— by Erin Coutts and Lynn Hur
Many of us already feel it, especially this time of year…extreme heat is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and difficult to ignore. As climate change continues to intensify weather events, extreme heat events will become increasingly more severe, prolonged, and frequent, exacerbating exposure to climate disasters and posing a serious health risk. Today we are asking you to take action through our 2022 Extreme Heat Campaign to keep yourself and your community in the loop! We have the tools and it’s free to participate. First, more on WHY:
LA is Getting Hotter
By mid-century, LA County is projected to experience an average of 34 extreme heat days annually. The County has already seen an increase in the number of heat-related emergency room visits in recent years, and heat-related mortality and morbidity are projected to increase.
The planning, development, and maintenance of our city’s infrastructure play a key role in our experiences with the heat. Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI) is a phenomenon in which areas with more pavement and buildings trap more heat than greener, surrounding areas. Los Angeles experiences a high intensity of UHI, resulting in an increase in polluted air and worsened health. It is naïve to think that we can achieve the goals of a reduced UHI effect without altering the urban design of neighborhoods as we know them today (LA County Climate Vulnerability Assessment, 2021). Resilient green infrastructure is key to achieving equitable outcomes in urban cooling.
Inequities in Heat Exposure
Some groups face a disproportionately high risk of adverse health effects resulting from climate change. Systemic power imbalances and a history of discriminatory housing practices are connected to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color experiencing higher vulnerability to heat and worse health outcomes on average.
The 2021 LA County Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) shows that Hispanic and Latinx people make up 48.5% of LA’s population, but 66.9% of the population in communities with high vulnerability to extreme heat. The California Healthy Places Index (HPI): Extreme Heat Edition visualizes where and who will be most affected in the coming decade.
Here are some ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE:
Increase the Urban Tree Canopy
Urban tree canopy (UTC) is the amount of cover that trees provide from the sun when viewed from above that provides shade, deflects sunlight and deters heat absorption. A robust UTC can dampen the UHI effect with direct shading and evaporative cooling, which decreases near-surface land and air temperatures (Loughner et al., 2012). In addition, urban trees can improve air quality by decreasing air temperatures and removing pollutants from the atmosphere, thereby decreasing summertime energy demand.
You can get involved and contribute to improving infrastructure in your own neighborhood. The idea of tree planting and maintenance costs can be of concern to Los Angeles residents, but there are several community-based organizations like City Plants and TreePeople that have programs for educating community members on the importance of creating shade in their own communities through advocacy and grassroots action.
Create Cool Roofs
Using reflective building materials to create cool roofs can be a simple strategy to keep homes cooler and save energy. In 2018, the County of LA enacted a cool roof ordinance, implementing rigorous standards for new construction and building retrofits. For cool roof projects within the City of LA, LADWP offers customer rebates of up to $0.60 per sq. ft.
Use Reliable, Renewable Energy Sources
As power outages increase in hot weather, communities become more vulnerable to losing access to air conditioning, mobility due to stalled elevators, and medication spoiling due to melting refrigerators. Installing solar panels that cannot be compromised due to the heat can increase reliability of power sources.
TODAY: Join the 2022 Extreme Heat Campaign
Given the rise in extreme heat in LA County, there is an urgent need for public service announcements to help build community awareness, cohesion, and resilience across the Southland. UCLA’s Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) has partnered with the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) to launch a 10-week social media campaign. Campaign materials are distributed via social media by dozens of local partners.
The project’s goal is to provide partners like you – local cities, county departments, academics, and non-profit organizations – with the FREE tools you need to quickly distribute actionable information to residents on how to access resources and support each other during a heat wave, and ultimately reduce heat-related mortality and morbidity. Specifically, we aim to:
- Raise public awareness about the risks of extreme heat
- Raise awareness of connection between climate change and public health
- Provide resources for staying cool, accessing utility assistance programs, and improving energy efficiency
The increase in extreme heat makes climate change a threat multiplier. Environmental stressors like heat reveal weaknesses in our infrastructure, deepen the disparities of disaster exposure, and deeply affect community health. It’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness and how to support your community.