Last modified on Mon 13 Aug 2018 15.41 BST
Imagine a city at 50C (122F). The pavements are empty, the parks quiet, entire neighbourhoods appear uninhabited. Nobody with a choice ventures outside during daylight hours. Only at night do the denizens emerge, HG Wells-style, into the streets – though, in temperatures that high, even darkness no longer provides relief. Uncooled air is treated like effluent: to be flushed as quickly as possible.
School playgrounds are silent as pupils shelter inside. In the hottest hours of the day, working outdoors is banned. The only people in sight are those who do not have access to air conditioning, who have no escape from the blanket of heat: the poor, the homeless, undocumented labourers. Society is divided into the cool haves and the hot have-nots.
Those without the option of sheltering indoors can rely only on shade, or perhaps a water-soaked sheet hung in front of a fan. Construction workers, motor-rickshaw drivers and street hawkers cover up head to toe to stay cool. The wealthy, meanwhile, go from one climate-conditioned environment to another: homes, cars, offices, gymnasiums, malls.
Asphalt heats up 10-20C higher than the air. You really could fry an egg on the pavement. A dog’s paws would blister on a short walk, so pets are kept behind closed doors. There are fewer animals overall; many species of mammals and birds have migrated to cooler environments, perhaps at a higher altitude – or perished. Reptiles, unable to regulate their body temperatures or dramatically expand their range, are worst placed to adapt. Even insects suffer.
- Melting asphalt cause road markings to distort in New Delhi
Maybe in the beginning, when it was just a hot spell, there was a boom in spending as delighted consumers snapped up sunglasses, bathing suits, BBQs, garden furniture and beer. But the novelty quickly faded when relentless sunshine became the norm. Consumers became more selective. Power grids are overloaded by cooling units. The heat is now a problem.
The temperature is recalibrating behaviour. Appetites tend to fade as the body avoids the thermal effect of food and tempers are quicker to flare – along, perhaps, with crime and social unrest. But eventually lethargy sets in as the body shuts down and any prolonged period spent outdoors becomes dangerous.