South Asian Heat Wave: Dangerously Close to Limit for Human Survivability

Revcom Environmental Writing Group | June 30, 2022 | Leave a Comment

A longer version of this article was published at on May 30, 2022


People dying on baked pavements… school windows melting… crops devastated


A scorching heat wave has been enveloping India and Pakistan. It is bringing temperatures for one in five people on the planet dangerously close to the limit for human survivability.

In slums surrounding India’s large cities, people are dying on the oven-like pavements where poverty forces them to sleep. Power shortages caused by surging demand for electricity for air-conditioning have led to eight-hour blackouts in parts of India. Education has been impacted—from school windows melting, to shortages of fans, to harmful smoke brought in from the outside when fans are in use. Schools in some states of India have shut down because of the record heat. 

The majority of deaths from this heat wave are not being reported. And needed relief is not being given at the levels called for.

A “state of the science” briefing [1] published by World Weather Attribution concluded that climate change has made heat waves in the world both more intense and more likely. As a result of global warming driven by fossil fuels that are at the foundation of the world capitalist energy system… once called “generational disasters” or “500-year storms” have become once-in-a-decade events.

In other words, this heat wave is not an “unfortunate” one-time drastic occurrence but a preview of things to come—as global warming renders vast stretches of the planet uninhabitable. In the world today, nearly 23 million people, overwhelmingly from poor Third World countries, have become “climate refugees,” displaced by extreme weather events that are becoming more common and destructive because of global warming [2].

“If We Do Not Work and Live Here, Then Where Will We Go?”

The majority of India’s population works outdoors—in agriculture, construction, services, and more. And now many must work in temperatures of 110˚F (43˚C) and above. Most cannot afford air conditioning or refrigeration. According to a recent United Nations-sponsored study, almost 323 million people across the country are at high risk from extreme heat (exhaustion, sickness, heatstroke). Yet just 12 percent of India’s 1.4 billion citizens have access to air conditioning [3], which means hundreds of millions of people are simply unable to cool themselves when their bodies reach the point of heatstroke. And “there are no laws in India that prevent outdoor activity when temperatures reach a certain level. Most of these deaths occur in men aged 30-45. These are working-class, blue-collar men who have no option but to be working in the scorching heat” [5].

Cascading Ecological Effects

South Asia’s heat wave is unusual because it is happening much earlier in the season than normal before summer weather typically sets in. It is also spread out over a much larger area, covering most of the landmass across Pakistan and India instead of being concentrated in a few pockets. Lower rainfall is one of the key factors in the heat wave [4].

The relentless heat, with temperatures soaring beyond 100˚F (38˚C) for days, particularly in northwestern India and southeastern Pakistan, has not only led to deaths but also flooding from the melting of glaciers in the Himalayan mountains. In India’s western Gujarat state, currently averaging temperatures over 110˚F (43˚C), high-flying birds, including pigeons and kites, have been dropping out of the sky every day, the news agency Reuters reported.

The extreme heat poses a major problem for agriculture, a primary source of income for hundreds of millions of people across the subcontinent. India’s mango crop has suffered from poor yields and quality, and damage from the heat in transport and storage. The heat wave has also stunted India’s wheat crop, helping to fuel an emerging global food crisis [5]  The Indian government has gone as far as to ban its wheat exports to the rest of the world [6]. The ban, coupled with the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on wheat exports from both Russia and Ukraine, has international agencies concerned about the potential of a global food shortage. Agricultural goods produced in the oppressed countries of the global South are transported worldwide in huge container ships consuming massive amounts of fuel oil, which contributes to pollution and global warming.

Watch this video to see how more of the planet is becoming uninhabitable because of rising temperatures:


The Problem IS Capitalism-Imperialism

The global system of capitalism-imperialism, in its anarchic pursuit of profit and competitive advantage, has ravaged the environment. This is a system in which fossil fuels that cause global warming are not only economically “cost-effective,” but also central to the system’s overall functioning and military power. The workings of the capitalist market cannot and will not put an end to using these fossil fuels because blocs of capital are forced to ruthlessly compete with each other for maximum returns and strategic advantage, compelling them to use the cheapest and most widely available sources of energy and to “make good” on their investments in fossil fuels [7].  And now we see how the war in Ukraine and U.S. rivalry with imperialist Russia are leading to the ramping up of oil production. 

In the decades that followed the end of World War II in 1945, imperialist-dominated financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund made loans to and prodded governments in Third World countries to invest in transport and power systems, fossil fuels, and mining/minerals extraction—to benefit imperialism and its transnational corporations and supply chains.

And carbon emissions by Third World countries have exacerbated global climate change. However, even these contributions pale in comparison to those of the imperialist powers. The United States and Western Europe alone are responsible for almost half of the carbon accumulated in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, and it is a cruel irony: the poorest half of the world’s population—roughly 3.5 billion people—account for just 10 percent of “total global emissions attributed to individual consumption.” Yet these poor “live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change”[8].

It is this capitalist-imperialist system that has brought us to this climate brink, where vast sections of the planet become uninhabitable… and it is this system that is the main obstacle to addressing this crisis with the urgency and on the scale required [9]. We are facing a crisis of unprecedented and existential dimensions—threatening the ecosystems of the planet and life itself.

To truly respond to this crisis, we need a revolution to overthrow this system… to create a new state power and socialize ownership of the means of production and forge a planned socialist economy—the radically different economic foundation—that makes it possible to rapidly restructure economies away from fossil fuels, to utilize society’s resources collectively, and unleash people to go to work on the environmental emergency in the interests of world humanity and protecting the planet. For more on how a revolutionary socialist society would address this environmental catastrophe, see the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America [10]Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development [11], and What Could the New Socialist Society Do Differently? And Would! —A Simple Example [12].

In the U.S., this is a rare time when revolution becomes more possible [13]—and this possibility must not be squandered.


Further reading:


The Revcom Environmental Writing Group is a collective of revolutionary communists who apply the new communism, as developed by the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian, to the climate emergency and environmental concerns more generally. You can find their work at

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