The nightmarish prospect of mass deaths caused by a sudden rise in temperatures has become more urgent in recent years. And the phenomenon in this area of the world may portend a warning beyond India’s borders.
The heat in this part of India has been hovering around the critical “wet-bulb temperature,” the threshold beyond which the human body cannot cool itself to a survivable point by perspiration, defined as 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), adjusted for 100 percent humidity. The wet-bulb reading in Ballia on Saturday reached 34.15 degrees Celsius (about 93 degrees Fahrenheit).
It is expected that more older or infirm patients than usual will die in heat waves like this one, which climate change has made more common across India’s historically scorching plains, as in most of the world, scientists say (emphasis added).
The fact that wet-bulb temperatures in much of South Asia have been inching nearer to the critical level has provoked global concern over the past few years. It has even made its way into literature. “The Ministry for the Future,” a science fiction novel written by Kim Stanley Robinson in 2020, imagines a scenario in which 20 million Indian citizens living in the same part of the country — men, women and children — are killed by an intense heat wave within one week, immediately changing the course of history.