Summer Heat Waves and the Need for Climate Adaptation

ByTerence West

 JUL 27, 2023

Summer heat waves are becoming more intense in the US, breaking numerous records across the country. Cities like Phoenix and Dallas are experiencing triple-digit temperatures, which is part of a long-term pattern of record-breaking temperatures caused by climate change. According to NASA, the past nine years have been the warmest on record.

The increasing heat poses challenges for families, as the cost of electricity to stay cool during the summer is also rising. Families are running their air conditioning systems for longer periods to maintain a safe and comfortable temperature, resulting in higher energy bills. The national average cost of home energy is estimated to increase by 11.7% this summer, putting a significant financial burden on low-income families who are already struggling with high heating costs from the previous winter.

Moreover, rising temperatures not only impact people’s finances but also their health. Emergency room visits due to heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, are on the rise. Increased electricity usage for air conditioning also leads to higher emissions and the use of more fossil fuels, contributing to climate change.

To address these challenges, it is crucial to develop a nationwide framework for climate adaptation. Currently, about 20 million families owe approximately $19.5 billion on their utility bills, and federal funding for low-income energy assistance programs is insufficient to help all eligible households. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides grants to states for heating and cooling bills, but only about one out of six eligible households receive assistance. Additionally, most of the program funds are allocated for heating, leaving little support for cooling.

In addition to financial concerns, there is an urgent need to consider the health and equity implications of the climate crisis. Low-income families are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events, lack access to cooling, and face higher health risks. State-wide clean energy plans should include specific policies focusing on low-income families to ensure equitable access to energy efficiency equipment and address individual state climate disparities.

In the short term, utilities should suspend shutoffs for families who are behind on their bills, and additional funding of $3 billion should be allocated for cooling assistance to support six million households. In the long term, a comprehensive strategy is needed to retrofit the entire low-income housing stock, making it more energy-efficient and resilient to climate change. This should include year-round shutoff protection for medically vulnerable households, access to cooling in multi-family buildings, and increased appropriations to address the full need.

It is crucial for the government, utilities, and policymakers to take immediate action to protect vulnerable families from the increasing challenges posed by hotter summers, higher bills, and more extreme weather events.



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