Global Health Equity Research in Translation brings academic research to broader audiences: decision makers, policy makers, advocacy groups, philanthropists, and journalists. The series draws on transdisciplinary health equity research completed with the support of the Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
Though “life-threatening severe weather” might conjure images of hurricanes and flooding, the largely invisible phenomena of extremes of heat and cold can cause illness and injury, exacerbate existing health conditions, and lead to premature death: thermal extremes claim more lives than all other weather-related events. From 2006 to 2010, approximately 2,000 U.S. residents died from weather-related causes of death each year. Only 6% of these deaths were attributed to weather events like floods, storms, or lightning. The balance was attributed to extreme heat (31%) and extreme cold (63%). Moreover, thermal extremes are increasing in incidence because of climate change.
Numerous studies have found that in the US, extreme heat events lead to disproportionate incidence of injury, illness, and death among historically disenfranchised populations. The inequitable impact is thought to be attributable to social determinants of health, including lopsided access to resources such as healthy housing, safe drinking water, and nourishing food. An additional factor could be the “microclimates” within a given urban area that are produced through the interaction of weather events and “urban forms” such as buildings that block or channel wind, and tree canopies that provide shade. Less well studied than severe heat is the impact of extreme cold events, which produce mortality rates equal to or greater than extreme heat events. According to the CDC, deaths from hypothermia outnumbered deaths from hyperthermia in all but one year between 1999 and 2015.
At the local level, the potential impact of climate-change related extreme temperatures on communities must be anticipated in local planning and response efforts. Such efforts should identify key responders and delineate responsibilities for governmental agencies and community based organizations (CBOs). Communication and coordination among public agencies and CBOs is necessary to share information, identify gaps, and spot opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration. To that end, in a recent publication, an interdisciplinary team of scientists led by Zoé Hamstead sets forth a framework for planning and test-bed design phases of local thermal management systems. [i]
In their “Thermally Resilient Communities Collaborative” (TRCC) framework, Hamstead and her colleagues have devised an approach that engages local actors in the identification of built environments and behaviors that create hazardous thermal conditions; elevates the experiences of vulnerable, marginalized communities; and develops effective means of communicating information about microclimates and community members’ subjective experiences with thermal discomfort to responders and prevention planners.
The risks engendered in thermal extremes arise from community, household, and individual processes and actions that shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood; communities’ access to cooling or warming facilities and other assistance; and base-level public health and wellbeing. The cross-sectoral nature of these factors and the professionals who consider them to be in their purview reveal important opportunities, including identification of service and data gaps, and system-level, multi-sectoral collaboration.
The information in this policy brief was extracted from Hamstead, Zoé et al. (2020). Thermally resilient communities: creating a socio-technical collaborative response to extreme temperatures. Buildings & Cities, 1(1), pp. 218-232. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bc.15
Dr. Lisa Vahapoğlu
Vahapoğlu, Lisa. A New Tool to Advance Climate Justice in Local Governance: The Thermally-Resilient Communities Collaborative Framework. Global Health Equity Research in Translation. Eds. Hamstead, Frimpong Boamah, Kordas, and Raja. Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity, December 2020.
Hamstead, Zoé et al. (2020). Thermally resilient communities: creating a socio-technical collaborative response to extreme temperatures. Buildings & Cities, 1(1), pp. 218-232. https://doi.org/ 10.5334/bc.15
Dr. Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, Dr. Katarzyna Kordas, and Dr. Samina Raja
Nicole Little and Jessica Scates