Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall.

It’s getting hot out here. And some of us are feeling hotter than others, even if we live in the same city. Why? Here to explain are Brendan Gardner and Ashley Junger from our Possibly Team. Welcome, Brendan and Ashley! 

Brendan Gardner: Hi, Megan! 

Ashley Junger: Hello! 

Megan Hall: So, two people in the same city might experience very different temperatures when the weather gets hot?

Brendan Gardner: Yes! To learn more, we spoke to Professor Vivek Shandas of Portland State University. He says, according to his research,

Vivek Shandas: A city that had a temperature of, let’s say, 90 degrees Fahrenheit, there’d be parts of the city at upwards of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and other areas of the city, that would be 85 degrees Fahrenheit. (1:57-2:12)

Megan Hall: That’s a really big difference! Why does this happen?

Brendan Gardner: One reason is connected to how weather operates on a very local scale, especially how wind moves through an area. 

Ashley Junger: For example, if you have tall buildings really close to each other, they’ll block the wind and make the area hotter.

Brendan Gardner: But the main culprits are asphalt and concrete. Vivek says they absorb a lot of heat. 

Vivek Shandas: Those are materials that are very dense, and they hold on to that sun’s radiation for longer periods of time, continuing to amplify temperatures in those areas that have more of it.

Ashley Junger: In the afternoon, buildings, sidewalks, and parking lots get direct sunlight, which can make them really, really hot. Scientists call these heat islands. 

Megan Hall: If asphalt makes heat islands hotter, then what keeps other neighborhoods cooler? 

Brendan Gardner: Greenery! Trees and other plants offer shade, which can have a big effect on the temperature.  

Megan Hall: Who’s most likely to feel the extreme temperatures from a heat wave?

Ashley Junger: People that live in places that are close to things like warehouses and freeways, which have a lot of exposed concrete and very little greenery.

Brendan Gardner: These areas also tend to be where rent is cheaper. So people with less money tend to feel the heat the most. 

Ashley Junger: Which also means they’re less likely to be able to afford things that help combat the heat, like high-quality insulation or air conditioners.

Brendan Gardner: And in America, heat islands compound racial inequality. 

Megan Hall: In what way? 

Ashley Junger: Cooler parts of the city, with more trees and parks, are neighborhoods that were historically off limits for people of color to get mortgages and buy homes. 

Brendan Gardner: And this isn’t just about feeling a little too hot. There are real health consequences for these temperature spikes.

Ashley Junger: Vivek says during heat waves, heat islands have been linked to more ambulance calls in Richmond, Virginia, and even more deaths in Portland, Oregon.

Megan Hall: This all sounds really bad. What can we do about it?

Brendan Gardner: Good question! Vivek says that a short-term solution is to provide transportation to cooling centers for people who don’t have access to air conditioning. 

Ashley Junger: Just checking on your neighbors during a heat wave can also go a long way towards saving lives.

Brendan Gardner: Some long-term solutions are to plant more trees in these hotter parts of the city, and to paint roofs white to help reflect some of that sunlight. 

Ashley Junger: And of course, to stop emitting the greenhouse gasses that are making those heat waves worse.

Megan Hall: That makes sense. Thanks, Brendan and Ashley!

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.

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