It's Getting Hot in Here
This year’s extreme heat waves have been making the headlines, as they should. For most people, record-breaking levels of heat and humidity simply mean cranking up the air conditioner and staying hydrated throughout the day. But for poor folks and people of color living in urban areas, this “weird weather” can be straight up deadly.
Over the past few weeks, moderate or unhealthy air covered a third to half of the continental U.S., with rising levels of particulate matter and ozone. Breathing ozone can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma while particulate air pollutants can affect a person’s lungs and heart. This is especially dangerous for low-income communities who have limited access to health care, air conditioning, trees, and green space.
In the same breath of saying, “all heat-related deaths are preventable,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that climate change will cause an additional 3,000 to 5,000 heat-related deaths annually by 2050. To put even the lowest estimate in perspective, 3,000 deaths is more than the annual number of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
The CDC provides the following tips to protect your health during a heat wave.
- Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
- Drink plenty of fluids. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
- Limit your exercise because heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from your body. If you must exercise, a sports beverage may replace the salt and minerals you lose. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
- Schedule outdoor activities carefully. Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
- Stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library.
- Monitor those at high risk. Use a buddy system.
- Do not leave children in cars.
The tips that the CDC offers seem to target those with the privilege of consulting with a doctor, determining outdoor work flexibility, and having access to a public library. Even the simplest advice of “drinking plenty of fluids” proves to be problematic in California where drinking water is contaminated by nitrates.
While it is important to highlight the measures that individuals may take to protect themselves, the Ella Baker Center urges everyone to also focus on a systemic change that puts the people and the planet before profits. Please Stand with Ten for Ten to ensure that the communities hit first and worst by climate change receive the necessary funding to fully equip ourselves with the tools we need to survive and thrive during a heat wave.