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Piedmont's Dr. Rupa Basu Speaks on Health Impacts from Heat

Hope Salzer | Published on 2/8/2023

Dr. Rupa Basu screenshot
Piedmont’s Dr. Rupa Basu headlined the 4th of 6 events offered in the 2022-23 Climate Speaker Series by Piedmont Connect and the League of Women Voters of Piedmont. Dr. Basu lives in Piedmont with husband, Mike Silverberg and sons Arjun (PHS ‘22, UCLA ‘26) and Ravi (PHS ‘25) and currently serves as Chief the California EPA’s Air and Climate Epidemiology Section of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). She is a prolifically-published and ground-breaking researcher whose works are frequently cited and replicated. She teaches in academic settings and is a sought-after, high-level speaker and expert authority on climate-degradation and associated heat- and pollution-related illnesses. 

Dr. Basu’s talk on Wed. Feb 8, emphasized that measurable and significant adverse health conditions have been observed for most of the 21st century from continuing gradual temperature increases driven by unsustainable, excessive human fossil-fuel consumption. Dr. Basu noted importantly that health impacts are happening even when heat is not considered extreme during our seasonal May-Sept warm season.  She points out that several groups may be unaware of their risks for heat-related illnesses.  For example, here in the Bay Area and the coastal North American northwest, most of us are not biologically adapted to higher average temperatures, nor are our homes and communities equipped to better regulate high-temperatures. Thus, we inherently are at greater risk for suffering heat-related illnesses. Furthermore, those who are otherwise healthy but whose physiological thermoregulatory capacity may be reduced– this includes the young, elderly, infirm, and pregnant people– have increased risks of succumbing to increased seasonal temperatures. These health impacts become worse during a more remarkable heat-wave event.  Specifically, from 1990-2016 the CDC reported an average 700 heat-related deaths annually while from 2018-2020 there were an average of 1,022 annual heat-related deaths reported by the CDC, a 46% increase, coinciding with 4 of the 5 hottest years ever recorded.  Similarly, in Europe, where wealthier Americans may enjoy summer travel, there were 148,000 heat deaths reported for the half century from 1961-2021, an average 2,960 deaths per year.  In 2022, there were 15,000 heat deaths across Europe, most of them in the UK, Germany and the Iberian peninsula, representing a 5-fold increase in annual heat deaths.  Moreover, Dr. Basu explained that U.S. heat deaths are certainly underreported because there is no systematic definition of what constitutes a heat-wave, extreme-heat event, or heat as a contributor or cause of mortality among jurisdictions at varying levels from cities and county health departments nor among states and at the federal level.  Dr. Basu revealed that increasing heat effects multiple organ systems, not just the more obvious cardiovascular and respiratory systems.  Significantly, excess heat can put greater stress on liver and kidney function, and gastrointestinal, reproductive, endocrine, and neurological function. 

According to Dr. Basu, the California EPA publishes a Climate Change Assessment every five years and plans to release the next Assessment in 2025. She noted two surprising trends. One is a rise in humidity levels, in addition to heat, which also reduces the body’s ability to thermoregulate and which has historically not affected Western states much. Second, she notes that heat waves are expected to be much more pronounced in coastal areas as the 21st century progresses.  This is due to both the concentration of California’s population in coastal regions and the accompanying concentration of industrial, commercial and transportation infrastructure in those areas. These facts, paired with coastal residents’ lower biological heat adaptation suggests greater health risks for urban and coastal populations, particularly in underserved communities where historical red-lining and disinvestment makes urban heat-island effects more severe. 

In terms of solutions, Dr. Basu states that giving everyone access to A/C is not a solution.  Mathematically-speaking, she recommends that everyone reduce our fossil-energy use (both directly and indirectly) as much as possible, minimizing our behaviors which exacerbate global warming.  After minimizing our energy use, using locally-controlled and sustainable energy sources like rooftop solar with battery storage for our remaining energy needs is the way to go. Luckily, the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers a 30% federal tax-credits on rooftop solar and residential battery storage system installation through 2032. In terms of governmental financial assistance, there’s never been a better time to install rooftop solar and control one’s own clean energy supply, pricing, availability, and use.  And don’t be deterred by PG&E’s changes to compensation levels for excess residential solar energy generation. Most households do not have the rooftop generation capacity to produce more electrical energy than their household uses over the year once their home and household transportation are fully electrified, especially if one has battery storage to supply electricity after the sun sets without relying on the grid.

00:00 Intro
04:15 Intro of speaker
06:35 Dr. Rupa Basu
10:39 Climate Gap
18:10 Heat Stress
24:57 At Risk Populations
33:20 Reasons for Disparities
42:28 What We Can Do
44:55 Q&A

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