While the United States is baking from this summer’s unprecedented heatwave, new research from the University of California, San Diego has revealed a disparity between how people of color and white Americans endure the record-breaking temperatures.
According to a report from NPR’s Deepa Shivaram, “as record-high heat hammers much of the country, a new study shows that in American cities, residents of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color endure far higher temperatures than people who live in whiter, wealthier areas.”
In the new study published in Earth’s Future, co-authors Jennifer Burney and Susanne Benz have also captured a much more complete and holistic view of the phenomenon, showing how extremes in the heat break down along racial and socioeconomic lines.
“The authors used census data and measured land surface temperature with satellite imaging and focused on 1,056 counties that are home to about 300 million Americans,” Shivaram said. “They found that in more than 70% of those counties, neighborhoods with more people of color and lower-income people, ‘experience significantly more extreme surface urban heat than their wealthier, whiter counterparts.’”
The researchers reported that the difference in temperatures within high-poverty regions is dramatic and be as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher over the summer months when compared to more affluent, whiter neighborhoods in the same city or area.
“The study is the latest to show how climate change driven by human activity disproportionately harms people of color and those who are poor. The warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense,” Shivaram reported. “Even without heat waves, Americans can expect far more days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit than a few decades ago.”
According to Benz and Burney, in 76% of the counties they studied, people with lower incomes experienced significantly higher temperatures than individuals with higher incomes.
“When looking at neighborhoods by race, 71% of counties showed that people of color lived in neighborhoods with higher temperatures compared with white people,” Shivaram reported.
The researchers said the disparity in temperatures that the two groups experience, and between urban and rural areas, can be attributed to a number of different factors, from greater overall population density to more buildings per square foot within an area to lower levels of vegetation such as trees, which previous studies have shown has a drastic impact on a city’s temperature.
According to government estimates, more than 800 people have already died as a result of this summer’s heatwave.