A typical day in the life of a University of Florida student might include studying at the library, getting Krishna with friends and drowning in sweat while walking from class to class. As the day drags on, the heat becomes more unbearable.
Although extreme heat is nothing new to Floridians, there has been a continuous and significant rise in temperature each year. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature for 2021 thus far was 1.48°F (0.82°C) above the 20th century average of 57.3°F (14.0°C), making this the sixth hottest period on record.
A heatwave that struck the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2021 resulted in the hottest summer to date for this region. Hundreds of people have died from this silent killer, and the numbers continue to grow each day.
“I have no doubt that those numbers will increase over time,” states Jaime Madrigano, a researcher at the RAND Corporation. “It’s significant that we’re already seeing the large numbers.”
Currently, extreme heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States. With death tolls increasing, the United States is finally taking action to combat the severity of this climate crisis. In a statement by President Biden on mobilizing the administration to address extreme heat, he announces his plan to aid America during this time.
He declares, “The Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies will work together to help ensure that the American people have safe and healthy working conditions, provide cooling assistance to homes and neighborhoods and coordinate with state and local officials to bolster their resilience and address the impacts of this threat.”
The plan aims to protect workers, children, seniors and at-risk communities from extreme heat. In order to do so, the government intends to develop workplace heat standards and increase enforcement, offer cooling assistance to families and communities, launch an innovation challenge on heat protection, identify and address disproportionate heat impacts, improve local preparedness through data sharing and technical assistance and call on Congress to deliver build back better investments in resilience.
To increase the protection of heat-exposed workers, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. By implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, The National Emphasis Program is developing heat inspections and forming a heat workgroup to engage stakeholders and inform others about ongoing efforts.
For those without access to air conditioning, the plan intends to direct Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) resources to cooling programs, as well as use schools as cooling centers.
With this initiative, people will also be able to bring awareness to disproportionate heat impacts. According to research from the Environmental Protection Agency, people of color and low-income individuals are more likely to live in areas that are affected by higher temperatures.
By addressing these issues, all levels of government are able to take action to prepare for climate change. As stated by the White House fact sheet, “The Biden Administration is committed to partnering with local officials to provide and enhance data, research, and planning tools on extreme heat and health impacts.”
As stated in a fact sheet distributed by the White House, LIHEAP grantees to “expand their programs to allow for the purchase of air conditioning units; increase cooling assistance payments for electric bills; establish cooling centers; conduct targeted outreach to ensure at-risk households are in a safe temperature environment; pursue a range of other options to respond to extreme heat.”
On another note, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is launching a series of prize competitions to stimulate American creativity towards new ways of protection against the extreme heat.
“The first competition in this series will focus on new ways to protect people at risk of heat-related illness or death during extreme heat events or in connection with other disasters.”
As a result, the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), which consists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was recently created to bring federal agencies and local partners together to prepare the country for the extreme heat.
The issue of climate change and severe rises in temperature has been an ongoing issue and needs to be resolved. Voices of scientists and researchers are being uplifted. Now that government officials are taking action, there is hope for change in the future.