Monday, July 8, 2013

Heat island risks and racial inequality

Inequality kills. From Bill M. Jesdale, Rachel Morello-Frosch, and Lara Cushing in Environmental Health Perspectives: In the United States, extreme heat events are responsible for about one in five natural hazard deaths (Borden and Cutter 2008). ... Furthermore, studies of extreme heat have shown large racial disparities in heat-related deaths (Greenberg et al. 1983; Jones et al. 1982; Kaiser et al. 2007; O’Neill et al. 2005; Schwartz 2005), although this is not universally the case (Ramlow and Kuller 1990; Weisskopf et al. 2002), and in at least one case, whites have been more affected than minority groups (Ellis et al. 1975). Land cover characteristics may contribute to these disparities (Uejio et al. 2011). Urban tree canopy is an important local mitigating factor for extreme heat (Hart and Sailor 2009; Oke et al. 1989), and impervious surfaces play a primary role in creating urban heat island effects (Oke 1982).

... Empirical evidence does not support the notion that cultural preferences explain observed disparities in tree cover (Martin et al. 2004; Zhang et al. 2007). Most existing research on racial disparities in tree canopy has been conducted within single metropolitan areas (Boone et al. 2010; Heynen et al. 2006; Landry and Chakraborty 2009; Lowry et al. 2012; Troy et al. 2007; Zhang et al. 2008). To our knowledge, no study has examined this issue nationally or assessed the role that residential segregation plays in driving distributions of urban tree coverage among racial/ethnic groups in the United States.

Impervious surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, contribute to urban heat islands and surface temperatures via their high heat capacity, thermal conductivity, and often low reflectance of solar radiation (Asaeda et al. 1996; Stathopoulou et al. 2009). Relative to vegetation and soil, impervious surface also reduces evapo-transporative cooling. ... Several authors have also found that the extent of impervious surface is greater in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status and a high proportion of minority residents, although these studies have been limited to a single U.S. city or state (Huang et al. 2011; Li and Weng 2007; Ogneva-Himmelberger et al. 2009).

...Ultimately we sought to elucidate how social inequalities shape disparities in heat risk–related land cover (HRRLC) characteristics. Toward this goal, we used racial residential segregation as a proxy for the degree to which a metropolitan area is characterized by historical and contemporary racial inequality and discrimination (e.g., Collins and Williams 1999). Political and socioeconomic forces have led to systemic racial and ethnic segregation, with important implications for community health (Morello-Frosch 2002; Morello-Frosch and Lopez 2006). Therefore, segregation is crucial to understanding social drivers of environmental health disparities (Gee and Payne-Sturges 2004; Morello-Frosch and Jesdale 2006) and, more directly, the potentially disproportionate health burdens of climate change on communities of color (Shonkoff et al. 2011)....

An aerial view of Philadelphia, shot by Payton Chung, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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