Jul 31, 2023, 6:58am EDT
net zero

Extreme heat is making existing inequality even worse

A view shows a dried part of Al Sejoumi lake in Tunis, Tunisia July 22, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui
REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui

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The News

Extreme heat is gripping huge swaths of the globe, and July 2023 is on track to be the hottest month ever recorded.

As people around the world struggle to manage the intense temperatures, the heat has revealed many nations’ unpreparedness to deal with a changing climate. Meanwhile, existing inequalities — especially along class, race, and gender lines — are worsening.

We’ve collected key insights you should read about who suffers most as temperatures climb.

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  • It’s clear that people in the U.S. are experiencing heat differently. Columnist Tish Harrison Warren recently observed that in the same Texas county where she spent a hot day by the pool, a construction worker died from heat-related injuries. Migrants, people with inadequate housing, and outside workers are at greater risk of dying from extreme temperatures. Extreme heat also disproportionally impacts Black and Latino families. When people die from heat, they’re often dying of poverty, Warren notes. “Heat deaths expose deep societal inequality. Soaring heat deaths represent a societal failure.” — The New York Times
  • Women, particularly in Nigeria, India, and the U.S., suffer more when temperatures soar. A recent report found women in those countries lose a collective $120 billion from the impact of heat annually, typically due to the cost of lost work hours. Since women around the world earn less than men and handle the bulk of household labor, they are often more exposed to heat and heat-related injuries, despite often working indoors. Just 4% and 9% of women in Nigeria and India respectively have access to air conditioning while they work.
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Know More

In Phoenix, Arizona, residents have spent a month in the grips of record-high temperatures. At least 25 people have been killed by the heat, and hospitals are admitting patients with burns from scalding hot asphalt.

Elsewhere, the heat has fueled forest fires. In Canada, a firefighter died battling the Donnie Creek wildfire in British Columbia, the largest in the province’s history. In Europe, fires have swept across Greece and parts of Spain and Italy, leading to thousands of evacuations.