This past June was the hottest June in the recorded history of the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rising temperatures have been felt all around the world with countries in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia, also experiencing record-breaking temperatures. 

For people who can afford the luxury of sitting in front of air conditioners, this may not feel like a problem. But heat waves pose a grave health threat to vulnerable communities worldwide and they will only intensify in the years ahead due to the worsening impact of climate change.

The threat of extreme heat isn’t contained to the US, it’s an issue faced globally. Heat-related deaths account for the majority of Australia’s deaths by natural disasters. The United Arab Emirates recorded its highest June temperature on June 6 at 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52C). Canada saw 130 heat-related deaths in Vancouver as temperatures soared to 121 degrees (49C). 

In a meeting with US governors, President Joe Biden described some of the dangerous effects of the country’s heat wave, including “roads buckling under the heat” and “wildfires of greater intensity.” He further called for community-wide efforts to stave off the deadly effects of extreme heat. 

“We need people to check on their neighbors, especially seniors who may need a helping hand,” he said. “Outdoor laborers like our farm and construction workers are going to need frequent water breaks and shade.”

It’s clear that there’s more to beating the heat than just water and a fan. It ultimately comes down to a recognition of and reckoning with inequality.

Cities are built to accommodate the wealthy. Richer neighborhoods get more trees planted, which provide shade and heat relief. Lower-income neighborhoods, however, which are historically more inhabited by Black and brown residents don’t receive the same levels of urban planning and have recorded higher temperatures on average as a result. Increased heat in these US neighborhoods is due to a history of redlining and environmental racism

There are lots of ways we can all act in our communities to help prevent heat-related deaths and injury and curb inequality more broadly. Here are seven ideas for how to get started. 

1. Donate to your local mutual aid fund and find an air conditioner sharing program that allows you to donate your A.C. 

While this action is more of a short-term solution, it’s an action that can provide immediate relief to those in need. Mutual aid programs serve communities in many ways by crowdfunding, organizing, setting up community fridges, and redistributing wealth. Finding your local mutual aid program and getting involved can be the first steps in helping to reduce the threat of heat waves. 

If you have an extra air conditioner, there are programs that will help you redistribute it. You can also donate bottled water to your local community fridge. Ultimately, being active in your community and checking in on your neighbors can help save lives. 

2. Know where your local cooling centers are and help people find them.

Cooling centers — public spaces that provide relief from extreme heat — are not only resources for the unhoused but also for those who cannot afford to air condition their homes. While some cities offer financial assistance to people to cool their homes, not everyone benefits from this kind of help. If you observe someone struggling with the extreme heat, knowing where to direct them can be life-saving. 

3. Donate to tree-planting organizations that prioritize equality.

There are countless organizations planting trees to help restore the environment and combat climate change. Some of these groups factor in other pressing concerns, like racial justice. An equitable approach to environmental restoration can help communities withstand heat waves, while also rectifying environmental racism.  

Here are some equitable tree-planting orgs to check out:   

One Tree Planted: This non-profit organization plants trees on a global scale in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Pacific, and North America. Each dollar donation gets one tree planted and you can also fundraise through them to create a greater impact. There are multiple ways to get involved with American Forests including memberships and one-time donations ($1 will plant one tree). 

Arbor Day Foundation’s Alliance for Community Trees: This program offers a community-based tree-planting program to help bring more trees to low-income neighborhoods. You can support the foundation by becoming a member, starting a fundraiser, or making a donation towards the Community Tree Recovery program.  

4. Support the campaign to demand world leaders increase climate funding 

Join UN Secretary-General António Guterres and 48 developing nations in the call for richer nations to step up and fund sustainable energy for vulnerable countries. The COP26 climate conference, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November, will gather the world’s 20 richest nations to strategize on ways to combat climate change. World leaders have yet to provide a clear plan for the $100 billion goal committed during the G7 summit. 

Climate financing is needed to help developing nations build greener infrastructures and adapt to the current climate crisis. Join those at risk of suffering the most from climate change by taking action here to urge G20 leaders to meet the $100 billion goal.

5. Educate yourself and others about the ways structural racism impacts the neighborhoods around you.

As a longer-term goal, there are also other ways to get involved to help your community adapt to and minimize extreme heat. One place to start is by learning how redlining, environmental racism, and racist urban planning affect the people around you. 

Yes, it’s about more shade but it’s also about the materials used in constructing buildings, whether buildings are structured to cast shade or not, and more green spaces and green roofs. Cities have to be built with the underserved in mind. Educate yourself and your local representatives. Advocate for your community and those around you. Speak up and petition for those who have been ignored. 

6. Call for the support of the REPLANT Act of 2021

On a national scale, the US needs more trees. The REPLANT Act of 2021 is a 10-year plan that aims to reforest America in the wake of devastating wildfires and global warming. The plan is to get 1.2 billion trees planted to draw more carbon out of the air. 

The REPLANT Act will increase spending four times over for the reforestation of the nation’s forests. These trees would take in over 758 million metric tons of carbon over their lifetimes and will, if protected, reinvigorate wildlife and soil health. The REPLANT Act of 2021 has only been introduced so far and needs support to get through the House. You can track the status of the bill here and find your representatives here.

7. Join the movement to support change on a global scale

While the recent heat waves in the US provide a harrowing glimpse of the country’s increasingly hot future, the climate crisis is global in scope.

More than that, the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting the people least responsible for it. You have the power to advocate on behalf of the global community. Right now marginalized communities and low-income nations are suffering the most from the effects of climate change. There are lots of Global Citizen actions you can take right now to call on world leaders, the private sector, philanthropists, and more, to step up and defend the planet — head here to join the movement in taking action to tackle climate change. 

You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign by taking action here to defeat poverty and defend the planet, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.

Global Citizen Life

Defend the Planet

7 Important Ways You Can Help Relieve Extreme Heat Caused by Climate Change

By Kate Nakamura