Environmental conditions

New York, NY
United States

The New School Columbia Mailman School of Public Health Urban Systems Lab Barnard College

Tracking heat waves and power outages to better understand health impacts on low-income communities and communities of color.

Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by extreme heat because of inadequate access to green space and land-use and zoning decisions shaped by structural racism. These populations are also more likely to live in areas experiencing energy insecurity, meaning they are less likely to have air conditioning and more likely to experience power outages. Although the impacts of extreme heat alone have been well documented, the impact of power outages coupled with extreme heat events has not. WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) will examine the correlation between power outages and extreme heat and study their health impacts on communities of color and low-income communities in New York City. This project is part of WE ACT’s Heat Health and Equity Initiative.

WE ACT has been working in these communities for 34 years; with 800 active members, it is highly committed to using community-based participatory research to understand and address these racial inequities. WE ACT will collaborate with researchers at The New School and New York University to analyze the geographic distribution of power outages during heat emergencies in 2021 and 2022 and gather heat data to track those emergencies. To supplement these data, staff will conduct focus groups with residents to better understand their experiences during extreme heat emergencies.

This project will not only develop a much-needed database on power outages, extreme heat, and health impacts but also help support advocacy for subsidized utilities for these communities and a more resilient, more renewable energy grid. WE ACT will work with city and state partners to increase access to life-saving cooling resources and secure protections for vulnerable communities from utility providers. They will also aim to increase awareness about extreme heat and support measures to mitigate the risks facing these communities.