Heat Preparedness Week 2023: Climate Change is a Public Health Issue
Written by Sasha Shyduroff, Senior Clean Energy and Climate Planner
August 21, 2023 - The Greater Boston region is experiencing more frequent and intense heat waves, as well as rising temperatures due to climate change. Just this year, a heat emergency was declared on July 27 and 28 with temperatures soaring to near 100 degrees in the New England region (WBUR). Across the globe, countries are hitting their highest-ever record temperatures (world weather attribution). With temperatures only rising from here on out, communities must invest in resources and programs protecting their residents from the heat.
Of all weather-related hazards, extreme heat is responsible for the most deaths annually. In 2022, there were 49 days in Massachusetts where temperatures exceeded 90F. Compared to the averaged 11 days a year from 1971-2000, this increase in extreme heat days is of great concern especially for vulnerable populations (seniors, children, etc). In the Northeast, higher temperatures cause poor air quality, exacerbating existing health conditions.
This critical issue must continue to be elevated across the region for members of the public, policy makers, and decision-makers. Community-centered planning and decision-making will be critical to protecting the most vulnerable this—and every future—summer.
Our third annual Heat Prep Week this year is August 20 to 26 and this year we are highlighting the public health impacts of extreme heat and climate change. Climate change is a threat to public health due to extreme heat events, irregular weather patterns, increased air pollution, increased risk of infectious diseases, and more. It is far reaching which is why climate change has become a critical public health issue. Learn more about climate and health here.
Extreme Heat and Health: The Impact of Rising Temperatures on Health Across Six Social Determinant Pathways
The conditions in which we live, work, learn, and play – the social determinants of health - influence how we experience climate-driven heat. They can buffer climate impacts by providing us a means to cope or adapt to our changing environment. Conversely, they can also amplify climate impacts, especially among communities that have been subjected to structural racism and other inequities.
As part of the Metro Mayors Coalition “Keeping Metro Boston Cool: A Regional Heat Preparedness and Adapatation Plan,” MAPC identified six social determinant pathways through which people experience extreme heat impacts:
- Open Space and Recreation,
- Social Connections, and
We developed research briefs on these pathways downloadable here. This research helped inform the development of strategies and actions to prepare for and adapt to extreme heat in the region.
Each day, we'll focus on a different theme:
- Monday, August 21: Introduction to Extreme Heat: Why are temperatures increasing due to climate change and what does that mean for Metro Boston?
- Tuesday, August 22: Housing and Transportation: “Heat where we live and how we get around”
- Wednesday, August 23: Schools and Workspaces: “Heat where we go to school and work”
- Thursday, August 24: Open Space and Social Cohesion: “Heat in Public Spaces and Community”
- Friday, August 25: Data Informed Solutions
Heat Preparedness Resources at MAPC
At MAPC, we’ve created resources, conducted research, and worked with cities and towns on extreme heat issues. You can find all our heat-related projects and resources at: https://www.mapc.org/resource-library/extreme-heat/.
Communications and Toolkits:
- Extreme Heat Resources: Outlines cooling strategies for communities, resources for residents, resources for municipalities, and emergency tips.
- Extreme Heat Communications and Social Media Toolkit: As part of a Barr Foundation-funded project on COVID-safe cooling, MAPC created a toolkit of flyers, sample social media posts, and images that cities and towns can use to inform residents about heat risks, precautions, and resources.
- Cool It with Art: A How-To Guide for Tackling Rising Temperatures with Art in Our Communities: a guide for local governments, community-based organizations, and artists interested in working together to promote creative approaches to address climate-driven extreme heat impacts and to promote healthy, climate resilient communities.
- Utility Assistance One-Pagers: Use this handout to share information on utility assistance with their residents. Available in eight languages!
Public Health and Climate:
- Public Health Team: Works to integrate health in all planning aspects such as increasing access to open space, healthy food, and active transportation, to sustain violence-free communities with safe and stable housing, to support equal access to health services, and to limit exposures to pollution and environmental contaminants.
- Climate & Public Health: Includes MAPC’s projects and research briefs conducted by the Public Health team related to climate.
- Climate Vulnerability in Greater Boston: This mapping tool combines sociodemographic, public health, housing, and workforce data with climate exposure data to help identify which populations and neighborhoods are most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat.
- MetroWest Climate Equity Project: This partnership between Ashland, Natick, and Framingham builds community resilience and climate knowledge to ensure residents are prepared for future climate disasters.