Science Policy

For America to Become Climate Resilient, We Need Innovative Policy Solutions to Address The Extreme Heat Crisis

01.09.24 | 4 min read | Text by Grace Wickerson & Autumn Burton

As 2023 was the hottest year on record, America must start to prepare for even hotter years in the future. To meet this moment, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has launched the Extreme Heat Policy Sprint, an initiative to accelerate experts’ high-impact policy recommendations to comprehensively address the extreme heat crisis.

The urgency of this initiative is underscored by global average temperatures soaring to a record 2.63°F (1.46°C) increase from pre-industrial levels and heat-related mortalities forecasted to surge 370% within the next three decades. In Maricopa County, Arizona alone, at least 579 people lost their lives to heat last year, with senior citizens accounting for one in three deaths. This staggering number is widely considered an undercount, as heat-related mortalities are difficult to document.

With heat being the top weather-related killer of Americans and the nation having faced the hottest summer on record, the federal government made the largest resourcing of extreme heat mitigation in history last year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distributed $1 billion in grants to projects expanding urban tree canopies to reduce average temperatures during extreme heat events, amongst other co-benefits like flood reduction and improved public health outcomes. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided $5 million in funding for two centers of excellence to deliver actionable, place-based climate information for community heat resilience. These efforts were complemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) distribution of $1.8 billion through two grant programs designed to help communities increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change, including extreme heat. 

Despite these federal programs, the resourcing needs for future extreme heat conditions are growing exponentially, with anticipated exposure to dangerous heat (>125 °F) expected to impact 107.6 million Americans by 2053. Several key U.S. cities are expected to experience risky wet bulb temperatures of +87°F, which would trigger deadly heat stress and stroke in vulnerable populations within just a few years. These conditions would completely suspend safe outdoor operations of the city during the summer months. Further, the exponential growth of cooling technology adoption across the country catalyzes increased demand for energy, thereby increasing fossil fuel emissions and straining electric grids to the point of risky blackouts. 

With such immense risks coming alarmingly soon, there is a need for transformative strategies to protect Americans from the heat where they live, where they work, and in their communities. Resilience to heat must be included in nationwide planning and management. The built environment must be adapted to chronic, sustained heat. Novel resilient cooling technologies need to be brought rapidly to market. Communities need climate services that include heat risk and offer regionally-specific solutions. The full health and economic costs of heat must be accounted for and responded to. All of this requires integrating heat resilience into every part of the federal government and developing new governance models for climate and health, focusing on adaptation-forward, people-centered disaster response approaches.  

Introducing the Participants of the Extreme Heat Policy Sprint

This critical situation sets the stage for the pivotal contributions of the experts in the Extreme Heat Policy Sprint. Each of these professionals offer innovative and impactful policy recommendations, drawing from diverse areas of expertise, including but not limited to climate resilience, health care, public policy, law, and urban planning. This collaboration is essential in shaping effective federal strategies to mitigate the far-reaching impacts of extreme heat on communities nationwide.

Infrastructure and the Built Environment

Workforce Safety and Development

Public Health and Preparedness

Food Security

Planning and Response

Data and Indices