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Surviving extreme heat in an era of climate change

Extreme heat is on everyone’s minds these days, with Texas experiencing a brutal “heat dome” that has kept the region baking in 100+ degree heat for weeks. How ready are we for future heat waves, and what else can we do to prepare?
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Extreme heat warning sign in Death Valley, California, USA.

Extreme heat is on everyone’s minds these days, with Texas experiencing a brutal “heat dome” that has kept the region baking in 100+ degree heat for weeks. We already know that the Bay Area is not immune to extreme heat. How ready are we for future heat waves, and what else can we do to prepare?

Extreme heat is headed our way

Did you know that heat kills more people each year than any other weather-related hazard? Headline-grabbing natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes might seem more dangerous, but emergency room visits spike during heat waves.

Those most at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the elderly, children, and those with health conditions. Also, people whose work takes them outside for extended periods of time during a heat wave – farmworkers, construction workers, road workers, etc. – are considered high risk. It’s critical for employers to provide these workers with shade, rest breaks, and plenty of water to keep hydrated.

We can expect more extreme heat in the future. In 30 years, large swaths of the country, especially in the Midwest, South and Southwest, are expected to experience extended periods of more than 100 degrees every year. The time will come when we’ll ask whether these areas are just too hot for humans to live in.

What can we do about extreme heat risk?

The most obvious conclusion from this knowledge is that we need to address climate change. Reducing our use of fossil fuels, composting food waste instead of sending it to the landfill, and protecting our remaining carbon-absorbing open space are all critically important steps to take. 

We also need to make our communities more resilient to the imminent dangers of climate change. When it comes to extreme heat, the best way to cool down our communities is to plant more trees and preserve the trees we have.

Still, there are consequences we'll have to deal with no matter what, so we need to prepare for climate-related disasters. Studies show that the most important thing for survival in these circumstances is to have strong community connections. If you know your neighbors and are likely to check up on each other during emergencies, everyone’s chances of survival increase significantly. 

In our area, the North Fair Oaks Community Alliance has formed a Block Action Team (BAT) program to connect neighbors with one another so they can share essential information and resources during emergencies. Such programs are essential to create the community connections that keep people safe.

Want to know more? On Tuesday, August 29 from 2:00-3:30pm, there will be a panel discussion on this topic in Redwood Shores. Register to attend at this link: Hot Topics, Cool Solutions: Community Resilience During Heatwaves

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