Extreme heat has plagued countries around the world in recent weeks. Wildfires have ravaged parts of Spain and Portugal, where an estimated 1,100 people have died. died of heat; And the UK logged a new record temperature 104.5 degrees. These developments have highlighted that places are less well equipped when it comes to air conditioning, either because high temperatures have historically been uncommon or homes are older. But, even in the US, where AC is comparatively ubiquitous, there are still gaps in access, often in some of the most vulnerable areas.
According to a new report A study of 35 US metro areas, based on the Census Bureau’s US Housing Survey, found disparities in AC access in cities across the country. Particularly noteworthy are parts of the country that have historically been less warm, but are now experiencing higher temperatures. Also there is a lack of AC among low-income individuals and racial minorities who live in hotter and less protected areas, even within cities. The report shows the extent of the inequalities, and suggests some solutions for the short and long term for these urban heat islands, which absorb and retain heat to an inconvenient degree.
Overall in the US, about 70% of homes have central AC, and about 10% have no cooling at all (the rest use window AC units). The central wind is most prevalent in the south and southwest, where many homes were built after World War II; 95% of homes in Sun Belt cities like Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix have ACs. But, on the traditionally cooler West Coast, AC is less common, with cities like Seattle and San Francisco having the highest share of homes without it. But even there, temperatures are rising dramatically: Last year a heat wave killed 70 people in Portland.
Even in the proximity between some cities, there were clear differences. Cleveland had three times more homes without AC than Cincinnati, just 250 miles away. One of the report’s authors, Jenny Schuetz, a senior fellow at Brookings, says this is likely due to the age of the homes: More than 70% of Cleveland’s housing stock is over 50, compared to nearly 50% of Cincinnati’s housing. is old. Cincinnati is even more prosperous.
Low-income people were more likely to not have an AC. In the lowest-income quartile, 12% of households were not equipped, and 60% had central air; versus the 6% among the highest earners who did not have it, and the 80% among those who had central air. Race was also a factor: Black and Latino residents were less likely to have AC than white residents. In Detroit, 15% of black residents did not have it versus 4% of white residents. The seriousness of the issue is that these populations are already vulnerable because they live in areas of cities with the highest temperatures due to more paved surfaces and fewer trees.
To help bridge these gaps, the report suggested that city governments should provide portable AC units to the most vulnerable residents. In New York City, for example, Coolant Assistance Benefit Program Provides $800 per low-income household for an AC unit and installation, although this is on a first-come, first-served basis and with limited funding. They recommend that cities should also provide summer utility subsidies, so that poor individuals can power their units.
In the long term: “Ideally, we would invest more resources in upgrading homes for overall energy efficiency,” Schuetz said via email. Landlords and landlords can weather-proof buildings by providing tighter-fitting windows and doors, and better insulation. Cities need to invest in sustainable heat conservation, including cool sidewalks and cool roofs, and fountains and misters. some progress has been made on this LA. like city and Miami, which has appointed a chief heating officer to work with other North American cities to help them locate and implement best heat-adaptive practices. Nonprofits, such as American Forest, have also conducted tree canopy projects to increase “tree equity” in places like Phoenix and Tucson, where they plant more trees in vulnerable areas.
These resilient solutions will be doubly important given the fact that AC contributes significantly to global warming, representing an already estimated 3.9% of total emissions, But keeping people safe from unprecedented heat may be a necessary evil. “It is likely that the need for ACs will increase over time if we want to protect the health of older adults and other vulnerable people,” Schutz says.