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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Low-income residents and communities of color in the U.S. face much higher and more dangerous urban heat extremes than people living in richer and whiter city neighborhoods, new peer-reviewed research shows.

Driving the news: Areas with higher rates of poverty can see summer land surface temperatures up to a whopping 4°C, or 7°F, higher than the richest areas, the paper in Earth's Future finds.

  • "[W]e also find that neighborhoods with higher Black, Hispanic, and Asian population shares are hotter than the more White, non-Hispanic areas in each county," the paper states.
  • The exact temperature disparity between the census tracts with the most minorities and "the most non-Hispanic White census tracts" was up to more than 2.7°C, or 4.9°F, the study found.
  • Overall, the University of California-San Diego researchers found statistically significant disparities in summer heat extremes in over 70% of 1,056 urban counties nationwide, indicating this is a pervasive feature of the modern American landscape.
  • They find racial disparities are present in that share of the counties even when controlling for income.

Why it matters: Extreme heat is deadly, and even short of acute health risks, very high temperatures can sap productivity.

  • The paper comes amid record-setting heat in the western U.S. that shows how climate change is worsening already dangerous temperature extremes.
  • The findings add highly detailed and geographically sweeping data to existing scientific literature on disparities in heat exposure.
  • It shows one of many ways the poor and minorities face greater environmental burdens. Trying to address these gaps is part of the Biden administration's climate policy agenda.

The big picture: The analysis said the disparities tend to have a common set of drivers despite vast geographical differences in the many areas examined.

  • These are "driven by high population densities, more built-up areas, and less vegetation in the most affected communities," the paper finds.
  • The disparities, if unaddressed, could affect cities far into the future as climate change-influenced heat waves worsen, according to study co-author Jennifer Anne Burney.
  • "These kinds of urban heat disparities threaten the future functionality of our cities — hotter neighborhoods will feel more health impacts, will require more electric power for cooling, etc.," Burney told Axios.
  • "The present environmental injustice here would be expected to beget future environmental injustices because heat is so detrimental to our health and productivity," she said.

How it works: The paper examines urban heat anomalies, or the difference between extreme urban summer temperatures compared to rural regions.

  • Researchers looked at counties with at least 10 developed Census tracts, and synced that with demographic and socioeconomic data from Census surveys.

Yes, but: The authors acknowledge some limitations of the findings.

  • For instance, they note that land surface temperature readings are not precisely the temperatures experienced by urban residents but are, nonetheless, a good proxy for air temperatures.

What they're saying: "Right now, two people living in the same city are experiencing wildly different heat waves from the moment they wake up," said Jeremy S. Hoffman, chief scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia, to Axios.

  • Hoffman, who was not involved in the new study, said some individuals can adapt through air conditioning and driving a car to their workplace inside an office building. Others have to "walk from their poorly ventilated houses through treeless neighborhoods to exposed bus stops."

The bottom line: "[U]nderstanding who is affected by urban heating and what drives exposure disparities is therefore critical for crafting just and effective policy responses, particularly under warming climate conditions," the authors state.

Go deeper: Welcome to our hellscape summer

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jul 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House: Climate among "root causes" of migration

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The new White House strategy for improving conditions in Central America to slow migration includes helping to build resilience to climate change.

Why it matters: Climate change is increasingly understood as one of many drivers of human displacement, both within and across borders, due to flooding and other extreme weather, effects on food security and more.

For FEMA head, trip to wildfire regions reaffirms drive to address climate change

A firefighter crew from New Mexico walks along a path in the mountains west of Paisley, Oregon on July 23, 2021. Photo: Maranie Staab/Bloomberg via Getty Images

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell's first trip out West since being confirmed in April reinforced her view that the agency must tackle climate change's influence on disasters, such as wildfires and droughts.

Why it matters: FEMA is the lead agency for providing aid to states hit hard by ongoing fires, already approving 19 Fire Management Assistance Grants. The trip illustrated the present-day impacts of climate change, with the twin challenges of fires and drought plainly evident, she told Axios.

Manhattan, Westchester prosecutors request evidence from Cuomo investigation

Gov. Cuomo during a press conference in New York City on Aug. 2. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The district attorneys for Manhattan and Westchester County on Wednesday requested evidence related to New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Why it matters: The district attorneys are investigating if alleged conduct highlighted in an independent report published by James' office that occurred in their jurisdictions was criminal in nature.