Anticipating This Year’s Predicted Extreme Heat

Heat kills more people than hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes combined.

Climate on the Ballot banner

Sign up for the weekly Climate on the Ballot newsletter.

Every Monday, in Climate on the Ballot, we pass along a topic to help you integrate climate into your newsroom’s campaign reporting. Consider sharing this newsletter with your colleagues on the politics beat. Vea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Extreme Heat

Extreme heat is a silent killer, and climate change is making heat waves hotter, longer, and more frequent. Last month, a heat dome that settled over Central America, Mexico, and the southern US states subjected millions of people to scorching temperatures and strained power grids. This summer, meteorologists are predicting hotter than average temperatures in nearly every US state. Mexico has been suffering under a heat dome since early May, and last week, temperatures in India soared past 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

High temps especially threaten seniors, children, people with disabilities, outdoor workers, and those without air conditioning — but legal protections are limited. Last summer, the Biden administration directed the Labor Department to issue the first-ever heat hazard alert and begin drafting heat safety standards for employers, but they are unlikely to be finalized until after the election. If Donald Trump returns to the White House, those rules would very likely be shelved and ignored.

Making the connection between extreme heat and global heating is a vital part of the story, and critical to helping audiences understand the stakes of climate change.

Reporting Ideas

  • Excess heat deaths are preventable. A few US cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix have employed heat officers who oversee response efforts. LA’s chief heat officer, Marta Segura, told CCNow that they developed their heat response plan by layering heat risk maps with housing and energy burden data so that the city could be better prepared to deploy resources to vulnerable communities during heat events. Find out where in your state or city is most at risk. Report on the heat action plan, if there is one.
  • Protections for workers. Six states (California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and many city councils have passed regulations to protect workers from heat. Meanwhile, legislatures in Florida and Texas have passed laws preempting local ordinances that protect workers from heat. Use this interactive map tracking existing regulations, active legislation, legislation under development, and the estimated numbers of “workers at highest risk of heat-related harms” to research what’s happening in your state.
  • Explore policy ideas for tackling extreme heat. Last fall, the Federation of American Scientists compiled over 100 policy ideas to address extreme heat impacts. Learn about heat risks in your area, match them up with the most effective solutions, and ask candidates what policies they support.
  • It’s infrastructure week summer. Many cities are developing “heat resilience plans” as part of their climate action plans. These may include solutions such as cool roofs and pavements, increased tree cover and green spaces, and covered playgrounds. Report on infrastructure needs and planning to update building codes, transportation systems, schools, and energy systems in your community

 Take Inspiration

  • Grist launched Record High, a series focused on heat last summer. This forward-looking story, “How to build a resilient city,” provides a great overview of solutions for public officials to implement.
  • The Washington Post recently surveyed schools across the country to assess cooling upgrades necessary for students’ health and wellbeing.
  • Bloomberg Law explores how red state legislatures are targeting worker heat safety laws and other ordinances with preemption bills.
  • Phoenix is America’s “hottest metro.” After the deadly summer of 2023, in which temps hovered above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 31 consecutive days, officials are working to protect people better, reports ABC News.

Spotlight Piece

Black Americans are more concerned about climate change than campaigns might think, writes UC Berkeley assistant professor Dr. Jerel Dr. Ezell, who studies environmental politics and race. “The most severe harms from climate change, from heat waves to extreme flooding, are already falling disproportionately on their communities. And it’s starting to be reflected in their political priorities.”