A boy cools off at Yesler Spray Park in Seattle during a record-setting heat wave in June. (John Froschauer)
A boy cools off at Yesler Spray Park in Seattle during a record-setting heat wave in June.

John Froschauer

The climate crisis in cities

October 22, 2021

Scroll through any news source, and the chances of encountering a headline concerning climate change is probable.

The steady rise in global temperatures due to carbon emissions is being proven to have a significant impact on everyday people – especially those who live in cities.

A study published in October assessed more than 13,000 cities from 1983 to 2016 and found that the heat exposure in those regions had increased by nearly 200 percent. This is largely due to population growth and the fact that city infrastructure absorbs more heat.

“It’s the lack of planning and lack of investment in these rapidly urbanizing areas – but that can change,” said Cascade Tuhokske, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University. 

In the U.S., the effects of climate change in cities is evident. In June, a record heatwave in the Pacific Northwest increased the temperature in Portland, Ore. to 116 degrees Fahrenheit. By August, the number of people in the area who had died from heat-related causes was 200.

“We have the means and resources to go buy a bedroom portable window unit. But other people don’t have that coping capacity,” said Vivek Shandas, a Portland resident.

Indeed, the disparity between rich and poor cities can quickly become dangerous, especially when lacking commodities such as air conditioning can lead body organs to overheat.

In the time of COVID-19, the impact of rising temperatures are worsened further, as they create suitable conditions for infectious disease pathogens. 

Despite the myriad of issues posed by climate change in cities, though, not many solutions have been posed to remedy the issue.

“People go to cities because there’s more opportunities. There are reasons that cities are growing,” said Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington, “The question, then, is how do you grow cities in ways that take into account a warmer climate?”

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