By Lynn Hur, research and communications intern, Los Angeles Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC)
Heat is a year-round threat to health in Los Angeles County. New UCLA research (bit.ly/3TL6uCs) shows that on extreme heat days, emergency room visits increase by 1,500 patients. Estimates (bit.ly/3szZmgf) show 16 additional people die per day of heat, with an extra 40 deaths per day by the fifth day of heat. In the South Bay, inland communities send an additional 15 to 25 people to the ER on extreme heat days, compared to two in coastal communities.
The risk of heat-related illness increases in already vulnerable populations–making 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.
Inequities in Heat Exposure
Unequal health outcomes are tied to the varying distribution of heat burden. The 2021 LA County Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) (bit.ly/3SHmgx8) shows that Hispanic and Latinx people make up 48.5% of LA’s population, but 66.9% of the population are located in communities with high vulnerability to extreme heat. A UC Davis study (bit.ly/3DAZRNA) found Latino neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area were 6.7 degrees hotter than neighborhoods with few Latino residents. According to the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation projections, parts of LA County will likely have more than 145 days a year above 90°F (bit.ly/3SH5r5q) by mid-century.
Communities suffering the brunt of extreme heat often live in historically redlined neighborhoods (go.nature.com/3TYPZ6d), where residents face chronic disinvestment and have been excluded from access to heat relief from climate-resilient infrastructure. It’s necessary to take the historical structural inequalities into account when working on thermal equity. We must recognize that
vulnerable communities will need more resources to deal with extreme heat.
The Importance of Better Urban Planning
The planning, development and maintenance of our city’s infrastructure play a key role in our experiences with 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 (bit.ly/3Nrdm5B), resulting in an increase in polluted
air and worsened health. As stated in the CVA, “We cannot achieve the goals of a reduced UHI effect without altering the urban design of neighborhoods as we know them today.” Resilient green infrastructure and equitable distribution of those resources are key to achieving equitable outcomes in urban cooling.
Let’s Talk About Heat
Even before securing funding for infrastructure investments, cities can raise public awareness about the risks of extreme heat and the connection between climate change and public health. UCLA’s Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) partnered with the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) to launch an extreme heat social media campaign. The project pairs information about health risk with health protective strategies. It also provides resources for staying cool, such as accessing utility assistance programs and
improving energy efficiency.
Cities and local leaders are encouraged to share the #HeatSafeLA content with South Bay residents. Share #HeatSafeLA content by visiting laregionalcollaborative.com/heat. ∙