Phoenix Hires Heat Manager to Cool City in Ever Warmer Future

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Phoenix has appointed one of the leading urban heat experts to run a program that the city hopes will save lives and lower urban temperatures even as climate change warms the surrounding desert.

Mayor Kate Gallego on Wednesday introduced David Hondula as director of the first state-funded national heat response and mitigation office. The longtime Arizona State University environmental scientist and heat researcher will retain a position at the school but will work full-time coordinating heat reduction strategies.

Miami appointed a similar position this summer, but used funds from private foundations.

Hondula said changes, including planting trees, installing shade structures and adding light-colored surfaces to streets and roofs, can make the city cooler. Large deployment could more than offset climate change, he said. Experiments with reflective coatings, for example, have shown cooling of 10 degrees or more on the surface.

“We could actually see a more comfortable environment than today,” said Hondula.

The dangers of extreme heat in Phoenix

A VA hospital worker uses an umbrella for intense heat in the valley.  Today, Phoenix hit triple temperatures for the first time in 2021.

Without widespread heat attenuation, Phoenix has grown warmer both due to climate change and the tendency of urban areas to concentrate and retain heat.

Using technology and public awareness can help identify those most at risk and in need of assistance or to access public cooling centers, Hondula said.

The city’s current budget invests $ 2.8 million in climate change mitigation. This budget will cover 14 posts in the city government, including that of Hondula. The mayor instructed him to seek innovative solutions while monitoring the activities of other departments to ensure a coordinated approach.

“The heat is a problem that we have to deal with,” said Gallego.

Last year, the heat killed 191 people in Phoenix, and Hondula said that toll resulted in Maricopa County in the number of heat-related deaths per capita. As of last week, the Maricopa County Health Department has reported 173 confirmed deaths and 161 under investigation this year. In recent years, the county has set a new record for heat deaths each year.

Hondula has been studying the effects of climate change and extreme heat and possible solutions for more than a decade, including in Phoenix neighborhoods.

In 2017, The Arizona Republic hired him as an advisor for a report that deployed his lab’s sensors across disparate neighborhoods to demonstrate that the city’s landscaping haves and have-nots can experience a difference of nearly 10 degrees. This year, researchers examining 20 urban areas in the southwest found that the poorest 10% of neighborhoods were on average 4 degrees warmer than the wealthiest neighborhoods in their region.

Climate inequality:Phoenix’s heat is increasing – and so is the danger

Finding new solutions to rising temperatures

People hydrate after a hike at Pima Canyon Trailhead in Phoenix on July 11, 2020. Excessive heat watch is in effect until Monday.

Hondula did not say what new solutions he might come up with, but said he would share some in the coming months. When asked about his first priority, he said it was to hire a tree and shade administrator to work in his office, followed by a staff member to work on cooling in “the environment. buildings ”and infrastructure.

In 2010, the city set a goal of growing tree canopy to shade 25% of its land by 2030. Actual coverage has remained stuck at around 13% since then. Hondula attributed this both to the adoption of the plan during the Great Budget Recession and to the fact that Phoenix is ​​losing trees every year as it plants more.

“Walking on water has been kind of a success,” he said. But, “we must accelerate”.

As the city increases plantations, Hondula and the mayor said, the government will pay particular attention to ensuring that neighborhoods with fewer resources get their share, with the water supply infrastructure to grow new trees. This means that spending per tree can seem more expensive in warmer neighborhoods.

“We really put fairness first,” said Gallego.

Urban heat:Outside workers could be exposed to even more extreme hot days

Of the heat deaths reported by Maricopa County this year, 50 have been indoors. The county found that 30 of those victims were in places where the air conditioning was not working, five had no air conditioning, and one was without electricity.

New York City has started providing some residents with air conditioning, Hondula noted, without committing to such a program in Phoenix. Other solutions could involve technology. In the same way that smartphone apps allow people to monitor their homes or feed their pets remotely, he said, there might be ways to monitor indoor temperatures for volunteer participants and to keep them in check. get safe when their home is too hot.

More ideas will emerge through the collaboration, Hondula said, and he believes the city’s funding for his new office creates momentum that will pay off.

“We are optimistic about the future of this city,” he said.

Brandon Loomis covers environmental and climate issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Contact him at [email protected]

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic’s environmental reporting team on environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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