Written by Diamond Spratling, MPH and Shalon Stevens
Sorry, Megan, but we are not outside. We are not in these streets and we are definitely not driving the boat. However, where we will be, is indoors where it’s safe-ish, but even that poses a threat.
If you haven’t heard already— better yet, if you haven’t felt it already, we are currently experiencing a heat wave across the majority of the U.S. Cities are seeing record high temperatures up to 105 degrees, which are some of the highest temperatures we have seen in over a decade.
And yes, the obvious topic that comes to mind here is “gee, climate change is real,” but have you heard of energy burden? Or what about extreme heat vulnerability? Two topics that only very few know about, but very many experience— especially in low-income and Black and Brown neighborhoods.
Energy burden is defined as the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs. When households spend more than 5% of their income paying their energy bills, they are considered highly energy burdened. Some households are paying more than three times that percent. According to a study by the nonprofit, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), families living in homes built before 1980 face a 21 percent higher energy burden than families living in homes built after 1980. But what makes this even more of a sticky situation (both literally and figuratively), is that the issue isn’t that Black and Brown families are purposely running our air conditioning units all day, it’s that a lot of our homes are old and therefore poorly insulated, making it so the cool air escapes the home before it can cool it down– while still raising the energy bills to the roof.
Extreme heat vulnerability is the likelihood that a person will be injured or harmed during periods of hot weather. Heat vulnerability can be linked to many factors including health status, socio-economic status, or one’s environment. Now, we know what you’re probably thinking, the hot weather is impacting all of us, and while that may be true, significantly high temperatures have disproportionate impacts on low-income Black and Brown communities.
Not having access to central air
Having to find access and transportation to the nearest cooling center, which are free air-conditioned buildings designed as a safe location during extreme heat
Higher energy bills for running air conditioning units all day
Tree coverage- being surrounded by trees, cools people and houses down. A lot of low-income Black and Brown communities have very low tree coverage.
To make matters worse, there are significant health implications associated with extreme heat vulnerability from heat strokes and heat rash, to mental health impacts such as stress and anxiety. Though many of these health outcomes are not life threatening, they can become more severe for some of our communities given we have very limited access to health resources, healthcare, and even medical facilities like hospitals and urgent care centers.
It’s clear that there are a number of health and even economic implications connected to increased temperatures. Just when we are starting to get back outside this year, here comes the next global pandemic— climate change.
So, if you’re going to be outside this summer, here are a few tips to safely enjoy the outdoors.
Fill up a reusable gallon water bottle
Pack a snack that gives you energy
Wear thin, light colored clothing
Try to hydrate as much as you can before leaving your home
Pack an umbrella
Try to walk in the shade as much as possible
Try to locate local cooling shelters
Pack light if possible
Try to stop in a store close by to take a break during a long walk
Got any other tips? Share them with us!
Stay Safe Hot Girl 🤎