Cities appoint ‘heat agents’ in response to global warming threat

Cities around the world are responding to the threat of rising temperatures by hiring “heat directors” to solve a problem that will be exacerbated by climate change.

Miami-Dade County, Florida’s densely populated coastal region on the front lines of climate change, will name Jane Gilbert as the world’s first boiler room chief on Friday. Athens, the Greek capital which recorded the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe, and Freetown in Sierra Leone are planning similar appointments. Other vulnerable cities are expected to follow suit but have been held back by the pandemic.

“We are internationally recognized for our risks related to sea level rise and flooding. What we’re not known for is this heat risk, ”Gilbert told the Financial Times. “I have been in Miami for 26 years [and] I feel the change ”in temperature, she added. “How many very hot days we still have.”

This nomination is part of an initiative organized by the Resilience Center of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation, which supports communities facing climate extremes through a network of experts in public health, finance and climate science.

Last year, tied with 2016 as hottest year on record, with temperatures inside the Arctic Circle hitting a record high of 38 ° C. Cities like Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles on the west coast of the United States have been ravaged by scorching temperatures in 2020, which have fueled forest fires in the surrounding areas.

Cities can get especially hot due to the density of people and buildings, the aggregation of heat-retaining materials like concrete, air conditioning units that pump hot air, and a relative lack of space. green.

In the United States, the heat kill more people each year on average than any other weather event, according to the National Weather Service.

It is often described as the “silent killer” because its effect is much less visual than that of other dramatic events such as typhoons and forest fires.

Between 1998 and 2017, more than 166,000 people worldwide died from heat waves, according to the World Health Organization.

The Opera House is lit with images to show support for communities affected by bushfires and to express gratitude to emergency services and volunteers in Sydney last year © Saeed Khan / AFP via Getty Images

“Most heat-related deaths are not due to heat stroke or heat exhaustion,” but to cardiovascular or respiratory problems that occur when the body becomes stressed, said Laurence Kalkstein, a climatologist American.

One of the factors is how people are used to the heat, he explained. “It is not the actual intensity of the heat that is often the most dangerous, it is the variability of the summer climate.”

Miami-Dade is already threatened by a number of climate change threats, including hurricanes, flooding and sea level rise. Work is underway to make the region more resilient, including raise roads and flood proof buildings. Gilbert was also the City of Miami’s first Director of Resilience, a position created in 2016.

Jane Gilbert, first chief driver

In her new role, she will work with local authorities, academics and community groups to identify populations most vulnerable to extreme heat and develop responses.

Solutions could include creating ‘resilience centers’ where people can cool off during heat waves, making sure bus stops are shaded and talking to employers – especially those in the health sectors. agriculture and construction – their policies for particularly hot days.

The extreme heat “hits our low wealth, our minority and otherwise vulnerable.” . . more communities, ”said Gilbert, noting that many cannot afford air conditioning or run backup generators in power outages that can occur during hurricanes.

In Freetown, the weather had changed “dramatically” over the past decade, said city mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr. Temperatures had risen and the rainy season had become shorter but more intense, causing more flooding.

The resulting fires in the summer are particularly dangerous for the thousands of people who live in informal and densely populated settlements, she added.

Priorities for the yet to be appointed Freetown Chief Driver will include collecting data on the impact of the hot weather, engaging with the medical community and planting more trees.

Kostas Bakoyannis, mayor of Athens, said the extreme heat was one of the city’s “biggest threats to livability and economic prosperity”. Urban areas would look different as they adapt to climate change, with additions such as more tree cover and water features, he added.

Miami-Dade and others are hoping to pilot a new heat wave naming and ranking system, similar to that used for storms. Such a system would be important for warning and educating people, said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Resilience Center at the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation.

“We have a hurricane season, we need a warm season,” she said.

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