With the number of extreme heat waves likely to rise, new coping strategies for Californians are essential.
By Luz M. Rivas, Special to CalMatters
Assemblymember Luz M. Rivas, a Democrat from Los Angeles, represents the 39th Assembly District, firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Californians endured another extreme heat wave last week, millions hoped to avoid a repeat of last year’s crisis, when power blackouts eliminated air conditioning as the final refuge from sweltering temperatures.
This is a deadly combination. Extreme heat causes more deaths in the United States each year than other natural hazards. With the frequency of extreme heat waves expected to grow more than tenfold, and another one expected this weekend, Californians cannot simply hope for the best.
The facts are daunting. By 2050, California will have over 40 days of extreme heat each year because climate change is elevating our spring and summer temperatures. We are not prepared for this challenge, which already is causing disproportionate suffering and death among Californians who are socially marginalized, low income, elderly or living with health conditions. I have introduced Assembly Bill 585 to ensure that California has a coordinated, equitable response to this growing safety threat.
Heat waves, especially those in which temperatures don’t drop much overnight, limit people’s ability to rest and recover. Prolonged exposure to heat causes death from heat stroke and dehydration. It also increases risk of death and health complications from chronic illnesses including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
We have seen the ripple effects of this growing crisis. Between 2005 and 2015, heat-related emergency room visits in California increased by 35%, with disproportionate increases among Black, Latinx and Asian American communities.
Communities across California lack the resources needed to confront these challenges head on, which is why AB 585 establishes an Extreme Heat and Community Resilience Program to fund solutions that alleviate the effects of extreme heat waves.
In cities, concentrations of asphalt, pavement and building materials absorb and re-emit heat. Combined with a lack of natural green landscapes, this creates what is known as an “urban heat island” effect that intensifies heat in cities. These characteristics describe poorer communities of color, which frequently cannot afford air conditioning. AB 585 can help resolve these challenges by supporting the use of cool roofing and paving technologies, the building of more public drinking fountains and shade structures, and the creation of shade through tree planting.
In rural communities, residents live further away from hospitals and often lack air-conditioned cooling facilities. Farmworkers and other Californians who work outdoors are especially at risk from prolonged heat exposure. AB 585 supports “resilience hubs” that would serve as emergency preparedness centers to provide residents with supplies and shelter for any climate or health emergency.
Addressing extreme heat requires a shift in our thinking about climate action. Photogenic hazards such as wildfires, flooding and sea-level rise have dominated this important debate, which has caused California to fall behind in preparing for the dangers of warming temperatures. This trajectory threatens our social fabric, because extreme heat disproportionately harms vulnerable Californians. Without bold action now, this trend will accelerate in shocking ways.
AB 585 provides a lifeline of resources to mitigate extreme heat events in our communities. By asking legislators to support it, we will send a message that California is building a more equitable and inclusive future by planning for the needs of our most vulnerable during climate emergencies.