Extreme temperatures have been an obvious outcome of climate change already. In the north, that has meant devastatingly cold winters with polar vortexes, power outages, and preventable deaths. In the south, it has meant the opposite. The past 7 years have all placed within the top seven hottest years on record. Miami now sees an average of 133 high heat days, 27 more than was average in 1995. This is expected to continue to rise. Extreme heat has contributed to 12,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from 2010-2020. The National Weather Service reports that extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. Health risks of extreme heat include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death. It can also exacerbate existing conditions.
Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of these public health impacts. The average temperature can vary drastically based upon zip codes due to factors such as less tree cover and more heat-absorbing concrete. In Miami’s lower income, mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods like Little Haiti, Little Havana and Liberty City, tree cover can be as little as 10%, compared to around 40% in upscale coastal areas. In the first image below (Left), dark green is healthy vegetation and light green to white are more urban areas with depleted to no vegetation. These less green areas correspond to hotter temperatures (Right).
Further, these lower-income areas have insufficient infrastructure to handle heat emergencies. In what is now America’s least affordable housing market, the high cost of running air-conditioning forces people to choose how often they can afford to even run the air conditioning, and when they need to face the heat to cut costs. People living under the poverty line are 50% more likely to experience the effects of heat islands than those of higher income urban areas. Fill out this survey to help document these rising temperatures.
Miami has recently created a Climate and Heat Health Task Force and appointed a Chief Heat Officer, working to address these disparities that predominantly impact minorities. There is much that needs to be done to address this root issue, but is a vital step in the right direction. The Miami Foundation has released a Miami-Dade Extreme Heat Toolkit, which further outlines the catastrophic heat trends we are seeing here in Miami, as well as critical steps that need to be taken to assuage the threat our high temperatures impose on at risk populations. MCARE stands behind these recommendations in strong support. They include but are not limited to measures that increase green spaces and playgrounds. Shade for bus stops is also vital for those who rely in public transit to commute. We need to set a statewide standard for outdoor workers to receive adequate water, shade and rest. Additionally, implementation of cooling centers, a cool site, or air conditioned building designated as a safe location during extreme heat, is a common strategy that Miami also needs to implement for the safety of our high-risk citizens.