The heat is on the cities – and it’s not going away


With the heat – combined with drought and overdeveloped wilderness areas – an unprecedented number of forest fires occurred. On Monday, 80 fires were burning in 13 western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Even in the greater Boston area, where June is often a cool prelude to a much milder summer, a record heat wave has forced some schools to close and many communities to heat emergencies. This year’s June was the hottest June in Boston history.

All of this heat is a threat to public health and safety. At least 700 people die from heat-related causes each year in the United States. and tens of thousands more are getting sick – a number that is expected to increase. It is high time to tackle heatwaves like the deadly threat that they are.

“Record temperatures are more common in the United States and climate change is causing heat waves to intensify, which has a direct impact on human health, including heat-related diseases and deaths,” said a paper published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which deals with the effects of the current climate crisis, was published.

The study analyzed heat-related emergency rooms for the Health and Social Services department of Region 10, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, for all of May and June – a total of 3,504 visits, but 79 percent (2,779) of these were during six days ( June 25-30), when most of Oregon and Washington were under an excessive heat warning. The average daily number was more than 69 times higher than the same period in 2019, according to researchers.

Your recommendation? That health authorities “develop and implement heat reaction plans, identify endangered neighborhoods and population groups, open cooling centers”.

Bostonians are fortunate to live in a city with an effective reverse 911 system that alerts residents when a heat emergency is declared and informs them of nearby cooling centers and swimming pools.

Today there is no city in the country that does not have such a plan and should be ready to implement it quickly. Cold centers can save lives, but as a 2017 CDC study found, there are also obstacles to overcome – getting to the center, fear of leaving a pet, or simply the stigma of having a bunch of “old people” being together. ”But there are few issues that public awareness and planning cannot solve – such as the use of schools and community centers in neighborhoods where residents have the least air conditioning.

In the longer term, cities can focus on solutions as simple as tree-shaded sidewalks and green spaces – protecting those that already exist and creating and expanding them in neighborhoods that are too often urban deserts. Last year’s successful efforts to save the canopy of the old trees on Melnea Cass Boulevard are a recent example of this. If only every city had an organization dedicated to “speak for the trees”. Some cities around the world are creating micro-forests to counter heat waves, while others invest in community cohesion. Research on the fatal 1995 heatwave in Chicago found that low-income neighborhoods, where people know each other well and are involved in the community (and can therefore rely on the help of their neighbors), killed vulnerable people during the heatwaves much better to avoid. Measures like these, which would improve life in the city anyway, are worthwhile.

The hardest – and most critical – will be to create both commercial and residential buildings that are energy efficient and designed to stay cool without the constant hum of air conditioning. That means translating politics into good design and ultimately into political engagement.

The danger is that people will see this summer as some kind of aberration. That would mean ignoring a lot of scientific evidence that this planet is on a path that political leaders and the general public are only slowly taking seriously. And while the political debate over much-needed solutions to curb drone warming continues, the immediate responsibility of citizen leaders is to plan for the worst. The task right now is to save lives. Just plan – and expect – inevitable heat waves will do that. We all felt where the wind was blowing from.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.


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