Temper and temperature

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Sunday 16 Jul 2023


Here comes July like an express train, roaring and rattling its passengers from the comfort of their snooze.

Everybody is expected to get ready for the hottest month of the year in the western hemisphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

One has to wonder if the habitual fiery heat of July is in any way connected to the rise of the people’s feverish passions, leading to the many July revolutions in history.

Could there be a correlation between heat and discontent, irritability and anger?

Judging from the many celebrations of national and independence days of July, such as Canada Day, 1 July; America’s Independence Day, 4 July; Bastille Day, 14 July; Egyptian Revolution Day (coup d’etat, 1952) as well as Egypt’s National Revolution (30 June 2013), just missed July by one day, and many other revolts including the Iraqi coup d’etat, abolishing the monarchy, 1958; the Turks overtaking Izmir, 24 July. and on and on, what is it about July that feeds the flame in the human flesh?

In fact, there is a revolution that is named after the month, the 14 July Revolution of France, 1830, also known as July Days or Trois Glorieuses, when the Bourbon monarchy was replaced by the Orleans monarchy. It has been totally eclipsed by the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789, which is celebrated to this day.

What triggers the hearts and minds of nations to demand change?

It is simply the heat or in particular the July heat. Since July is the hottest month, tempers peak with its blazing sun.

We need a theory to hang on to and we found one.

An extensive study written by John Sutton of the San Francisco University, California in 2019, is worth noting. We even adapted our title from the study, entitled: “Temperatures and tempers”.

Drawing from the study it seems that temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius have shown to adversely impact human behaviour, leading to increased aggression and violence.

We must be a very hardy race to have endured thousands of years of long hot summers, smiling, joking, and surviving the heat.

Fortunately we are surrounded by several bodies of water that afford us soft evening breezes. The ancient Egyptians were resilient and innovative, cooling mats of wet straw as well as preserving cold water in clay and with scorching temperatures, they built the greatest civilisation known to man.

Undoubtedly, an extensive amount of literature confirms the ties between heat and increased irritability. There is no scientific consensus to why this occurs, but there is no shortage of theories, including population density and extreme heat.

Technology came to the rescue with cooling systems, but it is available to a minority and one cannot live by air-conditioners alone.

In the US a rise of a 5 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celsius increase the odds of personal violence, assault, murder, domestic violence, and risk of riots by 4-14 per cent. Climate change enthusiasts are happy to prove their point of the impact of rising temperatures on the environment.

Please do not rush to point your finger at fossil fuels. The Earth has gone through various stages of heating and cooling and the planet has still survived.

However, there is a definite biological impact on the human brain when temperatures rise. It has nothing to do with greenhouse gases.

Heat results in a change of human behaviour. Flaring tempers and cranky attitudes become normal conducts. What then happens to our brains on a hot, muggy, summer day? Could it be that the brain is having difficulty managing the heat?

Our brain and body are effective at cooling us down when we overheat. It is all up to the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain located at the base, near the pituitary gland. Though small in size it plays a big role in many important functions including regulating our core body temperature. It works with other regulating systems such as the skin, sweat glands and blood vessels which are the vents and heat ducts of our body’s heating and cooling systems.

During temperature fluctuations the production of neurotransmitters and hormones (serotonin and melatonin) is altered.

Long hours of sunlight as well as income level, ambient temperatures are heat factors raising violent crime rates and causing general agitation.

That may be the reason why the hottest month stirs unrest and revolution.

As if this was not enough, we have July bugs to contend with, which add to moodiness and discomfort.

Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy in July, despite the heat, the bugs, and the crimes.

There are all those national day celebrations; the numerous beaches available to us, the beautiful July flowers, the delphiniums also known as larkspur and the water lilies that date back to ancient Egypt.

A July baby is incredibly charismatic and attractive, ruled by the moon under the sign of Cancer, represented by the crab. Celebrate your July birthday with your usual creativity and sensitivity, as long as it does not encroach on the Leo of July/August.

There are more July days to enjoy. The UN celebrates World Population Day, whatever that means, the UK celebrates international chicken wing day, but if you prefer join the Brazilians as they celebrate not Coffee Day but Pizza Day.

If nothing else, celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday.


“Then came hot July, boiling like fire, / That all his garments he had cast away.”

       Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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