High Heat

The world will feel different in 2100, when average temperatures will have risen by several degrees. Every kind of landscape that humans inhabit will be affected: urban, suburban, rural; mountains, plains, coasts. More of the developing world will acquire life-changing modern comforts. “You’ll have near-universal saturation of air-conditioning” in warm climes by 2100, says economist Lucas Davis of the University of California, Berkeley. By powering those devices, though, we’ll be contributing to global warming. If we can’t find ways to turn down the heat, we’ll find ways to adapt to it.

Illustration of potential effects of rising temperatures


The annual mean air temperature of a city can be 4° to 11°F warmer than surrounding rural areas during the day, and 4° to 9°F warmer at night. Vegetation-rich green roofs can mitigate this urban heat-island effect, lowering the temperature by more than 5°F on the hottest days; plants also help manage excess storm water.

Illustration of rising temperatures in urban areas

Reflective “cool roofs” can block up to 65 percent of the sun’s radiation.

Urban forestry helps: Shade trees can lower surface temperatures of walls and buildings by more than 23°F.


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Although adjustments will vary by region, more farmers will switch to raising heat-tolerant livestock. That means more sheep, pigs, and goats replacing beef cattle and chickens. Yields of crops like soybeans could increase as carbon dioxide levels rise, but many crops will be at risk from drought and extreme weather.

Illustration of potential effects of rising temperatures on farming

Researchers are exploring ways to breed livestock like chickens, turkeys, and pigs to better withstand heat.


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“Fire-adapted communities” could dot at-risk landscapes. Ringed by fuel breaks where flammable vegetation has been removed, these protected enclaves—populated by citizens educated in fire safety—help safeguard home and health. Wildfires are pre­dicted to rise more than 60 percent in some medium and higher latitudes.

Illustration of wildfires

The U.S. National Climate Assessment’s worst-case scenario: Global temperatures rise more than 11°F by 2100.

Next: Part 4

Graph of catastrophic weather events

People worldwide are adjusting to new and more extreme weather by strengthening warning, shelter, and protection systems.

Picture of biologist Thomas Lovejoy with a parrot

Picture of an Inuit man standing on ice in Uummannaq Fjord on Greenland's west coast

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