Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

More than half of states issued heat advisories this week. This will be the new norm


Millions of people across the country are feeling intense, excruciating heat right now. Daily temperatures in the high 90s and 100s have led 28 states to issue heat advisories. This, of course, comes as extreme heat continues to scald Western Europe and China, causing wildfires, melting roads and killing hundreds of people.

Marta Segura is the chief heat officer of Los Angeles and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARTA SEGURA: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You were appointed LA's first chief heat officer in June. Is it telling that so many cities now need a chief heat officer like a police chief or fire chief?

SEGURA: I think that it is, and we're definitely at a crossroads, Scott because extreme heat is our primary climate emergency. We have six times the number of heat waves in Los Angeles. They're more frequent. They last through mid-November. So our bodies don't have time to recover. And so this plays back to what we need to request from Washington, D.C., and the federal government so cities are prepared for the future and our people are protected.

SIMON: When you say prepared for the future, your best information is that this is our future, at least for a number of years?

SEGURA: This is our future, and if we don't modernize our infrastructure and create climate-adapted cities and revise our building codes, it's going to get worse, and it's going to get more uninhabitable. So it's bad now, but again, if we don't prepare and if we don't invest, particularly in the most vulnerable communities because they experience the pollution burden. They experience existing health conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, asthma. And the combination makes it worse for those vulnerable communities. So when we're thinking about these infrastructure investments, we definitely need to prioritize the most vulnerable areas to ensure that we prevent those preventable hospitalizations and deaths.

SIMON: When you say infrastructure investment, what does that mean? What do you want to spend money on?

SEGURA: Well, we want to modernize our infrastructure to be climate-adapted, and that means to create cool surfaces and cool roofs to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of our buildings and our infrastructure so that we reduce what's called the urban heat island. When you have too much concrete, not enough trees and vegetation and open space, you stagnate the heat and the pollution and the smoke. Almost every major city - I would say every major city has this issue. Rural areas have it much less. We need more equitable shade trees in Los Angeles. We're piloting cool streets where we coat the streets with a white coat. And that will have a long-term effect of reducing the urban heat island, but also improve the cooling conditions for those particular neighborhoods where it's placed.

SIMON: Cranking up the air conditioning increases the use of electricity. And all of that can worsen climate change, right?

SEGURA: That's right. So we're not just saying we're going to install more air conditioners. We're actually saying that we want to create more energy efficient buildings so that when it gets hot, the rooms don't get hot. You can do it by creating more insulation. You can also do that by ensuring that you call your local utility and they come out and do an inspection and reduce the - not just the greenhouse gas emissions, but improve the efficiencies of your home. So we want to make sure that every building in Los Angeles is climate-adapted because 47% of our emissions come from buildings in major cities.

SIMON: I feel the need to close with some personal advice that the chief heat officer of Los Angeles can give us. What should people do this weekend to protect themselves and their families if they're suffering through intense heat?

SEGURA: Really pay attention to the vulnerable people in your family with existing health conditions or those who are seniors. If they experience more extreme symptoms like vomiting, they're not moving, they're fatigued, you can call 911 and ask for support. Or call your doctor or call your health care system to make sure that you know what the symptoms are. And also help your neighbors and the people that you see out in the streets. If you see someone sprawled out in the street in the middle of the day, it may not be because they're taking a nap. It may be that they have fallen from heat exhaustion. In LA, we have had UPS drivers fall and faint on porches because it is so extremely hot.

SIMON: Marta Segura is chief heat officer of Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

SEGURA: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.