day one project

Combating Extreme Heat with a National Moonshot

04.02.24 | 10 min read | Text by Louis Blumberg

Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States and has been for the past 30 years. Low-income communities and many other vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by heat risk. As the climate continues to warm, the threat to public health will correspondingly increase. Through a presidential directive, the White House Climate Policy Office (WHCPO) should establish the National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat, an all-of-government program to harmonize and accelerate federal efforts to reduce heat risk and heat illness, save lives, and improve the cost-effectiveness of federal expenditures. 

The goals of the Moonshot are to:

  1. Reduce heat deaths by 20% by 2030, 40% by 2035, and 60% by 2050. 
  2. Build 150 heat-resilient communities by 2030 by facilitating access to funding and uplifting social infrastructure actions prioritizing at-risk, vulnerable populations.
  3. Increase visibility and awareness of federal efforts to protect residents from extreme heat. 

The Moonshot will be overseen by a new, high-level appointee at WHCPO to serve as the Executive Officer of the White House Interagency Work Group on Extreme Heat (WHIWG). 

Challenge and Opportunity

The threat to public health and safety from extreme heat is serious, expansive, and increasing as the planet continues to warm. According to Heat.gov, “Extreme heat has been the greatest weather-related cause of death in the U.S. for the past 30 years — more than hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding or extreme cold.” The number of deaths from extreme heat is difficult to accurately determine and is frequently undercounted. More recently, during the Heat Dome of 2021, the state of Washington reported 1,231 heat deaths in just one month. Further, heat-related illness includes a broad spectrum of diseases, from mild heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. Heat exposures have been linked to mental health illnesses and adverse birth outcomes, such as preterm births and low birth weights. Extreme heat disproportionately impacts marginalized people, including those that are low-income, BIPOC, seniors, veterans, children, the unhoused, and those with compromised health status, among others. All heat illnesses and deaths are considered preventable.

Extreme heat is an all-of-society problem that requires an all-of-government response. As the frequency, intensity, duration, and breadth of heat waves have increased dramatically over the past four years, officials and leaders at all levels have begun taking action. 

The federal government has launched new programs for addressing extreme heat over the last few years as heat waves have become a front-page issue. Recent programs initiated by the Biden Administration are providing a variety of resources and increasing awareness of this threat. Key examples are:

Actions are needed to remedy the deficit in attention to extreme heat by uplifting the role of extreme heat in the federal response to climate impacts and give greater emphasis to social infrastructure actions. 

Several bills to address extreme heat through federal legislation have been introduced in Congress, though none have advanced. Most notable are:

  1. S. 2645: Senator Edward Markey’s Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act of 2023 would authorize NIHHIS to prescribe actions and provide funding. 
  2. HR 3965: Representative Ruben Gallego’s “Extreme Heat Emergency Act of 2023” would amend the Stafford Act by adding “extreme heat” as a natural disaster for which response aid is authorized.
  3. H.R. 2945: Representative Ruben Gallego’s Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act of 2023” would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a grant program to fund activities to mitigate or manage heat in urban areas. The Senate version of this bill, S. 1379, is led by Senator Sherrod Brown.

Even with this momentum, actions are dispersed across many departments and agencies. Plus, many local and state governments tend to apply for federal funding on a program-by-program, agency-by-agency basis and must navigate a complicated landscape with limited funding explicitly earmarked for heat resilience. Further, most “infrastructure” and capacity-building funding is based on mitigating or restoring economic loss of property, leading to financial relief that has gone primarily to built infrastructure and natural infrastructure projects. Communities need social infrastructure: social cohesion, policy and governance, public health, communications and alerts, planning, etc., to respond to extreme heat. This requires a pathway for communities to access funds to combat extreme heat in a comprehensive and coordinated way and bring social infrastructure actions up to a level equal to built and natural infrastructure interventions. 

There is a need to improve the coordination of heat actions across the federal government, align heat resilience activities with Justice40 mandates, and promote community-based interventions to reduce heat deaths. A National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat can do this by leveraging several new community-focused programs to accelerate the protection of at-risk populations from heat-related death and illness. The challenge, and therefore the opportunity, for the Moonshot is to identify, integrate, and accelerate existing resources in a human-centric framework to reduce preventable deaths, promote cool and healthy communities, and deliver value nationwide. 

Plan of Action 

The WHCPO should appoint a new Deputy Director for Heat to serve as the Executive Officer of the WHIWG and coordinate the National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat – an all-of-government program to accelerate federal actions to address extreme heat. The goals of the Moonshot are to:

  1. Reduce heat deaths by 20% by 2030, 40% by 2035, and 60% by 2050; 
  2. Build 150 heat-resilient communities by 2030 by facilitating access to funding and uplifting social infrastructure actions prioritizing at-risk, vulnerable populations. Social infrastructure encompasses a variety of actions in four categories: social cohesion, policy, communications, and planning.  Social infrastructure centers the needs of people in resilience.  This target aligns with the U.S. goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. 
  3. Improve visibility and awareness of federal efforts to protect residents from extreme heat.

The Moonshot will capitalize on existing policies, programs, and funding and establish a human-centric approach to climate resilience by uplifting extreme heat. The Moonshot will identify and evaluate existing federal activities and available funding, including funds from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), as well as agency budgets, including Federal Emergency Management Agency’s funding for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The Moonshot will integrate actions among the many existing programs dispersed across the government into a well-coordinated, integrated inter-agency initiative that maximizes results and will support cool, safe, and healthy communities

Recommendation 1. Enhance the visibility, responsibility, and capacity of the WHIWG. 

Signaling high-level support through a presidential directive, the WHCPO should appoint a Deputy Director for Heat as the Executive Officer of the WHIWG to lead the Moonshot. Two additional staff positions will be established to support the assessment, stakeholder engagement, and planning processes. The WHIWG and the Deputy Director will design and implement the Moonshot working with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. A lead contact will be designated in each agency and department participating in the NIHHIS program. 

Recommendation 2. Assess and report current status. 

The Moonshot should identify, evaluate, and report on existing programs addressing heat across the federal government, including those recently launched by the White House, to establish a current baseline, identify gaps, and catalog opportunities for integration within the federal government. The Moonshot will generate a database of existing programs and a budget cross-cut analysis to identify current funding levels. The report will incorporate the NIHHIS Extreme Heat Strategy and identify existing funding opportunities, including those in the IRA, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and agency programs. The Moonshot will also work with CDC and NIHHIS to develop a method to identify heat deaths to establish a baseline for tracking progress on the goals. 

Recommendation 3. Build broad community support.

The Moonshot should convene conversations and conduct regional extreme heat workshops with state, local, and tribal government personnel; external experts and stakeholders; Justice40 community leaders; professional associations; private sector representatives; and philanthropies. Topics should span the spectrum of social infrastructure, including social cohesion, public health, insurance, infrastructure, communications, and more. Based on input, the Moonshot will establish an advisory committee of non-government participants and develop pathways to connect stakeholders with federal community-focused climate resilience programs, including the White House’s Justice 40 program, EPA’s Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers Program, and the Department of Transportation’s Thriving Communities Network, and other relevant federal programs identified in Recommendation 2. The Moonshot would add extreme heat as a covered issue area in these programs.

Recommendation 4. Make a plan.

The Moonshot should expand upon the NIHHIS Extreme Heat Strategy and make a heat action plan uplifting human health and community access to harness the potential of federal heat programs. The plan would assign roles, responsibilities, and deadlines and establish a process to track and report progress annually. In addition, the Moonshot would expand the NCR Framework to include an implementation plan and establish a human-centric approach. The Moonshot will evaluate co-benefits from heat reduction strategies, including the role cool surfaces play in protecting public health while also decreasing smog, reducing energy use, and solar radiation management. And, consistent with the Biden Administration’s 2025 priorities, the Moonshot will support research and development on emerging technologies such as microfiber fabrics that keep people cool during heat waves, temperature-sensitive coatings, and high-albedo reflective materials that can reduce the need for mechanical air-conditioning. Innovation is especially needed related to resurfacing the nation’s aging roadways.

The Moonshot will also include a communications plan to increase awareness of federal programs and funding opportunities to combat extreme heat. This should all be in place in nine months to prepare for the FY 2026 budget. The NIHHIS and CDC will develop an enhanced method for improving the accuracy of tracking heat deaths. 

Recommendation 5. Connect with people and communities.

The Moonshot should emphasize social infrastructure projects and facilitate access to funding by establishing a centralized portal for comprehensive local heat action planning and programs. The Moonshot will help build cool, safe, healthy communities by integrating heat into federal climate equity programs and supporting local heat plans and projects that reflect community input and priorities. Local heat plans should be comprehensive and integrate a suite of actions that emphasize social infrastructure and include built infrastructure and natural infrastructure. 

Recommendation 6. Initiate all-of-government action.

The Moonshot will catalyze the implementation of the plan across the government, including all the agencies and departments identified in Recommendation 1. It will establish the grant portal to enhance access to federal resources for heat-related projects for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and community groups. It will launch a communications plan targeting press, social media, public employees at all levels of government, stakeholders, and more. 

Recommendation 7. Support legislation to secure long-term success 

In coordination with the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Moonshot should work with Congress to draft and support federal legislation and appropriations addressing extreme heat. Congressional authority is needed to firmly establish this human-centric approach to extreme heat. The Moonshot may recommend Congressional hearings on legislation or a Congressional commission to review the Administration’s work on heat. For example, the passage of S. 2645 would enshrine the position of NIHHIS in law. The Moonshot will help Congress fulfill its role in the all-of-government response and help empower local action. 


Using information gathered in Recommendation 2, the Moonshot will focus on capturing and directing existing federal funding, including from the IRA, BIL, agency budgets, and grant programs to uplift actions addressing extreme heat and implementing the Moonshot action plan. Initial costs should be minimal: $1 million to hire the Executive Director and two staff and to report on existing programs, funding, and agency budgets. The Moonshot will produce a budget cross-cut initially and annually thereafter and assemble a budget proposal for the WHIWG on Extreme Heat for the FY 2025 and FY 2026 budget.

The Moonshot recommendation is aligned with the OMB Budget Memo of August 17, 2023, which transmits Guidance for Research and Development Priorities for the FY 2025 Budget. The OMB priorities call for addressing climate change by protecting communities’ health and mitigating its health effects, especially for communities that experience these burdens disproportionately.


Extreme heat is a serious public health problem disproportionately impacting many vulnerable populations, and the threat is increasing tremendously. So far in winter 2023, more than 130 monthly high-temperature records were set across the U.S. 

The federal government has several programs addressing the threat of extreme heat in the U.S., and the WHIWG reflects the all-of-government approach needed to meet the threat. The next step is to capture the full potential of existing programs and funding by launching a focused and intensive National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat with quantitative goals to track and reduce heat deaths and build healthy communities. This  effort will enable state and local governments and communities, especially those disproportionately impacted by extreme heat, to more readily access federal funding to develop and implement comprehensive heat action plans. The Moonshot will reduce heat deaths, improve the quality of life in cities, and reduce economic productivity loss while increasing the visibility of federal leadership on this issue. 

With heat season 2024 beginning on April 29th, it’s essential to establish an all-of-government response to address extreme heat at all levels.

This idea of merit originated from our Extreme Heat Ideas Challenge. Scientific and technical experts across disciplines worked with FAS to develop potential solutions in various realms: infrastructure and the built environment, workforce safety and development, public health, food security and resilience, emergency planning and response, and data indices. Review ideas to combat extreme heat here.

Frequently Asked Questions
What entities are partners in NIHHIS?

Federal agencies involved in NIHHIS include: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Administration for Community Living, Administration for Children and Families, Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, US Census Bureau, Forest Service, National Park Service, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and United States Agency for International Development.

Non-federal partners include, but are not limited to: CAPA Strategies, ESRI, Global Cool Cities Alliance, National League of Cities, and Global Heat Health Information Network.