kutney: #ClimateBrawl

Climate change in social media: one man’s pursuit of truth (here).

Each crisis of our 21st century world gives birth to new “warriors” who use truth and science to help us safely navigate calamities. Our ongoing pandemic is a prime example. Out of the chaos of a muddled anti-science leadership effort in 2020 emerged dedicated scientists, researchers, and companies who swiftly developed vaccines
that are saving millions of lives and slowing COVID-19’s spread. And of course, there are our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who fought valiantly against the rising tide of infections. Where would we be without them?

As the pandemic wanes, at least in those states and countries with high vaccination rates, the recent deadly eruption of heat waves, wildfires, droughts, vicious storms, and other unusual weather phenomena has forced us to worry anew about an older crisis that represents an existential threat. Climate change is the proverbial bull in our delicate environmental china shop. As many scientists—who have spent lifetimes studying atmospheric and other associated sciences—have been saying for decades, human-driven warming of our atmosphere is to blame for widespread disruption of our natural climate patterns. And it’s only getting worse.

There are new warriors aplenty on the climate change front. Two who have have drawn much of the attention are distinguished Penn State atmospheric science professor Michael Mann and the passionate young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. (I wrote about Mann’s latest book here.)

Enter Canadian Gerald Kutney. A noted author on the politics of the climate crisis and holder of a Ph.D. in chemistry, Kutney has over the last five years established himself as a fierce social media influencer and combatant against those who peddle misinformation about climate change. Kutney and others call the disinformation players “climate change deniers.”

The Psychrometrics of Existential Heat

Image: Australian Bureau of Meteorology (12/2019)

It is time for meteorologists—when reporting on extreme world high temperatures—to publish the concurrent data on relative humidity.

The core temperature of the human body is well known to be about 99F (37C) and to be carefully stabilized in maintaining a balance between the heat produced by internal metabolism and that lost to the environment through conduction, radiation, and transpiration.  The production of internal heat is essentially constant—unless increased by exercise—and must therefore be continually dissipated, even under ordinary circumstances, to prevent body temperature rise.

Without clothing, in 75 degree air, the skin temperature is about 90F (32C). We perceive an air temperature in the range of 75F as neutral or benign because that 15F/6C difference is enough to allow the body—through conduction, radiation, and transpiration—continually to lose the appropriate amount of heat to retain its balance.

As the ambient air temperature rises emergency measures must come into play. If possible we can limit the internal heat production through resting. If that is insufficient we begin to sweat and perhaps to seek breezes to enhance their evaporative cooling effect. This works well, especially if the air is dry, but not so well in already wet and humid air.  And, ominously, it works not at all if the air is already as humid as it can get.

Let me explain:

Behold the Psychrometric Chart:
This diagram (augmented for relevance) shows various physical relationships between air and the amount of moisture it holds under various temperature conditions.
1. The vertical lines are lines of constant ambient air temperature; for example everywhere equal to 80F on the vertical 80F line.

2. The horizontal lines are lines of equal moisture content; for example everywhere equal to 0.016 pounds of water vapor per pound of dry air on the horizontal 0.016 line.

3. The sweeping curves are the loci of equal per-cent relative humidity, i.e., the ratio of the vapor in the air at a point to the most vapor it could possibly hold at 100% relative humidity. At 100% RH we call the air saturated with moisture—it cannot take on any more. Evaporative cooling ceases.

4. The straight sloping lines are more mysterious; they represent the temperature a wet rag would cool down to if held up in the ambient wind as it dried—your wet swim suit in a gale. The interesting—and crucial—thing about this is that from any air temperature starting point on a sloping line—say 80F/60%RH—the evaporative cool-down end-point is always the same, 70F! Check out: 100F/20%RH. This end point is called the wet-bulb temperature because it is measured with a thermometer whose bulb, cooled in the wind, is covered with a wet sock.

When water evaporates it cools, and keeps cooling until the wet-bulb temperature is reached. Thus, the human body can cool itself by sweating only as long as the ambient wet-bulb temperature is cooler than the skin temperature. Once the ambient wet bulb temperature reaches the skin temperature evaporative cooling ceases and the skin can no longer be cooled by sweating. In the absence of artificial cooling, the body temperature will then inexorably rise until death ensues—while at rest, naked, in the shade, with plenty to drink.

Note: Recently (2022) there are indications that even 90F/32C and lower may not confer a sufficient margin of safety.

For example, referring to the Chart:
When the air temperature reaches 110F/43C—as it has already in parts of the world—and the relative humidity is what we might think of as a modest 46%, the wet-bulb temperature is 90F/32C and an outdoor population faces death by heat stroke, e.g., body temperature over 104F/47C.

The thing is that it’s not strictly the ambient air temperature that counts; it’s your proximity to the sloping 90F wet-bulb line that determines your danger. See [2].

In terms of the climate crisis existential heat is no joke. Severe temperature events will become more and more common as the world heats. As I write* [01/13/22], today’s record high temperature in Australia is 123.2F/50.7C! (I can find no concurrent %RH data.)

Therefore I think it important in extreme temperature conditions for world weather services routinely to publish concurrent humidity/wet bulb data so that danger can be properly evaluated by the general populace. Therefore, too, I think it important for the general public to have a rudimentary understanding of the psychrometrics of existential heat.

*Today (8/4/20) 53.0C/127.4F in Basra!

Note that the revolution will not be air-conditioned:
For every unit of heat removed by air-conditioning from an interior space, roughly 1.1 units of heat are added to the exterior atmosphere*, 0.1 of which must be supported by the electrical grid. Electrical grid overloads and failures will become common, and may even become permanent over many weeks at a time (cf. Texas, winter 2021).
*cf. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Heat islands.

An interactive Psychrometric Chart by
See [4] Record wet-bulb: 92F/33C.
See [5] Cooking: @131F/55C.
See [6] A good article on this subject.

But wait, there’s more:

In addition to the wet bulb temperature there is another psychrometric entity used by weather services to find the relative humidity—the dew point temperature. It is a more accurate means of determining %RH than by using the wet bulb temperature, but its accurate determination is out of reach for those without special equipment.

It’s as if one sets out a glass of pure water—at the prevailing air temperature—and gradually adds ice cubes (slowly cooling it down) until vapor condensation first appears on the outside—your cold wet glass of beer. The temperature of the water (beer) at that precise point is called the dew point.

On the chart horizontal lines of equal moisture content are parallel to—the “same” as— lines of constant dew point. And at 100.0 %RH (and only then) the air, the dew point, and the wet bulb temperatures are nearly the same.

Now, for example, if it’s 90F/32C out and the weather service says the dew point is 75F/24C then following the 75F horizontal line rightward to its intersection with 90F vertical line shows a %RH of 60.0% (and—going leftward up the sloping line—a wet bulb of about 78F).

It is more common for weather services to cite the dew point than to publish the wet bulb or the %RH, especially in weather record keeping.

And yet more:

In order to popularize an understanding of the relative danger the “Heat Index” has been invented. Its physical basis is arcane, but it purports to hold that for a given index value a given level of discomfort or of danger is present. My beef with it is that it muddles the physics involved. It muddles the concept of degrees Fahrenheit: degrees F temperature or degrees F index? It muddles its interpretation on the psychrometric chart: an “index”, for example, of 100F could be a temperature of 84F and RH of 95%, or a temperature of 96F and  RH of 40%— totally different psychrometrics. In its worst interpretation it is an example of the “popularization” of weather information—the ultimate “dumbing-down” of science.


[1] Psychrometrics- Wikipedia
[2] A new publication of the human effects of enormal temperatures: Thermal comfort indices derived from ERA5 reanalysis.
[3] Human Survivability Threshold
[4] Highest wet-bulb temperature ever recorded.
[5] On a macabre note: Sous-vide cooking 131F/55C. It is not possible to hold your hand, for more than a moment, on a surface at 130F.
[6] A good general article.

Deep Adaptation- Jem Bendell

Featured image: Politicians Debating Global Warming

Excerpt from the paper “Deep Adaptation” by Jem Bendell:

The paper, published in July of 2018, concludes “…recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress.  Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability. Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a ‘deep adaptation agenda’ may be useful.”

June 15th, 2020: A Meta-Scientific Assessment:
“We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened… the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.

 April 21st, 2022: Should we discuss our anticipation of collapse?
Your anxiety or even emotional distress about the situation with the climate is normal, sane, healthy and even righteous. Those difficult emotions you have been feeling may also be a painful gateway to a different expression of who you are, depending on how we support each other in that process of change.

The Uninhabitable Earth- D. Wallace-Wells

The opening passage from David Wallace-Wells new book, The Uninhabitable Earth.

The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life un-deformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.


California is Australia Now: David Wallace-Well’s new piece—August 2020.