Amidst record-breaking temperatures in California, the Southwest, and across the United States, President Biden has announced new measures to help Americans adapt to extreme heat conditions caused by climate change. The United Nations reported that July will likely become the hottest month ever recorded globally, highlighting the urgent need for action.
Phoenix, Arizona, for example, is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 27 consecutive days. As extreme heat takes its toll on the nation, President Biden emphasized the undeniable impact of climate change and extreme heat on Americans, even as some continue to deny the reality of a climate crisis.
Los Angeles Times reported that to address the challenges posed by extreme heat, President Biden’s measures include calling for increased enforcement of heat-safety measures to protect workers in labor-intensive industries, such as construction and farming. Additionally, his administration plans to allocate $159 million from the infrastructure and climate and drug-pricing packages to enhance weather forecasting capabilities and bolster water storage and climate resilience in California, Colorado, and Washington state.
However, experts point out that these actions are only a part of the solution, and more substantial efforts to combat climate change are required to prevent extreme heat from becoming even more prevalent. A recent study by the World Weather Attribution confirmed that the extreme heat experienced in July across North America, Europe, and Asia would have been nearly impossible without climate change and increased greenhouse gas emissions. The U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, emphasized that climate change is a terrifying reality and the beginning of our challenges.
The President cited his Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a $400-billion investment in clean energy subsidies, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allocates billions in subsidies for electric vehicles, as evidence of his commitment to addressing the root cause of extreme heat—climate change. According to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the administration recognizes the urgency of dealing with climate change and is taking serious steps to combat it.
Heat-related illnesses are already the leading cause of global weather-related deaths, with over 600 people dying each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Biden’s efforts to boost climate resilience and heat preparedness include drafting a heat standard for workplaces by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The administration has also initiated other initiatives to address extreme heat, such as funding through the Department of Health and Human Services to lower cooling costs for low-income households and assisting states in modernizing electric grids to prevent brownouts during heatwaves.
According to Kelly Turner, an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, more comprehensive actions at the federal level are required to protect vulnerable populations from extreme heat. She asserts that rising temperatures necessitate a review of policies affecting various sectors such as schools, workplaces, labor, and transit.
Turner warns that the high heat experienced in the West is expected to persist, with California facing at least 100 extreme heat days annually and other regions facing up to 200 days yearly. She calls for every community to have a basic heat action plan and improved shade infrastructure, which could be achieved through federal investments in local communities.
Local and state officials in areas regularly affected by heat waves are already enhancing heat preparedness. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, for instance, established the country’s first office of heat response and mitigation in 2021. Chief heat officers have also been appointed in Los Angeles and Florida’s Miami-Dade County. Turner suggests this approach could be practical at the federal level, given the valuable knowledge and experience accumulated in cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Addressing extreme heat at the federal level will require understanding the unique needs of different communities. Strategies such as expanding access to cooling in homes or directing people to cooling centers may be more effective in specific areas. Coordination and a broad perspective are essential to respond to these challenges effectively.
As climate change continues to drive extreme heat events, President Biden’s measures represent essential steps toward building climate resilience and mitigating the impacts of extreme heat. However, sustained efforts, comprehensive strategies, and collaborative action at all levels of government will be necessary to protect communities and individuals from the growing threat of extreme heat and climate change.