We have finally made it out of the record-breaking heatwave that passed through the Pacific Northwest this past weekend, hitting Seattle hard and sending temperatures soaring to an ultimate high of 108 degrees on Monday. This dangerous heat is indicative of a pattern of extreme weather due to climate change and underscores the urgency to adapt to what could become a pattern in the coming years, combat harm to the environment, and put as much of a damper on climate change as possible. The effects of the heat can also help us more clearly see the disproportionate ways in which climate change aggravates inequalities already present.
Extreme heat can be very harmful and often life-threatening. It can lead to heat exhaustion, and eventually severe illness and death due to a much higher possibility for heatstroke or cardiovascular disease. There are inequities in how different communities within Seattle are affected by extreme temperature. While those who are well-off can buy an AC or fan, or at the very least stay indoors, many people do not have that luxury. Unhoused people do not have any of these privileges, making them much more vulnerable than others. There are also people across the city that cannot afford different safety mechanisms to survive the heat.
Another aspect of the heat that contributes to inequality is that urbanized areas in this city (where there are more buildings, parking lots, and pavement) hold onto heat for longer and therefore put residents in danger for greater periods of time, while people in higher income neighborhoods with more greenery and trees are less in danger from extreme weather. This was recently highlighted in a heat mapping project, a joint project from King County and the City of Seattle.
The city of Seattle and King County are working to combat climate change in various ways. The city is pursuing key goals, such as electrifying transportation as much as possible, continuing a shift to clean energy for new and existing buildings, and pursuing other environmental protection policies. Meanwhile, King County is working on ways in which we can mitigate the effects of extreme weather, and perhaps slow warming. There are multiple tree-planting initiatives, “greenspace protection” under the Land Conservation Initiative, improvement of bus stop and park layout, especially in areas with priority groups that are more at risk, and more.
We may start to see weather like this happening more often, so while we are fighting the root cause of the heatwaves and snowstorms, make sure you are keeping safe and healthy as much as you can. During heatwaves, it is best to stay inside, keep very hydrated, and keep yourself informed about conditions.