Minerva Contreras, 44, attributes climate change to her health because she has a lung problem that makes it harder to breathe on hot days.  Her home near Bakersfield, California costs $800 a month in the summer.

Minerva Contreras, 44, attributes climate change to her health because she has a lung problem that makes it harder to breathe on hot days. Her home near Bakersfield, California costs $800 a month in the summer.

Molly Peterson for NPR

More than half of Americans have experienced the effects of extreme heat, from higher energy bills to worsening health, according to the study. new poll produced by NPR, Harvard University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This percentage is even higher in California, where heat was the main climate impact, as reported by 71% of those surveyed.

“There are really few air conditioners in homes in California, maybe because there are cool breezes blowing in many parts of the state, but when there is extreme heat and there is no cool air, you have a problem,” he says. David Eisenman, a physician who runs the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disaster Management. “That’s why you’re seeing this larger number.”

At the national level, the results of the survey show how people consciously associate climate change with their health. Nearly a quarter of those who have experienced extreme weather in the past five years said that someone in their family had serious health problems as a result. According to respondents, the perceived health impact is declining in the same way: overall, 11% of Americans personally affected by the heat say their households have experienced serious health problems due to the lack of air conditioning in their homes. An even larger proportion of Native American, Hispanic, Black, and Asian adults agreed with this sentiment.

Do it yourself, cooling tricks are no longer enough

The percentage of Californians who say air conditioning is a factor in their health is also up, according to the survey.

That doesn’t surprise Democratic Assemblyman Luz Rivas, who represents Los Angeles’ eastern San Fernando Valley, where she grew up in a home that sometimes lacked air conditioning. Land use policies, including the historic redline, have worsened the city’s heatwaves in sweltering neighborhoods she knows well, Rivas said.

“With very few trees and other ways to keep the community cool, families like mine have suffered from the heat for decades,” says Rivas. She recalls that on hot days, her mother would take her to the mall to cool off. “Now that these heatwaves are getting longer, our coping mechanisms that we used in the past won’t work either.”

Under the legislation sponsored by Rivas is the California Environmental Protection Agency. will create a ranking system for abnormal heat which will be used to broadcast public warnings. “It’s something similar to what we’re already doing for hurricanes in other states,” she says, adding that heat wave rankings will help the public “know the severity of the heat wave and then know what they should do in those cases.”

AT Letter of Support For the bill, public health officials, emergency physicians, and health researchers indicated that health risks from heat are higher for black Americans and Hispanics, outdoor workers, and city dwellers, writing that “on an average summer in Los Angeles.. .8 percent increase in overall mortality on the hottest days.”

But “we’re not tracking health damage from heat events in any really useful way,” says UCLA’s Eisenman, adding that tracking climate change for health is important in places like California, where people can be exposed to health risks due to multiple natural disasters over time. at the same time, including temperature spikes and raging forest fires. An NPR/Harvard/Robert Wood Johnson poll confirms this; In addition to the heat, in 36% of wildfire-affected households, Californians reported severe health problems. And some households reported exposure to heat and wildfires.

“This combination of smoke and heat is where the future looks very bad for California,” he says.

The ranking of heat waves is one of several proposals that go beyond the recommendations of the California extreme heat action planannounced earlier this year. California lawmakers are also considering a bill to cool the room housing law.

Air conditioning is a must, but can cooling be right?

The offer will especially help tenants such as Minerva Contreras, a 44-year-old mother of two who lives near Bakersfield, California. In the past, in her area, on average, 42 days the temperature rose above 100 degrees; Kern County endured 67 of these hot days last year, and predictions for this number to keep climbing.

“It’s very difficult because it’s almost like being unable to breathe,” Contreras says in Spanish. “It’s frustrating.”

When she is healthy, Contreras works in the agricultural fields, picking everything from tangerines to radishes. But she developed a lung tumor. It’s harmless, but makes hot days harder. Contreras notes that other people also sensitive to heat live around her, including the very young and the very old; Asthma Incidence Rate in Kern County above state and the national average.

Indoor cooling standards received support from tenants, housing advocates and editorial writers, but they’re in for a big fight in Sacramento. Property owners represented by the California Apartment Association argue that the refrigeration standards bill “bypasses California’s building code process and ignores the diversity of climates that exist in the state”, and if passed, the bill would be the first such statewide requirement in the nation.

For now, the cost of keeping a cool head for millions of California renters is mostly borne by them.

Behind his humble brown ranch, Contreras boasts asador, the grill that her husband built for her. She’s got pots here too to make chicharrones as well as tamales. When she cooks dinner, she tries to do it early in the morning, before sunrise.

In the backyard, she held out some washing lines; she hangs bulky towels, blankets, and most of her clothes here to dry in the sun.

These are health measures, she says; it is very important to avoid doing anything that makes it hotter inside. “I definitely need to be in a cool place,” she says.

It also helps save some money. During the summer, their electricity bills are between $600 and $800 a month; after the landlord spent $3,000 fixing the air conditioner, he raised the rent to $1,300. Minerva plans to pay her electricity bill this summer in installments until next January.

She doesn’t expect California to adopt refrigeration standards—yet. “I would really like that, but I always think money wins the most,” she says.

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