Equity & Justice
When people are exposed to extreme heat and minimal air movement for prolonged periods of time, their health and safety is at risk. Depending on the intensity and duration of high temperatures, as well as a population’s preparedness and infrastructure, heat waves can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, swelling of the limbs, heat rashes, dehydration, and can contribute to blood clotting. Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States, and heat waves can trigger heart attacks and strokes.
Although extreme heat events pose a threat to all people, they are particularly dangerous to older populations and children, as their bodies are less able to adapt to heat or handle the stress of high heat. People with preexisting respiratory, cardiovascular, diabetic, and chronic conditions are also particularly vulnerable, along with lower-income communities who often do not have access to well insulated housing or air conditioning systems. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests higher risk among Black communities. According to the National Black Caucus Foundation, there were 50 percent higher mortality rates among non-Hispanic Black people than non-Hispanic white people during the 1995 Chicago heat wave.
Green infrastructure solutions not only help mitigate extreme heat by lowering local temperatures, but urban green spaces can also increase equitable access to parks and urban forests, providing areas for outdoor leisure and community life, creating safer and more livable streets, improving local air quality, and mitigating flooding.
In 1995, Chicago experienced an extreme heat event that led to the deaths of several hundred people over the course of five days. Recognizing climate change will affect extreme heat events among many other weather events, Chicago decided to conduct a vulnerability assessment to better understand the threat. Chicago conducted a vulnerability assessment that projected future expected temperatures and estimated the magnitude of threat to future heat related mortality. In anticipation of these future threats, Chicago adopted a comprehensive Climate Change Action Plan. The city’s first priority under the Chicago Climate Action Plan: Adaptation Strategy Report is to adapt to extreme heat events.
Chicago’s approach assessed vulnerability to extreme heat and promoted resiliency and adaptation actions to reduce climate risk. Specifically, Chicago is promoting resiliency through emergency response procedures, specifically including it as a specific criterion within the county's (Cook County) Hazard Mitigation Plan and identifying that its Extreme Weather Operations Plans have scalability to deal with projected changes.
In order to adapt to future extreme heat events, Chicago is identifying urban heat areas ('heat islands') of concern and then adopting heat island reduction strategies through a variety of municipal programs including: building codes and green infrastructure projects. These green infrastructure strategies provide Chicago with mutual benefits including increasing extreme heat emergency preparedness and improving stormwater management for extreme precipitation events.