August 17, 2012
On the heels of the hottest month in U.S. history, the Georgetown Climate Center has released a new tool to help cities and counties better prepare for the public health and infrastructure challenges caused by rising temperatures.
As of August 5, 2012, there have already been 27,042 heat records set or matched this year – a warming trend climate scientists expect will continue.
“We’re trying to help communities adopt common sense solutions,” said Sara Hoverter, author of Adapting to Urban Heat: A Tool Kit for Local Governments. “There are simple steps local governments can pursue to adjust to these record heat increases, but we need more communities to start taking action now to protect residents and more wisely invest the millions of tax dollars being spent on infrastructure and development projects in our communities.”
Policy options that can help communities adapt to increasing temperatures include incentives for the adoption of green and cool roofs on building tops, which can decrease surface temperatures by as much as 60 degrees or more; greater use of urban forestry, and altering the materials used in construction.
Cities are particularly vulnerable to more frequent and intense heat waves due to what is commonly known as the “urban heat island” effect, which occurs in densely populated urban centers due to the abundance of concrete and other materials that retain heat.
"As a result of climate change, we are going to see more extreme weather, and that includes record-breaking heat," said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. "Already, cities like Chicago, New York, and D.C. are taking action, but we still have a lot of work to do nationwide, and that's where we hope this tool kit and our work with states and communities can be helpful to planners and policymakers."
In recent years, major heat waves have claimed thousands of lives, including a 1995 heat wave in Chicago, which killed more than 700 people, and a 2003 European heat wave that resulted in the loss of tens of thousands lives.
If communities fail to act, individuals living and working within urban areas are expected to face greater heat stress and other heat-related illnesses and will face increased respiratory symptoms and disease. Buildings within heat islands require more air conditioning and thus use more energy, increasing emissions of greenhouse gases as well as conventional pollutants.
The heat is also already taking its toll on U.S. infrastructure, causing roadways to buckle, rails to bend, and the temperature of cooling pools used at nuclear power facilities to reach unsafe levels.
To download the newly released toolkit, please go to http://www.georgetownclimate.org/adaptation-tool-kit-urban-heat