KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why more parts of the country are starting to understand the dangers of extreme heat

Jeff Goodell, author of "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet"
Matt Valentine; Little, Brown and Company
Jeff Goodell, author of "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet"

The National Weather Service says this June was the hottest June on record in Phoenix; this comes on the heels of heat records that were broken here last summer, as well. The Biden Administration has also proposed new rules dealing with heat in the workplace in an effort to protect workers from heat-related injuries and illness.

Journalist Jeff Goodell looks into how heat is changing our lives, both locally and globally in his book "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet." Goodell joined The Show to talk more about what he found.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: And Jeff, do you get the sense that over the last year or so people are starting to recognize the dangers of heat and extreme heat in ways that maybe they didn't a decade or two ago?

JEFF GOODELL: Yeah, I think there's been a big change. You know, my I, my book started in 2018 when I was in Phoenix. I happened to be there for there for a different reason. I was there in the middle of summer. I decided to go to, to run to a meeting. I was staying downtown, run to a meeting 15 blocks away. By the time I got to the meeting, I was lightheaded,, my heart was pounding and I realized that he was really dangerous. Which doesn't sound like such a big deal except that I had been writing about climate change for almost 20 years by that time.

And the fact that even, even I didn't realize how dangerous it was, was evidence of how, how unknown, the, the real risks of extreme heat really are. And, you know, since that time there's been a big change. Cities like Phoenix have developed heat action plans. There's been a lot more kind of awareness about it but for a long time it was just seen, you know, this problem of extreme heat was seen as something that sort of happens in far away places to glaciers on a long way away or to future generations, and the sort of immediacy of it was not really clear.

BRODIE: Yeah, I wonder, you know, to some extent if, you know, for folks who've never been here or maybe, you know, don't live in, in the Phoenix area, as you say, you know, extreme heat was seen as something that, you know, other people have to deal with. But as we've seen, you know, other parts of the country that in the past haven't had to deal with it now are. I'm wondering if that is helping sort of raise this level of awareness?

GOODELL: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I think the extreme heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in 2021 during the summer was a really brutal awakening for a lot of people, especially the people who, who lived in the Pacific Northwest. I mean, it really is emblematic of this new climate era that we're moving into where we not only see a sort of gentle rising of temperatures, but we're also seeing the spike of extreme heat events, which is very characteristic of this.

BRODIE: Are you finding that with this new awareness of extreme heat and to some extent that the dangers of it, is that also causing people to change their behaviors or do things to maybe try to mitigate it or cause less of it in the future.

GOODELL: Yeah, I mean, I think so. I mean, I live in Austin, Texas and I'm noticing that a lot of people that I know are going to Colorado for the summer. So, yes, I mean, there's been a lot of changes. You know, a lot of cities including Phoenix have undertaken, you know, tree planting programs to try to develop more shade in, in the city. You know, there has been better attempts at messaging about the risks of heat from public health agencies and others. But it's still, we saw a very, very long way to go to really understanding the scope and scale of the risks of extreme heat.

BRODIE: One of the things that you write about is the idea that extreme heat can cause all sorts of other problems that it's not just the heat itself, but I think the phrase was a cascading series of events  that extreme heat can cause. What are some of the more damaging or, or detrimental ones that you have found?

GOODELL: Well, one of the most obvious and deadly frankly of them is, you know, the idea that, you know, we don't really have to worry about extreme heat because we have air conditioning. The air conditioning is sort of a simple fix for this problem. Like why worry about it getting hot or just turn up your air conditioner a little bit, everything will be fine.

There's a number of problems with this argument. One is that, you know, there are 750 million people on the planet who don't have access to electricity, much less air conditioning. We are not going to air condition the oceans, we're not gonna air condition the forest, we're not gonna air condition the fields where our crops grow. But also air conditioning gives a false sense of security. It's sort of like a sword of Damocles hanging over a city like Phoenix.

You know, in my book, I talk about air conditioning as this technology of forgetting, we knew how to build places in hot climates before, and because of air conditioning and our dependence on that, we've forgotten all of those things.

BRODIE: So you also write about heat sort of as a exposing fault lines, for example, in institutions and governments and societies. Is there something about heat that does that, that other climatic events or extreme cold, for example, or other weather events just don't have that same impact.

GOODELL: Yeah, heat is different than other climate impacts like sea level rise or drought or even hurricanes and that, you know, it kills far more people than any of these other events. I mean, heat waves are mortality events. Heat, what heat does is kill living things and that makes them sort of far more deadly and far more dangerous than any other kind of climate event.

BRODIE: So I guess the big question here then is like, are people willing to do what it takes to try to mitigate the heat? I mean, you mentioned, you know, cities like Phoenix trying to put in more shade and more trees, things like that, you know, more solar energy, rooftop solar energy to reduce reliance on the grid, things like that. Do you get the sense that people in any large numbers are willing and able to do what it's going to take to try to reverse this?

GOODELL: Well, it depends on who you mean by people. I mean, one of the key aspects it's important to kind of grasp when we're thinking about what to do about extreme heat and how cities like Phoenix will survive and thrive.

You know, in my book, I talk about heat as a predatory force. And by that, I mean, it really goes after the weakest and most vulnerable first,, if you know, you're living in an air-conditioned house and you have a solar grid on your roof and you have a battery backup, you're in pretty good shape.

If you're an unhoused person on the streets trying to find shade in a concrete overpass or something like that, and there are temperature spikes, you're not in really good shape. If you're an older person who has a weak heart condition, you're much more vulnerable to extreme heat than a younger person. If you're a pregnant woman, you are much more vulnerable to say miscarriage and early birth return birth because of a heat wave, then you would be if you were in a cooler environment.

So the, the question really becomes making a city like Phoenix or Austin or Houston or Miami or whatever city you want to name safe for whom? And it, it really requires targeting and understanding who are, who is most vulnerable, targeting solutions and, you know, emergency management solutions that is focused on the people who are most vulnerable and that is not something we're very good at doing right now.

You know, for a lot of people, this conversation can feel like doomsday-ish or, you know, it really dark and, and there certainly are dark aspects of this as our climate changes and things get hotter and hotter. There's going to be a lot of suffering and loss. But our awareness of this also is a great opportunity, you know, Phoenix and Austin and Houston and Miami and other places can use this moment to kind of reimagine the city to make it a better place for more people. And it's this, this kind of crisis is also a catalyst for change and that is going to depend on people getting involved and on political leadership.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.
Related Content