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Em Johnson & David Lebell: A Call to Action to Build Resilience in Face of Extreme Heat

Aug 24, 2023

In the wake of the hottest July ever documented, the urgency of addressing extreme heat is real.

And the alarming reality of climate change is hitting closer than ever to home, with Ventura County recently ranked as the fastest warming county in the contiguous United States, closely trailed by Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

With extreme heat posing such serious threats to human health and the environment, the time to take action is now to prepare for extreme heat and build resilient communities.

This past week, the Community Environmental Council, Gray Panthers Santa Barbara Network, Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara, and other local organizations came together for the inaugural Extreme Heat Forum, to address how seniors can prepare for extreme heat and play a more direct role in building a resilient community.

More than 100 community members showed up to learn about the work being done, and more important, the work that still needs to happen.

Forums like this help raise awareness about the deadly impacts of heat and the insidious nature of heat exposure.

Extreme heat disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations like the elderly, houseless, those with serious medical conditions and those in poverty.

Extreme heat already causes more deaths annually than any other climate impact in California, and nationwide.

And while our Central Coast region isn’t as vulnerable as others, the combination of an extreme heat wave and power outages could present a large-scale tragedy here.

The possibility of such a tragedy looms as an existential threat, especially for the elderly.

As such, we need to create more spaces for individuals without access to air conditioning to cool off and also continue to advocate to make electricity more reliable, ensuring the following are prioritized:

We must also increase access to backup batteries that are powered by solar; CEC is working to make this more accessible and affordable.

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What else can we do? Look for ways to make changes in your own home — the CEC’s Electrify Your Life service assists individuals and businesses to make installing a heat pump (replacing your furnace, adding AC in one high efficiency unit) easier.

Support local initiatives to establish neighborhood Resilience Hubs that can serve as places of shelter and support during times of crisis, including heat events.

Stay informed about the actions your elected officials are taking (or not taking) to provide solutions that make a real difference. If you need a resource to help get you started, check out California’s Extreme Heat Action Plan.

Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, especially confusion, and create a network of support to get through heat events. Plan how to stay cool at home, and map out nearby cooling centers.

As we continue to face the complex challenges of extreme heat, let’s come together and get involved in groups like the Community Environmental Council, Gray Panthers, Society of Fearless Grandmothers, CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy), Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Visíon y Compromiso and others that are helping implement necessary changes, and working to create a safer and more resilient community for us all.

It’s getting hot out there, we need to act now.

Em Johnson is director of Climate Resilience at the Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara. The opinions expressed are her own.

David Lebell M.D. is a Ventura emergency medicine specialist with more than 30 years of experience. Now retired, he engages with issues around medicine as it relates to social, political and environmental concerns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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