By Vivek Shandas, Illustration: from article, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, August 3, 2023
I will never forget late June 2021 in Portland—not because it was filled with family time, trips to the Pacific coast or even because of the pandemic—but because of the extreme heat beating down on the region. A “heat dome” trapped hot air over my home state of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, killing almost 1,000 people as temperatures soared to a whopping 120° F. Scientists have found that this wouldn't have happened without climate change, and research following extreme heat across North America this July concludes these same findings.
As a researcher working at the intersection of climate change, cities, and the people who live in them, I am well aware that these heat waves and extreme weather events will become more frequent and intense. Last year, 2022, was no exception, as temperatures rose yet again. In fact, we ended an event held to commemorate lives lost and people harmed by the 2021 heat wave early, due to record high temperatures yet again.
A 2022 poll from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and NPR found that about three-quarters of people in the United States have experienced an extreme weather event in the past five years and almost a quarter of them have serious health problems as a result. What makes this work so challenging is recognizing that while we all experience harms from climate change, those who face social injustice and the repercussions of poor policy decisions are hurt the most.