It's Time for National Cool Communities Standards

Cities are hotter because of the way we build them, and they could be cooler if we built them differently.

June 24, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By rkaufman

Over the past 30 years, guess what kind of weather disaster has killed more Americans than any other? It’s not hurricanes or tornadoes. It’s not flooding or lightning. It’s heat. And like many other environmental dangers, it disproportionately kills people of color.

As our climate continues to change and heat waves become more frequent, more severe, and longer-lasting, extreme heat events will only become more dangerous. That’s especially true in urban areas, where over 80% of Americans live. The urban heat island effect makes cities warmer than rural areas. The average temperature in a city with over one million people can be as much as 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding countryside. On a calm, clear night, the difference can be as much as 22 degrees.

We can’t control the weather, and in the longer term, even with major climate action from world leaders, some warming is already baked into our climate system. But there is one aspect of extreme heat we can control. Cities are hotter because of how we build them, and they can be cooler if we build them differently.

It’s time for federal regulations to limit how much buildings, roads, parking lots, and other urban features are allowed to heat up the neighborhood. Just as the EPA regulates runoff pollution through the Clean Water Act and air pollution through the Clean Air Act, the agency should also regulate heat pollution through a "cool communities" act.

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