More than 100 million people across the U.S. were under heat alerts over the weekend as extreme heat roasted huge swaths of the contiguous 48 states with record-breaking temperatures. “It’s an absolute crisis,” Juan Declet-Barreto of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Grist. Climate change, mainly caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is making extreme heat and heatwaves worse and more frequent — often with disproportionate impacts on communities historically and intentionally harmed by racist policy decisions.
In such heat, public cooling centers are literal lifelines for many, but many of the same people who need them most — like the elderly, people with disabilities, and those unable to afford transportation — also face the greatest hurdles to actually getting to one.
The extreme heat is also especially dangerous for people who work outside — people for whom there are essentially no legal safeguards against the potentially lethal dangers of extreme heat. It’s also especially punishing for first responders increasingly forced to respond to calls related to heat exhaustion (especially firefighters wearing heavily insulated fire-protective clothing).
In addition to fueling actual wildfires, the heat is also straining electrical grids, posing a raft of life-threatening problems, and also impacting cultural mainstays, for example forcing summer camp staff to rethink outdoor activities. The extreme heat is expected to continue this week. (Extreme heat: Washington Post $, The Guardian, NPR, CNN, Axios, AP, Wall Street Journal $, Reuters, Axios, Gizmodo; ‘Crisis’: Grist; Racism: The Root; Cooling centers: Washington Post $; Workers: Washington Post $, The Hill, Wall Street Journal $; First responders: New York Times $; Wildfires: The Guardian, AP, CNN; Power grids: Wall Street Journal $; Summer camps: NPR; Forcast: The Guardian; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)