Heat Islands Hitting Lower Income, Minority Neighborhoods

Gulf Shores, Alabama   It’s rained part of every day for two weeks.  There is supposed to be a one-day break in New Orleans without any rain.  Living in the semi-tropics that passes for normal.  I used to say summer in the city was 85 percent humidity and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  Now, looking at the weather every day, it’s 90s all the way down.  This week is supposed to feature not only rain but 94- and 95-degree temperatures as well.  This climate thing is real – and dangerous.

A report in the Washington Post was clear.  Research led by Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University with volunteers, found “heat islands” in both Baltimore and Washington, DC.  Not surprisingly the temperature variance was significantly higher in lower income and minority areas with spread sometimes reaching twenty degrees.  The reason was simple to find:  fewer trees and more pavement.

A colleague of Dr. Shandas, Jeffrey Hoffman of the Science Museum of Virginia, made the case that the impact of heat islands on health impacts is devastating.  As the New York Times reported:

He found that the four warmest ZIP codes also saw the highest rates of heat-related ambulance calls and emergency room visits. Richmond’s heat islands also overlap with its communities of color and low income, according to Brianne Mullen, the city’s sustainability coordinator. The city has just two cooling centers, and, because of budget cuts, the number of trees planted fell drastically in 2016 and 2017 before rebounding last year.

 

Richmond is dragging wagon on this, but the Times reports progress in Baltimore:

Baltimore is trying to ease the heat burden by planting more trees. The city plans to increase its tree canopy to cover 40 percent of the city, up from 28 percent in 2015, according to Lisa McNeilly, director of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability.

Heat islands don’t pick favorites.

Other reports have noted that Houston recently planted 175 trees along a city thoroughfare in order to grow the shade that would significantly reduce temperatures there.

Getting back to New Orleans, older working-class and minority neighborhoods in areas where land is a delimiting factor have no front yards with front doors, like Philadelphia, Baltimore and other row house cities, within only a sidewalk’s length of the street, offering no shade, and guaranteeing hot spots.  There are some homes along tree-lined neutral grounds, but these areas are more commonly uptown in richer, whiter areas or in suburbs along the lake where the levee board filled cypress swamp lands and planted oak trees in the easements.

The research on heat islands needs to be circulated widely.  Recent proposals on neutral ground in cities as different as New Orleans and San Francisco have proposed everything from housing construction in such medians to paving bicycle lanes.

We need to literally keep as much “green” as we can, and bring in as many shade trees as cities and neighbors can afford to build buffers in the inner cities against the heat waves that are here now and likely to create private and public hells in the future without aggressive action.

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Please enjoy “Across the Pond” by DJ Trotsky.  Thanks to KABF.

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Power Drains and Climate Change

Houston    A head scratcher for me around climate change has always been the issue of how much energy we waste in the slips between the cup and the lip, so to speak.

Oil pipelines lose from 5 to 10% by some estimates in leakage from inadequate maintenance, breakdowns, and, for those following the issue in Mexico and Nigeria, criminal tapping of the lines for use and resell.  Transmission lines for electricity also lose an estimate of at least 5% of the total energy produced, and, believe me, if that’s what the industry is conceding, it’s likely higher.  Given the cost in expended natural resources throughout the supply and delivery system, this becomes incredibly damaging to the environment and expensive to the consumer and impacts entire economies.  Where infrastructure is older and more fraught, like India, the impacts multiply wildly, and in India coal is still a major factor in powering generation.

What I had missed somehow, while fingering my worry beads, is how much phantom or so-called vampire energy we lose in the normal course of the day in our home and work.  Reading Morality and the Environmental Crisis, a new book by Professor Roger Gottlieb, a professor at Worchester Polytechnic Institute, who I was interviewing on Wade’s World,  in making his case for “ecological democracy” and a different ethical approach to climate change, he cited a statistic on phantom energy.  He claimed the loss was more than 5% of generated capacity!  Jiminy Pete!

I looked it up.  This whole vampire thing is based on the amount of wattage being drained from various pieces of equipment while they are turned “off.” Turns out phone chargers, power strips, and computers along with televisions, cable boxes, and other pieces of equipment are sucking power steadily.  Multiplied by a number of devices over a year, it adds up significantly in terms of both your electricity bill and your environmentally footprint.  Using certified “energy smart” devices on things like power strips can make a difference.  I’ve sometimes seen the symbols, but never paid much attention, and I bet I’m not the only one.  Heck, I leave a ton of stuff constantly plugged in.  My bad!

So, sure we recycle what the city is willing to take, but the impact of all of our recycling might not make as much difference for the environment as much as just unplugging some stuff and making sure we’re being energy smart.  We learn something every day, and it’s never too late to change some tricks even for old dogs.

So that’s my excuse, late to the game, but waking up.  What’s the excuse for the industry, generators, producers, and delivers?  They have always known about the “leakage” and loss problem.  Why haven’t they fixed it, way before now?  And, if not now, when?

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