By Senator Lena C. Taylor
You would have had to have been under a rock to have missed all the news stories about unprecedented heat waves. Domestic and international life-threatening temperatures have consumed communities. Many climate scientists believe that July has been the hottest the Earth has experienced in 120,000 years! Let that marinate for a minute.
According to calculations by the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, the global average temperature has been hotter in 22 of the first 24 days of July than on any other single day recorded, as a result, we are learning terms like “urban heat islands”.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes “heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. Structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. Urban areas, where these structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited, become “islands” of higher temperatures relative to outlying areas. If I could translate, without needed trees, vegetation, green spaces, or rooftop gardens in urban areas, our cities are burning up.
The EPA further talks about the impact of heat islands and how they contribute to higher daytime temperatures, reduced nighttime cooling, and higher air-pollution levels. These, in turn, contribute to heat-related deaths and heat-related illnesses such as general discomfort, respiratory difficulties, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and non-fatal heat stroke.
Let’s take it a step further. Heat islands also impact mental health. The simplest examples include the inability to sleep during extremely hot nights. Anyone who has ever been unable to sleep knows how rough the next day can be: irritability, mood changes, and difficulty throughout the day. For folks with underlying conditions, heat can be a trigger and impact overall mental health.
As we close out National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to make sure I mentioned new federal legislation that was recently introduced called “The Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023”. According to Mental Health America, last year almost 20 percent of adults, or nearly 50 million Americans, experienced a diagnosed mental illness.
The impact of severe weather, heatwaves, wildfires, floods and more are taking their toll mentally on residents. Data has found that in 2021, more than 40% of Americans lived in a county that was impacted by a major natural disaster. Disasters can traumatize 20-40 percent of those who are directly impacted, 10-20 percent of disaster response workers, and 5-10 percent of the general population who are not directly affected but know someone who is or view the events from afar. Consequently, the number of people who experience a mental health problem as a result of a disaster often outweighs those with physical injuries by 40 to 1.
While we have associated the summer weather with problematic behavior in some urban communities, how many of us ever really made the connection to climate change and global warming with a link to possible crimes in communities. It is getting hot in here, and we need to do more to address this growing problem.