This city roars in the summertime. You hear the generators on every street, shaking and shuddering to keep electric fans whirring as the air seems to shimmer in the heat.
Iraq isn’t just hot. It’s punishingly hot. Record-breakingly hot. When one of us returned here last week, the air outside felt like an oven. The suitcase crackled as it was unzipped. It turned out that the synthetic fibers of a headscarf had melted crispy and were now stuck to the top of the case. A cold bottle of water was suddenly warm to the lips. At our office, the door handle was so hot it left blisters at the touch.
Baghdad hit 125.2 degrees on July 28, blowing past the previous record of 123.8 degrees — which was set here five years ago — and topping 120 degrees for four days in a row. Sitting in one of the fastest warming parts of the globe, the city offers a troubling snapshot of the future that climate change might one day bring other parts of the world.
Experts say temperature records like the one seen in Baghdad will continue to fall as climate change advances.
“It’s getting hotter every year,” said Jos Lelieveld, an expert on the climate of the Middle East and Mediterranean at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. “And when you are starting to get above 50 degrees Celsius [122 degrees Fahrenheit] it becomes life threatening.”
The air temperature forced almost everyone indoors. Those who were still out on the streets tried to make a living selling cold drinks or fruit that festered in the heat. We saw them crouching in shade from a beating sun that offered few shadows, plunging their hands and faces into ice boxes which had long since melted.
We asked a traffic cop if there was anything he could do to stay cool. He shook his head. “There’s nothing.”
If the world acts to dramatically limit climate change, such extremes of heat, with temperatures above 120 degrees, would probably be limited to parts of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and India, Lelieveld said.
But if not, temperatures in parts of the Persian Gulf region and South Asia could eventually exceed 130 degrees. Nor would the rest of the world be spared extreme spikes. Indeed, one recent study found that by the year 2050, the climate of Phoenix could closely resemble that of Baghdad. [Continue reading…]