HEAT RESILIENCEScientists Are Helping Cities Adapt to Extreme Heat

By Theresa Duque

Published 24 August 2023

Extreme heat is dangerous and is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths, and in a warming world, extreme heat is becoming the norm, not the exception. Scientists are working to mitigate the effects of extreme heat by developing strategies to build heat resilience which would allow communities to adapt to and thrive in a warming climate.

Since early July, the Earth has sweltered under record-breaking heat. In the United States, from California and the Desert Southwest to Texas and Florida, a long-lasting heat wave in the triple digits has broken dozens of heat records – and counting.

To mitigate the risks of living in extreme heat, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are working with city, state, and federal agencies as well as nonprofits to develop policy recommendations and toolkits that will help disadvantaged communities adapt and thrive in a warming climate.

“Our primary concerns are human health, safety, and comfort. Extreme heat can exacerbate underlying health conditions and can be especially stressful for the elderly and the very young,” said Max Wei, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area. “Those who live in older homes or in disadvantaged areas are not so well-equipped to cope with extreme heat.”

Extreme heat is dangerous and is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths. Where you live shapes how extreme that heat can become.

Studies have shown that in the United States, extreme heat is worse for residents of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. The combination of more buildings, less vegetation, and higher population density in cities contributes to warmer temperatures than in surrounding suburban or rural areas.

Low-income communities of color also bear a larger burden from extreme heat because they tend to live in older buildings that lack adequate insulation and cooling. In addition, low-income households may be unable to afford the cost of using air conditioning during peak demand. Low-income communities also experience higher rates of underlying diseases, including asthma and heart disease, that are risk factors for heat-related illnesses.

Here are six ways that our scientists are working to ensure resilient cooling for all in a warming world. Their approach could benefit vulnerable communities across the United States – and the world.

Helping Central California Cope with Extreme Heat
Wei recently led Cal-THRIVES, a multiyear project funded by the California Strategic Growth Council, to help disadvantaged communities in Fresno, California, adapt to the extreme heat brought on by climate change.

In the neighborhoods studied, one in six households had no access to air conditioning, and 70% of residents surveyed said that indoor temperatures were often uncomfortably high during summer.