Every year brings record-breaking temperatures, and the most severe effects are felt by the most vulnerable people. (Getty Images)
When surveying Nevada residents on food insecurity, Nancy Brune with the Guinn Center found that the climate crisis and extreme heat had a direct impact on people’s ability to afford groceries.
Brune, who is running for Las Vegas City Council, recently told lawmakers about efforts with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to find out why people had difficulty buying food over the last 12 months.
Their second response, she said, was because they couldn’t afford groceries and costly utility bills. Their first answer was rising housing costs.
“Service providers are seeing people seek out emergency food resources during the summer time here in Southern Nevada especially because they have to choose between paying for their AC bill, which as many of us know are very high in the summertime, or buying food,” Brune said. “There is a real direct connection between heat and health.”
Like people across the globe, Nevadans are facing the brunt of increasing extreme weather events brought on by climate change, which is felt most severely by marginalized communities and people of color.
For the first time, Nevada lawmakers last week held a joint interim meeting between the two separate legislative committees, Natural Resources and Health and Human Services, to discuss the impact of the worsening climate crisis and hear potential mitigations the state could implement in the upcoming 2023 legislative session.
Legislators heard presentations on extreme heat in communities of color, the effects of heat on workers, the impact of wildfire smoke on respiratory health, and how Nevada’s tribal communities deal with climate change.
“We’ve looked at impacts that could affect our financial health and fiscal health as a state and in our local governments,” said Las Vegas Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts, who chairs the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. “Now I think it’s important that we look at the most direct human level of the impacts that Nevadans could face as a result of increased temperatures, increased pollution, and to figure out some innovative solutions to help protect the health and safety of families across Nevada.”
Regular reports from the scientific community show just how disastrous and deadly global warming is, with dire warnings it will only get worse.
Reno Democratic Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, who chairs the Committee on Health and Human Services, said since the turn of the century “temperatures in Nevada have increased by almost 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit.”
It’s contributing to extreme weather conditions.
“A perfect example occurred last week when we experienced warning advisories for excessive heat in the Las Vegas valley and surrounding states,” she said. “We hear every year now of record-breaking temperatures (that) have the most severe effects on the most vulnerable members of our community.”
But it’s not just the heat.
Wildfires, drought and air pollution also take a toll on the state.
“We have farmers with less water … for their crops, seniors who live in danger due to excessive heat and children who cannot play outside because of wildfire smoke that makes the air unhealthy to breathe,” Peters said.
While there have been proposals to make federal investments in climate solutions, such as the Build Back Better bill that proposed more than $500 billion in renewable energy and other climate mitigation efforts, climate talks in Congress have stalled.
The state has made investments in climate measures and commitments that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there are additional policies lawmakers could adopt to address the effects of the climate crisis.
Some of the policy recommendations from the Guinn Center included expanding utility assistance and establishing new programs to aid with home air conditioning repair and replacement.
Jaina Moan, the external affairs director for the Nature Conservancy in Nevada, pointed to other states’ mitigation efforts such as building more “urban tree canopies,” which provide more shade to mitigate heat.
Multiple presenters recommended increasing and investing in tree canopy coverage.
Moan also suggested state lawmakers could explore raising the sales tax and having the funds go toward climate initiatives, an initiative which was passed as a ballot measure in Denver and is expected to generate $45 million per year for climate and environmental justice programs.
“The Legislature could consider establishing a climate resilience program fund like Colorado’s to support activities like urban forestry and other climate resiliency measures,” she said.
Moan added that cities need to “find a way to put trees and solar panels in parking lots” pointing to the Springs Preserve, which has a parking lot shade structure with solar panels on top.
“These parking lots are big, black surfaces that suck in heat,” she said. “Our cars bake in this heat all day long and then we expend even more energy and carbon dioxide trying to cool them down.”
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