By Juan Declet-Barreto
Our new pandemic reality has been made more complicated and dangerous by climate change and the added pressure it can exert on millions of people — e.g., to seek cooling centers, endure a long power outage, flee the path of hurricanes, the loss of life or property, habitats, and ancestral ways of life — and the combination looks frightening.
This came into focus last week across the Southern U.S. as a deadly heat wave blanketed the region. As my colleague Dr. Rachel Licker pointed out, the combination of income loss, COVID-19, extreme heat, and the lack of utility shutoff moratoria are bad, bad news for millions across the South. In this time when multiple environmental hazards are hitting us, the way to keep people safe from a heat wave is to keep the AC running at home so they don't have to go outside to cool and risk spread of COVID-19.
The changes suggested above are stopgap measures to help working families stay safe during the pandemic. As the economic and human health costs of the pandemic continue to climb, we need to think about how to provide long-term funding for these measures.
While we all want to go back to economic and leisure activities of everyday life, we must aspire to a post-pandemic world in which all, not just the wealthy or well-connected can avoid the worst consequences of climate change and the terrible COVID-19 disease. Besides the measures above that Congress can take to protect heat-vulnerable populations during the pandemic, Congress should also include long-term investments in economic and workforce development among low-income communities in the next stimulus package (see Dr. Adrienne Hollis' post on this).
Juan Declet-Barreto is a climate scientist for the UCS Climate & Energy program and the Center for Science and Democracy.