Skip to main content

How extreme heat hits our most vulnerable communities the hardest

Published on October 5, 2021

Photograph of highway in Oregon engulfed by wildfire
Roadside extreme heat event Image Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Heat already kills more Americans than any other weather-related disaster, according to the National Weather Service — and climate change is making these extreme events even more dangerous.

The Northwest’s record-breaking heat wave in June, which scientists say would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, for instance, killed hundreds of people in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. When Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana early this month, a heat wave exacerbated the impacts of the storm.

The compounding consequences of extreme heat don’t fall equally across communities. A recent study from the University of California, San Diego, found that low-income neighborhoods and communities with high Black, Hispanic and Asian populations experience significantly more heat than wealthier and predominantly white neighborhoods.

June Spector, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, said heat exhaustion is one of the most common heat-related illnesses, yet many remain unaware of its symptoms.
“You haven’t quite gotten to that point where the core body temperature has gone up, but you feel nauseous, have a headache, you feel very fatigued, and you’re probably somewhat dehydrated if you’ve been in a really hot environment,” Spector told CNN. “Having that awareness is really key because you don’t want to not treat that or not address that before it gets more serious.”
Experts say climate change-fueled disasters are becoming a public health issue. Some, like extreme heat, are turning into mass casualty events. Experts such as Jessel and Spector say such plans need to be equitable to avoid the most pernicious public health impacts.
“It’s really up to us to figure out how can we mitigate that and kind of halt climate change if possible,” Spector said, “but really adapt to it and figure out how we can make our communities safer for everyone.”

Continue reading at CNN.

Originally written by Rachel Ramirez for CNN.
Search by categories

Twitter Feed