August 16, 2022

Walter J. Ars Sr./ASP via ZUMA Wire

This story was originally published by guardian It is reproduced here as part of Climate office cooperation.

Phoenix is ​​the hottest city in America, and getting hotter. The global climate crisis and decades of sprawling urban growth have turned this desert city into a dangerous heat island with dwindling water supplies and insufficient shade.

A variety of programs aimed at cooling Phoenix and helping people escape the heat haven’t worked: In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, record high temperatures contributed to at least 662 deaths between 2020 and 2021, while thousands of people required emergency medical treatment. .

This is where the city’s new Heat and Mitigation Response Office comes in. The Leading Heat Team was set up last September amid pressure from activists, researchers, faith groups and health experts for a responsible – and responsible – dedicated team to make Phoenix more livable.

David Hondola, a climate and health researcher at Arizona State University, has been appointed to lead the four-person team and coordinate the city’s immediate efforts to reduce heat deaths and disease, and come up with ways to cool the city and make it more comfortable in the long run. It’s the first local government-funded freestyle team in North America, and possibly the world. “It’s a long game – we’re fighting for small wins that we hope will pile up into bigger wins,” said Hondola. “We need to prepare and recover from every summer, not the heat waves now and then.”

Watchman Spent a day with the Phoenix Heat during one of the hottest periods of the year so far.

In cities like Phoenix, heat and homelessness are a deadly combination.

The number of homeless people in the city has more than tripled since 2016, and homeless residents make up about 40% of heat deaths. Reaching homeless people when it’s too hot is critical to reducing the city’s death toll.

Four times a week, every Tuesday and Thursday morning and afternoon, the city’s outreach team distributes essential supplies — cold water, cooling towels, hats, and sunscreen — to anyone struggling outside. (They also provide supplies to religious groups and concerned citizens who have been doing this work for years.)

Outreach is coordinated by the city’s Office of Heating and Volunteer Program, with 120 sessions scheduled this summer, compared to just eight or 10 sessions in previous years. A case worker from the city’s homeless team works every shift, to help connect people with information about services like emergency shelters, free medical care, shower facilities, and food — if they’re ready. “Don’t assume what people want, keep it open,” Victor Rojas, case manager, told volunteers.

The team can help organize transportation to a nearby cooling center: There is a network of cities and non-profit spaces (libraries, churches, day centers, etc.) find it. However, although cooling centers have been operating in the city for years, many of the people who need them – including first responders and store workers who have regular contact with the most vulnerable people – have no idea where they are. Changing this with better messaging is something Hondula describes as “hanging fruits” — small interventions that can yield big gains.

However, deciding on the best outreach locations is difficult given that there are thousands of people sleeping in parks, under bridges, in parking lots, and in store entrances across the city. Police raids may force people to move suddenly, sometimes without their life-saving belongings such as tents, sleeping bags and clothes. It’s a work in progress, and back at City Hall, Mary Wright, the team’s built shadow researcher, is using data and spatial analysis to map 911 thermal emergency calls and information from homeless groups, to verify that the team is getting to the right places.

In a day Guardian On his visit, Joe Biden faced calls to declare a national climate emergency as more than a hundred million Americans were subject to heat warnings as record temperatures swept across swathes of the country. Hondula was in high demand from journalists that day and took him a long time to do three interviews. “If indifference to heat as a hazard is one reason for the lack of resources at the national level, spreading the word is a good use of my time for our community and others.”

The climate crisis requires a coordinated global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of global warming. As political leaders fight but fail to take urgent action, cities like Phoenix must find ways to adapt to and mitigate the impact of severe weather. This means lots of meetings to share data, ideas and solutions on how best to cool the city.

High on the list is increasing canopy cover to cool the city, especially in the poorest, mostly black and brown neighborhoods, which have the fewest trees and most people without cars and air conditioning. Lora Martens, a landscape architect and expert in desert plants, is the director of the team’s urban tree program, and her mission is to find the most effective and sustainable way to reduce the heat island impact and make people more comfortable. “We need a lot of trees for many reasons, there is such a deficit here, but not all trees are alike. The hardest part is planting the right trees where they are needed most. It is not easy or cheap.”

Martins led the team’s first meeting on the city’s 2010 tree and shade masterplan update, which pledged to cover 25% by 2030: No one is sure where that number came from and what has been achieved so far. More work is needed to ensure that mass planting of trees helps rather than exacerbate water shortages in the area; It is also critical to connect with the community to understand – rather than assume – what people in treeless neighborhoods want and need.

But it’s not just about trees: shade can also be designed, so structures like awnings may be the most expensive but best short-term solution to protecting people quickly.

“In places where people need shade now, we can’t plant trees and hopefully they will come of age in 20 years,” said Mary Wright, the team’s built environment specialist.

In the long run, building codes must change. “In Phoenix, we definitely lost the design touch for the climate over choosing cheaper solutions because we have air conditioners.”

As part of the city’s first heat response plan, the team will evaluate 31 heat-related programs and services in which the city is involved, from cooling centers and outreach work to cooling sidewalks and tree planting.

A big part of that is understanding what works and what doesn’t on the ground, but as academics the team lacks first-hand experience on the street. Now, with more than 30 three-hour awareness bouts under his belt, Hindola said, “I see water and supplies as a Trojan horse, a way to have a bigger conversation about what people need.”

Before heading into the afternoon shift, Hondula participated in a webinar on drought and heat in the American West organized by Noaa and shared that heat-related deaths and emergencies were actually trending higher than last year. Arguably every preventable death is a failure, so this is shocking, but not all that surprising given the sharp rise in drug use, evictions, energy bills and homelessness.

“Protecting people is not just about providing people with better weather information. If we want to focus on the big pieces of the pie in Phoenix, drugs and housing account for a lot of that,” he said.

In some ways, the responsible now stops him. “It’s the drive…the public health community says heat-related deaths are preventable, and there’s no asterisk or exceptions for high inflation or homelessness. We have to do more and we have to do better.”

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