Jul 21, 2022 - World

Heat waves hit Latinos particularly hard

Illustration of a thermometer shaped like an upwards arrow, with the mercury rising.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The extreme heat pummeling the U.S. has been especially hard on Latinos, many of whom live in states with a shaky power infrastructure, work outside and struggle to cope with soaring energy bills.

The big picture: Extreme weather like heat waves increases energy demands and tests the limits of power infrastructure. Texas, Nevada, California, New York and Florida, among other states, have struggled with power outages in recent years.

Driving the news: Over 130 million people were under heat warnings on Wednesday.

  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state's power grid, asked users to conserve energy twice during a heat wave last week to prevent mass outages.
  • Around the world, record heat has killed thousands and caused multiple fires this week.

State of play: The number of power outages caused by extreme weather has doubled in the last 20 years, according to a recent analysis from the Associated Press.

  • Californians experienced over 4,200 power outages from 2008 to 2017, according to Eaton, a power management company that used to release annual power outage reports in the U.S.
  • A heat wave in 2020 forced the primary energy supplier in Nevada to ask residents to reduce power consumption in what it described as “an unprecedented event.” Californians also dealt with blackouts as a result of the heat wave. Both have large Latino populations.
  • Hundreds of people in Texas died last year after a winter storm wiped out power.

This is happening as energy costs rise.

  • Soaring energy prices puts more strain on people who are struggling economically, including many Latinos, said Antonio Arellano of NextGen America, a youth voter mobilization organization.
  • “Now Latinos are having to budget between food, medicine and paying the electricity bill. I mean, it shouldn’t be like this in America,” Arellano said.

This is compounded by the fact that Latinos are also much more likely to live in what are known as urban heat islands — areas where pavement and buildings, coupled with a lack of foliage and other structures that provide shade, trap heat.

  • They're also the majority of farmworkers and day laborers — people who have to work outside.

What’s next: Governments need to invest more renewable energy, enact policy changes and communicate better with Spanish-speaking communities to prevent deaths caused by weather events, Arellano said.

  • “I think we gotta take it back to believing science; we gotta take it back to recognizing that experts have the solution.”

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