Extreme heat in South Florida hurts the most vulnerable

Jorge lives in a small efficiency near downtown Miami. He sells fruit on the street to make a living, and says he has felt the impacts of increasingly hot summers on his health. Photo: Maria Alejandra Cardona/NPR

South Florida is known for its heat (and not just the basketball team) but climate change is driving up average highs to a level that is threatening human life, especially for those people who live below the poverty line and face increased exposure to extreme heat. As NPR reported, “For years, that discussion had been dominated the impacts of rising sea levels. Now, the state’s medical community is sounding the alarm about the health risks associated with rising temperatures. Whether it’s a longer allergy season, air quality issues or mosquito-borne illnesses, heat is already making people sicker, they say, and the nearly 60% of Miami residents who live paycheck to paycheck could be the most in danger.”

NPR went on to explain that “The 2018 National Climate Assessment noted that the southeastern United States is already experiencing “more and longer summer heat waves.” By 2050, experts say, rising global temperatures are expected to mean that nearly half the days in the year in Florida will be dangerously hot, when the combination of heat and humidity will make it feel like it’s 105 degrees or more.” In July of 2017, Miami had its warmest month on record and this trend will likely become the new norm in South Florida.

Also worth noting:

This underscores the need to provide shelter and programs for vulnerable people like the elderly and homeless as summer heat advisories may not be working. Some cities are getting ahead of the heat to implement programs:

  • As the Maimi Herald reported, Phoenix is a leader as inn the desert city where temperatures are already hitting 105 degrees and typically spike to 110-115, the second year of the “We’re Cool” campaign is under way. Residents can take a break in designated air-conditioned respite sites at churches, Salvation Army shelters, homeless shelters, community centers, senior centers, libraries, fire stations and municipal buildings, where they can also get wellness checks and information on preventing and treating heat-related illnesses.
  • Other statewide legislation has been implemented to protect workers who work either outdoors or in high-heat conditions indoors. A new proposed rule in California would require employers to keep indoor working conditions safe and cool so as to protect the health of workers.

Why This Matters: Heat waves are causing more deaths in the United States than all other disasters combined and prolonged exposure to high heat is a huge stressor on the human body. Heat plus humidity (like all of South Florida in the summer) is also a dangerous recipe for heart disease, increased risk of mental health issues, as well as kidney disease. Extreme heat is going to become our new normal and we have to prepare our citizens for these dangerous conditions, especially the elderly and low-income/workers people who may not be able to afford air conditioning. When it comes to health problems made worse by climate change, doctors are beginning to take extra precautions with their most vulnerable patients: Florida Clinicians For Climate Action, which was founded last year, seeks to connect the dots for patients and show how their symptoms are related to a changing climate. Doctors have formed similar groups in 11 other states to help people understand that climate change will not affect the health of all Americans equally.

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