Because of climate change, New York City summers are getting hotter and the heat is lasting longer. According to a report released in 2017, there are about 13 heatstroke deaths per year, over 100 deaths “from natural causes exacerbated by extreme heat” and over 450 “heat-related emergency department visits” in New York City. We know there is an injustice here, because 50 percent of the heat-related deaths in New York City are Black/African American people, even though they make up only 25 percent of the city’s population. New York City may see an average temperature increase of 5.7°F, including a doubling of days above 90°F, by the 2050s according to the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC). Parts of Northern Manhattan are particularly affected by this increase, as shown in the image to the right (source: NYC DOHMH, 2020). This is not just because of the temperature increase, but because a high percentage of Northern Manhattan residents are low income, and at least a third live in homes with maintenance deficiencies or in poorly weatherized old homes, with issues such as leaks, cracks, or holes. These factors make it more difficult to avoid the heat and properly cool the home, and make it more difficult to access help and prepare for extreme heat. Individuals without social connections, older adults, and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses are more likely to spend a lot of time at home in the heat and are more susceptible to illness or death during a heatwave.
Through our Heat, Health, and Equity Initiative, WE ACT for Environmental Justice is finding solutions to extreme heat and the forces of inequity that make the heat more dangerous for our community. In the short-term, we are working to make sure our community is aware of the impact of extreme heat, what benefits and programs are currently available, and how to access them. We are also working to advance community-driven policy recommendations this summer as we are faced by the additional threat of COVID-19 in our communities.
Our goals for the next three years are to change state policy to allow HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) funds to be used to convert homes to cleaner and more efficient forms of cooling, and to increase overall funding for cooling through weatherization and direct cooling funding, such as the purchase, installation, and operation of air conditioners. We are also working to promote awareness, increase ease of access, and the overall improvement of New York City’s Cooling Center Program. To help achieve these goals, WE ACT will continue to foster growth and engagement in our Climate Justice Working Group, including educational workshops and advocacy training open to all members of the community.