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  1. Objective:

    Although extreme heat can impact the health of anyone, certain groups are disproportionately affected. In urban settings, cooling centers are intended to reduce heat exposure by providing air-conditioned spaces to the public. We examined the characteristics of populations living near cooling centers and how well they serve areas with high social vulnerability.


    We identified 1402 cooling centers in 81 US cities from publicly available sources and analyzed markers of urban heat and social vulnerability in relation to their locations. Within each city, we developed cooling center access areas, defined as the geographic area within a 0.5-mile walk from a center, and compared sociodemographic characteristics of populations living within versus outside the access areas. We analyzed results by city and geographic region to evaluate climate-relevant regional differences.


    Access to cooling centers differed among cities, ranging from 0.01% (Atlanta, Georgia) to 63.2% (Washington, DC) of the population living within an access area. On average, cooling centers were in areas that had higher levels of social vulnerability, as measured by the number of people living in urban heat islands, annual household income below poverty, racial and ethnic minority status, low educational attainment, and high unemployment rate. However, access areas were less inclusive of adult populations aged ≥65 years than among populations aged <65 years.


    Given the large percentage of individuals without access to cooling centers and the anticipated increase in frequency and severity of extreme heat events, the current distribution of centers in the urban areas that we examined may be insufficient to protect individuals from the adverse health effects of extreme heat, particularly in the absence of additional measures to reduce risk.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Greenspace in schools might enhance students' academic performance. However, the literature—dominated by ecological studies at the school level in countries from the Northern Hemisphere—presents mixed evidence of a beneficial association. We evaluated the association between school greenness and student‐level academic performance in Santiago, Chile, a capital city of the Global South. This cross‐sectional study included 281,695 fourth‐grade students attending 1,498 public, charter, and private schools in Santiago city between 2014 and 2018. Student‐level academic performance was assessed using standardized test scores and indicators of attainment of learning standards in mathematics and reading. School greenness was estimated using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Linear and generalized linear mixed‐effects models were fit to evaluate associations, adjusting for individual‐ and school‐level sociodemographic factors. Analyses were stratified by school type. In fully adjusted models, a 0.1 increase in school greenness was associated with higher test scores in mathematics (36.9 points, 95% CI: 2.49; 4.88) and in reading (1.84 points, 95% CI: 0.73; 2.95); as well as with higher odds of attaining learning standards in mathematics (OR: 1.20, 95% CI: 1.12; 1.28) and reading (OR: 1.07, 95% CI: 1.02; 1.13). Stratified analysis showed differences by school type, with associations of greater magnitude and strength for students attending public schools. No significant associations were detected for students in private schools. Higher school greenness was associated with improved individual‐level academic outcomes among elementary‐aged students in a capital city in South America. Our results highlight the potential of greenness in the school environment to moderate educational and environmental inequalities in urban areas.

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  3. Abstract

    Climate change is one of the most important ethical issues of our time. Urban scholars and policymakers now recognise the need to address justice concerns associated with cities’ responses to climate change. However, little empirical research has examined whether and how cities have integrated justice into climate mitigation planning. Here, we show that large cities in the US are increasingly attending to justice in their climate action plans and that the recognition of structural and historical injustices is becoming more common. We demonstrate that justice is articulated differently across mitigation sectors, uncover local characteristics that may impact cities’ level of engagement with justice, and introduce four policy tools that pioneer cities have developed to operationalise just climate policies on the ground. More attention to justice in policy implementation and evaluation is needed as cities continue to move toward just urban transitions.

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  4. Abstract

    Continued climate change is increasing the frequency, severity, and duration of populations’ high temperature exposures. Indoor cooling is a key adaptation, especially in urban areas, where heat extremes are intensified—the urban heat island effect (UHI)—making residential air conditioning (AC) availability critical to protecting human health. In the United States, the differences in residential AC prevalence from one metropolitan area to another is well understood, but its intra-urban variation is poorly characterized, obscuring neighborhood-scale variability in populations’ heat vulnerability and adaptive capacity. We address this gap by constructing empirically derived probabilities of residential AC for 45,995 census tracts across 115 metropolitan areas. Within cities, AC is unequally distributed, with census tracts in the urban “core” exhibiting systematically lower prevalence than their suburban counterparts. Moreover, this disparity correlates strongly with multiple indicators of social vulnerability and summer daytime surface UHI intensity, highlighting the challenges that vulnerable urban populations face in adapting to climate-change driven heat stress amplification.

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  5. Abstract

    The growing frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events necessitates interventions to reduce heat exposures. Local opportunities for heat adaptation may be optimally identified through collection of both quantitative exposure metrics and qualitative data on perceptions of heat. In this study, we used mixed methods to characterize heat exposure among urban residents in the area of Boston, Massachusetts, US, in summer 2020. Repeated interviews ofN = 24 study participants ascertained heat vulnerability and adaptation strategies. Participants also used low-cost sensors to collect temperature, location, sleep, and physical activity data. We saw significant differences across temperature metrics: median personal temperature exposures were 3.9 °C higher than median ambient weather station temperatures. Existing air conditioning (AC) units did not adequately control indoor temperatures to desired thermostat levels: even with AC use, indoor maximum temperatures increased by 0.24 °C per °C of maximum outdoor temperature. Sleep duration was not associated with indoor or outdoor temperature. On warmer days, we observed a range of changes in time-at-home, expected given our small study size. Interview results further indicated opportunities for heat adaptation interventions including AC upgrades, hydration education campaigns, and amelioration of energy costs during high heat periods. Our mixed methods design informs heat adaptation interventions tailored to the challenges faced by residents in the study area. The strength of our community-academic partnership was a large part of the success of the mixed methods approach.

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  6. Abstract

    Rising ambient temperatures due to climate change will increase urban populations’ exposures to extreme heat. During hot hours, a key protective adaptation is increased air conditioning and associated consumption of electricity for cooling. But during cold hours, milder temperatures have the offsetting effect of reducing consumption of electricity and other fuels for heating. We elucidate the net consequences of these opposing effects in 36 cities in different world regions. We couple reduced-form statistical models of cities’ hourly responses of electric load to temperature with temporally downscaled projections of temperatures simulated by 21 global climate models (GCMs), projecting the effects of warming on the demand for electricity circa 2050. Cities' responses, temperature exposures and impacts are heterogeneous, with changes in total annual consumption ranging from$$-2.7$$-2.7to 5.7%, and peak power demand increasing by as much as 9.5% at the multi-GCM median. The largest increases are concentrated in more economically developed mid-latitude cities, with less developed urban areas in the tropics exhibiting relatively small changes. The results highlight the important role of the structure of electricity demand: large temperature increases in tropical cities are offset by their inelastic responses, which can be attributed to lower air-conditioning penetration.

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  7. Abstract

    Fragmentation transforms the environment along forest edges. The prevailing narrative, driven by research in tropical systems, suggests that edge environments increase tree mortality and structural degradation resulting in net decreases in ecosystem productivity. We show that, in contrast to tropical systems, temperate forest edges exhibit increased forest growth and biomass with no change in total mortality relative to the forest interior. We analyze >48,000 forest inventory plots across the north-eastern US using a quasi-experimental matching design. At forest edges adjacent to anthropogenic land covers, we report increases of 36.3% and 24.1% in forest growth and biomass, respectively. Inclusion of edge impacts increases estimates of forest productivity by up to 23% in agriculture-dominated areas, 15% in the metropolitan coast, and +2% in the least-fragmented regions. We also quantify forest fragmentation globally, at 30-m resolution, showing that temperate forests contain 52% more edge forest area than tropical forests. Our analyses upend the conventional wisdom of forest edges as less productive than intact forest and call for a reassessment of the conservation value of forest fragments.

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  8. Temperate forests are threatened by urbanization and fragmentation, with over 20% (118,300 km2) of U.S. forest land projected to be subsumed by urban land development. We leveraged a unique, well-characterized urban-to-rural and forest edge-to-interior gradient to identify the combined impact of these two land use changes—urbanization and forest edge creation—on the soil microbial community in native remnant forests. We found evidence of mutualism breakdown between trees and their fungal root mutualists [ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi] with urbanization, where ECM fungi colonized fewer tree roots and had less connectivity in soil microbiome networks in urban forests compared to rural forests. However, urbanization did not reduce the relative abundance of ECM fungi in forest soils; instead, forest edges alone led to strong reductions in ECM fungal abundance. At forest edges, ECM fungi were replaced by plant and animal pathogens, as well as copiotrophic, xenobiotic-degrading, and nitrogen-cycling bacteria, including nitrifiers and denitrifiers. Urbanization and forest edges interacted to generate new “suites” of microbes, with urban interior forests harboring highly homogenized microbiomes, while edge forest microbiomes were more heterogeneous and less stable, showing increased vulnerability to low soil moisture. When scaled to the regional level, we found that forest soils are projected to harbor high abundances of fungal pathogens and denitrifying bacteria, even in rural areas, due to the widespread existence of forest edges. Our results highlight the potential for soil microbiome dysfunction—including increased greenhouse gas production—in temperate forest regions that are subsumed by urban expansion, both now and in the future.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 5, 2024
  9. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  10. Abstract Emerging research suggests that internet search patterns may provide timely, actionable insights into adverse health impacts from, and behavioral responses to, days of extreme heat, but few studies have evaluated this hypothesis, and none have done so across the United States. We used two-stage distributed lag nonlinear models to quantify the interrelationships between daily maximum ambient temperature, internet search activity as measured by Google Trends, and heat-related emergency department (ED) visits among adults with commercial health insurance in 30 US metropolitan areas during the warm seasons (May to September) from 2016 to 2019. Maximum daily temperature was positively associated with internet searches relevant to heat, and searches were in turn positively associated with heat-related ED visits. Moreover, models combining internet search activity and temperature had better predictive ability for heat-related ED visits compared to models with temperature alone. These results suggest that internet search patterns may be useful as a leading indicator of heat-related illness or stress. 
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