Cities are hiring chief heat officers to address the disproportionate impact of climate change

Cities are hiring chief heat officers to address the disproportionate impact of climate change
A man seeks some shade during the recent heat wave in Montreal

A man seeks some shade during the recent heat wave in Montreal. (Andrei Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images)

With the arrival of beach weather, climate change threatens to turn summer into months of enduring rather than enjoying it. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May showed this 46% of the United States will experience above-average temperatures Between June and August this year, with the largest increase in the southwest.

Over the past three years, eight local governments around the world have appointed chief heat officers to prevent heat waves from turning deadly. The title is simple, catchy, and a bit ambiguous. But the rise of this role has made one thing very clear: Addressing thermal vulnerability requires addressing inequality.

“The solutions we need are out there,” Los Angeles chief heat officer Marta Segura told Yahoo News. “We just have to connect them to the areas that need them most.”

Because heat is not usually recorded as an official cause of death — extreme heat is often the cause of fatal illnesses such as heart attacks or strokes — attribution is difficult. In 2020, the Journal of Environmental Epidemiology found that in the 297 most populous US counties, at least 5,600 deaths can be caused by heat annually. But studies show that the true number of heat-related deaths that occur each year in the United States is Much larger than previously reported. Heat related deaths in Arizona more than doubled In the past decade, according to an investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity.

who suffers

Children in South Central Los Angeles play in water from a fire hydrant during a heatwave in August 1997

Children in South Central Los Angeles play in water from a fire hydrant during a heatwave in August 1997. (Reed Saxon/AP)

V said. Kelly Turner, associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “It’s the people who can’t go home who die.”

Robin Lane, a 62-year-old resident of South Los Angeles, lives in an apartment building that experiences frequent power outages and water outages. During a hot week in July 2022, when the temperatures reached 90 degrees, she came home and found that the water was out. She couldn’t afford to drive anywhere due to high petrol prices, so she walked and used public transportation.

Los Angeles bus stops are notorious lack shade. “Anywhere in South Los Angeles, if you want to sit at a bus stop with a shelter, good luck,” Line told LAist. Lane said heatwaves force her to choose between paying for bottled water, electricity costs for air conditioning, or gasoline to drive. And that week wasn’t even the hottest week in Los Angeles last year. In September, Los Angeles hit 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

A 2021 study showed that regions with high rates of poverty experience temperatures 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in the summer months compared to wealthier neighborhoods. These urban areas, which are often lower-income and more ethnically diverse, with fewer trees and green spaces, They are referred to as “heat islands”. Trees and plants were shown Reduce summertime extremes by 2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

These neighborhoods are less equipped to deal with it higher temperatures. homes Less susceptible to air conditioning. Los Angeles rental units required Heating units but not air conditioners. Even if they have air conditioning, they can’t necessarily use it: in 2020, 34 million American households said they could not pay for their energy needs.

UCLA has developed a Mapping tool in 2021 to track temperature extremes and heat-related emergency room visits. Experts found that heat causes 1,510 emergency room visits on a “hot day”. The rate of emergency room visits was higher in lower-income parts of Los Angeles

What can he do

Thick smoke from a wildfire burning north of Los Angeles darkens the sky in Pasadena, California, July 22, 2016.

Thick smoke from a wildfire burning north of Los Angeles darkens the sky in Pasadena, Calif., July 22, 2016. (John Antczak/AP)

Segura began its job promising to map out the most vulnerable areas and create a “heat action plan.”

Since then, I’ve been fired “Reduce Heat 4 LA” Campaign to spread the word about the sweltering heat in majority Latino, Black, or Asian communities where the median household income is less than $27,000 a year.

With an annual budget of $1 million, Segura works with community leaders to designate libraries and recreational facilities as cooling centers where Los Angeles residents can enjoy the air conditioning. She has also developed an app called Cool Spots which provides a map of those spaces. It plans to work with parks and infrastructure departments to plant more trees and build heat-resistant urban architecture.

Segura is just the latest addition to the CHO movement around the world. the led the movement The Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller (Arsht-Rock) Foundation Resilience Center at the Atlantic Council, for which Luskin is a member of the Science Advisory Committee. The Foundation worked with local governments to define job descriptions and create the first six CHO positions in Miami, Santiago, Chile; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Athens, Greece; Melbourne Australia; and North Dhaka, Bangladesh. All designated first group of women.

Segura and David Hondula in Phoenix are the first two people born entirely from the city’s initiative. “David Hondola’s situation is different because he was a city-funded first,” Turner said. “Then Marta Segura came along. The trend started.”

While the CHO’s role is new, the City Heat Action plans are not. Philadelphia launched a community campaign calledBeat the heatIn 2018 to plant trees, distribute water and bring people to cooling stations. Austin, Texas, has developed the so-called Flexibility work areas To identify existing spaces that can serve as cooling centers. Chicago sprouted to action after a deadly heat wave in 1995, incl require special training For first responders dealing with heat related illnesses.

In the past, experts say, it was difficult to communicate the seriousness of the issue. “Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods are in your face and you can see it. With heat stress, we don’t necessarily have the public imagination for that, even though it’s more deadly,” said Kelly Sanders, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC.

Segura believes this is the benefit of this new, simple and attractive title. “People cling to it,” she said. “It’s easier and more tangible for people to imagine.”

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