NYC’s trees: a natural defense against heat, but not equally shared
By John Upton and Clarisa Diaz
As pollution traps heat and pushes temperatures upward around the world, residents of its cities are experiencing the sharpest changes, with forests and other cooling landscapes replaced by pavement and other hard surfaces that absorb heat. But the heat is being felt unevenly, with the legacy of redlining and urban development keeping wealthier and whiter neighbourhoods cooler than poorer and browner ones.
Average nighttime temperatures are rising more quickly than those during the day, making it harder for people to cool off at night and recover. And a slew of scientific papers published this year has been confirming that low-income neighbourhoods throughout the U.S. lack tree canopy cover and are consistently hotter than those that house wealthier neighbours nearby.
“As the day heats up, the buildings and the sidewalks absorb heat and store it,” said David Nowak, a senior scientist at the U.S. Forest Service. In vegetated areas, by contrast, “trees are evaporating water and cooling the environment.”
Heat is America’s deadliest weather hazard, killing an estimated 12,000 every year. Seniors and those who can’t afford air conditioning are among those most at risk. Hot nights can be particularly insidious because they rob people of sleep and deprive their bodies the opportunity to recover from heat experienced the previous day.
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