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Social connections critical when protecting vulnerable persons from climate-change fueled heat waves


When Jalonne White-Newsome gives talks on climate change she often relates the story of how she became aware of its health impacts: Helping her grandparents deal with high-heat stress in Detroit during a sweltering summer

On Monday, she spoke about climate-change fueled heat stress in a different forum – a New York Times news story.

Jalonne White-Newsome, Senior Program Officer, Environment
Jalonne White-Newsome

The piece, “5 Ways to Keep Cities Cooler During Heat Waves” discussed the urban heat island effect that can push temperatures in cities much higher than the surrounding countryside. Noting that climate change will make the problem an even more dangerous health threat, reporter Brad Plumer called on White-Newsome – a senior program officer with Kresge’s Environment Program – after reading about her expertise in the field.

She discussed the imperative of establishing social networks where neighbors check on one another, particularly the elderly, and assist them in getting relief at cooling centers or elsewhere.

“There’s this large social and behavioral component to heat waves that doesn’t get nearly enough attention,” she said in the story.

It continued, “Some of the best strategies for dealing with heat waves, Dr. White-Newsome found, were often low-tech: In Philadelphia, many neighborhoods have designated block captains who will check on older residents during a heat wave. ‘When a disaster hits, having a cohesive social network is what’s going to keep many people alive,’ she said.