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Extreme Heat Compounds Injustice In Our Cities – Climate Change is Here

People living in urban areas, especially children, the elderly, and the poor, are most vulnerable to rising heat

[Important Updates below – especially on regulatory significance]

Because we’re in the midst of our first heat wave – with DEP declaring a “code orange alert” and urging people to stay indoors because the air is dangerous to breath – as a reminder, I thought I’d post these climate change impact projections by the Union of Concerned Scientists (see: The Changing Northeast Climate – Our Choices, Our Legacy

Extreme heat. While summer heat affects us all, extreme heat is a particular concern in big cities. Hot temperatures intensified by the urban heat island effect can create dangerous conditions, especially for the elderly, infants, the poor, and other vulnerable populations. With higher global warming emissions, projections show dramatic increases in the number of days over both 90 and 100°F. By mid-century, the large northeastern cities shown in Figure 3 are expected to experience a tripling in the number of days over 90°F. In the latter part of the century, most of these cities could experience more than 60 days per year with temperatures topping 90°F, and some cities as many as 80 days. With lower emissions, roughly half this increase is expected. These cities currently endure, at most, two days of 100°F weather in the average summer. With higher emissions, all but one of these cities are projected to experience more than 20 such days each year by the end of the century. By contrast, these cities would experience around six days per year at this extreme with lower emissions.

These projections show that conditions dangerous to human health could become commonplace in most of the region’s major urban centers over the course of this century. In a region where 25 percent of the population resides in urban areas, the difference that lower global warming emissions could make becomes clear. Though temperatures rise on either emissions pathway, lower emissions would create significantly smaller increases in extreme heat.

The effects of extreme heat are not evenly distributed among the people and communities of NJ.

Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible and vulnerable to extreme heat.

The poor are least able to respond, due to many factors.

Cities have lots of pavement and buildings, with fewer trees to provide shade and cooling, causing what is known as the “heat island effect”.

And therefore minorities, low income, and urban communities bear disproportionate burdens of the combined impacts of extreme heat, the urban heat island effect, pollution, and extreme social and economic injustice.

To compound these injustices, the people living in the cities have a smaller carbon footprint than their surrounding wealthier and whiter suburban communities.

This is just flat out wrong and must change.

[PS – DEP real time air quality data and warnings can be found here]

[Update #1 – I just read the Star Ledger story:  Heat Advisory: Doctors warn weekend heat can cause problems for children and the elderly

Amazingly,  the NJ State Police and the Department of Health press release fail to mention health hazards of poor air quality – and of course any link to climate change or environmental justice.

That’s in keeping with Christie’s climate denial and DEP’s reluctance to even mention risks of pollution from other than natural causes (like falling trees!).

DEP used to take the lead an issue bad air day and extreme heat alerts – why is that now done by the State Police?

I expect that kind of denial from the Chrisite administration, but why can’t the Star Ledger mention the well known risks of pollution, and clear links to climate change and environmental justice?

More lousy journalism.

[Update #2 – UMDNJ put out a press release too, and it just so happens to be posted on the Dept. of Health’s website.

Surely UMDNJ understands that health effects of extreme heat are not just related to heat and hydration, but include respiratory effects. So, either UMDNJ is clueless, or they also are downplaying pollution and climate change – here’s my  email questions to them – I don’t expect an answer:

Greetings – read your press release and am curious:

1) why no mention of unhealthy outdoor air quality due to pollution?
My understanding is that hospitalization rates skyrocket for respiratory related pollution related events during extreme heat. Is that correct?
2) why no mention of links between extreme heat and climate change?
Have you read the Union of Concerned Scientists Report and other public health literature on this set of issues?
3) why no mention of the disproportionate burden in urban, minority, and poor communities?
Just curious of your reaction to these questions.
Bill Wolfe

[Update #3 – I thought I’d lay out the regulatory significance of linkages between extreme heat, climate change, air pollution, and regulation. Because these impacts form the legal and scientific basis for regulation is why they are ignored, denied, or suppressed.

Here is DEP’s scientific and legal basis for why GHG are “pollutants” subject to regulation under NJ State air pollution laws – DEP considered global, national, and NJ specific local impacts, as follows from the 2004 rule proposal.

 The proposal was later adopted in 2005.

Since 2005, DEP has failed to implement this authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, something that is not well known and virtually never mentioned in the media, despite the fact that this was exactly the issue decided by the US Supreme Court in the 2007 “Massachusetts” decision which found that GHG’s were “pollutants” under the federal Clean Air Act.

Here it is, DEP findings from back in 2004, findings that have been validated and will be made far worse in the future:

2. Formal Determination and Justification

The Department determines, based on the evidence outlined herein, that regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) as an air contaminant is in the best interest of human health, welfare, and the environment. This statement shall fulfill the Department’s requirement to advise the public of its determination and justification for this determination, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 26:2C-9.2i.

The Department’s determination is based on compelling scientific evidence of existing and projected adverse impacts due to climate change on the environment, ecosystems, wildlife, human health, and enjoyment of property in the State. The Department also bases this determination in part on the expected impacts of climate change on the formation of ground-level ozone. Increases in average temperature and related extreme heat events will increase the formation of ground-level ozone and further undermine the State’s attempts to meet national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for NOx, with attendant increases in adverse human health and environmental impacts, as well as State compliance costs.


[NJ] Air Quality Impacts

Rising ambient temperatures will exacerbate the formation of ground-level ozone, which will further challenge New Jersey attempts to meet national ambient air quality standards for protection of human health and welfare. Climate change models predict a significant increase in the number of days above 90oF, which will increase the frequency of high ozone days and enhance the secondary formation of PM 2.5 under these conditions…

Human Health Impacts

Rising temperatures will increase heat stress, especially for vulnerable urban populations, such as the elderly and urban poor. Climate models predict an increase in the number of  days per year with temperatures above 90oF in the New York City metro area, with a potentially significant impact on human health due to heat stress (Kinney et al., Climate Change and Public Health, 2000). By the 2020s, climate change could result in an increase in summer heat-related mortality of 55% and a more than doubling in related mortality by the 2050s (New York Climate & Health Project, Assessing Potential Public Health and Air Quality Impacts of Changing Climate and Land Use, Columbia University, 2000). […]

Sea Level Rise Impacts

Sea level rise due to climate change is of significant concern to New Jersey. According to the 2002 U.S. Climate Action Report, New Jersey is especially vulnerable to significant impacts due to geologic subsidence, the topography of its coastline, current coastal erosion, and a high density of coastal development:

“[A]n increased rate of global sea level rise is likely to have the most dramatic impacts in regions where subsidence and erosion problems already exist. Estuaries, wetlands, and shorelines along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are especially vulnerable. Impacts on fixed structures will intensify, even in the absence of an increase in storminess. However, because the slope of these areas is so gentle, even a small rise in sea level can produce a large inland shift of the shoreline. The rise will be particularly important if the frequency or intensity of storm surges or hurricanes increases.” (U.S. Department of State, U.S. Climate Action Report, 2002, p. 103) 

A sea level rise in line with median IPCC projections would threaten the majority of New Jersey’s coastline. The effects of sea level rise will be exacerbated in New Jersey since relative sea level rise in New Jersey will be greater than the global average due to coastline subsidence. As an example, the mean sea level at Atlantic City rose by 0.3 meters during the period from 1920 to 2000, compared to a global average between 0.1 and 0.2 meters (Norbert P. Psuty, Rutgers University, personal communication, January 7, 2003). In addition to significant property losses, sea level rise will adversely impact coastal ecosystems and may threaten coastal fresh water supplies due to salt-water intrusion. (U.S. Global Change Research Program, Metropolitan East Coast Assessment of Impacts of Potential Climate Variability and Change, 2000; U.S. Global Change Research Program, Mid-Atlantic Assessment of Impacts of Potential Climate Variability and Change, 2000.) […]

  •   “Enhanced sea-level rise almost certainly will occur, with the potential for substantial damage to the coastal zone’s structures, wetlands and estuaries, and to water supplies because of salt water intrusion.”
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